Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Kelvin Gove - 11/12/2013

After a week of snow and cold weather, it was nice to see the weather change for the warmer. I hadn't been out diving with Jim Dixon for a while, and he, myself, Dennis and John Campbell headed out to Kelvin Grove. Unfortunately, John had a leaky regulator and had to cancel his dive. Jim, Dennis and me had a nice dive. I think I might have found a northern clingfish on a kelp strand, as well as a bunch of plainfin midshipmen. Hanging out in the shallows there were a lot of cool little nudibranchs, what I think was a decorated war bonnet, and a lot of very interesting shrimp. During the dive, there was an incredible amount of decorator crabs. At the beginning of our ascent it was a bit rocky, but it tightened up. Going to need a few skills dive coming up!

Topline 07/12/2013

Heather and I took the opportunity to use the Dragon Pack that we had gotten to go out with the Topline. The last few days had been incredibly cold, and this Saturday was no exception. The day might have been cold, but it was nice and clear. The Topline only had four divers on board, so it was very nice and roomy. Kevin and Jan were their regular excellent hosts. The ride out into Howe Sound was quite rough thought. There was a lot of wind coming down from Squamish and the water was very choppy. We almost turned around to wait things out. Kevin got us over to Bowen Island, and we dove Seymour Bay. I had never done Seymour Bay before, and it turned out to be a nice little dive site. We found several rocks covered in barnacle-eating nudibranchs. There were many hooded nudibranchs as well, a nice swimming nudibranch, and a puget sound king crab.

One funny incident on the boat was on the ride out, the small camp stove got a bit out of hand. Nothing dangerous, but there was an impressive amount of flame coming from it until it was turned off. You don't want to hear the exclamation "Fire" on a boat very often!

Whytecliff 03/12/2013

Dave, Dennis and myself planned to do a tech dive at Whytecliff again. It was an amazingly clear and cold night. When we made it down into the water at the Cut, poor Dave's suit developed a leak and he had to cancel. Dennis and I had a very nice dive. We didn't see a lot of new things, but it was an enjoyable dive! The cloud sponges were amazing as always. We did see a very interesting worm, and Dennis exclaimed later that he was a bit worried that it might somehow leap into his regulator. I had to laugh!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Whytecliff 16/11/2013

Heather and I went for a fun dive at Whytecliff. There were some very interesting things to see!

First off, there were a few sea stars that were affected by the sea star wasting syndrome that had been happening. I saw two, and sent in the data of this sighting to the Vancouver Aquarium. We found a very nice opalescent nudibranch, and several frosted nudibranchs. We went out to the Day Marker, and then back. On the way back, we came across a huge giant pacific octopus in a crack. We also saw a kelp greenling eating a small flounder.

We got some video, and it turned out not bad. The nudibranchs are very hard to see unfortunately.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Wreck Fest 09-10/11/2013

Jim Dixon had been planning this for a while. The idea was to do some "cross-pollination" of GUE divers between BC and Seattle. For a long time, the GUE Seattle community was much stronger than that of BC. In the last year or so, this has started to change due to a lot of hard work by people like Jim, Guy Shockey, Alan Johnson, and Greg Nuttal to name a few. More GUE divers were getting trained, and the community was growing quite well. What was once a dream was becoming reality.

Wreck Fest was the inaugural kick off of GUE BC, and hopefully would become a yearly thing. Before I go much further, here are some pictures and video (so you can stop reading here, if that's all you want to see!).

First off, a group shot of (I think), everyone who was on the trip. There were two boats needed to take everyone, hosted by Sea Dragon Charters. There sure were a lot of us!!! I'm in the back right corner.

There was also a very good underwater picture taken by Vlad to commemorate the kick-off.

This is a link to some video of all of us hanging out during our decompression stops was take by Jay. It's pretty impressive the number of divers in the water, and an equally impressive amount of bubbles! You don't see that very often up here.


I got some of my ownv video, and it really high-lights how good the visibility was. This was all on the HMCS Saskatchewan.

Now, on to the rest of the story!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had finished the class portion of Tech 1+ on the day prior to Wreck Fest. The rest of the experience dives would take place over the next two days of diving. Day one dawned brightly. The weather forecast had said it would be rainy, but the it turned out to be quite the opposite. I was lucky enough to stay at Jim's house, and I highly recommend Chez Jim if you get the chance! His and Tori's hospitality was great, as always. Alex and Will were staying at the Marinaside hotel (the hotel partner with Seadragon Charters). They were right beside the boat, which was very convenient. All the other GUE Seattle folks were staying there too. I had seen the units before, and they were very modern and quite nice. Being so close to the boat meant that you could leave gear in the shed, or on the boat adding to the convenience.

We all met up at the Marinaside, and began putting gear together and getting it down onto the boats. Both the Sea Dragon and the Topline were at the dock to accommodate all the divers. It was an impressive group, that's for sure. I had a lot of new names to remember! As a quick list there was myself, Jim, Greg, Shawn, Vlad, Guy, John, Drew, Liz and Ryan from BC, and Alex, Will, Bex, Jay, Greg, Keese, Koos, Mike, and Ryland from Seattle (if I missed anyone, apologies!).

I was on the Topline with Guy, Alex and Will, along with most of the Seattle folks. Kevin and Jan were our gracious hosts, and Christine and Glen were crewing the Sea Dragon. There was a lot of meeting and greeting going on, but we got the boats filled and loaded quickly and were all soon off to the wrecks. The amount of gear coming along was impressive. Everyone was diving doubles, and most had at least one stage as well. Kevin commented that he had never seen the Topline so low in the water before!

The Cape Breton was the first wreck of the trip, and both dives were fabulous. The visibility was excellent, and the current was low. It was very cool to see so many divers on the wreck at once. I remember laughing at the number of cameras being pointed around. It seemed like everywhere you looked, someone was snapping photos or shooting video. There were some very nice large cabezon on the decks, as well as the usual plethora of plumose anemones, copper rockfish and ling cod. It was also impressive on the decompression stops to see so many divers in one place, all in trim and holding perfectly level. The amount of bubbles was also staggering, and quite pretty. Here is where I was introduced (unwittingly) to the game that the Seattle folks played of clipping a toy to another diver without them knowing. There was a chicken, an octopus, and a princess doll, of which I seemed to end up with quite often! You really had to watch your back with those Seattle folks, haha.

That evening, Jim and Tori hosted everyone at their home in Ladysmith. It was a great evening, giving a chance for everyone to meet and talk more with each other. Liz provided beer courtesy of Lighthouse Brewing. Guy Shockey did a short talk on the GUE-BC Project Baseline and announced that next year there would be a large GUE get-together in Victoria. Similar events have happened before, and now that the GUE BC community was large enough, it would also form a nexus where these kind of events would periodically take place. It would be a fantastic opportunity to meet some of the folks we had only heard about. Keep an eye out for the official announcement of dates!

Koos also did a talk on the GUE Seattle Project Baseline. The amount of work that had been done there was very impressive. I highly recommend you read through that page, if you haven't. I hope that GUE-BC will get to that level soon. Guy also gave away some GUE swag, including some tank bands. Will was the big winner that evening, carrying away the tank bands. The icing on the cake was that he actually needed them! Speaking of cake, the cake came out after the draw complete with ship decoration in commemoration of Wreck Fest. Like all good things though, the evening wound down and people started to head home. There was still a big day of diving yet to go.

We met earlier the next day because Kevin wanted to take the Topline back to Vancouver in the daylight. With winter here and daylight savings time on it was getting quite dark quite early. The early start worked out well, since that allowed many of us to catch earlier ferries. Once the boats were sorted out, off we went. The last day was two dives on the HMCS Saskatchewan. Like the dives on the previous day, these were just awesome. The visibility seemed to be even better I thought. I got nailed by the octopus again on a deco stop, and ended up taking it home with me with the promise of continuing the tradition in BC. I also awarded myself the swan dive award, as an errant wave turned my giant stride into a face-plant. All was good though, and I don't think many people saw, haha.

Unfortunately, all the great diving soon came to an end and it was time to say good-byes. Based on all the smiles, I would say the event was a huge success. Several new certifications were finished as well, with Jay Olsen, Mike Bearda and Rebekah Marshall finishing Rec 3 and Alex Adolfi, Will Baxter and myself completing Tech 1+. Not to mention the many new friends that were made. I'm sure that everyone was looking forward to the next event! A big thanks goes out to Jim Dixon who was the main  master-mind behind the event, as well as Guy Shockey for helping with fill logistics, and finally Tori for making such great food and providing the cake!

Finally, I think these crazy pictures sum up the spirit of fun and camaraderie that this trip had.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tech 1+ Upgrade 08/11/2013

I had been looking forward to this course for some time. Jim Dixon had turned me on to it originally, as well as had Guy Shockey. The Tech 1+ Upgrade was one of the best bangs for your buck in terms of immediate value. Tech 1 limited you to only a bottom stage or a decompression bottle. That meant you had to often bring two sets of doubles with you if you wanted to do two dives. Two dives could easily be done, but they were often shorter, and the second dive could often be shortened so significantly as to not really be worth doing. With Tech 1+, you could supplement your gas with a bottom stage, as well as carrying a deco gas as well. Suddenly you could get onto a boat with a set of doubles and two aluminum 80s and get a good solid two dives in. Guy mentioned that you would quickly recover the cost of the course in helium savings, because the potential to dump residual gas was almost non-existent.

Over the few months leading up to the course I had tried to get in as much review and practice as I could. I decided not to dive with additional cylinders, and left that skill to be addressed in the course. I remember Dan MacKay saying that for one thing, you didn't want to dive outside of your certification, and also you shouldn't be expected to know everything before taking a GUE course. I was feeling pretty good when course day arrived.

I got up very early to catch the first ferry over to Nanaimo. I could have slept in a little bit, but I had missed getting a ferry reservation for the 8 o'clock one. Rather than tempt fate, I went for the early one, and slept on the ferry. It also meant that once I arrived in Nanaimo, I had a lot of time to relax and get down to Maple Bay to meet Guy.

Prior to the course start, I had met my fellow class-mates in email discussions started by Guy. Alex and Will were from Seattle, and were coming up to participate in the Wreck Fest that Jim Dixon had organized for the remainder of the weekend. We met in person finally at Guy's house, and we started the lecture portion of the class, after getting a tour of the impressive fill station that Guy had assembled at his house.

The class portion was quick, but very interesting. Guy went over the benefits of Tech 1+, and we reviewed the new procedures, as well as reviewing valve failures and some real-world examples of where you could apply Tech 1+. We found a mistake in the student notes, as compared to the latest Standard Operating Procedures, which did spark some searching to make sure which was correct.

Once all that was done, it was down to Maple Bay to do the critical skills! Jim Dixon joined us for this portion. All of these skills were done at about 30 feet, using 32%. For the first set of skills, we clipped on our two stage bottles, dropped down and shot a surface marker buoy, then ascended to 20 feet and did valve and s-drills. On that first descent, I miscalculated the extra negative weight of those stage bottles, and almost crashed into the bottom! Those extra pounds make a difference.

We had a brief discussion on the surface, and then went back down and ran a line from our SMB. During that, various failures happened. In all honesty, the failures went pretty good. guy commented later that my trim needed some work. I wasn't quite sure what happened, normally it is very good. I think it came down to laziness. Something to work on!

At the end, we dropped back down and went for a little fun dive, retrieved the SMB, and headed for the surface. Guy did another debrief, and then it was off for dinner! Will had gotten pretty cold during the dives, and we were all quite hungry. We met at the "Bad Habit" just in Maple Bay for some pretty amazing food.

All that was left was the experience dives, which we would cover during the Wreck Fest weekend that had already been planned. Quite a few GUE Seattle folks were coming up, as well as a bunch of GUE BC people, all of which had been organized by Jim. I couldn't wait!

Porteau Cove 27/10/2013

Vlad and I had been talking about doing a scooter dive at Porteau for some time, and it was finally time. We couldn't have asked for a better day. It was sunny, fairly warm, and the tide was good. Visibility had been reported to be pretty good as well. Unfortunately, I had scooter problems for the first time in two years. No matter what I did, I couldn't get any response. Time to bring my T-16 in for fixing!

We modified our dive plan, and Vlad towed me out to the Nakaya buoy and we descended there. Unlike the last time I was out at the Nakaya, this time we found it :-) I was scratching my head on how we didn't find it the last time...

The dive itself was good, as always. The visibility wasn't extreme, but it was pretty good. we spent about 20 minutes poking around the Nakaya. We saw some nice big ling cod and some nice nudibranchs, but nothing much else of note. Vlad towed me to the Grant Hall, and we continued from there. We went to check the concrete blocks for octopus, but had no luck. After poking around at the tug and the sailboat, we headed back in.

All in all, a fun little dive! Now, to get my scooter fixed!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Project Baseline Artificial Reef Saskatchewan - 20/10/2013

I joined Jim Dixon as part of the BC Underwater Explorers to participate in Project Baseline Artificial Reef Saskatchewan. It was an exciting goal, to start documenting the growth of life on an artificial reef. Hopefully this information could be used to promote more artificial reefs in the future.

It was an extremely early start to the day for this. I met Dave Williams at Vlad's house, then we piled everything into Dave's truck to make the 6:30am ferry. I had to get up at 4am! It was also quite amusing in that I didn't get Vlad's phone number and relied on Google Maps to find his house. My phone crashed several times on the way, and Google had a very hard time putting me in the right location. In the end I had to use my brain to find the place. Even then, Vlad's house had no house number! So I was left peering in the windows of a strange house at 5am in the morning. In the end, I emailed him my phone number and we got it sorted out. A good thing too, because Dave had problems finding the place as well.

Vlad made us some excellent coffee, and then we were off to the ferry. Everything was going better, until we went to the coffee shop. When we were leaving, Dave saw all the cars loading! We started to run, but found all the doors and gates closed! Thankfully, hiding off to the side was one open ticket booth door, so we were able to get back to the truck and get on board. Whew.

The trip across was uneventful, and we spent the majority of it planning our dives, as well as some good old fashioned BC Ferry breakfast.

We got to the Sea Dragon without incident and started loading. Kevin and Jan of the Topline were over, as the Sea Dragon was not running that day. It was good to see both of them. Once everything was loaded, we were off. Jim gave a dive briefing on what we wanted to accomplish. There would be two stations set up, one forward of the observation tower, and one aft. Zip ties would attach plastic markers to the location on the railing where a line would be run across to the other side. Then video and still images would be taken up and down this line as a reference. These video and images would be used to document the change and growth of life on the wreck. Temperature would also be taken.

Dave was not feeling well, so did not end up diving. Myself, Vlad and Guy Shockey were the team that set up the station to the aft of the tower. Visibility was excellent. Guy had to do some MacGuyvering of the zip ties and plastic markers. The plastic was too thin and the zip ties ripped through the hole that was made. Nice improvisation Guy! I never thought a dive knife would be used to make holes like that. Vlad then did video and pictures up and down the line. Once all that was accomplished, we went and checked out the other team. They were finishing up too, and we all surfaced basically together.

With the goals we needed accomplished, the next dive was just for fun. Vlad and I teamed up, and explored the wreck mostly where the hull met the bottom. We poked our heads into the cutouts, and just took in the sights. I really enjoyed seeing the keel, where it seemed to knife into the bottom. We found a tremendously large ling cod as well. It was at least 5 feet long, and very wide. It started to look kind of grumpy at our intrusion, so we moved on quickly. Under the stern where the propeller shafts were was also very interesting. I had never explored that area before. It provided a very neat swim-through.

One thing that I found quite depressing was some graffiti on the starboard hull of the ship, about mid-ships. Someone had drawn some rude pictures, and scrawled some names as well. Whoever these inconsiderate divers were really should be ashamed of themselves. It reminded me of the happy face someone had drawn in the floor on one of the Mexico caves. These drawings would not disappear any time soon, and now would mar the experience for everyone who came to experience this grand wreck. It was very sad.

However, that was the only low point. Vlad got some very good video, and I hope to post some of it soon. The ride back to Vancouver was very nerve wracking. We had gotten into the 3 pm ferry line up, and the chances of getting on were low according to the ticket agent. It really came down to the wire, where we were watching rows of cars load, and it was getting closer and closer to us. But the lines kept stopping and pausing so we had no idea if we'd go or stay. Finally, we ended up being four of the last cars let on. We were literally almost hanging off the back of the boat! But we made it.

Kisenia posted her video from the day on Vimeo.

HMCS Saskatchewan from Ksenia on Vimeo.

Egmont 11-14/10/2013

I am putting the video, and the picture album here at the top so that you don't have to wade through my long-winded trip report if you don't want to!

My trip photos are here:


Francois Keen who was also on the trip posted his pictures here. They are very good!


I was very excited about this trip. Heather and I had originally met on this same trip three years ago. At that time, we didn't dive together, so it would be great not only to have an anniversary trip but also to dive together!

Our hosts were once again Kal and Anne of Porpoise Bay Charters, and the trip was organized by International Diving Center. IDC had run a trip to Egmont every year for the last while called the "Strongwater Retreat". It was a small group with six of us: Heather, myself, Alan Johnson, Jonathan Gormick and two divers I didn't know, Francoise and Alex. We began to call the the "International Contingent" during the trip. Francois was French, but had spent many years in New Zealand and Alexei was Russian.

We met up on the Friday at the Egmont Government dock. Alexei and Francois were already there, so we introduced ourselves and started to haul gear onto the dock. Jonathan and Alan showed up not long after, as did Kal and our boat.

We were also greeted by the rest of the boat "crew", Nanuk and Nemo.

We also took the obligatory group shots, which every real trip needed!

We dumped off our gear and picked our accommodations (yurts again!) and then went for a quick evening dive at North Sutton Island. The visibility was excellent, and it was a good indication of the great diving to come. That evening, we had a late dinner and retired quite early in anticipation for the diving the next day.

The morning brought an excellent day. In fact, the whole weekend would be clear and sunny. Some mornings were extremely foggy, but that burned off quite quickly. The clear skies just added to the great weekend.

That morning, we discovered some clever racoons had gotten onto the boat, and had made a partial meal out of Francois' zipper wax. Kal said that they would get into anything if there was something edible. Chief culprits were people leaving snacks on the boat over night. After a hearty breakfast thanks to Anne, we were off for a great day of diving! Heather and I sure were happy!
The first stop was one of my favorites, the Power Lines in Agamemnon Channel. The cloud sponges were amazing as always, and the dwarf gorgonian corals were everywhere. I thought there was a lot more coral than I had seen previously, but it could just be that I was paying attention more. On the way back, we stopped and looked at the pictographs painted on one of the rock walls. Kal gave us a nice talk on some of the things they had learned about these ancient pictures. The next dive was after lunch at Courtnel's Folley, so named because of the man who built a large warehouse that never succeeded. Or at least the story was something like that! I believe we found the wolf eel that I have in the video on this dive. it was quite a surprise to see it. We had stopped to look at something else, then I looked down and there he was!

Nemo's Leap was next, and it was here I think we encountered some sea lion's at the end of the dive. We were on the surface, and Heather pointed excitedly behind me. Low and behold, a sea lion was curious about us and was quite close. Francois and Alexei were at their safety stop, and the sea lion came even nearer them. Francois got some excellent pictures of the sea lion. For me, I wasn't able to get my camera out quick enough to get any good video. It was a great experience!

That night we watched a video I had brought along, "The Land the Devours Ships", a National Geographic Explorer video that was done in 1993. It was about the finding of one of the ships that was sent to find the lost Franklin Expedition. It was a bit long, but was ultimately quite interesting.

The next day had us going to Captain's Corners first, then through the famous Skoocumchuck rapids to the wreck of the Chaudiere. The rapids were quite tame thankfully, and Heather got some video of our crossing them. It's at the start of the video at the top of this page. The Chaudiere was a less interesting wreck in my opinion due to the fact that it seemed to have a lot less life on it. The fact that it was on its side meant that a lot more of the hull was exposed, which seemed difficult for life to get a foot hold on. There did seem to be more growing on it this time though. Anne said that a group of pacific white sided dolphins had cleaned a lot of the life off of the wreck at one point. Maybe it was recovering. Anyway, it was still a very good dive. I found a shaggy mouse nudibranch on this dive, but didn't get any video! I must have turned off the camera instead of turning it on. Oh well, they were not the most interesting looking nudibranchs, but I loved the name and I did not seem them very often.

On the ride back, people got quite sleep in the beautiful day.
The last dive of the day was at South Sutton Island, because the sites that we looked at first were all not optimal. South Sutton was a nice little dive, with a lot of urchins and nice clear water. A perfect little dive before Thanksgiving Dinner!

The dinner was fabulous. Anne made us turkey and stuffing, and we had a great blackberry cobbler for desert. Too full to do much else, we again went to bed pretty early.

The next day dawned very spookily with even more mist and fog. On this the last day, we visited Jaggy Crack, and Swede's Reef. At Jaggy Crack the sheer number of feather stars was just incredible. They covered the wall with their waving tendrils. There were some excellent and very large nudibranchs as well, with a giant orange peel nudibranch, and sea lemons.

The last dive was at Swede's Reef. I was very excited about this dive, because of past experiences. I had found a puget sound king crab carapace on this dive, and I still had it. I was hoping to find another! Octopus used this area as one of their favorite hunting grounds. The deep side of the sea mound provided upwellings of nutrients that contributed to a very productive site. Heather and I found a very nice brown box crab, and a lot of large puget sound king crabs. I did find a carapace, but the crab that was making it had just shed it. It was extremely flimsy, but was quite interesting to see. Then Heather found the octopus! It was under a rock, but was exposed quite well. We got some great video of it sleeping. It was one of the high-lights of the trip. We also found a little moss-headed warbonnet, and lots of other little fish and critters. Swede's reef was one of the high-lights of the weekend.

All in all, the trip was again amazing. Hats off to Kal and Anne for being such gracious hosts, and IDC for organizing the trip! I can't wait for the next one!

Whytecliff 09/10/2013

Vlad and I went out to Whytecliff for a short skills dive. I had to get some more practice in for my upcoming Tech 1+ class in November. We did some valve drills, ran some line, and did gas switches. It went pretty well. It was getting darker a lot sooner, so it was more challenging doing valve drills in mid-water.

We didn't see a lot of anything interesting. I did learn that I needed to practice more on my line-work and on my valve drills. Slow steady improvements!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Porteau Cove 02/10/2013

Dave Williams, Jim Dixon and myself went out to Porteau Cove for a quick scooter dive. It had been a long time since Dave had his scooter out, and same with me. Dave had gotten some new batteries, so it was a good test. Poor Jim had his scooter away for maintenance, so we did some practicing towing. Jim announced the up-coming launch of GUE-BC. Exciting times for diving in the Vancouver area! It was great to see that the community was building. I was looking forward to some of the projects that were being planned. Especially the marine life monitoring project on the Saskatchewan.

The plan was for me to tow Jim, and we'd follow the firehose, then make for the Nakaya. Things went a bit sideways when Jim and I arrived at the concrete block near the Nakaya and discovered that Dave was no where to be found! I had mistaken Jim's light for Dave's, and had not stopped on the way out to check if Dave as still there. It certainly reminded me how easy it was to lose someone while scootering! I also re-enforced the good practice of proper awareness. Being on the trigger full blast all the time was not the goal! Jim and I surfaced and quickly located Dave, who had surfaced as well. We met up at the marker buoy for the Nakaya and Dave explained that he had turned the pitch down too far on his scooter and couldn't keep up. We descended back down, and Dave re-adjusted his pitch and did a few practice loops. All was well from that point. We tied off our scooters on the concrete block, and set out to find the Nakaya. I discovered that my estimate on my suit inflation bottle was not adequate. The extra surface and descent drained the last of my gas from the bottle, so I was getting quite the suit squeeze! I got the team to hold, and connected my LPI hose briefly to get enough gas into my suit so that it was comfortable again. Ahh! Much better! I knew that I would only have to vent gas from my suit from that point on, so it was all good.

It was a night for incidents, because the next thing was that we could not find the Nakaya! You would think such a large object would be pretty easy to find. I am embarrassed to say that it eluded us this evening. Visibility wasn't that bad, but we must have just missed it. I knew it was near, but it wasn't meant to be. We even lost the scooters for a bit of time! Finally we found the concrete block again, and retrieved them. Then it was a short ride back to the Grant Hall hull. Dave almost ran right into it, it came up quite fast. For the rest of the dive after that point, we put the scooters away and just swam. There were no octopus that I could find, but at the end of the dive there were quite a few fish carcases in the shallows. They were being devoured by an army of various crabs of all sizes. The feeding frenzy was so violent that the fish seemed to be moving! I had never seen crabs so active in feeding before, and in such numbers. There were large schools of perch in the shallows too, that were surprised and confused by our lights. I chased them around a bit with my scooter. Unfortunately Dave said he sucked a few through his prop blades. Poor fish!

All in all, a good dive, where I learned a lot, yet again. I was glad to be reminded of the importance of team unity and communication.

Whytecliff 18/09/2013

Vlad and I planned to do a Wednesday night dive at The Cut. Dave Williams was going to join, but got stuck in traffic and couldn't make it. There was some crazy traffic that evening on the Iron Workers bridge.

Living in North Vancouver again was really paying off. With Vlad living nearby too, it really made getting to the dive site a lot easier. The park was a lot less crowded since summer was over. The weather was quite good, sunny and not rainy. It was getting noticeably darker during the evenings, and this would be a real night dive!

We planned for a 70 minute dive with 10 minutes of deco on O2, and an average depth of 25 meters. The visibility was pretty good, but the current was pretty strong when we started to the right of the Cut. There were a great number of dead star fish. I didn't know what they were until later, though. They looked like patches of blue-ish slime. Not much like a star fish at all! There shear number of them was quite different, I had not seen something like that before. Later in the week I asked the Vancouver Aquarium staff about it, and they said that die-offs can happen for a lot of different reasons.

Apart from that, I don't think there was much else of note to report. It was a pleasant dive, and nice to get out of the water when there was no rain!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Kelvin Grove 11/09/2013

Dave, Jim and I did an evening tech dive at Kelvin Grove. I didn't bring my camera along, and I ended up regretting it because we saw some really great stuff.

I led the dive, and we came across a stubby squid. I didn't take this picture, but this was a good representation of it.

The stubby squid was super cool. We watched it for a few minutes, and then left it alone. There were a lot of sailfin sculpins as well, which I had not seen that often in the past.

At the end of the dive, a salmon surprised us. I had never seen a salmon on a dive before. We were in the shallows and I saw something dart quickly to my right. The salmon swam quickly around us a few times, then vanished. It was very cool!

Sponge Bioherm 25/08/2013

Myself, Vlad, and Jim went out on the Topline to dive the sponge bioherm again.

It was an excellent day for a dive. There was a fair amount of surface current, so the descent was quick, and I was a bit worried that we might miss the bioherm. However, it worked out great in the end. Jim and Dave dove together and went first. We were going to stay as a group of four, but that didn't work out because of the current. We did end up meeting up on the dive, passing each other. The sponges were amazing as always. I remember seeing some of the biggest ling cods I had seen in a long time. Vlad got some good photos.


The second dive we did was on the back side of Boywer Island. I'd never dove back there before, so it was quite cool. It was a nice wall, and Vlad and I had a good dive. I didn't find anything particularly interesting, but it was still a nice dive. All in all, it was a successful day of diving.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Cut 07/08/2013

Dave Williams, Jim myself and a GUE diver I had not personally met before, Valdimir, decided to do a technical dive at the Cut at Whytecliff.

It was great to finally meet Vlad, who had moved to Vancouver a few months ago. The parking was scarce at Whytecliff, summer had made it very busy. We didn't get great spots, but it wasn't bad. The evening was perfect. It was warm, but not scorching. I wore a thinner undergarment thinking that the water temperature would be quite warm with the constant sun we had been getting. I was wrong!

The dive went great. We planned for a 40 minute dive with an average depth of 39 meters. The visibility was not bad. It certainly wasn't horrible! Dave and myself dove together, but we did stay together as a "team" of 4. Vlad and Jim formed the second team. On the wall, I found a very nice golf ball crab who promptly got skittish and dropped off the ledge he was on into the abyss. Oops! I also found two very nice decorated warbonnets in crevices. We didn't come across any octopus, but we did find a giant giant ling cod. The glass sponges also looked bigger than normal.

It was a pretty cold dive, I must say. Deco at 6 meters was warmer, but not as warm as I was expecting. There was also quite a bit of current. We came back into Whytecliff bay to do our deco, so eventually we got out of the current. Dave had a problem with his deco reg and was low on deco gas. He ended up running out near the end of the deco, so it gave some good practice sharing deco gas with no real risk

All in all, a very fun dive!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Madrona 28/07/2013

Heather and I joined Jim and Greg at Madrona for a very nice two dives.

On arrival, we noticed wedding party activity. Folks were cleaning the beach, shuttling in people and all manner of activity. We joked that we might end up being part of the wedding photos!

The first dive was excellent. We went to the big wall, and found three octopus. Jim and Greg found a wolf eel that Heather and I missed. The visibility was great, and the sun was awesome.

Heather found she had a bit of a leak in her suit, so she sat out for the second dive. Greg, Jim and myself went to the smaller wall to see what we could see. There was a nice buffalo sculpin, and another small giant pacific octopus. We also found an interesting rock overhang, and could not resist "cave" diving.

All in all, a very very fun day!

Here is a little bit of video. Heather's new light came in very handy making things look a lot less green!

Capilano and Gulf Stream 21/07/2013

I had really been looking forward to this dive. Jim Dixon had arranged to go to the Capilano and Gulf Stream with Bill Coltart from Pacific Pro Dive. The plan was to do two technical dives on these wrecks. Very exciting!

On the trip was myself, Jim, Greg, Dave, Guy and three folks from Pacific Pro Dive. Bill had made some changes to the boat, the Ata-Tude which I had been wanting to see. You could now stand up to put your gear on if you liked, and that made using doubles a much easier proposition than before. A great change Bill!

I car-pooled with Dave Williams and Jim to Comox. Dave was getting his last two experience dives in to complete his Tech 1. It was a perfect day, sunny but not too warm. When we arrived in Comox, we loaded up the boat and headed out. The tide was a bit against us due to a later start, so there was some question on whether we were going to be able to do the Gulf Stream at all. The first dive was on the Capilano, and the visibility was excellent. Greg and I did a 36 meter average dive for 30 minutes and did our deco on oxygen. The plan was to spend more time on oxygen, and have a two hour surface interval to maximize our time for the subsequent Gulf Stream. Sometimes you just couldn't do the dive you expected first, and that's where planning and applying your decompression knowledge was invaluable.

The Capilano was a lot of fun. Greg found a very nice giant pacific octopus in the wreckage of the forward hold. I don't have any video of that, but here is some of the video I did get.

We had a very enjoyable surface interval in Lund after. Nancy's Bakery there made the best cinnamon rolls around! We did have a small problem with a horde of wasps, but it was a great lunch.

We aimed for the Gulf Stream as Bill thought it was doable. There was quite a bit of current in the upper 60 feet of water, so it was very interesting getting down. We were hanging off the anchor line the whole way. The Gulf Stream was one of Greg's favorite wrecks, and it didn't disappoint. Once we were on the wreck, the current died down to almost nothing, so it was a great dive. I saw some of the biggest ling cod ever on that wreck. One was at least 6 feet long! According to Bill later, the really big ling cod were on the wreck of the Scepter Squamish. I couldn't imagine how big those could be! We also found a really nice puget sound king crab hanging out on the hull. The Gulf Stream was awesome. I didn't get any video, because I was busy taking it all in with my eyes. Our dive profile was an average of 45 meters for 25 minutes, and it worked out great. In theory you were supposed to be able to do your deco up the wall beside the wreck, but the current was too strong, so up the line we went. It was a great deal of fun doing a one-handed gas switch while hanging on to the line! Guy commented after that it was a great learning experience, hahah!

Dave passed his Tech 1, so that was an added bonus to a truly great day of diving. Congratulations Dave!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cape Breton and Riv Tow 06/07/2013

Jan and Kevin from the Sea Dragon called me and asked me to come along for a dive. NDO had a diver that was without a buddy, and they were stuck, so they asked me. I was happy to oblige.

I was diving with Jesse, who was used to diving in the cold waters of the Saint Lawrence. They were quite a good diver, and I was impressed.

It was a rough trip out to the Cape Breton. The wind was up and there were quite a few swells. Steve from NDO was out doing a class, as well as Christine from the Sea Dragon. Jesse and I had a good dive on the Breton, looking for the wolf eel that had been recently seen. We didn't find it, but did investigate the impressive cloud sponges and other life. There was a fried egg jellyfish that was caught on the railing. It was quite large and it looked like someone had thrown an egg at the side of the ship.

Since it was a bit too rough, we went back in and did the Riv Tow. I had never done it, so it was a welcome opportunity. We checked the starboard hull for the octopus den, and did find the octopus. However, he was very far back in the den, and a kelp greenling kicked up the silt right in front of the den so it completely obscured the octopus. Too bad!

The rest of the Riv Tow was quite nice. The prop was interesting, and the micro life was great. I found several large mosshead warbonnets in the deck channels. There were also rainbow shrimp that I did not see very often.

The weather was amazing, apart from the rough ocean, and it was a great set of dives.

Thank you Sea Dragon!

Tyee 01/07/2013

Heather and I went to Tyee to attend the Nanaimo Dive Outfitters Canada Day dive and barbecue.

When we arrived, we were a bit worried that it might be too hot to dive. It's funny that summer diving might be too hot! But when you had to get into such a lot of gear and undergarments, you could quickly overheat and hot days are a big consideration. The good thing was that there was a nice cool breeze, and the sun was hidden by periodic clouds.

Once in the water, it was a different story. There was a pretty decent thermocline, with the surface layer being quite warm. Under that, it was a lot colder than normal. It turned out to be a very good dive. The visibility was nice, maybe 30 feet. We went looking for the wolf eels on the right wall, but missed them. Later, I'd ask Steve from NDO where they were. If I recall, you should swim out south, following the sandy chute. Then look for a big rock like an anvil, and follow the wall down keeping it on your right. At the anvil rock go down to 80 feet and they should be right there.

We didn't see them, but did see a nice big puget sound king crab and some nice nudibranchs. Heather was trying out a new Sola dive light that worked quite well for video.

After the dive, we got a burger and some corn on the cob thanks to Nanaimo Dive Outfitters. Thanks guys!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

China Creek 16/06/2013

Greg, Jim and I decided to do China Creek again. We met at my place, and car-pooled up. Unfortunately when we arrived, Jim discovered he left his backplate and wing at home! Luckily he brought his own car, so didn't have to stick around all day.

Greg and I did the bigger wreck first. We brought O2, and planned to maybe use it if our average depth warranted it. We ran a line and did a short penetration of the wreck. It was a lot of fun, and good to put our cave training to use. It was a pretty short penetration, maybe 5 minutes. There really wasn't much to see since the wreck was quite small, maybe a hundred feet long. We poked around for a while, then headed back to the beach.

Chris and Kim met us for the second dive. We did the wall next. One thing I did notice quite a bit was how cold the water was. But when you got to the beach and into 20 feet of water, it felt like a hot bath, since the water there was so much warmer. Greg and I did some valve drills and s-drills in that warm water, to take advantage of it! The dive on the wall was nice. It was fairly barren of life, and I still thought it was more fun to scooter it, but it was still good. Greg found a very odd translucent formation. We had no idea what it was. It wasn't an anemone, possibly an egg case? It was not soft, but quite hard. At the end of the dive, we did some mask removal and backup mask deployment drills. Boy was that cold!

Here is a bit of video:

Willis Point 09/06/2013

Greg and I did some scootering at Willis Point. We chose Willis because the visibility was supposed to be great. Unfortunately it wasn't!

It was a nice day for diving. When we arrived, there was ample parking. We took our time gearing up, and decided to do one longer dive instead of two.

Descending down, it was very soupy, and it didn't get better at depth. We did talk to a group of other divers who were using a rigid inflatable boat there, and they said that the vis cleared up. They must have been diving some other site! It was still a fun dive, because we were challenged keeping together while scootering. It was also a fun challenge not to run into anything. There were a lot of lion's mane jellyfish to avoid as well. I'd not seen so many ever.

The next Thursday, Greg reported that visibility at Willis was 50 feet. You never know!

Telegraph Cove 05/05/2013

My first dive back in cold water since Mexico! Jim wanted to do practice for his upcoming Tech 2 course, so he, Greg and I went down to Victoria to do some bottle practice. Originally we thought to go to Willis Point, but visibility was pretty bad there, so we switched to Telegraph Cove. This was very close to the 10 Mile Point dive site.

We arrived early, so Jim and I grabbed a tea at the Star Bucks and took our time putting our gear together. Greg showed up, and we took our time, talking about Mexico and just enjoying the fairly nice day.

The dive plan for the first dive was to go out, find a depth around 20 or 30 feet, deploy a surface marker and tie it off, then run a line out and practice bottle rotation on that line. I was leading the dive, and we quickly found that Telegraph cove was shallow. Very shallow! The tide was on a large swing as well to low tide. So we spent at least 15 minutes swimming out and getting to about 15 feet maybe. There was not a lot to tie off to on the bottom either. In the end we tied the SMB to a small rock. Running the line to a point to tie off to was also frustrating. Blue gloves made my line skills not very good! I would need to practice a lot more with that. Bare hands in Mexico was quite different!

Once we got set up, we started to practice. The SMB creeped along the line too, so there was some creative tie-down action using a spare double ender to get it fixed better. Jim and Greg did bottle rotations for most of the dive. I did a few gas switches and valve and gas-sharing drills too. We spent almost an hour doing all of this, then it started to get a bit too cold. Getting back to the beach was a bit of a challenge too. The bottom was so shallow it made natural navigation using the depth change non-existent.

After a nice surface interval answering local walker’s questions, we went back out again to see if we could find anything interesting other than sand. On the first dive, that’s all we really found. We tried going to the right, and did eventually find some rocks with nudibranchs and some life. But it was a lot of sand still, and very shallow. Since it took so long to swim to anything interesting, Telegraph Cove seemed not such a great dive site. I do remember finding a huge number of gumboot chitons however. I picked up several and we examined them. I also dropped a sea cucumber in front of Jim from above, which scared him. There were quite a few shenanigans on this dive. Greg stole my stage bottle at one point, but I noticed pretty quickly. We had to do something to make the dive interesting!

In the end, it was nice to check out Telegraph. However, it was only very good for training, and maybe not even that. Certainly you would not want to dive there at low tide!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Capilano and Vivian Island 26/05/2013

Heather and I were talking to Bill Coltart of Pacific Pro Dive and decided to take a trip up to Comox to go out with him on the Ata-tude. It was not a regular charter, it was just a few locals going out that day for fun.

The day was excellent for diving. It wasn't raining, it was sunny, and not too cold. It ended up being only 4 of us on the boat, so it was very comfortable. Bill's boat was in Comox for the summer, and it took us a little bit to find it. It was beside the boat ramp at the main docks. We toted all the gear down, and set out.

The first dive was on the Capilano. I found a good page on the history of the wreck itself. It was pretty interesting.


Visibility wasn't the best, especially at the surface. It was about 20 feet maybe, so not terrible. On the wreck itself, we were confronted by at least 5 lion's mane jelly fish around it. It was like a small mine field. We steered clear of them, and had a pretty good dive. Back on the boat, we took quite a bit of time freeing the small anchor. It was hooked very well. Once loose, we took the small jaunt over to Vivian Island and had some lunch.

At Vivian, we had a nice dive between 30 and 40 feet. We saw some large nudibranchs, and very large rock scallops. In the video below, at the end, one of the biggest rock scallops is featured.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Equipment Course 18/05/2013

Alan Johnson of IDC ran an equipment maintenance course for myself, Daniel Wei and Greg. I had previously taken an equipment course at Oceanquest, but more practice was always good. Alan would also take us through more regulator and valve maintenance, as well as putting together a set of doubles. I took the opportunity to take my steel 100's and turn them into a double set.

Alan was great, as always. The level of detail and the ability to practice on real equipment was invaluable. We stripped down regulators, valves and other components, then assembled them all back together and tested them. This gave a great deal more understanding on how all our gear operated.

This course would not certify us for anything, but in terms of knowledge and comfort for field repairs, it was invaluable.

Hat's off the Alan for such a great experience!

Saskatchewan and Clark Rock 11/05/2013

The previous weekend I was supposed to go dive China Creek with Greg, but I got a bad cold. I got over it during the week, and went out on the Sea Dragon (Heather was away in Vancouver for Dragon Boating). I hadn't been out on the Sea Dragon for some time. They had moved spots from the government dock by the pub near the ferry terminal to just below the new hotel and restaurant complex that was built further along. They worked out a very good deal. They got a reduced room rate at the hotel for divers, and were able to build a shed under the restaurant for the compressor, and to dry gear. A pretty nice setup!

I forgot that I had met the new captain as well, and vice versa. We figured it out when we realized that we lived quite close together. Dan was a great host. It was very interesting talking to him about his years as a tug operator on Vancouver Island. Christine was the same gracious hostess as well.

I teamed up with a couple visiting from Oregon, Dave and Cindy I think. There was a big group down from Kamloops as well, who got together and ran dive trips down to the Vancouver area. It was a full boat. It was a good day for diving too, since it was overcast and not too hot.

Our first dive was on the Saskatchewan. Visibility was not great, maybe 15 feet. There was some current as well, but not bad. Our plan was to check out the deck guns and stay at an average of 70 feet. On the descent, things went well. Once we hit the deck, we started forward with me leading. I made sure to check behind me often, as I was diving with new buddies. I turned forward for maybe a minute, then looked back and only Cindy was there! I asked her if she knew where our third member was, and she couldn't see him either. We did the standard look for a minute, then began to surface. Once we did, sure enough, Dave had had a problem coughing, and didn't have enough time to get our attention before he had to head up. Since we verified he was fine, we decided to continue the dive. It was a good lesson for me to remember to pay even more attention when diving with new people. It was also a very good reminder for everyone to take a light along on every dive (they didn't bring their lights). Cindy and I had a pretty good dive after descending back down. Nothing spectacular in terms of life, but the deck guns were interesting, and they had a large resident tiger rockfish living inside the turret. All in all, a good dive.

Back on the boat, we had some lovely soup courtesy of Christine, and some great home made banana bread courtesy of the Kamloops crew. The second dive, we decided to go to a site I’d not done before called Clark Rock. This was pretty nice, because almost always if you go out on the Sea Dragon everyone wants to do both wrecks.

Clark Rock turned out to be awesome. It was near Piper’s Lagoon, north of Nanaimo. The best part about it was all the wolf eels and the octopus. Basically there was a rocky reef at about 60 feet that was full of nooks and crannies. There was an anchor line too, and very close to that was one of the biggest wolf eels I had ever seen. And next to that, was an octopus den, and next to that was another wolf eel! It was so easy to find this den, it wasn't funny. All you had to do was drop down the anchor line, and then follow an existing line along the bottom to a no parking sign (it used to be a stop sign, and obviously was placed there as a joke). Right beside that was a pile of rocks, and that’s where the wolf eels were. To the left of that was a big boulder and under that was the octopus. The head on the male wolf eel was the biggest I’d ever seen. We saw some nice swimming nudibranchs, and swimming scallops. Visibility was a bit better on this dive, but still only about 20 feet.

I didn't get any video on the dives, because the visibility was just a little bit too bad. I just enjoyed leaving the camera in my pocket, and keeping memories.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mexico Cave Diving 23/03/2013

You would think that three weeks cave diving in Mexico would equal a lot of memories. And you would be right! Three weeks also can blur together with such great diving, which was what happened on this trip. In hindsight I should have written notes every day, but there just never seemed to be time. We were either training, sleeping, eating, diving or getting ready to do one of those. I'd like also to reassure anyone reading this that I didn't undertake cave diving lightly. I only did it after receiving the highest level of training, using the most conservative procedures, the best equipment and with the best instructors possible. Everything was geared to make it safe and fun. Cave diving can be dangerous, but with the right training, equipment, and procedures, it is not much different than driving.

Arriving in Cancun first was Dave and Daniel and I. We had a long flight, with some delays. It worked out better for Dave and I because we got bumped to a direct flight instead of having to take a jog up to Ottawa. The fun continued with some rental car problems, and a flat tire in the parking lot. We had reservations for a van, but the person who was supposed to meet us was nowhere to be found. Stepping outside Cancun airport was not for the faint of heart. You were immediately bombarded by offers for taxis and car rentals. Further fun was a lack of ability to communicate amongst our groups. Greg, Shawn and Jim were arriving later that day, and we spent a good deal of time waiting for them to arrive. It was pretty amusing that WestJet could not tell you what passenger was on what flight.

In the end, we retrieved everyone, visited a very shady tire repair shop, found Costco (and bought food), and made it to the condo in Puerto Aventuras after getting lost in the complex several times. Street signs in Puerto Aventuras (and Mexico in general) didn’t seem to exist! Here is a picture of the view from our condo.

The following day, we found Zero Gravity and met Guy.

We got some doubles and went with Guy over to a cenote called Carwash. Later I would find out from Christophe that it was called Carwash because in the 70s, a taxi company would wash their cars there.  We got our first taste of the famous cenotes at Carwash. The water was very clear and very warm. So were we! The heat was something else. We all wanted to try out our undergarments and weighting. Most of us found that we needed to take off some weight and some layers too. Carwash was a lot of fun. We did valve drills and gas sharing drills, as well as explored the cavern zone a bit. There were the famous “stop” signs at the end of the cavern zones. Dave had to take a picture. The stop signs were a common thing in caves, to warn untrained divers not to go further. There were some very interesting fish in Carwash, and poor Greg had a bad leg cramp on one drill that I captured on video. See the bottom of the page.

The next day, the course started. We met Christophe and Mark, and started down to business. We did some overview in the classroom, then picked up sets of doubles and headed to cenote Eden.

We had some excellent weather, much cooler than the day at Carwash. We finished off the swim test first in Eden, and it was a great place to do it with a very large and nice pool. Dave just made the swim test, in 13 minutes and 54 seconds and we all congratulated him. After the swim test, we geared up and did a short cavern dive to check out what it was like to be in the cave. I don’t remember much about that first dive any longer, but a constant theme from Christophe was communication and teamwork. I was rushing far too much. We had many of the skills, but it was the extra refinement that was really needed. Cave diving was about finesse, not brute force or speed (another theme was rushing). Eden closed strictly at 5pm, and a famous line from Christophe went something like this “I don’t mean to rush you, but we need to be packed up and leaving in 5 minutes. No rush though.” Quite funny! We went back to the shop for more lectures, and then packed it in.

At the end of day one, we had an idea of what the routine would be like. It was tough. We met at the shop for 8am, got gear together, and then went diving. Back to the shop for lecture, and then home to dry out wet gear and get ready for the next day and make some food and get some sleep. Rinse and repeat. It was hectic. Christophe's truck was full to the brim of equipment as well.

Day 2 was back to Eden again, and did dry land practice on running line. We were introduced to the idea of the “titanium grip”, never let go of the line! Before the first dive we got caught by a torrential downpour. We raced to get our drysuits on, and just made it. Boy did it ever come down! Back into the cavern for another cavern dive, and then Christophe took us into the second tunnel at Eden called River Run. Here we ran into the halocline for the first time. It was very cool. It was almost like seeing a layer of air over top of the water, but it was just fresh water lying on top of the salt water. It was hard to describe but there are lots of videos of it. For example here is a good piece from the BBC Planet Earth Cave episode.

In the dive debrief, Christophe looked into each of our eyes and very seriously asked if we wanted to continue cave diving. I knew I did. At the time, I didn't quite understand all the mental and physical aspects of cave diving, but I knew I felt pretty comfortable and wanted to see more. We spent a lot of time on gas sharing exercises and valve drills, along with a few failures. Very quickly Christophe pinpointed areas to improve. Communication, teamwork, awareness and slowing down were the common themes for us. That evening we discovered that heavy downpours create big puddles in Mexico in some areas. There was not the same level of storm sewer infrastructure, and they got clogged easily. We had to ford a couple of big ones in the van but made it fine.

Day 3 was in Xtabay.

I honestly can’t recall much about it now. I do remember that we did gas sharing on the line, and Christophe continued to reinforce the same comments.  We used 60 bar in 8 minutes at a 9m average depth, and travelled maybe 30m until we stopped sharing – that’s was a lot of gas and far too slow. The cenote was quite nice, like a big pond, and Dan and I spent a few minutes swimming around in it looking at the turtles and fish at the end of the day.

Day 4 was in Tah Mahal. By this time, the course was beginning to wear on everyone. We were getting home around 8, which left little time to prepare for the next day let alone unwind. By the time we met at the shop, did the day’s diving, debriefed, got back to the shop and did the lecture it was an almost 12 hour day. Today I think we had an early day, which was very much needed. It gave us some time to get some groceries and do some other things. During the debriefs, Christophe was still saying the same things, awareness, slowing down and teamwork. Taj Mahal had what Christophe called the DCS Dome, where the passage went from 13 meters to 1 meter and then back down to 13. At the top, you were swimming just under the surface of the water, and you could actually poke your head out if you wanted. There were also tree and plant roots dangling down into the water that were like big brown feathery structures. This was not something we had seen before. Also, the long days and pressure started to get to me because I remember second guessing if I really wanted to keep going. We practiced lost diver drills at Taj Mahal, and we had to find a hidden backup light back in the cave. The drill went pretty well, and we did find the light. Part of the lost diver drill was covering your light, and Mark made sure to emphasis to cover it for at least 30 seconds to let your eyes adjust. We also did an exit with all lights gone, in touch contact on the line, it was fun!

Day 5 arrived and I started to realize that the course was almost over. When I woke up, thoughts of not continuing were gone. I realized that it was just nerves, and that I really did want to see more of the caves. It was a very great privilege to see things that many do not, safely and without disturbing what was there. I started to get just how much skill, finesse and awareness a good cave diver needs. It would take a long time, but I’d get there too. Christophe’s famous quote was that we were “baby cave divers”. He did it in a very funny voice. We had to go to Carwash, the same place we were when we did our checkout practice. We were supposed to go to Mayan Blue, but the people were not there which I gathered was not unheard of. Carwash was pretty fun. There was a small crocodile that we were lucky enough to see there. Again, Christophe had the same comments on the debriefs, and I felt he was getting concerned. It was becoming a real issue in that we were not fixing the team problems and the relaxing and the communication. We had a good talk about it in the water. We also did lost line drills, and had to find the line after getting turned around and blindfolded in the cave. It took me half an hour to find the line again, but I found it! I remember the two tunnels of Carwsah being pretty darkly stained with tannin. At the time, I wasn't very impressed by these dark tunnels in comparison to the start white tunnels of the other cenotes. There was a long lecture this evening to get finished up. Poor Shawn was having a hard time staying awake.

Day 6 dawned, and it was the last day. It was time to pull everything together and hope that Christophe saw enough improvement over the course to give us a pass. I might be making it sound like the course was all negative and hard. This wasn't the case. It was very fair (and fun), and the feedback from Christophe was honest and given in a way to help improve. It was just hard to take sometimes, since I was having a hard time accepting that it was like being back to square one in terms of skills in some ways. In the open ocean you could be quite sloppy I realized. In the cave all those bad habits come out very quickly, and needed to be fixed.  We went to Mayan Blue for the last day. It was beautiful.

Orchids were on the trees, the water had a crystal blue hue, and it was almost clear as air. Christophe warned us of the grey scaly barked trees with black sap coming out. The sap would burn like acid. The tree was called the Black Posionwood tree (Chechen or Che Chen) and I learned from my Mom that it was in the sumac family which contained the poison ivies. The mature tree had thin grey bark with scaly reddish brown patches. There was an antidote tree called the Gumbo-limbo or Copperwood or Chaca tree. It had reddish peeling bark that was like an extremely sunburned person. Its sap could be used to treat the Poisonwood rash.

Mayan Blue had three tunnels, A, B and the Dead Zone. B tunnel was our first dive, and it was amazing. White, clear and very decorated with speleothems (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speleothem). We had no failures on this dive, and in some ways that was a bit worse. I was expecting something to fail at any moment, but nothing ever did. I suspected the plan was to give us a nice dive to remind us it was not all about work and failures. On the second dive, we did A tunnel which was darker, the rock stained with tannin. Again, at the time I didn’t think the dark tunnel was all that great compared to B tunnel. We had various failures during this last dive, and worked through them alright.

On the way back, we had lunch at the famous Road Kill Chicken place. It had become a bit of a tradition to have lunch here after the cave diving classes finished. The place was not much to look at, but the chicken tasted great, very nicely spiced. It was flattened and cooked on a charcoal grill. An odd side dish along with it was spaghetti, but for 60 pesos, it was dirt cheap!

Back at the shop, we did the exam and answered 3 questions about what our strengths, weaknesses, and what we’d do to fix them. Then we spent time as a team with Christophe discussing these, and getting feedback. It was one of the best exercises post course I’d done. It was hard to recognize things that you needed to work on. It was very valuable though. In the end, Christophe said that he needed to determine if he could sleep at night knowing we’d be safe in the caves. He gave us 3 out of 5, which coming from him was pretty good! He said he had never given a 5, and there were few 4s. So we had passed! But there needed to be a lot of improvement.

On Sunday we went on a boat dive in the ocean. Jim, Shawn, Greg and Guy did a tech dive, and me, Dave and Dan did a recreational dive. The day was super-hot, and we met the boat a bit south of Peurto Aventuras on the beach near Akumal.

The boat was too small to take us all at once, so we split it up into two runs. We went out second. The ocean was very rough that day (as it was almost every day) and it was a challenge to get into and out of the boat. It was a long open boat that was not set up well for double cylinders, but we made it work. On the trip out, Dan’s fins almost got thrown out of the boat from the swells, and Dave almost fell over at one point. We did a dive called Grouper Canyons, which was a series of reefs interspersed with sand beds. It was quite fun. We saw a nice moray eel, a lionfish, a nice big turtle and lots of reef fish. No groupers alas. In hindsight, the boat was fun, but it was a lot of work for not a great deal of reward. There was a big iguana that I saw too.

After the boat ride, we went back to Taj Mahal for our inaugural post-course cave dive. Funny enough, I still can’t remember much about the cave there other than the DCS dome. We did so many so quickly and they were all so beautiful that they tended to blur together.

That evening we had dinner with Christophe and Mark, along with all in the class and Guy who had been teaching a Tech 1 class. I had a good chance to talk to Mark which was great. He had a lot of good positive advice and reminded me that we could reach out and ask them any question any time. It was great to have such a relationship with instructors that doesn’t stop at the end of the course. Steve Redding joined us too, and we had a great time chatting with Mark. Mark told a story about watching a snake in Florida explore his buddy on a deco stop for half and hour, and another story about someone scaring a snake into the water just before a dive. His comment to the person was “oh great, we used to know where it was, now we don’t!”. Very funny.

Monday we started cave diving in earnest. Greg and Shawn were leaving soon, so they wanted to get as many dives in as possible. We decided on Nohoch for this day, and it was a real jungle trek. The road had only been completed a few years ago, and for a long time any diving of Nohoch had you hauling in gear via donkey. We lowered our gear down into the cenote, as it was a bit easier than walking it in.

Nohoch turned out to be one of our favourite caves. Long and shallow, so you could go a long way on the gas we set aside. My primary light died at the end of these dives we spent so much time in the water. I wasn’t able then to participate in the exploration of the zipline side of Nohoch, where the other team discovered two additional lines. We didn’t have the gas to explore them this time, so we planned to come back. Nohoch had orange trees with oranges that smelled very good, but tasted terrible.

Shawn had to leave the next day, so we gave him a ride to the airport in the morning, and got lost looking for Costco. We bought way too much food, which we’d find out later. Once we got back, Greg wanted to do Grand Cenote, so we went there for 2 dives. Grand Cenote was another of the best dives. There was a gap in the line that we got to, but didn’t have the gas to take. Again, we planned to come back. We learned a lot on what looked like a T as well, which turned out to be a jump spool that was tied into the mainline. Up to this point, we’d not come across any jump spools installed yet. It was good to start seeing these things and exercising the procedures of recognizing them, dropping cookies and negotiating them.

Greg had to leave the next day, and we did the same thing of dropping him off at the airport and doing 2 dives in the afternoon. Steve joined us by this time, coming over from Australia to do a cave diving refresher then diving with us. We decided to go back to Eden to do some check out dives with him and to see River Run again. I led the first dive with Dave, and ended up missing the River Run line on the left side and taking the cavern line. It was still a fun dive. On the second dive we got into River Run and it was nice. We all agreed why Eden was picked as a training cave, it was wide, had a halocline and was not decorated much. After the dives, we ran some line in open water and practiced gas sharing in touch contact. It all went well, and we were pretty comfortable that there were no big differences in the training we had compared to Steve, who had trained with the NSS. In the video compilation I made, there is a section of us doing our gas sharing practice with Steve.

The next day we decided to go to Temple of Doom. It was known for its giant giant stride entry. The cenote had a steep ladder coming up, and it was easier to drop the 15 feet into the water. It was an extremely hot day, and before getting geared up we put on our drysuits and jumped in while taking some video.

We had directions on the mainlines, and Jim and I set off to find the Canyon line. We ended up running our reel almost all the way around the cenote. I did actually find the mainline in this run, but wasn't forceful enough in my communication, and second guessed myself. We did find a line, but it ended up heading into very small passages and we turned it quickly. On our next dives, we took the Madonna line and it was pretty nice. I don’t remember a lot of details though. Temple of Doom got its name from the name of the cenote “Calavera” or Skull. When viewed from below, the three holes of the cenote looked like the mouth and eyes of a skull.

We had heard of a “secret” cenote from a Kiwi couple staying in Mexico City, Ali and Cameron. It was called Fenomeno, and it had a Mayan pot and some fossil bones. We had originally thought to save it for the last day of diving, but on talking to Christophe he said we should really check it out sooner in case we wanted to go back (it was that good). Fenomeno was even further back in the jungle than Nohoch, and it took a long time to get to. It was worth it though. There was what looked like 2 mainlines, and we took the one on the right. Both lines started in open water, which was not that common in the cenotes. Usually the mainlines were farther back so that snorkelers and cavern divers didn't follow them. The right mainline stopped not far in, and a little ways away we could see the real mainline. We weren't sure why someone installed this short line. We went back and tied into the real mainline and did the dive. Fenomeno was amazing. Very decorated, nice white passages, clear water and fairly shallow. Discussing with some other cave divers who were doing the cenote across the road, they told us how to find the fossilized bones. We did a dive to try and find them. I had to turn on gas just as we reached the spot, but the other team was able to push on and found the Mayan pot. They second guessed the hole with the bones and missed those though. Still it was an amazing cave.

Greg had mentioned the Imax line in Dos Ojos, where some documentaries were shot, so we decided to go check it out. Dos Ojos was a very large cenote, with a lot of complicated cavern lines. There were multiple entrances to the cenote as well. We were kind of confused as to where to start, even with directions. Finally we found the entry at the Second Eye, and started to follow the Barbie cavern line. The instructions said to follow the Barbie cavern line until you saw a rubber crocodile with a Barbie doll in its mouth. Then on the left of that were the mainlines. Unfortunately, we all started too far away and ran out of line before even getting close. We reset and moved closer and finally got things sorted out. The First and Second eyes connected together by a fairly short distance. If ever I needed to recommend to somewhere who didn't want to do full cave training, I would recommend them to go to Dos Ojos. You could get much of the same feel for cave diving in the cavern there, and you could probably spend at least 2 days diving the caverns themselves. We found 3 mainlines in the end, and we tried them all. The first one on the left was short, and led to a small cenote entrance through a small passage. It would be useful for training in small spaces. The Imax line was in the middle, and it was pretty nice. It was highly traveled  so there was a lot of damage to the cave along the line. I still enjoyed it. The last line to the right led through some very large wide galleries with rock pillars. It seemed like the pillars were holding up the Earth. The galleries were not tall, but flat and wide and seemed to go on for ever. In this way, it was a very interesting and unique cave. Someone had drawn and happy face in the sediment on the floor, and such senseless graffiti really detracted from the cave. People are incredibly short-sighted. With the low flow in these caves, scars on the floor would remain for thousands of years.

We went back to Mayan Blue the next day, and it was as amazing as the first time around. I had more of an appreciation for the darker A tunnel, and Steve and I checked out the Dead Zone briefly. It would be worth more exploration some other time.

The next day, we went back to Grand Cenote to take the gap that we missed the first time. We made it, bridged the gap, and continued on more. Grand Cenote turned out to be one of our favorite dives. We also came across some howler monkeys that lived in the Peurto Aventuras complex, and put on a show for us swinging from tree to tree.

On the next day, we went back to Nohoch to explore the lines in the zipline tunnel. The line to the left was amazing, going up very shallow, and was highly decorated. The second line to the right ended up leading to the mainline, and was one of the first jumps off of it. It was an interesting line, but short. Jim and I agreed we’d have rather done another dive on the line on the left. The left hand line had Styrofoam cups attached to it for distance markings. Jim and I made it about 1500 feet in or so. We wondered how they carried the cups into the cave in the first place, because they were so buoyant. Cups made a poor choice for markers in that some had come loose and were floating in the cave. On the second line, we came across a purple organic deposit that we had no idea what it was. We ran a spool to it to check it out, and it was a vibrant purple colour. It did not look like there were any openings where it came in through the rock. It was covered in a kind of spider web material too. It did look organic, but we didn't know. On the other line when Jim and I were exiting, there was a guide and some sidemount divers in tow coming in. There was a lot of room, but the guide decided to start taking video of his charges, and ended up coming all the way across and crashing into Jim. He apologized, but it was very inconsiderate. Exiting teams of divers got the right of way, because they could be low on gas. Obviously the guy was much more concerned about filming his group than etiquette.

We were starting to have a hard time deciding on where to go next, but some discussion with Fred came up with White River. It was even further past Nohoch and Fenomeno, and he said it was even easier to get to the Mayan pot from there. When we asked him about the bones, he said “there are no bones on the mainline”, but he knew we knew. On the ride through the jungle, the narrow road at the end was bad luck for the van. I was driving and scraped the side of the van badly on a tree, just after Steve commented that there was no pressure driving on such a winding narrow road. Oh well, that’s what insurance on rental vehicles is for! The White River site got its name from the floor of white sand that it had. The mainline ran straight through the cenote in open water, coming from Fenomeno and continuing further on. There were a lot of mosquitoes at White River; we really were in the middle of the jungle. Dave and I took the line leading to Fenomeno first, to check out the pot and the bones. On the way we ran into a large group of divers. First two side mount divers passed us, and we ended up being on some of their GoPro video. Then we happened on an even larger group in the gallery with the bones. All the groups were coming up from Fenomeno. There were at least 6 divers in the gallery/ We waited until they cleared out, then tied in a spool and dropped a cookie and ran a line into the hole with the bones. The bones did not disappoint. They were extremely interesting.  There were conflicting opinions on what the bones were from; some people said giant sloth, some said mammoth.

On the way out, I got a chance to finally look at the Mayan pot. It was quite a bit larger than what I had thought. It was amazing. Christophe would later tell us at our last dinner that the pot had been significantly moved since he had seen it several years before. People were disturbing things in the cave again. On the second dive we went up the line from Fenomeno, and that was an even better dive.

We went to Naharon next. This was across the road from Mayan Blue. It was a dark tunnel, and here I learned to appreciate the darker caves. The cavern entrance was so big that you couldn't really get a sense of where the sides were. It was essential to take a compass heading and follow it. There was one mainline, and one jump that you could run a reel to. Steve and I did both. The passages of Naharon were as decorated as other caves, but since they were stained with tannin, you had to look harder. But when you did, there it was. There was a lot of halocline here, and it added to the coolness. Steve and I played around with a blind exit on the way out on one of the dives, and it went well. Naharon changed my mind about dark caves. It didn’t seem to be a very popular site with divers. Someday, it would be awesome to do the traverse that was possible. and go from Naharon to A tunnel of Mayan blue. We also met up again with the German couple that we ran into at Nohoch and White River before. They were diving sidemount. Inside Naharon, they took a picture of Steve and me. I hoped to get this picture off of them someday. Steve and I did a bit of messing around on video. He put his dive knife in his mouth, and almost choked on a huge mouthful of water!

For the last day of diving, we visited Dos Palmos, which was beside Dos Ojos. It was a much quieter and laid back site, with better decorations and a much less travelled feel. There was a poor monkey on a chain in the yard. I gave him an apple. He looked pretty sad. Naharon was deeper, but maybe even more decorated than other places. We all agreed that it was an excellent high point to end on. There was also flow that we had not really encountered before. On the second dive, we went with it, and coming back against it was a bit tiring. We made it to a small cenote where we surfaced briefly to check out. It was very interesting being able to pop up somewhere else in the jungle!

What else can I say? Three weeks of diving in the cenotes of the Yucatan was beyond what I had imagined. I learned a lot about myself, my mind, and my diving. And I had a boatload of fun to boot! Many of our discussions during the trip were aimed at the future, and the next cave diving trip. I couldn’t wait!

Here is the compilation video I made of the whole week.