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!