Friday, December 26, 2014

Tyee Beach and Madrona 13/12/2014

Jim Dixon invited some of the mainland GUE divers over to dive China Creek. Dennis Diamond and I were the only ones who could make it. The Island divers were Jim Dixon, Guy Shockey and Liz Tribe.

Dennis and I had a very early ferry ride in the morning to get over. On the ride up to the camp ground, we got a call from Jim. Liz had found the gate to China Creek closed, something to do with weather. So we had a change off plans, and all detoured to Tyee Beach. It was a fun dive. We found two nice big puget sound king crabs, a large grunt sculpin out in the open, a cabezon, some giant dendronotids underneath a rock overhang, and hundreds of kelp crabs. Visibility was not bad. The highlight was definitely the grunt sculpin and the puget sound king crabs.

Dennis and I had our scooters over with us so we decided to do a second dive up at Madrona. Interestingly, the visibility was worse. We scootered to the marker buoy and on our first descent we lost each other. We surfaced and tried again, surprised that it was so much worse than Tyee. We hit the main wall easily and found a very nice giant pacific octopus, along with a plethora of nudibranchs. One that we did not see very often was the striped nudibranch, just inching along the sand bottom out in the open. I didn't take any video, but here is a representative picture.

The highlight of this dive was finding big skate eggs. When we came across them in the shallows, we had no idea what they were. There were two of them. Again, I didn't get a picture, but here is something of what they looked like from an online blog.

It was pretty crazy coming across something so big and alien looking. It was a fun day of diving!

I did get some video from the Tyee Beach dive, you can see the puget sound king crabs and all of the kelp crabs.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Porteau Cove 15/11/2014

Dave Williams and I did a fun dive at Porteau Cove. We saw a very big giant pacific octopus under the concrete blocks, toured around the Grant Hall wreck and did a quick foray under the dock pilings at the end of the dive.I don't remember much more from this dive, as I didn't do a write up soon enough. We did a fun "wreck penetration" of the small tug boat, basically just going in and out. There really wasn't much much to it, but it was fun practice judging the opening. It was a tight squeeze. I was very happy with my new dry suit, it was warm dry and mobile.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Howe Sound Bioherm GUE-BC 26/10/2014

I had been looking forward to this dive for a long time. Dennis Diamond had originally brought up the idea of diving the Howe Sound Sponge Bioherms, but over several months it just never worked out due to tides, schedules etc. Finally a date was set, and it was on.

The weather report for the weekend was terrible. Saturday was rough, windy and rainy. I had gone over to Nanaimo on the Saturday, and the ferry ride was rocky to say the least. I was getting worried! But, I worried for nothing, as the Sunday was perfect with clear skies, no rain, and calm water. It was a bit nippy, but that was it. Here was a picture of the marina in the morning.

The boat wasn't too full, and we had pretty much the ideal numbers. We needed the extra space, because most of us had a second set of doubles, bottom stages, and scooters. It was definitely a lot of gear to haul down! Here was a picture of Nick, Vlad and boat captain Kevin in the background coming down the dock, all with big smiles for the diving ahead. Kevin was demonstrating how great Sea Dragon Charters always was by helping take some of our gear down to his boat. Thanks Kevin!

I did a double take passing one of the boats on the way. There must have been problems with birds and seals taking a break on the boat decks, so one enterprising person decided to solve things with rubber cobras! I thought that it might also scare off the odd person as well...

Once we got all our gear on the boat, it was off to the dive site. Jim Dixon came over from Vancouver Island, and brought presents. A few of us had bought stainless steel adjustable wrenches, and Jim brought them over with him.

I snapped a quick group picture on the way out. I didn't get everyone perfectly in the shot, but from left to right: Vlad, Barry, Jan, Jim, Jason, Christina, Rob and Nick. Unfortunately Peter didn't make it into the picture. My apologies Peter.

This was the view from the rear of the boat, showing just how fabulous a day it really was.

The dive on the sponge bioherm went flawlessly. It was located just south of Halkett Bay wall, and was affectionately known as "Sponge Bob". The sponge bioherms in Howe Sound were the only recreationally accessible bioherms in the world! It was quite a privilege to dive them.

Jan, Kevin and Barry got the boat set up perfectly, and ensured the shot line we would use for reference was spot on. We had three dive teams, two recreational and one technical. Jim, Vlad and I made up the tech team, and checked out the sponges between 39 and 45 meters. They were fantastic as always. I had done this dive four times now, and it has never gotten old. Some of the sponge formations were as big as couches, and some were incredibly intricate and delicate. Vlad had gotten some great pictures on a previous dive, so I included one here. This time around we were just using our eyes for the memories, and no cameras.

Among the sponges, there were an impressive number of squat lobsters and rockfish. Mostly I saw copper rockfish, but there were a few quillbacks, as well as three juvenile yellow eye rockfish. Normally you didn't see many yellow eye rockfish in Howe Sound at all. This example image was from Along with the tiger rockfish, the juvenile yellow eye rockfish were one of my favorites. The Citizen Science diver course with the Vancouver Aquarium had really paid off in helping my marine life identification skills! I would highly recommend it.

We also came across what I was pretty sure was a buffalo sculpin. This was not my picture, but it was a good example of what it looked like.

Nick Bowman got some great video on his dive, and kindly shared it. He also got a great picture of a nudibranch I had never seen before, probably either a Peltodoris lentiginosa or Archidoris odhneri. Yes that was quite a mouthful. Basically it was a glass sponge-eating nudibranch for us normal non-latin people. I found some interesting details here.

Nick's video footage, note the impressive octopus was not found on the sponge dive. Read on for that encounter!

On our ascent and deco, we didn't deploy our regular surface marker buoy, but deployed a giant six foot marker to help the boat locate us. It took teamwork to deploy the bigger marker, as it took three breaths to inflate it at 21 meters. The person inflating needed to adjust their buoyancy while inflating, and the second team mate had to hold the spool securely. We got the giant SMB up pretty nicely, and the ascent went well. We had some surface current, but not as much as we thought. The surface current ended up pushing us in a bit of a circle. This meant that we didn't drift that far from the boat at all. The giant SMB really dragged you though when you were hanging on to it!

Back on the boat, we had a great surface interval chatting while Kevin motored us over to Christie Islet. We were treated to a lot of cute fat seals on the rocks. I had brought my scooter along as Peter had planned to bring an experimental DiveX scooter. The problem was that Peter had a bad suit leak and so wasn't able to do a second dive. Vlad and Nick had brought their scooters though, so we had a team of three all ready to go. On our descent, we came across Barry and Christina who had found an impressive giant pacific octopus in a crack. Not long into the dive, we discovered that Nick had a problem. His scooter would run for a few seconds, then quit. Vlad tried some troubleshooting as he had a similar scooter, but to no avail. We ended up stowing our scooters and swimming for the rest of the dive. Later, Nick would find that his battery hadn't been charged properly, which was an easy fix.

The silver lining was that we came across another, even more impressive giant pacific octopus. In those terms the dive was excellent. Have a look at the video for the octopus.

This wall on the north west side of Christie Islet was a real treat. There were hundreds of dungenness crabs in about 20 feet of water, along with very interesting rock topography. Vlad also spied a kelp greenling who ate a fish right in front of him. There was a huge school of perch in the shallows as we ended our dive. It was truly a great dive. I could understand why there were so many octopus here, what with all the crabs and places to hide.

Too soon, the trip came to a close. Here was a picture on the way back in to Horseshoe Bay.

After the dive, most of us met for some food and beverages at the Olive and Anchor. It was a great conclusion to a great day of diving, with great people and great conversation.

Until next time!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Egmont 10-13/10/2014

Egmont had always been one of our favorite cold-water diving destinations. The Thanksgiving Weekend trip had become a regular occurrence, chartered by Porpoise Bay Charters, and assisted by the International Diving Center. IDC called it the "Strongwater Retreat", and it has happened for at least the last four years.

The trip photo album:

Almost all of the underwater photos were courtesy of Heather. They turned out great! Here is a compilation of the video she took as well, showing a very large hermit crab, a cute grunt sculpin, a puget sound king crab, a group of snails feeding, and a rhinoceros crab. Read on below to find more details!

I got some video using my GoPro as well, showcasing Maeve and Roz and Salo waving happily, Jason and Heather ascending, a group shot of Maeve, Roz and Salo again, a moon jelly looking like it was bigger than Heather, a spectacular kelp forest with Jason in the foreground, several kelp forest panorama shots, a steam donkey gear, the descent onto the Chaudiere wreck, a pan shot back up to the dive boat from the Chaudiere  showing just how great the visibility was, ending with some more footage from the wreck itself.

Kal and Anne have always run a first-rate operation with excellent accommodations and a great dive boat. Did I mention turkey dinner? That too! You had the option of staying in yurts for a "glamping" feel, or in a guest house. I much preferred the double-walled yurts. They were always warm and comfortable, with the added bonus of being able to hear the rain on the roof and the sounds of nature around you. Kal has had for a while an industrial strength dehumidifier in a dedicated drying room that would get the wettest gear bone dry in a few hours. His dive boat "Devilfish" could accommodate over 10 divers, was covered and heated. It also had a flexible drier hose attached to the heating system which you could direct into your suit for those really cold days. The boat ladder had small spaced steps, so you could easily climb up even in the heaviest of gear. I could not forget to mention the hot tub and kayaks for apres dive activities if you so desired!

Our intrepid group consisted of Jason Kolba, Heather and myself, Maeve, Roz and Salo. Pia, Jason's better half came along as a non-diver as well. Jason and Pia caught the first ferry, so they were up very early. But they had a chance for a hike and a leisurely drive up. When Heather and I arrived, Roz and Salo were napping, as they also had to get up quite early as well. BC Ferries on a long weekend made for some logistical travel problems, but we all knew it would be worth it. Here is our group photo!

On the way up, we stopped at the Halfmoon Bay historic general store. They had some first-rate thick cut locally produced bacon that was well worth the detour.

We all met at the Government dock in Egmont, and soon started loading up our gear onto Kal's boat. I got a funny picture of Roz. My joke was that she was holding some very important supplies, beer and oxygen!

Kal got us settled, and we all picked out our yurts. The weather forecast had been for rain, but it was an excellent evening. We would end up lucking out for two days of clear weather. We also made our acquaintance with Nanook and Nemo, Kal's two dogs. They were always a big hit.

We put down our dinner requests and headed out that evening for a check-out dive at Nemo's Leap. Visibility was excellent, and we saw a stunning golden dirona and a beautiful tiger rockfish!

At dinner, everyone was brimming with enthusiasm. We made some general plans for the weekend, had some great burgers and sausages, and looked at some previous dive photos. The night was beautiful, but we all turned in early in order to be well rested for a busy next day.

After a great breakfast courtesy of Anne, we headed out to Agamemnon Channel to dive the famous Power Lines. This was the same site where we had dove the Gorgonian Coral with GUE-BC. I was very excited to see the cloud sponges there again. The sponge fields were truly amazing, not to mention their size and intricacy. It did not disappoint!

Once finished there, we were off to Swede's Reef. This was a favorite site of both Heather and I. It was so named due to a dive group from Sweden just wanting to dive it over and over. I knew why, because it was a sea mound packed with crevices and critters. We saw a huge amount of life, and Heather got some great pictures of all of it:

A fabulous nudibranch that we'd not seen before, probably a Dendronotus diversicolor.

An amazing octopus.

A moss-headed warbonnet. Look carefully!

A Cockerell's nudibranch.

There were also many copper and quillback rockfish and large ling cod. During our ascent, a moon jelly posed for a picture!

On the dive site Urchin City, we came across one of the best and cutest encounters with a grunt sculpin we've ever had. He was big, maybe the size of an apple. Heather got a great picture, and some great video.

Urchin city was aptly named for the large numbers of sea urchins encrusting the rock.

Kal said that people wondered why it was called Urchin City, when all the other dive sites had so many urchins. There was a time when the urchin population had been severely depleted by fishing and this had been one of the few locations where they could be found. They had made a come-back, but the name Urchin City stuck. We also came across a giant gumboot chiton.

By far my favorite part of the Urchin City dive was ending up in the kelp forest beyond it in the sheltered bay. The pictures and video didn't do it justice. It was magical!

Jason, Salo and I did a fun little dive off of Kal's dock that evening. The current was surprising strong, and we did a lot of hand-over-hand travel. We found a huge giant pacific octopus living under one of the concrete blocks as our big pay-off. We also searched for a ring that Kal had lost, but we couldn't find it. There were also some great nudibranchs, and huge schools of puget sound rockfish.

That evening Anne prepared another amazing dinner. There was pumpkin beer, and the hot tub under the stars. We had really lucked out in terms of weather.

The next morning we got up before the crack of dawn. The plan was to do a sunrise dive, where you started the dive when it was dark, and watched the transition from night to day during the dive. Hopefully we would witness the change in marine life. Steve Redding had suggested this kind of dive on this same trip 4 years ago. It didn't quite work out that time, because of some tardiness. This time, we were determined to make it happen! We chose Swede's Reef again, and it didn't disappoint. It was very much a night dive, and it was very interesting to experience the water lighten as the sun rose. We all agreed that it was worth getting up early for the experience.

We came across several tiger rockfish such as this one, trying to hide.

One of the highlights was a small puget sound king crab. Check out the video for some footage of him walking around.

We found yet another beautiful nudibranch which was probably the Japanese Aeolid. This picture of it turned out very well, with the small hydroids looking like Doctor Seues Truffula trees.

The Vancouver Aquarium folks had mentioned in their Citizen Science Diver course that sea urchins would put things on their heads. Many research papers had been written on the topic if you could believe it. This picture showed that they didn't just put things on their heads, but also each other!

On Egmont Point, we got another excellent encounter with a giant pacific octopus in a crack. Heather got the credit for finding this one. Jason and I had went right by!

In the video clips, there was also a section with a large gear. This was from an old steam donkey, from the original settlement of Egmont. Kal said that it had been there forever. It was a very cool piece of history.

After a rest and some lunch, we were off to the Chaudiere. This dive was one of the high-lights of the trip. The visibility was truly amazing. From the ship more than 70 feet down, you could clearly see the dive boat and divers descending. It was easily the best visibility all weekend (and the vis had been consistently good!). Check out the video clips for the footage. On the descent, you could almost see from one end of the ship to the other. There were some amazing frosted nudibranchs on the wreck, along with a very cool decorator crab.

We could not leave the Chaudiere without a diver picture! This was Jason.

Also, the Vancouver Aquarium had mentioned about an invasive tunicate species. We saw these all over the Chaudiere. They were certainly pretty though.

Boom Islet at the mouth of the Skookumchuck was another great dive site. It was so named because log booms frequently crashed on it. We saw one of the smaller log booms being steered through the Skookumchuck Narrows, and you could easily see why. The booms did not steer well, and there was little room to manuever!

On Boom Islet, we saw huge fields of anemones in the first portion of the dive. It was truly amazing.

We ended up in another kelp forest at the end of the dive, and found two very large Red Irish Lords. Look carefully.

As if the diving wasn't good enough, Anne treated us all to a full-on Thanksgiving Turkey dinner on Sunday. The evening was filled with good food, wine, and lots of great conversation. It could not get much better.

Too soon, the trip was nearing to a close. But we did manage to squeeze in two more dives on the last day. Captain's Light was first, and it was another signature dive. It was well known for its cloud sponges, much like Power Lines. But, we all agreed that while Power Lines may have quantity, the sponges here were more intricate and beautiful. It was a site not to be missed.

There were many beautiful anemones, and a great rhinocerous crab too.

We also came across a very strange phenomenon with a finger sponge that was partially bleached. I asked the Vancouver Aquarium about it, and they said that there was a species of poacher that would lay their eggs inside of sponges which could have impeded water movement causing it to partially die. But they were not sure. It certainly made for a cool picture.

We also saw a very pretty leopard dorid.

The last site was Jaggy Crack. The sea was getting pretty rough, and our exit back onto the boat was a bit dicey. But we all made it. The dive was worth it, because Salo, Maeve and Roz had an incredible interaction with a giant pacific octopus. It climbed all the way up Maeve's arm! I hoped that their video would turn out well. We saw another great rhinoceros crab, a large hermit crab and had a generally fun time poking around in the rocks and crevices for critters.

Heather also came across some very odd little tunicates that we would have to follow up on later.

An so the trip came to a close for another year. Many thanks to Kal and Anne of Porpoise Bay Charters for another exceptional dive trip! We would be back again for sure!