Monday, March 31, 2014

Nanaimo Wrecks 29/03/2014

Jim Dixon arranged a dive of the Nanaimo Wrecks with Sea Dragon Charters. Thanks Jim! I almost had to cancel the trip, however. The night before while picking up my cylinders, I stopped to run an errand. When I tried to start the truck, it was completely dead. I called Heather and she helped me jump start it, and I was able to get it into Canadian Tire just in time. It turned out to be the battery, and that had to be replaced. Pretty good, since the battery in the truck was the original one. Lucky as well that it failed the night before, and not when we were trying to drive onto the ferry! I counted it as lucky anyway...

Vlad and I planned for the 630 am ferry, so we had to get up very early. The weather report was for rain all day, so it looked quite dismal. The ride over was uneventful, and we planned our dives. We were going to do two tech dives, expecting the first one to average 36 meters, and the second to average 33 meters. We had brought our scooters, and decided to use them for the second dive.

Once over on the island, we met up at the Marinaside resort. Glen and Christine were already on the Sea Dragon, and Drew and Damien were there already too. Jim and Greg arrived soon after and we started getting things loaded onto the boat. Mark had been scheduled to go, but had to cancel unfortunately. This meant that we had a nice number on the boat, and it wasn't too crowded.

Even though the weather report was not good, it did end up cooperating pretty well. It rained some, but when we needed it to stop, it did (on the surface interval for example). The sun even peaked out a few times!

Due to the unsettled weather, we weren't even sure that we'd be able to dive the wrecks at all. Glen took us out around the island, and we checked it out. Thankfully it wasn't too bad. There were swells, but it was doable. We tied up on the Cape Breton first. On the dive, Vlad and I decided to run a line and do a short drop down through the skylight. We checked out the engine room, and it was good fun. Vlad took some photos, and they are here.

For the deco, I was looking forward to trying out my new Thermulation heated vest. I pulled out the wireless controller and clicked it on. After a few minutes, I didn't feel any different. I tried the higher setting, and still nothing. I was convinced that I had made a poor purchase! But back on the boat, I realized that I had the remote too far away from my body. The unit would vibrate when it was activated, and on the dive I thought that I just couldn't feel it. Two things I learned: you definitely could feel the buzzing, and you really could feel the heat! Jim and Greg both said they had similar initial problems. It was an easy fix, and boy was it nice having the vest on. I kept it on low for most of the surface interval as well.

For the surface interval we pulled in behind Snake Island where it was calmer. The rain stopped and the sun even came out. The Sea Dragon provided some yummy quesadillas, and we watched the seals sun themselves on the rocks.

For the second dive, we visited the Saskatchewan. Vlad and I took our scooters and had a great tour of the ship. We circled it at least twice, and also scootered through the hull via one of the cut-outs. We saw one mother of a ling cod near the bow, making its lair where the hull met the bottom. We checked out the bow and the guns, and a gash in the hull near the bow. We couldn't figure out how the gash could have happened, other than during it's journey to the bottom. Vlad spotted a huge cabezon, but before he could call attention to it, it swam off into the depths quickly. It did not want any attention, that was for sure. For this deco, I made sure to turn on my vest. I felt it made a big difference. I had it on the middle heat setting, and that seemed quite comfortable. Because we were doing a repetitive tech dive, the deco for the second dive was just as long as the first, even though we were shallower and had a shorter bottom time. On our deco, Damien, Drew and Christine passed us on their ascent up, and we waved as they went by. The scooters helped on the deco as well, making it quite easy to stay in position near the line with very little effort. Vlad had made a comment a few days before, you really wanted your scooter on every dive once you got used to i.

The day came to an end too quickly, and soon we were motoring back to Nanaimo to catch the ferry. Again the weather cooperated with the rain holding off. We soon got the boat unloaded and were on our way, saying our good byes. Vlad and I had an interesting experience with BC Ferries when we declared our "dangerous goods". They actually requested to inspect them. When they did, they said that they had to check if the cylinders needed to be upright! I was quite surprised, as anyone who transports scuba cylinders knows that having them lying down is much more secure. The BC Ferries person checked the regulations and told us that indeed they just had to be secure. And since I had them all tied down, we were good to go. However, I was a bit worried for a while, thinking we'd have to re-pack the entire truck. We figured later that the regulation of standing cylinders must apply to the large commercial gas cylinders. Having incidents like this made me second guess declaring anything at all, and I'm sure the same goes for a lot of divers. It was too bad, because if I was BC Ferries, I'd make it a heck of a lot easier for divers to declare what they actually have, and not give them such a hard time. However it must be a very limited issue.

But, once again, another great day of diving!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Senanus Scooter Dive 15/03/2014

Greg Nuttal had talked about this dive a few times to me. I was quite excited to finally get to do it! He posted the event on the GUE BC Groupspaces site here. I would highly recommend doing this dive to anyone who has a scooter and the skills/experience to do it. It was a neat dive using the advantage given by scooters to better effect. Most of the dives I'd done with scooters had not really required them. This dive wasn't feasible without one (or a boat), so it was good to see a return on the investment we had put into them! Greg made a funny comment that this dive was "free" because there was no boat charter cost. That only made sense if you disregarded several thousand dollars of scooter equipment!

Vlad got some pretty good video of the dive. I could see why it was a popular dive site, the sponges were beautiful.

I found the Senanus Island dive on the UVic Scuba Site. Normally this dive was done on a boat, or alternately a dive kayak. Personally I'd never heard of anyone I know using a dive kayak, so usually it was a boat. Some further research showed that Senanus Island was traditionally used by the Tartlip native band as a burial ground, and that access to the island was restricted. Thankfully we were visiting only the underwater portion.

The dive plan was a bit more complicated due to the scooter component. The entry was Henderson Point, a popular diving spot at the end of Senanus Drive (a map reference of the actual dive site). Looking at the Henderson Point link, you can see both the entry point and Senanus Island (make sure to enable satellite view to see the island). The distance between the two is about 850 meters, or just under a kilometer. Mark Gottfried was along for the dive, and had done it many times. He told us a story of when he tried to do the dive years ago by swimming before scooters were readily available. He said it was amazing how close things looked, but in reality were very far away! Needless to say, the moral of the story was don't try to swim to the island.

The plan was to set a bearing for the lighthouse/cement factory and travel via scooter at ~9 meters for ~18 minutes, surface, take another bearing for the return trip, and descend to the Seananus Wall sponges. The bottom time was planned at about 30 minutes, and our average depth was expected to be 39 meters. The decompression would be done "on the trigger" while scootering back to Henderson pt. The compass bearing for the first leg was 230 degrees, and the return bearing was about 20 degrees. Because scootering on the surface would be unsafe, this dive also tested your underwater navigation skills. The trip across was in mid-water, so there were no landmarks and you had to trust in your compass completely.

Vladimir and I formed one team, and Greg and Mark the other. Originally Shawn Buttle was supposed to come, but he had to cancel. He did come out to say hi, because he had cylinders for Mark. Great support team, Shawn!

Vlad and I did pretty well on the first leg of the dive, although we were off to the left quite a bit when we surfaced near Senanus. Vlad had a compass mount for his scooter, and I realized after holding my arm in front of me for 20 minutes that it would be a sound investment to finally get a compass mount as well. We regrouped near the lighthouse on Senanus, verified our return bearing and started the dive. There was a wreck of a small boat near where we descended that Greg had found previously. It gave a good reference on where to start the trip back.

The dive on the wall was excellent. We did the dive without scooters for two reasons. One was to be sure to maintain adequate battery reserve for the trip back in case of a scooter failure, and the other was that it was better to go slow to view the sponges properly. The visibility was quite good and the sponge formations were nice and intricate. I remember seeing a particularly nice tiger rock fish as well, hiding out near one of the rock formations.

On the trip back, Vlad and I ended up being off to the right by quite a bit this time. It really showed that on long trips underwater, if you were off by a little it equaled quite a ways at the end of the trip. Fortunately it didn't take too long to regroup back and Henderson.

Mark had to leave after the first dive, but Greg, Vlad and myself went out for a second recreational dive. Greg and Vlad did some bottle rotation practice, and I did some gas switching practice. Greg also took us on a little tour of Henderson looking for octopus, but we didn't find any. We checked out the wreck of the small boat, and the fake skeleton that was still affixed there was in poor shape. All that was left was his leg. There were many White Lined Dirona nudibranchs around, and they were very pretty. Greg showed off his knowledge of the dive site, hitting all the landmarks bang on. Understandable considering he has probably dove Henderson a hundred times, I'm sure!

All in all, I was not disappointed by this dive trip. Thanks for setting it up Greg! It was definitely worth getting up at 4am for! I can't wait to come over and do it again!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Topline 08/03/2014

For my birthday, I could not think of anything better than going for a dive with Heather and Sea Dragon Charters! There was a rain warning, but that was much better than the snow warnings we had been getting lately.

Kevin and relatively new skipper Chris were captaining the boat, and Mike was dive master. On board were Aquarium personnel who were doing the annual ling cod egg mass survey. There was also a BCIT journalism student who was doing an audio story on the event. The Sea Dragon had a deal that if you participated in the survey you could get one fill for free! Not a bad trade to help science.

The first dive we did was at Dorman Bay near Bowen Island. We got a dive briefing from the Aquarium staff about what to look for to help the survey. You had to just mark down the depth, the size, and the security of the egg mass, and whether a male was present. Ahmed had told us a story of him getting accosted by a ling cod recently. I knew they could be aggressive when they were guarding their eggs, but I had not heard of one actually bumping into a diver before. During the first dive, we found two ling cod egg masses. We also saw two really nice tanner crabs that were holding females (lots of things were mating obviously). We found a fantastic giant nudibranch, and were treated to its unique hunting behaviour. When it found a tube-dwelling anemone, it would rear up and dive down at it. It was a fantastic and lucky treat. I found an oar from a rubber dingy and pretended to row underwater a bit as well. Check out the video that Heather took!

We got some still photos as well. There was a great nudibranch, a Golden Dirona.

There were some fantastic plumose anemones.

The best shot, was some kind of sponge or tunicate that we'd never seen before. It was small, so maybe we'd just missed them.

For the second dive, we did Halkett Wall. Ahmed and I both thought that we are on a completely different island. We thought we were on Hutt Island. Whoops! The dive was a lot of fun, but we didn't see one ling cod.

After the diving, we all met for some food and drinks. Here, we had a great opportunity to chat with Chris about the Cayman Islands, and Patricia and Andre, whom we had met that day. It was a great time!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Whytecliff 04/02/2014

Unfortunately, all my dive plans since the sea lions were cancelled due to snow. The weather in Vancouver had been very abnormal. While it was not a lot of snow, it was enough for me to not want risking slippery rocks, or more importantly, slippery roads. I had not bothered to put winter tires on my trucks, and wouldn't you know, we ended up with more snow this year than ever before!

Vlad, Dave Williams and myself headed out to Whytecliff for the relaxing technical dive that we had cancelled 3 times due to weather. During the day, I saw some snow flakes, and I really thought we would be cancelling again! Thankfully, the snow was short lived and it was just rain for most of the day. It was wet and miserable gearing up, but when we got out of the water, the rain had stopped. It turned into a very nice evening. Jim Dixon had planned to join us, but forgot his apartment keys so had to go back to the Island. Too bad!

The dive itself was one that we had done many times before. We spent 10 minutes going right from the Cut at 45 meters, then turned around and came back at 39 meters for the remaining 20 minutes. This placed us right at the Day marker, where we started our decompression and moved into the bay.

During the dive, we saw a lewis moon snail, which was very unique. I had only ever seen these on Vancouver Island. This specimen was much smaller than the ones that I had seen before, and we almost missed it. It was about two inches in diameter. We saw some some very cool gunnels, probably saddleback gunnels, and some pretty interesting sculpins. The varitey of sculpins never ceased to amaze me. The cloud sponges were great to look at as usual. Vlad scarred a kelp crab that took a leap off of a rock overhang and he dropped off into the abyss. I hope he was ok! There were a ton of nudibranchs as well: a Giant White Dorid (it was huge, at least 8 inches), a Cooper's Dorid, a Yellow Margin Nudibranch, a Heath's Dorid, or possibly a San Diego Dorid. I found this page for all these nudibranchs, because it was too dark to take photos or video:

Visibility was not bad, maybe 20 or 30 feet. We ran into some strong current near the end of the dive, and I was worried that we'd not make it to the day marker in our planned dive time. But we came across a plaque that marked the location right when we hit the end of our dive. The water temperature was quite cold. All of us commented on that at the end of the dive. Dave dropped his mask and didn't realize it on our exit at the beach. He went back and found it in the water, saving it from getting washed away. Along with that, at the beginning of the dive, we had staged our deco bottles on the beach and they almost got washed away as well. The tide came up much faster than we had realized! Fortunately we were able to rescue them and put them up farther out of the water's reach. A good lesson to remember, make sure your gear was far enough away from waves or tides!

On the whole, it was a great dive. Can't wait for the next one!