Sunday, May 25, 2014

Furry Creek Underwater Map 24/05/2014

Part of the Divemaster course was to complete an underwater map. I had helped my friend Jason Kolba do one ages ago, at Copper Cove. Shawn, Michael and I teamed up to do an underwater map of Furry Creek. There seemed to be a distinct lack of information on the dive site. I knew people dove there, but unlike a lot of other sites, Furry Creek seemed more word-of-mouth. I had my notes in a previous blog entry, and also found another description on Scuba Board.

We arrived early, and planned for three dives to map the 70, 50 and 30 foot contours. A new addition to the dive site was a port-a-potty up near the condo complex. I wasn't sure how long this luxury would remain, but it was a nice addition for those who need facilities!

It started out quite cloudy, with heavy rain on the drive to the site. Fortunately the rain held off for the rest of the day, and it turned sunny by the time we were done. This was a picture facing south.

We had quite the day for wildlife too. There was a turkey vulture presiding over the site when we arrived.

Hummingbirds were also buzzing around. The picture I got was very grainy, which was too bad.

In addition to those, there was a blue jay, and a weasel-like creature called a fisher capering around the beach. I'd not seen a fisher before, and it was pretty cute. Underwater, we saw a variety of small cloud sponges, rockfish, kelp crabs, plumose anemones, juvenile lion's mane jellies, and lots of coonstripe shrimp.

Here is a bit of video from the dive. Mostly dark, and green!

We first had to figure out our kick cycles versus distance. With a thick layer of white sediment in the top 10 feet of water, we decided to do this at the surface. I had brought along my underwater tape measure, so we ran out 100 feet. With three people this worked well, because 2 could hold the tape while the third swam the distance. There was a bit of a problem with timing though. Mike's and Shawn's computers would not show seconds, and I couldn't get my Xen bottom timer to go into stopwatch mode unless it was below 5 feet. Later I figured out that I could have put it into dive simulation mode, and get access to the stopwatch, but that didn't occur to me at the time. Anyway, it wasn't a show stopper because counting in your head worked just as well. Following the tape reminded me of the zero-visibility training I had done in cave diving. You really couldn't see anything. All you could do was keep an eye on your compass and depth, and your fingers around the line. For me, it took me 49 frog kicks to travel 100 feet, in 48 seconds.

For the first dive, Mike was in charge of noting compass heading and kick cycles. We decided to swim out to the white marker buoy and descend there. The idea was to use the readily available landmarks that divers would tend to see and use. It was a good thing we did, since the visibility was very bad for the first 15 feet. However, once we got to 20 feet, it was quite good. We grouped up at the bottom of the buoy chain, which was at 18 feet (it was low tide). There were two large concrete blocks there as well. Mike then took us down to the 70 foot contour, which went kind of north and that took us 3 minutes to get to. Once on the 70 foot contour it took us about 5 and a half minutes to run into the wall. Right there were small cloud sponges. Following the wall, it stayed pretty constant. The sandy bottom was at about 80 feet below us, and while the wall wasn't covered in life, there were tunicates, and many cracks that critters could live in. We weren't on a sight-seeing dive, however. It was quite dark too, as the bit of video I took showed. But the visibility was good. Our dive plan was to ascend at the end of the dive where we were to get an idea of how far along the shore we were. This would allow us to plot the underwater contour with reference to the shoreline. But, it meant for a long surface swim back!

On the second dive, I was leading. Our dive plan this time was to surface swim out half-way along the wall and descend there to find the 50 foot contour and follow it back south. There was no point following 50 feet along the wall to the north. On the descend, we weren't close enough together, and lost Shawn in the first 15 feet of water. We regrouped on the surface, and made sure to stay much closer together. I could hardly see my hand in front of my face! But again, at 20 feet, it was fine. The dive plan worked very well. Where we descended we got onto the 50 foot contour bang on. Following that led us through a bottle pile, past a chain attached to a crushed plastic blue marker buoy, and through various rock fields interspersed with sand.

Shawn led the third dive, and we used the white marker buoy again as a start-point. The plan was to head along the 30 foot contour to the wall, surface, swim back to the buoy, then head south along the same contour. It all went according to plan. On the way to the wall, we came across a chain attached to a block (the remnants of an old marker), as well as a debris field with bottles. It only took about 5 minutes to reach the wall. The rest of the 30 foot contour south was all pretty much sand. Near the end of the dive we passed the red marker buoy chain, which was another good landmark.

All told, I think we got all the information we needed to do a pretty good map! Now, to get that done!

Update: Here is my completed rough map.

And here is the final good map that Michael did.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dragon's Den and Route 66 11/05/2014

Heather and I went out on the Topline with Sea Dragon Charters on Sunday. Boy am I glad we did, the day was amazing! We visited two dive sites off Anvil Island, Dragon's Den and Route 66. Route 66 was on the east side of the island, and was a newly-discovered dive site. Kevin and Jan were both on board today, and reported that the visibility had been great lately. Some dive teams reported being able to see the boat hull from 60 feet. I had my fingers crossed!

If you'd like to see all the photos we took, check out this album:

I can't go farther without first sharing the best octopus encounter we'd had in a long while. I will explain more later on!

The day started out cloudy and threatening, but the weather report was correct. It turned into a beautiful day. Here is a picture of the first dive site, Dragon's Den.

It was a treat going up to Anvil Island, because it was a bit of a long ride and often the weather and other factors meant it made more sense to go to sites closer to Horseshoe Bay. Not today though!

I put together a video compilation of both dives here. The first portion was with my GoPro camera. The rest is using Heather's Panasonic camera with Sola light..

Visibility was indeed excellent. There was a murky surface layer, but under 20 feet it opened up to at least 30 or 40 feet of visibility. There was a great portion of video with bubbles trailing up to the surface. On the Dragon's Den dive, we saw a lot of critters. There was a cute red fur crab inside a cloud sponge (and a squat lobster poking its claws out).

The Dragon's Den was so named due to the small caverns that were there. There were three of them, around the 70 to 80 foot depth. They extended back maybe 20 feet, and were more like big rock overhangs. The ceilings were covered will plumose anemones and tunicates and star fish. We discovered our bubbles would knock off the starfish, so a few times it was raining starfish! This photo showed kind of what the roof was like, with a little decorator crab front and center.

The plumose anemones around the Dragon's Den site were very pretty as well. Another decorator crab was hiding among them.

We had a nice relaxing surface interval in the stunning scenery of Howe Sound. I had to take the requisite panoramic shot!

For the second dive, it was Route 66 a site no one on the boat had done before. Kevin and Jan reported that when they found it, all the good life was around 60 feet. We couldn't wait to get started!

We spent our dive around 30 feet, and it was a good thing because about half way through, Heather spotted a nice sized giant pacific octopus taking a nap on a rock! You could tell it was a giant pacific octopus and not a red octopus because it didn't have paddle-shaped eyelashes under its eyes.

The octopus wasn't too thrilled to be disturbed, and put on its threatened display several times (changing its colour to white, and flaring out its mantle). We let him be as much as we could, but we weren't going anywhere until we got a good look! The video at the top of the page turned out really really well. The pictures of the threat display were also awesome.

Sadly we had to leave him behind and continue with the dive. The visibility was as good on this dive as the first. We saw a barnacle eating nudibranch, alone without its usual friends.

Decorator crabs were everywhere. Some of them were more decoration than crab!

There were a ton of sea squirts covering everything.

A small heart crab tried to escape from us by jumping off a rock, but we followed him and he finally sat still for this picture.

Coonstripe shrimp were everywhere on this dive. Near the end of the video, you can kind of see them running away from us.

Finally there was some strange tunicate that I had no idea about. It looked like it had something inside of it.

The day came to a close far too soon. But we capped it off with snacks and drinks on a patio in Horseshoe bay. Cant' wait for the next time we go out!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Dive Master 01/04/2014 - 04/05/2014

For a long time, I had thought about completing the PADI Dive Master course. Much of my time and training had since gone towards Global Underwater Explorers, but I liked the idea of having a very recognized accreditation like this. Many times I had gotten blank stares when I have said "GUE", but everyone recognizes PADI.

I felt that at this point in my diving career, I could with confidence say that I am a "dive master". There were other reasons as well, one of which was to remind myself of how most of the world dives. We all have to start out somewhere, and PADI was a good starting point for many (myself included). It would be good to review the system I learned to dive with, and be comfortable and knowledgeable in it again. That way I could "lead by example" and show people there are other ways to dive and why practice and skill was important.

All my training had been through the International Dive Center, and I also thought this would be a good opportunity to diversify and go through a different shop. I knew quite a few people who used Ocean Quest, and thought that Ken Dunlop would be just the kind of instructor I was looking for. I had known Ken for a while, and liked his easy-going attitude and practical approach to teaching. He seemed just the right mix of professional and fun. I had taken an Oxygen provider course through him one time, and I really enjoyed his teaching style. I hoped that one day I could be as good an instructor, if I went that way! During the course, Ken got his Platinum Instructor certificate (something like that) from PADI, for certifying I think over 250 students in a year. Quite an active guy!

Since I wasn't in a rush, I didn't have any specific plans on when to do the course. However, when Ken emailed me saying that he was doing a dive master course starting on April 1st, I jumped at the chance. The timing worked out perfectly. I chuckled a bit at starting on April Fools! Hopefully he wasn't joking.

I worked through the online material in a week or two. I was impressed with the quality of the material, which was definitely something that PADI does well. I did find a few mistakes with links to Project Aware not working, and it was crappy that you couldn't do the online portion on an iPad. The online portion was done in Flash, and unfortunately this was a poor choice, since many devices don't support Flash. The material relied heavily on audio and some video. Each section had it's own little quiz, and there was a bigger knowledge review later. I was frustrated in that for the quizzes, if you got a question wrong, you couldn't go back and correct it without doing the entire quiz again. Each quiz would not let you proceed until you got 100%, which was very annoying. There was a lot of material that I had forgotten about, mostly to do with specific PADI standards and ways of doing things. The legal section was dry but interesting, and it was a good review of the PADI tables. I think I liked the physics section most. It was quite good.

The first day of class was mostly paperwork. We all introduced ourselves, and it was nice to have a fairly small but diverse class. Ken and Amy were filling the instructor role, and the dive master candidates were Travis, Linda, Michael, Shawn, Holland and myself. Ken made a point of saying the new trend for PADI was to start emphasizing getting skills done while not kneeling on the bottom. I thought that was very nice to see.

The first pool session happened that weekend, and the first session was mainly going over the 20 skills. It was a long session in the pool, I was glad I wore a full 3mm wetsuit. Amy and Linda got extremely cold. The first dive was an hour and ten minutes, and the next one was half an hour. I had some real fun with the underwater gear removal as I didn't have a weight belt. I would remember that key piece of equipment next time! I don't use a weight belt any longer, and never thought that it might be required. I practiced skills a lot in the ocean, so that helped but the 20 skills were supposed to be done "demonstration" quality, so there was a lot of over-emphasis and small additions that you would normally not include when doing them. Not to mention that there were a few like the underwater gear-swap that were not included in GUE. I could see the value of introducing a complex task, but the practical application of it was next to zero. I wasn't complaining, I had fun. There was even some entertaining video of me attempting the famous "yoga" hover. I will stick to horizontal hover, thank you very much!

Amy and Ken took some video in the pool. I am the one in the full wet suit, with blue arms and black mask. Looking back, I should have focused on maintaining my usual buoyancy and trim. I remember many of the comments from Alan Johnson and Guy Shocky to keep striving all the time. Just because something wasn't a requirement doesn't mean you should ignore it!

There was also an opportunity for a group underwater picture. I am on the far left. From left to right: me, Travis, Michael, Linda, Shawn, Holland.

The next pool session was with actual open water students. Brian was the instructor that I worked with, along with Michael. Michael and I were lucky in the groups, sorry to everyone else! Brian had two students, Ryan and Daniel who were doing their drysuit checkout. The other two groups had only one student each. Talk about fighting for students! Since our group had two students, and two dive masters and one instructor, this meant that each of us had one student each. I was sure this would not be a luxury often encountered.

Brian's feedback to Michael and myself was positive. He farmed out skill demonstrations while he completed a skill with one student and the other dive master. We demonstrated and supervised mask flood, removal, regulator recovery, hover and participated in air-sharing. Brian said that our hand signals and demonstrations were slow and easy to see. For myself, I knew that the time spent reviewing this demo video that I had found helped a great deal.

I remembered more about skill exaggeration and added more reminder steps that I might have otherwise forgotten. I could see how easy it would be to forget all this stuff if you did not review. Brian's biggest comment was to always remember to be in good physical contact with a student at all times when mask skills are being done (and to be close at all times in general). Also you should be in good physical contact when the regulator was not in their mouth, and to have your alternate in-hand and ready to go into their mouth whenever the regulator was out of the student's mouth. Brian said this was good practice for instructor training, and just good practice in general. I know I completely forgot on several occasions to have a positive hold on my student. And not just a finger on a strap! While it was our responsibility to keep a student safe, if something happened the instructor would also be liable. So it was in the instructor's best interest to make sure you had a good hold, and had that alternate ready.

The other comment from Brian was to remember to give a student some lee-way to learn, especially on hover skills. There was a fine line on interfering by grabbing and keeping them down which ended up actually helping too much. Brian said (and I think Ken said the same thing) he would frequently let a student go, and motion for them to come back down and see what they would do. I could certainly see there was a lot of finesse involved in letting a student learn and practice, as opposed to hindering and doing it for them. No one could learn without a few controlled mistakes! I was impressed with Brian. He was an attentive and excellent instructor, in constant communication and kept things moving. He was business when it needed to be business, but fun. I was also impressed with my student Ryan. He understood his dry suit skills quickly, and was hovering horizontally very quickly. We spent a good session working on his breath control, and he was beginning to master it to move easily up and down in the water. I made sure to congratulate him and let him know his achievement, and could see a successful road ahead in his diving career. I know I learned a lot during this session as well.

The next class session had us doing physics, and it was a lot of fun. There were some dry parts, but on the whole it was good. Ken made some very good jokes.

We had an open water session next. The schedule had called for two days in the ocean helping supervise students, but the open water class had a rash of drop-outs, so there were only two students left, Ryan and Daniel. This meant that having 6 dive masters just wouldn't work! Ken split up the group into 3 on one day and 3 on the other. Michael, Shawn and myself did the first day. We couldn't have asked for a better day. Spring had definitely arrived! We all met at Ocean Quest first, and I made sure to give my condolences to Greg, whose mother had just passed away recently. We packed the van and headed to Whytecliff.

We went over a Dive Master briefing at the site, and got our gear together. Once the students were set up, I volunteered to give a site briefing. The first dive was just a dive, no skills. It turned out to be very challenging, as the visibility was extremely poor. I could see maybe 2 feet in front of me, and the students were churning up the bottom even more. Still, we accomplished the dive, and everyone stayed together.

After a very pleasant surface interval on the beach, we were back in the water for the skills portion. This time, it went a little bit worse. I ended up losing the group, and so did Michael. We regrouped on the surface, and found their bubbles and rejoined them, so we didn't lose them for long. It just went to show how bad the visibility was. At one point in the regulator recovery skill, Ryan reached back for it and smacked Michael in the face. I saw it all happen in slow motion, like a slap-stick comedy. It certainly didn't hurt, but was very funny to see.

Brian had some good feedback after. In such poor visibility, you had to get right beside the student so you could see them as well as the instructor. Brian's words were he'd rather need to tell you to go away than have to come get you. If you couldn't see the instructor you couldn't see signals or instructions. This was probably one reason why I lost the group, because I didn't know what the task at hand was. Even though the visibility was so bad, it was probably the best thing that could happen. Experiencing the worst case was definitely a way to learn some things!

After a class during the week, and the first part of the exam completed, we were out in the water again. This time we were at Porteau Cove again assisting instructors with open water divers. It was a pretty nice day, but a bit chilly. I was glad it wasn't raining! For the first dive, it was myself, Holland and Mike as the DM candidates, and Alexis for the instructor. She was taking 4 students out on a buoyancy dive. Two divers, Dave and Sarah were very new to diving and drysuits. They had learned in the tropics and fell in love with diving. Now that they lived in BC, they wanted to keep on doing what they loved. There were two teenage boys as well, whose names have escaped me. Visibility was a challenge again, since there was a lot of sediment stirred up. But we managed to find the fire hose and went for a short dive which was pretty good.

I learned the importance of awareness in big groups with low visibility again. You couldn't just focus on your student diver, but had to expand your awareness to include at the very least the instructor, and hopefully the other teams as well. My student Dave was very comfortable in the water, despite being very new to drysuits, so I was quite lucky. Our group had a weighting issue at the start with Sarah, emphasizing the importance of doing a good weight check prior to starting the whole group out. It was a nice day so sitting in the water wasn't a big deal, but you could imagine if it was poring rain and cold! Doing everything you could before hand as a DM to keep the dive going smoothly was very important. I'm sure it would start to become much easier over time, with practice.

For the second dive, there were two parts. A discover scuba part, and a rescue part. In the discover scuba part, Holland and I simulated a discover scuba open water dive. It went well, but was pretty artificial. Ken gave good feedback in that if your student looked comfortable, there was no need to hold on to them. If they looked uncomfortable, you should move in. Watching your student was very important too! I happily motored ahead, and Holland had a tough time leading the dive. Keeping in control of leading of the dive was important. Ken said this was a tough skill to master, because you couldn't let them get away from you, but you also wanted to give some freedom.

The rescue scenario had three big bits of feedback from Amy. One, slow down, two remember sequence, three, don't get so caught up in gear removal that you miss rescue breaths. Mike, Holland and myself all got frustrated during the scenario. The key to remember was that it was training. It was the time to take things slow, and think them through. Mistakes were ok, and there was no rush! This was the time to learn, not do it perfectly.

The next day, we were lucky enough to go out with Sea Dragon Charters, on the Topline with Captain Kevin and Chris. Ken arranged for a bunch of Ocean Quest side-mount divers to come out to give us some practice being DMs.

There ended up being a lot of good opportunities for learning. I think Ken even gave some groups private instructions to make our lives "interesting". Holland and I were paired with Arnie, Steve and Dave. We dove the east side of Bowyer island, on the wall there. Visibility was not bad, maybe 20 or 30 feet, but with a group of 5 it was definitely a challenge to keep the group together. We saw some great cloud sponges and boot sponges during the dive. I noticed Steve's SMB line spooling out behind him and could have entangled him. I went in and took it off, spooled it up and put it in my pocket. He ended up thinking he lost it, making me realize I should have made him aware of what happened, and gave it back at the time I fixed the issue. As Holland and I were on single tanks, we had less gas volume than our side-mount charges. So we signaled the rest of the team to keep going, and we began our ascent. The best part of the dive was in the last 20 feet. I found a nudibranch that I had never seen before, the Cockerell's Dorid. It was very small, so I might have just been missing them all this time. Anyway, I was quite excited to see such a colorful little critter. Here is a picture (not from me!).

Nudibranchia (3030943721)

Visibility was a challenge on the descent for the second dive. We got more separated than I liked. I lost Holland for a time, and was ready to tell the team to carry on and go search, when I saw he was back with us. One thing I learned on this dive was the importance of identifying something on every diver so you can recognize them. Also, I learned the importance of not getting confused when another group crossed your path. Making sure that your group doesn't get mixed up was very important!

For me, one of the biggest things I learned was that I was too passive on the dives. I needed to communicate more with the divers, and interact more. My problem was that I felt like I was interrupting their dives. But there was a difference between interrupting and just communicating. Diving dissimilar systems (single tank versus side-mount) was also a challenge.

The day was go go go from the start, because it was a big group and the Topline had a second charter that afternoon. We had to be back by 1pm, so there wasn't a lot of time for relaxing and chatting. We all did a very good job of keeping things going. It's too bad we didn't have more time, I would have loved to have switched up the groups for the second dive. But the time pressure was too much, and the simple task of "switching" up the groups would have been monumentous. Finally, there were 4 gear problems fixed during all of this. Ken fixed his rebreather, I had a leaking first stage, and there were two drysuit inflator hoses that needed to be swapped out. All in all, I don't think we could have packed more good experience into one day!

Our next and final dive for the official dive master course was a deep dive, a search and recovery dive, and a rescue dive. All this took place at Whytecliff Park on a Saturday. It was a long long day, we arrived at 7:30 am and were not finished until 3pm. Even though I got to the park at 7:30, there was already a group there. Once everyone arrived, we started putting together gear, and Ken gave a briefing. My group would be myself, Michael, and Fiona, with Amy as our instructor / videographer. Michael took a challenge to clip on an AL40 as a spare cylinder. The dive was to 100 feet for about 15 minutes, and during that, we had some task loading. At the start we recorded our depth, pressure and time, then at minute 15, did the same thing. This was used later to calculate our surface consumption rate for a dive of moderate effort. There wasn't a lot to see on the dive itself, because we swam across the bay which was all sand. We ended up swimming all the way across, and had to turn around lest we continued on around the second island. On the way back, we met up with the other group, and were careful to make sure that both groups didn't get mixed up. On the ascent, we did some stops along the way, and Fiona deployed her SMB. We also had an out of air situation, with Fiona simulating going out of air. All that worked out quite well. Amy commented later that we did pretty good. The stops took longer than planned, due to the SMB deployment, but that showed the effect of task loading.

Back in the parking lot, Ken went over the next dive. We did some knot tying practice, brushing up on the bowline, sheetbend, and clove hitch. Part of the dive would be to attach a lift bag to the object that we were to search for and recover. It took quite a while to get everyone on the same page with the search pattern. But once that was done, it went pretty well. Our group was to start at 30 feet and go shallower, while the other group would start at 10 and search deeper. The object was supposed to be in 20 feet. Our group would have found it right away if I had not taken us out at too much of an angle. Ken mentioned later that he saw our lights go past. Oops! Still, it worked out ok, because we finished our search and the plan was to surface after 20 minutes and see what the other group found. We did so, and saw their SMB so we swam over and descended and grouped up. The final task was to attach a lift bag to the object (a weight belt) using the knots we learned, and get it neutrally buoyant. This all went pretty well, but the visibility got pretty bad with the bottom being stirred up. After that was complete, Ken had Michael and myself do a quick scenario for Fiona because she needed to finish a requirement to supervise divers with an instructor. We did an air-share scenario, and a regulator recovery. During this, Ken had briefed me to simulate a "panicked" diver for Fiona to deal with, which I did and that all went well too. She was kind of surprised when the panicked diver stopped and motioned for the drill to be cut!

The final thing to do was get graded on an unconscious diver rescue. This also went well. I went slow, and focused on the sequence. By this time, it was nearing three in the afternoon. It had been a long day!

There were still some components to the course that needed to be finished, most notably the underwater map creation, part of the written exam, the swim test and demonstrating skills in the pool for evaluation. But, the open water portions were all complete. I figured in another month I'd have the actual certification card. So I'm going to finish this all off, and end this post here!