Monday, June 30, 2014

Nanaimo Wrecks 29/06/2014

Liz Tribe organized two days of diving on the Nanaimo Wrecks with Sea Dragon Charters. Thanks Liz! I couldn't do both days, but on Sunday I got up at 4:30am to catch the second day. Jim Dixon had dove the previous day with Guy Shockey and they had some great dives and excellent visibility. Jim, Greg and I were all set to poke around in both ships with some fun penetration dives using trimix.

Everyone met at the Harbourside Marina parking lot. It was a nice surprise to see Francois Keen again; I wasn't expecting him on the trip. I met his friend from New Zealand, Kathryn, and his partner Bridget. Liz and Dennis were completing a wreck diver course for Jeff. It was great to see her again too since it had been quite some time. The previous day had rough conditions, but we had a much calmer day. The weather even cooperated (mostly) with some sun mixed with showers.

Liz got a partial shot of the group (missing are Francois and Bridget).

We dove the Cape Breton first. Our dive plan was to descend through the skylight and poke around the lower decks. Greg was running the reel, and his initial choice of path did not get us far. I was in the number two position, and saw him try to squeeze between a railing and a pipe. It just wasn't to be, so we backed out and went down a different passage. It was a fun dive! We managed to get to 40 meters max depth, which was deeper than the sea floor! When the ship sank, the weight of it pushed it down into the bottom. Our average depth worked out to only 32 meters, so we didn't have a lot of deco to do. I had spent less time inside the wrecks than Jim and Greg, and it was great to get inside more. The final room we ended up in was large and spacious, with a lot of interesting rust formations. Back out and up for our deco, we came across the other dive groups heading up the line as well. Francois was taking pictures, and here is one of them. Myself, Jim and Greg are the group of three on the line at the top of the picture. Foreground is Bridget and Kathryn.

It was fun watching the bubbles coming up from below. They looked like big silvery blobs. I made a game of poking as many as I could. Greg motioned me twice during the dive to check behind him. I was baffled as to why until back on the boat. I had forgotten about the rubber chicken clipping prank, and apparently there was a new game of clipping off a little crappy dive light to your butt d-ring. I had to remember to watch my back with these Island diver types! The aquatic life on the Breton was impressive as always, with the huge plumose anemones and cloud sponges encrusted everything.

During the surface interval, we luxuriated on the upper boat deck in the sun (and a bit of rain!). It was great fun talking chatting. Francoise had moved to the Island, so we talked at great length about all the good diving on the Island. He had some great pictures of the sea lions at Race Rocks.

The second dive was on the Saskatchewan, and we planned for a shallower shorter dive. Jim led the penetration, and I did the deco. The first entry we went into didn't get us to the central corridor, and we had to back-track. On the second try, we hit Burma road and explored it until we hit our turn pressure. I distinctly remember being just behind Greg in a cramped passage, with Jim ahead in a nice big open area. Why couldn't we have turned just a little bit later in that big room I cursed to myself! Still, it was fun and good practice turning in such a tight area. In reality, there was loads of room, but it seemed smaller at the time. The side compartments were neat to peer in as you passed by. It was a short penetration, but lots of fun. We had only a small amount of deco to do, as our average depth was only 30 meters and our dive was only 20 minutes. But since we had done a previous technical dive, we made sure to wash out on Oxygen at 6 meters and do 1 meter stops to the surface.

After each dive today, there were excited exclamations of how great they were. Kathryn could not get over the giant plumose anemones and how much they looked like something from Doctor Seuss. They didn't have such things in New Zealand. It sure was easy to take for granted the amazing marvels we have in the BC waters!

On getting back to the dock, the weather turned positively balmy. The sun was out and it was definitely short sleeve weather again. Liz and Dennis couldn't join us, but the rest of us went to Serious Coffee for some food and conversation. It was good to be back in the old Nanaimo neighborhood again! We had a great time talking about Vancouver Island cave diving, watching some of the videos of octopus encounters that I had had, as well as the Hornby Island sea lion video.

It really was a perfect way to end a great day of diving, talking about more diving!

Dive Master Final Pool Skills 28/06/2014

Finally done! I only had the pool skill evaluations and swim test to complete, and got this done finally. Ken Dunlop had a sidemount class in the pool at Simon Fraser University, and Amy was kind enough to evaluate Linda and myself. In a happy coincidence, Andre and Patricia were doing the sidemount class, and it was great to see them again. Heather and I had met them on the Topline in March. I told them that we would get a dive going on the Topline soon.

 It was a packed 3 hours, as we had a lot to do. The underwater gear swap went much better than I had anticipated. Before we started, I didn't realize that it was swapping fins mask and BCD, and that you had to end up in the other person’s gear, all while sharing a single regulator. There was some complication in that my feet were bigger than Linda’s so fin swapping required different fins for both of us. Not something I would ever have thought about to prepare for. Who swaps their fins, ever??? But I understood it was all about problem solving and task loading under water, not realism.

Linda had a good suggestion which helped a lot. We purposefully started out in each other’s gear. That way, as the exercise went ahead, we’d progressively be back in our own gear. It worked great. The rest of the skills went well, with not much to comment on. My demonstration quality was not that great. If I was going to do this more often, practice would definitely be needed.  Watching Youtube videos of the skills helped some, but hurt sometimes as well. Each shop and instructor had a few differences in skill demonstration. So on one skill, we had to do it a different way, which was no big deal. Just a general note, one should not assume that an online video is correct! What? The Internet is not all facts? A good reminder.

Back at the shop, it was a lot of paperwork, and soon, I should get my card!

Porteau Cove 25/06/2014

Vladimir and I met up to do a much-needed scooter dive of Porteau Cove.  It had been far too long since having the scooters out. I had put together a new compass mount after the dive we did at Seananus  and I was itching to see how it would work out. The tides lined up well, which helped visibility. The area had been less than stellar with the water around Vancouver taking on a yucky shade of brown most days. Our dive plan consisting of a deeper average depth of 25 meters also would help.

The evening was perfect when we arrived. However, big threatening clouds looked to be coming over Anvil Island. We could see a big rainstorm pelting down there, so we tried to gear up quickly. I had a small issue when I discovered that my doubles were only half full. I had forgotten that I had been planning to do a practice dive previously that didn't need a full fill, and neglected to check. But, we sorted it out by having both of us take one of my full stages. I would breathe one empty, and then swap it with a full one from Vlad. It would give us some good practice, so it worked out in our favor. All that training was getting put to use!

It did take some time to get in the water with all our gear, and then more time to scooter over to one of the buoys. We made the choice to scooter out on the surface closer to the Nakaya to get out to deeper water. Once we descended, visibility wasn't too bad. We had taken a bearing, and followed it and the 70 foot contour and ran right into the Nakaya. Vlad was leading, and didn't expect to find it so easily. I remember the surprised look he gave me. From there, we headed on with a bearing of basically due north, and hit the wall beyond. It was very cool, and I was glad we came to check it out. When the highway and railway were constructed just above the area, a huge amount of rock had been blasted out and dumped into the ocean. The boulders were truly massive, jagged and jumbled, and were the most interesting part of the dive. There was not a lot of life covering anything, but there was some. One unique thing we did not see often were cloud sponges growing in the crevices here and there, and at a shallow depth of only 20 meters. There were also vermillion rockfish, tiger rockfish and large lingcod. There were some nice big white nudibranchs as well. We also came across a few long old rusty railway rails. It was very odd seeing these rusting bits of metal just lying around. Obviously they had been dumped here too. Maybe it was true what they said, that a railway car was down here too somewhere!

The bottle passing went OK, but we didn't plan so well for the large change in buoyancy. When I passed my empty and very positive bottle to Vlad, I sank and he went up. We recovered, but it could have been done more elegantly. More practice was needed for sure.

We planned for a 90 minute duration, and with the average depth of 25 meters this worked out to be about 15 minutes of decompression on oxygen. It was pretty murky when we scootered in to 6 meters for our deco, but it was ok. We watched the flatfish and Dungeness crabs on the sandy bottom for entertainment.

All in all, if you had a scooter, diving the Porteau Cove wall past the Nakaya was well worth it!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Egmont GUE-BC 31/05/2014

I arranged for a GUE-BC trip to Egmont to dive Agamemnon Channel, also known as the Power Lines. Kal from Porpoise Bay Charters was our Captain and boat of choice. I had been on a few trips with them, and each one was memorable. This time, we were not able to take advantage of their full hospitality, since the plan was for a day trip only. It was certainly going to be a long, but excellent day!

Here is a link to the photo album for the trip:

The overall goal was to get a few technical teams in to check out the Gorgonian corals. This spot was one of a few places where you could see coral similar to what you might see in the tropics. The wonders of cold-water diving never seemed to cease. This coral was also one of the reasons I got into technical diving in the first place. I really wanted to see them first hand!

We met at the Church on Taylor way at a very early hour (most of us had to wake up at 4 am) in order to car pool for the ferry. The vehicles were packed with gear. This picture was only some of it.

I took a quick pre-trip picture. Everyone seemed to be awake! From left to right: Heather, Vlad, Daniel, Josh, Dave, Dennis, and Jim.

We made very good time to Egmont. There was an amusing moment when Dave asked me "how do you get to Egmont?". So much for my extensive planning! I had forgotten to include directions to where we were going. That was easily sorted out, and soon we were at the dock loading the boat with Kal.

And paperwork!

On the way out, Kal gave a quick boat and dive briefing. We had one recreational dive team, and two technical dive teams. Jim and I were using 18/45 to explore a bit deeper. Our dive plan was for a 30 minute dive at an average depth of 150 feet / 45 meters, and a max depth of 180 feet / 54 meters. We had talked to a lot of people, but still hadn't gotten a clear idea where the best coral was, so we were going to find out ourselves.

The coral was more beautiful than I could have imagined. Vlad got some great photos.

I got some video, but it was quite dark. You can view it here. It includes video from the second dive as well. The beginning of the video is the dive on the corals, and you can see some of the coral fans illuminated in our lights. Jim videoed me doing my happy dance underwater during our deco stop.

In the end, coral could be found easily around 130 feet / 39 meters, but it was definitely smaller. The bigger fans were between 140 feet / 42 meters and 150 feet / 45 meters, and the biggest were around 170 feet / 51 meters. The actual area where the coral fans were was not that large. Jim and I didn't spend too much time at 180 feet / 54 meters, but I didn't remember there being a lot of coral there either. This dive would be a solid 21/35 trimix dive, where you'd want to maximize your dive time between 130 and 150 feet. That seemed the most bang for your buck. There was a lot of gas and cylinder logistics, so I could see a rebreather being a good tool here. A lot of planning went into the tides and currents as well. You were quite exposed on this dive site, so dive time was a limiting factor. Anything over an hour total could be an issue, since currents were notoriously unpredictable. Having a long decompression obligation and a strong current could be a recipe for getting separated from the boat. Not a good plan! Kal was very good about helping with this planning, and we made sure he knew what our expected dive times would be up front.

Jim and I had a funny story from our dive. It turned out that both of us had forgotten to set our depth gauges back to metric, and spent the whole dive converting because we thought the other was in metric. Half way through our deco, we had a good laugh when we compared gauges and realized that.

Surfacing brought us back to the beautiful scenery around the Power Lines.

Here was a great reason why Egmont was always so awesome. The visibility was so good, you could see the dive teams on their decompression stops from the boat.

We had a long surface interval due to the tech dives, so we motored slowly to Captain's Corners, another dive site nearer to the Government dock where we started. Captain's Corners was known for its beautiful cloud sponges (much like the power lines was). Along the way, Ann had prepared a nice lunch for us with cold cuts and all the fixings to make sandwiches. Even vegetarian Jim got some Tofurky! They thought of everything.

On Captain's Corners, I did a recreational dive with Heather, and we got some pretty nice pictures. In the video I mentioned above, there was a really great sequence of a lion's mane jelly fish, and a cloud of microscopic shrimp creatures trying to escape in front of us. The dive was nice and relaxing, with very little current.

There were some very beautiful giant dendronotid nudibranchs.

And this was a nudibranch I had not seen before. The first photo captured the light of another dive team off to the left.

The cloud sponges at Captain's Corners did not disappoint.

With the second dive done, we made a quick dash back to the dock, packed up and were on the road to catch the 6:50 PM ferry. While not too rushed, we certainly didn't have time to dawdle. But we made the ferry in good time. With the amount of cylinders we had, we declared our dangerous goods for BC Ferries. Dave had a small problem on the trip back. The Supervisor cited regulations that all dangerous goods had to be covered. I'd never encountered this before, because almost always cylinders were in a covered vehicle. Covering them with a tarp solved the problem, go figure. It never ceased to amaze me the difficulties that could be had when declaring dangerous goods. If only it was easier, a lot more people would actually do it!

And finally, one last group picture.