Monday, September 22, 2014

Porteau Cove Scooter Dive 16/09/2014

Vlad, John Campbell, Dan Wei and I went out for some scooter fun at Porteau Cove.

The evening could not have been better. The high tide was almost at slack, and the weather was beautiful. It was getting a lot darker at night, which I noticed when we were gearing down. I forgot my headlamp at home!

Our dive plan was for a pretty long dive. It ended up being one hour and thirty minutes. The plan was to scooter the wall past the Nakaya, then return and spend more time in the Porteau Cove proper.

At the start of the dive, even though visibility didn't seem that bad, both dive teams got separated. John and Dan ended up having their own dive, while Vlad and I explored the wall. We had planned for this contingency so there was no surprise.

On our dive, we had some very lucky encounters. One was with a stubby squid, just sitting on a rock.

The next was with a lion's mane jelly fish.

And the best encounter was with a 4 foot dogfish shark just sitting on the bottom!

We came across the remains of some old car amongst the rocky debris, a float line from some fishing gear encrusted with tube worms, and a giant pacific octopus. The octopus was under the concrete blocks in the main Porteau area.

All these encounters were captured on video.

A very fun time indeed!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Topline Jamaican Day 14/09/2014

Heather and I went out with Sea Dragon Charters for their Jamaican Day themed trip. We spent a lot of time the night before making t-shirts and caps ringed with wool dreadlocks. I thought it turned out pretty well! This was the result, and we ended up wining two Sea Dragon t-shirts for our efforts.

Kevin and Jan made jerk chicken on a barbecue on the top deck of the boat. It was yummy!

The diving was great to. The first site we went to was Dragon's Den. We found one of the new dragon's in the aforementioned Dragon's Den.

We also were out counting rockfish for the Vancouver Aquarium. We were taking the Citizen Science diver course, and were collecting numbers for the Rockfish Survey.

The second dive was at Christie Islet. A new marker buoy had been put in by the ARSBC. Unfortunately the visibility wasn't good enough for us to find it again at the end of the dive!

In the end it was a day of an incredible amount of fun. We didn't get a lot of video, but here is some.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Nomash River Cave 07/09/2014

Dave Willliams and Jim Dixon asked me to dive Wet Dream, also known as the Nomash River cave and I jumped at the chance. I had previously read Jim's article in Quest Volume 15, Issue 2, Page 36 "Cave Diving on Northern Vancouver Island" and I couldn't wait. He had gone up with Greg a few weeks prior as well.

I did a bit of digging (pun intended!) on my own about the cave. I uncovered a list of longest caves in Canada. Nomash River cave was ranked 48 on this list. It shows 1168 meters, but I believe it has been pushed past this.

I further learned that the nearby village of Zeballos was 200 years old, and the area held a number of abandoned gold mines and one cave large enough to land a helicopter in.

Jim had mentioned Peter Norris and Richard Jack to me before, and they were the first ones to dive it in 2012. They had been on site the previous time when he and Greg had dove the cave. Jim had gotten a wealth of information from Peter, with the understanding being that no new exploration would be done, and that they would be able to complete the work they started in this amazing cave. I was able to find Peter's original post about the discovery on this site. We would not have been able to do this without their excellent detective work and determination. Thank you! I was honored that the opportunity existed at all to dive this gem. It truly was a privilege, and I am grateful to my cave instructor Christophe LeMalliot for instilling the awe, wonder and respect of caves in me.

I found this short summary of the caves and caverns of the area on the Zeballos Outdoor Recreation site.

"Erosion of the continuous band of limestone that runs down from Quatsino has produced thousands of caves on northern Vancouver Island. The Artlish Caves Provincial Park, located northwest of Zeballos, is a concentration of river karst features unique in Western Canada. In terms of flow volume and passage dimensions, the Artilish River cave system is currently the largest active river cave system known in Canada. Little Hustan Cave Regional Park can be easily accessed just off the road into Zeballos. Dozens of “undiscovered” caves, sink holes, and disappearing streams in the area await those who like to explore."

Without further ado, here is the video that resulted from our trip. Dave was testing out his video rig, and while it still needed work, it turned out very well. There were the obligatory divers swimming behind columns, cave passage sequences, and at the end a descent into the shaft. A trout was Jim's dive partner for two sequences, which was quite funny.

You can also view all the trip photos here.

Logistically we planned on a single set of double 130s each with 32%. We had one day of diving, and it was not worth the effort to bring more gear. Ideally it was a test to see if you could dive the cave in a single day and return.

Dave and I arrived on the early ferry from Vancouver to Naiamo. For anyone not familiar with BC Ferries, a ferry breakfast was an institution!

We met Jim in the Costco parking lot and packed all the gear into one vehicle. Guy Shockey had been awesome and provided me with a set of 130s. This meant I didn't have to bring mine over. Having Guy as a resource on the Island certainly was great, thanks Guy!. From there we were on our way after a stop at Serious Coffee. It was a fun 5 hour drive, with lots of excited talk about the cave and what we might experience. Jim filled us in on the information that Peter had shared with him on the previous trip.

The logging road was dusty and we had a casualty. The top of Jim's tote flew off! Jim was too eager to get to the cave and so we left it behind, saying we'd get it on the way out. We saw a view like this for a long time.

The logging road turned left at the Nomash bridge and we got a look at the river. It was beautiful! You could see fish swimming and the water was crystal clear.

At the same time, we had to take the obligatory team picture: myself, Jim, and Dave on the right

Not far up the road brought us to the trail. It was hot and sunny and a new road had been put in. Jim commented that it would be even easier to get down to the river. However, that was at the expense of active logging, which marred the landscape quite a bit. But then again, without this industry, we would never have been able to dive this cave.

We planned to do trail improvement but first we had to see the cave. It was exactly how I thought it would look. In the foreground was the cave entrance, beneath the ledge that I was standing on.

The previous year when Jim and Dave had been up, the area had been a raging torrent. There definitely was a window of opportunity when this cave was dive-able. The trail down was definitly "rustic" as Jim liked to call it. I think some mountain goats might like to call it home!

Since the trail down was challenging, the trail improvement was sorely needed to prevent accidents. We spent several hours digging and placing boards and wood stakes. It was a bit haphazard but it helped. We agreed that more work was needed. Steel rods along with a post driver, a pick axe and pressure treated wood were some of the things we thought would be useful. With a proper trail, the cave would be doable as a day trip. This was the end result of our work. A rope tied to a tree above completed it.

We then used our hard work to ferry down our gear. It did make quite a difference. The thought was that if anyone packed it back up that hill and stole it, they deserved it. A quick dip in the water capped things off. Without a dry suit it was cold! I was the only one brave enough to jump in. However, the look on my face probably said "foolish" instead.

I learned a new word on this trip, "swallet". It was the opening in which a stream disappeared underground. Jim had been told about it by Peter, but was unsure of the distance. We set off to try and find it, but got only brambles. Dave took a spill and came up very scratched and poked by thorns. This picture doesn't really do justice to how thick the undergrowth was. If you were doing exploring snag-proof long pants, long sleeve shirts and machetes would be useful!

The swallet was a lot farther up than we knew at the time. Looking at the notes online from Peter, he mentioned 3 kilometers, but Jim thought 300 meters! But to be fair, he wasn't sure at the time, so it was all good (but prickly) fun in the end.

Camp was made and it was comfy. You had to camp fairly far from the cave entrance, as there weren't any good flat areas. It was in a gravel pit up the road. Dave took a panorama picture.

Other divers had even brought in camp toilets, talk about luxury! We had Jim's event tent and a 4 man tent. The rest of the evening consisted of dinner and lots of talking. There were some biting insects, but it wasn't bad. The weather was spectacular and there was an incredible full moon that night as well.

During the night, I heard what I thought was a small animal running along the side of the tent. It happened several times, and even though I was sure that we had packed all our food in the truck, I thought it was a good idea to investigate. On getting outside, I couldn't see any animal evidence at all. Back in my sleeping bag, the sound happened again and I realized what it was. Dew had been collecting on the event tent and when it built up enough it would spill over the edge and land on the ground in such a way as to sound like small feet running. Funny! Can't miss out on the opportunity for a picture of snug feet in a sleeping bag.

Since we had an early evening, we had an early morning. It was crisp and clear, and nothing tasted better than breakfast in the outdoors. Dave's bacon and eggs in a bag caused quite the discussion.

Finally, on to the cave! All our gear was still there and free of squirrels. We were surprised to hear rustling in the brush. A curious logger had come to visit and ask about the cave. Clearly he knew about it, and that divers were diving it. He asked about the size of the fish, I guess wanting to know if it was worth putting a line in. He also extended the offer that if there was a problem that they were available. It was nice to see the spirit of helping alive and well in the back country. Once he left, we finished our gearing up.

The cool morning was perfect and the rocks were not slippery. It was challenging to stage getting into our gear and doing checks with no stable space to stand. Ultimately one stood in the hole, one on the rock, and one on the nearby ledge. This would not work well with slippery conditions. We figured a wood pallet with an x-table could help when it got rainy.

You had to go in one at a time, but the entry was not bad. We secured our line to a tree outside the entrance, we formed up the team, Jim tied into the main line and away we went. We had the luxury of a main line, which on Jim and Greg's previous dive they did not. The cave itself was wide enough for 2 or 3 divers side by side and it reminded me of Mexico. Portions of the walls were stunning white, others were dark and sucked up your light. Ridges of rock came up from the floor and ceiling like stegosaurus plates. About 10 minutes in was a rock column archway blocked by a piece of brown rock. All the limestone had been eaten away, leaving a thin plate of harder rock in between. Another interesting feature was that the sediment layers had been turned vertical by some geological event. This meant you got fantastic striated patterns on the floors and ceilings. Grey expanses of lime stone with white marbling were exquisite. Pure white marble floors and ceilings subtly etched with pits abounded. Several locations had breakdown debris from the ceiling.

There was no detectable flow to speak of. A trout followed us into and out of the cave as well, feeding on particles dislodged in our passing. Visibility was excellent, but we were surprised at how variable. There were some areas with much more sediment in the water. On the second dive we noticed quite a bit of percolation. Doing the video portion, we came off of the main line a bit and our bubbles dislodged it from the ceiling. We made a note to stay in the more traveled portion of the passage in the future.

The high point was the shaft 20 minutes into the penetration. Jim and Greg missed this last time as they ran out of line, but this time we had that main line. Thanks again to those who laid it! The shaft was at least a diver wide and maybe 2 divers long. It was easily one of the most impressive features. It dropped down about 9 meters before continuing to slope down. Not long after the shaft we thumbed the dive on depth. Prior to the shaft, we found a pink sparkly mechanical pencil poking up from the bottom. Jim moved it to the line, in case it belonged to one of the previous explorers. It sure looked out of place amongst the natural beauty.

On the surface, we all agreed that it was a fabulous dive, and we couldn't wait to go back in. Dave decided to take a dip like I did, but he cheated and kept his dry suit on. He is a little hard to see due to his camouflage though. Dave even brought camouflage rope for the trail, and the running joke was that no one would be able to find it.

We decided to do some video on the second dive. Dave put together his GoPro and lights, and back in we went. He was still playing with his setup, but it turned out pretty well. You could see the cave topography, the limestone striations, the descent into the shaft, and the columns.

After the diving was done, and our gear was all packed, I took one last dip into the freezing water to refresh myself. Jim had seen the Seattle community doing post-dive debriefs, and had decided to do that as a standard practice. So we went back over how things went while relaxing in the sunshine. This was the position Jim conducted the post-dive debriefing in. Couldn't get better than that!

Finally, it was time to bid the Nomash River Cave farewell. We were sad but excited. The fact that this amazing cave existed in our back yard pointed to much more in the future!

On the drive out, a black bear watched us go from the side of the road. Maybe he would get a trout that had swum in the Nomash River Cave. We also recovered the lid from Jim's tote, in case you were wondering. I could not wait for the next expedition!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Kelvin Grove 21/08/2014

Vlad, Josh and myself went out to Kelvin Grove for a skill/fun dive. Josh had never been, so it was great to show someone around a site they had never been to before. I even went so far as to put together a written GUEPLAN dive plan, something I realized I did not do enough of lately.

We met on a perfect evening, calm, clear and warm. There was a group coming out of the water when we arrived, and reported seeing a large octopus out in the open. Unfortunately we would not see it.

Our dive plan was simple, 15 minutes to the right at 27m, then a return at 15m giving an average of 21m, and 30 minutes. Then 30 minutes of skills at around 9m-12m. We ran through the Basic 5, valve drill, s-drill, gas switches, and SMB deployment with a standard ascent to the surface.

Everything went according to plan, and was a lot of fun. On the dive, we saw some large nudibranchs and red fur crabs. The skills all went well, and we planned on trying to keep up the skills dives.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Porteau Cove 22/07/2014

Great fun scootering at Porteau with Dave, Dan and Vlad. John was all raring to go, but scooter problems arose. Next time John! Visibility was about 20 feet, but the surface layer was the regular summer crappy-ness. Vlad found part of a car, and the schools of shiner perch in the shallows at the end of the dive were very cool. Giant long cod and the endless craggy boulders of the wall were the highlights. Thanks guys, can't wait for the next one!