Thursday, November 26, 2015

GUE-BC Howe Sound Diving 2015 21-22/11/2015

Dave Williams organized two days of diving for GUE-BC with Sea Dragon Charters. Mostly it was to get people together for diving. But it was also to provide an opportunity for Vancouver Island divers to come over to "our side of the pond" to dive the relatively new artificial reef, HMCS Annapolis.

Lately it had been very cold, and the first morning began with a lot of scraping. It was a very nice weekend though despite the cold.

Horseshoe Bay was quiet and the visibility looked promising.

I started to unload my stuff as people showed up.

For the first day there was Jim Dixon, Evan Soukas, Dave Williams, Vlad Chernavsky, and Francois Keen. There were about six other divers on the boat as well, so we had a good compliment. I was pleased to see that our boat captain was Kevin. He and Jan had been in Florida for a while, and it was good to see him back. I'm sure he wasn't as glad to see the cold temperatures though! Kevin had two people helping him out on the boat as well since we had a large group. It turned out to be a good thing, because we realized that all of us were doing tech dives except for Francois! Thankfully, Bob was there to fill in as Francois' team mate.

Despite all the gear needed for our planned tech dives, we loaded quickly and then we were off! The first dive site we decided on was Ferndale, a newly discovered site. I had been on the Ferndale discovery dive not long ago. The boat ride out was fantastic.

Evan Soukas and I teamed up for diving today. It was also Evan's first tech dive in cold water after finishing his training in the Red Sea. It was going to be fun!

During the exploration dive Ferndale was great. I could see that it dropped off dramatically and we aimed to see if there was anything worth seeing deeper. Our dive plans were around 42 meters and one hour total run times. Evan and I came across a very cool brown box crab, a few small glass sponges, a huge giant nudibranch and large schools of perch. Unfortunately Ferndale didn't have anything unique to see other than good visibility and rock topography. We decided later that it was not really worth the expense of trimix. We had more fun and saw more on the deco portion of the dive! It was still good though. In the video below there is a section showing how dark it was. I also got some good video of the giant nudibranch swimming.

During our surface interval, Kevin motored us over to Worlcombe Island. It had been a very long time since I had been there. It looked very nice.

Years ago, there used to be basket stars here. I hoped that maybe they might still be here, only deeper (I had never seen them since). Our dive plans were for 39 meters, and one hour run times. It was a bit more challenging getting in the water here with more waves and boat movement. Dave asked for his camera rig to be passed to him, but the current swept us apart. Once in the water though, it was good. Evan and I headed to our planned depth but only came across sloping sand. Heading north, we did find the wall, but it started at 21 meters which was at the start of our deco. Once again, we saw more on our deco stops than we did on the dive. No basket stars, alas. But, we did find a very big octopus in a crack, many Nanaimo Dorids, and a few nice boot sponges.

I put together a video compilation of the whole weekend and you could see the first day here. The second day started when you come across the section where I do a walk through of the boat.

We packed it in for that day and headed back to the dock. It was a great boat ride back. We decided to meet for some food and beverages after, and we found a nice warm place with a fireplace.

Dave and Evan discovered the poutine appetizer and Dave liked it so much he had two. We had a good old time reminiscing and talking about diving.

The next day dawned, and it was back to Horseshoe Bay to dive the Annapolis! Evan had a suit problem and had to cancel, so I dove with Vlad. I brought my scooter, and myself, Vlad, John Campbell and Dennis Diamond formed "Team Scooter" for that day.

Here was a group shot heading out that morning. I missed a lot of people though! Liz Tribe, Marc, Gord and Dave were all missing here unfortunately.

We had a great set of two dives. I'd not scootered on the Annapolis before and it was a blast. The big cut outs made for excellent swim throughs. On the second dive, Vlad and I did a short penetration then spent the rest of the time scootering around the wreck. Vlad had us try some formation scootering and it turned out pretty good. The order from left to right: me, Vlad, John, and Dennis.

Dave put together an excellent video compilation of the inside of the wreck here. His video light set up worked very well.

The Annapolis didn't have a lot of life on it yet. But it had attracted large numbers of schooling perch.

Finally, this is a good picture of a very happy Dave, and summed up pretty much how we all felt all weekend. It was a great time!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

BARE Sports Dive 17/11/2015

Heather invited me along on a BARE sports dive that her coworker Wendy organized. I couldn't think of a better reason to take a day off work, than to go diving! We were going out with Sea Dragon Charters, whom we hadn't been out with for some time. Kevin and Jan were in Florida, so there was new boat crew with Captain Steve and Bob who was dive mastering.

It did not start out to be a promising day. In the morning it was rainy and windy and there were many gale warnings for Howe Sound. Looking out the window I was really thinking we'd have to cancel. But, as so often happens with the weather you have to go and see, so we did. It was a good thing, as we hit a perfect clear weather window. The rain lifted and the wind died down. It wasn't calm, but it was good.

We all met at the winter dock where the Topline was moored and loaded things up. 

On board were Wendy, Darrel, Max, Peter, Arin, Heather and myself. Darrel was finishing some training with Peter, and so Wendy, Max, myself and Heather made the other team.

We headed out.

It was a bit of a rough ride out, and Captain Steve was looking for the calmest places for us to dive. We found that the North Pinnacle at Bowyer Island was not bad. It let us tie up as well.

We were soon in the water and were greeted by pretty good visibility. I was happy that even with all the rain that there had been there was no cloudy surface layer. At the bottom of the line, we sorted ourselves out and began our dive. It was quite a lot of fun! Both Wendy and Max were newer divers and had not been boat diving before. We saw ling cod, plumose anemones, copper rockfish and a small Lion's mane jelly fish. I ended up surfacing a bit sooner with Wendy, and Heather finished the dive ascending up the pinnacle with Max. On the boat, we discovered we had inadvertently brought back many Alaskan Skeleton shrimp that were covering the line. They were quite tiny and stuck to you like glue.

During the dive briefing, Bob asked us to keep an eye out for a dive computer that had been lost. We didn't see it, but Bob actually was able to find it! It was an excellent example of recovery diving.

We warmed up some, and headed to the next dive site. The weather opened up more, and there was even some sunshine! We settled on the north side of Bowen island at a place called Stairway to Heaven. I had dove it before, and my friend Jason Kolba always commented it was one of his favorite spots. Wendy went with Darryl and Peter this time to work on some skills, and Max needed to warm up more, so Heather and I hit the water.

Stairway to Heaven was great. We saw schools of perch, copper rockfish, a painted greenling and a very cool anemone. Heather got a good picture.

We also found a very pretty rhinoceros crab.

And here was a short video clip Heather got of the same crab.

Normally we didn't take pictures of sea cucumbers, but this one was small and cute.

Finally, a good picture of a vermilion star and some green urchins.

We found a very large yellow nudibranch.

A cool spidery longhorn decorator crab.

A very pretty painted anemone.

Tons of (probably) snail eggs covered the rocks.

A yellow margin dorid.

A small cute sea lemon.

By the time we surfaced and got back on board, the light was fading fast. We headed back to Horseshoe Bay and it turned out to be just in time. Just as we had unloaded the boat, a huge wind storm came through. There was metal banging, trees swaying and things flying. We watched all this from the comfort of the Bay Moorings restaurant, since we all got together there for a drink and an appetizer and to swap stories.

On the way home the highway was jammed. We noticed that there were many traffic lights out, and many homes dark. Later, we found out what happened. One of the hydro substations in North Vancouver exploded in a very impressive flash.

Fortunately, our power was on, and we enjoyed the rest of the evening snug at home.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Whytecliff 04/11/2015

Jim posted on Facebook saying that he was in Vancouver for work, and that he and several others were planning to do a night dive at Whytecliff. It had been a while since I had seen Jim, so I was very happy that I could make it. The previous weekend I had tried to get out, but things fell through. I did get a good picture of the Cut entry though. It gave a good idea of how much of how hairy it can be. Needless to say, if the dive had gone ahead that day, we wouldn't have been entering here!

Whytecliff Wednesdays were still happening, however we planned to meet a bit earlier. Getting there early also meant that we could take advantage of the remaining daylight. It was getting dark very very early. When I arrived, Jim was there already. Vlad, Dennis and John all showed up as well, making it the biggest get-together of GUE-BC divers on the mainland for some time! It was also definitely winter diving season, as this picture showed. The SurfFur dive coat that Heather got me for Christmas last year was getting put to good use!

Our dive plan was to check out the octopus den just past the boxes, follow the rock wall down to the boulders and the second octopus den before the plumose garden, head towards the Cut for about 20 minutes, then turn around and come back and do some skills in the bay. Jim, John and myself formed one team, and Dennis and Vlad formed the other. We started the dive together, but I had an issue with my suit zipper and we had to pause the dive. Once we were ready to go again, Dennis and Vlad had decided to keep going. We found the boxes and headed past them to the rocky crack, but there was no octopus in today. Visibility was pretty good, but less than it had been not long ago. The second area down the contour also didn't have an octopus home. Strike two! We kept going through the plumose garden where we came across many large golden dironas. John got some good pictures.

We came across a pretty cool tanner crab. Jim picked him up briefly, but it wasn't too happy with that!

Passing through the plumose garden, we saw lights approaching. Since part of our dive plan was to return at 18 meters, I took us along at that depth and sure enough we ran into Dennis and Vlad. Dive planning showing its benefits!

With both teams re-united, we continued to explore. We saw many very nice rhinoceros crabs, along with very large white nudibranchs and more golden dironas. We came across the memorial plaque, and I checked under it for an octopus, but no luck. Strike three! Here was a picture of Jim's hand and a rhinoceros crab.

On the way back to the bay, a seal used our dive lights to help hunt for fish. A black torpedo flying out of the darkness was a bit disconcerting but very cool. Our two teams got separated again, and so John, Jim and I did our skills on our own. They went well. We did valve drills, s-drills, and gas switches. On my valve drill, John said that a stubby squid swam right over my head. This wasn't our picture, but it was a good one of what it would have looked like (Eli Wolpin of the folks from Whytecliff Wednesdays posted this picture, and said that they saw a bunch of stubby squid too).

Swimming back into the bay was a real treat. The schools of perch flashed silver all around us. A great dive! When we were packing up, the rain started, so it was a good time to head home.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Whytecliff 17/10/2015

I had tried to get out for a dive the previous Saturday, then again on the Thursday, but they fell through. Fortunately I was able to get out with Dave, and ended up getting in two very nice dives at Whytecliff. Visibility remained excellent, and it was great to take advantage of it.

Here was the video compilation that I put together.

I met up with Dave and his friend Paul early Saturday morning. Dave quickly realized that he forgot his drysuit at home! That would have made for a very very cold dive. So we changed plans. Dave would go home and get his suit and Paul and I would do a dive. Then I'd go for a dive with Dave after that. Worked for me!

The weather had called for a lot of rain, but fortunately it held off. It was a very nice day. Paul and I entered at the Cut, and it was slack tide when we started. Conditions were perfect. I was very glad that the Cut was calm and not full of debris like it had been the last time I tried.

During our dive we saw a lot of golden dirona's along with a very big giant pacific octopus in a crack. We headed to the right along the wall, then turned around and went around the plumose gardens to surface in the bay. The ambient light was amazing, letting you take in the full beauty of the huge cloud sponges. There were huge schools of perch around the plumose gardens, and the vis remained fabulous. Easily it was 40 plus feet, maybe a bit more. When we surfaced, the park had gotten a lot busier with quite a few scuba classes going on. Dave greeted us on the beach.

Paul had to go, and so Dave and I started our dive doing the reverse of what Paul and I did. The visibility in the bay was a bit less due to the classes stirring up the bottom. But it wasn't too bad. Once we got out nearer the day marker it got much better. We checked out the octopus crack I knew of just past the rusty boxes at about 30 feet and it was home. That made the second octopus for the day.

Dave knew of another den further along towards the day marker. At about 80 feet keeping the rock wall on your right you ran right into three large boulders on the sand beside the rock wall. Under the third one we came across the third octopus for the day. Dave almost didn't see it, as it was so big he thought it was part of the rock!

Just past the plumose gardens, I found another crack at about 100 feet with a fourth octopus. And in the plumose gardens, under the memorial marker, there was a fifth octopus! Five octopus sightings in one day was a record for me. It was amazing to see so many in the area, and very encouraging. I was sure I could reliably find at least three of the dens again.

Dave and I did some skills at the end of the dive, then swam back into the bay. I tried to check all the eel grass I could for spiny lumpsuckers, but no luck. An excellent day!

Topline Exploration Dives 12/10/2015

Heather and I went along with Sea Dragon Charters to do some exploration dives. It was a perfect way to spend a Thanksgiving Monday.

Unfortunately there was a delay to the day. When we arrived at Horseshoe Bay, I realized that I had forgotten my backplate at home. Oops! Thankfully we arrived early and I was able to get home and back before the boat left. It was raining pretty hard, and we hoped the visibility wouldn't suffer. We had been up to Squamish the day previously, and noticed a great deal of cloudy water from runoff from the Squamish river. Visibility in Horseshoe Bay looked pretty good though (but it was no guarantee).

Once on board, we were under way quickly. The boat was not very full, with only four other divers. Kevin was captaining that day. The motor out from Horseshoe Bay was quite rough, with a lot of maneuvering to avoid logs and debris. The heavy rains of late had really clogged the waters.

Soon we were up near Gambier Island and things got more sheltered and calm. The visibility was excellent too. The plan was to visit a pinnacle between the West and Center Bay. Before we did that, a shot line was dropped to give a visual reference. Unfortunately the rope got caught in the prop of the Topline, and it had to be cleared. I jumped in the water to do that, and it was fun and challenging.

With the prop cleared, and the shot line down, we jumped in and started to check out the new site. It was a very large pinnacle, with a great wall bordering it.

There were many pretty swimming anemones.

There were quite a few small cloud sponges that were very shallow, about 60 feet. In those sponges were the usual squat lobsters taking shelter.

We saw many giant white dorids.

And a lot of pretty orange finger sponges, which the nudibranchs were often eating.

The top of the pinnacle was vast, with rolling smooth granite rock frequently covered in green urchins. It was a very interesting site! Back on the boat, we got reports from the other dive teams of a juvenile wolf eel, and a pair of wolf eels in a den at 100 feet. With the number of urchins around, it was no wonder that this was a good place for them! Later, the site would be christened "Wolfgang", which was Heather's great suggestion.

From there, we moved to the back side of Hutt Island. Normally we would dive the other side, but this time our goal was to check out the back side. Kevin put in three teams to cover as much ground as possible. We started at the south end and worked our way north. The dive was phenomenal! At the start were huge schools of perch and rock fields, with lots of octopus leavings. There was a sunken tree, and fields of feather stars.

A brown box crab was a highlight.

Along with the biggest giant nudibranch we had ever seen!

Another highlight were several umbrella crabs.

A cool beaded anemone, buried in the sand as usual.

We also came across what we thought was a saddleback gunnel.

The combination of sandy chutes, rock walls, boulder fields and varied topography made this dive site another winner. It was christened "Ferndale" by Kevin due to the large amounts of feather stars. The other dive teams carried on further down the island, making a second dive site named "Krakatoa", again by Kevin due to the large rock crack that marked the start of the site.

Have a look at this video compilation of both dive sites.

A great day, and a lot of fun to participate in naming and exploring some new sites. The fabulous visibility was a big plus!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Egmont 2-4/10/2015

It was finally time for our annual trip to Egmont! It was hard to imagine that this was the fifth year of this trip, starting back in 2010. As usual, we were going with the excellent Porpoise Bay Charters. Kal and Ann were always amazing hosts, and this year was no exception.

With no further ado, here was the video compilation!

We headed up on the Friday, saying goodbye to work, cell phones and internet. Well, to be fair, WiFi had been available at Kal and Ann's place for two years now, but you didn't have to use it. I always liked being able to "unplug" for a while. This year, we couldn't go on the Thanksgiving weekend because there had been a pre-booking conflict. So we went up a week early.

Everyone met on the same 11:30 ferry at Horseshoe Bay going to Langdale. It was a bit cloudy, but it was supposed to be a great weekend. There was an inquisitive harbor seal in the water wondering what was going on. The visibility in Horsehoe Bay was amazing!

The group had a brand-new addition in the form of Baby Pierre. The rest of the group consisted of (from left to right) Vince, Francois, Bridgette, Baby Pierre, Bill, Heather, me, and Josh. This was taken at the end of the trip.

The drive up to Egmont was excellent. The sun came out, and the fall colours were in full force. Heather and I stopped at Halfmoon Bay for a picnic lunch. It was a very relaxing trip up.

We arrived right on time, and unloaded all our gear. Kal showed up just before 3, and we soon had everything on board, including Baby Pierre in his fancy life jacket!

Our ride.

Kal and Ann's two dogs Nemo and Nanuk met us as well. I got a good photo of Nemo looking forward to his dinner.

And Nanuk, guarding the boat.

We got settled, picked our yurts, and then it was time to go diving! It was just a short hop away to the South Sutton Island were we did a fun drift dive. The highlight was a visit by several inquisitive sea lions. Things were off to a great start! Several tiger rockfish made an appearance, and we recovered a really nice urchin test (shell) which survived the trip to the surface.

After a hearty dinner, it was into the hot tub for some relaxing under the stars. The next morning dawned clear and calm, and we were treated to Ann's apple pancakes to fuel our morning dive. We traveled to Agamemnon channel (aka the Power Lines) for a dive on the fantastic cloud sponges there. They did not disappoint! Bill reported seeing several dwarf gorgonian corals. During our dive we also found several cute decorated warbonnets. One in a crack and one in a boot sponge. Look carefully!

Back for lunch, and then out again. We checked out Swede's Reef, but the conditions weren't right, so we hoped over to Jaggy Crack instead. Heather got quite a few excellent pictures.

There was a beautiful leopard dorid.

And a white lined dirona (aka frosted nudibranch.)

And a penpoint gunnel out in the open.

Heather got a short video clip of the gunnel swimming.

A rose star (there were lots of these throughout the trip).

A sea lemon dorid.

Heading back from the dive we were treated to a sea lion sunning himself on a dock. He was a huge male, and I don't know what you would do if you found him on your back porch like this!

Not far away were some in the water, probably part of the big guy's entourage.

In the evening, we had one last dive in the Skookumchuck rapids at Boom Islet. I think it was the best dive of the weekend, with excellent visibility, fun drift, and loads of life. We saw the painted anemone gardens, red irish lords, puget sound king crabs, opalescent nudibranchs, and kelp forests. It was great! The reward after such a great dive was a pre-thanksgiving turkey dinner, courtesy of Ann, complete with pumpkin pie! It was a great night, with more hot-tubbing under the stars.

Cool giant rock scallop, you could see it's "eyes".

A spiny lithode crab. I had always thought these were called red fur crabs.

A bivalve mollusc that needed identifying.

A white lined dirona (aka frosted nudibranch).

A rose anemone with kincaid shrimp, and in behind was a heart crab (look close!).

A really nice puget sound king crab, who was molting. This was a front picture.

And here you could see the old shell, and just how big the new shell was!

A juvenile puget sound king crab, very pretty!

Fringed Filament-Worms, all over the place. Very cool watching them feed.

The urchins liked to decorate themselves. This one was carrying around a full shell!

A great picture of a clown nudibranch.

The next day, we had thought to try for a night to dawn transition dive, but in the end decided the conditions were not good enough to get up that early. So instead, we had a leisurely breakfast of eggs benedict, followed by a relaxing boat ride out to Argonaut Point.

Heading out for the dive. It was a fantastic morning. We really lucked out on the weather.

We had never dove Argonaut Point before, so it was a nice treat. It had similar sponges to Agamemnon and Captain's Corners, but with more shelves of rock for critters and a huge amount of rockfish. This was probably my second favorite dive of the trip.

A swimming scallop.

Another very large sea lemon dorid.

A rhinoceros crab. The filaments covering it were mentioned by some Aquarium people, but I forgot what they came from.

On the way back from Argonaut Kal found us some humpback whales! We spent a lot of time trying to maneuver around to get the best view, and were prepared to jump in the water too if conditions were good. Unfortunately, the whales stayed distant, and we had to content ourselves with viewing their majesty from afar. Josh and Francois did try to jump in on the off chance that one surfaced near us, but Team Whale was a bust. Next time maybe. This was definitely one of the high-lights of the trip.

The last dive of the trip was at Captain's Corners. There, we came across the biggest concentration of krill I'd ever seen. It was like diving in a living, moving cloud. I figured it was krill, and not actual zooplankton as the organisms were small, but not microscopic. It was an amazing sight to see, and be inside of. I could see why the whales were around! We also came across a very nice little octopus in a crack, with its last crab meal neatly arranged on its doorstep.

Too soon it was time to pack up. We got our group picture, chatted for a time, then bid our farewells. Until next year!

P.S. a final nice piece of this weekend was that it put me to dive 600. A milestone and a great set of dives!