Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Nomash River Cave GUE-BC 20-21/06/2015

Last year, I had a fantastic opportunity to join Jim Dixon and other GUE-BC members in diving the cave at Nomash River. We planned to go again this year, and I was very excited.

I got quite a few photos throughout the trip. You can see the whole photo album here:


The plan was to go up for two days. For this we spent two weeks planning gear and making preparations (it was a 5 hour drive, and the nearest civilization was 2 hours away). After the trip, we learned a lot. One of the biggest lessons was that you didn't need to bring everything! We definitely brought too much. We had originally had a step in our planning to review and cut out duplicated/unnecessary things, but we ran out of time for that step. Oops. It would definitely be something for next time. Hand sanitizer and more toilet paper were two other good things to add!

Dave and I went over the Friday evening on the last ferry to help get an early start the following morning. The lights of Nanaimo were pretty looking through the ferry doors. Another benefit of diving was declaring Dangerous Goods and being put at the front of the boat!

We met Dennis at Jim's house in Ladysmith, and chatted some before getting to bed. It was always a pleasure to stay at Jim's. The next morning he made eggs and coffee, and we packed up and got moving. We were very excited!

Both vehicles were full to the brim. We had two sets of doubles each, along with extra cylinders for transfilling. Jim, being Cave 2, was able to bring one set and stages, so he got off easier. Another good reason for Cave 2 (among many others!).

The drive up island was great and didn't feel long at all. There was a lot of talk about the trip and diving in general. We stopped briefly in Campbell River for food and supplies, but kept a good pace. After about two hours we turned off to Zeballos and were on the familiar dusty road leading to our destination.

Logging was everywhere, but the scenery was beautiful. We would not be at this cave without logging, so it was a bit of a double-edged sword.

Soon, we had our first look at the Nomash River. We stopped on the bridge and snapped a few pictures. This was Dennis' first trip up, so we wanted to let him see how great the river looked.

Our plan was to haul as much gear as we could down to the cave, make camp, and then go back to do the first dives. Here was our first look at the trail. Last year we had done a lot of work improving the steep slope, and it appeared to have survived the winter for the most part. Even Dave's camo-coloured rope was still there. The joke was that no one could see it, so that was why no bears or squirrels ate it.

Finally the cave! We got a great group picture: Dennis, Jim and Dave.

Dave brought wooden pallets, as it was an idea we had last year. The rocks made it difficult to find flat spaces to gear up on. With some MacGuyver action, we got the pallets down to the river. Dennis had the idea to attach a backplate. Dave's idea was to almost ride the pallet down the hill! I don't have a picture of that, but he came out of the bush with the pallet looking a bit disheveled.

It was pretty hard to describe the path to the cave. It was only a 5 minute walk, but I would liken it to the hill at Whytecliff without the road. Perhaps a short video clip would help give some perspective.

Jim tied off the primary reel to a tree outside the cave entrance. We were serious about a continuous line to the surface! When he dropped the reel into the water, the salt from the ocean and the air in the line caused a huge stream of bubbles. We joked that we had a primary reel failure, and would have to go home. You can just see the bubbles in this picture.

Once all our gear was down at the cave, we took the trip to set up camp (it would also give us a chance to cool down after all that work going up and down the hill). We camped in the same location as last year: a nearby gravel pit. It was a good flat area, and gave us lots of room.  It was quite the camp! Dennis and Dave wanted to test out their tents, so we had three. This meant that Jim and I had a tent all to ourselves. Going back to the lesson about "too much stuff" we agreed that one tent would suffice for the number of people we had. The extra tents just really weren't needed. And we would still hear Dave snoring, and Dennis squeaking around on his air mattress!

With camp set up, we were anxious to get in the cave. It didn't take long to get our gas analyzed, gear together and our dive plans reviewed. Here was a good picture of Jim in his happy place.

Did I mention we had a lot of stuff?

There would be no video or photos from the first day of diving. We wanted to focus on assessing the state of the mainline from last year. We would find much of the line still in place, which was great. We ran the primary reel in and tied in. We did learn that the mainline was broken in an important spot. There was a second tunnel, and last year there was an actual T here. Part of that T had been destroyed, and we ended up following part of the mainline into the second tunnel which had a low ceiling and a great deal of sediment. Jim and Greg had explored that tunnel the previous year as well. The second dive on the first day was to retrieve the exploration reel from the silty tunnel, and move to the wider tunnel to the left of that. Once we figured that out, we got in to the bigger, main tunnel and to the drop off area easily. This cave was a perfect Cave 1 dive. It was about 15-20 minutes to the drop off that quickly went down past 30 meters. It gave a 40-45 minute dive, at about a 12 meter average. With double 130s, you had enough gas to do at least 3 dives, and there was plenty to look at. It really was a pretty cave. Quartz sparkled in the walls, pieces of rock jutted up like stegosaurus plates, and sometimes trout would dart in the shadows.

With the first day of diving over, it was good to be done. We were all very happy! Back at camp we thought that bears had moved our tent around, but it was just the wind.

We had a wide variety of dinner ideas. Jim had rice pilaf, Dennis had cheese and meat, Dave made some burgers.

And I made Hobo stew.

The best part of the day was the evening fire. There was no ban in effect, and we were in the middle of a gravel sand pit, so we weren't too worried. The fire helped keep away the mosquitoes (of which there were many, mostly dining on Dennis), but most importantly it promoted excellent conversation and relaxation. Dennis gave some astronomy lessons, and we watched how quickly the stars and moon moved when they were close to the ridge-line.

We slept very well that night. I was up before everyone else, and while I was sitting enjoying the quiet, a humming bird came up and hovered right in front of my face. He didn't stay long, but it was very cool. We had a quick breakfast and got back to diving!

Before we left the camp, I got a photosphere of it. If it worked, you should be able to scroll all around to see the glory of the gravel pit.

Back at the creek, I got a good picture of the morning light creeping along before we started diving.

The second day we had some new plans. First, we would do a documentation dive with video. On the way out, we would retrieve the exploration reel and drop it near the break in the primary line near the T. Then,we would do one more dive to repair the line and retrieve the reel. For the video dive, Dave had brought two 50 watt video lights, but one of them malfunctioned. So instead, Jim took one of the lights, and I teamed up with him as I had Heather's camera setup with two Sola lights. Dave and Dennis would be the first team in, and they would be the subjects. Our plan was to video the whole cave, and then video the drop down the shaft. Here was Jim getting ready to enter the cave.

Once the exploration reel was retrieved, and we finished the video, it was back to the entrance. Dennis and I teamed up again, I dropped off the camera, we recalculated gas, and we headed back in. Jim repaired the primary line, and everything was looking good. Dennis and I had an excellent dive, going through some of the swim-throughs and pointing our lights at the ceiling to reflect the light off of the pools of air there to create a disco effect in front of us. I didn't take many photos, but did get a picture of Dennis here. It kind of looked like he was jumping out of the dark.

Here is a look at what it was like to ext the cave.

There was a lot of video to go through, and it would take a while to go through. So I put together a teaser video of the short sequence of the descent down the drop-off portion of the cave. The bubbles were very cool. In the video is a quick piece of surfacing as well. The longer video would have to come later.

Here is the final cut video, with additional footage. The clips are not in chronological sequence as I moved them around to make a better video. There is one diver with a stage in the video (Jim Dixon) who was Cave 2 trained. Apart from that, the dive was Cave 1 limits.

The weekend ended all too soon. With the diving done, we had all the gear back up the hill, and the camp broken down quite quickly. It was a bit of a challenge packing the truck, but Dave was a pretty good Tetris player.

Soon we were back on the highway.

And back to civilization for some well-deserved celebration! A fantastic trip!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Whytecliff Wednesday 10/06/2015

There was a Facebook group called "Whytecliff Wednesdays" that I had been invited to by John Nunes. Vlad and I decided it would be a good opportunity to check it out. Vlad had some camera modifications he wanted to try out as well. Originally, we had thought to do a scooter dive, but settled on taking photos instead.

It was a very nice evening, sunny and warm. There were about 8-10 divers out that evening, not including us. It was a mix of single tank folks, side-mount, and doubles. A very diverse crowd. I had some delays gearing up as I had originally thought to use up some Trimix instead of using 32%. My doubles had to go in for Visual inspection, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to drain them. It would be a bit more of an expensive dive, but I was ok with that. Vlad reminded me to check with Deco Planner, and I quickly realized that even at an 18 meter average, using 21/35 would rack up about 20 minutes of deco if you didn't plan to bring a deco gas! It was a good reminder of how to always check your profile and gas plan. So, I swapped out to 32% instead.

The dive itself was pretty murky. The visibility was maybe 5-10 feet down to 30 feet, and beyond that maybe 20 feet. It turned into a wicked drift dive around the day marker. The tide had just finished going out and was flooding. We were able to ride this all the way back in to the bay. Fun! On the dive, Vlad got quite a few good pictures.

Me, always a good subject!

Some nice cloud sponges, something you don't see on the dive around the day marker as you don't usually go that deep. With the tide low, it brought them into easy recreational range.

A very good picture of a feather star and two anemones.

There were over 10 golf ball crabs. I had never seen so many! Look closely!

 I really liked this picture of me and a giant plumose anemone. It was a little bent, but it was not from me!

A million sea urchins.

The sea-star wasting syndrome was still noticeable. Not as bad as it was last year, but it was still happening. Here was a picture of one in the first stages

And another totally disintegrating.

At the day marker, we also came across some of the biggest decorated warbonnets that I had ever seen. The head must have been at least 1-2 inches, and the body half a foot. I was used to seeing tiny specimens, a couple of inches, if that. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get any good pictures. Next time!

Vlad took a selfie. I was not sure how he did it, because the two strobe arms on his camera were about 3 feet long each! Nice bit of acrobatics there Vlad!

The poor visibility made the drift back into the bay a challenge, but fun. We saw a lot of red rock crabs mating, and quite a few dungeness as well. In the shallows, large schools of perch glistened. It was too bad the vis wasn't a bit better, I really liked watching the big schools of fish.

Soon, we were back at the truck, rinsed and ready. We missed a large group of Vespa scooter people motoring through the park. Some of the Wytecliff Wednesday people commented that the noise was "deafening" as a joke. Funny!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Nanaimo GUE-BC 30-31/05/2015

I heard from Jim Dixon and Liz Tribe about some diving on Vancouver Island. With the visibility in Vancouver being less than stellar, it seemed like a great idea. It actually worked out to be a GUE-BC trip, with Jim, Liz, John Campbell, Dave Williams, Kevin Swodoa and myself. It also turned out to be a purely technical diving trip, with a Tech 2 team and a two Tech 1 teams.

Dave and I went over on the Saturday. It was a nice change to not have to get up early and try and jam everything into one day. In the ferry lineup, I got into the wrong truck at one point. It wasn't even the right colour truck! I started to get in and the driver commented "Uh, I think you are in the wrong truck". Whoops! It was pretty funny and Dave and I had a good laugh over it. We had a huge load of gear going over (actually this was a picture coming back, but you get the idea).

We met Jim in Ladysmith and the plan was to do some practicing passing and rotating bottles under water. I had never done this before as it was a Tech 2 skill, but I was game to try. The GUE Standard Operating Procedures had the bottle rotation steps under Routine Diving Operations. I needed to remember to review the SOP more often. It was always a good idea to review the standards periodically. I would not recommend attempting any procedures outside one's training, unless under very benign conditions and only if one felt confident in one's abilities, and under appropriate supervision.

Elliot Beach offered benign and ideal conditions. Visibility was pretty good for Elliot Beach, maybe 20-30 feet. Much better anyway than Vancouver!

 Once we got geared up, we headed in and got all our bottles sorted. It was quite challenging entering the water with three bottles. At the start of the dive, Jim deployed an SMB to provide a visual reference. Amusingly, the tire he chose to tie off to would not budge when he tried to get the line around. It was quite a challenge to find a place to tie off at Elliot as the bottom was mostly sand. Finally we found a spur of rock and got the SMB secured. The drills went well, and we got lots of good footage. Jim is the one with the orange gloves, Dave has a camo pattern on his suit, and I have the black and red suit.

On the way back, we came across a very big Lewis moonsnail. I was quite excited as I think these creatures are very interesting. This is not my picture, but one from the Kelp Forest Ecology course, from the University of California. We had actually wondered if we'd see any moonsnails, and we did!

Unfortunately, at the end of the dive we realized that we'd lost a bottle. When you were out practicing, it was imperative to pay complete attention and constantly keep track of all resources. It was a hard lesson to learn, but from now on I will always do just that. Hopefully the bottle would show up some day. Greg Nuttal and Shawn Buttle lost a bottle in a similar way, and it showed up on a beach months later. I sent notices to Nanaimo Dive Outfitters and Sundown Diving, as well as posting a notice on the Buy and Sell board of Facebook.

That night, Jim and Tori treated us to delicious barbecued burgers and macaroni salad. We reviewed the footage from the day, and did a good debrief. Then it was off to bed after petting Jim's kitty cats. Jim and Tori's hospitality was amazing as always. Thank you Jim and Tori! In the morning, Jim made eggs and coffee for us. I recommend staying at Chez Jim!

Diving commenced the next day in Nanaimo. Dave and I picked up John and Kevin at the Ferry, and headed to the Sea Dragon. We got everything set up and on board. With only six divers, it was pretty roomy. But with all those six planning tech dives, we still pretty much filled up the boat.

The first dive was at Gabriola Bluffs. The black, clear water was amazing to see. The visibility would be great! If you looked closely at this picture, on the center ledge were several cormorants. It had been a long time since I had dove the Bluffs. There were some very prominent rock overhangs underwater, and it would be interesting to check out the deeper depths.

Here was a picture of the Tech 2 team (Jim and Liz) descending.

The dive itself was great. On our descent, I missed connecting my light battery (had not happened in a long time). With a team of three, we had two working primary lights, and so I deployed my backup and we carried on. Our dive was to 42 meters or 140 feet, and the huge rock blocks we discovered were very interesting. The bottom sloped out from there, so the wall itself was not as shear as it appeared to be at more recreational depths. We saw tiger rockfish, juvenile canary rockfish, and a huge number of plumose anemones. On our ascent, both our teams deployed an SMB. Dave realized that two SMBs from the Tech 2 team meant an emergency. So Dave pulled his SMB back down. We had actually not talked about this procedure all together during the dive briefing, so it was good Dave remembered. I made a note to myself to pay more attention to organizing better briefings in the future.

Once back on board, we waited for the Tech 2 team to finish their deco and remained on standby just in case they needed anything. Once everyone was on board, it was off to the Cape Breton. Here from left to right was Kevin, me, and Dave.

After a leisurely motor over, we tied up amidships and finished off or our surface interval. Jim and Liz were only doing one dive that day, as theirs was pretty aggressive.

Kevin and I made one team, and we decided to explore the outside of the wreck near the stern. John and Dave were wreck certified, and so they planned to run a line and do a wreck penetration. Kevin and I had a great dive, and got good video.

The beginning of the video is from Elliot Beach first, deploying an SMB, then a giant nudibranch, and finally the lewis moonsnail. After that is the Cape Breton. We came across a small octopus in an indentation of the ship. The next thing was a decorated warbonnet (it didn't turn out the best). It was probably one of the biggest decorated warbonnets that I'd ever seen, and it was at the stern in the hole where the prop used to be. On our ascent, we stopped at the funnel and noticed the bubbles from the penetration team streaming out of the ship. It was pretty cool! Kevin showed off at the top of the funnel. Actually what he was doing was signalling me "where was the line?". I had made a mistake and brought us up the funnel instead of the amid-ships area. Whoops. A quick swim over and we were on the line, and up we went to complete our deco. Visibility was excellent. In the video, you could see the bubbles streaming past. You could also see the other team coming up on their deco as well. On the line were a plethora of opalscent nudibranchs and eggs. Lots of things to do and look at on this deco. Vis was at least 50 feet.

Once back, we had a good end to the day as shown in this picture!

And to top it off, we just got on the ferry, too!

Thanks again to Sea Dragon Charters, Liz, Jim and Tori for a great weekend... I could not wait until next time!