Sunday, October 1, 2017

GUE-BC Mini Wreck Fest 23-24/09/2017

This year GUE-BC held a "mini" Wreck Fest in the Vancouver area as opposed to the Wreck Fest that had been held on Vancouver Island for the past few years. The idea was to get more cross-pollination happening, and get people onto the newest wreck, the HMCS Annapolis as well as the unique Sponge Bioherm. As always, we used the excellent Sea Dragon Charters, Captain Kevin and Jan!

Day one was a perfect. The full roster was Jim, Liz, Nick, Francois, Michael Shapiro, Andrea, Zach, Myra, Vlad and myself. We had a lot of gear to get onboard, and Vlad took advantage of the carts.

This picture was only a sample of what we brought on board. We were lucky to have the Topline, it could really fit a lot. Normally you could have at least 18-20 people, so we had room with our 10 even with scooters, extra sets of doubles, decompression gas, and stages.

You can't get away without a bunch of happy diver pictures!

The first dive was on the sponge bioherm close to Halkett Wall. It was one of the few sponge reefs that could be reached by scuba (the others being 400+ meters). It was affectionately known as "Spongebob" and was only dive-able at certain times due to tide, current and weather. There was no place to tie up, so it was a live boat drop and recovery. Also, it was in the middle of Howe Sound so boat traffic could be a real issue, especially when dive teams had decompression obligations. Today was perfect though. There was surface current but it was not bad at all, and it was easy to stay in place on the ascent portion.

There were three technical dive teams and one recreational. Here was a great photo from the rec-team courtesy of Myra. It really shows the size and beauty of these sponges.

I was diving with Francoise as part of the technical teams. I forgot just how much of the bioherm was accessible at recreational depths. When we reached the bottom we were around 30 meters, and the sponge mound beside us kept going up to at least 25 or even 21 meters. It actually took some effort to find our deeper depth! On my next dive, I would remember not to go north east around the mound. That led to a shallower saddle area of mud. For a tech dive, it was much better to circle around to the north west side. However, this would only work if you are dropped on the south end of the mound. On all my previous dives, this was where we were dropped. It would be interesting sometime in the future to get to the north portion and check that out too.

I was diving with Francoise, and once we were at our target depth of 45 meters, it was magic. I had forgotten just how different the sponges were on the bioherms. Many of them looked like melted wax candles. And they were indeed huge! Francoise had his camera and got a great photo of me over one of the sponges.

Unfortunately even in this remote place, there was evidence of humans. A big reason to study and document the sponge reefs was to document the impact on an environment that few ever see, let alone know about. Any area that was not directly visible could easily be affected by ignorance. A case in point was this derelict crab trap sitting on the south west side of the bioherm at about 42 meters. Vlad and Nick reported that a line ran from it to another trap further down. These crab traps were a good target for a ghost-fishing cleanup exercise in the future.

On a lighter note, I spotted several Peltodoris lentiginosa or freckled sea lemons. They were at least as big as my hand, and were cool in that they were one of the few things that actually ate glass sponges. In the linked article, I learned that "this was the first documented instance of animals feeding on glass sponges outside of Antarctic waters". Pretty cool for our back yard! Here was a picture of one eating its lunch.

The sponge reef was home to wide array of other life, such as copper and quillback rockfish, along with several juvenile yellow-eye rockfish, distinctive with their horizontal white stripes. I submitted the rockfish I counted to the Vancouver Aquarium for this year's Rockfish Abundance Survey.

Francoise and I met Nick and Vlad during the dive, and here was a good picture of just how bright your lights needed to be to get some of those stunning images. This was from Vlad's perspective:

And this was from Francoise's perspective. It was funny that they took pictures at the same time!

Pretty soon our bottom time was over, and it was time to do our deco. I found the shot line at the end of our dive, so our deco was even easier. We still deployed an SMB as part of our dive plan to notify the boat that we started our ascent. Francoise didn't quite get enough air inside, so ours spent more time below the surface than on. Vlad got this picture of Nick to show what the 30 or so minutes of deco looked like. I was quite surprised that at 6 meters the visibility was so cloudy.

Back on the boat, we had a nice relaxing surface interval. Vlad and Nick decided they needed more in-water time!

The Coast Guard hovercraft was also at the HMCS Annapolis doing some diving.

For the Annapolis dives, we had recreational dives, scooter dives, and penetration dives. There was a lot going on! I was scootering with Vlad and Nick, and we had an excellent time. We visited Project Baseline Station B first. Vlad replaced some of the rusting metal bits with zip-ties, and I did a quick visibility measurement. Station B was away from the ship, and it was really silty in that area. It was a real challenge. Vlad got a picture of Nick adjusting the station some. In the top of the frame was the temperature sensor that Vlad and I had deployed a week before. Unfortunately I had forgotten the float that had come loose the last time, so we were not able to repair that this time.

We spent the rest of the dive just playing around the wreck. We were nipping up and down the breeze-ways, through the swim-throughs, and in and out of the mortar bays. Francoise snapped a great picture of Jim entering the wreck and us scootering above.

The growth of life on the Annapolis just continued to increase. In the last year or so the plumose anemones had really gotten both large and numerous. They were also starting to establish inside the wreck as well. Here, Francoise got another good picture of Jim and the inside.

Outside was impressive too. I snapped a picture of Vlad lining up for a shot of some anemones at one of the cut-outs.

Myra got another great picture of the pretty plumose anemones near the bow. Truffula trees from Doctor Seuss anyone?

Too soon, it was back on board and heading for home. Kevin and Jan had a snorkel tour going out, so we had to get back pretty fast. Once we had everything packed up, most of us got together for a bite to eat in Horseshoe Bay. It was a perfect end to a perfect day; good friends and good food.

But, we weren't done yet! On the following Sunday, we had dives set up for Whytecliff Park. Unfortunately, only Jim, Francoise, Vlad, myself and Dennis were able to attend. Still, it was another great day for diving.

Vlad and I did a scooter dive out past the Cut, and also ended up meeting Dennis, Jim and Francoise at the Plumose gardens on the way back. Vlad and I went to try and find the strawberry anemone patch we had discovered the previous Wednesday, but were unsuccessful. We sure saw a lot of other great things though. The highlights were huge patches of Zoanthids, golden dironas, a very photogenic decorated warbonnet, a puget sound king crab, and huge schools of perch and rockfish.

I was most impressed with the number of nudibranchs. On the previous Wednesday, I didn't see any. On this dive, I saw over ten. We had a deeper dive profile on the Wednesday dive, so that could have been a factor. If so, the nudibranch activity was centered around 15 to 20 meters.

While scootering along, we noted a really big tree lying perpendicular on one of the rock walls. It was a bit eerie, like a ghost tree.

We also found the remains of a fish, but were not sure what kind. I would have to ask the Aquarium for some help on that question.

Francoise got some excellent pictures of their dive. Here was Dennis checking out a cloud sponge near the Cut, with great trim.

And another of Dennis and Jim checking out the Plumose gardens.

At the end of the dive, I snuck up behind Dennis, Jim and Francoise and got a picture of the happy divers.

It had been a lot of work to organize, but the weekend went off without a hitch. Thank you to everyone who came and made it a success!

Last but not least, here was the video compilation that I put together.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Whytecliff Park 20/09/2017

What could be better than an evening dive for Whytecliff Wednesdays? The answer, not much!

After the previous weekend beach cleanup organized by Khrista, it was the perfect time to enjoy the newly cleaned surroundings. There were quite a few folks out, probably close to 15 I would say. An excellent turnout.

I was diving with Vlad Chernavsky, and our plan was to do ascent drills and skills, then go on a fun scooter dive. The evening was perfect, and the tide was at high slack. When we brought our scooters down to the beach, John Nunes joked that he was going to throw them back in the water. This was in response to my staged joke picture from the beach cleanup where I pretended to put a side-mount tank into my garbage bag. All in good fun of course!

Our dive couldn't have gone better. We scootered out to 30 meters, deployed an SMB, did two ascent drills, mid-water valve drills, and cleaned up in record time. The visibility was pretty good too, which was a big bonus.

We scootered over towards the plumose garden from mid-bay. On the way, we found some very interesting cartilaginous skeletal remains. It looked like some kind of skate. We also came across some of the largest sailfin sculpins I'd ever seen. I did not take any pictures, but here was good example.

We passed by the plumose gardens and headed North. There were hundreds of juvenile yellowtail rockfish schooling. I'd never seen so many. We passed several groups of divers on our way. Vlad spotted a juvenile black rockfish in a crack which was very unusual.

When we turned the dive, we ascended to about 15 meters and came across a large patch of strawberry anemones. They looked similar to this.

We made a note to come back along that way and check out this patch again. It was not something that you saw often at Whytecliff, and a worthwhile thing to see again.

On the way back, we came across a well camouflaged buffalo sculpin, hiding in plain sight on the sand. Again, no picture, but similar to this.

Back at the plumose gardens, we spent some time investigating a "deflated" giant plumose anemone. It looked like it had just fallen over. Neither of us had seen something like this before. The plumose anemones would retreat back into themselves, but I had never seen them fallen over like this. Previously there were reports of plumose anemones "missing", and just leaving behind black circles where they were attached. We didn't see any of the black circles though. It was very odd.

We also saw only two nudibranchs, a giant white dorid and a white-lined dirona. It must have been in between nudibranch spawning seasons or something.

On the way back, we passed several more groups of divers. It was certainly a busy night!

On our way back into the bay, Vlad saw a pink sea star and noted some lesions on its central disk. Hopefully the sea star wasting disease wasn't spreading further. There were still no sign of the sunflower stars that were so common at Whytecliff. They had been completely wiped out, and were not seeming to recover at all.

All in all a very successful dive, and we saw and learned lots!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

HMCS Annapolis Project Baseline 10/09/2017

It had been a long time since I had been out to the Annapolis, so Vlad and I decided to get our scooters and have some fun while doing some work for Project Baseline Halkett Bay.

It couldn't have been a better day with Sea Dragon Charters. It was a very full boat though, and I'm glad that we didn't have anyone else along with as much gear as we had. There were at least 15 divers on board.

Once out at the Annapolis, we got into the water first to clear the deck. We also decided and planned a long two hour dive instead of coming back to the boat. We figured this would be easier with the amount of gear we had. Our first stop was Station B, away from the ship. The line that had been run the previous year was still in place, but it was covered in brown gunk and difficult to see. Once at Station B, we found the float and Secchi Disk in disarray. Vlad touched the float and it broke away and took off to the surface. The metal clasp that had been used had just rusted straight through. We realized that we'd have to replace all that with plastic zip ties later.

Vlad deployed and attached his temperature sensor, and also snapped a great picture of me.

Next we scootered around the ship. We checked out the stern, where there seemed to be a million shrimp. We also noticed ripples in the hull metal from the sinking. It seemed to stand out more, or maybe I'd missed it on previous dives. Vlad commented later that the area around the props seemed more excavated, maybe due to water action. We scootered through the swim throughs, down the breeze-ways, checked out the mortar bay, helicopter bay, and just about everywhere. With scooters it was very easy to see everything several times. On the bow, the railing seemed damaged on the port side, probably by getting hooked by someone's anchor. We actually started to run out of things to do!

We visited Station A above the bridge and took visibility readings there (as we had at Station B). I headed in to the bridge to try and do some photos, but none of those turned out. It was still fun!

In terms of life, there were even more shrimp and green urchins. I counted several copper and quillback rockfish, and submitted those to the Vancouver Aquarium Rockfish Abundance Survey. In the helicopter bay, there were a large abundance of scallops. The plumose anemones were really growing, and were everywhere. They were especially starting to grow from the ceilings in many areas.

Back on the boat, Nick from OceanQuest dive center was out on his sailboat, and actually recovered the float from Station B. Quite a lucky find! We would have to replace that on the next dive.

I put together a short video if you would like to see more:

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Porteau Cove 30/08/2017

After seeing Jim, Dennis and Jo scootering in the Nomash Cave, I figured it had been too long since I'd been out for a scooter dive to. Vlad and I got our gear and headed out to Porteau Cove for a Wednesday night dive. It was a perfect evening. The heat wave had subsided for a bit, and it even rained some during the day.

Our plan was for an hour and a half run time with some decompression on oxygen. Visibility was a challenge at the start and end of the dive. We were basically in touch contact while we scootered out to the Nakaya. It was still fun, doing it all by compass but a bit nerve wracking because we almost ran into the pipe reef on the way!

Once we got below 30 feet / 9 meters visibility improved. The water temperature also plummeted to about 9 degrees as we passed through a distinct thermocline. There was also a huge swarm of moon jellies that made it like a doge-em video game. Unfortunately at least one got sucked through my prop despite my best efforts. Sorry moon-jelly!

We missed the Nakaya on the way out due to the challenging vis, and aimed instead for the rock wall. Half our dive was planned at 100 feet / 30 meters, and the visibility was around 20-30 feet which was quite good. I did some rockfish counting for the Rockfish Abundance Survey and just generally enjoyed the dive. The boulders and rocks were always interesting, with cloud sponges and anemones here and there. There were several large ling cod, and a few white nudibranchs. At the end of the scooter Vlad deployed his GPS on a string and got a fix for how far we went.

On the way back was the best part. We came across five Dogfish sharks at various points. Several of them were at least 4 feet long and very cool. I had not seen so many Dogfish at once in a long time. This was not one of my pictures, but came from Wikipedia.

We also came across a wrecked car chassis on the bottom. We had come across similar wrecks before, but this time Vlad took a GPS reading so we could reference where it was on a map.

We successfully found the Nakaya on our way back. It was continuing to deteriorate and with the bad vis and an ever increasing dive-time we needed to keep going. We headed past the Grant Hall, and the vis just kept getting worse. We got onto the fire hose then headed in to the bay. At 6 meters we started our deco and tried to see anything in the soup. There was one last Dogfish surprisingly, as well as about a million Pacific Snake Pricklebacks. It was fun and challenging to do some deco in such conditions. Finally we surfaced and were not far from the stairs. The current was quite impressive and we had to use our scooters to get us back.

All in all a very fun and successful dive!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Nomash River Cave GUE-BC 14-18/08/2017

It was time to dive Nomash River cave with GUE-BC once again!

Several months of planning were involved. Unfortunately not as many people ended up attending this year. The roster was Jim Dixon, Dennis Diamond, Joakim Hjelm, Dan Wei and myself.

Dan and I went over from Vancouver very early on Monday. I ended up getting up at 2 am to get him and catch the 5:15 ferry from Tswasssen. It was dark! The ferry guy was funny when he stopped to check our dangerous goods paperwork. He said “scuba cylinders, those aren't dangerous those are fun!”. Glad he had a sense of humor so early.

Fortunately we were able to sleep on the ferry. I actually used my sleeping bag because the air conditioning was so chilly. Landing at Duke Point showed a fabulous morning.

We stopped for some much needed coffee and breakfast in Parksville and then headed to Comox to pickup some final gear. Then it was off to Campbell River for final fuel and we left civilization behind. Although this year, thanks to Dan, we had access to a satellite phone. It was very nice to know we had such a tool along, because we would be at least an hour away from any phone contact. We paused for a moment at the Roberts Lake rest stop and chatted to a few cyclists who were going to Victoria. They reported that there was rain on the way. Hopefully it would help some of the dry conditions.

The day was excellent for driving: clear and sunny. We made great time and made it to Nomash River at around 2pm as planned. We stopped at the bridge as usual for a photo shot, as this was Dan's first trip up. The river sure looked good!

On the way to the cave, I made a wrong turn. The fork in the road that led to Nomash Cave had a much more traveled section which looked to be the way to go. It actually led to the Nomash power plant. As we drove up this road, we were stopped by a forest truck, who asked us what we were doing. I said we were meeting several people up ahead to dive Nomash Cave. He said this was an active logging road and that he hadn't seen anyone like that. I assured him they were just ahead, and he told us to be careful. We continued driving; me confident that we were almost there. Then we passed a gate that I didn't remember, and the actual power plant building. I commented to Dan that it “must have been a very new building”. We went a bit more and I finally realized when the big logging truck almost ran us over that we should get the hell out of there! It didn't take long to get back to the fork and back on the right track. I would remember for next time that after the Nomash bridge to stay right and follow the power lines. If I went through a gate or saw a power building, it was a sign to go back!

We pulled in to the cave road and quickly saw Dennis’ Jeep. When I stopped, I head a strange hissing noise. I thought it was a cylinder jarred open, but quickly realized it was a flat front tire. I could see the hole and it was quite impressive. It must have happened just as we pulled in. Later the tire got replaced with a spare and all was well. But it certainly reminded me that we were a long way from home!

We met Jim and Dennis, and got in a dive on that first day. Jo had yet to arrive. It was great to get Dan in for his first dive of Nomash Cave!

The next day Jo did photogrammetry with us. It was super cool playing with the Bug Blue lights. He was able to make a model of the Eyes of Nomash that night. Technology was certainly impressive. The insects liked his warm laptop, and there were many jokes about bugs in his computer. Here was a picture of the gear-up area, with Jo and Dennis trying to avoid the mosquitos.

The scenery around camp was excellent as usual.

Wednesday Dennis, Jim and I made an expedition to another cave, Reappearing River. Unfortunately when we stopped to ask for directions we were told that all parks were closed. due to the fire ban. So instead we had a nice lunch in Port McNeil. Dan and Jo did more photos while we were gone. We brought them back chicken wings as their reward. With the mosquitoes so bad, Dennis bought the last bug hat in Port McNeil, much to Jim's chagrin. He looked pretty goofy, but it did work pretty well. For the next years, I made a note to bring one too, along with some mosquito repellent coils.

Thursday had Dan and myself diving together. We did a nice long dive past the chimney to the 30 meter mark, came back, recalculated our gas and Dan ran a main line past the jump at the Eyes of Nomash. Unfortunately the line there was broken so we came back. It was a great dive. We rounded out the day doing trail building and interviews for a documentary of the cave that Joakim was doing. I was in charge of filming him and put him out of focus! Fortunately the interview got re-shot later.

Friday had one last dive, and it was a big one. Both teams were in with multiple objectives. Jim and Dennis would clean up their stage bottles, while Jo, Dan and myself would do photogrammetry at the entrance. After that Jo wanted to film line replacement work, scooters, and we had to place a temperature sensor that had been built by Vlad Chernavsky. Unfortunately Jo's camera flooded just after finishing the entrance photogrammetry and we had to end the dive. Dennis and Jim placed the sensor and fixed some line, and it was all done!

During the trip, we had the luxury of a wilderness fill station. Sean had let Jim take his generator, Jo brought his Haskel pump booster, and Nick Bowman let us borrow his compressor. So we were able to do a lot of fills on-site with a bit of creativity. We couldn't figure out how to attach the fan guard to Nick's compressor, so it earned the nick-name Finger-chomper, but thankfully that never happened.

The last day brought a considerable amount of rain during the night. Here was a picture of the entrance.

If you compared it to the picture from the first day, you could see the water had rose considerably. You could actually notice it rise during the morning. It gave us great feedback on how quickly rainfall affected the water level. Throughout the week it had dropped continually by an inch or two every day. On the last day with the rain, it rose at least six inches in the matter of hours. Quite dramatic.

As always, good things came to an end and we had to pack. We learned a lot again this year. The depth and temperature sensor that was placed would give us even more information on how the cave water level behaved for next time. We planned on recovering it next spring. Until then!