I started the trip on Thursday morning, leaving my house in Keizer, OR at 6:00 AM for the roughly 6 hour drive to Vancouver BC to catch the BC ferry to Vancouver Island. It was a 2 hour crossing to the island, then another 2 hour drive north to Campbell River. Friday morning I took another ferry to Quadra Island. and up the short hill to the Abyssal Dive Lodge. Driving in Canada took some actual thought because all the traffic speeds are posted in kilometers and I am a mile kind of person. If I squinted, I could barely read the KPH scale on my speedometer. And another thing, how cold is it when the weatherman says the high for the day is expected to be 7? At least I know that 0 is freezing in whatever scale you are talking about.
It was a long drive but definitely worth the effort because the diving in British Columbia is so good and I got the chance to meet some of the other members of the D2D community. What a fun and diverse group of people. It was truly a pleasure to meet them. Even though it was my first time meeting any of them, I felt like I already knew some of them. The group was:
There was one lady diver who wasn't part of our group, Rhoda, who was from Seattle. Despite not being part of the D2D group, I thought she fit in fairly well. At least she knew how to dive in cold water. Hopefully she will check out the message board and be a contributer.
The people who run Abyssal lodge and the associated dive operation are great. Earl runs the diveboats and Debbie runs the lodge. She also does the cooking and the meals were excellent.The lodge itself is kind of rustic, but in a good way. Most of us stayed at the lodge which has the feel of being a home rather than a hotel. Downstairs there are 2 bunk rooms for the most of the people and a couple of private rooms for couples or single females. There is a place to hang undergarments and other damp gear, a refrigerator for guest use which we used to cool after dive drinks, and a hot tub. There is also a large screen TV with a VCR and DVD player if you manage to find the time to watch something. It would also be good for viewing dive photos or videos. On the main floor there is one more private room, another large screen TV and associated electronics, the group bathroom, and most importantly, the large dining table. Also on the main level there is a gearing up room where you don your drysuit before walking down the hill to the boat and where you hang up your suit after the dive. It is a pretty good set up. There are 2 things that I do recommend that you bring with you if you are coming to stay here, a pair of slippers because Deb doesn't allow street shoes in the house, and a big appetite because she makes lots of really good food.
I got there too late for the early morning dive, but I still got breakfast; eggs over easy, potatoes, and some other stuff. During breakfast I got better acquainted with the rest of the group. It was a diverse mixture of people, about half from Canada, 5 from the West Coast and one from New York. The personalities were the full range too from somewhat quiet to extremely outgoing. Rob in particular was a never ending source of entertaining stories. One that I though particularly amusing was how the natives in Manitoba give directions by pointing with their lips. It's more of a visual thing. Judy also provided a chuckle when she told us that she was sure she saw a seal swim by her wearing a box-like hat that had wires sticking out the top of it. Unfortunately no one else saw this Borg seal, which led to some good natured kidding about it.
I ended up diving with Eric for all my dives. He was an excellent buddy. Usually I'm not a very good buddy because I'm a photographer (of sorts), but maybe because we were both diving with cameras, we didn't have a hard time staying together. We both had the same model Olympus, the C5050. Mine is housed by the Olympus PT-015, Eric has the Ikelite housing. Dave also had the same camera in the Olympus housing. For those who care, it looked to me that at least half the group was diving a DIR gear setup. DUI was the drysuit of choice for the majority of divers too.
Earl has 2 dive boats, an aluminum dive skiff named the "Most Outrageous" and a larger boat named "Tantalus" with a big cabin and galley. Because of the size of our group, we ended up using both boats. Usually we all rode to the dive site in the larger boat then some of us transfered over to the skiff where our gear was set up. Diving from the skiff was really easy. After the dive, it was also easy to re-board the boat using one of the two ladders in the back. Both boats had 2 ladders, the kind with the steps that stick out from a central column so you can climb the ladder with your fins on. I prefer this to taking my fins off in the water and handing them up to the boat. The skiff had a big rinse tub for cameras too. As fast as the skiff was with it's twin 115 hp outboards, the "Tantalus" was faster. You could have water skied behind either one.
A word about the diving in general. In the Pacific Northwest, and most of BC in particular, the diving is very dependent on the tides because of the sometimes strong currents they bring. This can determine when you will dive and how long the dive should last. I'm not talking a little 2-3 knot current either. In the Seymour Narrows the current can run as fast as 14 knots and with up-wellings and down-wellings, it isn't very safe to dive then. Consequently, most dives are done during slack tide. Fortunately there are some sites that aren't affected too much by the tides so you can dive them most any time. The water temperature for all the dives was between 44 and 45 F (about 6-7 C for you metric people). Everyone dives here in a drysuit. The best visibility is in winter.
We were fortunate to be blessed with outstanding weather for the whole trip. There were practically no clouds the whole time, so it was sunny every day. Also, there was little if any wind, so the water surface was very flat, almost like glass some of the time. The weather was just wonderful.
This was a tiny rock island. When I say tiny, I mean it was small enough that Earl told us that the dive plan was to circumnavigate the island underwater. There was no current and even going at a leisurely pace, Eric and I almost made it all the way around. I saw my first adult Puget sound King Crab, and it was a big one. There were lots of oragne cup anemonies and white anemones covered many of the flat surfaces. There were also some dinner plate sized scallops. Eric and I saw this jelly fish kind of thing that was attached to a rock had a hard time deciding what it was. We finally ID'ed it as a Hooded nudibranch.
We had lunch on the boat between the dives; beef stew, excellent sauages in a bun, chips, and hot chocolate.
Dive 2 - Three Story Rock.
It was also an easy no current dive. We saw another Puget Sound King crab, a nice little jelly fish, and some other nudies. My favorite find was a cool little Broken Back shrimp with an egg cluster at the base of a painted anemone.
Dinner was baked salmon, potato salad, asparagus, ham, salad, corn, roasted pototoes, and tiramisu for desert. Mmmmm
Breakfast was french toast, scrambled eggs, link sausages, muffins, and cantalope.
Dive 1 - Seymour Narrows
Potential drift dive, but there was a low exchange so at slack there was pretty much no current. We were trying to find a wall that Judy and Rob had been to before that was supposed to be covered with anemones. We got in close to the shore and for me most part was a bolder field. Lots of nudies, rock fish, and especially urchins. I found some cloud sponge that was fairly shallow, at least for cloud sponge, at around 75ft. Near the end of the dive Eric found a nice small octopus on the side of a rock. It stayed put for some photos before it decided to swim off. Once we got back on the boat, we decided it wasn't the site Judy was looking for. Water temperature was a cool 44f.
Lunch was homemade pizza, salad, Mac and cheese, and muffins
As we were cruising to our next dive site, either Mary or Wendy pointed out the back window of the boat. "See that blue tank? Read the sticker" was all they said.
Dive 2 - Row and be Damned.
Wow, What color! Strawberry anemones everywhere and many colors of sponge with yellow being the dominate color. It seemed like everywhere you looked you saw another nudibranch. Most of them were the yellow lemon peel kind. Several Puget Sound King crabs and one looked like it was in the middle of molting it's shell so it could grow bigger. I took my strobe for the first time and it didn't work at all. I also ran out of battery for the camera. When I got back to the lodge and checked the strobe I found that it didn't have any batteries in it, then I remembered that I had taken out the batteries when we flew to Cozumel. Doh...
After dive snack was a huge platter of cookies.
I can't believe it, but I skipped the third dive that day which was Copper Cliffs, but I wasn't the only slacker. Several of us stayed at the lodge to mess around with our photos. The divers that did do the dive said there was one large rock with maybe 12-14 Puget Sound King crabs on it. I guess they get together when they molt. After the dive they saw large number of bald eagles is a flock. Do eagles flock? Rob thought that there were about 50 eagles, mostly juveniles all together. It is kind of ironic that the only time I've ever seen the symbol of the United States, a bald eagle, is when I've visited Canada.
For dinner we had roast chicken breast, spaghetti with homemade meat sauce, peas, cauliflower, garlic bread, salad, and for desert, cheese cake. We couldn't even eat half of what Deb cooked for dinner. After dinner Earl put on a video called Ripple Rock. It was a fascinating tale of the removal of "ripple rock" from the middle of Seymour Narrows. Like you might think, Seymour Narrows is the narrowest part of the inside passage which is an important shipping lane between Washington state and Alaska because it is sheltered from the Pacific ocean by Vancouver Island. Ripple rock was a large pinnacle that came up to just 7 feet below the water surface. It was a huge hazard to navigation so the Canadian government decided to remove it from the channel. After 2 surface attempts to destroy it failed, the decision was made to tunnel from the shore, under the the water, and up into the rock so that explosives could be placed inside the rock. Over 2 million tons of explosives were used. The resulting "BANG" was quite impressive. It was an interesting video especially since we had just been diving there.
Breakfast was potatoes, hot cross buns, fried eggs inside a piece of bread, and sliced oranges.
Dive 1 - April Point.
A mostly wall dive with lots color from strawberry anemones, sponges and nudibranches. It was similar to Row and Be Damned. Just before we got into the water, Earl spotted a young black tail deer swimming towards the shore. It didn't have antlers, just the little nubs that kind of looked like antenna. This reminded us of Judy's borg seal.
lunch was sandwiches, chili, salad, and another huge plate of cookies
Dive 2 - Seymore Narrows, part deux
This time we fit the wall that Judy and Rob were trying to find the first time. Excellent wall with lots of pink-red brooding anemones. I just happened across a very well camouflaged sculpin that color blended in with the whites and pinks of the wall. Also saw a nice orange peel nudibranch. Did you know that scallops have eyes, but all the dots that look like eyes are not actually eyes. Some are decoys.
Dive 3 - Columbia
Not everyone wanted to do this dive as the third dive since the wreck is kind of deep, so some people sat out the dive. I really enjoyed it. I am just fascinated by what a ship looks like after it has been underwater for several years. The fact that the Columbia sits at a list to port just adds to the character of the dive. There was a patch of cloud sponge in the wheel house, just like on her sister ship the Saskatchewan in Nanaimo. We went as far forward as the bow deck gun. Near it I saw group of broken back shrimp with eggs and 2 golf ball crabs. There were some of the largest Cabezon I have ever seen living on the wreck too. They had to be close to 3 feet long and mean looking. At the end of the dive, just when he was handing up his camera, Eric's light cannon got disconnected from the handle and fell. It went shooting passed the others who were waiting on the mooring line and went to the bottom. They planned to return to the Columbia on Monday and search for it. Sure hope they found it.
Dinner was classic; roast beef, yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, peas, salad, and fancy cake for desert.
Breakfast was scrambled eggs with cheese, link sausages, blueberry pancakes, and watermellon.
Looking at a a 12 hour drive home, I had to leave in the morning so I missed the diving.
Total milage for the trip was 944 miles, but it sounds even more impressive if I say it was 1,510 Kilometers.
I hope to see everyone again next year.