Friday morning I loaded my truck at the storage locker. We were all meeting at Rowands Reef on Granville Island. The divers would be Michelle, Mike, Ariana, Kaitland, Joan, Brad, Trent, Robin, bearded Mike and myself. We loaded up gear and Joan joined me in my Ford F350 truck for the ride.
We drove first to the Ferry at Horseshoe Bay, crossing that to the town of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island before driving across the island through the magnificent old growth Cathedral forest to Port Alberni. There Peter Mieras met us with his dive boat, Rendezvous I. We off loaded gear from the truck to the dock and onto the boat. It accommodated all of us with ease, each of us finding space on top in the flying bridge for the ride up the sound to Rendezvous Lodge. Peter is quite the comedian and regaled us with Monty Python and Austin Powers imitations between showing us points of interest and discussing the scientific work they do at the lodge. The wind was blowing 20 knots onto us making for some spray over the bow. The sun was shining though and the sky blue with fluffy white clouds. Often there are whales and bear along the shore but not today.
Kathy met us at Rendezvous Lodge helping Peter tie up the boat. We followed her up to the multi level hand made house on the side of the rock escarpment. After showing us our rooms and the bathrooms we gathered on the dock for barbecue. Most of the divers were young people, in their 20's and 30's, with stories of world travel, dives in Europe and Australia, jokes and mayhem. I was the oldest there and simply loved to watch this show of vitality and enthusiasm. Everyone worked and played together.
In the morning I was told I snored. One of the Mike's does too. So I wasn't alone. I didn't notice his snoring or my own and slept rather well in this luxurious wilderness retreat. I finally went in search of coffee. Peter was showing films he made, quite the accomplished professional underwater photographer indeed. His videos of manta rays were superb but I most enjoyed a short clip of the area where we'd be diving that day. His discussion of the dive sites and critters prepared us well.
Meanwhile Kathy was making a superb breakfast and we all sat down at the rustic carved wood table with the exquisite view of the bay to eat eggs, bacon, toast and jams. Peter and Mike put peanut butter and hot sauce together claiming that both had come to appreciate this when they'd been diving in Thailand.
After breakfast we loaded onto the dive boat and drove out to an open water dive. I'm exhausted by the time I get into my gear and couldn't help but be amazed by Ariana, the 19 yo former gymnast who looks so lean and tiny, only to be dancing about the boat with the strength of Samson unencumbered by all the same gear that had me decidedly unsteady on my feat on the pitching bouncing deck. With Michelle and Peter's kind encouragement I moved to the end of the boat and stepped into excitement. Having broken into pairs I was fortunate to go with Michelle and Ariana, the obvious mermaids sent by Neptune to watch for the safety of an old man. I found myself wishing I was Leonard Cohen so I could have the words to immortalize the sheer wonder of this experience.
We descended the anchor chain then swam at 60 feet around a reef looking a greeling, cod, sea anemone and great underwater vegetarian. Visibility was only about 5 meters but that was enough for me to follow the two beautiful women moseying along before me. I had a new HERO 3 and naturally on this first dive didn't have it flipped up so mostly I found later it just pointed at my face. I was forever checking gauges and looking at the depth of my dive computer. There were so many things I could worry about but I actually relaxed and enjoyed the extraordinary experience of being in this alien world in really cold northern Pacific waters just kicking along looking at the amazing scenery.
When It came time to rise I did too quickly in the last 10 feet pretty well surfacing like a great whale. Michelle was not impressed and later would go over my equipment and buoyancy issues seriously once again. Thanks to her kind PADI refresher information I'd not make this mistake on the second dive. I keep forgetting to jettison the suit air along with BCD,needing to get my elbow over my head to get the suit air out.
We all gathered into the boat with Peter's help and off we went to tie up beside a houseboat out of the wind that had kicked up a bit. Kathy had made the best peanut and squash soup I've ever tasted. True gourmet and added to that it was hot and delicious after a spectacular dive. Sandwiches, good cheer and many jokes, some of which were decidedly the kind that pre teen boys would die to know. The girls were as funny as the boys and I was just thankful to be a part of the obvious conviviality of divers so enjoying their sport and adventure. Having dived myself I shared the 'high' that goes with this otherworld experience.
The next dive was back in the bay at Rendezvous Lodge. Getting into the equipment was much easier and all round I was comfortable with gear and the dive and life in general. Joan, having geared up and made the jump into the water started her descent only to decide to return not feeling well. Michelle and Peter and Ariana all gave her a hand with her equipment and getting her back on the boat before the rest of us continued with our dive. She was feeling better immediately and took off kayaking while the rest of us dove.
I just loved this one. I had the Hero 3 pointing ahead this time. It actually shows the girls (I know they're women but they could be my children or grandchildren) ahead of me but I missed all the fish I pointed at pretty well because I was shooting over their heads. Nonetheless I do have a record of my being down there. I can see myself at the beginning and end of the dive. It was incredible. Still with visibility only 3 to 5 meters but more a sense of the utter aliens and otherworldliness nature of this underwater rock terrain. There are octopus and wolf eels here but I only saw where the octopus had been feeding and never did find the eels which others saw along with the crabs and other critters. Again I'm just so happy to be in the environment, enjoying the surroundings, looking at fish looking at me. It's a dive and it's in cold water in all this exotic gear. I feel a bit like I'm in preparation for following Chris Hatfield into outer space. This is as close as it gets on earth.
We came up in the midst of logs though and I had very little air left. It took a little courage to trust Michele,descend again and swim under the logs back to the open water behind the boat. Worried about my air I lost them and they rose with still a log to dip under. I was happy as can be when Mike called out asking how was the dive. "Terrific!" I shouted.
Last night some of the gang got into the hot tub and I'm thinking it might be a good idea for easing the tired muscles. Kathy's cooking dinner and I just wanted to check to see that I was actually recording things with the new HERO 3. It's working and I love it. What a great little video camera for underwater. A couple of the guys have fancy cameras with strobes but they've also coupled their main cameras with the Hero video. There's some way I can take pictures with this too but I may just have to read the instruction manual to find which button I push underwater to get a snap while doing the video. I could use my film smart nephew Graham to show me how to get the most out of the camera and maybe even get me to point at things so I capture them in the shot. I've got the camera mounted on my dive light thanks to Mike's help. That's working pretty good.
Michelle used her camera and told Peter how much she appreciated his steady buoyancy seeing how her video shots were compared to his.
Roast Beef dinner was fit for an English lord. In addition to the perfectly roasted succulent meat I loved the little baked potatoes with handsome gravy. No doubt others liked the other vegetables and salad. The bread's Kathy served were always so tasty too.. One delightful fellow, told Kathy, "I live alone and don't cook so it's been at least a year since I've had a meal like this!" Naturally one of the other young guys told him he should get a girlfriend who cooks. No comment from the girls, on that one, surprisingly, given all the jolly banter this crew shared. Later Mike would show us the beautiful pictures, mostly macros, he'd taken on the day's dives. Kathy identified everything he had captured with his lens and told us all little tales related to the flora and fawna in the region. I most loved the big wolf eel face poking out of it's cave despite Kathy's waxing poetic about some rare Liliputian creature Mike had captured with his macro lens. I loved seeing and having named some of the very bits and pieces of the ocean abundance I'd just ogled at.
The hot tub was used by some while others went out kayaking. I was glad to get to bed early and wake at dawn. What a beautiful day Sunday was with the sky clear and water barely rippled by the wind. I was first up and loved just sitting in the living room watching eagles flying by. The night before I'd been delighted with the hummingbirds that had come to hover and flit. The eagles did neither but rather majestically circled slowly letting the thermals lift them higher and higher.
Soon Peter and Kathy were up and hot coffee brewed while Peter set the table. Then one after another everyone joined us grabbing coffee and tea before Peter gave us together an overview of the morning's dive sites. Another fine breakfast with lots of good cheer before we all headed for the boat and another great day of diving.
This time, Michelle, Ariana and I descended to 65 feet where a sandy channel ran between two close pinnacles. There was only room for single file swimming and fish galore. Visibility was good and I was reminded of a similar channel I'd swun alone in the reefs off the Bahamas. Only here the fish were ling cod, greeling, perch and rock cod. I love the fish. When I'm swimming among them I always feel like I'm in the tropical fish tank I kept as a child. The crab were interesting too and I was really enjoying the dive, having figured out my suit and buoyancy better when I looked up and Ariana who I'd been following had joined Michelle. The two of them began to buddy breathe then Michelle singled to me to ascend. I followed them up not sure what was wrong but impressed to see this buddy breathing ascent I'd practiced years past in PADI training but never having seen for 'real'. When we got back to the boat and everyone was aboard safely Ariana explained that she'd noticed her air was out and realized she had a free flowing regulator. That's when Michelle , our regular little mother hen, joined her and offered her air hose. Ariana said she felt panic a bit but felt calm trusting Michelle. I was utterly impressed with both of them, and the controlled slow ascent. I've never encountered an air shortage situation at 65 feet underwater with fear of the bends if there is rapid ascent and I'm glad I've not. I rather like my air, thank you. I certainly was even more impressed with Michelle as a dive master watching her calmness and control under fire. She even had the wits to look for me and signal to me to ascend while passing her mouth piece back and forth with Ariana. Ariana was so sweet up top apologizing for shortening my dive which I assured her was nothing given the great rescue I'd been able to witness.
After that the other pairs returned all being helped aboard by Peter. Peter then drove us all to the "wall' and off we went again for another spectacular dive. This time I was with Robin and Mike and Michelle. Mike had a delayed entry so it was a bit shocking to have him appear amongst us as we were floating together 85 feet below the surface looking up at this great wall. Mike later said he was humming the underwater attack music from a movie we all knew. This dive was really fun , with lots of flora but only a few fish but that wonderful sense of depth and space that comes with divers hovering beside a great rock face where you can look up to the surface and have a sense of otherworldliness as we floated below. My brother who raises coral and knows the names of all the underwater flora would have known what I was merely looking at and appreciating as beautiful like a person might view a Picasso. I loved the colours.
All too soon, a half hour later, heavy breather that I am, I signalled to Michelle I was down to 1000 and we began to move along the wall higher before breaking off and ascending face to face with her counting off the textbook stops with her dive computer and watch. This reminded me of all the similar controlled ascents Willy Gutowski and I did scuba diving in Saipan. Letter perfect. At the top I hooted and Michelle cheered. A great dive indeed. Peter came by in the boat and we grabbed the trailing rope swinging about to ascend the dive ladder with him at the top to guide us and our clumsy duck feet to a sitting place on board.
After everyone was collected and the chatter was rich with what everyone had seen and done Peter drove us back to the lodge. We washed out gear in the fresh water barrels before restoring it for the journey home. Then we grabbed our bags and stuff from the cabin making sure to double check that we'd not left anything. Kathy came down to the dock for a self timed group picture. We all hugged her and thanked her before gathering back aboard the boat for the 2 hour journey to Port Alberni. Ariana laid out the lunch Kathy had packed and again the soup was incredible. The sandwiches were wolfed down by a whole crew hungry after our two dives.
Thanking Peter profusely we loaded gear into our vehicles and headed for the Horseshoe Bay ferry. We made one stop on the way. Everyone had to get a picture of the famous Combs goats eating the sod roof where they live.
I'd had the pleasure of having Joan come with me in the truck. She was from South Africa where she had first dived and told me tales of her and her sons motorcycling on the African plains. She'd been on the Hornby Island dive last year with Rowand Reef tickling an amorous sea lion under the chin. I was glad we caught the earlier ferry though we lost the rest of the group who were reserved later. Dropping Joan off at her place I was able to drive on to where Gilbert my dog was ecstatic to see me.
We headed home and after unloading gear rinsing down and hanging my dry suit I was able to get to bed at 11 pm. Amazing. What an action packed day and a thoroughly wonderful weekend with stirling people, fun activity, hilarious conversations and a whole lot of exercise. I suspect I'll ache but already am looking forward to the next Rowand Reef dive. I'm even imagining sailing my own boat over to visit Peter and Kathy at their cozy warm Rendezvous lodge. What's more likely is that like Robin, on this trip, I'll sign up for another weekend. Kathy and Peter have been running the lodge for 10 years and it's obvious that most of their clientele return time and time again.