Nautilus Explorer Port Hardy Trip Journal

August 21-27, 2005

8/21/05 - Arrival and Boarding




I sent a short entry to my MSN Space using my Treo650, but the moíblogging feature has a limit as to the length of the upload so only half of what I wrote actually got uploaded. Hopefully I can get the rest of the entry off my phone later.

    From my phoneÖ

It's 4:45pm, I'm sitting in the salon drinking margaritas, eating nachos, renewing old friendships and starting some new ones.Sylvia from Cabo is here serving muy bueno margaritas, Kolby the dive master / marine biologist is here again who we met on last year's specimen collecting trip, Jud is on board getting last minute stuff done like getting propane filled before she has to get off again, and of course Capt Mike. Mary Anne also stops by with Charlie and Emily to say goodbye to Daddy for another week. Uncle Al is on special assignment taking Howard and Michelle Hall around the best spots of BC for a new feature documentary.So far new folks include dive master Jessie the "Shark Chick", soux chef Steve who helped me unload the truck and divemaster Cedar Ė the new guy. Also new is Vicki the chef and Darren the night captain.One of the passengers, Paul, remembers me from one of my previous trips. And Michaelís roommate Bryan from last Mayís aquarium trip is here as well. I love being here, but I wish Michelle was with me.


Arriving on board is like coming home to me. This is my 11th trip on the Nautilus Explorer and first time back in Steveston since last May on the specimen collecting trip with VanAqua (Vancouver Aquarium). I love being on this boat, especially when I donít know anyone as I can just sit around on my own, taking in the scenery, the people and their interaction, overhearing otherís conversations and just smiling as I immerse myself in this world so different from my usual stress factory at work.


Free margaritas and nachos on arrival is a nice addition as is the crew carrying all your bags to your room. The service just keeps getting better every time I come back.Time to start thinking about what trip #12 will be.

8/22/05 Ė Day 1, Traveling


Weíve spent the night motoring up towards our first destination. We left Steveston at 6pm last night and this morning weíre entering Campbell River and will continue towards Haddington Island this afternoon for our first dives. Haddington Island / Haddington Pass is just past Alert Bay and before Port McNeill on our way to Port Hardy.


First morning on the boat and everyone is a little groggy. I'm in one of the aft staterooms for the first time, stateroom J, which shares a bulkhead with the engine room. While the overnight ride was very stable by virtue of being at the back of the boat, it was also very loud due to the drone of the engines. Still, I slept pretty well considering. It's funny, I'm so used to coming down the stairs and turning left to go to a mid ships or forward birth, I keep forgetting my room on this trip is to the right.


Iím trying hard to behave myself as far as eating goes. Iíve brought my own cereal and yogurt, and they have rice milk for me on board. I had some wheat toast with peanut butter with my cereal and passed on the rest of the eggs, sausage and potatoes. Damn this is going to be hard!


Not long after breakfast the ding dong sounds - Orcas sited off West Thurlow Island! Everyone runs to the bow with their little pocket cameras hoping to get a black spec in the middle of the waves and scenery that fills their view finders. I go back to my room, take my time, get my fleece and my camera with the 100-400 on it and head up to the top deck by myself. There are advantages to knowing the boat ;-)Itís really windy but I have clear shots, the sun is at my back and all I have to do is wait. For the next 5-10 minutes I get about 8-10 sightings of the same adolescent just porpoising towards us. I wish he would breech or spy hop or be a little more playful, but itís still inspiring to see the magnificent mammals in the sea.


Since we wonít be diving until this afternoon our time is being filled with a kayak briefing followed by a marine ID talk.

Dive 1 Ė Boat Harbor / Johnstone Straight

Profile: 57ft, 35 minutes

Weíve stopped a little earlier than planned since we spent time watching whales earlier in the day. This spot is across the channel from the famous Robson Bight where the Orcaís come to rub themselves on the stones every year.This site is just ok, but the visibility is excellent Ė 40 to 50ft easy. There were large numbers of sea stars, acorn barnacles, cucumbers, grunt sculpins and lots of other little things. Not fantastic as far as life and diversity goes, but itís just a warm up dive. Note to self, remember to connect the argon hose to drysuit before jumping in Ė doh!


Stupid Photoshop / Stupid Raw :-(


For some reason I canít edit my raw files in Photoshop on this laptop anymore. Iím getting an error that says this version of PS doesnít have the services necessary for the raw file format plug in. Iím also getting errors with Capture One PRO that says it canít find the profile for my camera and after converting I get an error about not being able to create a link! Iím screwed if I canít figure this out. For now Iíve found a trial copy of Capture One SE I can use without errors, but itís realllllly slooooow.

Dive 2 Ė Plumper Pass / Plumper Rock

Profile: 117ft, 45 minutes

Current was too high to dive Waltís Wall so we dove Plumper Rock in Plumper Pass next to Plumper Island, named for Her Majestyís survey ship HMS Plumper. We jumped in amidst a think field of bull kelp and went straight down too free ourselves of the whipping fronds in the current. Past 30 feet the current died down and the dive revealed itself as the most beautiful fields of orange and green and white and purple as there were endless specimens of plumose anemones, soft corals, sponges, urchins, and stars as the kelp greenlings, black rock fish and various gobes glide and snack through the maze of invertebrate life which covers every surface. Once again my drysuit gas is taunting me as I ran out on the way down on my second dive. Apparently theyíre not boosting today and I didnít realize my argon tank wasnít filled this morning so squeeze and cold was the order for the second half of the dive. Note to self, be sure you can reach the backup hose for your suit. Upon returning and breaking down all the bottles from the rebreather I jump into the hot tub while Silvia kindly serves up cervesas and Steve brings me a hot bbq chicken sandwich and salad. Man this is greatÖ


We arrive at our destination for the night around 11pm. The anchor goes down, the engines go quiet and there are few folks left in the salon by now. Most everyone is in bed now from the late dive at Plumper plus I think the long travel day for folks getting to the boat yesterday has caught up with many of them. Capt Mike comes down and chats for a little while with the 2 or 3 of us still up. These are the moments in the trip Iíll remember long after I get home.

8/23/05 - Day 2, Browning Pass


I had a good nightís sleep with the engines secured for the night and the boat at anchor. Weíre at Hussar Point tucked in around the corner from the famous Browning Passage. Itís cloudy with calm seas and we have a late start scheduled today with breakfast at 9am and the first dive briefing at 10am. A great dive day awaits if it plays out as planned Ė Browning Wall, followed by Hussar Point and finishing up at Snowfall. This is premier northwest diving at its best. I shot macro all day yesterday, I think Iíll put the dome port on and try some wide angle today.

Dive 3 Ė Browning Wall

Profile: 97ft, 41 minutes

The sun is shining, the air is warm (for Canada, eh?) and the current is starting to slack as we approach the famous Browning Wall. Last time I was here the current was ripping and the viz was shit, today is not like that. Viz is at least 60 feet, the currents are very mild and the walls are covered in plumose anemone, strawberry soft corals, tunicates, abalone, purple urchins, brown finger sponge, yellow sulfur sponge, orange peel nudiís as big as my foot and schooling black rock fish. The water has a little snot in it but not too bad. Thereís so much life and color on the wall I donít know where to point my camera first. We could stay here all week and I would call this a great trip.

Dive 4 Ė Hussar Point

Profile: skipped

While Mike is giving the briefing another smaller (local?) dive boat pulls up to the point and prepares to drop divers. Mike looks annoyed, but no big deal really. They have 4 divers, we have 20. I think theyíre more worried about us than the other way around. While this sounds like its going to be a good dive, I decide to skip and rest a bit while updating this journal and downloading pictures from the camera. Several other divers decide to skip as well as this second dive is only an hour after lunch and 2 hours since the last dive. I think folks are trying to decide which two of the four dives to do today. I know I definitely want to do the evening dive because weíre going to look for the strange hooded nudibranc. I missed these last year when we were up here and I want to make sure I get them this time around. Who knows when Iíll be back here again.

Dive 5 Ė Snowfall

Profile: 73ft, 46 minutes

This is a nice site on the opposite side of the Browning Pass from Browning Wall. As the name implies, this site is covered top to bottom in small metridium, or white plumose anemone. These are the small variety, not the giant plumose found at other sites. I left my camera on the big boat and chose to just tour as my expectations were already set low given how good the morning dive was. It turned out to be a nice casual swim floating effortlessly watching the wall and other divers do their thing. Iím always pleased to see how well I can control myself when not encumbered with a big camera housing, strobes and the constant scanning for good subjects during the dive. Thereís something to be said for just hanging out for a slow fly by. The safety stop including thick bunches of bull kelp and me playing with the black rockfish, trying to see how close we could get eye to eye before one of use flinched. I love interacting with fish this way, and only with the rebreather is this possible. I got a little tied up in the kelp but not so bad I couldnít untangle myself. One of the other divers said I looked like a sea otter playing the kelp with the fish. That would be the biggest sea otter known to man ;-)


While writing this Kolby, Jessie and Silvia were egging each other on to try juggling some fruit. I happened to mention that I used to juggle and they coaxed me into trying again. I dropped more than I caught but I was able to get 3 oranges going for a few loops. Although we ruined the oranges (to eat) weíre saving them to play with some more later.


Tonight weíre having NAUTILUS BURGERS!These are HUGE 1.2lb burgers, and the story behind them is if you can eat three of them Ė including the buns - in under 2 hours you win a free trip on the boat. Only one or two guests have been successful with this demonstration of gorging and gluttony over the years. Oh, and if you take the challenge and lose you have to donate $100 to the Race Rocks Fund. I know Vicki made 8 of these monsters tonight, but Iím not sure if there are any Challenge takers. For me, Iím having a ďbaby burgerĒ, itís only 1/2 lb.

Dive 6 Ė Normís Cove

Profile: 40 ft, 40 minutes Ė NIGHT DIVE

In search of hooded nudibrancs Ö We splashed around 9pm as the night sky cleared and the cove fell into darkness. About 16 of us braved the chilly waters to catch a glimpse of the hooded nudibranc, aka Melibes, as well as any other creatures out for night feeding or scavenging. This was the fourth dive of the day for some, but only the third for me. I havenít done a night dive for a while, it was fun to be in the liquid blackness with just my camera watching the beacons from the other divers sweeping through the darkness. I got quite a few good shots of single and groups of the nudiís, they were fairly small and look very fragile as they clung to kelp fronds with their translucent bodies. I planned for a half hour but stayed 40 minutes because I was warm, dry and having a good time. Tomorrowís first dive is at 7:40am! Blech, I think Iíll sleep in. Iím doing maintenance on the rebreather tonight and I donít fee like getting up at 5:30am to put it back together for the first dive. I think the second dive is Browning Wall again. Iíll be up for that one more time.

8/24/05 Ė Day 3, Hussar Point


I slept in today since I went to bed at 12:30am and the dive briefing was at 7:40am. It was pretty chilly and overcast this morning with a good drizzly fog covering the water. The skiff is long gone when I finally surface to the galley for a bowl of cereal and toast. Itís pleasantly quiet and there are two or three other guests who have the same idea of not doing the early dive.After breakfast I leisurely reassemble my camera and housing for another wide angle dive on Browning Wall later this morning.

Dive 7 Ė Lucanís Chute

Profile: skipped

The talk from the divers coming back was that the dive was ok, but you didnít miss much by sleeping in. Not that I was feeling bad for missing a dive, but that confirmed my choice was the right one (for me).

Dive 8 Ė Browning Wall: Part Deux

Profile: 130ft, 50 minutes

This is the second dive on ďthe wallĒ in two days, hence the part deux above. It was another wonderful dive. Visibility is even better then yesterday, the current is almost negligible. The wall is a lush carpet of diverse cold water life. Sponges, crabs, fish of every size, barnacles, kelp, anemones, nudibrancs and cucumbers. Itís simply endless. Looking up from the depths you see a bright green column of water nearly to the top. Because itís overcast there arenít any sun rays bleeding through the water column, but the visibility is so good the view up is simply fantastic. When we come up the clouds are starting to burn off and the sun is beginning to break through.

Shore Expedition


After lunch Kolby is leading a shore expedition / hike up to the top of one of the islands near here where there is an ancient burial cave. There are only light wisps of clouds now in an otherwise beautifully bright day, but everything on shore is still very wet, and Iím sure very slippery. It sounds very interesting, but hiking is also work Ė an Iím on vacation ;-). Iíll stay on the boat and work on the journal and the images just shot on Browning Wall.Weíre on to Shushartie Bay north of Port Hardy after the shore expedition to dive Dillon Rock and have a beach barbeque tonight. These are usually very fun if the weather cooperates. So far itís looking pretty good.

Shushartie Bay

Weíve pulled into Shushartie Bay and anchored for the night. Capt Mike says this is an old bay that Spanish settlers used to use for ranching cattle in the early part of the 20th century. There are distinct remains of at least two encampments complete with saloon, hotel and shipyard. Not sure how long that lasted given the remote location and exceptionally harsh winters that are normally experienced at the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The weather has cleared to sun with a light breeze, sounds just right for the bbq. Darren is tasked with going ashore early and getting the fire started.

Dive 9 Ė Dillon Rock

Profile: skipped

Dillon Rock is famous for its resident wolf eels, giant pacific octopus, vermillion and black rock fish and kelp forests. Iíve done this site at least three or four times before and know from those dives how quickly the bottom silts up when 20 divers hit the sand and they all scramble for a couple of wolf eels who come out to play. As Iím sitting here writing this I hear Capt Mike on the radio to Darren telling him the first spot for the bbq is too exposed to the wind that is kicking at the outskirts of the bay, heís looking for a more protected alternate site. The strong wind also means strong surface currents, something I experienced last year on the Rock when I was blown off on decent and came up a hundred yards behind the skiff. When diving the rebreather is often acts like a sail and with surface currents itís easy to get caught and taken off course. Again skipping a dive seems like the better decision for me.Weíre supposed to dive the rock again in the morning, maybe Iíll try it then.

Evening Beach Barbeque

So after searching for an alternate spot the bbq ends up at the original location after all. With high tide starting to go out the beach line is pretty thin and many of us just start standing around the fire. Chef Steve is also head wood gatherer for the fire while Silvia helps dispense the drinks and cold food accompaniments like salad etc. Hot dogs are cooked over the open fire and the crab which was boiled before we got there is piled on the plates of the hungry divers.We watch Steve entertain us by piling rocks in a zen like way. He gets up to about 7 before they topple. Itís a cordial evening, with stories being told by various guests but itís not a raucous drinking party til late into the night as I remember from trips past. Just as well, I donít know anyone and not really connecting with anyone on this trip as I have in the past.

8/25/05 Ė Day 4, Shushartie Bay


This morning itís foggy and drizzling, people are slow getting to breakfast and the first dive is at 8am at a site called Wedding Cake. The second dive will be Dillon Rock again, but Mike hasnít made up his mind on the afternoon agenda yet. Several people are asking to do Nakwakto Rapids, but I think Mike isnít sure about the ability of a few of the divers to do such a challenging dive. I decide to pass and wait for Dillon Rock. While hanging around on the boat a black bear showed up on shore to look for his breakfast. He was curious to watch, walking up and down the beach turning over rocks looking for his morning snack.

Dive 10 Ė Wedding Cake

Profile: skipped

The divers who braved the early morning dive return looking glad to be done with their excursion. One of the girls from NY has been getting wet in her new drysuit every dive and this one is no exception at evidenced by her wringing the water from her socks. The usual assortment of metridium (white plumose anemone) and rock fish pretty much describe this siteís features. This was an ďoff slackĒ dive done as a backup dive because slack was at 5:30am. Another log entry is about the best you can get from this one.

Dive 11 Ė Dillon Rock: Part Deux

Profile: 78ft, 51 minutes

Mike has trouble getting one of the outboards running this morning after Kolby rebuilt the throttle linkage on it last night. We limp out to the beacon on one engine plus the jet as itís only a couple of hundred yards off where the big boat is anchored. Current is non-existent and viz is pleasantly surprisingly clear. I would guess itís at least 40ft, if not better. I can never find these critters so I decided to hover around watching for others to find them and point them out. In no time Faith has found a big male and begins coaxing it out of its den by tapping on the rock with the back of her light. It comes out slowly, but surely and circles in and out a few times while a crowd of 3 or 4 of us surround it with bright lights and popping strobes. After a few minutes of this I move on looking for the next hot spot, leaving room in the circle for another diver to swim in and continue playing with same wolfie. Again I find another diver taking pictures, this time itís a small octopus. She carefully takes like two or three shots and moves on.After sheís done I settle in and take about 20 shots, adjusting lighting and exposure with each one. At least one or two look like keepers on the camera back display, Iíll know for sure once theyíre downloaded to the computer for review. I ended the dive hovering in the kelp with a thick school of black rockfish. They just stay their and let me hang with them for about 6 or 7 minutes. Itís so cool interacting with them in that way.

Bear Watch Shore Excursion

The inflatable is going ashore looking for black bears after lunch. This can be very dangerous if youíre not in a group of at least 5 people. Weíre told to stay at least 100 yards from them so they donít feel threatened. There is supposed to be salmon spawning in a river near the boat landing as well, but Mike doesnít think that has started yet because no splashing can be seen in the river and there arenít any eagles diving the stream pulling them out yet. About a third of the guests decide theyíd rather stay on the boat and observe from a distance Ė or just nap. I stay on the boat. Slogging through a muddy shore landing and hiking into mosquito rich woods is not my idea of a good time.

Dive 12 Ė The Wreck of the Swamee

Profile: skipped

The Swamee is a civil war era paddle wheel gun boat that sank up here in 1868. Being 137 years old, thereís not much left of the wreck but piles of stone rubble that were the ballast stones and an iron boiler and some assorted iron plates. The site is known more for its vast fish population than for remains of the wreck. The site profile is 20-35ft, youíd need a shovel to get any deeper. Given the extremely buoyant nature of the rebreather in shallow water like this, and that Iíve done this site before with little to remember, Iíll choose to stay on the boat and do a hot tub dive instead with a few other guests who would rather relax than suit up for another dive. Tomorrow we start our journey back with an overnight stop at Stubbs Island for a couple of last dives and a visit to Telegraph Cove.

8/26/05 Ė Day 5, Pearse Island, Last Dive Day


Weíre anchored by Pearse Island near Telegraph Cove, arriving shortly after midnight last night. Trying to sleep while steaming was problematic again due to the drone of the powerful twin turbo engines, earplugs seemed to help this time. Weíre a little fogged in this morning as has been consistent with the last few days, but it looks like it will burn off shortly. Todayís dives are planned for Stubbís Island and Waltís Wall with an excursion to Telegraph Cove mid day.

Dive 13 Ė Waltís Wall

Profile: 95ft, 42 minutes

Waltís is a very pretty wall, similar in characteristics to Browning Wall but not as lush. There are thick plumose anemone, orange soft corals, sponges, basket stars as well as sculpins, rock fish, crabs, etc that is typical of northwest diving. This was my last dive with a camera so I only shot a few images during the first 15 minutes or so then just cruised around enjoying the dive. The currents were interesting as they would die down, then pick back up where you had no choice to fly them then it die down again.

Dive 14 Ė Mystery Off Slack Dive

Profile: skipped

For those that wanted to dive every dive and had no interest in site seeing, Mike did and exploratory dive somewhere heíd never been before. I didnít hear anyone rave about it so it was most likely just another log book entry.

Telegraph Cove Visit

I love coming to Telegraph Cove, itís such a quaint little area. The historical WWII era structures are maintained in period style in an attempt to draw you back in time, including a 1940ís-ish red (rust?) GMC pickup truck that seems frozen in time. Thereís a whale museum right at the main dock with skeletons from a variety of whales assembled and suspended from the ceiling as well as sea otters and stellar sea lions. The mass of these displays is amazing. There is a pair of blue whale jawbones that are two stories tall and weigh 400lbs as well a full minke and fin whale displays. We make our way to the general store to grab an ice cream cone and take in the boardwalk. A group of kayakers has just returned from an overnight camping trip. Itís fun to watch them break down their packs and see the happiness in their faces for what must be the end of a fun couple of days for them. Telegraph Cove has cell coverage so I make a quick call to Michelle to say hi and just hear her warm soothing voice again.Jessie takes us back in the inflatable and Kolby jumps in from the dock after weíre untied. That Kolby!

Dive 15 Ė Stubbs Island

Profile: 92ft, 44 minutes

Ahhh, last dive of the trip. No camera, no agenda, just toodling around visiting other divers, hovering and just taking it all in. I spent a few minutes hanging with Kolby around 90 ft and at one point he gestures to me to look up. There were at least a dozen divers at various depths directly above us. Kolby said later he counted 16 divers. It was weird, with all the space along the wall that almost everyone was congregating in the one spot along the water column. It was good dive, nothing special other than one last chance to enjoy the clear cold BC waters that you have to see to appreciate. I carry a traditional can of beer in my pocket during the dive and once back on the skiff pop it open to celebrate the end of another great dive trip.

Under Way Ö.

As we begin steaming home before dinner starts the schedule calls for a slide show. Seems like the only slide show everyone is waiting for is mine. No pressure, just a few more slides to add from todayís adventures. The show takes longer to rebuild then usual, stupid laptop seems to be getting slower every day. I finally get it done and on the screen. Itís 12 minutes long with 150 slides! Everyone seems to enjoy the walk back through our more memorable dives as well as a few topside images. Iím flattered when someone asks if Iím selling the show which I respectfully decline. Selling my work is not something Iím terribly interested in (although Michelle is) and Iím certainly not going to give my work away. I do it for me. Itís my zen hobby that helps me relax from my stressful real world life at internet speeds.


After the slide show is the Captainís dinner were we are served by the crew fresh grilled steak, or salmon. (or lasagna for the vegetarians on board). It was a fine meal filled with stories of the past weekís adventures and plans for next dive trip destinations. I send around a list for folks to put their email address on with a promise to mail everyone when my images are up on the site.

8/27/05 Ė Day 6, Steaming Home


People begin streaming in for a pre-breakfast snack as they collect their things to begin packing. Weíre greeted this morning with some moderate swells and gray skies. The boat is a bit bouncy, but not terribly bad. Itís been a pretty good week all things considered. Weíve had great weather, great dives, met a diverse group of interesting people and forged new friendships for when we meet again some time in the future.


Safe Diving.




Trip Attendees:

Marty Steinberg Sammamish, WA
Judith Bliss New York, NY
Solange Farina New York, NY
Faith Ortins San Diego, CA
Jeff Hannigan San Diego, CA
Deb Simpson Manchester, MA
Jim Cooney Beverly, MA
Glen Payne Langley, BC
Roeland Baans Fort McMurray, AB
Rick Rousseau Vancouver, BC
Linda Putman Kent, WA
Paul Rosenthal Butte, MT
Doug Banik Redding, CT
Harry Klein Milwaukie, OR
Michael Everett Gig Harbor, WA
Bryan Florence Calgary, AB
Sue Batdorf Libertyville, IL
Michel and Sonja Lux Insenborn, GR.D. of Luxembourg
Mike Lever - Captain Steveston, BC
Darren the 2nd Captain Vancouver, BC
Vicki the Chef Vancouver, BC
Steve the Soux Chef Vancouver, BC
Kolby Vaughan - divemaster Vancouver, BC
Jessie "SharkChick" Harper San Diego, CA
Silvia Pech - hostess La Paz, BCS, MX
Cedar Stark - divemaster Juneau, AK