Nautilus Explorer Tech Trip

 Journal by Marty Steinberg




Arrived tonight around 8:40pm shortly after boarding opened up since I couldn't leave work too early. The drive up was interesting to say the least. Pouring down rain from home past Everett. It finally let up around Arlington, but the cross winds made my Denali feel like a Volkswagen. The border was light, about 10 cars in front of me going through the truck crossing. By the time I reached Steveston it was raining again.


There is a ton of tech gear everywhere. I find some random spots for my stuff, get my clothes down to my room and go park the car. The boat has a few new looks since last November. A new bar in the dining area, new platforms for the beds with shelves underneath for storage. I'm in Stateroom A, one of the two undersized staterooms in the forward most part of the stateroom section. The single beds have been removed from A & B which is nice, but I was hoping to have a place to spread my stuff out on the unused bed. I spread it out on the floor instead. I have the remaining double bed to myself.


Since this is a tech trip there are a lot of rebreather divers on board. There are 4 Drager Dolphins including my own, (not really tech units), 4 Inspirations; 3 Megalodons; a CCR2000, a modified CCR Dolphin and 5 KISS rebreathers, There are also a 3 or 4 open circuit divers, about half with doubles.


We watch the safety videos, sign releases, settle in and try to meet many of these folks who seem to know each other well and go back many years. I'm enjoying the anonymity of not knowing most of the guests.  I do know Ron from last November's trip that ended prematurely after the Nautilus ran around and I know Greg from our first trip on Nautilus in August of 2001.


The boat leaves on time shortly after 10pm. The fridge is well stocked and I'm testing the supply of Corona's before I head to bed at nearly 1am.




We wake up to the fire alarm at 8am. Someone has burned the toast, false alarm. I come up anyway and have my first of three cups of coffee before I can think straight. We were supposed to dive at Seymour Narrows this morning, but there was a gale blowing with 50kt winds gusting to 60+kt. Capt Mike decides it's a good time to pick up anchor from Maude Bay and head for shelter somewhere further south.  We end up in  Gowland Harbor east of Campbell River. We're pretty well protected here compared to Seymour Narrows.


Dive 1 - Back Side of Steep Island -  95 ft, 62 min


This is our warm up dive for the weekend. I'm a little apprehensive since I haven't been in the water since Hornby Island the first week of February. Plus I haven't been feeling good all week. I get in the water with Greg Dombrowski, the diver/author we met on Nautilus two years ago. I ask him to bubble check me, he says ok and we go down. He indicates a leak in the back so we go back up, it's just the exhaust valve normally expelling excess gas. Greg's an open circuit diver who's never done this before.


I have my Tetra 5000 with me so I start looking for anything interesting. There's a lot of rocks, but not much else. As we pass 45 feet I'm getting a very sharp pain over my left eye and forehead. I recognize the sinus squeeze and try to equalize with only temporary relief. I come up a few feet until the pain subsides, equalize and try to descend again. The pain returns so I grab my nose and blow a few more times, then I close off only the right side and blow my nose into my mask to get the excess mucus out. That helped a lot so I continue my dive.


There's plenty of urchins and sea cucumbers, occasional kelp greenlings, nudi's and assorted other critters of the deep. I reach 95 feet and continue my search for interesting photo opportunities. Greg finds a Puget Sound King crab that I take a few shots of it. My camera battery has been sucked down from the cold water and the camera is already shutting down after every exposure. I keep taking pictures, albeit slowly. Capturing moving marine life just isn't an option with this camera, but the slower residents of the deep are willing models for me.  I do a good 10 minute safety stop between 20-15ft and surface to a waiting launch. I'm one of the last ones back which is good because I was one of the last ones in and I was hoping those who wanted to take a longer dive would have reached their limit already and returned. They had, so I didn't have to wait more than a couple of minutes before the last diver returned and we were on our way back to the mother ship.  Oh, by the way - I LOVE having a pee valve!  It came in quite handy several times.


Dive 2 - Copper Cliff


I sat this dive out, my sinus still hurts and tomorrow's first dive is at 8am so I thought I'd shower up and get some rest early. While napping the alarm went off again, this time itís the smoke from the burning chicken breasts on the barbeque.




Dive 3 - Steep Island   125ft 52min


Capt Mike says this is the premier dive of the trip. Some are skeptical and since this is an 8:15am dive, many decide to sleep in instead. One of the features of this dive is an overhang starting at 120ft. I'd like to look for it but don't want to push my limits. I wander to 125ft for a few minutes, I didn't see the overhang so I'll come up some and look for some shallower features of interest. I'm trying my close up lens for the first time hoping to get some intimate critter pictures. I'm pretty disappointed with my results. All the images seem to be really red. I'm not sure if itís the white balance or if they're just oversaturated. I've discovered a saturation control on the camera set to normal. I'm going to turn it down a little to see if it helps.


Dive 4 - Seymour Narrows  111ft 42min


Lots of talk back and forth about trying to do Ripple Rock. Mike says its never been done before because its in the middle of the Narrows and itís a shipping lane. Dave Hancock wants to do it bad, but he's the only one. I had trouble with my left sinus again. Pretty good pain over my left eye. Coming up a few feet, blowing a lot and descending very slowly seemed to do the trick. Pretty huge rocks here at the Narrows, but not too much life. A few greenings, lots of shallow kelp blowing like mad in the current. We got in at slack but it didn't take long for the current to pick up and take control of the dive. Not much you can do except ride it and watch your depth. As I surface I see a nice outcropping of flat rocks I'm able to sit on and wait for Mike to come get me. About half the divers are back, the rest surface shortly after because this dive had a 40 minute call with 60 minute max due to current and weather. The ride back is pretty exciting. About 5-6 foot swell, cold waves crashing over the bow, hard hull slamming as the skiff comes down one swell and begins up another. I can see Mike's face from my seat, he's not happy. It takes almost 30 minutes to get back to the mother ship. Twice what the ride out took.


The third dive of the day is cancelled as hurricane strength winds approach. Mike wants to run from the weather to ensure we get to Agamemnon Pass safely.  In the meantime, Gordon Smith brings in one of his KISS rebreathers to give us a seminar on it. He breaks it down to its barest components, explains each piece and passes them around for everyone to examine. I must admit, the engineering behind this device is very impressive. As the name implies, it's Super Simple. 


The run to Agamemnon is getting pretty bouncy. We must be in 8-10 foot seas as the Nautilus porpoises through the white caps. You know it's rough when Mike comes down to interrupt the seminar to give a quick sell pitch for his electronic motion sickness wrist bands.


We watched a really cool video on Ripple Rock, the spot we were just diving earlier today. The video showed how the Canadian government contracted to have a group of miners tunnel under the rock, fill it with explosives and blow it up! This is supposedly the biggest non-nuclear explosion ever detonated. It was April 1958 when this was done and was pretty amazing to watch. The tape says it comes from the Campbell River Museum Store, I'll have to see if they still sell it because it would be fun to have.




We have a late first dive this morning so there's no hurry to get going. The cook has made us a very nice blueberry and apple pancakes and sausage breakfast that we all thoroughly enjoy. I changed out my scrubber and refilled my gases last night so all I need to do is eat, get changed and get on the skiff to go diving. It's a beautiful morning this morning in Agamemnon Channel. The sun is peeking out, the water is calm, the clouds are spreading and the snow capped peaks of some mountains are visible in the distance.


As we get ready to head to the dive site, the clouds have returned. The brief appearance of the sun was an anomaly I'm sure. I'm last to get on the skiff because I've found the first 15 minutes are filled with divers cramming themselves full of gear, bumping around and generally making it impossible for the few non-tech divers to get our stuff on. I sit on the bow and enjoy the 3 minute ride to the north powerlines for our first dive.


Dive 5 - Agamemnon Channel, North Powerlines  141ft 39 min


The dive profiles for this dive are 2 hour max, dives to 200 and 300 feet by those capable of doing so (not me!). The skiff will return whoever has surfaced after one hour to the mother ship and return to the dive site to pick up the remaining deep divers. We're expecting to see giant cloud sponges starting around 85ft and giant gorgonian corals starting around 165ft. 


Greg and I are last off the boat. We both know we won't be in the group of 2 hour divers so we take our time getting in. I had no sinus pain on decent this time, this is a good sign. We get down around 80ft and the cloud sponges start to show up. They're amazing! Some are wider than I can reach finger tip to finger tip. It's very dark down here, darker than I recall from earlier dives this trip. Maybe I'm narc'd or maybe it's really this dark down here. I take lots of images of the sponges, not much else from here to 110ft. I'm curious about the corals so I look a little deeper where the sponges are getting even larger but still no corals. I check my computers and I'm past 140ft. I'm at the high end but still within the safe zone of my planned dive, my PPO2 is about 1.55 and the mix is at 29%. I'm a couple of minutes from decompression, but it's ok because I planned for it on the way up anyway. I drift around down here for 3-5 minutes shooting a few more of the big sponges but still no coral. I'm 4 minutes into deco so it's time to start my ascent. The VR3 which is set for 30% has a first stop at 72ft for 2 minutes, followed by 2 minutes at 48ft followed by 3 minutes at 15ft. I follow the VR3 very closely. The Uwatec says I have 4 minutes at 10 ft, and that's all. There's a big difference between these two computers, I can't wait to get rid of the Uwatec. I take my time on the way up, shooting images of various things while paying close attention to the VR3. At 20 feet I hang our for about 8 minutes as an extra precaution. I surface and skiff is about 50 feet to my left, about 10 divers are already on board. I've made the first bus ride back to mother ship and am pleased with the best dive of the trip so far.


Dive 6 - Agamemnon Channel, under the Nautilus Explorer's anchor  117ft 31min


Some are diving a pinnacle out in the channel that starts at 130ft, about half choose to stay back and just dive off the mother ship, including me.  I jump off the back, follow up the port side to the anchor. It's very curious looking face to face at the section of the boat that was damaged in last November's grounding in Dodd Narrows. It feels good that everything looks as though nothing ever happened. After rounding the bulbous bow and taking a good close look at this part of the ship I never get to see, I descend into what I thought would be about 60ft of water. Passing 70 ft with nothing below I suspect I've missed the spot where I'm supposed to be going. At 80ft I'm starting to worry because we're told the edges of the spur the Nautilus is anchored on go to 200ft and beyond. At 90ft I start to see some faint white spots indicative of the sponges we saw this morning. I touch down in 105ft of water. Close but not where I really wanted to be. I explore around for a few minutes over a small valley towards a large rock with more cloud and vase sponges on it. These are the same as the ones we saw this morning only much smaller. Behind the rock is the top of a wall. I go over and shine my light down into nothingness. This must be the spot they said went very deep.  I go down a little bit just to see if there's anything new there, there isn't. I check my computers and at 117ft on the VR3 and 119 on the Uwatec. The Uwatec is telling me my mix is 33%, too high for my likings, and my PPO2 is already over 1.5. As I start to hear a light ringing in my ears I know it's time to go up. Ringing is indicative of either nitrogen narcosis or the beginnings of oxygen toxicity - or both. I didn't want to figure it out at depth so ascending seams like a good idea. I follow the terrain back up to what I hope is a reasonable depth. I ran out of rock at 50ft about 20 minutes into the dive. Time to practice free ascents - something I totally suck at it. Since I'm without my camera I'm a couple of pounds lighter than I normally am so I have to dump most of my bc and suit to control the ascent. I get to 20 feet and struggle to stay there for 5 minutes. When I surface I'm 100 feet behind the Nautilus. I had completely traveled back under the boat. I guess I need navigation practice as well.


We're having Nautilus burgers for dinner tonight, yipee!


After dinner Leon gives a presentation on his Megalodon rebreather. It's an impressive unit, but much more than I'll ever need. Later on some of the more experienced divers want to do a demo of what happens when your O2 levels drop below "normal". Ron boldly agrees to be the lab rat, using his modified CCR Dolphin, it's primed than all the gases are turned off while he continue to breath normally. Heís wearing a pulse-ox monitor on his fingertip that Dr. Greg brought with his first aid kit.  We watch as the O2 level in the rebreather falls from 36% into the 20's then into the teens then hits 10%, or PPO2 of 0.10. For most folks it would be lights out at this point but he keeps breathing. His blood oxygen is in the low 90s. He's being asked simple questions like "what's 36 divided by 6" and he canít answer. His level is down to 5% O2. His blood oxygen has fallen to nearly 60%. A few seconds go by and everyone realizes he's blacked out, but is still lock jawed onto the rebreather mouthpiece. Two guys nearby pull the mouthpiece free and Ron's body starts snorting for air. He's still out for a few more seconds. When he finally regains consciousness he grabs for some O2 and takes in big breathes for about 15 seconds before his color starts to come back. He claims he was fine and never went out, but the video doesn't lie!




Last  day of the trip. Some folks have started to break down their gear already.  About twelve of us are going out for the last dive. I load up on french toast - or should I call it Freedom Toast ;-)  for breakfast as we make our way to the last site.


Dive 7 - Furney Bluff  127ft 50min


We're told this site is like the Powerlines dive, only less and they were right. Lots of cloud sponges around 100ft, but smaller and less dense. I finally seem to get the exposures on my camera right on this dive. Hopefully I'll have at least a few keepers from the trip.


On the ride home everyone breaks their gear down, tanks up as much gas as they can since we have to pay for the whole tank whether it's used or not, then generally settles in for the four hour trip to Steveston. After lunch Bruce gives a very long talk on the latest thinking around decompression diving from a conference he and Peter were at in Florida a few weeks ago. It's very long and dry. I'm going to take a last minute cat nap instead Ö





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