Nautilus Explorer Queen Charlotte Islands Trip

 Journal by Marty Steinberg


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Carpooled up with Nikki Mahan and Jen Vanderhoof. The Denali was  really packed! Arrived in Steveston around 2:15pm in the pouring rain. We go for a quick lunch at the Chart House and watch many other passengers stand in the rain waiting for the boat to open for boarding at 3pm. As we finish our lunch at 3pm the rain stops and sun breaks out. Hopefully this is a sign of good luck for our next ten days…


We get underway at 5pm and begin steaming northward towards the Inside Passage. As many of the guests reacquaint themselves from past trips or introduce themselves for the first time, it is quickly apparent this is a great bunch folks who are here to dive and have a good time. One noticeable absence is Diver Judd. One of the mainstays of my memories of past Nautilus Explorer trips, it seems she's moved onto greater challenges of her own.  The Aquarium staff give a brief introductory talk. Apparently (one of) the highlights of the trip is something called "Naptime with Andy". This is when Andy Lamb, a biologist for over 40 years, give talks on some of the specimens caught during the day's dives. Besides Andy are Mackenzie, Sharon and John.  There's a lunar eclipse tonight, but it's too cloudy to see it. Darn.




We awake to a fairly nice day somewhere in the middle of the Inside Passage. We're still quite a ways from Port Hardy, our first destination. I have a new GPS with me and am marking waypoints along the way for show and tell when I get back.  Folks are busy putting the cameras together - and there are LOTS of them. Several folks have brought more than one. The Aquarium folks have a big VX2000 as do another couple from a production company putting together a project on BC diving. There are a couple of guys from Sweden, one who's been diving since since 1957! (before I was born). He's shooting a Hassleblad in a housing - two actually - one normal and one wide. He has brought back a Swedish magazine featuring his photos from last year's Aquarium trip. They images breathtaking.   We get another talk from the biologists on taxonomy. It takes about 2 seconds for me to get lost in the ancient Latin names which describe the hierarchy of life to these scientists. Still, it's fun to be around all these people.


We finally arrive at Port Alexander and drop anchor just off Hussar Point. How beautiful is this? Our first dive is Lucan's Shoot. Should be a fairly mild warm up dive, although Mike says it could have a bit of brisk current


Dive 1 - Lucan's Shoot   55ft, 41min


As soon as I get in the water I feel a rush of cold down the front of my suit. Something is leaking badly so I quickly get out of water and have the dive masters look for anything obvious. My long underwear turtle neck is sticking out of neck seal - DUH!  Rhian tucked it in all around and I get back in without any more problems. We go down and immediately the current takes over. It's very hard to stay still to get a decent composition. There are a lot of photographers so it's fairly crowded. The camera seems to be working ok, I forget how some of the controls work (ISO setting) so I need to brush up on this when I get back to the mother ship.  I did get a good shot of a very large orange peel nudibranch.  Overall, the life is ok, but not spectacular. It was actually prettier at the safety stop with plumose anemone, sea cucumbers, sea stars and lots of kelp blowing in the current.


Dive 2 - Browning Wall


Don't ask me why, but I skipped this premier dive to refill Nikki's and my tanks, take a shower and just relax for a little while. The stories from the divers coming back are expected about the wall covered in carpets of life. The biologists bring back more interesting specimens in addition to a CRT monitor.  We break anchor and head off for another night of travel to the next destination.


As I get into bed I notice my stomach is feeling queezy. Is it nerves or have I come down something? Or is just sea sick which I never get? Who knows, I hope its gone in the morning




Well, I don't feel any better. In fact I'm feeling worse. We have a ways to go to get to the next site but these knots in my stomach are really annoying me.


Naptime with Andy is quite entertaining - and informative. I'd write something meaningful down except I can't remember anything specific. Man, this guy loves worms!


The specimens coming up with the aquarium divers are spectacular. Giant nudi's, soft corals, crabs, a basket star and of course - worms. There was a red one Andy showed with a heart shaped head that was rally cool. The head opens up and create like a net to capture nutrients from the plankton streams. The collection tanks are filling up nicely.


My Oxy2 has crapped out also. I tried changing the sensors but it still fails calibration. This sucks because I wanted to sell it with the Air Z O2 upon our return.


Dive 3 - Wreck of the Ohio  55ft, 41min


I'm really not feeling well, I think I'm starting to run a fever. I'm skipping lunch because everything that goes down turns my stomach in knots.  I decide to try this dive because it's pretty shallow to see how I fell. - I feel like crap. I'm cold and damp, my neck seal is leaking and I was only wearing a t-shirt instead of my long underwear. I didn't even take my camera down. This would have been a good macro opportunity, the Ohio's hull is covered in tunicates, mostly white ones about 6 inches long or more, and a few pink tunicates scattered in amongst the rest. There are also some patches of orange cup coral. Nikki is excited to find a portal that looks like the on in a photo from a previous trip in her stateroom. Oh, did I mention viz was shit. Five to ten feet if you were lucky, tons of particulate in the water. I give Nikki the up sign after 30 minutes because I'm cold and there's just not a lot to see here.


After I get changed, I mix up our gases for the Transpac. A lighter mix for a deeper dive. What I wouldn't give to feel better to do this rare dive. But it's just not in the cards for me on this trip. I go to bed for the run to the next site. I even sleep through the briefing, I'm not going anywhere anytime soon ….


When I wake up we're in Butedale, a collapsed old fishing village. What a cool place. I grab my 10D and head up the hill, ever so slowly, for some old time nature photos. When I return I've shot about half a gig of images. Time to edit.


Dive 4 - Wreck of Transpac


Everyone's coming back raving about this. Damn, I wish I was feeling better! 


We pull anchor as dinner is served and begin our next leg of the trip across to QCI. I skip dinner, and stick to just water to try and get this bug out of my stomach, if that's what it is. Argh! I'm going to try and stay up for a little while and edit some photos.




We had a pretty rough crossing during the night from the mainland to QCI. Many passengers are a bit bleary eyed this morning. I'm skipping breakfast as I still am not feeling well. Montezuma's revenge struck hard last night for me.


Dive 5 - Reef Island (3 rocks), QCI 85ft, 35min 


I'm NOT sitting out another dive because of this bug I have!  I'm using the High Tide suite for the first time since getting it back from being repaired. Maybe I'll stay dry this time. The dry gloves won't stay on so I borrow one of the crew's wet gloves for the dive. I forgot how cold wet gloves are. The water is has lots of particulate, but the island terrain is covered in plumose anemone. I'm using the close up adapter on the camera today. There are 50 or 60 Stellar sea lions on the rock around where we're diving. They're very interested in us. I run into a few while diving, but others talk about being overrun by many more. Everyone comes up saying it was a great dive and they want to go back for a second dive there later.  The High Tide worked out ok, but I was definitely cold, but dry. Maybe I'll wear two thermal shirts next time. Did I mention the sea lions? Everyone is excited but disappointed they didn't run into them enough during the dive.


Dive 6 - Reef Island (3 rocks), QCI, 83ft, 55min


I'm feeling much better now. The first site was so good everyone wanted to go back so we did. My how a few hours makes a big difference! The current was very strong on this dive. Mike gave me some mitts to use, they're surprisingly warm. I may stick with these with this suit. The current is so strong I can't swim in the direction everyone else is trying to go in to find the sea lions so I just drop down and try to hide between some boulders to shoot a few images. So, this is the same site as this morning, I don't want another 40 pictures of the same anemone, star fish and rock fish so I figure I'll just experiment with the camera's various settings and consider it a learning experience. While bottomed on the floor I get buzzed by a couple of sea lions. I follow the terrain down past 70 feet where the current subsides and I explore around a little while, it's pleasant but there's nothing new here. I spend a pleasantly long safety stop hanging in the kelp but when I surface there a very large swells and divers are very far apart. The surface current kicks in and I'm quickly swept away from the island. I float my safety sausage, but it's still a good 15-20 minutes before I get picked up. Mike is a little stressed, but all divers are accounted for. It seems everyone who has a sausage had to deploy it for the same reason.


Upon returning to the mother ship we pull anchor and head for the other side of the island to anchor in a calmer cove out of the seas which are beginning to kick up again.




At last a pretty calm night to sleep through. Still a little ill, but it feels like it's almost run its course. Unfortunately, two more passengers have come down with the same ailments. It wasn't me, honestly! The weather is clear, there's a bald eagle in the trees and humpback whales breaching in the distance. This is truly a place time untouched.


Dive 7 - Reef Island (back wall), QCI,  85ft, 58min


A very pretty dive, mild drift dive along a nice wall. Nikki found an octopus for me, it was moderately sized but not huge. I also found some neat really small nudibranchs to photograph. We did a good long safety stop, but I noticed my PO2 kept going down way too far. Need to check for a clogged 60% orifice. The flow meter is reading ok but just at the bottom of the 60% range If it happens again I'll switch to the 50% orifice.


This afternoon we visited the ancient Haida village of Skadaans and explored the village remains, ever mindful that this is sacred ground. It's amazing there is so little left after only 100 years since its demise. Before 100 years ago a population of over 400 First Nationer's resided here only to be wiped out be western civilization's illnesses of small pox, typhoid, etc. It is believed that prior to their demise, the First Nation population had been here for several thousand years.


Dive 8 - Bischoff Island, QCI, 97ft, 39min


This was supposed to be a pinnacle dive. It was a late dive, after dinner. I usually don't like doing these since I'm up late doing maintenance when I'd rather be relaxing on vacation. I should have stayed on the boat. Mike searches with the sounder on the skiff for several minutes trying to find the pinnacle. When he finally drops anchor he says we're in 45 ft of water, but when we bottom out on we're at 95 feet. My PO2 is low again also, my 60% must be partially clogged so I'm only getting 20-22% instead of the usual 30-32% I was expecting. As I take my first picture or two the flash is over exposing. When I try to adjust the ROC controlled it doesn't respond. The flashes fire at full strength with every shot on TTL.  I switch the strobes to manual at 1/4 power and attempt a few more shots but there's not a lot to see and my attempts are futile. I fold up the arms and just start cruising with Nikki. She's having trouble with something of her own as well. I'm not sure what it is but she's clearly frustrated with her dive and wants to head up so we start a slow free water ascent. Trying to use the kelp to ascend isn't very helpful because the kelp is spread out horizontally in the water. When you grab on to it you float toward the surface anyway because the kelp is so long. We did a very poor safety stop, the worst one yet. I'm a little worried but fortunately we're ok for now. As I'm taking my gear off on the skiff the shoulder strap forces my Uwatec Air Z O2 dive computer off my wrist and I watch it bounce across the deck and into the sea. What a shitty dive, I should have stayed on the big boat as my first instinct told me to.




It's raining and cold this morning, and I'm tired from staying up until 1am watching Mike Nelson Sea Hunt videos feeling sorry for myself for losing that damn dive computer yesterday. This morning's dive is the same as last night's so I'm skipping it. 100 foot dives with free ascents from 50 feet are not my idea of a fun dive.


Dive 9 Bischoff Island, QCI


Returning divers are talking about how mediocre this dive was. They were hoping for sunrays through the kelp, but it was just gray and boring like last night.


The weather is starting to kick up so we pull anchor and start running from an arriving storm. While cruising through Juan Perez Sound we encounter a few humpback whales. There are occasional tail slaps and one breech that I of course missed because my back was to the windows. I did get a few grey images of partial tails but nothing spectacular.


We've anchored in a safe harbor called Harriet Bay on Moresby Island. There's an abandoned mining village on shore and obvious "tailings" in the hills from the abandoned mines. The tailings are leftovers from the mining activities of the dirt and rock discarded after harvesting the minerals and ore from the mines. The product of these mines was copper, as indicated by Copper Island not far from here. This would be a great place for a beach bonfire if the weather clears.


Dive 10 - Moresby Island, Skincuttle Inlet, Elswa Rock, QCI 69ft, 40min


More of the same. I dove alone since Nikki is still sick. Nothing new on this dive. I got bored pretty quick so I found a large sea cucumber to snuggle up with a giant sun star and sat back to watch the show as the cuke wriggled his way free of the star's clutches. (I'm so evil…)  Saw some neat small lion's mane jellies during my ascent and safety stop. Got some good photos of those. Lots of little moon jellies as well but I couldn't shoot those. Still having trouble with flow through my bypass valve's dosage device. I've switched to the 50% orifice so the problem is more chronic than it seemed at first. I'll try cleaning the whole bypass valve tonight and hopefully it will open it up a bit so I can keep diving this week.


Dive 11 - Moresby Island, Inner Low Rock, QCI


This is a night dive. I'm sitting this out to work on cleaning the orifices of my bypass valve that seemed to be clogged. Hopefully a good soak in vinegar will do the trick, we'll see tomorrow.




There's pretty much a gale blowing this morning, there's 3 meter seas just around the corner and horizontal rain looking through the windows. Yes, there's still diving to do?! At this point I've seen enough plumose anemone, sea stars and cucumbers to last the rest of the trip, I'll sit back in the warmth of the boat with about a half dozen others who'd rather watch then get wet in these conditions. We're supposed to pull anchor this afternoon and head north out of the weather front, we'll see if mother nature is cooperative.  As we sit here at anchor the big boat is pushed around like a cupee doll tied to a car antenna on the highway. Oh, we're having some real adventure now!


Dive 12 - Moresby Island, Bush Rock, QCI


While I have reassembled my bypass valve and the flow rate appears to be higher then before cleaning it, I'll wait for a little calmer conditions to see if the cleaning last night did the trick.

… divers returning from this dive say it was the best one yet. It figures this is the one I sit out today. Hopefully we'll go back there later today.


Dive 13 - Moresby Island, Inner Lower Rock, QCI - 70ft, 57min


A pretty nondescript dive, much like the others. Nikki took her camera down for the first time and was very excited. I'm glad she finally got it into the water to see it's not as hard as she thought it was going to be. Leave it to Nikki to find an octopus and a giant nudibranch to shoot with her first camera experience, she did great!


There was a beach walk tonight near the old mining town with the option of a mud dive under the boat, I passed on both and got cleaned up, refilled rebreather tanks, changed scrubber and pretty much got everything ready for whatever tomorrow brings.




I awaken to the engines starting up around quarter of seven. This could only mean the weather has changed again and Mike is going to make a run for it. At 7am we pull anchor and head for open water. We have about a seven or eight hour crossing ahead of us. No one is looking forward to this.


By 9am we're in open seas and no one is happy, I'm feeling a little queasy as well. Many passengers have already taken a variety of motion sickness meds. I'm going to try and tough it out, I've never used motion sickness meds yet. I'm going go back to bed for a while.


Ok, by noon everyone's out. I decide to take someone's advice and try a couple of gravols. About 30 minutes later I go back to bed again. The meds are working and I'm asleep in no time.


Dive 14 - Seaforth Channel, North of Seymour Inlet - 80ft, 57min


Wreck of the North Sea. Nice dive, not too much life here but we drop right on top of the rudder assembly. Not much left but it's pretty easy to recognize the giant hinges and plates of this relic from the past. There are other rusty plates laying about, none too easily recognizable. Nikki found a bottle of some kind, like a small medicine bottle, but left it since it was full of critters.  There are nice boulders here, but otherwise fairly barren. After the dive some of the aquarium folks said they found 3 wolf eels. Hopefully I'll find one or more before this trip is over.


After the dive we pull anchor and head out again for the next site further south.




We've been steaming all night towards Seymour Inlet for a couple of dives today. We're supposed to do Outer Narrows and the famous Nakwakto Rapids. Should be nice to be on these walls again. Good close-up and macro opportunities here. We're anchored at the site of the old Seymour Inlet floating dive lodge. It's so pretty here, it's too bad the old lodge burned down and has yet to be rebuilt.


Dive 15 - Outer Narrows, Seymour Inlet - 81ft, 39min


What a beautiful dive! This is what BC diving is all about. This wall is covered in multitudes of life. Soft corals, anemone, giant barnacles, little fish, big fish, kelp, mussels. Like the energizer bunny, it keeps going and going and going …  Unfortunately Nikki had to abort as soon as she got in the water, she left her dry suit zipper open. This was a great drift / wall dive, probably the best dive for me on this trip so far. I wish we could stay here for a few days, but a storm is coming in so we're pulling anchor again and running for Stubbs Island to get across the last bit of open ocean before the storm hits.


Dive 16 - Plumper Rock, Stubbs Island area - 110ft, 42min


Another beautiful drift dive. The current was strong but manageable. Saw lots of orange peel nudibranchs, giant barnacles, greenlings, rock fish and more. The water was the clearest yet of all the dives. Another very nice dive.


We pull into Alert Bay for the night. After dinner the entertainment options are a dock dive under the boat or to go into town in the rain to one of a couple of pubs. Those that go into town choose the one where you don't have to sit with your back to wall to avoid getting bonked on the head by a beer bottle. They return with stories of a very drunken local with a couple of teeth hitting on anyone who could by him another beer.


Dive 17 - Alert Bay Ferry Dock


The dock divers come up filled with the satisfaction of notching yet another dive under their belts for the trip. Not much for specimens collected though.




In order to provide 3 dives today our first dive option is to again dive under the boat at the dock. There's a prize autographed book from Andy to whoever brings up the most interesting treasure from the dive. Those not diving are invited to wonder into town for a last minute shopping spree for trinkets.


Dive 18 - Bottle dive under the boat


Again those returning are non-descript about their adventures down under the dock. Lauren comes up with a porcelain plate and will surely be the winner of Andy's coveted book. Someone has brought up a decorated war bonnet and a couple of mossy head war bonnets. They're pretty cool looking too. Time to cast off and head for Stubbs Island for our last couple of dives for the trip. This has been a long trip, in the future I'm going to limit these to 6 or 7 days, 10 day trips are just too long with too much travel vs just parking in the Port Hardy area and enjoying the beautiful diving around here.


Dive 19 - Stubbs Island - 87ft, 48min


Another beautiful dive. The water was gin clear, viz had to be 50ft or better. This is the first dive where I didn't take my camera on purpose. I figured I'd just plutz around and enjoy the dive, which I did. I helped Nikki a little with her camera but pretty much just hung around and enjoyed the marine life. The water felt very cold, but my computer showed 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Everyone agreed that this was a colder than usual dive.


One more dive after this and that's it for this trip. We're heading to Walt's Wall in a few hours to dive at slack. This afternoon there's the option of and inter-tidal walk with the biologists, or my favorite, nap time. Tonight we have a sit down dinner as it's our last dinner of the trip. Instead of being a formal dinner everyone is coming in bathrobes. It will be fun to what folks wear under their bathrobes.


Dive 20 - Walt's Wall - 101ft, 49min


ANOTHER great dive! The viz was in excess of 50 feet, the wall was covered in life. Lots of great basket stars, many vary-colored anemones, greenlings, ling cods. Of coarse there was a very large octopus that I missed! I noticed I was having trouble breathing, I think my divesorb is spent but with this being the last dive I didn't want to change it. For some reason my mix if much thinner than I calculated, it tests out at 37% instead of 43%. Either I spend my safety stop on the bailout bottle and the hypercapnia symptoms subside pretty quickly.


After our last we dive, we try something new. For the last dinner on the boat instead of buffet style herding through the food line, we have a sit down meal served by the crew of plank smoked salmon, squash and rice. To top it off, we are dressed in fluffy white robes to "formalize" the meal. What a great way to spend the last night. After dinner many of the passenger head up to the hot tub desk and try to break the record for most folks in the tub. They get to nine, but are one short of the record. What blast this boat is.


While tonight is going splendidly, overall there's a pretty strong consensus that the trip as whole was too long with too much travel time wasted when we could have been diving.  The diving the last 2 days in Seymour inlet, Port Hardy and Stubbs Island has been spectacular. Everyone wishes we had spent more time in this area. Mike is seriously considering scratching next year's QCI trip because from a host perspective there's too much at risk with sea condition and weather so variable this time of year.


I made a suggestion of a 6 or 7 day trip straight to the Transpac, dive there for a day then start skipping our way back down the Inside Passage through Hakai Pass, Seymour Inlet,, etc as described earlier and everyone said they would definitely do that if it became available.  This would allow much more dive time with the only open ocean crossing a 3 hour spread past Cape Caution.




I wake up early eager to get packed so I can enjoy the final ride into port. The sun is out, the seas are calm and it's simply a stunning day. Too bad we couldn't have had more like this during the past week.  One more breakfast, one more sit around the table retelling stories of the past 20 dives.


After breakfast Mike brings down his laptop from the wheelhouse and says he's canceling next year's trip and wants to know if we 'd like to book a custom trip right there right now. Everyone says YES and the trip becomes a reality just like. So next year from May 22-29, Saturday to Saturday, we're off to Butedale to dive the Transpac and other sites in that area, then skip our way back down through the Inside Passage for some of the best cold water diving in the world!  Even the aquarium folks are invited back to torment us again. Of the 20 available spots, Mike fills over half of them before we reach port to disembark.


My only regret is I have to wait a year to go back :-(


Postscript -


So when I finally get home my package from Delta P that was supposed to be delivered before the trip is waiting for me. It contains the logging software to download the dives from my VR3 to my PC to be saved forever for posterity.  I connect everything per the instructions, install the software from the CD, and try to download all my logs from a trip I will not soon repeat. The link is established and the VR3 promptly hangs hard without downloading a single dive. I try changing out of the download screen, pushing each of the buttons in every possible configuration without luck. As a last ditch effort I try to taking out the battery to reset the computer. The computer resets all right, and promptly flushes every dive and every setting it's accumulated since I purchased it in February. *poof*  With this fiasco and drowning of my Uwatec computer I have no logs of the dives I did other than what's written above. And I thought I was through being sea sick ...


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