I ask you, what is the point, really?
Not exactly the kind of conditions that I was looking for to try out my new wide angle lens. Still, one must make the best of what one is given. At least, this is what I try and convince myself everyday when I get up in the morning. So, I went diving.
When most people think of scuba diving, they think of crystal clear waters shimmering under a bright, clear blue sky. The sun will be beaming down on the surface of the gently undulating aquamarine waters, small ripples dancing across the glittering interface between air and water. A couple of dolphins will be playfully leaping in the near distance and a turtle will be paddling right underneath the boat as you drop silently into the warm waters and sink below the enveloping liquid. As you drop into this new world, you will be delighted by the myriad of fish around you, flashing their gay colours of reds, yellows, oranges and blues. A manta ray will glide by with the supreme grace of a creature at one with its environment and a clown fish will nip playfully at your fingers as you explore this fascinating aquatic realm. You will glide effortlessly through the water with a slight flick of your fins. You will move around this three dimensional space with the grace and ease of a mermaid. You will relax, be at peace and be one with your watery surroundings. Once the dive draws to a close, you will float to the surface, where a pair of bronzed, muscled arms will descend from the boat to retrieve your gear and you will climb the ladder, elegantly, effortlessly, your blond hair falling down your shoulders, your curvaceous body being revealed in all its glory by that skin tight wetsuit that fits you like a glove...............enough, enough! I can stand it no longer. It is time to face reality.
If you have never gone diving before, the description above may be what springs to your mind when I say that I went diving this weekend. Well, you could not be much further from the truth. You really have no idea about the hassle that is involved in this "sport". I am surprised that anybody ever actually does get in the water, especially in the cold, murky waters found around the great Pacific Northwest. Here, the sky is more likely to be a miserable grey. The water is usually more like pea soup than blue liquid sky. And it is never, ever warm. Never believe anyone when they say "It's quite warm, actually" They are lying and that is all there is to it. Before entering this dark, hostile, and oh-so-cold domain, one has to be prepared. First of all, we need to try and ensure that we don't turn blue and hypothermic within three minutes of entering the water. This requires layers, lots of bulky layers. I start off with some good old fashioned thermal underwear. So far, so good - nice and black and sleek. Then comes the weezle - think down sleeping bag with arms and legs. Hmmmm, if you ever had a figure, it is rapidly disappearing at this point. Next, we go for the large, heavily reinforced, black garbage bag, also with arms and legs, that we call a drysuit. It has really tight seals around the wrist and neck that you have to force your head and hands through. It takes quite a bit of effort and generally feels like a baby probably feels as its head passes through the birth canal on its way into this wonderful world of ours. Once the suit is zipped up, you feel like the Michelin man - even Kate Moss looks fat in one of these! Now we are well on our way with the gear, but we must not forget our heads and our hands - wouldn't want them freezing off during a dive, would we? So, we have a neoprene hood that blocks all sound from reaching your eardrum - there is a lot of shouting "What?" right before a dive. Then there are the gloves, which, once you have them on, prevent most kinds of digital manipulation except poking, you can still do that.
Now we are ready to hit the water - oh no, wait. We need to sling 30lbs of lead around our waist to ensure that we sink and then we need to add a bouyancy device to ensure that we float. We then need some air. Air is light, right? Yes, it is, but unfortunately it takes up a lot of space. To get lots of it into a small space, you need to squish it up. To contain it in this small space you need very strong containers, generally made of aluminium or steel. So, slap a couple of those on our backs and away we go. Very, very slowly. I dive with two small tanks, weight approximately 55lbs. Mr. DBM and Cortes dive with two large tanks, weight approximately 80lbs. Add to that the weight of the belt and all the other crap that we are forced to carry and you are looking at about 100lbs for me and 125lbs for the boys. Bloody hell, no wonder I take half an hour to walk 100 yards to the beach! As I walk, I rattle and clang and ping and ring as my gear dangles from every available O-ring. I have a light (it is quite dark, down there), two regulators to breath from (I need an extra one just in case the first one stops working right when I need it i.e. underwater) an air gauge, (so that I know if I am about to die horribly from a lack of air), fins, so that I can move my monstrous bulk through the water, a mask so that I can see all of five feet and don't forget the camera, snug in its little housing, weighing about another 20lbs. Oh yes, I love this sport, I love it to death.
One of the best parts of diving is when you first enter the water and as the water gently lifts the weight off your back you sigh a small sigh of relief. Excellent, I made it to the water without suffering a massive heart attack or a stroke and I didn't face plant or fall over backwards, never to be able to right myself again, on the way down here. The next task is to fight with your fins for a few minutes trying to get them on to your feet. This is more difficult than it might at first appear, since all that underwear and drysuit etc make it quite difficult to bend in the middle, making it hard to reach one's feet. Some of us have a hard time reaching our feet on the surface let alone in the water and so have to seek assistance - thank god for the patience of Mr. DBM! One last final check - hood? gloves? mask? fins? lights on? reg in mouth? and down we go.
Once the dive is over, we have to do everything in reverse, only this is even harder. Everything is cold and wet and even heavier. It was downhill going to the beach, we now have to haul our arses and all our gear up the hill. Bugger. Getting out of the neck seal of the suit is even harder than getting it on - can you imagine trying to push that baby back up the birth canal? And all your little hairs get stuck in the seal and your neck gets an epilady treatment it really didn't want. And the glamour of it all......
Hair sticking every way possible, like a crazed hedgehog that has recently encountered a creosote impregnated fence, glued into place by congealing salt rather than saliva. A giant banana slug of a bogey hanging off your face. A mask imprint that stays there for the next two weeks so that you get those sidelong glances from the cashier at your local bank, you know the ones, the "What on earth have you been doing, oh no, hang on, I really don't want to know" kind of glances. Your hands are so cold that you can't get any zips or buttons undone, which is a real shame because you need to pee as though you haven't peed for two weeks and you are standing next to Niagara Falls after drinking eight pints of watery lager. Perhaps you can now understand why I am not always as enthusiastic as I could be about "getting wet."
But why do we ever brave the icy, dark, murky waters, the tons of equipment and the mask full of snot? Jacques-Yves Cousteau deemed our west coast waters as the second best dive destination in the entire world, second only to the Red Sea, for diversity of marine life and water clarity. Obviously, he didn't actually go diving off the coast of Vancouver, but he did have a fair point. The diving around here, particularly as you head further north is splendid. OK, so you have to be patient to see it and the weather, water and visibility don't always cooperate and you do have to work very hard to even get in the water, let alone out again, but the rewards out there are worth it all. How many people can say that they have come face to face with the mysterious six-gilled shark? How many people have played tug-of-war with the world's largest octopus, where they have been the rope - luckily for me, Mr. DBM won since octopi bore very quickly. How many people can claim to have been given hickies by an octopus? How many people have watched the world's largest starfish glide across the ocean floor at record breaking speeds (for a starfish, that is). How many people have watched wolf eels devour a sea urchin right in front of their eyes or had one follow them around on a dive just like a puppy (although not quite as cute as a puppy). How many people have had a seal trailing along behind them, hanging onto their fin, just for fun - it was fun, for a while, but it did get a bit tiring, dragging the damn thing around all dive. How many people have been buzzed by sea lions and encircled by playful dolphins? How many people have sat on the ocean floor at 140ft, looking up at the sun shining down through the water, being surrounded by sponges the size of VW Beetles and gorgonian fan corals the size of tables? Another dive not done around Vancouver! The life is just amazing. It is prolific, it is big, and it is so unexpected. Sponges and corals, giant sea slugs and clams, enormous anemones and jellyfish, octopus and sea squirts, huge orange and purple crabs and tiny communal anemones that shine like jewels. Basket stars and feather stars, brittle stars and sea stars. I could go on and I haven't even started on the vertebrate life or all the sunken warships that have been deliberately sent to their watery graves to provide new homes for even more creatures of this Emerald Sea. But does that give you some idea why we torture ourselves in such a heinous fashion every time we kit up for a dive?
Anyhoo, I did dive this weekend and despite the poor visibility, I did find few critters that were worth a shot or two. Here are my best, if not spectacular, efforts. Enjoy..........
Here we have some sunflower stars - largest and fastest of the world's starfish - plus a leather star in the foreground.
This is a quillback rockfish, desperately hoping that I will ignore him and move away very soon.
More sunflower stars, doing their best to ensure that no other life is left in their wake.
At the end of the dive, we did see two very lovely seals playing around us, but I was too busy reacquainting myself with my breakfast to take photos - I know, I know, the photos should take priority, but I have my limits!
Question to self - why on earth did I copyright the snotty photo? Who on earth would want to steal that one? If anyone does, go ahead, help yourself!