August 11th -16th, 2010

I've been wanting to dive the Pacific Northwest for several years now, and this was the year that I got to do it. Along with my dive buddy Tim Stilwell from Iowa, I trekked two suitcases full of coldwater dive gear, and one 33 pound underwater camera system to the other side of the continent in search of the "Emerald Sea". We would stay at a 'dive resort' at the northern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Browning Pass Hideaway is owned by John DeBoeck, a regional legend who is widely know as the most knowlegeable sea captain and dive guide on the western coast of Canada. His passion is putting divers in the water at his favorite sites and doing it at excactly at the right time. All of the diving in this region is subject to the tides. You can only dive most of these sites at slack tide, the short window of opportunity between flood tide and ebb tide. This is when the waters slow down enough that divers (especially ones with cameras) can safely enjoy the dive. On many of our dives the beginning of the dive we would be going North on the ebb tide and halfway through our dive the drift would change back to the South and the beginning of the flood tide would take us back the way we had come. All the while John is on the surface watching our bubbles, and diligantly keeping track of where everyone is like a mother hen. When you are down to 7 or 8 hunderd pounds of air in your bottle you head for the surface and begin your safety stop. If you are at a site where you are near the Pacific Bull Kelp you can hang out and look for little crabs or small Cross Jellyfish near the surface. John picks you back up in the dive skiff wherever you may pop up once you remember to give him the diver OK signal. Because all dives are centered around slack tide, we generally will only do one dive from the skiff, then go back to the Hideaway for a delicious homecooked meal. Dives will typically have about 3 hours between them, and there is always time to get some food or a nap before suiting back up and taking your place on the skiff for another dive. We did 3 dives a day as a rule, sometimes 4. Water temps ranged from low to mid 40's F.,and vis stayed pretty steady around a hazy 25 ft. If you are shooting macro, none of this really matters though. All the dives are a 'free ascent' meaning that there is no anchor line to come up but you usually will have a life encrusted wall to use as a visual reference if you need it and often times the kelp serves as a line to hold onto if your buoancy is not right or you don't want to drift in the current. Depths range from surface to past 150 feet, (the pass is an average of 1300 feet deep) but the best zones are between 50 and 90 as this is where the largest variety of life can be found, as well as better vis below 40-50 feet. I found it a good mix of benefits to keep my dives 50 to 80 feet to conserve on gas and make the most of my all too short stay in this wildly beautiful place. Rides to and from the sites are short as the Hideaway is perfectly placed in a calm and protected bay on Nigei Island, just minutes from all the best sites. While traveling to our sites we routinely saw more than one American Bald Eagle, Sea lions, Kingfishers, and on the last day the fluke of a mother Humpback Whale. One also needs to keep an eye out for the ever possible Orca or Whitesided Dolphin sighting. Under the water many of the dives are on immense vertical walls that are covered in layer upon layer of every conceivable form of life. As you slide by this kaleidoscope of life on the gentle slack current you can look down and watch the wall fade away into the darkness. The water is the most incredible green and it only takes one dive to see why the region has been coined the "Emerald Sea". The proliferation of life here is staggering, from the forests of giant Plumose Anemones to the huge schools of Rockfish that play in the kelp. Decorator and Hermit Crabs are everywhere, as are other larger creatures such as Ling Cod, Puget Sound King Crabs, Octopuss, and Lions' Mane Jellyfish. Though I did not get the chance to be greeted underwater by a Sea Lion, I did manage to check off nearly all of the creatures on my 'need to see' list, with the exception of the Wolf Eel, with the face only a mother could love, but my dive buddy Tim did get to see one for me on one of the many dives we unintentionally separated due to both of us being so glued to our cameras' viewfinders.

In summary, my nine day trip was really more an oddyssey than a trip. I learned so much about the flora and fauna both above and below the water from such incredibly nice local people who were only too willing to enhance my visit to this diverse ecosystem with vivid stories and insightful information about the things I was seeing through my lens. A stay at the Hideaway is a life changing event for some I would think. It was for me. I wanted to dive and what I got was simply the best diving the BC area has to offer by perhaps the best guide to ever ply it's waters. This is what was told to me by everybody that I met that was a local, both in town and at the Hideaway. John, would never claim these things though. I found him to be most humble, and patient. He is always at a loss for words when a diver comes up from a great dive and says, "John, that was incredible, thanks!" His position is this: "I didn't carve out these underwater canyons and plant the anemones, I just nail the slack occasionally".

I didn't have a single bad dive, and it was worth every penny. One word sums it all up. Go.