Canada - Diving Nanaimo by Rachel Adkins
In August 1999 my husband and I (Nevil and Rachel Adkins), spent three weeks in Canada, firstly visiting friends in the Calgary area and then setting forth on our own to explore. We had heard good things about diving off Vancouver Island and so we decided to try it for ourselves. We flew from Calgary to Vancouver, picked up a hire car at the airport and crossed the channel to Vancouver Island by ferry. This has got to be the most spectacular ferry crossing I have ever taken with every twist of the route revealing wonderful new views. We arrived late at night in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island and checked in at the Buccaneer Inn (www.thebuccaneerinn.com), despite turning up without having made any reservation or calling ahead. The inn is run by Dave Ilyn and Marlene Peaker whom we found friendly and willing to impart vast amounts of information about the Island. The motel was newly renovated at that time and the room we had featured a double bedroom and a well equipped lounge/kitchenette for the very reasonable rate of CAN$80 per night (although expect to pay a bit more than that now). The Inn is within walking distance of some excellent restaurants and there is even a British run cafèôt the top of the hill (a short drive) that serves an excellent cooked breakfast.
Yes, yes but what about the diving I hear you ask? We had heard of Ocean Explorers Diving (www.oceanexplorersdiving.com) through a number of sources so the next day this is where we went. Located a few minutes walk from the Buccaneer, on entering Ocean Explorers we were greeted by helpful, friendly staff and at that time they did have dry suits to rent. Yippee! The water was a mild 10C and certainly not what we were used to. I trained in a dry suit in the Lake District, UK and Nevil is a very experienced cold water diver but since we had lived in Oman for two years prior to this holiday, it had been a while and I did feel rusty. Dry suits do take more maintenance and the school was phasing out the hire of dry suits, so check in advance what can be hired now. We booked some dives and discovered the arrangement Buccaneers has with Ocean Explorers Diving (www.divingbc.com/dive_package.htm) - there was a package price.
There was plenty to do in the area for the non-diver. We had three days of exploring the Island; walking, Orca watching (www.seafun.com - their 28' 350hp RIB is capable of 46kts!) and bear spotting and then our diving days began. Our diving was done from a relatively small hard boat capable of taking four or maybe six divers. We were briefed by the skipper on where to go during the dive and what we could expect to see and then were allowed to get on and dive without being escorted by a divemaster. The first dive was on the wreck of the HMCS Saskatchewan (www.divingbc.com/saskatchewan.htm). She was a 110-metre ex-Canadian Navy destroyer escort, purposely sunk in June 1997. The wreck lay in 12-40 metres of water and was about a 10-minute ride away from the dock. The Saskatchewan had been extensively prepared for diver access and this made it feel safer. The visibility was good with just a waft of a current and life was beginning to take hold although it still had a feeling of being a ship underwater rather than a real reef; I would like to go back in a few years to see the growth then.
The second dive was off the bird sanctuary of Snake Island (www.divingbc.com/nanaimo.htm). The dive starts with a gentle slope from the bouldery shore to about 20 metres and then the wall dive starts, plunging vertically to well over 200 metres, although we only explored down to about 30m. I was stunned by the beautiful display of cloud sponges and plumose anemones. At the end of the dive we came up into the shallows to watch the curious harbour seals who would creep up behind you then swim away if spotted too close.
Our first day of diving was enough to lure me back for another despite the cold water temperatures. The following day we dived the same sites except this time it was easier to relax and have a better look around as I felt more at ease in my dry suit. On the third day I was keen to see somewhere else so we were taken to a wall dive on Gabriola Island (www.divingbc.com/gabriola.htm). This was more like a night dive than a day dive as it very quickly became dark. Glad of our torches we saw plenty of anemones, sponges and worms. A common fish we spotted on most of our dives was the rat fish. We had a third buddy on this dive who was in a wet suit. As the dive progressed his breathing rate increased and we had to surface before we were ready after only 24 minutes. This is something to watch out for with buddies you don't know, who may be in unfamiliar kit and in conditions you are not used to.
Our second dive that day was at Neck Point. This dive has two resident wolf eels who will happily come out to say hello. Our skipper drew us a map and told us we couldn't miss them. Well it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. We didn't see the wolf eels but we did see giant nudibranches and lots of other small creatures hiding amongst the weeds and boulders on the bottom. Not put off by the previous day, we were asked the next morning if we would still like to see the wolf eels. A frequent diver with Ocean Explorers was over for the weekend, she knew the site well and needed diving companions. This was much better as Barb lead us straight to where the eels live. Elly the female eel was incredibly friendly. She seemed to enjoy being stroked and played with. Eli, the male was less keen to come out of his hole but he did pose for a photograph or two.
Our final dive was at Clarke Rock, a dual pinnacle site ranging from 3 to 30 metres. A bouldery bottom led us to two octopus, all kinds of starfish, rock fish, rat fish, crabs crinoids, nudibranchs and a functioning digital watch!
We thoroughly enjoyed our time on Vancouver Island, both above and below the water. If you are interested in finding out more about diving off Vancouver Island, I suggest that you start off on the given web-sites or contact
the Buccaneer Inn:
1577 Stewart Avenue Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada V9S 4E3
Tel: (250) 753-1246 Fax: (250) 753-0507
Rachel Adkins (now Dive Leader, Club Instructor)
Nevil Adkins (now First Class Diver, National Instructor)