Goin' Deep

By Katie Gerstle |

Saturdays are meant for one thing, and one thing only: Relaxing. What better way to relax than to go diving, a sport that distinguishes its professionals by their ability to take slow, easy breaths and all with minimal exertion? Diving is what Saturdays were made for.

Nikita, Greg and I met at the dive shop at 10AM. Remember, the theme of the day is taking it easy, and as you can already tell, we took this to heart. Within the hour, we were headed out of the shop. However, we had to make a pit stop at McDonald’s. We debriefed over coffee and hash browns in the warm, dry sanctuary of a fast-food booth while the ever-familiar west coast weather poured down outside.

“Divers go deeper!”

“It’s better down where it’s wetter!”

These are only a small sampling of the colourful jokes that Nikita, Greg and I made en route to Whytecliff Park for the fourth and final dive of my Deep Diver Specialty. While these jokes apply to pretty much any form of diving, the innuendo is all the more pronounced when your dive plan involves going past 100 feet. It is also more pronounced when your dive group has the collective maturity of a prepubescent teenager.

The rain let up somewhat when we arrived at the parking lot. We chose the far end of the lot to decrease the amount of time (and effort! It’s Saturday, remember) that it would take to get from our vehicles, Greg’s epic Defender and my trustworthy Subaru, down to the dive site of choice, The Cut.

I borrowed a backplate BCD for this dive. I’m slowly feeling more and more like a child in an oversized snowsuit when I wear jacket-style BCDs (don’t kid yourself, we all undoubtedly rocked those brightly-colored suits back in the day). Since we’ll be slinging pony bottles today, I’ll need the extra space and arm mobility that Karen’s doughnut-shaped BCD allows. Finally geared up and zipped up, we began the trek downwards. We stopped at the picnic tables halfway, mostly for Greg’s sake. The man thought it was a good idea to haul twin aluminum tanks down the steep, slippery staircase that would eventually lead us to the water’s edge. Lunacy, I know (but don’t worry, he’s been going to the gym with Nikita). Pre-dive safety check? Check. Here we go.

Relief came in the form of finally getting into the ocean and getting buoyant. The darn pony bottle was throwing off my balance on the slippery rocks (whoop-dee-doo, the tide was out!) and those stairs aren’t the very forgiving in the rain. “Ready boys?” I asked once we were all floating comfortably in about 20 feet of water. “Á la plongée!” came Nikita’s excited reply, and down we went. Down, down, down we descended along the steep sloping bottom of the Cut. Daylight faded as we progressed, and it became harder to see Nikita’s fins ahead of me in the growing darkness. I got into a good rhythm right away: Check dive computer for depth, check BCD and drysuit for buoyancy, equalize your ears. Depth, buoyancy, equalize. Every cycle brought me another 5 feet closer to our target depth. At 100 feet, I began to slow my descent. Then, at 110 feet, my computer confirmed that we were crawling the last few feet to avoid overshooting our mark at 125 feet. Just as we’d planned. Narcosis slowed my mind right down, but I managed to complete the gas-switching skill, and we began to ascend, skirting along our no-decompression limits. The delicate bodies of cloud sponges (Aphrocallistes vastus) glowed ivory white and golden yellow in the beam of our lights. Massive tanner crabs (Chionoecetes bairdi) adorned the walls of the Cut, arm in arm with their mates. We had obviously intruded on a special moment, so we stayed for only a brief minute before carrying on.

Wait… where’s Greg?

Nikita and I were so fascinated by the crabs that we’d lost our divemaster-in-training in the gloom that persists at 70 feet. As per our dive plan, we would search for each other for a minute before heading to the surface. Fortunately, we found Greg’s dive light beam within about 15 seconds of our search (or perhaps it was closer to 30 seconds? With narcosis on the brain, who knows). As a group, we began to make our way back up the sloping bottom, and eventually make an extended safety stop at 15 feet.

To pass the time, we practiced setting off our SMBs, or, as our inner 12-year-old selves enjoy calling them, safety sausages. However, when simulating an extended safety stop, perhaps when one is low on air and every breath is precious, we practiced filling the SMBs with our exhaled bubbles. We did this while holding onto a reel so that the sausage didn’t shoot off, while our hands were cold and fumbly because they were in gloves, plus we were trying to maintain buoyancy in shallow water…. Needless to say, it was an interesting sight to witness (I’m sure Nikita had a good chuckle into his regulator), but Greg and I managed to send off a sausage each. We surfaced, smiled, and gave a few whoops of joy after a successful dive.

Now, for the real challenge: The stairs (clearly, the folks who built these steps didn’t get the memo about Saturdays and diving).

Again, we stopped at the picnic table. A few other divers we had passed on the way up pointed to Greg’s twins with their mouths open, and for good reason. Greg looked like he was about to keel over by the time we reached the tables; I also felt like I was wearing twice as much weight as when we went in. Nikita was totally fine, by the way. Exhausted, but glad to have completed the dive without any major problems, we high-fived, fist-bumped, and then someone suggested burgers. We hit up Troll’s in Horseshoe Bay, and not a word was spoken after our food came out. Nothing quite hits the spot after a cold-water dive like a big greasy cheeseburger with fries.

Feeling had begun to return to our fingers with tea in our hands and food in our bellies. All three of us were happy to once again be back in a warm booth looking out at the grey skies of Howe Sound. Even with the weather, the coast couldn’t have looked more perfect at that moment. I looked out at the boardwalks and boats in the bay, and at the rain-pelted water they sat in. All I could think was, “Wow. I was nearly 12 stories under that.”

Until next time!

Yours sincerely,