I arrived in Port Hardy, BC plenty early! My new dive buddy Ken showed up a little later after his morning Campbell River dive and we wondered about in search of a coffee shop. We managed to finally find what was probably the only coffee shop in town, and it was quite the happening place. As I was ordering I looked over and recognized our trip and photography workshop leader Richard Salas from his photos on social media, so we walked over and introduced ourselves and immediately received a big welcoming hug! It was the beginning of a full week of warmth and gratitude!
God’s Pocket is a Marine Provincial Park up north out of Port Hardy, BC that many say is amongst the best (if not THE BEST) cold water diving in the world! While this was my first trip to God’s Pocket Dive Resort, several divers were returning patrons. The resort recently sold so there was some apprehension and curiosity as to whether the new owners would be able to live up to the expectations. In the end, I would say the crew took it up a notch based on all the accolades.
The crew at God’s Pocket consisted of one of the best captains I’ve had the privilege to dive with, Captain Al Spilde. He and his Viking first mate (aka - deck hand, dive master, self-proclaimed tank bitch, lumberjack of Sweden) Sten Johansson made for a phenomenal team! They ensured we had the best dives given the ever-changing conditions, provided us with a wealth of knowledge about the area and simply made it FUN! Tanya, Janice and Becky handled the details on land to ensure our stay was special! Nutritionally…. We had fabulous never-ending food!
We lucked out and had some incredible October weather with a big bright ball of warm generating light in the sky by day and the brillance of the Milky Way by night. The visibility at the various dive sites ranged from 25 – 50+ feet at times (depending on site and current). Captain Al had several dive sites up his sleeves, including some new sites as well. If one site was not meeting his expectations for dive conditions, he had a backup site ready to go!
Oh…and the boat elevator!! You stood with your fins on a platform that lifted you up out of the water like an elevator! The sudden weight of the world hit you as gravity took hold but what an easy way to end a dive with all that gear!
We made 3 dives each day and had the option to night dive as well. It was hard for me to find time to review my photographs, attend the workshop and go night diving! However, a group of us managed to pull off one evening dive and it was a special treat.
WOW – I was diving with some amazing photographers!! I was way behind the curve compared to the others. Many had previously attended Richards workshops – I was the rookie needing some basic guidance! It was like being back at art school… only now how to apply it all to my underwater photography.
For this trip, I committed to using my wide-angle lens all but the last day. That alone was a huge challenge for me. After the first day and some one-on-one with Richard reviewing the basics of lighting, I committed to using my strobes on manual. Yes, Billy Ball…I finally did it! Frustrating trying to learn how to turn the strobes up, down, and all around underwater!! The rest of the week I could hear Richard in my head underwater as I prepped every shot “where are your strobes positioned?” I’ve never manipulated those strobes more! After a full day of diving we’d go into the “club house” and show some of our work. Richard would make suggestions and recommendations to get you thinking about ways to approach a shot like that in the future. It was so helpful to see how the others approached their shots and to listen to Richards thoughts, ideas and various techniques. I left with strobe arm length envy, not lens envy. Thank goodness since that will be cheaper! The workshops were worthwhile to me! I have a new objective now and that will keep me challenging myself for some time!
God’s Pocket is a unique and special trip. Not just anyone is willing to spend their vacation up north in the cold waters of British Columbia to work hard, get cold, wet and tired! Only us crazies! My roomie, Elizabeth, coined it “adult adventure camp” and she was so right. I’m ready for a vacation to recover from how hard I work at diving and using new photography techniques! And, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat!
There was such a special bond generated amongst strangers with common passions that resulted in new and wonderful friendships. When I get the RV to Illinois and Minnesota, I hope to have a couple of new dive buddies awaiting!!
Campbell River – British Columbia
Campbell River is a small town located on the east coast of Vancouver Island at the south end of Discovery Passage. My dive buddies made plans to stop on their way to God’s Pocket for a few dives with Earl Lowe of Abyssal Dive Charters and invited me to join them. How could I refuse!! So, I dropped off the RV for some repair work and off I went to catch the Black Ball to Victoria.
Our first site was “Row and Be Damned” which was utterly beautiful and full of color! I could immediately see why Jess and Eric had wanted to return here. The next site was called “Copper Cliffs” and where patina colorations seeped from the rock cliffs where we dropped in. Lastly, we dove “Steep” a small island with quite a flow and an abundance of northern feather duster worm clumps, brooding anemones, and a little candy stripe shrimp. Overall the diving was beautiful, full of color and we were treated with excellent visibility.
Later that evening we joined Earl and his family for dinner at a fabulous little place called the Spice Hut! Great food and kind people - a recipe for a lovely evening!
I woke Sunday feel rather congested, so I decided to check out the nearest drug store and skip the dive as a preventative measure! Although Campbell River diving as well worth the adventure, I had a whole week of diving to do at God’s Pocket that I surely didn’t want to jeopardize. Buddies Keith, Jess and Eric had another amazing dive Sunday AM while I ventured further north to Port Hardy on cold meds.
Next stop…. More bubble therapy at God’s Pocket!
Fields of painted anemones and a sheer wall full of cloud and chimney sponge... a divers delight! That is what you will find up on the Sunshine Coast... even when it snows. While some folks head south for the winter to get warm, others find there way north to Canada for fabulous winter diving. A small club outing took me north over the long weekend to find adventure in Egmont, BC. There I stayed at Strong Water Retreat with Porpoise Bay Charters. Kal and Ann were fantastic! The yurts were warm and comfortable and the underwater topography spectacular! Fish were few and far between - I'm guessing they are smarter than us bubble blowers and headed south for the winter as the water was definitely cold! I heard temperatures between 42°-46° depending on the underwater computer... at least I didn't have to break ice before I jumped in.
My two favorite sites were Boom Islets and Powerline. Boom Islet sits in the middle of the Skookumchuck Narrows right by the world famous Sechelt Rapids with currents running upwards of 17 knots. Some lay claim they are the fastest in the world. Hard to imagine diving there after watching some of the YouTube videos but none the less I did! All those nutrients flowing through the channel make for colorful fields of painted anemones.
My next favorite was Powerline with it's sheer walls full of cloud and chimney sponge putting the measly four I've seen in Hood Canal to shame.
While the fish were few and far between I definitely saw unique species I don't often get to see like Yellow Eye and Tiger Rockfish. Not to mention numerous little Candy Stripe Shrimp to top it off...sweet!
Hard to end a dive, let alone end the trip. If you ever get a chance to dive the breathtaking waters, do so - it is worth the chill!
Pamela Treischel is a SCUBA diving enthusiast, underwater photography hobbyist and Ambassador for the Inland Ocean Coalition. She is currently recovering from a mild traumatic brain injury.