As a solo sailor, my husband Larry Roberts took a Scuba course, thinking it would be a handy way to solve some underwater hull problems on Traversay II. I came along as a dive buddy, and when the time came to build Traversay III, we had already made at least 70 dives together in both warm and cold water. We’d taken advanced PADI courses, marine creature identification courses and we’d taken dive charters on other people’s boats.
So in building Traversay III, we knew we wanted to be able to dive almost anywhere we could anchor safely. We had a list of necessities, which were communicated to and understood by Waterline Yachts in Sidney, BC, and they made us not only a marvelous dive boat, but a wonderful all-round steel vessel. Much of our equipment room is taken up with the Bauer dive compressor and storage bins for both warm and cold water dive gear. The aft port hatch of the boat is left open when we’re filling tanks to cool the compressor. We ensure ‘safe air’ by drawing air in from outside. The stern of the boat was designed to expedite getting in and out of the water, and an over-long swim ladder allows us to climb up more easily – even when wearing heavy, cold water dry-suits. We always need to be able to clean the gear and ourselves with fresh water, so there’s a shower installed next to the swim platform. We needed to have an electrically-powered compressor inside the boat to avoid seawater damage. Because of the high starting loads for a conventional Bauer compressor, we needed 3-phase power and a gen-set. All the way along, we’ve needed to keep ‘spares’ aboard. We always carry a spare dive regulator. We get tanks and regulators checked and serviced regularly. We keep accurate records to ensure the compressor filter is changed on a scheduled basis.
All along we have purchased our dry-suits from BC manufacturers. My current suit was made by Brooks in Vancouver, and it fits perfectly and has made diving (now in my 8th decade) possible and even enjoyable in cold water. They ensured a perfect fit by taking about 15 different measurements!
Practically from the start of our diving we found a marine identification course and books about diving in BC waters. Our teachers were Andy Lamb (co-author of ‘Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest’) and Donna Gibbs of the Vancouver Aquarium. We have continued to purchase marine identification books (where available) throughout our travels.
Our first camera – the Nikonos – came with a series of lenses, so deciding how big a lens to use on each dive was important, because lenses couldn’t be changed in the water. Sometimes, after deciding we needed a small-scale lens to photograph tiny things we encountered, we saw a large and beautiful fish called a Red Irish Lord. The entire fish wouldn’t fit into the frame, so Larry was left only photographing the eye. This fish was most accommodating (by never moving) and its eye turned out to provide amazing colours, in a kaleidoscopic paisley-patterned print. We’ve found that the colours underwater in cold-water venues (like Patagonia and BC) are among the most varied and spectacular in the whole world.
Before we set offshore in 2004, digital photography had become the standard and we were able to get excellent cameras for our many above ground photos and – with an added camera housing – beautiful underwater photos as well. We find it easier (and cheaper) to have one camera for most of our photos. We started out with the Nikon 5700, and in 2009 we switched to a Canon Power Shot SX10 (also with an underwater housing). These cameras allow you to adapt the lenses to fit the subject while you’re underwater. For cold (and dark) waters, we have an auxiliary flash attachment.
Ever since we first started documenting our dives nearly 500 dives ago, we’ve used accompanying photos. After every single dive, we have filled out our log books and we’ve made an attempt to identify the species or at least the genus into which these animals fit. Of course, we don’t only take the spectacular-looking animals, but many ‘homely’ animals have also found their way into our dive logs.
Because of our curiosity about even the ‘homely’ animals we see, we’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk to some professionals in the field. Our first marine identification teacher was Andy Lamb, who subsequently authored the diver’s guide to marine animals of the west coast of North America. In Stanley in the Falkland Islands, I was waiting at a bus stop and got a ride into town with Dr. Paul Brickle. He happened to be leading a group of divers and marine biologists who were completing an underwater survey of the area. He helped me by identifying some of the many animals whose pictures we’d taken in Chilean Patagonia. We exchanged photos and information. In Antarctica, we met some of the scientists and divers studying krill, nudibranchs and other animals and we found out how different it is diving in extremely low temperatures (those in BC waters are quite cold enough for us at 9C – 48F).
At times, we have also been able to supply people we’ve met with an idea they might otherwise not have, of the wonders to be found in the waters below them. This happened in Raivavae (Austral Islands) when I made a small silk purse, which displayed the colours of one of the large and endangered giant clams. I exchanged this with a friend on the Island, who made me a large straw hand-crafted purse. We found at that time that both our photos of individuals and families in the community and the photos of sea creatures, which we printed out on our colour printer, were much appreciated. At other times, we’ve had only short exchanges of photos and ideas with people, such as the BBC camera crew we met aboard the Australian boat Philos, when we were rafted together at Caleta Brecknock, in Chilean Patagonia.
We’ve been able to dive in places we might not otherwise have been tempted to get in the water. This happened when we met the Norwegian boat Opportune at Destination Island in the Cocos Keeling Islands west of Australia. The Captain, Rune Somby, persuaded us to travel out in our two dinghies – we needed each other as a back-up since the dive-site (known to us as ‘Cabbage Patch’) was too far away from the anchorage for safety on our own.
Often, we have been waiting in some dirty weather for a suitable weather window, and have decided to get in the water. What might be a boring time for other people has turned into a goldmine of beautiful photos for us. We quite often share our dive logs with people we meet in the anchorage. I think they are quite amazed at what is ‘underfoot’. This happened last year at South Percy Island, Australia. It is unprepossessing above water, but we discovered three of the most beautiful and colourful nudibranchs we’ve seen in Australia on our dive, and we gave a copy to Evan on the Aussie boat Sundowner.
Of course, we’ve had one or two ‘scares’ underwater … two happened when we were in Australia just over a year ago. What seemed to be an eye catching black and yellow striped snake swam up about 40 feet to where we were, and attempted to get into Larry’s dry-suit! (All snakes here in Australia are dangerous). Larry managed to beat it off, we did the dive and 45 minutes later on our way back, the ‘monster’ again came up inexorably and with the typical snake-like horrid motion and again needed to be repulsed with a fin. Consulting our books, we later discovered it was a harmless and very curious snake-eel (a type of fish!). At an earlier dive out in the Coral Sea, we managed to jump into a ‘nest’ of small tiger sharks – Mother awoke and circled up to have an appraising look at us. We clambered aboard as she was circling for the third time.
We’re now about halfway down the Patagonian Channels. It’s our third traverse of this magnificent area. We’re on a bit of a dive mission this time. Our idea is to compare the animal life we’re seeing currently with the notes and logs we made 10 years ago. We’re attempting to visit the same dive locations and take photos once again, and see if there are any vast changes. Since we were last here, a comprehensive guide for underwater life has been published by the reputable Huinay Foundation here in Chile, entitled ‘Marine Benthic Fauna of Chilean Patagonia’. There are many interesting parallels to the underwater creatures of BC, because water temperatures and salinity etc. seem to be comparable.
We’ve been quite energized, because we think we may be able to share some useful information with the researchers here. This is such an inaccessible area for most scuba divers, that we are actually finding a few animals whose names have been recorded in their list, but for which no photos were available. We don’t have either the expertise or the equipment with us to actually collect the needed specimens, but we can tell where the animals are located.
Our ability to dive has also rescued us from some potentially bad situations. South of the ‘Lizard’ on the coast of the U.K. we became entangled in an obviously disused crab pot and Larry dived in and cut the line. A discarded net was the culprit off Wales, and again in Stanraer, Scotland. We entangled in a crab pot just before getting to Robinson Crusoe Island west of Chile, and another such incident occurred with some over-long crab pot lines in Nova Scotia, Canada. We have also been surprised by what WASN’T there … specifically, when we assumed we’d become entangled just before crossing the Gulf of Alaska. The continuous knocking noise we heard turned out to be the bulb of a large bull kelp, which we must have encountered in shallower water. Larry jumped in the water once we’d traversed the Gulf and anchored off the BC coast, at which point the bulb became free and floated up beside the hull.
All told, many of our most significant offshore experiences have come about as a result of our joy in diving. We like looking at all the animals – and we don’t hurt or catch any of them – we follow the saying:
“Take nothing but pictures … leave nothing but bubbles!”