You will hear local divers rave about the dives available to us in and around BC. We don’t need to travel far for some epic scuba diving adventures. We offer several dive trips with experienced staff members to various operations along our coast throughout the year. Every winter we run a trip to Quadra Island, one of the Discovery Islands just off Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Discovery Passage runs between Campbell River and this Island group and features some extreme tidal currents every day of the year. This makes it challenging to dive, but promotes significant growth for the local marine species in these nutrient rich waters.
Trip Logistics and Accommodations
The trip typically includes 2 days of 2 dives per day, plus optional shore access night dives. With Campbell River being located approximately 2 hours north of Nanaimo, it is also possible to stop off on the way to or from the ferry to do one of the awesome shore dives along the mid-section of Vancouver Island. A short ferry from Campbell River takes you to Quathiaski Cove on Quadra Island. From here, your first right turn takes you to Whiskey Point Hotel, the accommodations for the weekend. In terms of BC dive trips, these accommodations are very comfortable, being a standard mid-range hotel. Rooms are warm and comfortable, with single or double occupancy available. Facilities are clean, rooms include a small kitchenette so divers can save a few dollars for nitrox fills et cetera by eating in. Although, there are several options on Quadra Island for meals and snacks. There are two features at Whiskey Point to appeal to divers: a spacious outdoor hot tub and a heated, dehumidified drying room for drysuits and undergarments! This is truly a luxury when climbing into your exposure protection for an early morning dive!
The Dive Boat and Operator
The dive boat, the Ata-Tude is spacious and comfortable, with a heated cabin divers can squeeze into après dive. The captain, Bill, is very good about providing snacks and hot beverages to hungry and chilled divers once back on the boat from their dive. The entry is an easy giant stride from a few inches above the waterline and there is a good, metal ladder for the exit. Taller divers do tend to agree that an additional rung would be beneficial (especially when diving doubles), but it is okay as it is. As a relatively short diver, I had no problem with the ladder. And I always appreciate a captain and/or crew that are willing to help get my fins off at the end of the dive. I can do it no problem, especially with spring straps, but it’s one of those little creature comforts on a cold water trip that really make me appreciate the service provided. Bill’s obviously extremely competent in piloting the Ata-tude, the pick-ups are efficient and safe, the rides to and from the sites are quick and as smooth as can be expected, docking is never an issue. Plus, as a fellow diver noted, it’s rather reassuring as a diver to have an EMT onboard your dive boat. Not only are all the appropriate emergency supplies accounted for, but there’s always someone around that knows how to use them. For me, I always appreciate an active diver leading such trips, someone that knows the local environment from both the topside and from a diver’s perspective makes site briefings and judgment calls all the more appropriate. Bill is very good about reading the group of divers on his boat and catering to their needs and expectations. Lastly, I should mention one of the most impressive features of the Ata-Tude are the twin 225 outboards on the back. Acting as a water taxi in the summer the boat is fast!
Ultimately, all the creature comforts are fine and dandy, but do not add up to much if not for the diving. Diving in and around the Campbell River/Quadra Island area is some of the best in BC. It is often hailed as the next best thing to Port Hardy (the undisputed holy grail of BC diving) and was the region that inspired Jacques Cousteau to christen BC ‘the Emerald Sea’. Walls of life abound in this current swept area. Sponges and strawberry anemones paint panoramas of pink, white, orange and yellow as a backdrop to tons of fish life, nudibranchs, tube worms, et cetera. Small schools of copper rockfish can be seen, large schools of perch as well. Kelp greenlings and red irish lords are plentiful and despite an ample urchin population there are noticeable kelp forests in the area, even in December. Visibility while we were visiting was a moderate 50ft/15m or so. While this was great, especially from a Vancouver diver’s perspective it doesn’t touch the over 100ft/30m visibility that is possible for the area in the winter.
Underwater Photography or Drift Diving
The place is a dive photographer’s dream – if you can stay still long enough to snap a decent photo. Aside from deep walls, one of the most prominent features of the region is the drift diving. With the large tidal exchanges even slack tide can greet divers with significant currents. Our group was thrilled with the exhilarating ride we took at Copper Cliff on day two. Divers were flying through the water in buddy teams watching the wall full of life go by, marveling at the ability of greenlings to remain stationary in a current that blew us along with ease. Steep Island’s varied topography with overhangs and protected areas allowed for a drift dive for a while, carpeted with monochromatic tube worms and then spit us out for more exploration around the back side of the island with plenty of golf ball crabs and Puget sound king crabs to watch in small bundles of kelp forest. Row and Be Damned was definitely a drift dive, but not quite as profound as its name suggests and not as exhilarating as Copper Cliff. This dive welcomed us to the area with a rainbow of colour. One of my favourite ways to appreciate the colours of life that carpet a particular area is to pay attention to the decorator crabs. Row and Be Damned is home to plenty of the little guys and they decorate their shells with various sponges, algae, anemones, displaying the beauty of life covering the rocky walls and bottoms in a mobile version of interior (exterior?) decorating. It’s a wonderland-esque form of landscaping, I suppose.
The trip concluded with April Point Wall, a dive I skipped due to a progressively worsening leak in my knee. This dive, while challenging, apparently offered the best visibility of the trip and an abundance of colourful invertebrates. It reportedly boasts a “density of life comparable to Browning Pass”, with areas so shrouded in life that there is not a square inch of wall left uncovered. On Saturday evening a couple of the divers opted to try out the shore dive also called “Whiskey Point”. Not only was the dive itself pleasant and colourful and apparently appropriately timed for slack, but the divers encountered a small-ish giant pacific octopus, so it was hailed as a success. Others of us meanwhile gorged on a delicious barbequed dinner (in December!) and the most ridiculously decadent linzer torte I could ever hope to eat (unfortunately not native to Quadra Island). There’s not much that can beat good friends, good diving and good food.