Pete Naylor’s awe inspiring photo at the right does a better job than any words I can conjure up to illustrate why we are passionate about diving, more passionate about diving cold water, claim that B.C. diving is the best in world at any temperature, and why diving with Porpoise Bay Charters will likely be on the top of your life list of best diving experiences ever.
You may not have heard of Egmont or know which fjord along the Canadian mainland is the historic and beautiful Sechelt. But you can be confident that you have seen its wonders in the media. The Sechelt’s terrestrial and underwater scenery are regulars in movies, TV, and the National Geographic and Discovery Channel specials, including the current and popular series “Life.” “Photograph taken near Egmont,” frequently accompanies the identifier images in Andy Lamb’s guides to the marine life of the Pacific Northwest. Diving this area either teaches you or reminds you that you are among a small percentage of divers who have been lucky enough to experience some of best diving in the world at any temperature. The only difference in gear on my recent dive trip to Grand Cayman was a thinner undergarment and no hood. If you are a diver who lives for your next tropical trip and has never been diving Canada’s west coast, get your drysuit and come see what you have been missing.
Divers know that an amazing number of small dive business owners can be best described by one or quirky character traits. But thankfully Kal and Ann are refreshingly normal and friendly business owners.
Kal has spent years in the charter business. Even before opening Porpoise Bay in 1991 he worked as dive instructor at Club Med in Tahiti, and other dive and tour related businesses in Australia and Campbell River/Quadra Island to name a few. He sets a standard for safety that should be a model for other diver charters. He knows the rules and standards and exceeds them. If you ever dove with Porpoise Bay he has your every dive logged. He reports into the coast guard before and after each dive. He makes sure he knows each divers allergies and any potential issues before the first dive so that any rescuer or medical aid is well informed. He is very specific and directive on each dive and instills divers with confidence that he is always on the alert and making sure they are diving safely. He always lets you know the rational for each guideline, rule or dive limitation. He gives the group choices for dives and explains the pros and cons of each option.
VALUE VALUE VALUE
If you just consider the dives you get with Porpoise Bay charters and compare that with the average two tank dive day trip, you quickly see a bright blinking VALUE sign in your head. Just the dives alone nearly cover the cost of the fee for a Friday through Monday dive-cation with Porpoise Bay. We had nine boat dives and some of the group also did two night shore dives. The fee we paid for the extended weekend (1 dive Friday, 3 dives Saturday, 3 dives Sunday and 2 dives Monday) was just over $500 and that included dives, lodging, food, kayaks and hot tub.
The over all price for room, board and diving is the least expensive we have seen in these waters. But the accommodations are much better than two others we reviewed that were more expensive. Ann said they keep the prices low because they want to work and they have a consistent flow of customers. Additionally, there is the cool yurt factor. Most of the guest rooms are in modern, comfortable and roomy yurts. Some of the showers and bathrooms are in smaller yurts. Given that the Northwest is often either cold or cool and wet, it was a pleasure to find that the guest rooms/yurts, bathrooms, public areas, and event the boats were always warm and cozy. As you would expect from the price, the accommodations are not fancy or resort level but they are a great value and out shine other more rustic and rusting diver charters we have seen. Kal, Ann and the surroundings quickly make your feel at home and at ease.
Kal and Ann also seem to be making constant improvements. Every change we heard suggested by the participants was already in the planning.
Ann, who’s other hat is that of pharmacist and director of the pharmacy at the regional hospital, and handles the cooking for the quests. She is willing to accommodate any special dietary needs with advanced notice. Even in spite of a small mix-up in communication from the trip leader, Ann still had good, sufficient and tasty choices for my challenging ovo-vegan-wheat free diet. Anyone that can do that deserves applause in my book. The general menu is basic and hearty with sufficient quantities, although the selection is a bit red meat heavy. A few of the group members mentioned they would have preferred chicken or fish options to the steak night and few more choices in general. Guests bus their own dishes and bring their own alcoholic beverages.
PBC has two well designed, all aluminum dive boats (34’ and 38’ super punt boats), an open and a enclosed boat. Both can be a dive platform and the boats are sometimes lashed together to provide a warm and dry transport and prep space and separate space for the wet gear. The main dive skiff offers a much larger than usual space for each diver to store don gear. Their is plenty of space for even the most gear-laden tech diver. With 13 divers, we still had plenty of elbow room. The large gear shelf also offered an extra margin of safety for the inevitable time when a diver forgets to secure a tank and it tips over. The wide entry port and close spaced ladder steps made entries and exits, safe and easy. Both boats have heated heads. The heat pipe on the open boat is creatively split off to offer blast of warm air to remove a chill, warm a hood or hat or even dry your hair after the dive.
The enclosed boat was always warm and when not in use for diving; we used it to hang the dry suits and hoods during the surface time. Items left hanging were often nearly dry by the next morning.
Egmont (on BCs Sunshine Coast) is home of the world famous "SKOOKUMCHUCK", Sechelt Rapids, known for up to 16 knot currents, fabulous diving and white water kayaking. We did two dives there and, on the second, we had a perfect slow dive the whole length of the site. This site provides one of the most amazingly gorgeous under seascapes in the world. The view is a cross between a visit inside the head of Cezanne, Monet or any of the great impressionist painters and a “trip” on the Beatles Yellow Submarine (that is “trip” in the sixties vernacular)(see photo above). We saw nary a rock nor sand, only varied and striking pastels of anemones and other invertebrates so tightly packed you cannot believe it not just a Photo-Shopped collage. I nearly dropped my regulator I was so overcome with awe at the vision of it all.
Other dives include the massive cloud sponges and gorgonians of Agamemnon, the critter laden Sutton Islands and the 366 foot (111 meter) Royal Canadian Navy destroyer, The HMCS Chaudière(DDE 235) and many more. Even those in the group that were not big into wreck diving found something to enjoy on the Chaudière. We found the minute life on the buoy line and massive quantity and variety of ctenophores in mid wa
ter a bonus that rivaled some of our regular Puget Sound dive sites.
While some of the dives were in calm currents, any one diving any of these waters should be experienced and comfortable with current and drift dives. On our first dive, we had a few moments of "tumbling like tumble weeds" in the squirrelly currents until we drifted into calmer waters. It wasn’t dangerous, but a less experienced diver might panic in such a circumstance.
You can meet Kal and Ann in person, if you are coming to the Northwest Dive and Travel Expo in Tacoma this month. You can reach Porpoise Bay Charters and Kal and Ann at 604-740-1400 or OR 1-800-665-DIVE (3483) or firstname.lastname@example.org (the link on the website does not work). Their website, which they promise will be upgraded soon is at: http://www.porpoisebaycharters.com. As with other services in the Canadian wilderness, you can expect that there will be times when they are out of cell range and may be unreachable or unable to return messages quickly. We found that they do return calls as soon as they are able.
One more time with feeling – VALUE, this is one of the best values in a dive trip. The venue (Strong Water Retreat) also has many options to keep non-divers happy including kayaking and hiking. For great diving, great prices, and pleasant and comfortable lodging we give them a 4.6 out of 5 stars. The few minor dings come from the low end website and the basic, red meat heavy menu.
For help with this article, we thank Kal and Ann, Pete Naylor for permission to use his photo, and Dana Michaels for organizing the trip.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Scuba Gadget staff paid the full regular price for diving and lodging with Porpoise Bay Charters during the research for this article.