Tuesday, January 24, 2006 

Basic BC Maintenance

As winter wears off and many of us get back in the water, it's good idea to check buoyancy compensators as well as regulators. Unlike regs, they are fairly simple to check yourself and a good thing to know in the long run.

Inflate the BC, check the dump hose for cracks and wear - replace as necessary (not usually). I would upgrade the assembly to a 1" diameter hose if possible, many of the smaller OEM dump assemblies are smaller (like 3/4") and don't dump air very quickly.

Leave it inflated over night. Loose air? You've got a problem, re-inflate and check in tub with suds for leaks. Some can be patched, some can't (bad seam, etc.), check with your dive store.

Replace the inflator valve on a regular basis. Just do it. They are the number one thing to go wrong. They aren't worth the money to service and can result in a catastrophic failure, with you making a rapid ascent if it sticks. Buy a good one (not the hard shiny plastic kind) for $30 and slap it on, takes a couple of minutes. There is a small pin that slides out to release the shoulder dump. You can use a small screwdriver or awl to slide it out. It does have one end that's thicker than the other, so take note. Be sure to double wire tie the new inflator on (double tie the dump hose onto the shoulder valve too).

Unscrew the valves, note assembly of washers, etc. Rinse inside with BC cleaner on a regular basis to kill bacteria. Check valve flaps for wear, replace as necessary (not usually). Squirt some silicone spray on the springs. Be sure they are reassembled correctly and are tight! While you're at it, spay some silicone on the low pressure inflator hose ends from the reg to your BC and drysuit. That is important to be done every few dives.

Check the tank bands for excessive wear and particularly the cams for cracks. If they are bad, upgrade to the metal cam kind, made by Scubapro, DiveRite etc.

Recheck by leaving air in it over night, and check again on a regular basis.

Always carry a spare inflator valve and some some ties. If you have a problem with it you can put one on in 5 mins while standing in your gear. I have saved many people's dives that way. I would also carry a spare tank cam band, if possible

Always check both the dump valves and inflator prior to diving. I have done 2-3 rescues of people whose valves were unscrewed, even slightly, particularly on the shoulder dump. Seaquest valves are notorious for it. (Note that I have a Seaquest BC and they are a good product, just watch the valves!

There, it took 30 minutes and now you know your gear!

Note: the above are general guidelines, your equipment may vary in what it needs. If in doubt, check with your local dealer.

See: - BC care: What to do after every dive

Saturday, January 21, 2006 

Optical Ocean in the News!

The jungle blogwaves have been busy with several stories and photos being picked up by large diving and travel blogs from here. Seems I have some fans out there!

Recent mentions in Divester include: Jack Connick's Excellent Optical Ocean as well as BC's Newest Artificial Reef: A Boeing 737 and HOW TO maintain your bc.

Optical ocean was also given a nice write up in ScubaGeek: Great Nudibranch Photos on Optical Ocean Blog.

And finally Gadling Travel blog has picked my photo for it's Picture of the Day: Photo-of-the-day-1-21-2006

Thanks, I guess I'm doing something right!


Why Blaine Marina?

Blaine Marina
Originally uploaded by Pixel Letch.
I get asked a lot why I moved my boat north from Seattle to Blaine, WA, on the Canadian border. It seems a long way away from my home in Seattle to most people.

But that's part of it's charm. It actually takes the same amount of time to drive (1:45 hrs) as it does to drive to Anacortes. But I digress, why move away at all?

I had moored my Islander 28, Maggie May at Shilshole Marina for most of the time I owned her, around 12 years. Only 15 minutes from my home, it was very convenient and a great location in the middle of Puget Sound to go north or south. But after 12 years, I'd kind of been there and done that. I needed fresh horizons.

Shilshole Ex Pat
But one of the biggest reasons was the way the Port of Seattle was treating it's tenants at Shilshoe. There were the un-competitive, annual increases that were pushing rates into the nosebleed section. This for a poorly maintained, 40 year-old facility. Amenities included grass growing on the docks, 20 amp electrical service, lack of parking, old broken showers, and union workers who just sat in the office and smoked.

And management decreeing new policies on a regular basis that had no basis with reality. Just plain idiotic policies and snarly service.

Now they're rebuilding it, a project that will be going on for 6-8 years or so. Rates still going up despite the mess. Even less parking. Doing away with many of the smaller 30' slips and making it into the rich man's marina they've always envisioned.

The trouble is that it was built to be the opposite. The Army Corp of Engineers built the breakwater in the 1960's and gave in to the City of Seattle as blue-collar, recreational marina for people who actually used their boats. The city, not knowing any better, gave it to the Port. Who promptly drained over $2 mil a year from it for 30 years and then decreed that the tenants would have to pay to have it fixed up.

Many, many boats have voted with their keels and left. Many are up here in Blaine.

Why Blaine?

The Blaine Marina is new, about 4-5 years old. New docks, electrical. Free dinghy and kayak racks. All the amenities, including a lot of small things like a computer in the office to check email on for instance. Beautiful shower suites. Lots of parking, without any hassles about permits. Blaine Marine Park with pretty trails and fantastic views across the street. Semiahmoo Resort across the bay. Good places to bike, the Peace Arch and Birch Bay State Parks nearby. With a welcoming marina management, people who really care and enjoy their jobs.

Blaine is a friendly little border town, with most of what you need, a West Marine store within walking distance, Bellingham, Ferndale and Vancouver close by. In fact, about half the tenants are Canadians, who enjoy the easy access to the islands. There is also clearance through customs close by at White Rock into Canada, or in my own slip for US entry!

I love to go up there and just hang out. I feel like I'm at a resort.

All for a $100 a month less. And 17 miles away from Sucia Island or 20 miles to the Gulf Islands, to some of the best cruising and diving in the world! See more photos at Blaine Marina and: Sucia Island.

Blaine: View slideshow

Sucia Island: View slideshow

Monday, January 16, 2006 

Chemainus, We Have Touchdown!

CBC: A Boeing 737 made its final descent on Saturday – 20 metres deep into the waters off the east coast of Vancouver Island.

Cranes slowly lowered the decommissioned plane into the ocean off Chemainus, about 70 kilometres north of Victoria, slightly more than a month after Environment Canada gave final approval to a plan dreamed up by diving fans.

The sunk the plane to create an artificial reef in an area that doesn't have much marine life.

The society expects the new reef to be home to dozens of species of sea life within a couple of years, which it hopes will, in turn, lure more divers... More: CBC Story

The Artificial Reef Society deserves congratulations for persevering on this project. They had to get a massive amount of government permissions and no less than eight "First Nations", aka tribal, permissions to do this sinking. It was delayed several times with political wrangling. They had hoped to avoid a lot of problems by sinking a rather clean plane that had never had very much in the way of oil or contaminants aboard. Didn't happen.

The plane and site are even named "Xihuw Reef" after the Sea Urchins they hope to promote the growth of.mask

The dive shops in the area now actually have a dive site to promote, and it may be an interesting stop over for divers on their way to the wonderful diving in Port Hardy and Campbell River, BC.

I know first-hand how frustratingly slow government bodies move on these ideas. I've been working with the City of Seattle on safety buoys and dive site markings for Seacrest Park in West Seattle. Now after nearly two years, we are still awaiting USCG approval for dive site marking buoys.

But as a PNW diver who's dove many of the ARSBC's projects, this one is dubious, and the site selection less so. Chemanius is is a backwater area, not subject to the good tidal flush that other projects in Nanaimo have. The smooth aluminum skin of the plane is not conductive to critters and plants taking hold. I'm beginning to work on an artificial reef utilizing Reef Balls for Seacrest that are much more scientifically engineered to promote growth, even down to certain additives in the cement and placement techniques to promote growth. I fail to see this as as an artificial reef, but more as a diving attraction, which is ok.

And while the ships they have sunk are interesting to explore (however a bit "clean" for me after Truk), I'm afraid I've spent too much time in the back of 737s to be that intrigued. But it's something new and should be fun for a dive at some point.

More: Chemanius Area 737 Project


Sailboat Tip: Replacement Plastic Frame Windows

Many older production boats, like my Islander 28, have windows with their frames made of plastic. Frequently these frames, made from styrene, get brittle, crack and leak. Rebuilding them is possible, but I've tried it twice with little success, they seem to leak between the frame and plexiglas.

A few years ago I came across this boat window manufacturer:

Go Windows - Mark Plastics
369 E. Harrison St., Unit G, Corona, CA. 92879
Tel: 951 735-7705

Mark has molds of all the old production boat windows (like Cal, Columbia and Islander, etc.) and can make a new, better than OEM, window. He will drill them to match your trim rings, just mail him the old ones. They only come in dark or white plastic. I had him leave the masking on the windows and then just spray the frames with model airplane paint which comes in a wide range of colors that you should be able to match to your existing frames. It seems to stick well to the plastic frames also.

I'd put them in with a Boat Life "Life Clear" sealant. Don't use 3M 5200, you'll never get them out if they leak.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 

Red Tipped Dorid (Glossodoris sedna) in Sea Slug Forum

Whenever I get an nice, or unusual, shot of a nudibranch, I like to send it in to the Australian Natural History Museum's excellent Sea Slug Forum.

This is a database and forum to exchange information and identification of these interesting and photogenic invertebrates. Moderated by Dr. Bill Rudman, scientists, divers, students and researchers exchange information and photos to further their understanding of these critters.

Underwater photographers love to shoot these invertibrates, as they are unusual and are generally brightly colored. Best of all they move slowly! But identifying them can be a real challenge and scientists love to see photos of their behavior and what they eat, etc.

Here in the Pacific Northwest we have a huge range of nudibranchs in a large range of color, size and variety. I have a set of recent photos at: Flickr Nudibranchs.

I shot this dorid while in Mexico and sent it in. Bill enjoyed seeing it, as not many have been sent in from the Pacific, where they are native. Most have been found in the Atlantic, thought to be brought in ballast water from freighters. See: Glossodoris sedna from Revillagigedos Islands, Mexico.

A couple of my photos are being used as catalog images in the forum, of which I am most proud to played some small part in advancing science. See Dendronotus diversicolor and Dendronotus dalli.

View slideshow

Wednesday, January 04, 2006 

Tips for Inon External Lenses & Ikelite Housings

Some tips from my experiences using the Fuji F810 and Ikelite housing/strobes with Inon W/A and macro lenses. The same applies to other Fuji cameras like the newer E900.

1. Have a wonderful time first of all. Enjoy the great walls and drift diving, don't let the camera distract you.

2. Shooting while drift diving is difficult as you must shoot quickly while drifting with the currents. Use back-eddies downstream from rocks, etc. to slow down and shoot.

3. Forget about the black circle thing that comes with the lenses, doesn't really apply to the F810, IMHO.

4. I would use some tape to black out the front of the Ike housing, except for a little slit on the upper left corner for the adapter to see. The flash blocker just gets in the way.

5. One tip is to buy some steel fish leaders at Big 5. Using some wire ties on the groove in the lens you can attach the leader to make a leash for the lens and attach it to the tray. I also used some double back sticker tape to glue on a rear Inon lens cover to the top of the housing to hold my macro or WA lens vertically when not in use.

6. As far as using the W/A lens. I was a little less than pleased with some of my attempts in Nov. If you use ISO 100 and try to use a large aperture (f2.8) to get a reef scenic with the available light, you tend to get a lot of chromatic aberration. Try to stop down as much as possible, use a slower shutter speed if necessary. You may just have to forget a more sweeping shot or light the background more dramatically darker with a larger aperture setting. When using it I used shutter or aperture priority to speed up taking my shots. Shoot RAW and use the color picker to adjust the white balance later for truer colors.

I actually almost preferred the stock Fuji lens for W/A as I could get fish a little larger and have less chromatic aberration.

7. Using the macro lens I use the camera in normal, not macro, mode and shoot in manual at 1/2000th at f8. Get the strobe head as close as possible to the subject for more color saturation.

When shopping for media be sure to buy the new type"H" xD cards. Testing by friends is showing the 1GB to be about 40%+ faster, so RAW write times for a 12MB file on an F810 were at around 4-5 secs! Not sure if the 512MB cards are proportionately faster yet. See also: Ike Housing for F810 and Writer's Cramp

Monday, January 02, 2006 

Free NOAA Nautical Charts

NOAA now has free downloads of it's raster and vector (ENC) nautical charts!

These can be used with various charting software and viewers (they have some links for these). All of the charts for the US are available and there is a free update service. Prior to this they were quite expensive to buy from licensed private parties.

See: Office of Coast Survey

Poking around on that site is fun, they have a wealth of data and information, including free downloads of Acrobat versions of the Coast Pilot, a database of wrecks, historical charts and much more.

Downloads directly from NOAA are easy, especially if you know the chart numbers. They have a check-box type text download page: BSB Raster Chart downloads. I found their graphical interface a bit wanting - the above is easier. I checked off charts from Vancouver through Oregon and it was a 140MB download, not all that long with DSL. Files come zipped so are easy to use with either Mac or PC.

I couldn't get MapTec's "Free Nautical Charts" to work at all and it was a very complex sign-on system/email confirmation/error message/approval loop. Forget it and go directly to NOAA.

Also not widely reported is that NOAA also has .pdf version of the Coast Pilot available. What's nice is that these are separated into chapters and usually one or two chapters is all you need.

About Jack

  • Adventurer, diver, sailor, photographer, writer and sometimes graphic designer. Proprietor of Optical Ocean Sales, LLC. Enjoy the blog, check back and please leave comments!
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