Frankly, diving the top end of Vancouver Island is not your mother's Caribbean holiday. No, it's not really technical diving, but for the uninitiated, it's close enough. Water temperatures average in the mid-40s, which means drysuits are a must. And that means carrying lots of weight. The currents mean hard work, so you're using lots of air. That means you're probably carting 102s and maybe a pony.For the average guy, especially if he's using doubles, it comes to 100 pounds of gear. The average woman is hefting 70. And you're not falling off the back end of the live-aboard. You're climbing into skiffs and up ladders. Many people here dive nitrox, not for its exotic flavor, but simply as a safety buffer and a hedge against fatigue. Maybe a quarter of the divers use pony tanks, and some divers carry a third small tank with argon to warm up their drysuits.The BCs tend to be techie models hung with dozens of clips and rings, and there are expensive separate harnesses to tote the weights. Then, there's the whole drysuit matter, with its finicky zippers and seals, all of which makes even reaching across your chest for a valve a major undertaking.Those who scoff at the idea of fitness for diving should try a day hefting 100 pounds of gear and battling balance and buoyancy in 45-degree water.So, what is there to learn on such a venture?Start with how to survive a back-roll entry from a skiff wearing a drysuit. ''You doing your otter imitation?'' one diver asked as I flailed helplessly on my back after hitting the water. ''Get all the air out of your suit and inflate your BC.'' Worked like a charm.Then we move along to kelp in a current. Rule No. 1: Don't thrash. Yes, you'll probably hook into a few plants, but odds are you won't really be wound up in it. Just go with the flow, and let the current wash you out. Also, the stuff provides great handholds for getting down and is perfect for free-water safety stops.It's also important not to surface in kelp. Not only does it tend to want to strangle you, but it does really nasty things to your pickup skiff's prop. The idea is to come up, assess the thickness of the web around you and then duck back down and swim under to get clear.As for current, don't fight it; you can't anyway. Just go with the flow. Odds are, you'll eventually catch a back eddy and get pushed in the opposite direction. Besides, everyone else is in the same current and eventually, they'll show up right next to you.And finally, the inevitable. It rarely takes more than 24 hours aboard a northern live-aboard before you get to the bladder stories.I am surely the only person in the history of the Nautilus VII to have developed a blister on my hand from flushing the head, which below deck involves lots of pumping with a small metal handle. Undoubtedly, I will join the ranks of Nautilus lore, along with the guy who lived a week with a baggie full of used diapers in his cabin.
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