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Diving into the World’s Fastest Tidal Rapids

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In the mystical waters just north of Vancouver, Canada lies a narrow channel called the Skookumchuck Narrows, or simply “The Skook.” It’s a hidden gem in the Salish Sea that boasts a unique spectacle – a tumultuous dance of tides and currents that draws adventurers and spectators from far and wide.

The beautiful British Columbia coastline

Imagine this: a channel so narrow and shallow that a single tide can unleash an astonishing 200 billion gallons of water, creating a tumultuous display of standing waves, whirlpools, and currents surging at 16 knots (18 mph or 30 kph). Such speeds may seem mild when driving a car, but the erratic water is a different ballgame. Skookumchuck Narrows is a contender for the title of the world’s fastest tidal rapids, rivaled only by Nakwakto Rapids further up the British Columbia coast.

All photos were captured with a Nikon Z6 in an Ikelite underwater housing with Sea & Sea YS-D3 Mark II strobes.

But there’s a twist – this aquatic battleground isn’t just for adrenaline seekers; The Skook is an oasis for life beneath the waves. April 2023 marked a rare convergence of perfect conditions: a celestial alignment allowing divers to witness The Skook in all its glory. And who better to guide this daring expedition than Porpoise Bay Charters, a family-run venture led by the seasoned Kal Helyar and Ann Beardsell?

Diving with Porpoise Bay Charters

Raging currents = an abundance of life

The allure lies not in the danger but in the vibrant marine ecosystem fueled by the relentless currents. Ocean currents act as nature’s turbochargers, transporting nutrients that transform places like Skookumchuck Narrows into underwater havens with colorful life thriving amidst the rocky terrain.

The prolific life underwater in The Skook.

It’s important to debunk the myth that this is a reckless plunge into chaos. Diving The Skook is not about courting danger but choosing the right moment: at slack when the tide turns, the water experiences minimal movement, and the currents are a mere 4-5 knots. Picture this – a scuba diver slipping gracefully between tidal changes, maneuvering with precision as the water changes its course and gradually picks up speed. Timing is everything, and finding the rare dates when daylight piercing through the emerald-green water coincides with navigable water conditions is critical. April 2023 granted us a mere handful of these golden days of nature’s alignment for the first time in four years.

Painted anemones designed to grip the rocks and collect food flowing with the rapid currents.

Entering the abyss

As our vessel, under the watchful eye of Captain Kal, approached the infamous Skookumchuck rapids, a tangible excitement filled the air. These cold-water adrenaline-filled dives are the scuba diving equivalent to scaling Everest. The unpredictability of The Skook, where currents can whisk you in any direction, demanded respectful caution from our experienced salty crew.

Gearing up in the snow to enter the Skookumchuck Narrows

With a reassuring smile, Captain Kal dismissed the notion of a toilet bowl experience, where divers are pulled in a circular direction by the currents as if flushed down a toilet. He emphasized that they only dived during an easy drift in the current, which was hard to fathom possible in such treacherous waters. Approaching the narrowest section of the channel, where the current was fastest, Kal’s experienced eyes scanned for the telltale signs of slack tide. Tidal ripples slowed, and we entered the water in the few precious minutes within the next year when it was possible to witness Skookumchuck in all its sunny glory.

The most impressive patch of painted anemones and metridiums in The Skook

As we descended into the underwater world, a mysterious algal bloom cast a dark green haze, unveiling a breathtaking palette of colors below. Bright red and pink anemones, neon orange encrusting sponges, and deep purple ochre sea stars adorned the rocky canvas, showcasing nature’s artistic prowess.

Patches of vibrant life adorn the rocky surfaces

Surrendering to the sea

Descending further, we felt the force of the tide, like a river yet to subside. Gripping onto rock holds and kicking into the current, we felt like underwater rock climbers. Adjusting our underwater camera settings and getting comfortable with the flow of the water, we marveled at the transformation of the underwater landscape. Slabs of rock, once pounded by the current, now hosted a vibrant community of marine life.

When the current picks up, you can only shine a light and watch the life as you drift by

After a mesmerizing twenty minutes of relatively gentle water, the current intensified, signaling the roller coaster drop ahead. We surrendered to neutrality, letting the current guide us along the wall. Boulders and back eddies added a touch of unpredictability; with trust in our abilities and Captain Kal’s promise of a safe pickup, the thrill was exhilarating rather than menacing.

A beautiful Puget Sound king crab

A group of invertebrates are protected from the fast current by a crevice; the rest of the rocks sandblasted clean by the fast water.

As the current ebbed, we found ourselves in a tranquil cove adorned with green sea urchins, marking the end of our underwater odyssey. The Skook had shown us its splendor: a delicate balance of chaos and life beneath the surface – leaving us with memories as vivid as the colors we witnessed.

About the Author

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles, he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. After working as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific, Nirupam became the Editor-in-Chief of the Underwater Photography Guide and the President of Bluewater Photo – the world’s top underwater photo & video retailer. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!

US-based divers: explore more close-by dive destinations with Bluewater Dive Travel here.

All photos: Nirupam Nigam

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Solo Travelling and Scuba Diving

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solo scuba diving

Solo traveling elicits strong reactions, with some relishing the freedom it brings, while others shy away from the idea. The dichotomy lies between the autonomy of solo journeys and the comfort of companionship. Scuba diving group trips for solo travellers emerge as the perfect synthesis, offering a unique blend of freedom and camaraderie.

Embarking on a solo scuba diving adventure is a thrilling journey into unparalleled freedom, new discovery and self-discovery beneath the waves. However, solo travellers should be mindful of considerations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, especially those diving abroad, taking precautions before leaving their home country is crucial for a safe and enjoyable journey.

solo scuba diver

“I started travelling solo by chance”- my wife recalls- “I joined a group from the diving club planning to travel to Tobago, people pulled out at the last minute and I decided to go ahead alone. I did enjoy the freedom: I could travel at the times I wanted, to the destinations I wanted, no need to negotiate when and where to eat and the air conditioning temperature. Diving is a social sport anyway, and the divers one meets are by definition like-minded people. It’s an opportunity to make new friends, often from different nationalities. I’ve gained so much in self confidence and interpersonal skills, way more than on corporate training courses J. However, as a woman solo traveller, I’ve always had to be mindful of personal safety in circumstances where one simply doesn’t know what to expect. I remember the apprehension I felt on the boat ride alone from Batanga to Puerto Galera in the evening. Also the same feeling whilst waiting in Dubai for someone to pick me up and drive me 2 hours to Musandam. This someone is now a dearest friend. The best thing for me is always to book through someone that has made the same journey, lived the experience directly and has close personal links at destinations.”

In essence, scuba diving trips for solo travellers offer a harmonious blend of autonomy and companionship. These journeys transcend traditional group travel challenges by uniting solo adventurers with a common passion.

The first question and one of the most important, as the answer usually determines your location is Liveaboard or Shore based, and there are Pros and Cons to both:

Liveaboard

solo scuba diver

Pros

Immersive Dive Experience: Liveaboards provide uninterrupted access to dive sites, maximizing your time beneath the waves.

Varied Destinations: Journey to remote and pristine locations, exploring a range of dive spots during a single trip. Usually these site are only accessible by Liveaboard

Community Experience: Forge close bonds with fellow divers on board, fostering a sense of camaraderie.

Cons

Limited Amenities: Space constraints on liveaboards might limit facilities compared to resorts.

Community Experience: Liveaboards forge a close-knit community of divers and individuals, which may not be conducive to everyone’s character, particularly for people who enjoy some time alone to charge the batteries, or those not keen on negotiating group dynamics in a somewhat confined environment.

Shore based

solo scuba diving solo scuba diving

Pros

Comfort and Amenities: Resorts offer a comfortable stay with various amenities, including spas, swimming pools and restaurants.

Flexibility: Choose daily dives or explore at your pace, enjoying the freedom to create a personalized itinerary.

Onshore Exploration: Besides diving, resorts often provide opportunities to explore local culture and attractions.

Cons

Fixed Locations: While convenient, resorts limit you to specific dive sites accessible from shore.

Time Constraints: Day trips or tight schedules may impose time restrictions on your underwater adventures.

Flexibility: Unless you are certified as a solo diver then you have to dive with a buddy or with a private guide, which could be a costly option.

Considerations

Personal Preferences: Evaluate your preferences for accommodation, community engagement, and the overall pace of your dive experience.

Destination Exploration: Assess whether you seek the thrill of exploring multiple dive destinations on a liveaboard or prefer the convenience of a single resort location.

Choosing between liveaboard trips and dive resorts hinges on your desired balance of adventure, comfort, and community. Whether you opt for the dynamic exploration of liveaboards or the leisurely pace of resorts, each option promises a unique and unforgettable underwater journey.

solo scuba diving

Dive Destination – Research and Planning

Conducting thorough research on dive destinations is crucial. Understand its culture, local customs, and any travel advisories. Always check government advice, BUT also consider joining Facebook or similar groups and get some real-world advice from like-minded divers.

It’s essential to opt for reputable dive operators with a strong safety record. Sea to Sky, a trusted name in the industry, places a high priority on guest safety, offering comprehensive services, advice, and recommendations.

Ensure you are aware of any health risks or vaccinations required for your destination. Carry a basic first aid kit, if weight allows and any necessary medications. We would advise not to take any over the counter medications aboard, as most are readily available and in a lot of cases cheaper. If you are prescribed medications, please ensure that your country of entry allows your medication, and in all cases please take a doctor’s letter/prescription.

Solo divers should be mindful of diving in secluded or challenging dive locations.  Opting for familiar, well-monitored locations where assistance is readily available if needed. Sea to Sky takes a personalized approach, considering guests’ experience and certification levels to suggest optimal dive locations within their limits.

Being cautious about equipment is paramount for solo divers. Rigorous gear checks to ensure everything is in optimal condition are essential. For those renting equipment, Sea to Sky ensures that the dive centre or liveaboard operator’s gear is regularly serviced and up to date. Please self-check all equipment, we are happy to advise on what to and how to check any equipment.

Safety and Security

Invest in comprehensive travel insurance and Dive Insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and potential diving-related incidents. Keep a digital and physical copy of your insurance details. Secure important documents like your passport, travel insurance, and diving certifications in a waterproof pouch. Consider making digital copies that you can access online.  Share your itinerary and emergency contact information with a trusted friend or family member. Keep them informed about your whereabouts and any changes to your plans. We personally use Nord Locker to store all relevant information, including copies of passport, accessible via the cloud (No affiliation, it’s just what we use).

solo scuba diving

Financial Preparedness

Inform your bank about your travel dates to avoid any issues with your credit/debit cards. Carry a mix of local currency and cards. We can advise country by country what cash to take, as in some destinations Euros or Dollars are the better option.  Be cautious when using ATMs and choose secure locations (inside banks for example). Keep a small amount of emergency cash separate from your main funds. This can be invaluable in situations where card payments may not be accepted.

Communication and Connectivity

Consider getting a local SIM card to stay connected. Check the network coverage in your destination and inform your loved ones about your contact number. We also use an ESim called Airolo (Again no affiliation) but some of the charges can be quite high especially in Egypt, but for peace of mind it’s great.  Carry a portable charger for your electronic devices, including your phone and any underwater cameras. Also check with the country you are travelling to ascertain what plug is compatible.

solo scuba diving

Cultural Sensitivity

Familiarise yourself with the local culture and customs to show respect. This includes appropriate clothing, gestures, and behaviour, both on land and underwater.

What sets Sea to Sky apart is the personal relationships developed with its suppliers and its commitment to providing 24-hour telephone contact for guests, offering reassurance and assistance around the clock. Solo travellers can dive with confidence, knowing that expert guidance and support are just a call away.

In essence, while solo scuba diving opens doors to incredible underwater experiences, travellers must exercise caution, conduct diligent research, choose reputable operators, and prioritise safety.

For any information or assistance you require please feel free to contact the team at hello@myseatosky.co.uk.

Join Sea to Sky and embark on new diving adventures! Visit www.myseatosky.co.uk for more information.

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The BiG Scuba Podcast Episode 172: Dr. Joseph Dituri

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Joseph Dituri

Gemma and Ian chat to Dr. Joseph Dituri. Dr. Jospeh Dituri lived undersea for 100 Days in a mission combining education, ocean conservation research, and the study of the physiological and psychological effects of compression on the human body.  

Dituri enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1985. He served continuously on active service upon various ships and shore stations where he was involved in every aspect of diving and special operations work from saturation diving and deep submergence to submersible design and clearance diving. Now that he is retired from 28 years of active service to the United States, he is the president of the International Board of Undersea Medicine. He also volunteers his time as the CEO of the Association for Marine Exploration. He is an invited speaker on motivational, sea and space related topics.

Fuelled by his passion for exploration, discovery, adventure, and making the greatest possible positive contribution to the world, he is fighting for change in a big way and with great enthusiasm.

You can listen to Episode 172 of the BiG Scuba Podcast here.

www.drdeepsea.com

We hope you have enjoyed this episode of The BiG Scuba Podcast.  Please give us ★★★★★, leave a review, and tell your friends about us as each share and like makes a difference.   Contact Gemma and Ian with your messages, ideas and feedback via The BiG Scuba Bat Phone    +44 7810 005924   or use our social media platforms.   To keep up to date with the latest news, follow us:

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Visit   https://www.patreon.com/thebigscubapodcast and subscribe – Super quick and easy to do and it makes a massive difference. Thank you.

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