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Diving the wreck of the Vanlene by braille

June 8, 2009 Written by

Location: Wreck of the Vanlene, Austin Island, Barkley Sound, west coast of  Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

I always try and find the positive aspect of any situation. I’ve always loved wreck diving and have been looking forward to diving the remains of the Vanlene today. The Vanlene is famous for being the large freighter carrying a full load of Dodge Colts and a captain who mistook the entrance of Barkley Sound for that of Juan de Fuca Strait and ended up piling into Austin Island. I can only image the conversation and language in the wheelhouse when the rocky shoreline and trees of Austin Island loomed out of the fog immediately in front of them.  Anyways, there is no better wreck dive if you want to see the remains of Dodge Colts in addition to a large ocean going  freighter. Everything looked really good – the water looked crisp and blue – until we jumped in.  Uh oh. The vis was down. Really down!!!  ie. 3 feet!!  Yes, if you held your hand out, you really couldn’t make it out. Cool huh.  How often does one get to dive in those sort of conditions!! Harley and I persevered down the anchor line and slowly crawled our way down the wreck using our fingertips. It was an odd feeling to say the least but I was hopeful that we would find better vis as we got deeper – as one of our guests remarked after the dive  “heck, I got down to 100 feet and the vis really opened up.  It was at least 8 feet!!”. Penetrating an old wreck like this is never a good idea unless you are fully trained, experienced and equipped for silt-out conditions and I made a point of mentioning this in the dive briefing. We found ourselves inside a cargo hold at one point having crawled there on our hands and knees by following a piece of pipe.  Ooops.  I thought we were still on deck and was very surprised to find myself in the hold. So the question is whether penetration diving is dangerous when you can’t see anything anyways?  Never before have I surfaced to see so many divers covered in rust from crawling around in virtually no visibility but happy and laughing and telling stories about it. Definitely the lowest vis I have ever gone diving in. Funny thing is that the next dive was in a swim-through and surge channel 2 miles away where the divers described the vis as being crystal. Hmmm, maybe it was the ghosts of all of those Dodge Colts. Finished the day with a tour of the Bamfield Marine Biological Station and a night dive under the dock.  Captain Mike

Surface Conditions: Beautiful summer day with light winds, low NW swell, temperature high 60’s.

Underwater Conditions: Water temperature 47 degrees.  Variable vis.  ahem.



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