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5 Simple tricks for cold water diving

This post was submitted by Luca Malaguti. Luca dove with a 3 mm suit in the cold water of the Pacific for the longest time. In this article he shares some tricks to stay warm.

The Canadian Pacific Northwest is a stunning place for scuba diving, freediving or snorkeling. It offers some of the cleanest waters in the world, fantastic underwater landscapes and unbelievable marine wildlife. The only issue for many people that wish to take part in these activities around Vancouver, the Gulf Islands or Victoria, is that for most of the year the water is quite cold.In the summertime, the Howe Sound can have surface water temperatures that range between 14 to 20 degrees Celsius. However, it’s always cold below the thermocline.

Continue reading 5 Simple tricks for cold water diving

GB church wreck dive

The GB church is an amazing wreck that was sunk off of the coast of Portland Island. Portland Island can be reached by boat and has a few campsites on it. You can also kayak or in low winds, canoe to the island. The GB church has a mooring buoy attached to the mast. The mooring buoy can be used for pulldowns to the boat. You will be able to see amazing life from 12 m onward. The mast starts at 7 m and is also a great sight.

Dive on high tide, or shortly after high tide. The current is commonly at the surface and will die down around 10 m. You cannot freedive this site at low tide, and there are no reliable current tables for this specific spot.

Address: 2-114 McKenzie Crescent, Southern Gulf Islands, BC V8L, Canada


McCreight Lake

This post was submitted by David Denz, an avid freediver on Vancouver Island who shares his freediving shots on flickr.

McCreight Lake is a very secluded location and is well known to anglers but nice and quiet because the boat ramp is too steep to accomodate large power boats.

To get to McCreightLake, drive north on the RT 19 from Campbell river until you pass km marker 210. From here, turn right on Rock Bay Road. After 3.8 km driving (with a rough patch at 2.3 km) you will come to McCreight Lake. The first sharp left is campground access (you can find an outhouse here), the second sharp left is a gravel boat ramp. Scout out the boat ramp before you drive on it, it is quite steep. Opposite the boat ramp is a small parking area that can accomodate about 6-9 compact vehicles or 3 trucks with boat trailers.

McCreight lake is a deep lake just north of Campbell River. It has a mean depth of 31.4 meters, and a maximum depth of 55 m. If you swim out from the boat ramp you will reach 30 meters depth about 250 – 300 meters from the surface. At the time of diving the visibility was about 8 meters from the surface. Cameron lake has a typical silty muddy bottom and it tends to be very dark at depth.

Address: Rock Bay Rd, Comox-Strathcona H, BC V0P, Canada

Have any photos you wish to share? Please e-mail them to info@freedivewire.com. Have any additional info? Please leave a comment.

Cameron Lake

This diving location was submitted by David Denz, an avid freediver on Vancouver Island who shares his freediving shots on Flickr.

Cameron Lake is a lake north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Head north from Nanaimo or South from Campbell River on Route 19. Take exit 60 (route 4) towards Port Alberni and drive 16 km to Beaufort Picnic Area. Cameron Lake is the first lake you will drive by so if you start winding along a 4.5 km long lake you have missed the parking. There is parking for about 5 vehicles and an outhouse, and from there a very short walk to a clean pebble beach.

Cameron Lake has a steep sandy and gravelly slope down to at least 15 meters and most likely easy access to 30+ m.

If you are interested in Cameron Lake Trivia; reportedly there is a lake monster lurking in the dark deep.

Address: Alberni Hwy, Nanaimo F, BC V0R, Canada

If you have any photos of Cameron Lake, please send them to info@freedivewire.com. If you have any additional info, please leave a comment.

Challenges of cold-water freediving

The waters around Vancouver can be as warm as 20+ degrees Celsius. Unfortunately it is only the top five to ten meters of water that are this warm. Below that surface layer, which only exists in summer, it is a balmy 5 – 8 degrees Celsius (that’s about 40 degrees Fahrenheit). In other places in BC, there is no warm surface layer. BC properly qualifies as cold-water freediving. Because of the cold, BC divers are usually not in the water for more than 50 minutes in the winter, or two hours in the summer.

One of my first dives was at Porteau Cove with @toddkabaluk. I think this was in early February, 2014 (write up here). We were in the water for about 50 minutes. Tkaba was rocking the cold with a 3 mm suit and an extra 3 mm vest and I was in my old surf suit 9 mm on the core, 4.5 on the limbs). When we got out of the water we drove back to Vancouver with the heater in the car blasting. I spent the rest of the day having dinner sized meals in between naps. I don’t think I have ever eaten more in a single day apart from maybe the day after one of my 20 hour orienteering races. The cold is a force to reckon with.

Countering the cold with proper freediving gear

There are a few ways to manage the cold, but all solutions of course are temporary. The first thing to do is to make sure you are using an adequate wetsuit, at least 5 mm in winter, including warm booties and gloves (or mittens). Divers who want to have one suit to dive in year-round will often choose a 5 mm wetsuit. These can be bought with waist high pants or long john pants. The benefit of a long john is that you get twice the thickness on your chest and back and you can keep your core warmer that way. If you are not that good with cold or you want to maximize your winter dive-time you can get wetsuits as thick as 7.5 mm. I wear a 5 mm suit with waist high pants, and a 3 mm sleeveless vest underneath.

Keep in mind that every extra bit of neoprene you wear will be balanced with extra weights. If you are a natural floater, you are going to have a lot of weight on you if you are in a 7.5 mm suit. Remember also, that the suit compresses at depth and becomes negatively buoyant. If you are diving with a thick suit and a lot of weight you have to work hard to come back to the surface. Always be careful and mindful when diving with new gear.

There’s a freediving fin for every season

I used a pair of plastic cressi gara 3000 fins until a few months ago. Because I am a natural sinker and I have heavy legs, I always kicked. When I switched to an Orca Dol-Fin I found out that that kicking kept me warm. The Orca Dol-fin I use was originally owned by Eric Fattah (see his review on the Orca here) and he added 2 pounds of incompressible buoyancy to the fin. My bottom time with the Dol-Fin is longer, and my dives are more relaxed, but my total dive-time has decreased because I get cold faster. If I want to do shallower dives and stay in the water longer, I have to resort to my plastic flaps. Line-diving and depth training is a no-go in winter.

What to eat before freediving

Food and freediving is tricky. When you are in very cold water your basal metabolic rate needs to go up so that you can produce extra heat. What better way to burn off energy than burning sugars? They are easy to replenish (Gatorade or any other type of sugary drink will do) and easy to burn (they are dissolved in your blood stream instantly). There is of course a downside to this too. Digestion requires oxygen, and if you normally on a low sugar diet you will get a sugar high that will make it harder to dive.

I like diving on an empty stomach best. I usually do not eat before freediving in summer, but if I don’t have any energy readily available in winter I’ll be cold as soon as I get in the water. What is the right thing to do? Freeze, dive with a (half-) full gut, or keep a bottle of Gatorade in the dive float?

Other tips for keeping warm that I have heard but not tried:

  • Stuffing your wetsuit with heating pads
  • Keeping your wetsuit in an eski with warm water before diving (at the very least it helps being warm right at the start of your dive!)
  • Keeping warm weak tea in your float