I travelled from Vancouver to Port Hardy for a five-day dive trip. I stayed at John DeBoeck's Browning Pass Hideaway, a floating dive resort located about a 10-minute boat ride from Browning Wall.
The Hideaway is one of the most unusual, off-beat dive resorts I've ever stayed at, and John's knowledge of the local waters and dive sites is probably unmatched. He's into his 34th year as a dive tour operator. His pre-dive briefings were excellent - clear and vivid. And he knows all the nuances of the local currents. At night, around the kitchen table or the fire pit, I was captivated by his stories about this special place, about dolphins, about orca, about sea lions, about octopuses, about eagles, and so on. And about the loss of his liveaboard boat, the MV Clavella, in a hurricane and his struggle to advance his Hideaway work in progress. He really ought to write a book.
He had two crew mates: Mike and Nicole, who took care of everything non-diving related at the resort. Together, the three created a relaxed and fun environment. And they dealt with operating problems, challenges and breakdowns with diligence, commitment and great attitude.
The resort itself is rough and offbeat, with a total of about nine separate, interconnected docks. It's a work in progress. All systems seem to function, with two generators providing electricity and powering the compressor. There's memorabilia all over the place, with small boats, kayaks, stoves, fridges, sinks, lumber and a lot of junk strewn around any open space on several of the outlying docks.
The "motel wing" of the resort is a recent addition, with about 20 spacious, clean, comfortable rooms. Power to the rooms was intermittent, which was a minor inconvenience for me as I had a constant need to recharge batteries. My bed was very comfortable. The bathroom facilities were motel quality - and it's great not having to share a bathroom. Water pressure was weak, but they were experiencing a drought and we were in water conservation mode. There wasn't much hot water.
My buddy James from Calgary joined me on the trip, and there were 5 other divers in the water: Patrick from Seattle, Helmut from Germany, Carl and Susan from Fort MacMurray and our unofficial divemaster Nicole.
The weather was absolutely as good as it gets....sunny every day, temperatures around 20C and light breezes.
Unfortunately, the viz was disappointing, averaging about 20 feet on most dives, ranging from a dismal 10 feet on one dive to about 30 feet on the better dives. A plankton cloud on the surface was often 25-30 feet deep, with fairly dark conditions below it. The shallower parts of many dive sites were not worth exploring because of the plankton, but I still managed to get some pretty good kelp and shallow reef pics/video when the water was clear.
We dove on Browning Wall, 7-Tree, Rock of Life, Hunt Rock, Snowfall, Hideaway Wall and the Wreck of the Themis.
I saw a few Red Irish Lords, one large Puget Sound King Crab, one wolfeel, several large schools of rockfish, a few nudi's, several humpback whales, a group of sea lions as well as the usual dense array of life along the walls and reefs. Others saw a few octopus, but I got skunked. Overall, there seemed to be less life along the walls and reefs than on my last trip to Hardy.
There were a couple of times when I felt that John's dive plan didn't work well....dropping us a few times into currents from the live boat. A descent line would have avoided a few poorly executed descents, which split me from my buddy James and from Nicole, who often dove with us.
I had a frustrating gear issue....my drysuit exhaust valve failed on the first dive and I got very wet on every single dive. I ended up stuffing a towel down my sleeve. Meanwhile, James was bone dry in my backup suit...except for the one time that he went swimming.