By Trish Weatherall
Published in the North Island Eagle newspaper June 1, 2018
More than 60 SCUBA divers gathered at Telegraph Cove on May 18-20 to participate in the May Long Weekend Dive Extravaganza hosted by the local Top Island Econauts Dive Club.
The annual diving and social event has helped support marine education, conservation, and promote diving safety for the past 30 years. It is one of the few remaining inter-club dive events in British Columbia, said Econaut president Jackie Hildering (also known as The Marine Detective).
“The weekend is about fun, camaraderie, sharing our amazing marine backyard, and safety,” said Hildering. “It is one of the most exclusive dive events on the West Coast and it is certainly the most longstanding. By hosting other BC dive clubs, we hope to be contributing to the culture of scuba diving in BC. The event showcases the astounding diving around North-East Vancouver Island and the funds raised from the raffle allow us to continue our community and conservation efforts.”
Participants included divers from Coquitlam Scuba Club, Vancouver Pescaderos, Duncan Divers, Campbell River Tiderippers, Vancouver Island University Dive Club, and divers from as far away as Edmonton and Calgary.
The weekend included a meet and greet and safety orientation, diving in the area of Weynton Pass and Plumper Island Group, a BBQ and entertainment.
“This year’s loggers theme had some interesting interpretations including zombie loggers and various takes on singing Monty Python’s Lumberjack song. It’s a fun weekend, like a dive family reunion,” said Hildering.
And while the weekend is filled with fun and laughter, the diving is taken very seriously.
“This truly is only for highly experienced, skilled cold-water divers,” she said. “While a lot of fun is had, dive safety is at the core of this event with stringent protocols including safety briefings and discussions of actions to undertake in event of an emergency. It’s not the place for adrenaline junkies. There is no room for inexperience and complacency with diving in cold, high current areas like this. Mother Nature rules. It’s the currents that make the local diversity and abundance of life what it is, and these currents can be unpredictable.”
“This year, for the first time in the history of the event, there was a serious accident. A diver was thrown down to 163 feet by a downwelling. If he had not had the experience to know to exhale on the way back up, this could have led to the bends. He did rupture both eardrums because of the rapid change in pressure. We are so grateful to the divers, boat operators, paramedics and Port McNeill Hospital staff for the professionalism and precaution that provided the diver with such good care.”
Hildering’s dive buddy for the weekend was Doug de Proy of Nanaimo, who has been diving for 60 years and three generations of family are among the legions he has taught to dive.
“He has been part of every facet of diving on the coast,” she said. “I literally feel like I have a bodyguard when I dive with him.”
For Hildering, it’s not the danger and adventure that draw her to diving. “It’s the beauty, mystery, and sense of discovery. It’s the escape. The quiet and being in the moment. I can completely lose myself,” she said. “It’s another world. It’s as close to space travel as you can get on earth.”
The diving group stayed at Telegraph Cove Resorts which Hildering says has access to some of the best cold-water diving in the world. Diving guests agree.
“We love diving the North Island,” John Congden and Janice Crook of Vancouver told Hildering in an email. “The diving itself is some of the best in the world, and the people are incredibly welcoming. It is our favourite diving event of the year.”
Campbell River diver Ken Blackburn said, “As an artist, it is a wonderful and rare opportunity to be able to witness the waters around Telegraph Cove. The experience of seeing the vast complexity of form and richness of colour underwater is equivalent to any aesthetic found in museums and galleries. It is impossible to not be inspired.”
The Top Island Econauts Dive Club is a non-profit society aimed at facilitating safe and ecologically sound recreational diving on northern Vancouver Island, that practices a strict “no touch, no take” approach and has a strong commitment to marine research and education.
The funds raised from the event raffle will support projects like the Lingcod egg mass survey and local salmon enhancement, marine clean-ups and ghost gear removal, dive support for the OrcaLab and Whale Interpretive Centre Society, and support of marine research and education. It also promotes dive tourism with an emphasis on northern Vancouver Island and enables two bursaries to local high school students continuing on in marine science related studies and/or who are excelling in their efforts for the environment.
“We are so grateful to the sponsors, many who are local,” said Hildering. “They help make the event possible and support our Club’s community work.” For a list of sponsors, see www.econauts.org/sponsors