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Link to the Nautilus Swell Web Site

Seven days on the Nautilus Swell

By Ab Kurk

Nautilus SwellIn April we went to go for a 7 day dive trip on the Nautilus Swell. The Swell was originally built for the Victoria Tug Boat company in 1911. She was a steam powered tug boat. After her glory days were over she was neglected for a while until a fishing charter company bought her and turned the old tug into a luxury live aboard. In 2010 the she was bought to become the Nautilus Swell.

The trip to Port Hardy

To get to her we had to travel all the way from Vancouver BC to Port Hardy BC. For those of you who have done this before know it is quite a journey. From Nanaimo it took us another 4 hours by car driving through scenic terrain with snow covered mountains.

We arrived at Port Hardy a couple of hours before boarding time and looked for the Swell. She was tied off at a dock. We could get close to her but not close enough. Anticipation built and we were trying to look from all possible angles how we could get close enough to touch the Swell.

Anticipation from Ab Kurk on Vimeo.

Setting foot on the Swell

Finally we were told where we would be picked up by the dive tender. Around 6pm on April the 23 we set foot on the Nautilus Swell. We were greeted by Al the captain, Chris our dive master, B our cook and Claire our hostess. We soon got to know them not just as a crew but as friends.

After a quick safety drill we were off on the blue yonder to go and find the most wonderful diving you could ever imagine. I remember the first night I slept like the dead and quickly I forgot what day it was. No communication with facebook was a little bit scary at first but I got over that quickly. No communication with the outside world was a blessing.

Some facts

Camera EquipmentSome things you will learn about Port Hardy weather is that if you don’t like the current weather, wait an hour and it will change. After every dive there will be hot chocolate and cookies delivered to you by Claire, and then when you sit at the dining room table there will be incredible food cooked by B. Al and Chris knew the area weather and current like the back of their hands.

The routine was to wake up and have a pre breakfast, go for a dive and have a hot breakfast. Then work on your camera gear, go for a dive, have lunch and work some more on your camera gear, go for a dive and have dinner and then have the best sleep you ever had. Repeat this for 6 days, and you have the closest thing I know to heaven.

Our home base

The Nautilus Swell was our home base for the trip. Depending on the wind and weather, our home base would move to a safer haven where we would not notice the 40km/hr winds. The side effect was that we would have different dive spots. Moving was always a ballet that sometimes became a spectator sport when they had to tie off the Swell to land. Chris had to jump of the dive tender and do some acrobatics to prevent slipping on wet kelp and fall backwards into the cold water. B and Claire had to provide line as Al paraded around the swell with the dive tender like a general inspecting his troops.

A little bit more about our home base. Every cabin had its own wash room with shower and toilet. We stayed in one of the two superior which spanned the width of the beam of the Swell and holds two people. She also has four state rooms which are considerable smaller but still had its own shower and bathroom. On the top deck there is a camera station where you could rinse your camera and charge the batteries. On the top deck is also a hot tub that I used to relieve the sore muscles. The dining room is where we spend most of our time where we talked about our dives , wrote in our logbooks and compared pictures between dives.

Some words about the diving

For people who do diving around BC know that most of the dives we do are wall dives. This means that drops are live and pickups too. You keep the wall on your left or right and do your dive. When it is time to come up, the dive tender is ready to pick you up. Because of the currents, we did a lot of descents off the anchor line and safety stops hanging in Bull Kelp that reached all the way from the bottom to the surface. Even though the current can be a pain, without it we would not see such an abundance of life both in and out of the water. For details on the dives follow this link.

The dive tender was a miracle machine. Each diver had room enough for two divers. This was because it was designed for 24 divers but the swell can only hold 12. Exiting and entering the tender is incredible easy. Four exit points and a ladder that reached so deep that you could step on to it with ease, even for tall people like myself. After the dive they would fill your tanks right on the tender so you did not even have to touch your gear.

The Crew

Camera EquipmentThe crew was friendly and knowledgeable. Al, Chris and B all had worked together in this area and Chris and B had run charters here for many years with their own boat. If you had a question or request they would go out of their way to answer the question or fulfill your request. B and Claire had the comforting of tired divers down to an art. B’s cooking was so amazing it rivals 5 star restaurants. When  you see the small kitchen you wonder how they pulled it off. One day I sat out a dive and discovered the magic behind the hot chocolate. It was Claire putting TLC in it.

Al and Chris worked the dive tender during our dive excursions. Navigating around is difficult in these waters, and judging the current is almost impossible. We soon figured out that it is more an art than science to read the tides.  Al also piloted the Swell with precision. Sometimes the whole crew had to work together as a well oiled machine to turn the Swell in narrow bays. It was hard to believe that we were on one of the first trips this crew did on the Swell. They must have still been trying to shake out the bugs, but I did not notice anything, if they did have issues.

My Fellow Passengers

On a live aboard room and privacy is always a premium. I have to say that I lucked out with my fellow passengers. They were always there to lend a helping hand. There was a great group dynamic and I have to say that my fellow passengers were a great part of my enjoyment of the trip.  I travelled up with my wife Carrie and two of our best friends Collin and Vicki (don’t let that go to your head), and to my surprise I knew another 3 passengers Mark, Barb and Wayne.  The two mystery guests Henry and Lynn were also great people.  All of us were experienced divers and this made it easy for the crew to select dive spots as no dive site was too hard for us.

In Conclusion

In all, this was one of the best trips I have ever done. It was a perfect storm of great people, amazing diving, and incredible food. The professionalism of the crew was impeccable.  I would recommend this trip to anybody. I have done diving in this area before but on a budget, I have to say that the extra touch off luxury made a big difference in my physical well being as diving in cold water is hard work. I like to thank in alphabetical order Al, B, Chris, and Claire for making my trip so wonderful. And also like to thank Barb, Carrie, Collin, Henry, Liz, Mark, Vicki and Wayne for being the best shipmates you can ask for.