God's Pocket
Diver|September 2017

This coldwater Pacific classic can create dilemmas for photographers, says MARK B HATTER, torn between tiny rockfish and huge ‘GPOs’ in British Columbia.

Mark B Hatter

WHY WOULD ANYONE haul 150 pounds of equipment someplace to go diving?” the Facebook post read.

“Here is why!” the post continued, followed by several gorgeous wide angle images of centimetre-long yellow fish streaming up the face of a vertical wall by the hundreds.

The images were posted by my diving buddy Ron Watkins, and could have come from some tropical reef had it not been for the oddly competing colours in the images. I knew better – I had been with Ron when he captured the shots.

The streaming fish were not anthias, those ubiquitous schoolers of reefs in the Indo-Pacific, but juvenile rockfish, a coldwater species that often schools.

And, as they ascended a wall carpeted with bone-white short plumose anemones, the contrasting colours between the fish, anemones and an emerald-green backdrop of cold water betrayed the marine environment of Canada’s Pacific North-west coast.

Ron and I had just returned from four special days’ diving at the God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park in Queen Charlotte Strait, about an hour’s boat-ride north-east of Port Hardy, Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Getting there had had its complications.

With our heavy kit assembled to comfortably dive waters hovering around 8°C, we exceeded the weight limits of the uber-small commuter flight from Vancouver International Airport to Port Hardy. Ultimately, we had to accept the non-refundable ticket cost, hired a car and drove up from Vancouver, making the boat with minutes to spare. On greeting our fellow divers at the pier we learned that no one flies – everyone drives.

Ask any Canadian or US diver comfortable in a drysuit, and they will tell you that God’s Pocket is the best coldwater diving in North America.

Ron and I can testify that the biodiversity surrounding God’s Pocket must be the coldwater equivalent of Raja Ampat in the Coral Triangle.

Indeed, dive-sites offering vertical walls, pinnacles, rockpiles, kelp-beds and more proved vexing for our trip’s photographers – having to choose between wide-angle or macro at every site became an agonising decision.

You can’t go wrong in the end, because every site offers opportunities for both perspectives. Alas, some great shots will be missed with one rig but then excellent ones will be captured with the other.

I selected macro for the dive on which Ron captured his schooling rockfish, yet nailed some nice black-eye goby images with my macro lens.

Finally, God’s Pocket

Home base for diving this remote region is the picture-postcard God’s Pocket Dive Resort, nestled on a bluff high above the tide-line in a tiny bay on Hurst Island, and aptly named God’s Pocket.

Owner-operators Annie Ceschi and  Bill Weeks have been running a first class and safety-conscious diving operation there since 1998. And, though remote, the resort staff includes a top shelf chef who can humbly explain to a culinary dullard like me the nuance between gravy (which contains beef stock) and a double-reduced sauce (which has no beef stock). In short, the food was so good that I may have said that if my wife could cook as well as chef Oliver, I’d travel less!

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