Cold water diving reveals vibrant colours and creatures in the San Juan Islands, north-west USA

Cold water diving reveals vibrant colours and creatures in the San Juan Islands, north-west USA

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Left: Orange Peel Nudibranch. Middle: Sea Strawberry, white anemone. Right: Anemone.

SAN JUAN ISLANDS, WASHINGTON, U.S.A. – The photos accompanying this story look at first glance like exotic corals with their bright colours and curious shapes.  But they are not.

They were taken by Riviera 3600 Sport Yacht owner and enthusiastic underwater photographer Brian McGuire while he was diving in the waters around the San Juan Islands off the western border between the United States and Canada – 48.5 degrees north.

Brian uses an Olympus C-5060 camera in an Ikelight housing with 2 Ikelight DS125 strobes for good lighting.

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Brian with his camera equipment aboard Kiwi.

This is cold water, even during the summer, and Brian wears a bulky dry suit during his dive expeditions.

“I am too old to wear a wetsuit in these waters!“ he explains.

The waters around the San Juan Islands can also be challenging for a photographer.

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Brian McGuire in his diving dry suit.

“They are incredibly variable, both in clarity and in the currents and tides we experience,” says Brian. “Sometimes we can see for 30 metres. Sometimes it is like soup and I use a torch strapped to the back of my hand.

“But it is all worthwhile when you get down below the surface and see these amazing creatures.”

Brian has been diving since he was 14.

“I was inspired by Jacques Cousteau and then Lloyd Bridges and the ‘Sea Hunt’ TV series,” he says. For years Brian dived from a custom 21-foot aluminium boat. But his eyes went to a Riviera after he met Katie – now his wife – who shared his passion for the San Juan Islands but not for a small boat with no toilet.

“I wanted to share my love of these waters with this wonderful woman and that meant a more comfortable boat,” he says. “I have always admired Rivieras, so this was our chance to invest in one.

“I love the layout of our 3600 Sport Yacht, Kiwi.   It sleeps two, feeds four and parties six!

“It is a great size for what we want to achieve, easily manoeuvrable,  a spacious cockpit, good-size lazarette for our gear and a comfortable boarding platform. We stow the tender on the platform.”

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Brian’s Riviera 3600 Sport Yacht Kiwi at anchor in the San Juan Islands.

The only modification Brian has made was to lengthen the boarding ladder on the boarding platform.

“We board with our fins on and the ladder needs to go down quite deep to make it easy to climb,” he says.

Brian is extremely careful when he is out diving.

“We decide before we enter the water how our buddy system is going to work. Do we stay together at all times or agree to swim distances away? How do we communicate? A great deal depends on  the clarity of water and the currents. But it is dangerous to make those decisions once you are in the water; they can be misinterpreted and things can go wrong very quickly.

“We carry a lot of safety equipment. I have a submersible radio, a safety sausage and an air horn that can be heard a mile away. The sausage inflates and floats vertically so it is visible beyond the waves.

“It is frightening how a diver’s head cannot be seen at any distance if the water is at all choppy. On one occasion things did go wrong for me and I was separated from my boat.  I surfaced to see the boat some distance away and could feel the current carrying us.  I could see the boat clearly but friends on board could not see us. We floated for an hour before rescue arrived.”

Brian’s passion for diving has taken him to many locations, from the Caribbean to Honduras and Mexico and even the Galapagos Islands. His favourite is the Galapagos.

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Top-left: Blood Sea Star on a Yellow Encrusting Sponge. Top-right: Goby on Yellow Encrusting Sponge.
Bottom-left: Wolf Eel. Bottom-right: Glove Sponge aka “Deadman’s Fingers”.

“The eco-system there is incredibly varied,” he says.

He has yet to dive Australia’s Great Barrier Reef but it is on his list of future expeditions.

In the meantime, Brian and Katie are looking closely at a Riviera 445 SUV.

“It is certainly a nice motor yacht, with much more space than we have now and a really great cockpit for diving. One day!”

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