Diving the Prony Needle
Third times’ a charm for the Prony Needle.
On our 2 previous visits to Baie du Prony (Prony Bay) weather and uncertainty about the location of the dive site had kept us out of the water. (Also a brief close up encounter with whales, but that’s the last blog.)
This time we had once again fled to upper Prony Bay to escape crappy weather. We had spent the previous few days at Ile Mato with Ken and Megan on Windward Passage and they had sailed (motored in their case) alongside us into Prony Bay.
We joined them for our usual 10.30 coffee on Windward Passage (they had the coffee machine and barista (Megan) we supplied the cookies and cakes). From there we sped off in Lil'LY to the isolated danger marker that shows the navigational hazard that is the Prony Needle.
To be specific, the Prony Needle is a geographical wonder thrusting vertically up from 40m to 2m smack bang in the centre of the bay. Caused by a thermal vent it is unique in its structure with stalagmites and thermal vents all over it.
The weather remains average, but with some limited sun and currently no rain we decide to go for it. We have discussed this dive at length as it is both deep and lacking in visibility. We are expecting 2 to 3 meters visibility (poor) due to the muddy composition of the bay and we have agreed to abandon our usual 10m+ underwater distance and to keep within 2 meters of each other.
We tie Lil'LY up to the isolated danger marker (not usually allowed but this is a special marker and has a sign on it permitting this for small boats to dive). The area around the needle is a marine park so there should be great fish life (assuming we can see it). This is also the area we last sighted a whole lot of whales and can I tell you should one loom out of the muddy darkness we would both absolutely shit ourselves, the lack of visibility will make for a very eerie dive.
We backward roll into the water simultaneously and make our way to the chain that runs from the base of the floating isolated danger marker down to the needle - we hope. The chain is heavily encrusted in large mussels and we decide it is too much of hazard to hold so we free descend using the chain as a visual reference peering nervously into the muddy haze looking for the needle (and anything else that might appear).
From time to time I glimpse of a school of chevron barracuda swimming by, but alas no needle. At 38m we arrive at the bottom and optimistically follow the chain along the sea bed hoping it leads to the base of the needle.
SHIT it doesn’t! Jamie mimes that we should do a search pattern, 50m out and back, in a variety of directions (staying super close to each other) with the hope that we will be able to locate it. Given the poor visibility we will almost have to run into it to find it but its worth a shot, and Jamie is superb at under water navigation.
BUGGER nothing, and at 38m of depth we don’t have the luxury of hanging around to look for long, as we are rapidly consuming our limited air. We do a controlled ascent using the chain as a reference and regroup at the surface. Our 10 minute dive has depleted half of our air supply (depth will do that) so we opt to conduct a surface search for the dive site. I have a pretty good idea where I think it might be so we head off in that direction and voila!! There it is looming out of the muddy depths.
We discuss our remaining air supply (half of what we started with) and decide on a 20m maximin dive depth and a 50 bar air pressure to end our dive. Regulators back in, jackets deflated and down we go. We are not disappointed, yes visibility is poor but at the 17m mark we find a huge outcropping of stalagmites rising like ice spears out of the needle.
We are followed almost constantly by a large group of Batfish who are super friendly and clearly keen to get their photos taken as periodically we need to push one out of the way to take some footage of other marine life. Massive clams, whip corals and unusual fish, many of which we have never seen before abound the needle.
A curious Moray Eel peeks out from a large growth of hard coral and a trio of unicorn fish dart just out of video reach and despite my valiant effort to chase them down they disappear into the muddy haze. We slowly spiral up around the needle getting shallower and shallower.
At the 5m mark I am amazed to see the largest nudibranch I have ever seen, this one is the size of my hand, easily 10 times larger than anything I have ever seen. Holy Crap!! And then that’s it, we are low on air and reluctantly return to the surface, shivering but delighted.