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Big Bay Point, Lake Simcoe, Ontario November 10, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log.
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The City of Barrie, Ontario is at the very end of Kempenfelt Bay in Lake Simcoe. The lake is about an hour’s drive or so north of Toronto, and while not big enough to be called one of the Great Lakes, is still pretty big. The waters near Barrie are quite shallow, and you’d have a hard time finding 40 feet by swimming out on a single tank, but towards the mouth of the bay you can find the deepest parts of the lake at slightly more than 130 feet. The southern point on the bay’s mouth is known as Big Bay Point. A marina is located there, but slightly in from the mouth you find a public dock that is popular with local divers.

It takes just under an hour to get there from my house, and a bit less from the dive shop, and the gently sloping bottom but easy accessibility to 90 foot depths makes it usable for all types of open water training. I’ll say usable, rather than ideal, because besides the customary frigid waters found in our lakes most of the year, it also has a thick, silty bottom that stirs up easily. Fortunately, there is usually a bit of a west to east current that clears the silt quickly, but the visibility can drop to near zero at times.

The water off the dock is deep enough to do a giant stride entry without touching bottom, although I’ve felt my feet touch gently when entering with my doubles on. A thin line leads northward down the slope. The water is quite shallow for the first 20 yards or so – certainly shallow enough to stand up in, and we attach the small dive buoy marker just before it gets steeper. Following the line down, you go past a log at 30 feet where were line up the open water students, quickly followed by a newspaper box (like you see in front of rural properties), which is the attachment point for our main dive flag. The line attaching the flag buoy to the bottom serves to assist ascents and descents, which is a mandatory facility for the controlled emergency swimming ascent (CESA) exercise, and also handy for students to help them control their ascent and descent speeds.

The line then descends all the way to 90 feet, where the bottom flattens out. At that point, the bottom consists of muck with patches of weeds without any landmarks, so care is needed not to get lost as the reference to the slope is no longer there. Without a compass, the best reference is the current, which if kept to your right will lead you back to shore, although probably quite some distance from your point of entry.

A speedboat rests at 30 feet

A speedboat rests at 30 feet

Also from the newspaper box, lines lead both east and west. The east line goes past a couple of garden gnomes, and finally to a speedboat. This is one of the places we take students on their underwater tours. It is about a 5 minute swim with the current, so careful monitoring of air supply is important to make sure everyone can get back with plenty to spare. The way back often in very poor visibility, because the bottom has been stirred up badly by the student divers. I try to keep them at least four feet off the bottom to minimize the effect of the vortices emanating from their fins as they scissor kick. I have to do the same, as we’re not supposed to frog kick while training, although I cheat if I’m behind them.

One of the underwater attractions at Big Bay Point

One of the underwater attractions at Big Bay Point

The line isn’t really necessary as you can’t miss the speedboat if you stay at 30 feet. The west line leads to a duck decoy, then to small plastic duck on a post, then to another log. It’s not as much fun as the boat, but it’s another place to go on underwater tours. Down the slope leads to various items, like a bicycle on a stand, a toilet, and a skateboard right near the end of the line.

Recently, there’s been some more underwater decorating. While helping Brad with an Advanced student on her deep dive, I noticed a boat about 5 feet to the right of the line at about 40 feet. Once Brad took the student back to the dock I went back to the boat to check it out, and found there two new boats lying there at right angles. I was amazed at how many people had swum right by them without noticing. I practiced navigation from the boat to various other points (like the eastern gnome) on the site. There were also numerous new small items lying around.

One of the downsides of Big Bay Point is the boat traffic. A diver, who was the wife of an instructor, was struck in the head and killed there by a passing boat which drove at high speed between the dock and the dive flag. The police thought that the boat driver may have been unaware of the accident, and was never identified. Another diver had prop damage to his yoke screw the following year. Needless to say we listen carefully before we ascend!

I showed my wife the full set of pictures that included the above two. She was amazed that we dove time after time only to see old bicycles, toilets, and other garbage, and said that she now understood why I had to go away to places like Brockville and Tobermory to get some good diving in.

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