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Leaving the World Behind

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Well-Known Member
Mar 2, 2001
Leaving the World Behind
A trip to Tahsis, BC, Canada

The town of Tahsis is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, about an hour and a half from Gold River, or two
and a half hours west from Campbell River. Once a booming logging town housing 3000, it now houses just over 400
people, now that the mill is shutting down. The lack of work has resulted in some of the lowest real estate prices in
B.C., with houses at sea-level selling for CDN$15,000 - $35,000, only minutes walk from the ocean.

Tahsis is located at the mouth of an intricate series of inlets, which lead eventually to the open pacific ocean. The
open ocean can be reached via two paths, either around the north side of Nootka island, or around the south side. As
far as marine life goes, the northern path leads mainly to sea otters, while the southern path leads to sea lions and
gray whales. Seals can be found anywhere, and orcas and pacific white-sided dolphins can occasionally be found.

Damir, Lukas and I left on the morning of Friday, November 8th, for a 4-day trip to Tahsis. We had been generously
invited by Tyler Zetterstrom, a new resident of Tahsis, and an expert icewater freediver. We met at the White Spot at
Marine Drive & Taylor Way in North Van. Damir, Lukas and I travelled in my car, while Tyler and his girlfriend Aniko
travelled in his truck. We drove to the Horseshoe bay ferry terminal and waited in line for the 10:30am ferry to
Nanaimo. While waiting for the ferry we were already listening to Tyler's exciting stories of what we would find at our
destination. This was, after all, more than a trip; Damir, Lukas and I were all so amazed by Tyler's stories that we
were all considering moving to Tahsis, if it turned out to be what we expected. We would not be disappointed.

We barely made it onto the 10:30am ferry to Nanaimo. After an uneventful trip, we arrived in Nanaimo, and drove north,
to Campbell River. It was pouring rain, so we had to limit our speed on the freeway. We reached Campbell river after
about 2 hours of driving, and we stopped at the Real Canadian Superstore to buy groceries and gas. At 3pm we were off
West, towards Gold River. The rain pounded down, but it could not stop us. After around an hour, we reached the tiny
town of Gold River, which signalled the end of paved roads. Tyler pulled over in his truck and signalled to us to pull
over. After agreeing that all was well, we began driving the gravel/dirt road to Tahsis, the only path into the town.
We followed Tyler's truck, trying to avoid the pot-holes. After around 45 minutes, Tyler pulled over and asked us if we
wanted to see some caves. We got out, and wandered into the most amazing complex of natural caves any of us had ever
seen. Unfortunately it was still pouring rain so we all got soaked. However, the caves were very interesting, and we
all hoped to come back sometime. Back in the car and soaking, we drove the final 45 minutes to Tahsis, totalling about
an hour and a half on the dirt road. We arrived in Tahsis just after dark. The town was completely black, not a single
electrical light anywhere. The power was out. We pulled up beside Tyler's truck on his dark driveway. Tyler and Aniko
searched for candles and oil lamps while the rest of us tried to unpack the essential gear from our car, in the

Once inside the dark, cold house, we were already impressed. Tyler's house was a classic cedar west coast cabin, two
floors, nicely furnished, and very cozy. He had a deck in the back yard, and beyond the deck was a creek, and beyond
the creek stood a towering mountain, which could be hiked. Aniko started a fire, and soon we were all trying to dry off
and warm up in front of the flames. Tyler called a local in the town and we found out that a logging truck had taken
down a pole on the dirt road, and power would be out until at least the next evening (Saturday). We grew concerned,
because we had planned on diving the next day, but without warm air, warm food, or warm water, diving would be
difficult. We struggled to eat whatever cold food we had in a vain attempt to load calories for some cold water diving.

Soon, we set up our sleeping arrangements and slept in the pure darkness. The lack of power meant the air was pure (no
vents or heating), and there were no magnetic fields of any kind nearby. We all slept very well; in my case, I can't
ever remember sleeping so well.

In the morning, Tyler spoke with Mike, the boat operator, and we decided to delay the boat trip until Sunday, due to the
pouring rain and lack of electricity.

In the cool house air, we took turns gearing up in the bathroom, warming our hands up by the fire afterwards. We put
some towels in my car, and Tyler drove us to an abandoned logging site along the inlet, about 15 minutes away over slow
logging roads. We put on our fins and gloves, and got in the water about 2km from Mazimo point, one of the more popular
dive sites in this virgin land. This particular spot had probably never been dived before. Once in the 8 degree water,
we found a crud layer on the surface, but below 5m the visibility increased to at least 10-12m, surely better than we
ever get in Vancouver. The visibility increased even further the deeper we dove. We made slow progress along the
shoreline, diving frequently to the bottom, moving in the same general direction along the shoreline. Aquatic life was
there, but somewhat sparse. Underwater vegetation was abundant, and an orange sea pen stood alone along the somewhat
barren bottom. We saw a couple of seals, but only on the surface. Eventually Tyler and I began slowly pulling away
from Lukas and Damir, who were taking their time and making slower progress along the shoreline. Soon Tyler and I were
about 500-800m away from our hopeful destination, Mazimo point. Unfortunately we had already been in the water for at
least an hour, and we had a 1000m+ swim to get back to the car, and my feet were getting numb in my monofin. We began
the swim back.


Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
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Once out of the water, we got into the car, and munched on some chocolate and brownies to refuel while Tyler drove us
home. We decided to try to dive the river where the salmon were spawning. Damir was getting cold, so once he dropped
us off up river, he drove the car down the river to the mouth, near the ocean, and waited for Tyler, Lukas and me. The
three of us had a blast being swept by the currents downstream. There were many salmon in the beginning, but as we
travelled downstream, there were mostly dead salmon. A great many seals had made their way up the river in search of
salmon for dinner. Unfortunately they are extremely clever and they always remained about 10 metres upstream of us,
which was virtually insurmountable due to the current.

Eventually we arrived at the agreed-upon spot where Damir waited for us. We got out of the water, and the lone police
officer in Tahsis happened to pass by in his police SUV. He asked us if we were freediving or tank diving. I was quite
surprised he had even heard of freediving.

Soon, we were home, and we eagerly changed into warm dry clothing. The power was still out, and the house was still
cold, but Aniko had another fire ready, so we all warmed up in front of it, trying to refuel on cold food. As darkness
enveloped the town, we spent the evening exchanging interesting stories and ideas in front of the fireplace, and it felt
cozy being with friends in the middle of nowhere.

As it grew late, to our astonishment power came on! The cozy house suddenly became a bit less cozy with electrical
lighting. We cooked ourselves the first hot food of the trip and ate greedily. Then, we went for a walk around Tahsis,
with Tyler as our guide. He acted more like a real estate agent, directing us to the houses for sale, and informing us
of all the benefits of living in Tahsis. Soon we found ourselves asking him, 'so what are the *bad* points of living
here?' He didn't have a good answer, and neither did we.

He showed us the rec centre with satellite internet, the gym, the pool (temporarily closed for cleaning), the firehall
and hospital, the high school, the pub and restaurants, and the only grocery store. He showed us his favorite 'food
store', a section of the inlet where he frequently hunts for dinner (crabs, oysters, kelp and the like). The sea water
here is so clean that you can eat your seafood while still underwater, which we plan on trying in the near future.

Once home, we sat in front of the fire again, and soon bed time neared, and we happily rested. Strangely, with the
house now warm, and the street lights on, none of us slept as well as the night before.

We woke in the morning on a bit of a tighter schedule, since Mike was supposed to take us out on his $40,000 zodiac. We
tried to eat what we could, and geared up again. Mike arrived and discussed possible plans for the trip. Lukas was
still in bed, and was still exhausted from the cold diving of yesterday. Initially he said he wanted to stay home, but
after hearing Mike's description of what we might see and do on the trip, he changed his mind. So, we waited for Lukas
to gear up, and then Tyler drove us to the marina. Armed with hot water thermoses, we boarded Mike's zodiac in the
rain; winter jackets over our wetsuits offered little protection from the over-powered boat's 60km/h -10C windchill!

We headed along the northern path to the open ocean. During the 45-minute trip, we all lost a lot of heat. The color
of the water changed dramatically during the trip, from a glassy dark green to a murky turquoise, a color I thought only
existed in the south pacific. As we neared the open ocean, the flat water of the inlet gave way to rougher water, until
finally we made the last turn which brought us into view of infinity, the next land being Japan, thousands of kilometers
beyond the haze. Giant rollers 20 or more feet high brought us up and down, and huge forests of bull kelp were
scattered around the virgin turquoise waters. Small rocky islands were plentiful along this area, which was actually a
shallow 40-60 foot deep reef. We watched an enormous roller crash over a small island in a huge thunder of spray. This
was the first time I had seen the open ocean, and the power of the water and the very concept that we were in front of
the open pacific was extremely awe inspiring to me. What was even more inspiring was that this particular stretch was
virtually unexplored. Mike explained how he would fish for giant halibut and salmon in areas close to this.

Mike turned the boat and headed for shelter behind one of the islands. Once there, we spotted two 'rafts' of sea
otters, about 100m apart, and 120m away, each with about 20-40 otters, floating on their backs, tied to the kelp, as
they waited for the bad weather to pass. This was also an amazing sight to me, to see these small mammals overwintering
so close to the open ocean, and yet looking so playfully at home. The sights around me made me feel like jumping in the
water and never coming out.

We hurried to get our masks and fins on, to try to get close to the otters. In the rush, Lukas and I accidentally put
my heat pack in backwards under my suit, leaving the less insulated side against my skin. I eventually got badly

I still felt no sea sickness at all, but Lukas and Damir were not so lucky, and they threw up in the water.

My back was being burned in agonizing pain by the heat pack, but I ignored it and swam towards the otters, who had
already begun to flee once they saw us splash into the water. There was a terrible current pushing us away from their
direction, and being the only monofin diver, with great difficulty I made it to where the otters had been, but it was
too late. I dove a couple of times, it was only 10 feet deep, 4 foot vis, murky turquoise water, but lots of kelp
everywhere. Realizing that we missed the otters, we all got out, back onto the boat. Damir soon threw up again, but I
felt fine. Mike took us over to another island, to a wall that had been previously dived by scuba divers. Damir was
getting cold, so Tyler, Lukas and I got in the water. The vis was still very poor, but the wall was full of life, and
small coral. Apparently the visibility inside the inlet is consistently good, but out here near the open water it
varies dramatically, sometimes reaching 120 feet, but right now it was so poor we realized we needed to proceed to the
next dive site. On my last dive, while breathing up, I felt a click on the back of my neck. Suddenly I saw my neck
weight sinking into the murky water. I immediately sprinted down after it, but it was too late, and it tumbled down the
wall into murky blackness.

Back on the boat, I was still warm, but I knew we still had a 45-minute trip of extreme windchill to get back to Mazimo
point in the inlet. We put our soaking jackets on in a vain attempt to minimize the windchill.

Shortly after starting the trip back, Lukas lost his prized mask in the wind. Before he realized it, it was 30 metres
behind us, and sinking fast. It was our second sacrifice to the ocean that day, but not the last.

About halfway to Mazimo point, we encountered a lone sea otter in the flatter water of the inlet. Mike had told us
stories of a friendly otter, much like Jojo the famous dolphin. This 'Jojo' otter was not afraid of people, like the
other otters. You could nearly run over him and he wouldn't go away. Upon approaching this lone otter in the inlet, we
hoped it was Jojo, but about 20m before we reached him, he went down and stayed down. Maybe next time.


Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
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Speeding through the rain, sleet, hail and fog, we eventually reached Mazimo point, a narrow channel about 100 metres
wide, with lots of currents and lots of life. One side was called the 'rock garden' and was home to larger life such as
wolf eels. The other side was called 'Liboracci's Living Room', and it was so called because of the abundant color. It
was also the site we were going to dive.

By now, back in the inlet, the water was as flat as a mirror, and the rain had temporarily stopped. We were all on the
edge of shivering. It had been about three and a half hours since we had first gotten onto the boat.

We entered the water of Liboracci's Living Room in a calorie deprived state, eager to see why it had earned such a
name. We were not disappointed.

After our first dives, all we could do was to wonder why did fate force us to start this dive so cold. You could spend
months on this site alone. It consisted of a rocky wall, with ledges, going down to 60m in the center of the channel.
Colors and life were everywhere; you could not touch a square inch of rock without killing 10 organisms. Below the crud
layer, visibility was between 50-60 feet, and even greater in the abyss. There was an amazingly powerful deep water
current below 25 meters, although the current on the surface was going in the opposite direction. On one of Tyler's
last dives, he got caught in the deep water current, and surfaced 60-70m away. On one of my last dives, Lukas watched
at 15m while I descended deeper, until I too got caught in the deep water current at 27m and vanished from Lukas'
sight. On that same dive I saw two amazing things, an orange brain like formation bound to a rock, and a brown tube
like rigid sponge. These were only highlights of probably 100 different things I saw. This site is also unique because
there are huge flowers of Gorgonian Coral starting only at 25m; these corals are extremely rare, the only other common
ones are found at Agamemnon's channel along the sunshine coast, and even there they begin at a difficult 40m of depth.

Lukas and I had started shivering only moments after we entered the water, but all three of us dove well into the
unhealthy zone simply because we knew this would be our last chance to enjoy such a wonderful site for a long time.
Soon I reluctantly dragged my shivering body onto the boat, and tried to refuel with some cookies. I learned that Mike
had lost his diver down flag while maneuvering the boat a few minutes earlier. It was our third sacrifice of the day.

Tyler soon got out, his face so numb he was having difficulty speaking. Lukas, the one who nearly stayed home, remained
in the water, unwilling to come out. Lukas is known to be a bit shy of shivering and having numb extremities, and the
fact that he refused to leave said something about the quality of this site. Eventually I called out and told him that
for the sake of his health he should get out! Eventually he did, and we all froze during the 10-minute trip back to the
marina. One other comment about Mazimo point; aside from being one of the most amazing sites in BC, it has one thing
that puts it above all other sites; it is accessible by shore, with only a 500m swim if you hike along the logging trail
from the abandoned logging site where we originally dove from the day before. Mike also told us about Espinosa, the
best site yet discovered in the area, which was supposed to be far better than Mazimo point; but, Espinosa is
current-critical and can only be done on a slack tide.

Back at the marina, we made our numb bodies unload the boat, after more than four and a half hours exposed to either
icewater or -10C windchill. Mike had generously invited us for dinner, and we couldn't wait. We got back to my car,
and Tyler drove us home. After changing and having warm showers, we headed over to Mike's place by car. Mike also had
a nice cozy house, and his wife Virginia was preparing a feast for our energy deprived bodies. Mike showed us some
picture albums of his camping trips around the inlets, and he showed us many maps and marine charts of the area. It was
only now that we began to understand the vastness of this area, and from the maps, and our memories of the boat trip, we
began to realize that there are thousands of kilometers of unexplored lands, islands and waters that would keep any
outdoor enthusiast busy for centuries. The water itself was virtually unexplored; the only commercial scuba trips to
Tahsis come for the six-gill sharks, which are far more abundant than at hornby island, and the six-gills here also seem
to remain in shallow water for much longer. The fact that the waters were so unexplored meant that it was not
inconceivable to discover new species on almost every dive! Tyler has many enyclopedias of north west coast marine
life, and yet some of the things we saw weren't in those books. Another thing we found from the charts (as well as from
the depth sounder on the boat) is that the inlets offer extremely deep (120m-200m) water only a short swim from shore.
This, combined with the consistently calm & good vis in the deep water of the inlet, makes Tahsis an ideal place to
train for deep diving. There is also a scuba shop in town, but it only opens when one of the large commercial diving
trips arrives.

Soon dinner was ready, and it was a feast, immensely satisfying. There was an enormous amount of food, but we ate
almost every scrap, to the astonishment of our hosts. Soon, with full bellies, and sleepy, we were back to the maps and
pictures and stories. Lukas discovered that paragliding was also possible here, and it had been tried before. Lukas
then treated us to a host of funny paragliding stories, from getting sucked into clouds to being pounded by flocks of

Eventually we left, and thanked our hosts. Soon we were all sound asleep.

In the morning, Lukas, Tyler and Aniko went looking for the bears that frequently feed on the salmon in the river. I
hadn't slept well so I stayed in bed. Damir and I reluctantly began packing our things. It was still foggy and raining
outside. Soon the crew returned, without seeing any bears. We all packed, and ate. Finally, Lukas, Damir and I left
Tahsis, and gave a big thanks to Tyler and Aniko for their tremendous hospitality.

The trip back was just as long, but it seemed short, because we had so much to talk about. We all agreed that aside
from wet weather, Tahsis was a great place to live. So, the discussions shifted to methods of making a living in
Tahsis. This occupied us for many hours, but in the end, we had many ideas. It was just a matter of time.

We parted ways at the White Spot again, and I drove home by myself. Although I stared at the traffic, all I could see
were huge turquoise rollers, rafts of sea otters, kelp, deep clear water, an orange brain like structure, sponges,
salmon, colors, and a thousand kilometers of unexplored lands.

It wasn't long before those images were replaced by mathematical calculations of how long it would take to save up $30K
to buy a house there. The next evening, a call from Lukas confirmed that I was not alone in my calculations.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
nice man


Nice Eric man very smooth. His smoothness

good story

I like reading other people's experiences of freediving. I'd like to see more people share their interesting aquatic adventures!

"Tyler soon got out, his face so numb he was having difficulty speaking"... Always makes me laugh listening to myself trying to speak with a numb face :eek:

I've just converted 30k Canadian dollars to UK pounds...
£12,000... for a house that's incredible!

BTW.... I've made some neckweights that can never slip off, if anyone is interested....

All you need is some sheet lead. You just cut out the correct amount of weight you need in a rectangular shape. You can work it out by calculating the mass per unit area etc etc. Make sure that one side of the lead is wide enough to fit around your neck (allowing for comfort and your wetsuit). Then fold the lead perfectly flat (with a hammer) - into about 3 layers, so it's about 1 inch wide. Then slip a tightly fitting bicycle inner tube over it. You may need either a road inner tube or one for a mountain bike depending on its size. Bend it into a circular shape. ... Then you simply have to open it up slightly and fit it around your neck - you can make it as tight or as loose as you like. The rubber inner tube means it doesn't move about around your neck - especially with smooth skin suits. You can't even tell you're wearing it.

I currently have 3 neckweights: 0.5kg, 0.75kg and 1.0kg... I've not tried making any heavier than that. But I can't see a problem with it.

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Thanks for the writing.

Enjoyed the article Eric. Thanks for sharing the experience. Felt the cold just reading it. I imagine everyone can relate to that sinking feeling of knowing you've found the best site of the day, at the end of the day.
Great stuff !

Great stuff Eric!

I really enjoyed Your report! You are a great example of someone who has not lost his joy of freediving as a world class athlete! It's great to see excellent freedivers with great capacity for beauty in details exploring nature and having adventures.
While most of us do not possess Eric's diving ability or his drive for excellence (he IS a fanatic...Eric will talk about freediving all day, for hours and hours, and it's always interesting), many of us do share the love of the ocean and the environment around it.
I worked on a liveaboard boat around that part of the world, and it's my favourite place for anything....diving, scenery above and below, remoteness, and some very good people. Yes it's cold, and colder in the winter, but it's worth the effort and it's invigorating.
Thanks Eric for taking me home for 20 minutes.
Erik Y.
Awesome story Eric, cheers for taking the time to write :)

By the way, you'll be happy to know I'm slowly being convinced to use a monofin... I guess they are pretty good... :D
Well thanks Eric, great story, I wish I could live somewhere where the diving is not all crap viz no fish type of thing.. But that story helped a little, and the stuff that you "lost" to the ocean made me feel that I am not alone losing my gear to the ocean... last trip my wight belt came off right where the waves broke, but luckily I managed to grab it before it sank to the murky water... huh that was a close one..
So thanks.
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