Scuba Diving & River Rafting in the Pacific Northwest - 5/98

We departed San Jose, California early Friday morning with a loose schedule of touring the Pacific Northwest over six days. Arriving in Seattle, we quickly secured a mini van that became a most convenient base for my photographic needs and convulsions while Connie drove and Chris navigated the many miles we planned to cover.

We decided to head to Port Angeles to catch the Coho Ferry to Victoria, BC. It's not the closest ferry to the SeaTac Airport but afforded us an opportunity for a drive through some of the very scenic Olympic Peninsula. The weather was typical of the Seattle area, overcast and drizzly. During the first portion of our crossing, the ferry put up a strong port / starboard roll that quickly subsided after our Captain executed a 90 degree turn much to the relief of a good number of seasick passengers. Almost simultaneously the weather cleared to a sunny pleasant type of day that miraculously stayed with the rest of the week.

 

We arrived at Victoria to the sight of a city preparing for Victoria Day, a Canadian national holiday. The boats in the harbor were brightly decorated with flags and people strolling the town exhibited the anticipation of the weekend festivities to come. We obtained a room at the Royal Scot very close to the harbor at a more than reasonable price for a suite with two bedrooms on a holiday weekend.

I placed a call to a video-photographer friend I had the pleasure to meet on a live aboard trip in Bimini and The Bahama Banks (Ocean Photos Trip Report) and inquired about the local diving. Not a problem, he assured me -- there was an outstanding shore dive at the town's breakwater, Ogden Point and even a dive shop at the wall to equip us with tanks and weights. The Ogden Point Dive Center even had hot showers and changing rooms inside for after the dive!

We met Darren the next morning and after gearing up in the parking lot, we proceeded along the breakwater's granite slabs for a moderate walk until he declared we had arrived at one of his favorite dive sites. High praise coming from a very seasoned diver who happens to own his own dive boat and ventures into the cold waters of British Columbia on a weekly basis.

 

The square stones of the breakwater are neatly stacked, step style in four foot levels that rise thirty fee above sea level and continue forty or fifty feet below the surface. Upon our descent, we followed the very uniform man made decline and I was immediately struck at the abundance of robust ocean life that teemed everywhere I gazed!

Huge ling cod and cabezon alternately rested and then glided past us as we approached. Peering close at the surface and crevices of the breakwater's stones and kelp footings, I observed numerous varieties of sculpins, nudibranchs, crabs, scallops and juvenile fish. Metridians were common at depths of only forty feet, an odd sight to a California diver accustomed to seeing them much deeper.

 

I've done a number of dives off Vancouver Island and to date, this "shore dive" rivals any and all as far as activity and life goes. All in all, an outstanding place to dive! At the end of our diving at Victoria's Breakwater, Darren treated us to lunch and wonderful local brewed beer at Spinnaker's Brewery Pub & Restaurant (250)386-2739, a very nice place definitely worth a return visit. Over our meal, he explained the area we dove was a marine sanctuary which accounted for not only the healthy populations of marine life but the apparent lack of concern the fish exhibited over our presence. He also described the annual squid run which occurs in late July as an event not to miss! I think a return trip will be in the works.

The next day we left early and drove north for several hours along the east coast of Vancouver Island to Nanaimo, a small city where Chris had arranged with Ocean Explorers Diving for a two tank dive that was to include the HMCS Saskatchewan, a 366 foot WW II destroyer escort sunk June 1997 at about 130 feet as an artificial reef. This very new wreck offers a view of sunken ships I don't often see. The paint is fresh and crew writings are still very visible as are the details of gauges, wheels, vent ways and small fixtures that on older wrecks are normally obscured by the effects of time underwater.

 
 

Our exploration on the HMCS Saskatchewan was painfully too short to explore but a portion of her magnificent exterior and mysterious interior. This dive is one to be repeated, hopefully over a number of years as I will find the natural "aging" of the wreck fascinating to watch as the sea claims it as her own.

The friendly staff of Ocean Explorers Diving did an excellent job of providing dive services for the day as we explored the wreck and a nearby reef. We were blessed with calm seas and continuing fine weather that followed us as we departed Vancouver Island in the afternoon on the Nanaimo BC Ferry bound for the City of Vancouver.

 

Personally, I found Vancouver a bit too large and busy and wasn't really "getting into it" so after one night, we opted to cut our stay short and drive south to Seattle for an evening on the town.

 

On the way, immediately after we crossed the Canadian / US border we saw sign posts indicating the Town of Birch Bay, WA was a few short miles from the highway. A quick diversion led us to a very small and quaint oceanside town with mud shallows reaching towards to mountains of Vancouver Island across the bay.

We munched on sandwiches at the seaside and watched families frolic at the water's edge at low tide while others dug for clams in the shallows leading to the sea.

 
     

Several hours later we were back on the road south to Seattle to try to locate a room. After a few inquiries, another suite was secured on the north side of town at the Marriott Residence Inn, very comfortably and spacious accommodations indeed.

Seattle has a personality of its own that I find very conductive to a good time and this evening was no exception. Connie bid us good night and Chris and I made the rounds until we happened upon Bandoleone on Eastlake Ave. This north side establishment welcomed our cigars and served us fine beer for the rest of the evening. California has not been the same since smoking indoors was banned!

 
 

Early out on the last day of our trip, Chris and I ventured north east to the Skykomish River where we met the guides of River Riders for a day of white water rafting on the Class V rapids from Index to Gold Bar.

 

 

Upon reaching the final river bank, the guides set to work preparing a hot lunch of grilled chicken and fresh salads bringing close to an action packed day of dodging massive boulders in rushing waters and raft horseplay that landed me in the bone chilling 48 degree waters of the Skykomish on more than one occasion!

Chris & I check out "Boulder Drop"
before we head down in our raft.

   

The day of sun and river fun capped our short venture through the Pacific Northwest to such a fine degree that we were all smiles and droopy eyes on the flight home to San Jose.

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1998 John Petrak