China Wall

Date Reviewed:October, 2001; September 2002
Location:SW Blakely Rock, near Bainbridge Island
Access:Boat dive
Site Description:Rock wall
Main Attraction:Resident Giant Pacific Octopus, seals, huge Lingcod

Image of chinawall dive
Looking east at Blakely Rock at high tide from the China Wall dive site. The city of Seattle is in the background, about 6 miles away.

Blakely Rock is located just outside of Blakely Harbor, on the southeast part of Bainbridge Island. The rock is easy to find, as it is an isolated formation that is highly visible even at high tide. The rock has a distinctive navigation marker affixed to it and is often the hangout for seals at low tide. Looking at the rugged rock and it's surroundings, any diver would guess that the terrain below the rock would make for a great dive.

There are multiple dive sites around the rock - at least two on the outside and one on the inside. The outside of the rock tends to be subjected to some very heavy currents. I will only dive the outside sites at slack during minor exchanges. Inside of Blakely Rock is a different story, however. On the southwest tip of the rock is a fun little wall that starts in about 60 fsw and runs down to about 100 fsw (at high tide), where it gives way to a moderate sloping bottom. This wall is in the lee of most of the current and runs in a west-east direction. Most of the wall is to the west of the anchor line, although there is some cool stuff to check out to the east as well. I have dove this location several time off slack and not noticed much current at all. On moderate to high exchanges, I usually start to encounter current as I work my way west along the wall. Quite often, I will see kelp and other debris swirling in the water column, but it is very manageable to swim through, and I think is the result of a mild back-eddy. As I continue west, I eventually run into a "jet" of current, pretty much telling me that I have gone far enough. Along the east end of the wall (where the rock wall eventually dribbles out), I have not noticed much current at all. If I want to explore this area fully, I would visit it at slack on a minor exchange to minimize currents.

The wall itself is sheer in places, somewhat uneven, and is dotted with crevices, fissure, cracks, and crannies that offer the normal host of Puget Sound marine characters some excellent cover. On a good vis day, you can see that the wall really doesn't look like a wall at all, but a series of rock faces and boulders that are strung together. Nonetheless, the structure here offers some excellent habitat for Puget Sound marine critters. I usually encountered at least one very large Giant Pacific Octopus in one of the large fissures in the west part of the wall. The biggest Lingcod I have ever seen also used to make this wall it's home, although I have not seen it recently. It makes the Edmond's Lingcod look like guppies. :)

Rockfish also really like to hang out at this site. There are usually a group of Quilback Rockfish hanging out around the anchor line to greet me on my decent. Throughout this dive, expect to be accompanied by more Quilback Rockfish, along with Copper and Brown Rockfish. Small schools of colorful Puget Sound Rockfish also call this wall their home, as does the occasional Yellowtail Rockfish. Along the wall, inspect abandoned Giant Barnacles shells for Grunt Sculpins, Mosshead, and Decorated Warbonnets (especially on the east end of the wall). Longfin and Buffalo Scuplins are also local residence, as are scallops, a number of species of crabs, nudibranchs, gunnels, Red Irish Lords, occasional Cabezons, numerous anemones, Zoanthids, Vermilion Stars, three varieties of perch, and tunicates. On one dive here, I was fortunate to see two Red Brotulas, which is a very shy, bright red fish with a face link a fish and a body like an eel.

If you are not diving Nitrox, bottom time is limited on the wall. With EAN 32, I am usually able to do dives here in the 50 to 55 minute range. When our dive is completed, we sometimes finish our dive by swimming up the slope to the northeast, heading towards the rock itself. Once above the wall there is a moderately sloping shelf that consists of some rock structure (including a small wall in about 20 fsw), occasional boulders, and a cobblestone bottom that offers a somewhat interesting environment for a safety stop. Before beginning our dive, we usually take a good compass bearing of the beach where the seals are hanging out. Once we completed the wall portion of the dive, we work our way slowly up the ledge to see if we can get a glimpse of a few seals. The seals here appear to be very wary animals, and usually keep their distance. However, every so often, we catch one swimming by us. On one dive, I had a friendly little Harbor Seal join me as I was doing my safety stop on the anchor line. Remember that if you are approached by a seal, keep your hands close. Seals will often nip to taste you in an attempt to figure out what you are. Seal bites are very nasty. In addition to a chance encounter with a seal, there are Sea Cucumbers, Sunflower Star, Sun Stars, an occasion Rock Sole, White Spotted Greenling, and perch cruising around the ledge.

Please note that due to depth, this dive should be considered an advanced dive. Again, the wall starts in 60 to 70 fsw, depending on the tide. When diving this location, we always try to do this site first, since our average depth for the dive is going to be deep. If a second dive is on your agenda, Blakely Harbor makes an excellent choice, as it is close by and the rock structure is not near as deep and runs all the way to the surface.

I really like this dive as it offers very interesting natural terrain and ample and diverse marine life. I must thank Alan Gill for turning us on to this site (I think Alan also named the site). Alan currently has this site marked with a red marker buoy. If you do not have access to a boat of your own, you might want to give Alan a call at Exotic Aquatics on Bainbridge Island. Alan runs a local dive charter aboard his well-equipped Chris Craft, the Spirit. The times we have charter with Alan (before I had my own boat), he has done an excellent job.

Return to review index