Dalco Wall

Date Reviewed:April 2002
Location:South Puget Sound
Access:Boat dive
Site Description:massive sandstone wall
Main Attraction:Phenomenal wall structure

wall image
Dalco wall lies below the surface roughly in front of this mansion. (It's a bit fuzzy because it's taken with a housed camera, whose lens is a bit wet...)

All walls are NOT created equally. I love wall dives - they are my favorite type of dive. I have been fortunate enough to dive huge walls in British Columbia off of Snake Island and in Browning Pass. I have also done some incredible walls dives in the tropics -off the backside of the Molokini Crater in Hawaii and "The End of the Earth" in the Bahamas - supposedly a +6000 foot drop. There are also a lot of good diving walls in Washington too. Day Island, Point Defiance, Sunrise, Waterman, Deadman, and Blakely Rock all boast very good wall dives. However, out of all the walls I have done to date, Dalco Wall has been the most impressive.

This is especially high acclaim given that I dive primarily for seeing the marine life. Dalco does not offer much with regards to marine life. In fact, compared to the Sunrise Wall or Waterman's Wall, Dalco is a desert. That is not to say there isn't any marine life here - it is just not able to flourish as well on this current swept sandstone giant.

So, why is this relatively barren wall so impressive? To understand that, you have to understand how it was formed. If you look at a map, Dalco Wall is directly across from the Tacoma Narrows, and we all know that some torrid currents run through the Narrows. Think of the Tacoma Narrows as a fire hose nozzle. On ebbing tides, that nozzle has the weight of southern Puget Sound behind it - all that water trying to get out through the tiny Narrows. The result is a current at the Narrows that sometimes exceeds 5 knots, and a subsequent jet of water pushing northeast. Now, consider that this nozzle is aimed almost directly at the southern portion of Vashon Island. Add the fact that this part of southern Vashon Island is composed of soft sandstone, and you quickly realize that diving here is a great opportunities to view one of nature's awesome underwater sculptures.

The wall itself is very easy to locate. It is on the southern portion of Vashon Island about 500 yards (guestimate) to the west of the Vashon Island/Point Defiance ferry landing. West of the ferry landing, you will see a few homes on the beach, followed by a concrete bulkhead, and an old shack that is in a terrible state of disrepair. If you have a depth sounder, you should be able to find the wall directly out from the concrete bulkhead.

By Puget Sound standards, the wall here is immense. According to my depth sounder, parts of the wall are over 200 feet deep (starting in about 40 feet of water). It is also very expansive - in fact, in a 50 minute dive here we did not find the eastern or western reach of the wall. According to my depth sounder, it appears as if the wall ends to the east just past the large house on the beach next to the bulkhead. The wall appears to get taller as you go west from this house. I have no idea how far west the wall goes.

We normally anchor in about 30 to 40 feet of water right above the wall, straight out from the middle of the bulkhead. We are careful to not anchor too close to the wall. A dragging anchor might quickly end up dangling in +200 feet of nothingness. I always check my anchor when starting the dive, just to increase the odds that my boat will be there when I get back. The bottom here is mainly comprised of gravel and does not offer much holding power against the strong currents that frequent this location. The best solution, especially at this site, is to run a live boat. Anchor, but have a float placed on the end of the anchor line so that the boat driver can quickly release the anchor in order to do a diver pick-up.

After diving in, checking the set of the anchor and intensity of currents on the shelf, we head for the wall. The ledge above the wall abruptly ends in about 40-50 feet of water. Once it ends, the bottom literally drops out of sight into the abyss. The wall is extremely sheer and overwhelmingly deep and massive. It is very exciting indeed.

The cool thing about this wall is that it is composed of two different consistencies. The first consistency is cobblestones trapped in sandstone. Vast stretches of the wall are made of this mix. In places, small ledges, large ledges, holes, and indentations break the wall up somewhat.

The second consistency is pure sandstone, which also makes up vast stretches of the wall. In my mind, it is this sandstone that makes this wall very unique. Where the cobblestones run out, the sandstone continues on its own. The unrelenting currents have carved this sandstone into a seascape that looks like no other place I have seen. Huge wavy vertical ridges and channels decorate these parts of the wall, obvious a by-products of the ebbing currents striking this wall and waterfalling. Searching through these ridges and channels I often find small holes in the sandstone. These holes are often just big enough to offer sanctuary to a small Brown Rockfish or Red Irish Lord.

Although marine life here is not thick, it is bountiful if you look closely. Most of the life here is small. Above the wall is a moderately sloping bottom, with kelp sporadically dotting the seascape. You will find a number of larger sea creatures above the wall, including some large Sunflower Star, Pink Short Spined Stars, Leather Stars, and Red Sea Cucumbers - all creatures that are good at holding on to the bottom in high currents. I even found a very cool little Grunt Sculpin out in the open, enjoying the slack water. It was walking along the bottom on its pectoral fins.

On the wall, expect to find shrimp and scallops in fair abundance. However, the masters of this wall appear to be the sculpins. Colorful Buffalo Scuplins are extremely plentiful. In fact, at one point I put my hand down on a ledge, and did not notice the two well camouflaged Buffalo Sculpins until they darted out from underneath my hand at the last instant. Some very beautifully colored Red Irish Lords also brave the currents here, clinging to the wall wherever they can. There are also reports of Giant Pacific Octopus and Wolf-eels living on this wall, although I have not been fortunate enough to see them here yet (all the more reason to come back and dive here again and again!).

Another nice thing about this site is that the Puget Sound silt that encrusts most dive sites in our area is not present. The wall looks very clean (thanks to the twice daily power washing), and visibility was markedly better at this site (30 feet) than at the second site we dove three hours later in the Narrows.

If you want of dive here, be warned. Dalco Wall is a very serious dive and should only be done by experienced, advanced divers. Make certain this dive is within your limits and training before getting in the water here, and make certain you know WHEN to dive it. It is deep, it is dark, and it is current swept. Diving here on an ebb exchange would appear to be a very bad idea. The signs of current are all around you at this site. One look at the sandstone formations below and you will realize this that currents here should be taken very seriously. Getting caught in a harsh waterfall current can result in DCS and/or death - remember this wall goes down to over 200 fsw in places.

In addition, you need to expect some serious current at this site, even when diving it on the flood during a minor exchange. Of all the sites I have done so far in Puget Sound, this one necessitates a live boat the most. The slack periods can be very brief, and the current can pick up momentum very quickly, even on minor exchanges. I have done dives here with almost no current at all. Other times, the currents have made this dive a real challenge.

The strategy I have used when diving here (which certainly is not fool-proof) is get to the site about 30 minutes before slack before flood at the Narrows. Anchor, suit-up, and watch the current. When it slows down enough to be manageable, jump in quickly, descend the anchor line, and check the current on the shelf. In the few dives I have done here, this usually happens about 10 to 20 minutes after slack at the Narrows. Please note the surface current is just finishing out it's ebb phase, so it should still be heading east at this point. If all is good, head to the wall, and stay in tune with the current. It will change direction, and start coming out of the west as the flood begins. In fact, the current may already be flooding once you get to depth. Keep in mind that whatever current you note on the wall, the current on the shelf will probably be severely amplified. I therefore make certain we re-enter the shelf well up-current of the anchored boat so I can drift back to it, assuming it is still there.

The advice I was given regarding this dive is as follows - take it for whatever it is worth: Never dive here on or around an ebbing current. If you do get caught in a waterfall current, move away from the wall, and hopefully the current will moderate so you can surface. This dive should only be done on a flood current, although there will be some water movement on the wall while the current is flooding. Run a live boat. Use common sense - if you see substantial water movement on the surface, don't expect things to miraculously improve underwater! While diving, pay close attention to what the current is doing and don't be afraid to cut the dive short - or the dive may cut your life short.

When I initially did this review dive, we picked a day with a minimal flood exchange (1.3 knot flood at the Narrows), and started the dive about 10 minutes after slack before flood at the Narrows. I had a terrific, easy dive with minimal current. To illustrate the inconsistency at this site, I recently did another dive here on an almost identical exchange (again, a 1.3 knot flood at the Narrows with a preceding ebb was actually less than the first dive I did here). The slack window only lasted about 25 minutes (actually, I would call it minimal current window, not slack) and it was almost impossible to swim against the current on the shelf at the end of the dive. After this dive, I concluded that a live boat here is a must.

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