Day Island Wall

Date Reviewed:March, 2002
Location:South Puget Sound
Access:Boat or possibly shore dive
Site Description:Massive sandstone walls, extremely current intensive area
Main Attraction:Outstanding structure, giant pacific octopus, and wolf-eels.

Day Island Wall. I had heard a lot about this site since I started diving Sunrise Beach three years ago. I heard the wall was massive. I heard that Wolf-eels are everywhere and that I would have to fend off the Giant Pacific Octopus. I also heard that currents here were hellacious - very strong and multi-directional - and that the wall was deep, bottoming out at 110 feet. I was intrigued to do this site when they reopened the public beach access near this dive site on Day Island a year or two ago (before I had a boat). But in talking with some local dive shops, they discourage me from doing this dive as a shore dive. They strongly recommended that if I did it as a shore dive that I would be foolish to do it during slack on any exchange of more than 1.1 knots at the Narrows, which only happens a couple of days of the year. This meant it had to be done when the time was right. As most of my dive buddies are not as gung-ho as me on diving, they are generally not inclined to take a day off work to dive a particular site (especially in the South Sound) when the currents are "just right". So Day Island sat on the "really want to do" list - until this weekend.

I recently was fortunate enough to meet a local couple who are as fanatical about diving as I am (actually, they even may be more so!). In our conversations regarding diving, the topic of Day Island Wall came up. They had done the Day Island Wall dozens of times as a shore or kayak dive and assured me that this wall was divable at slack on exchanges greater than 1.1 knots. As the currents were favorable this particular weekend, they kindly offered to join me on a Day Island wall dive on this Saturday. As I have a small dive boat, we decided to hit Point Defiance West Wall first, then do Day Island Wall on the early afternoon slack.

The day we did this dive, we did it from an anchored boat at the end of a flooding tide (1.3 knot flood at the Narrows turning to a 3.0 knot ebb). We anchored the boat in about 45 feet of water on the ledge above the wall, and geared up. The current was running south (flooding), and it did not seem too strong. We got in the water about 45 minutes before slack and descended. I immediately notice that the current was running the opposite direction at the top of the wall. Initially, I got a little anxious - has the tide turned already? Are we on the ebb? If so, the current was going to do nothing but get worse throughout the dive and the thought of fighting a 3.0 knot ebb current was unsettling (I had some instant bad memory flashbacks of a getting moshed by current a few times at the Sunrise wall, however, making it back to the boat or even to shore here would be MUCH tougher). However, when we descended the wall, the current changed direction again, and my mind was put to ease - we were still on the flood. In fact, the current seemed to easy up throughout the entire dive, so our timing must have been pretty good.

On this particular dive, we explored the wall from the public access point to the south. We did not get all the way to the southern most tip of the wall (due to limited no-deco time), but I believe we made it close to the end. My observations are only regarding this portion of the wall. There is apparently a large section to the north of the access point to explore as well, but that will be another day!

What I saw of this wall is impressive. I love wall dives, and this is one of the more impressive walls I have had the opportunity to dive in Washington - right up there with Waterman's Wall or Point Defiance West Wall (Dalco is still on the "really want to do" list). However, all three of these walls are vastly different. The wall itself is composed mainly of sandstone, and is very shear in most places. In my opinion, sandstone formations seldom make a good dive site. Since they crumble so easily, it is very difficult for marine life to take a foothold. The result is usually a relatively featureless, lifeless wall when compared to rock walls. However, the currents here have carved substantial ledges, fissures, and small caves/holes along the wall (mainly the top portion), providing excellent accommodations for some of Puget Sound's most popular dive companions.

It is these holes along the top portion of the wall that Wolf-eels have taken up residency. As this was our second dive of the day, we were limited to about 30 minutes of no-deco time on the wall, but we did manage to easily find six Wolf-eels without looking too hard. One was a female that was almost entirely black. I even had a large male mistake my UK D8R dive light for a tasty sea urchin and come out of it's lair and bite my light! As the light was turned off at the time, I think the silvery-white glow of the round reflector made it look somewhat like an appetizing urchin. This has happened to me once before - I had a Wolf-eel bite a white strobe I used to use on my Ikelite camera setup at Sunrise. As long as the Wolf-eel doesn't mistake my regulator for an urchin, I am OK with it!

The Wolf-eels are definitely the main attraction here. However, there is other life on the wall. Small Copper and Brown Rockfish duck into the wall for cover where ever they can. Scalyhead and other small sculpins dart about. Shrimp are everywhere on this wall. What is missing is the brilliant color often provided by anemones, nudibranchs, and other invertebrate life. Although I did not have to fend off any Giant Pacific Octopus, we did find a mid-sized one that was readily visible in its den. I am certain we could find countless more octopus here if we had time to search around a bit more and weren't so enthralled with the Wolf-eels! As this we did this dive in March, I would guess that there would be much more marine life here in Summer or Fall.

The bottom at this site is uneven - I think it was about 85 feet deep in some places, and about 110 in others. The wall appears to give way to a sandy sloping bottom. However, we spent most of our time on the top half of the wall, as this is where most of the dens are located. Above the wall is a gently sloping and sandy shelf. According to my dive partners, there can me some ripping current on this shelf. This is a great place to do a safety stop as long as the currents are not ferocious. On this shelf, expect to find some small additional small sandstone and rock formations, kelp, some sea stars, kelp crabs, Beaded Anemones, and tons more shrimp. It appears that there might be a fairly healthy eel-grass bed here in summer.

If you are interested in diving here, this site can be done as a shore or boat dive. However, be warned, this is advanced diving due to the currents and depths. Day Island itself is technically a small peninsula on the southeast portion of the Tacoma Narrows that juts out into the Narrows. It is just south of Titlow Beach. There is a very small beach access on the west side of the island, however there are no facilities here whatsoever, and very limited parking. I have heard that some of the locals here are very strict about parking, so be warned. The wall is straight out from the access point, and must run for several hundred yards. The wall starts in about 50 fsw and is located about 100 yards off shore. 100 yards might not sound very far, but keep in mind that the currents here can make 10 yards feel like a 100 miles.

The couple I was diving with (who, by the way are very experienced divers with over 1000 cold water dives each), have done this site as a shore dive and kayak dive. With the Kayak, the run a tether line from the Kayak to themselves, and thus their boat follows them around on the dive. I do not think I would try this with a 800 pound Avon rigid-hull inflatable, especially with currents at different depths running different directions!

I know that several of the local charters will dive this location on occasion, which is probably the safest way to do this site. If the currents do wisk you up or down the Narrows, they can come get you in a live boat. The next time I dive here, I would be inclined to pick my currents carefully and still run a live boat. I just hope the next time is soon, as there is much of the wall I haven't explored yet! And I am going to bring along some herring for that hungry Wolf-eel.

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