Gedney Island Barges

Date Reviewed:November 2002
Location:Northwest side of Gedney Island
Access:Boat Dive
Site Description:Sunken wooden barges
Main Attraction:Exploring the wreck and it's inhabitants

As my dive buddy jumps over the side of the boat, I think to myself that we are absolutely crazy. Vis is two feet - maybe. As my dive buddy bobs in the water next to the boat, and can't even see his the bottom of his BCD, never mind his fins or legs! Jokingly I state "Geez, we may not even need our masks on THIS dive!" However, knowing that things are not as they always appear on the surface, I roll off the side of the boat into the chocolate milk. As soon as my mask goes underwater, I can't see a thing until I float up and break the surface.

We are anchored in about 50 fsw in front of a small marina on the northwest side of Gedney Island, a small island situated between Whidbey Island and the mainland. The waters in this entire area seem to be under the major influence of the nearby Snohomish, Stilliguamish, and Skagit Rivers, which relentlessly spew silty, muddy water into this part of the Sound as soon as the rains start in the Seattle area (which is Fall, Winter, and Spring, and sometimes Summer!). The normally emerald green waters associated with Puget Sound are literally muddy brown in this area. Having dove Hood's canal under similar conditions, I know that river run-off is sometimes contained to a freshwater layer that rides over the saltwater layer, as the freshwater is less dense than the saltwater. We won't know for certain until we dive in and get to depth.

My buddy and I meet up on the surface at the anchor line running from the front of the boat and descend, making very certain to follow the anchor line down for reference so we do not get separated. Magically, at about 20 fsw the vis opens up. To go from being almost blind to 40+ feet of visibility almost instantaneously is an awesome feeling. Below us, we clearly see a silt-strewn moderately sloping bottom.

We achieve neutral buoyancy as we approach bottom and look around - no barges. We intentionally anchored to north of where we marked the barges on the depth sounder so we would know we had to swim south to find the barges, so we start swimming south. Almost immediately, we encounter a large concrete anchor block with a massive taught chain that rises from the bottom at a very shallow angle. Hmmm. This chain is attached to something, and I mean something BIG. Following the chain, we see the first barge appear in front of us, like a fallen mammoth. Resting upright, its ribs are exposed like a decaying behemoth. The spaces between some of the ribs looks big enough to swim into, but the entire wooden structure also looks incredibly shaky, and appears to be ready to collapse. We work our way slowly around the barge, only to find another barge end-to-end with the first barge. We follow the second barge down deeper and deep until we reach 106 fsw, where we round the stern and head back up the other side, staying well ahead of our no-deco limit. After we make it to what I presume is the bow of the first barge, we head up the shelf and into the shallows for our safety stop. In 30 fsw, we find yet another barge, perfectly located for surface stop exploration.

Dive Profile: I am not one for wreck dives, but these barges put the Maury Island Barges to shame. They are massive, not nearly as decomposed, and harbor quite a bit of marine life. The biggest problem we had with this dive is finding the barges in the boat. We crisscrossed the area before getting a depth sounder reading of significant structure at 70 fsw. We finally concluded that the barges are just to the right of the entrance (if you are facing the entrance) of the small marina where they were sunk. Uncertain as to how the barges were oriented, we decided to anchor to the north of the barges, descend to 70 fsw, then follow the depth until we run into the barges. Thanks to our encounter with the anchor line, we did not have to follow that plan.

There are supposedly four or five barges here, but I only noted three. The two main barges run down-slope almost exactly in front of the entrance of the marina, starting in about 50 fsw, and run down to about 106 fsw. As stated, these wooden barges are in a state decay, and pocked full of large holes, some big enough to penetrate although I would advise against it. The rotting wood has left an arsenal of pointy metal nails, fitting, screws, and other sharp protrusion just waiting to snag an unsuspecting diver.

The two deeper barges are end to end, or front to front, or front to end, or...well, they are in a line. There is a large space between the two barges that we swam through, again being careful to avoid snags. The tops of the barges are flat and covered, which may explain why we had trouble finding them with the depth sounder.

The barge in the shallows was in a much more advanced state of decay than the two down below. In fact, at times it looked more like an old lumberyard than a barge. Wooden planks and debris were scattered everywhere. I believe this barge runs almost perpendicular to the other two. It started in about 30 fsw, and runs up to about 10 fsw.

Marine Life: Although not overwhelmingly diverse, the marine life that calls the barge home is substantial. Rockfish haunt the wreck, and appear to be everywhere. Quillback, Puget Sound, Copper and Brown Rockfish are most common, although some of our dive party also spotted juvenile Yellow-eye Rockfish. In addition to the rockfish, Lingcod and Kelp Greenling are readily found lying on the wreck, however, the Lingcod are of rather small stature. Robust populations of perch also cruise the wreck adding color and action to the seascape. Beautiful Striped Seaperch, silvery Pile Perch, and smaller Kelp and Shiner Perch all share this habitat. Large numbers of orange Sunflower Stars patrol the wreck itself and surrounding areas. Different species of shrimp are found all over the wreck. Nudibranchs were not too common, and I only noted Alabster Nudibranchs and Sea Lemons (Anisodoris nobolis) on this dive. On the other had, Dungeness Crabs were readily found scampering around the sitly bottom surrounding the wreck. Rock Sole were also waiting in the flats, as were solitary Ratfish.

Getting Here: Gedney Island (which I have also heard referred to as Hat Island) is a very small island, only a mile or so across. It is located right where Possession Sound and Saratoga Passage meet. If you want land references, the island is situated between Whidbey Island and the mainland, just south of Camano Island, and just to the west of Everett. By boat, this dive site is about 5 miles to the north of the Mukilteo public boat ramp.

The marina is located on the northwest corner of the island. There is a wooden breakwater protecting the marina docks. When we dove here, we anchored just to the north of the breakwater, out of the direct path of boats entering and exiting the marina.

Hazards: One of the nice things about this site is that currents in this particular area appear to be minimal. We dove this site off-slack on the ebb (1.7 knot max current at Admiralty Inlet), and did not note any current whatsoever. I would also imagine that the island offers this site excellent protection from a south wind. However, you still need to cross some open water to get here.

A huge hazard for this site is boat traffic. As stated a couple of times prior, these wrecks are situated RIGHT in front of the entrance of a marina. and I mean RIGHT in front. I seems very strange anchoring not more than 100 yards away from a marina dock to do a dive. They way the barges lay, they appear to angle under the entrance, so having to do an emergency ascent could be very risky. When we ended the dive, we swam upslope and back to the north to make certain we were well clear of the marina and boat traffic.

Another hazard, of course, is the wreck itself. It is decomposing, as you can clearly see from collapsed portions of some of the barges. As mentioned earlier, snagging hazards are everywhere and require good swimming and buoyancy skills to stay clear of. Penetration of the wreck was not even a consideration for me.

And finally, with the brackish water overhead, the entire site sill be shrouded in darkness even during daylight hours. A good dive light and a backup light are a must, as it certain depths this dive is similar to night diving.

Summary: I would have a hard time making this site my primary target for a day's worth of diving, as I much prefer natural reefs and walls over wrecks. However, this site combined with diving Possession Point makes for an ideal day of diving.

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