|Date Reviewed:||November 2002|
|Site Description:||Massive Vertical Fingers|
|Main Attraction:||AWESOME site: great marine life and even better structure!|
You could not ask for better weather in November! There was only a light wind from the north, and sun was even out. We could see in the distance to the south some isolate rain showers over Edmonds, but we were dry. The air temp was even mild, running in the mid 50's. Quite an outstanding day for Puget Sound diving indeed - especially for November!
Our main objective today was to dive Possession Point Fingers at slack, which was at 3:15 on this particular afternoon. As the sun goes down around 4:30 this time of year and we wanted to get two dives in, we launched out of Mukilteo and did our first dive around noon at Gedney Island barges, which is not a current sensitive dive site. After diving the barges, we ran the 8 miles or so south from Gedney Island to Possession Point on glassy water. Once we arrived at Possession Point, we were easily able to find the wall with the depth sounder. We anchored on the shelf above the wall, and waited. It was about 2 hours until slack. Nothing to do now but chat away the time, check out our gear, watch the two Bald Eagles perched in the trees above us, and savor the anticipation that goes along with diving a new site.
As only one of us in had ever been here before, we decided not to tempt mother nature and play it extra safe on this dive. We picked a mild tidal exchange day to do this dive. Admiralty Inlet current predictions were for a 1.7 knot ebb turning to a 0.1 knot flood. Too bad most of the mild flood was after dark, but we would make the most of it. As we were diving from two 13' inflatable boats, we decided the best way to approach this dive was with a live boat. One dive team of two would enter the water about 45 minutes before slack and limit their dive to 45 minutes. Once they surfaced, the second buddy team would enter the water, and again limit their dive to 45 minutes. With a little luck, all four of us would get in a good dive, and we would still have time to beat the cloak of darkness back to Mukilteo.
However, despite the seemingly ideal conditions above the surface, things at and below sea level seems less hospitable. First, and foremost, there was a sizable current running by our anchorage. In fact, my boat speedometer showed 0.7 to 0.5 mph while I was anchored, which is no big deal if you are a Lingcod. But to a diver, a half-knot plus current can present a formidable challenge if you have to swim against it.
Also blatantly obvious was the fact that the nearby Snohomish River had a stranglehold on this area. Although it had not rained in a few days, the muddy waters of the Snohomish River continued to choke this area with what looked like chocolate milk. Vis was a whopping 2-3 feet at the surface. Our only hope was that the poor visibility was contained to a fresh water layer that rides on top of the saltwater layer, and we would be able to get under the bad vis.
I had tried to dive this site about nine months ago, and experienced similar conditions. On that day, supposed slack came and went and the current just kept marching on, uninhibited. It never even changed direction. As the two divers I was with were less experienced, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor and aborted the dive. We could always try it on a different day when currents and vis were more accommodating. Now it became clear to me that strong currents and mucky vis (at least on the surface) were probably normal for this location. However, with an experienced group of divers (over 2000 dives amongst the four of us), we were determined to try out this site.
At 35 minutes to slack, over the side we went. Rob and I were first. We used the anchor line as a descent line to keep the currents from sweeping us away. As we approached 20 fsw, the vis improved markedly as we past through the fresh water layer. It opened up to about 20 to 25 feet, as we hoped. More surprising was the fact the current seemed to almost completely stop. We swam to the east where the silty shelf quickly came to an abrupt end. Looking over the jagged edge of the shelf was a massive drop and some of the most rugged underwater terrain I had ever seen. Rob and I both looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking - this was going to be a GREAT dive. However, little did we know that even our highest expectations were about to be exceeded.
Dive Profile: The terrain here is absolutely incredible. I would categorize this site as a wall dive rather than fingers, or ridges. The fingers are much more vertical than I expected. Swimming off the shelf, we were greeted by sheer, rugged vertical walls. Like Dalco Wall, these walls have been carved by the unrelenting currents, but appear to consist more of jagged rock and clay than sandstone. They jut out in different directions, and form small shelves at various and inconsistent depths. Massive isolated blocks protrude from some of the shelves and parts of the wall appear to be almost sculpted and polished. One of the many unique attributes of this site is that countless caves have been cut into he walls - caves that will easily accommodate Lingcod, rockfish, Wolf-eel, and rather large Giant Pacific Octopus. Some of these caves go back as far as the eye can see. The scale here is also impressive - swimming along the massive structure here at 120 fsw in +40 feet of vis makes you feel very, very small. Overhangs are everywhere, and some of the caves are big enough to swim into, although I would not recommend it.
The wall appears to be extremely expansive, and it runs in a north-south direction. However, many times we were swimming in an east or west direction around one of the massive fingers. The wall also runs very deep here - well beyond the safe limits of recreational diving. On our dive, we descended to 123 fsw, and saw no bottom in site. I have heard that parts of the wall here end in over 200 fsw. To help off-set the time at depth, I was running a Nitrox mix of 30% oxygen.
This dive is worth doing just to see the terrain. The wall is deep, dark, and almost mystical with all of it uneven structure, carvings, caves, and ruggedness. Like most northwest walls, the terrain is strewn with silt, which is especially not surprising as the Snohomish River is located just over 5 miles to the north of this site. However, unlike many silt-covered northwest dive site, marine life here flourishes.
Marine Life: The life here is absolutely incredible, especially for silt-dominated terrain. This site is not prolifically covered in massive quality and varieties on invertebrate life like you find in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Sunrise Beach, Waterman's Wall, or Skyline. However, there is some very cool and diverse invertebrate life to take in here. Small hard corals and sponges can easily be found, although they do not cover every square inch of terrain as is the case in parts of the Straits. Supplementing the sponges and corals are colorful nudibranchs. Various species of nudibranch diligently patrol these massive walls, including the absolutely stunning Red Nudibranchs (Dendronotus rufus). On my dive here, I encountered seven of this species - all over 5" in length. These nudibranchs sport a bright white body and red or purplish-red gill tips, and are truly a spectacle. In additions to the Red Nudibranchs, we easily found Orange Spotted Nudibranchs, Sea Lemons, White Lined Dironas, Yellow-Edged Cadlinas, and Hudson Dorids. However, the star of the invertebrate show is usually the octopus, and we found our star hiding in a shallow crack at about 90 fsw. From the shell piles in front of some of the small caves and holes, I would gather that the Possession Point Fingers is NOT a favorite location for Red Rock and Dungeness Crabs to be hanging out.
Fish also thrive here, although none of them appeared to be too large. However, size was supplemented by quantity and diversity. I counted six species of rockfish on this dive, including the ever present Copper, Quillback, and Brown Rockfish. Small Puget Sound Rockfish also frequent this site, usually gathered in small schools. More unusually was encountering a small school of Black Rockfish, which are common in the Strait but have been pretty much obliterated by over-fishing in Puget Sound. The highlight for me was spotting a solitary Canary Rockfish at about 120 fsw. Until this dive, I have only seen this protected fish while diving in the Neah Bay area. Sporting a bright orange coloration, white lateral line, black edged fins, and a dark spot on it's dorsal, these are one of my favorite rockfish to find. The second buddy team also reported seeing juvenile Yellow-eye Rockfish, which are easily identified by their orange-red bodies and white horizontal stripes.
Small Lingcod and Kelp Greenling are also in fair abundance here, and are often seen perched on a ledge or overhang. Both Striped Seaperch and Pile Perch cruise the vertical fingers, as does the occasional Ratfish. On a smaller scale, gunnels can be found hiding in some of the small holes and Northern Ronquils are common sightings. We were also fortunately enough to run into two very large schools of herring - one very deep, and the other in the shallows. Buffalo Scuplins, Red Irish Lords, and other smaller sculpins round out the wide assortment of fish we saw on our inaugural dive at this location.
Getting Here: This is a boat dive only, even though there is a wonderful shoreline that runs along this site. I would guess that the property in this area is private. Even if you could park above the beach area, you would need to scale some large bluffs in order to reach the beach. By the time you made it to the beach, you would probably be too tired to dive!
To find this site by boat, simply head to the southeast corner of Whidbey Island. Follow the eastern shore line to the very end of the point. Just past the last house on the shoreline, you will see a large dirt bluff. The wall is directly out from this bluff and should be readily evident if you have a depth sounder. Mukilteo probably offers the closet public boat ramp, which is situated about 5 miles to the northeast of Possession Point.
Hazards: I would personally rate this dive as an advanced dive. Most of the site is near vertical, so good buoyancy skills are a must, especially since the walls extend far below 130 fsw. With the brackish fresh water layer overhead, sunlight penetration can be very limited, so it can be very dark, too. I would be certain to bring a good primary light, and a backup light, as at certain depths this site might as well be a night dive. Currents are also a hazard here - in fact, the surface current really never slowed down much, even during supposed slack. It continually ran to the south-southwest. Getting swept off the wall to the south with an anchored boat could prove to be a very dangerous situation, as there is no shoreline to swim to. Also, an improperly anchored boat could easily end up adrift, as strong currents call cause an anchor to drag off of the ledge.
From a boating perspective, this part of Puget Sound is subjected to some very nasty weather conditions, especially if the wind is howling from the south. During fishing season, I would guess that boat traffic in this part of the sound is fairly intense, as boats fish the Possession Bar area.
Summary: Possession Point Fingers is simply an awesome site, offering some of the best natural structure and marine life that Puget Sound has to offer. In fact, at the time of this review it gets my vote for best Puget Sound dive site (excluding the Neah bay area, which is in a class by itself).
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