|Date Reviewed:||January 2003|
|Site Description:||Pinnacle dive|
|Main Attraction:||Tiger rockfish, cool structure, cool invertebrates|
Barkley Sound offers some very nice cold water diving. Although I have not done nearly as much diving in Barkley Sound as Port Hardy, I have been able to get a flavor for what this area has to offer.
The big attraction to diving Barkley in summer is Six Gill Sharks. According to Dave from Rendezvous dive charters, sharks up to 18' long have been spotted by divers in Barkley Sound. However, there are no guarantees of sightings, just as there are no guarantees about much of anything in life. Although it would be very cool to swim along side an 18' tooth-laden behemoth, I have only been diving up in Barkley Sound in winter, when sighting are a rarity. Besides, I can always dive Three Tree Point in summer to get my Six Gill fix.
Most of the dives in this area are pinnacle dives, offering nice structure and some interesting invertebrate life, and some descent fish stocks. Diving pinnacles is very easy, whether, current, and swell permitting. As our charter boat usually anchored on top of the pinnacle, we would descent the anchor line, descent anywhere on the pinnacle to our desired depth, and circle it at various depths until we ran low on air. Then we would simply ascend the pinnacle, find the anchor line on top in about 30 fsw, and ascend the anchor line. What could be easier? Well, throw in some decent swell action and dive reefs that have multiple pinnacles and things are not quite as easy. Anyway, they are fun dives.
Most of these pinnacles are fairly generic - they offered some interesting structure, often with large channels cut through the rock. They also host a myriad of marine like, including a decent selection of subtle invertebrates, some spectacular anemones, and a limited selection of fish life. Of the three pinnacles I have been to so far, one clearly stands way out above the others - Renate Reef.
Dive Profile: Renate reef is located in the middle of about 300 fsw. The pinnacle or reef actually comes up to about 30 feet of the surface as is fairly expansive. The structure of the reef seemed much more interesting than the other reefs that we did - it had substantial overhangs, more cracks and crevices, and even a swim through we found on the west side of the reef (however, as the swim though was tight and there was a decent surge, I elected to pass on attempting to follow three Tiger Rockfish through the opening).
This reef system also harbors many more hideaways for Wolfeels. Although captain Dave stated that an Asian fishing boat with divers recently came through and illegally cleared out most of the Wolfeels. However, we did manage to find a few Wolfeels at this site without looking too hard. As this site is located more toward the Pacific Ocean than some of the other pinnacles, I suspect the effects of storms, currents, and surge have had a more substantially impact on carving out holes and small caves for the always adored Wolfeel to call home.
On our dive here, I was intent on making the most of my bottom time and conserving air, so we did not circumnavigate the pinnacle (which we did at most other sites). The terrain in the 30 to 90 fsw range was so interesting that we spent our entire hour long dive on the west side of the reef, intently exploring.
Marine Life: Renate Reef offered us a much richer representation of marine life than the other inland and more sheltered sites. This was the only site where we saw Wolfeels and even a small Giant Pacific Octopus out on the hunt. The octopus was apparently very startled by our presense as it turned totally white before retreating into a crack. However, what made this site special for me was the good number of Tiger Rockfish lurk about this seamount. These fish sport a beautiful yellow or cream color, striped with bold black or dark brown bars, with fins and facial features highlighted with a red hue. These fish are usually very territorial, sedentary, and shy when approached by divers. However, I often found groups of two of even three Tigers seemingly hanging out together at Renate reef - very cool.
In addition to the marvelous Tigers, expect to find some descent populations of Copper Rockfish, occasional Quillback Rockfish, colorful Puget Sound Rockfish, striking China Rockfish, and small schools of Black and Yellowtail Rockfish. And I mean small schools. I think this was one of the more disappointing attributes of Barkley Sound for me. Unlike Neah Bay and Port Hardy where one can immerse themselves in overwhelming schools of Black, Widow, Blue, and Yellowtail Rockfish, fishing mismanagement has all but obliterated these schools from Barkley Sound, at least the parts of the sound that we dove. In fact, I didn't see one Blue Rockfish in eight dives. Perhaps (hopefully) the situation changes further west along the Broken Island Group, as these parts of the Sound are harder to reach for commercial and sport fisherman.
Also very noteworthy at this site were Lingcod. There were a few monsters amongst them, but most where of the average size (about 30"). Kelp and Painted Greenlings were every present, and the always welcome and iridescent Striped Seaperch made appearances now and then.
On a smaller scale, Scalyhead and Longfin Sculpins could be easily found on most rock outcroppings, and we were lucky enough to find a Grunt Sculpin taking refuge between two rocks while diving here. Grunts are just cool little fish!
This is a great site for nudibranchs - which I love searching for and finding as they can't swim away from a camera. Big white Ohdners Dorids are everywhere. Some of the largest San Diego Dorids I have seen to date have been here. Anisodoris nobilis (Sea Lemons), Orange Spotted nudibranchs, and delicate looking Nanaimo Dorids round out the cast of nudibranchs I found at this site. Oh yeah - I almost forgot to mention and the ever-popular White Lined Dirona (frosted or Alabaster Nudibranch).
The other invertebrate life in this part of the world is interesting. It does not offer the rich, flamboyant, and almost overwhelming colors and diversity associated with Browning Pass (Port Hardy), or even that of parts of Neah Bay. It is much more subtle here, but there is plenty to see. The reason may be that currents in Barkley Sound are not very strong. As most of the super colorful invertebrates are filter feeders and like currents to bring them meals four times a day, that may not be possible in Barkley Sound. However, the absence of some of the colorful soft corals, sponges, and hydrocorals makes the brilliantly colored anemones stand out even more. I found beautiful Urticinas at this site, and robust stocks of White and Orange Plumose Anemones. Complimenting the anemones are a wide assortment of small crabs, including a few cool Heart Crabs and interesting varieties of Hermit Crabs. Although we did not find any Puget Sound King Crabs when diving here, I am certain they are around. Seastars and Sea Cucumber also abound - is there anywhere these creatures can't live? Perhaps they will inherit the Earth one day.
Two of the cooler claims to fame for this reef (and this area, for that matter) are colorful Orange Puff-ball Sponges and Blue Ring Top Snail. The Orange Puff-ball Sponges were present at most sites we dove in this area, although they seemed to be very abundant at Renate Reef. They look like bright orange tennis balls that have some of their fuzz singed black - very cool! And of course the always-popular-with-photographers Blue Ring Top Snail. What more could a photographer ask for then a good macro subject sporting beautiful gold and purple/blue color patterns and can't move very fast? We found Blue Ring Top Snails fairly easily at this site.
I also found some interesting Ascidians, Western Nipple Sponge, and other sponges that I will have to research to figure out what the heck they are. Huge, rugged Rock Scallops and small, intricate Pink Scallops also dot the seascape here, as does the occasional Abalone.
Getting Here: We stayed at Rendezvous Resort, which I believe is the only game in town in this area when it comes to dive resorts. Rendezvous Resort is located west of Port Albernie, and only accessible by boat or seaplane From Seattle, it is a bit of a drive. And a boat ride. And another drive. And another boat ride. If one wishes to dive here, one can drive to Vancouver BC, catch the Twassassen ferry to Nanaimo, drive to Port Alberni (about 90 minutes or so, if conditions are good), get picked up by the Rendezvous I and Captain Dave, then venture on a two hour boat ride to the lodge, which is about 20-25 miles away. The lodge is located in well protected "Rainy Bay", which is about where the inlet to Port Albernie opens up to the great expanse that makes up Barkley Sound.
From there, Renate reef is located on the south side of Barkley Sound in Imperial Eagle Channel, offshore of the Deer Group and almost due north of Flemming Island. It is marked on charts, but not named. It is literally out on the middle of the channel and would be hard to find without a good set of landmarks, a depth sounder, and/or GPS coordinates.
Hazards: Tidal currents in this area seem to be very tame, with the geometry of Barkley Sound being what it is. However, that is not to say that currents can be ignored. On one dive in this area, a wind generated current made it very difficult to get back to the boat. I would also guess that on certain exchanges, current can come into play.
Surge, on the other hand, is a major issue. Like Neah Bay, this is not a place to go diving if you are not comfortable with surge (at least in winter). With a western exposure, the wind and rollers come funneling into Barkley Sound. While we were here, the surge actually seemed to be strongest in the 30-70 fsw range, as the swelling water rose up the pinnacle. The surge seemed to be much more manageable in the shallows.
Fishing line might also be of concern at these sites, as would boat traffic and fishermen during fishing season (typically summer).
Summary: I really liked this site, and would consider it a world-class cold-water dive location, even with the depleted fish stocks. I would like to venture up here in summer to see if the invertebrate life thickens up and possibly explore dive sites to the west, closer to the Pacific Ocean. If Rendezvous could get access to more sites like this rather then the more generic pinnacle dives we did elsewhere, they would have dive sites that would be closer in caliber to that of the Port Hardy area. However, until that happens, I will be inclined to stick with a sure thing - Port Hardy or Neah Bay.
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