|Date Reviewed:||February, 2002|
|Location:||SE Blakely Rock, near Bainbridge Island|
|Site Description:||Expansive rock structure|
|Main Attraction:||Wolf-eels, nudibranchs, octopus|
This is one of those dive sites that had been a nemesis of mine for quite a while. Howling currents and windy surface conditions had thwarted several of my attempts to dive this location. However, since February of 2002, I have figured out when to dive here and had some amazing dives at this location. Persistence certainly paid off as this is now one of my favorite sites to dive in Central Puget Sound because of the prolific marine life and natural rock structure.
Blakely Rock is located near the southeast tip of Bainbridge Island, just east of Blakely Harbor, north of Restoration Point, and south of Eagle Harbor and the Winslow ferry. It is about 5 miles due west from the Don Armini boat ramp along Alki beach in Seattle. The rock is very easy to find, as it is readily visible even during high tides and sports a large black and white diamond pattern navigation marker. The rock itself is very rugged looking, and is usually plays host to numerous sea-birds and seals. On one dive here, we were lucky enough to see two Bald Eagles perched on the navigational marker. If you get close enough to the rock, you can usually see a number of seals and/or sea-lions lounging about at low tide or swimming around the rock at high tide. This rock is home to at least three different dive sites that are marked with dive buoys. Thanks to Alan Gill (who charters the Spirit Diver) for setting up and maintaining these buoys. The buoy on the west side of the rock marks a dive site that Alan has named China Wall. The wall runs from about 60 to about 100 fsw. This is the only dive site at Blakely Rock that I regularly do off-slack. See my review of China Wall for further details regarding this dive site. On the east side of the wall are two additional red buoys. The southern-most buoy marks a site Alan calls Haunted Castles, which is supposedly the home of some large Giant Pacific Octopus. The northern most buoy marks yet another site which Alan refers to as Shangri-La, which the remainder of this review is about. Currents are the name of the game here. On a previous attempt to dive this site at slack, I got totally moshed by the current. The dive ended up being 20 minutes of huffing and puffing and wondering if we were ever going to make it back to the boat. The day we got moshed, we tried to dive this site on a 1.7 knot flooding currents turning to a 1.0 knot ebbing current (Admiralty Inlet). The current never even slowed down at predicted slack. If we had a live boat, it would not have been too big of a deal, although we would have been holding on to the bottom throughout the dive to hold ground. The currents outside of the rock are very intensive, and not very predictable. Quite often the best strategy is to go to the site at predicted slack and just see if the currents look manageable or not. If there is a current running on the surface, you can bet it is running down below.
The secret to diving this site appears to be diving it at slack on a very mild flood. The first time I successfully dove this site, the current was a 1.7 knot ebb turning to a 0.5 knot flood. (Admiralty Inlet). We did our first dive of the day at China Wall and noticed that the current was very weak. We went out to the Shangri-La buoy, and although there was some current, it seemed very manageable. Over the side we went! The current actually seemed to noticeably lessen throughout the dive as we got further and further from predicted slack and closer to predicted maximum current. Go figure.
From the buoy, we descend about 40 feet and were greeted by some fantastic and expansive rock structure. The structure cascades down in a series of ledges, ridges, boulders, small walls, and small caves (OK - indentation) all of which are covered with a wide variety of typical Puget Sound marine life. The structure seems to go on and on in almost all directions. Depth appears to increase as I headed east or south. To the south, the rock structure dribbles out at about 85 fsw. Further north, the rock ends as shallow as 60 fsw. As you might guess, heading to the rock will decrease your depth, although there is a bit of a trough if you are diving at high tide. In the shallower waters, some of the rock is covered with red broadleaf kelp.
Where as the China Wall dive site tends to be in the lee of the current and shelters those species that do not like to continually deal with the wrath of strong currents, this side of the rock is home to those critters that thrive in high current environments. Lingcod seemed to be everywhere - from small two footers to several that were over 4 feet in length. As February is part of the nesting season for Lings, we ran into countless egg nest guarded by these bold fish. We also spied the golden aura of Kelp Greenlings occasionally darting about, along with Longfin Scuplins, Painted Greenlings, Quillback and Brown Rockfish, and Red Irish Lords. Sunflower Stars, Pink Short Spined Stars, Morning Sun Stars, and bright red Vermilion Stars are all found in great abundance, and I even found a Cushion Star. On this dive, I identified three different nudibranch species - Pink Nudibranchs, Orange-Spotted Nudibranchs (in great abundance!), and Monterey Dorids, one of which was the largest I have ever seen (over 9 inches long). It was so big, I had to shoot a picture of it with my 35mm lens - I could not get a macro framer around it from any angle. I also found the largest Heart Crab I have ever encountered hiding in a rocky hole at this site. I even was lucky enough to see a beautiful red and silver Vermilion Rockfish at this site, a fish I have only noted on one other dive in Central or Southern Puget Sound.
And of course, any natural current swept rock reef would not be complete unless you could find Wolf-eels and Giant Pacific Octopus. I am certain there are countless of each species scattered throughout the thousands of deep, dark potential dens at this site. On my first dive here, I encountered four Wolf-eels (two male-female pairs) and two Giant Pacific Octopus, one rather large one that was showing off some suckers that were as big as the old silver dollars. On another dive here we only saw one Wolf-eel, but were kept entertained by seven (yes, seven) Giant Pacific Octopus, two of which were out in the open and at least one of which was tending to her eggs.
A nice thing about this site is that you can follow the structure up to the west to safety stop depths at the end of your dive. There is no need to find the anchor line or hang mid-water column fighting current for three to five minutes. I would much rather poke about the kelps and rocks for five minutes looking for cool critters than hang off an anchor line watching my gauges.
Because of the currents here, I would consider this an advanced dive. With a live boat, this dive site might be a fun drift. However, hitting it at slack is the only comfortable way to explore this site in detail. Just make certain to bring a good light!
If you are interested in diving this site and do not have a boat, you might want to give Alan Gill a call with the Spirit Diver. He knows the sites in this area like no one else.
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