|Date Reviewed:||November 2002|
|Site Description:||Rock Wall|
|Main Attraction:||Colorful and plentiful invertebrate life|
Skyline Wall is one of those sites I had heard much about, but the thought of the 90 minute to 2 hour drive from Seattle to Anacortes for a "shore dive" simply turned me off. Geez - in two hours, I could drive to Redondo, Seattle, or Tacoma, launch the boat, and cruise out to a great site and probably have it all to myself on a weekend. I also heard that vis almost always sucks at this site, and currents can be a real challenge. Why would anyone want to drive two hours to get moshed by current and see nothing?
This last weekend, I finally bit the bullet. The weather was questionable - too questionable for a boat ride across Puget Sound. Ok, it was actually the thought of spending 4+ hours in a small, open boat in rainy, windy conditions that just did not sound appealing. Therefore, early Sunday morning, I packed up my truck and hit the road at 7AM to dive Skyline with some of my dive buddies.
Skyline is located on the SW side Fidalgo Island just north of Whidbey Island and west of Anacortes. Getting to Skyline is fairly easy from I-5 - just follow the Anacortes/San Juan Island/Vancouver BC ferry signs (I-5 to Highway 20, to Highway 20 Spur, then follow the spur through the town of Anacortes). Highway 20 Spur will eventually turn into SW Oakes Road. Where SW Oakes Road veers to the right to go to the ferry landing, go straight onto Sunset. Follow Sunset until you see Skyline Way, and turn left. If you reach Washington Park, you have missed Skyline Way. Once on Skyline Way, follow it towards the water. Before you reach the water, you will see a road on your left called Cabana. Take a right on Cabana and follow it to the turn-around at the end. There is a large private park at the end of Cabana. Don't go into this park - it is PRIVATE! We parked in the turn-around by the shore access at the end of Cabana.
There are NO facilities here, other than the shore access. There are gas stations and restaurants near by, but nothing in the immediate area, not even a garbage can. Be prepared to pack out whatever you pack in.
The dive site is to the SW of the access (to the right). Immediately in front of the access is Burrows Island, which offers some protection from a south wind. The actual wall starts off of the kelp bed past the gray clubhouse to the right, which you should be able to see from the shore access. Sizing it up from shore, you will realize that it is a fair surface swim to the wall - nothing overwhelming, but if the current is working against you or you are not a strong swimmer, it could be a challenge.
We originally dove this site at slack before ebb (Rosario Strait) on a mild exchange (1.1 knot maximum at Rosario on the ebb), and entered the water almost exactly at corrected slack. The current guide gives a correction of -32 minutes for the waters between Burrows Island and Fidalgo Head. However, the water around the wall continued to flood for a good hour after corrected slack. Ideally, we wanted to ride the flooding current to the wall, do our dive by lightly drifting along the wall, then have the current changed direction and bring us back. This particular dive was like CLOCKWORK! 32 minutes into the dive, the current changed direction and it brought us gently home.
On the first dive, we swam out to the kelp bed just past the gray clubhouse, and descended. We were greeted by horrid vis - maybe 5 feet. If my dive buddies didn't have lights, it would have been hard to follow them. We swam through the modest Bull Kelp, and down to the wall, which starts almost immediately out from the kelp and runs SW (almost exactly 210 degrees on the way out). The darkness quickly dominated our surroundings - it was pitch black below 60 fsw. You cold see the ghostly green glow from above, but anything at eye level or below was shrouded in complete darkness. It might as well have been a night dive below 60 fsw.
The first part of the wall is somewhat uneventful and covered in White Sea Cucumbers. However, after a little swimming the topography changes very quickly. Vis opened up to a whopping 10 feet at best, but that was more than enough to take in the kaleidoscope of colors that makes this site so special.
The main section of the Skyline wall is really a series of small walls, ledges, overhangs, and rocks. It some places it is near vertical. In other places, it is almost flat. The rocky structure is very rugged and jagged, and pocked full places for small marine animals to hide or cling on to. Drifting down the wall for 30+ minutes did not reveal any end in sight (which was only about 10 feet!) to this fantastic structure, so I do not know how long it is. It's depth also varies - it seems to flatten out somewhat at 90 fsw, however you could easily go deeper here if you wish. We went down the wall at depths between 60-90 fsw, then did our return trip in the 40-50 fsw range.
The invertebrate life here is just amazing, which is a good thing because the lousy vis means you have to be able to get close to critters to see them well. Beautiful Giant Barnacles by the thousands populate most of the structure here. Many of the barnacle shells are abandoned and now serve as fortresses for Grunt Sculpins, small crabs, shrimp, and other small fish and invertebrates. As we were diving here at the end of Fall, the Kelp Greenlings had laid beautiful purple eggs in many of the vacated barnacles.
Interspersed with the barnacles are hard corals and sponges that we just don't see very often (if at all) in Central and Southern Puget Sound. Although most of the sponges look soft, they were hard to the touch. And of course, there were countless anemones, worms, crabs, small sculpins and other fish living amidst this spectrum of color. Some of the cooler finds are the brilliant Crimson Anemones, which are very abundant at this site. I found three Umbrella Crabs without looking too hard. During my two dives here, I also found my first Candy-Stripe Shrimp - one of the most colorful of any of our northwest species - taking refuge under a beautiful Crimson Anemone. On both dives here, I was also fortunate enough to spend some time with a small Giant Pacific Octopus that appeared to be out on the prowl in the shroud of darkness that the poor visibility offered.
Fish life on the wall is also good, but it is hard to get a real perspective as vis tends to be so poor. Lingcod definitely run supreme at this site, although most of the Lingcod are relatively small. Copper Rockfish, Brown Rockfish, Kelp Greenlings, and Painted Greenlings also are in good abundance, but tend to scatter before you can get too close. You can get close the beautiful Red Irish Lords and Buffalo Sculpins, however.
One our way back, we headed past the kelp and cruised up on the shallow shelf that leads back to the entry point. We were able to spend some during our safety stop searching through the eel-grass for Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers. Although we did not find any in the eel-grass, one of my dive buddies did find one attached to a piece of kelp.
We enjoyed this dive so much that we decided to hang around and dive it as the current subsided coming into the next slack period. We knew we would have to fight the current all the way out, but theoretically we could drift it all the way back (pay now, fly later). However, the currents were almost a total non-issue for the entire dive - we were able to easily swim against the very light head-current on the way out.
The key to this site is definitely the current. It was actually a very easy dive for us, but the story could have been very different if the currents were stronger. Always remember that current predictions are just that - predictions. And predictions have been known to be wrong. If I was to dive here on a stronger exchange and was not certain of the current, I would do so on the ebb as the current should be taking me back to the entry point. There is no real shoreline to swim to if you get whisked away from the entry point. If you need to make it to shore, you will end up having to scale a rocky wall to get out of the water, and that will most likely put you on private property, so be careful.
If you are into photography, this is a great macro site. Anything other than macro is a push, since the water is so murky. Also make certain to bring a very good light or two.
Another point worth noting is that the water in this part of the Washington is COLDER than Central or South Sound - about 4-6 degrees colder, which can be very noticeable on an hour long dive.
From Seattle, it is quite an investment to drive here. But if you pick your currents wisely and really like paying attention to the little things, this dive is quite outstanding. In many ways, it reminded me of Waterman's Wall, which I think is one of the best dives in Central Puget Sound.
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