|Date Reviewed:||September 2002|
|Site Description:||Incredible 20 foot high rock ridge|
|Main Attraction:||Spectacular marine life and topography|
So far, I have been to this site five times. I just can't get enough of it. I think this is a great dive to do at slack, but even a better dive off-slack as a drift.
This is one of those superb dives sites around Waadah Island. For more information on where Waadah Island is located, see my review of Waadah Island Fingers. I actually found this site accidentally when we went out to dive the Waadah Island Fingers. We went out to the fingers at slack before ebb, but were greeted by a torrid rip tide. We therefore started to look around for an alternative site. The day before, we had done a dive off of the northeastern tip of Waadah Island, straight out from some very obvious and exposed rock formation near this part of the island. The dive was good, but I was looking for something more. After all, I had expectations of diving the fingers, and was anticipating a stellar dive!
Therefore, I put the depth sounder to work. I cruised out from the rocks to see what the bottom looked like. It was relatively level and flat, running 55 to 60 feet for hundreds of yards. Occasional an isolated ledge or boulder would show up, but nothing spectacular. Then, about 400 yards off of the rocks - WHAM! The bottom shot up abruptly 20 to 25 feet, briefly leveled off, then again dropped abruptly back to 60 feet. I crisscrossed this area several times and found a very lengthy ridge that varied in height, but looked extremely rugged. We stopped the boat just to the south of the ridge and geared up as we checked the current. There did not appear to be much current running on the surface. Over the side we went!
We descended 60 feet and were greeted by a flat bottom with a loan boulder (about 10 feet across) sitting isolated on the sea-floor. Vis was about 25 feet, and there was a substantial but manageable current at depth. As we swam north, the reef started to appear in front of us as a magnificent 15-20 foot wall. It was incredibly rugged, and actually looked like a small subset of the topography that we normally find at the fingers. It was pocked full of holes, jagged edges, cracks, fissures, and small caves. Deep, lengthy ledges cut into vast stretches of this wall. Along the base of the wall, huge boulders, boulder piles, and rocky outcroppings could be found. The topography here is very cool.
I might add that this ridge is well over a quarter mile in length, running out to the northwest. It appears to start around the east end of Waadah Island (where the prominent exposed rocks can be seen in the water off of Waadah Island) and ends somewhere to the west past Waadah Island. After several 60 minute dive drifts on this ridge, I have not come to the end of the ridge. The ridge does tend to get a bit deeper the more NW you go.
I have done this dive at slack and off slack. The dives off slack are a hoot! I have done one dive here on a flooding current and several on an ebbing current. On all occasions, the current has been run strong towards the northwest. It appeared as if there is a significant back-eddy running along the inside of the ridge on the flood. The currents here on minor exchanges provided the perfect controlled drift dive. If we wanted to stop to examine something, we easily tuck in behind some boulders or a ledge and get out of the current. It is truly awesome.
My two dives at this site at slack have been a walk in the park. On both occasions, we were presented with a very mild current running east. We were able to easily swim against this current to the west, then leisurely drift back to the east and our entry point. With the mild current, we were able to cruise around and explore any part of the reef we wished.
So what did we find at this site? Tons of critters to keep us entertained. The most noticeable of which were dozens of beautiful cream and black striped Tiger Rockfish accented in red that use the countless hideouts on the reef to their advantage. As no one knows the name of this ridge, I aptly refer to it as Tiger Ridge. The only other site where I have seen as many Tiger Rockfish is Four Fathom Reef off of Nanaimo. But the shy Tiger rockfish weren't the only attraction. Like the fingers, rockfish and greenlings abound at this site. Medium sized Lingcod were plentiful, and Kelp and Painted Greenlings were simply all over the place. We found the occasional Cabezon darting out from under us as we swam by. Like most sites in this area, I usually have no problem identifying at least eight species of rockfish when diving here. In addition to the Tiger Rockfish, we always encounter brilliant yellow and black China Rockfish that have taken up sentry position through many portions of the reef, and both Quillback and Copper Rockfish hovering in current dead-spots. Huge schools of Black and Blue Rockfish are a certainty. Yellowtail Rockfish can sometimes be found schooling, and more often in isolation hiding in a crack or crevice. On every dive here so far, I have also encountered the always spectacular orange and white Canary Rockfish (a protected species) along this reef. Is usually find Canary Rockfish swimming just off the bottom at the base of the ridge in small, loosely organized schools. I feel as though I could dive this site every day. In fact, when I visit Neah Bay, I do dive it every day!
We also usually strayed into a couple of Wolf-eels at this site. On one dive, I encountered a young male with a visible injury to it's head. Anytime I approached, it would open its mouth wide, I assume as an attempt to intimidate me. On another dive I saw a beautiful juvenile Wolf-eel that we found swimming free on the reef. It seemed totally unconcerned about our presence, but eventually made its way under a ledge for cover.
The invertebrate life here is also outstanding. Like the fingers, countless nudibranchs can be found on the rocky structure. Soft corals in almost every color of the rainbow abound. Unique Grey Puff-ball Sponges occasionally dot the seascape looking link old, discarded volleyballs. Colorful sea stars and Sea Cucumbers cruise the reef in slow motion. Incredible anemones in reds, pinks, purples, whites, greens add even more spectacular color to the underwater structure. Some of these anemones are the size of basketballs. If you look around, you will also find brilliantly colored Blue-ring Top Snails at shallower depths. We have also been privileged enough to run into a very friendly Giant Pacific Octopus on this ridge, just sitting on a shelf taking it all in. It actually seemed to enjoy having us stroke it lightly between its eyes and continually "shook hands" with us for about 10 minutes.
When drifting this site, we usually stay down as long as our no-deco time allows. After our no-deco time is up, we head for the surface. Depending on how far we drift, we leave the top of the reef between 40 and 60 fsw and do a free ascent. Usually we have jellyfish to entertain us during our safety stop as we drift in the currents. If we are really lucky, a school of Yellowtail Rockfish will come check us out while we remain suspended at 15 fsw.
Vis at this site is generally good. On most of my dives here, I have had 40+ feet of vis. Heavy swell and rains tends to deteriorate the vis at this site, as it does at most of the sites in this area and can cut the vis to 10-25 feet.
Because of the current potential, I would only do this dive with a live boat. I could not imagine trying to swim back to a boat that was up current. Also, as I noted early, the current was actually running the opposite way that I expected it to. Having a good observant boat driver topside to watch the diver bubbles and wave off incoming/outgoing fishing boats is a must.
One note- if you dive here, watch for terminal fishing gear. We found two downrigger setups that snagged on this reef, complete with yards of tangling stainless steel cable. Unsuspecting fishermen often set their gear to run 10 feet or so off the bottom. As this ridge is in the middle of nowhere, it has claimed a ton of fishing gear. I always carry two knives just in case I get entangled in monofilament, although they would not do much good against stainless downrigger cable.
This site, combined with the fingers, makes for a world-class diving one-two punch. A drift through this site on a mild exchange, followed by a dive at the fingers are my idea of diving paradise. I can't wait to go back again!
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