|Date Reviewed:||March, 2002|
|Location:||Southeast Fox Island, South Puget Sound|
|Site Description:||200 yard long rocky reef|
|Main Attraction:||Copper rockfish, occasional wolf-eels.|
Z's Reef is located on the southeast shore of Fox Island. This dive is only accessible by boat, so if you want to do this dive, you either need to have a boat, a friend with a boat, or get on a dive charter (or buy one of the homes along this part of Fox Island if you win the lottery!). This site is located on the Fox Island side of Hale Passage, which is just south of the Tacoma Narrows. As the reef is only about 100 yards off shore, Fox Island offers this site some decent protection from a south wind, so this may be an ideal alternative dive site on a windy day if you were originally planning a dive in a more exposed area.
I had some high expectations before doing this site, as I heard the marine life here was abundant and very diverse. I also heard that the reef here was very expansive - over 200 yards long. So, on a rainy Sunday morning, one of my dive buddies and I geared up the boat and headed out from Seattle at 5:45 AM to hit Z's Reef. We launched at the small boat ramp by the Fox Island bridge (which by the way, this is one of the last remaining free boat launches I know of!), and cruised the three miles east towards the reef. We were using the GPS coordinates listed in Northwest Boat Dives to find the reef, but these coordinates are very wrong - the coordinates put us about a third of a mile too far to the east. I have found many of the GPS coordinates in this book to be in serious error.
The best way to find the reef without accurate GPS coordinates is look for a small house/shack/building on the beach with two windows. There are several small houses that fit this description along the shoreline near this dive site, but this one is kind of isolated and has a flat roof (the others I noted had peaked roofs). There are also a couple of small floating docks by this little house, but there are also quite a few floating docks along this shoreline. There are two small bays to the east of this site, so if you see the entrances of either of the two small bays, you are too far east. Anyway, this small shack on the shore marks the western most tip of the reef. The reef extends from about this point eastward for about 200 yards. If you have a depth finder, you should see the reef (marked by about a sudden 5-15 foot drop in depth) in 40 to 60 feet of water. On this dive, we anchored in about 20 feet of water near the eastern end of the reef, as the current was ebbing (heading east) during our dive.
I had read that this dive should be done at slack water. Corrections in this area for slack are a bit tricky, and we entered the water about 35 minutes before my calculated slack, which I guestimated to be about an hour before slack at the Narrows. The current was a 2.0 knot ebb turning to a 1.5 knot flood, so we were diving this on a relatively small exchange. We descended the anchor line and headed straight out from shore, and encountered the reef in about 40 feet of water. Although lengthy, this reef certainly is not dramatic. We had been diving Point Defiance West Wall and Day Island Wall the day before, which is a hard act to follow. The reef itself is actually just a minor break in the silt. It stands 5 to 15 feet tall, but runs almost continuously for the entire 200 yards. We swam against the weak current to the west end of the reef, where it simply dribbles out into some boulders, then silt. We then drifted back the length of the reef in the mild ebbing current, taking our time to explore things somewhat thoroughly. The entire tour (down and back) took just over an hour.
Unlike the clay and sandstone walls we were diving the day before, this reef mainly consists of solid rock and some boulders. There are countless gaps, holes, small boulder piles, ledges, and some small walls throughout the length of the reef to explore, so make certain to bring a good light if your are diving here. Above and below the reef you will find your typical Puget Sound mildly sloping, silty substrate. I never went below 60 fsw the entire dive.
Although there is ample marine life on this reef, I did not find it overwhelming. Again, I was diving here in late winter when the marine life at most dive sites tapers off somewhat. We did find one very shy Wolf-eel, plenty of small Copper and Brown Rockfish, Scalyhead Sculpins, Red Sea Cucumbers, Burrowing Sea Cucumbers, scallops, Giant Barnacles, and occasional Buffalo Sculpin, only one Lingcod (which was surprising), plenty of bright red Vermilion Stars, Pink Short Spined Stars, Leather Stars, Sunflower Stars, and even a Cushion Star. What was missing for me where the nudibranchs and schools of perch. I only found two nudibranchs during the entire dive, and one was a White Lined Dirona that I found on my safety stop above the wall. I also did find a Helmet Crab, a crab which I have only noted at Shilshole Breakwater (in great abundance, I might add). In fact, this entire dive reminded me a lot of diving the outside of the Shilshole Breakwater!
This is a fun dive to do, but I definitely do not think it makes my top 10 for Washington list. It is definitely a very easy dive if you hit it at slack. I will try it again in Summer or Fall to see if the marine life picks up at all.
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