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China Wall

(quicklinks)

- by Nicolle Pratt (Dive date: January 2003)

First dive of the New Year and what a site we picked, both above water and under. China Wall is located on the West side of Blakely Rock, an exposed rock mass. There are reportedly more dive sites located around the rock. This one is considered the inside dive site offering a bit more protection from current, with the other sites located to the outside of the rock exposed to heavier currents. Looking East past Blakely Rock on this absolutely clear day we had the most pristine view of the Seattle sky line, the Space Needle, and every mountain visible from the Seattle area. After a previous week of almost nonstop rain, the skies opened up knowing Bryan, Randy, Lance and I were going diving.

Drawing our attention back to Blakely Rock or actually to the waters on the North side of the rock are lots and lots of little bobbing brown heads and one great big one. Using Bryan's wonderfully powerful military issue binoculars (Bryan has lots of wild gear), we had a great opportunity to observe Stellar Sea Lions from afar. There appeared to be females, juvenile and of course the great big one was obviously the male. This prompted quite the conversation about what can happen when a diver encounters a large sea lion under water. All we needed now was for the sun to go down, to shine our dive lights up into our faces, and tell more scary stories. Have you heard the one about the Hag Fish? No really, Hag Fish...ick.

The Dive Site: There is a buoy in about 73' of water anchored to the wall that we moored to. The wall is slightly curved mimicking the contour of the side of Blakely Rock it lies parallel to. The portion of the wall North of the mooring anchor lies in a North-South direction with the portion of the wall to the South shifting to lie in a slight Northwest-Southeast direction. Following the line down, we noticed a slight current (maybe .5 knots) moving North, so we dove into it exploring the South end of the wall first. Following the water movement back, we returned to the mooring anchor half way though our dive and then ventured beyond to the North end of the wall. Although the mooring anchor sat in about 73' of water, the wall ranged from 65' to just over 100'.

Sea Life (vertebrates): Janna traveled to Barkley Sound to photograph the elusive China Rockfish. Well, I stayed in the country and thought I saw a China Rockfish. Apparently they are very rare if present at all in the Puget Sound. When I mentioned that I thought I saw a China Rockfish, I was asked to check what I was breathing in my tank. I for sure saw Copper and Quillback Rockfish, and it has been said that brooding Quillback have been mistaken for China Rockfish...sigh. Also upon They were Quillbacks, you doofus!reaching depth we happened upon a good sized Ratfish (Janna, do you think I saw that too or do you think I was mistaken?) that didn't easily scare off so I was able to get close and really observe it. Ratfish are easily my favorite fish in the Pacific Northwest. They are spooky looking and related to sharks! Then there were schooling Striped Perch and more than one school of little shiny Tube Snouts that glittered like tinsel whenever Bryan's flood light passed over them. Another highlight of this dive site were the number Lingcod. Two were easily 4' or longer. I then had another encounter, a large ling guarding his egg nest! I gave the ling much space, knowing they can be very protective of their nests...or maybe the guys would say that I could have been eaten, killed....or worse! Towards the end of the dive I also spotted one odd placed Sturgeon Poacher.

Sea Life (invertebrates): This site was just full of surprises. Sticking our lights into two separate crevices, I saw the largest Giant Pacific Octopuses that I have ever seen. I only wish I could have seen more of the first one. The portion of lower tentacle we saw was larger than a man's upper arm. Its suckers were monstrous. I was so tempted to put my hand next to it for a more accurate underwater estimate, but not wanting to be a participant of one of those caught on video shows, I had second thoughts. Shortly after spotting that Octopus, we spotted another that was completely exposed in an open crack. Even with being all curled up, it was about 5' and white.  I don't think it appreciated our lights, so we moved on. Once again, I need to get an underwater camera (Mom? Dad? Janna?)! Of course once I get one, I'll see nothing! The wall also had smaller Sunflower Stars here and there, an occasional Spiny Pink Star, and at least one very large Sea Lemon.

Important Dive Site Notes: Use the mooring buoy. The mooring anchor is very secure alleviating the worry of an anchor pulling loose and the boat drifting.  Could you just imagine?  Ok I can, so that is why I reiterate the importance of making sure your boat is secure. It is also directly on the site, making it almost impossible to miss.

Current: All the information we had obtained prior to diving this site indicated this site could be dove off-slack. We found this to be true diving the site during a predicted max flood of about 4+ knots, but only experiencing a slight current. However even though the site is located on the more protected side of Blakely Rock, divers should still account for current. Keep in mind that current for an area is calculated using predictions from the nearest substation. It is not an exact science. For example the current for the Blakely Rock area is one calculation, although there is more than one site at the rock and each site is affected differently by current due to underwater placement around the rock, formation, and other factors that subsequently affect water movement. Therefore it is suggested that you take a current reading, if you have appropriate instruments, before you enter the water. Use of a current ball is another, yet less reliable option.  Also, please never hesitate in canceling a dive if you do not feel comfortable.

Caution/hazards: Having already discussed current, there isn't much else that I would consider a hazard at this site, unless you were to happen upon one of those Stellar Sea Lions underwater. It is suggested that if you do encounter one, certainly don't chase it or aggravate it in any way. Also, protect your appendages by not extending them outward like some sort of snack food. It's not that they will eat you, but people have been supposedly nipped before (but not at this site that I know of). Think of the lions as dogs you don't know...10' big dogs weighing up to a ton. You can obviously imagine why you'd want to rethink attempting to pet that kind of Fido. Also, staying along the wall, the depth of this site is definitely manageable for an Advanced Open Water Diver or higher.
 
Directions: This site is West of the city of Seattle, East of Blakely Harbor and Northeast of Restoration Point off of Bainbridge Island
. We put the boat in at Manchester Ramp, a wonderfully free boat launch with well kept bathrooms at the top of the ramp and a little restaurant within walking distance that we stopped at for breakfast before starting our day. They even had a fire going in the fireplace! The coordinates for Blakely Rock are: 47-35-38 N 122-28-49 W.
 
Nicolle's personal note: A guaranteed place to think you've spotted a China Rockfish within driving distance of Portland/Vancouver. Also great for observing Sea Lions.

Janna's personal note about Nicolle's personal note: They were Quillbacks, you doofus!

Nicolle Pratt
(503) 287-5328
Portland, Oregon
nicolle@pnwscuba.com