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Tacoma Narrows

(quicklinks)

- by Nicolle Pratt (dive date: August 2001)

So I dove the infamous Tacoma Narrows and you want to read about it do ya? You may wonder why this dive site is considered infamous. Allow me to explain. When the dive shop was adamant that only seasoned divers holding an advanced level certification or above would be able to sign up, it was with good reason. The Tacoma Narrows is a drift dive and has quite the reputation for a wicked current that requires good diver stamina, pin-point buoyancy, heightened dive buddy awareness and above all, quick thinking and subsequent reaction to any trouble that may arise due to unpredictable conditions.

Since I had been hearing stories from some of my diving cohorts, including the time two of them who upon entry were bounced to almost 100' and then had to fight their way back up, I had began preparing and planning early on. First, I set my dive plan. Then, I arranged to do the dives with a familiar dive buddy, Eric. I packed my gear carefully and although I usually dive with a 63 tank, I opted for an 80 tank just in case. The day of the dive, I asked lots of questions during the dive brief. And finally, since Eric drove us to the boat launch and I actually survived his driving, I realized I was good to go. Because to make it through Eric's driving, one needs similar qualities necessary to do these dives: good mental stamina, pin-point ability to maintain your position in the car, heightened drive buddy awareness and above all, quick thinking and subsequent reaction to any trouble that may arise, i.e. screaming, "Look out! Car!" or "We're off the road!" and such.

So Eric (who has dove this site before and was one-half of the bounce team previously mentioned) and I were ready to take on the Tacoma Narrows. We declined the use of a buddy line, dropped down and readied ourselves for a wild ride. I said we were ready for the wild ride. Hello! WILD RIDE! *blink blink* Turns out there was maybe 0.5 to 1.0 knots of current running which doesn't really fit the definition of a drift dive. But hey, I’d rather that then current so bad you have to hang onto your mask, your buddy, and your shorts. So at 60' we let the water push, er, nudge us along enjoying almost 40' of visibility.

Important Dive Site Notes: Although we happened to catch this site at a time with little current, this is not the norm and it retains an advanced dive level rating. This site is also only accessible via boat, so regardless, the boat operators will not take inexperienced divers to this site anyway. Since it is a boat dive, check with the shop and we'll coordinate your dive trip for you through Sound Wave Scuba Charters, one of the best dive boat operators in the Puget Sound and our favorite! Sound Wave Scuba Charters operates two great boats each departing from Defiance Point just West of Tacoma and about 10 minutes beyond the Les Davis park area. There is actually quite a lot of parking available, however, choice spots do tend to fill up mid-day. This is likely a non-issue if you are scheduled for a morning dive, but afternoon divers will experience a bit more jockeying. You'll want to temporarily pull into the area to the right of the ferry terminal. You should see the dock ramp beyond vehicles with boat trailers. You'll want to squeeze in, drop off your gear, and then park your car. Many times, the boat crew will meet you and help haul your gear to the boat.

Boat Facilities: If you have never been on a boat dive (and actually even if you have), please be respectful and pay attention to the boat crew when they conduct the boat brief. They will give you instructions and guidance on where to safely stow your gear and how to appropriately anchor your tanks. It would be very unfortunate to pay for your boat dives and then have your tank fall with full gear attached, disabling something that no dive kit without a blowtorch and technician could repair. They will also explain where you can ride, where the emergency medical gear is located, how to enter and exit the water, and of course how to use the head. It's just up to you how to manage its use in your scuba suit. As a bonus, soup, sandwiches and bite-sized candy bars are provided. Every day is Halloween on the dive boat! It is rumored they even stock up on personal candy bar favorites for dive regulars. Yep, this crew is a good catch!

Suggestions:  Talk to your boat crew the day of the dive as water conditions change drastically at this dive site. Generally, either holding onto your dive buddy or using a buddy line, you may want to enter the water negative and drop to your desired dive depth and go with the flow, literally. Always keep your dive buddy close during a drift dive. We did enter dark patches at times, so bringing a dive light is a smart idea. As with initially entering, upon surfacing after your dive is complete, motion to the dive crew that you are ok (unless you are not in which case signal for help). Then, again staying close to your dive buddy, WAIT for the boat to come to you and they announce that you may approach after they have idled the boat's props. Then exit the water safely following the crew's previous instructions given during the boat brief.
 
Current: As mentioned a few times before, this dive is considered a drift dive which means there is Current, yes with a capital "C." The current may vary, but in any case, as with all drift dives the purpose of the dive is go with the current and enjoy the dive. You do, however, want to try to stay parallel to shore and avoid traveling to the center of the sound. If find yourself traveling to the center, you'll notice if you maintain your depth, the sea floor bottom will drop out sight. If this happens and as with most drift dives you are unable to fight the current, you may want to simply surface knowing the dive boat operators are watching your bubbles and they'll simply swing around and pick you up. Ah the joys of boat diving in the Northwest!  
 
Caution/hazards: Uh, Current. As for sea life, there wasn't anything out of the norm on our dive, but there may be things to watch for during differing times of the year. Always refer to your boat crew for any special cautions or tid-bits. On the flip side, they may also tell you what cool stuff to look for during that particular time of year too! Also, watch your depth as the current may push you deeper than you realize and don't forget the importance of a safety stop, especially if you are planning on additional dives.
 
Directions: Take I-5 North to Tacoma to Exit 132. Take the S. 38 St. West ramp towards Gig Harbor/WA-16/ Bremerton/Tacoma Mall. Keep LEFT at the fork in the ramp. Merge onto WA-16 W. Take the 6th Ave. Exit towards WA-163. Turn LEFT onto 6th Ave. Turn RIGHT onto N Pearl St. Stay straight to go onto N. Pearl St./WA-163. N. Pearl St./WA-163 becomes Point Defiance Tahlequah Ferry. Point Defiance Tahlequah Ferry becomes Vashon Hwy. SW. Stay straight to go onto Wax Orchard Rd. SW. Turn RIGHT onto SW 220th St. Turn LEFT onto Westside Hwy. SW.
 
Nicolle's personal note: The weather was absolutely incredible. It was wonderfully warm and perfectly clear. From the boat, we found ourselves headed to the dive site on gorgeous water surrounded by snow capped mountains. As for the dive, I had a fabulous time averaging about 60' for approximately 40 minutes including a 3 minute safety stop. We had amazing visibility ranging upwards of at least 40' and leisurely followed a shelf for most of the dive broken up here and there by garage sized concrete blocks just covered with red growth and sea life. The floor seemed to be moving beneath us with jumping shrimp and two 1-2' rat fish (my favorites!) graced us with their appearance. There were also a number of larger 3-4' ling cod milling around. After exiting the water, we dried off, scarffed down chicken noodle soup, sandwiches and candy while excitedly cruising to our next dive destination: Z's Reef.

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