- Published on Thursday, 31 January 2013 13:00
- Written by Barb Roy
By Barb Roy and Wayne Grant
Located between the lower part of Vancouver Island and Mainland Vancouver, the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia are made up of over twelve large islands and several smaller ones.
The larger, more populated islands are accessible via BC Ferries, (www.bcferries.com) and offer visitors a selection of unique crafts from local artisans, excellent vineyards to explore (many with restaurants) and an array of coastal activities. One such water activity rapidly gaining popularity is scuba diving, which can easily be done on a year round basis.
There are several dive charter operators servicing the Southern Gulf Islands and the southern tip of Vancouver Island, offering two-tank day charters and assistance in arranging or providing accommodations. Top this with a commonly mild climate, friendly people and you have the makings of a relaxing dive getaway.
PADI Master Dive Instructor, Scott Stevenson, from Pinnacle Scuba Adventures has been diving in the area for over eighteen years. Together with business partner, Jessie Kunce, Pinnacle has been in operation for about three years.
Scott explains, “Our most popular dive sites are three separate sites around Race Rocks. The first site and probably the most well known, is West Race Wall. This site is an amazing wall covered in macro life: from sponges and soft corals to basket stars and sculpins. It is an amazing dive site with almost limitless life and is comparable to ‘Browning Wall’ in Port Hardy or ‘Row and Be Dammed’ on Quadra Island.
“The second site is Helicopter Rock. This is the best place to experience sea lions in all their glory! You can dive other parts of Race Rocks for encounters but Helicopter really is the best. It is a shallow dive with a huge kelp forest, at times with more than a hundred sea lions there!
“The third site is Great Race, where the lighthouse is. The small bay where the boat launch is located is the best place to dive. This is a common hangout for sea lions; however the bottom is covered in colorful brooding anemones, lots of rockfish and greenling, as well as a few resident wolf eels and octopus.”
As an accomplished underwater photographer and dive guide, Scott enjoys West Race Wall for its diversity of life;
“The amount of fish and invertebrate life inspire me; I simply love shooting there. This is one of my personal favorites I have dove tons of times and still get excited about every time I go out there. As for the sea lions at Helicopter, it’s all about the interaction between them and the divers. I constantly refer to them as big puppy dogs: playful and inquisitive. It’s hard for me to describe the feeling I get after years of being in the water with them. When I take someone, or a group of divers with me and we are bombarded with sea lions, the squeals of joy under the water and the smiles on the surface are awesome.”
When asked what other dive sites Scott likes, he replied; “Swordfish Island is a very unique dive. The south end of the island has a naturally formed tunnel approximately 60 ft. long, 20 ft. wide and about 20 ft. deep. Because of the large amount of current flow in this area the tunnel is filled with life: red soft coral, brooding and plumose anemones, rockfish and nudibranchs. We also have several wrecks in the area other than the ones in Sidney. The Swordfish and the Barnard Castle are two often requested due to their age and unique pieces still left on the bottom.”
Another dive charter service with the option of accommodations is the joint efforts of Cedar Beach Lodge and 49th Parallel in the Chemainus area, south of Nanaimo. Andy and Virginia Lamb run a quaint B&B on Thetis Island offering divers and their traveling companions a quiet seaside environment with excellent views. The lodge has a drying room for gear and a hot tub for after the dives.
The dive charter portion of the relationship is conducted by Peter Luckham and his wife Simone. With over 12 years of diving experience, Peter tenders professional day adventures in Stuart and Trincomali Channels, which include current dependent sites in Porlier Pass (the Point Gray, the Peggy McNeill, Alcala Wall).
Currently 49th Parallel uses a 17-foot boat, accommodating four divers with two dives per day (www.divemaster.ca) that services all the great sites in the area with a faster, more efficient boat, according to naturalist Andy Lamb.
Andy also told us he likes the underwater visibility best in the fall and winter months but assures it is usually good from late June through February too.
One of the many wreck dive selections Wayne and I enjoyed was the wreck of the SS Del Norte, at Canoe Islet in Porlier Pass. This historic vessel was a 190-foot long side-wheel passenger steamer that went down in 1868. Although there is not much structure left of the ship, you can still make out the paddle wheel, covered with life, nourished from the high currents in the area. Of course we waited until the current stopped to dive!
Another site my daughter Tallen really liked was wreck of the Point Gray, a 105-foot long steel tug that ran aground in 1949. The tug lies upside down in Porlier Pass at Virago rock, blending in with the natural kelp forest surrounding it. On this dive she observed huge lingcod, tiny Puget Sound king crabs and empty sea urchin shells. What was left of the remaining structure, including a few propeller blades, were coated with invertebrate life!
With the amount of dives possible and the varied locations found in the Southern Gulf Islands region, I would advise several trips over time to see it all. Since we usually travel during off-season when water clarity is at its best, weather can however, be a challenge. I have only mentioned a couple of the operators so please check the Internet for a full selection. Communicating with the dive and tour operators before you leave will assure you have a good experience.
|Ogden Point Dive Center
|Cedar Beach Resort
|49th Parallel Dive Charters