Diving in the Pacific Northwest

Some of you may have been following my travels on Facebook and noticed that I am not in Germany this week.  I am continuing my professional education at the Washington Protective Relay Conference.  Every year, the great minds in the power distribution and transmission industry get together to share their knowledge with the rest of the industry, sharing best practices, lessons learned, and as always, try to sell us more of their products.  The trip here was supposed to be nice and simple involving only 3 layovers, and visiting only 4 airports: Frankfurt - Chicago - Denver - Spokane.  To finally get to Spokane, I had to travel Frankfurt - Chicago - Denver - San Francisco - Seattle and then finally Spokane.  After nearly 36 hours of travel, I finally made it.  I am really hoping that the return trip is not as eventful.  It is my first time visiting the beautiful pacific northwest; this is definitely someplace that I will have to bring Meghan back to.  

Since I had one free day before the conference started, I made some calls and was able to get connected with a scuba diving charter that operates on Puget Sound, WA and comes highly recommended - Ocean Quest Charters.  I can honestly say that this is one of the best one day scuba diving charters I have been on EVER.  Let me explain why.  

Our colorful group of divers for the day,

From the moment you step on the boat, you're a member of their family.  Andrea and George make sure to take care of your every need.  I mean what other charters can you call one day prior to arrival, and have tanks and weights on the boat just waiting for you to get wet?  Not many...  The boat typically runs with a group of 6 but today it was only a group of 5.  All five divers are experienced cold water divers, with many dives in Puget Sound.  Also, as with most cold water divers I was immediately welcomed into their community of friends.  The background of the divers was great as well, 3 engineers from Microsoft and one electrician.  Fortunately for me I was partnered up with Mark, a long-time underwater photographer, and Puget Sound diver.  This was a great opportunity to see how to hunt for the elusive Giant Pacific Octopus, and Wolf Eel (fish).  

On this typical Pacific Northwest morning, Andrea had two dives planned for us. The first dive was a site called "Z's Reef," a natural reef that runs parallel to shore beginning at around 45′ with a sloping bottom near 60′. This reef is protected from fishing, spearing etc.  This site is a great dive for wolf eel and Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO). It has some very interesting cut backs in the wall which provides numerous dens for these critters and HUGE lingcod.  I also saw my first nudibranch on this dive - a beautiful Alabaster!  We dove this site during slack tide, with just a bit of current to glide you across the reef.  This reef is dived as a drift, so you don't have to swim against the current back to the boat.   Fortunately for me we were able to see 4 GPO's and 1 Wolf Eel.  These Octopus are HUGE!!! I mean they are as large as a person, and jammed back deep into a hole. Andrea took a great video of a free-walking GPO and it really shows the size of one of these beautiful creatures.    

We had a nice long surface interval of about 1.5 hours during which we had hot soup and sandwiches. This was the first time I was ever served hot food on a one day charter.  The warm soup hit the spot after spending close to an hour in 51 degree water.  On the way to the next site, we passed over the historic Tacoma Narrows bridge.  For those that don't know the name of the bridge, watch the following video to jog your memory.  We also saw a Pacific White Sided Dolphin playing with some harbor seals.  So we motored on over to get some pictures.  The dolphin stayed in the area, and appeared to be extremely curious.  George shouted from the bridge, grab your snorkel and get in the water.  I quickly donned my hood, and gloves, and jumped in the water.  This dolphin stayed in the area and swam with myself and one other diver for about 20 minutes.  This is the reason you ALWAYS have your snorkel with you.

Our second dive of the day was on a site called Saltwater State Park.  This  artificial reef can be a shore dive, or much easier as a boat dive.  This 3 reef structure consists of clay, sandstone, and rock and runs parallel to shore (north/south) beginning at about 45′ and max’s out at around 55-60′. This is a marine protected site, so it contains lots of colorful life – schools of fish, large ling cod, and rat fish.  There are three mooring buoys installed by the Washington Scuba Alliance which makes this a convenient site to boat dive. Currents on this dive was nice and gentle, but just enough to allow for a nice drift. As with Z's reef, the live boat pick up and a sturdy dive ladder, makes an easy exit at this site.

Ocean Quest Dive charters is a phenomenal dive operation that I can recommend to anyone and everyone looking to dive in the Puget Sound.  The freshwater rinse tanks, and on board shower make this an absolutely great diving experience.  Meghan will be coming with me next time I come to the Pacific Northwest, and we will be spending at least 2-3 days diving these waters, and hopefully get to see one of these GPO's out in the open (but she would probably rather do without the wolf eel sighting).  

- Aaron -

Photos courtesy of Andrea Petersen of Ocean Quest Dive Charters and Mark Lee