Amazing Neah Bay

September 6, 2009

I left from home at 6 AM Saturday morning for the 4-hour drive to Neah Bay … the sun was out and it was promising to be a gorgeous day. And so it proved to be until I was west of Port Angeles … then I drove into the fog. And it was foggy still when I got to Neah Bay at around 10 and loaded my stuff onto the Mark V.

11 AM, we left the dock and headed out in the fog for Mushroom Rock. Because of the fog I couldn’t really see much of the coast line, but the dive site was centered around a large, house-sized rock that was shaped after its name. There wasn’t much swell, no wind, and little current … just about perfect conditions.

urticina piscavoraThe dive site was very reminiscent of some of the dives I had done in the Channel Islands … life-covered boulders and lots of kelp. Of the four dives I did this week-end, I took the fewest pictures here … most of the attraction comes in the form of the wide-angle views of structure, kelp forest and anemones … so enjoyed the scenery, finding a few places where I could swim through narrow channels between the rocks, weave my way through the kelp beds and enjoy the beautiful urticina piscavora anemones.

The fog was still with us when I surfaced after a 64-minute dive. And so we headed back oward Waadah Island to do a ridge that Scott (our boat captain) identified as East Bank. This was a series of ridges that ran out almost in a straight line. red irish lord

There were a LOT more fish here than on the previous dive … I saw China, Tiger, Vermillion, Canary, Black, Copper and Quillback rockfish in large numbers as I settled into a slow drift along the side of one of the ridges. And although I didn’t get below 75 feet on this dive, the whole thing was a reverse profile where I was getting progressively deeper as the dive continued. At one point I noticed the reddest Irish Lord I think I’ve ever seen.

For the longest time, this dive was all about me and the rockfish … several China rockfish seemed to want to drift alongisde me for quite a long time … as long as I wasn’t trying to take pictures of them. When I’d point the camera their way, they’d swim off … only to come back as soon as I put the camera down. I didn’t know fish could be so camera shy. It was toward the end of this dive that I stumbled onto one of the largest octopus I have ever seen … each one of its tentacles was longer than I am, even with my fins on. I spent my last 10 minutes of bottom time taking pictures of him … then when my strobe batteries finally gave out, I shot my SMB and headed up … my best dive at 73 minutes and probably 100 pictures.

GPO5

GPO3

The next morning we started out earlier … 8 AM departure for Slant Rock. The fog was thick, and Scott took the slow (and safe) route getting us there … there were no waves nor wind, but the swells were pretty large. Eventually the rock appeared out of the fog, and we dropped into the water. Vis at the beginning of this dive was the best of the week-end … easily more than 50 feet … and the topography of giant boulders, ledges, and underhangs completely covered in life made for a fantastic dive. The rocks were covered with these snails I had never seen before … literal colonies of them on almost every rocky surface.

medusa2But the best part of the dive for me was what was in between those rocks and ledges. The sandy bottom was covered in kelp … and attached to all that kelp were thousands of stalked medusas … a rather strange form of jellyfish.

medusaI spent the better part of an hour taking pictures of the things … or better to say, trying to … the surge made it challenging, between tossing them around and tossing me around. Unfortunately, they were anchored and I was not, so I got tossed farther. Suffice it to say I took an awful lot of bad pictures … but I kept trying. Overall it was another fantastic dive … 68 minutes and almost wore out my strobe batteries once again.

Once back on board, the fog finally started to lift … and for the first time all week-end we got some bright, sunny weather. Scott headed us for Third Beach for our fourth and final dive. As we approached the dive site, someone called out that there was a whale in the water, and sure enough a short ways in front of us we saw first the spout, then the tail fluke as a massive gray whale dived down beneath the surface. A moment later, another … and another … were spotted. Oh cool … we’re going diving with the whales! Once again I was first in, and hoping against hope for the experience of a lifetime. But it was not to be.

pskcThird Beach is a series of shallow reefs that run roughly parallel to shore … coming up quite shallow, to about 20 feet or so, with depths of about 50 feet between the ridges. And in those deeper, hollow spots between the reefs were the densest krill clouds I think I’ve ever seen … the water was dark with them. That’s what the whales were after. I spent my dive up on one of the ridges … doing a gentle drift along the ridge just letting the current carry me where it will. I found my only Puget Sound King Crab of the trip on this dive.

Once again, it was a dive where I didn’t take a whole lot of pictures, preferring to just kick back and enjoy the wider views and scenery of the reefs. After a 68-minute dive, I shot my SMB and ascended. The boat was well down-current picking up another diver, and looking off to the west I spotted a whale spout … then another one closer to me. That second whale was actually swimming in my direction! I was hoping … anticipating … and even a bit intimidated by the thought that it might actually swim to me. But when it got within 100 feet or so it dived down … massive tail fluke going skyward briefly and then slipping silently beneath the water. It was just a lovely way to end the dive … and the trip.

Scott told me later that there were about a half-dozen of them swimming all around us while we were diving … but that they can hear (and most likely see) us and keep their distance from divers.

Overall it was a fantastic four dives … and a great week-end on a great boat with a great bunch of people.

… Bob (Grateful Diver)


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