Deception Pass Bridge, just 90 minutes north of Seattle Washington, connects Whidbey Island with the mainland. On July 31, 1935, the 976-foot span Deception Pass Bridge connected Whidbey Island to the tiny Pass Island, and Pass Island to Fidalgo Island. Before construction of the bridge, travellers would use an inter-island ferry to commute between Fidalgo and Whidbey islands.
“It’s like Scuda diving in a washing machine,” I have heard it described that way from a few fellow divers. Deception Pass currents can lead to standing waves, large whirlpools, and rolling eddies. This current marvel can be viewed from above on the twin bridges’ pedestrian walkways or from the trail leading below the larger south bridge on the Whidbey Island side. Boats sometimes must wait on either side of the pass for the current to stop or change direction before going through. Thrill-seeking kayakers go there during large tide changes to surf the standing waves and brave the class 2 and 3 rapid conditions. As a diver, we are more cautious and may wait months for the opportunity to dive the pass safely.
This last month we have had the good fortune to have three days of perfect dive conditions allowing us to attempt the treacherous and dangerous currents that are a couple hundred feet below the famous bridge.
On May 10, 2011, four of us from the Marker Buoy Dive Club carefully prepared and braved the treacherous waters for another attempt at capturing the amazing beauty and abundance of life that is constantly fed by the nutrient rich waters of the Puget Sound, Skagit Bay and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Exceedingly strong currents, up to seven knots at times are forced through the narrow pass constantly. The maximum depth is about 145 feet. For divers, the window of opportunity and safety (slack current) is very short, sometimes really only a few minutes. We ride the almost ½ knot current east as the flood tide drops to slack, then return on the increasing ebb tide back to our entry point. Sometimes, as long as 45 minutes. Today, we were very lucky, and this month we have been fortunate enough to do three dives with about thirty minutes of ‘slack’ waters.
With my camera in hand, I captured the shots posted left. Amazing animals living in and with the beautiful plantlife. The south wall, where most divers typically dive, the life is very thick and rich. Much of the life grows so large you can hardly find the rock behind it.
Huge Plumos Anemones, small Dahlia Anemones, Hydroids and Feather Dusters cover the steep vertical wall. Colorful Seastars and many species of crab blanket the wall and are everywhere on this dive. The walls are thick with Giant Barnacles, bigger than a softball, Chitons, Glove and Carpet Sponges, and many other Sponges too. Curious little Scalyhead Sculpins are everywhere. These little guys will creep ever closer as I setup my shot. Perhaps they're curious about me, maybe they’re protecting their territory. It was not uncommon for a small Scalyhead Sculpin to jump at my lens port. They were attempting to fend off preditors or intruders - it was very cool. At about 20 to 60 feet we saw Kelp Greenling, Ling Cod, schools of Black Rockfish. It is pretty rare to see a Giant Pacific Octopus, but I've been fortunate enough to spot a few. Tucked away deep in a cavern the GPO hid. I was able to snap only a few shots before he quickly moved deeper into the den.
I would say that Deception Pass has become one of my very favorite dive spots. If you dive there, check the dive conditions, tides and currents very closely. In terms of underwater photography, the viz can be low, usually only a few feet. Zoom Macro photography will probably be your best shooting method, probably with a 60mm or 100mm lens.
Cozumel Mexico is one of the great dive spots in the world and only 6 hours from Seattle. I have vacationed in the Yucatan a few times, primarily Cancun, but had never taken the ferry from Playa Del Carmen across the bay to Cozumel Island, an easy 40 minute trip. Cozumel is just off the east coast of the Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and is Mexico’s largest island, around 300 square miles. The town has less than 100,000 residents and may receive as many as four million visitors each year. Unlike Cancun, Cozumel is not a touristy location. In recent years many tourist shops have sprung up to feed the hunger of the cruise ship guests, but travel two blocks from the town center and you’re in a very quaint area filled with wonderful old world charm.
The beach is the main attraction in Cozumel. The clear warm waters of the Caribbean are perfect for a wide range of aquatic activities from swimming, to snorkeling, to sport fishing, and scuba diving. Cozumel is also home to the second largest coral reef in the world which attracts divers from all over the world, and with amazing beautiful blue rich water with 100 feet of visibility on an average day anyone will cherish diving in Cozumel. Snorkeling is a popular activity and small underwater scooters are available for rent to help you cover the miles of reef which make Cozumel famous. There are also numerous opportunities to swim with Dolphins, Manatees or Sea Lions. The jungles of Cozumel can be a fun way to spend a day also. Whether guided tour by jeep or a rugged ATV on your own. Also there is much to see in the Jade Caverns. You will encounter dramatic waterfalls and cool lagoons for swimming as well as ruins from the Mayan civilization.
Most of the dive sites are rocky reefs with plenty of rich, beautiful Coral. Large and small sea fans are present everywhere and the area is home to more than 200 species of tropical fish representing every color in the rainbow. It simply teems with huge schools of fish; Turtles, large Surgeonfish, Barracuda, Blue and Gold Snapper, Triggerfish, Moorish Idols, Butterfly Fish, and huge Parrotfish. I was very fortunate to get a shot of a passing Dolphin on my first visit, which is rare. I also captured shots of Morays; Green, Jewel and Striped. A very appealing time to dive in Cozumel is twilight. Many of the nocturnal creatures begin to hunt and present themselves for great photographic splendor. I took many shots on night dives of small to large octopus, lobster and varieties of crab.
This was my first dive trip to Cozumel and for future trips I will only dive with Aldora Divers. Aldora Dive Charter company has earned the reputation of being the most professional and has the most knowledgeable dive masters. They also provide steel 120 tanks on each dive, larger tanks than a typical dive company. Everyone from Memo Aldora (owner - operator), to Steve who manages the Villa, to the Dive Master’s like Javier, Raul and Liang will take you to the best dive spots.
Palencar Reef is the main attraction on the south west side of the island. Most other dive companies will only dive a few of the more shallow areas repeatedly. Aldora Dive Master’s are very familiar with the reef; they know where to dive, even if it’s just a few hundred feet north or south of where the other dive charters go. They want their guests to explore the less traveled, and more interesting areas. I cannot speak highly enough about Aldora, they are simply the best dive company providing wonderful professional and safe diving in a beautiful place to dive.
Drew Collins professional underwater photographer and environmentalist living and diving primarily in the beautiful Emerald green waters of Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington.