You slip backwards over the side of the boat, one hand holding your regulator, the other pressed against the side of your face-mask.
Below, in a small bay on the west coast of Quadra Island in Discovery Passage, lies the HMCS Columbia, a decommissioned destroyer sunk in 1996. Stripped of everything but her hull and gun turrets, the warship is now one of four artificial reefs along the east coast of Vancouver Island. The tide is low, and 28-feet down your light picks up the ship’s towering mast. Following the slight angle of the mast you continue down, soon reaching the deck and a variety of marine life.
Jacques Costeau called Vancouver Island’s Discovery Passage one of the best cold-water diving sites in the world. The narrow passage’s tidal flows stir up nutrients, providing food for over 300 marine species. You make your way to the bow of the Columbia, marveling at the starfish, anemones, octopus, wolf eels and fish – from perch to lingcod – that have made the artificial reef their home.
Rounding the bow, you push off from the sandy bottom and begin your exploration of the 366-foot destroyer, now and then entering one of a number of holes cut in the side for easy access to the ship’s interior.
Motioning to your diving partner, you enter mid-ship and find yourself in the crew quarters. You glide past bedframes bolted to the walls, through a doorway, down a long narrow passage and into the huge dining room.
Rising through a hole in the ceiling, you find yourself in the control room, the center of action during the Columbia’s hunt for submarines. The radar equipment reflects your light and your air bubbles collect against the low ceiling. Slipping out another access hole, you find yourself outside the ship. As you rise up the sloping side toward the surface an octopus reaches out an arm as if to say goodbye.
Tomorrow you will head down island. Just off Nanaimo another artificial reef, the HMCS Saskatchewan, is teeming with life. You’ll need at least a two days of diving here, becuase you quickly realize that exploring everything this this one underwater stretch of the Pacific would take a more than a lifetime.
Later, you will be in the waters off Victoria, exploring the HMCS MacKenzie and the G.B. Church. The cold water here is so clear that you feel like you can almost see shores of the Olympic Peninsula, about 20 km across the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Of course you can’t see that far, you think, and continue on in your underwater dreamland.
This is SCUBA diving life at its finest.
DIVING SITES ON VANCOUVER ISLAND
While the surface beauty of Vancouver Island always catches your eye, under the water there is a whole different world.
The island has incredible diving, including four ships sunk as artificial reefs. You can virtually dive anywhere off Vancouver Island. Some popular underwater destinations include:
Sidney – Just north of Victoria, off of Sidney, are two warships, sunk by the B.C. Artificial Reef Society as dive sites. The 110-meter HMCS MacKenzie, a destroyer, and the 60-meter G.B. Church are easily accessible to divers.
Race Rocks – Off the very southern tip of Vancouver Island, Race Rocks offers divers the chance to view sea lions and huge kelp beds.
Victoria – You can walk right into the sea at a number of points along the Victoria waterfront. Odgen Point is a favourite.
Gulf Islands – Off the Saanich Peninsula, the Gulf Islands offer numerous spots for diving. The seabed is loaded with all kinds of marine life.
Nanaimo – In 1997, the B.C. Artificial Reef Society sunk the HMCS Saskatchewan off the Nanaimo waterfront in Dodd Narrows. There’s also great diving off Snake Island and Gabriola Island.
Denman Island – Just south of Courtenay, Denman Island diving includes a chance to explore the S.S. Alpha, an steamship that sunk in 1900 off the tip of Denman.
Hornby Island – Just east of Denman Island, Hornby Island’s Flora Islets is where you can view six-gill sharks.
Mitlenatch Island – There’s a wreck at Grants Reef off the south end of the island.
Whiskey Point – Off Quadra Island’s Quathiaski Cove, Whiskey Point is a favorite with divers. Jacques Cousteau called Discovery Passage one of the best cold-water diving areas in the world. Check out the wolf eels, anemones, corals, sponges and octopus. Just north of Whiskey Point, at Maud Island, the B.C. Artificial Reef Society sunk the HMCS Columbia, a 366-foot warship. The ship is easily accessible.
Port Hardy – The seabed is covered with all kinds of marine life, including basket stars, giant mussels and scallops. Other sea life includes wolf eels and a variety of fishes.
Barkley Sound – On the west coast of Vancouver Island, Barkley Sound is the other site to find six-gilled sharks. The Sound’s Broken Group Islands offer wolf eels, octopus, various fishes, sponges and tube worms. There’s also a couple of wrecks: the Vanlene and the Thiepval.
Tofino – Similar to Barkley Sound, the waters off Tofino known as Clayoquot Sound teem with underwater life. Dive sites may be difficult to find or access, as little has been writting about SCUBA in this area. Reports of scuttled ships and various wrecks have many archeological divers excited, but the whereabouts of these sites are closely guarded secrets.