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Point Defiance North Wall
Topography: Series of cascading walls comprised of clay, sandstone, and rock. Piles of huge clay slabs and rocks have gathered at the base of the walls. Gently sloping sandy shelf above the walls with moderately sloping cobblestone substrate below.
Puget Sound marine life rating: 3
Puget Sound structure rating: 3
Diving depth: 85-105 feet
Highlight: Off-slack dive that offers some of the best structure to explore in southern Puget Sound. A great place to search for grunt sculpins.
Skill level: Intermediate
GPS Coordinates: N47° 19.126’ W122° 32.691’
Access by boat: This extensive wall system extends eastward from the prominent navigational marker at Point Defiance. A series of walls and ledges runs parallel to the shoreline. I have started dives as close as 100 feet and as far away as 250 yards from the point, all of which have proven interesting and some of which have been outstanding.
A shallow and narrow shelf extends along the shore. The shallow shelf quickly gives way to vertical walls and ledges that drop as deep as 100 feet. My favorite place to dive this expansive site is by a prominent rock standing alone on the shore about 200 yards from the point. I remember it as the second most prominent lone rock on the shoreline - a larger rock resides to the west. Wonderful structure cascades down to about 105 feet immediately out from this rock. Small walls, ledges, blocks, boulders, shallow clay caves and hard rock formations provide hours of exploring entertainment.
Anchoring at this site is a bit of a challenge. The shallow shelf above the wall does not afford much room to swing if the current or wind changes direction. I often end the dive with my boat in 3 or 4 feet of water and can literally stand on the bottom while I put my gear in the boat. Even with a shallow draft boat, I lift my outdrive before beginning my dive.
Shore access: Access by shore is possible but not realistic as it would require a very long hike.
Dive profile: The most difficult part of diving this site is picking which part of the expansive site to explore. I descend the anchor line, check the bite of the anchor, and make certain the anchor is not positioned too close to the edge of the wall. With the anchor accounted for, I head perpendicular to shore and follow the gently sloping sandy shelf to the wall. It doesn’t take long before the shelf disappears and is replaced by a shear drop-off. Some walls are 30 or 40 feet tall while others are substantially smaller.
Walls are often broken up by a ledge before continuing on to deeper depths. I find ledges and areas at the base of the walls to be the most interesting to explore for unusually marine life. Several shallow caves, waterlogged timbers, and piles of fallen clay slabs lie along the base. The structure cascades down to about 80-105 feet before giving way to a moderately sloping cobblestone substrate.
I normally dive this site with an unattended boat. I run a down-and-back pattern with the down leg being deeper than the back leg. Poking around the top of the wall or shelf above the wall provides excellent entertainment during a safety stop.
Current Station: Tacoma Narrows (north end)
Noted Slack Corrections: None
This is an excellent off-slack dive, but only on an ebbing tide. I never want to be in water at this site when the current is flooding. The ebbing waters of south Puget Sound rush by Point Defiance and head north. While the west side of the point is engrossed in a torrid current, the north side is in the lee. A gentle back-eddy flows toward the point along the north wall during the ebb. I have encountered substantial current when diving right at or immediately after slack before ebb. I target an entry time of at least 30 minutes after predicted slack and make certain I am out of the water well before the next slack.
I am careful to stay away from the area around the end of the point. I know divers that put in too close to the point and were swept off the wall. They ended up over a quarter mile away in Dalco Passage by the time they surfaced. Fortunately, they were running a live boat.
My preferred gas mix: EAN 32
Point Defiance boat ramp. (Rustin, Tacoma) Approximately 2 miles from the dive site.
Current: Unmanageably strong current on flooding tides and unpredictable current at slack tide.
Boat traffic: Boat traffic through the Tacoma Narrows can be heavy, especially during boating and salmon fishing season.
Fishing boats: Fishermen work this area extensively during salmon and lingcod season.
Snagging hazards: Fishing line and rusty hooks are occasionally found throughout this site. I even found an outboard motor during one dive.
Marine life: What I find at this site really seems to depend upon the time of the year and where on the wall I dive. Certain fish are always present, like striped seaperch, copper rockfish, buffalo scuplins, and red Irish lords. Every so often I find wolfeels, giant Pacific octopus, and decorated and mosshead warbonnets. Many of the small creatures, including red octopus, like to make dens out of the deep holes the piddock clams have bored in the clay walls. I sometimes find grunt sculpins hiding in these holes or among the rubble at the base of the walls.
This site is predominately composed of clay and sandstone and is therefore missing many of the large colorful stationary invertebrates that grace hard rocky reefs. Mobile and smaller invertebrates are able to survive amongst the soft structure. Pink short spined stars, sunflower stars, swimming anemones, and thousands of dock shrimp are a few of the inhabitants I regularly find at this site.