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Topography: Expansive, deep, and sheer rock wall that continues down to over 200 feet.
San Juan Island marine life rating: 3
San Juan Island structure rating: 4
Diving Depth: 80-110 feet.
Highlight: Off-slack dive close to several boat ramps. Expansive wall that is fun to explore.
Skill level: Intermediate
GPS coordinates: N48° 25.532’ W122° 40.489’
Access by boat: Sares Head is located in the Rosario Strait. This massive bluff makes up the southwest side of Fidalgo Island. Deception Pass and Whidbey Island are to the south. The dive site is over a mile long. I usually dive near one of the two little “points” or rocky outcroppings along southern section of the head, although anywhere along the head offers a prime diving opportunity.
Shore access: None
Dive profile: I always dive this site with a live boat. I once watched two divers anchor and dive with an unattended boat while we gearing up for our dive. We ended up giving them a lift back to their boat after they surfaced down current from their anchorage and couldn’t get back.
I do not dive this site when heavy swell or waves are present. A consistent but mild current typically runs along the head. I begin my dives up current from the desired dive area. It is then just a matter of following the wall and managing depth and buoyancy once in the water.
This hard rock wall is sheer and massive. It is quite possible to do three or four different dives along the wall and not cover the same area. Large caves, ledges, and overhangs are found throughout the wall at different depths. Some of the caves are big enough to swim into. The shallows above the wall slope steeply and are peppered with large rocks and thick kelp.
I have never had stellar visibility when diving here. Visibility in shallow water often tapers off to about half what I encounter at depth. Visibility is normally about 10-15 feet at depth.
My preferred gas mix: EAN 30
Current Station: Rosario Strait
Noted Slack Corrections: None
Current at Sares Head is relatively forgiving. The current flows north along the wall during a flood and south on an ebb. I dive this site off-slack only when the maximum current during the exchange is no more than 0.7 knot. My experience is current off-slack is more consistent and less intense than current at or right after slack, although both are manageable. This site makes a wonderful second or third dive as timing is not critical.
Cornet Bay State Park (Whidbey Island). Approximately 2 miles from the dive site. Excellent facility with bathrooms, docks, nearby camping, and general store.
Snagging hazards: Derelict fishing nets blanket parts of the wall and pose a serious entanglement hazard.
Depth: This sheer wall drops well beyond safe recreational diving depths - over 200 feet in places. Good buoyancy and depth management skills are critical.
Current: A constant light to moderate current normally pushes along this wall. Heavy current is possible during major tidal exchanges.
Marine life: The vibrant and bountiful colors found at other nearby San Juan Island sites are definitely missing from this wall as the silty run-off from surrounding rivers throws a rather drab-colored blanket over everything. Regardless, plenty of marine life makes a living on this magnificent wall. Sometimes you just need to dust it off.
Sections of wall are covered with congregations of giant plumose anemones. Speckled in between the congregations are brilliant crimson anemones and yellow encrusting sponges. As of 2018, there is a field of crimson anemones that starts around 35 feet deep and runs down to about 60 feet deep on a vertical section of the wall below the small caves visible on the surface. This field of crimson anemones is a great place to find colorful candy stripe shrimp. Don't get discouraged if you don't find any candy stripes on the first few anemones you check - although there is typically only one candy stripe per anemone, they often reside in close proximity to one another. Once you find one, you often find others on nearby crimson anemones.
Giant barnacles grow along the wall, often clumped together in colonies of ten or more. Small yellow hydrocorals, bryozoans, and tunicates populate the wall and wait for the current to bring them nourishment.
Some of the more interesting critters that I find at this site are basket stars, Puget Sound king crabs, and robust heart crabs.
Fish populations are modest at best. Puget Sound rockfish are the most prevalent of the rockfish, but I keep an eye out for yellowtail, copper, and black rockfish. Lingcod and other greenlings enjoy this site, as does the occasion cabezon, red Irish lord, and buffalo sculpin.