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San Juan Islands


San Juan Islands
Friday Harbor, Washington
(1999, 2000 Expedition)

Expedition Corner

Friday Harbor     

We looked at the churning water and grimaced…would we even be able to attempt a dive in these conditions? The water's surface only gave a hint as to the ferocious current that was flowing around the rocky ledge that we had approached. Standing waves, the sound of rushing water, the quivering tops of the bull kelp all spoke to a maelstrom of water below and we could see no way to safely dive here.

"We'll wait a little while…it'll calm down and we'll have 45 minutes to dive." Said the captain, smiling broadly at our hesitations.

Sure enough, the water did settle down and we took the plunge into the beautiful, alien world of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. Immediately, the emerald green water, the stands of towering kelp and the myriad marine life covering every square inch of the rocky bottom captivated us. We were making our first dive in a spot known as the Cleary Sea Mount, a rise of boulders and rock located south of the marina in Friday Harbor. Here, we swam among beds of large anemone, sea cucumbers, and other colorful swarms of invertebrates. The highlight of the dive was a shy Wolf Eel who made sure he only posed for one, quick fleeting photograph. Soon however, the pull of the current served notice that this dive should end and a return to the boat was in order.

Our other dives in this fabulously intriguing area included wall dives near the Cleary Sea Mount, kelp forest dives at Moore's Forest and drift dives at Turn Rock. All of these dives served up huge populations of brilliantly colored invertebrates, all of which made for enticing photo subjects. In addition to the anemones and sea cucumbers, we encountered many captivating Pectin Scallops who would flee from our cameras by snapping their shells shut and propelling themselves a short distance away. We also spotted several different varieties of Nudibranchs, an occasional Abalone, large Coon-Striped Shrimp, and the ever present Sunflower Starfish. These were almost grotesque in appearance, sometimes measuring up to 2 feet in width and possessing 20 or more legs. These are the largest and most active of the Pacific Coast sea stars. Some of the larger specimens can contain more than 15,000 tube feet! In addition to these starfish, we also encountered the Spiny Sea Star and the Pacific Henricia, a vibrant red sea star that resembles the Atlantic Blood Star.

Despite the huge populations of invertebrates, we also observed a variety of interesting fish life in these waters. Lingcod, Kelp Greenling, China Rockfish, Buffalo Sculpin, Irish Lord and a variety of blennies all made for excellent photographic subjects.

The San Juan Islands are located north of Seattle and is accessible through an efficient ferry system and small engine aircraft from various points in the area. For the more adventurous traveler, small seaplanes are available to airlift you to your destination. We departed from Anacortes, but there are departures available from Vancouver Island in British Columbia and other cities in the general area.

Once you land on these islands however, you are immediately aware of being separated from the mainland in more ways than one. The air is clean and crisp, the pace is slower, the crowds are none existent and the sound of nature surrounds you. San Juan Island hosts a number of interesting activities for instance, you may tour the island by car, bus, bicycle, moped or even hike it if you feel up to it. The first thing you will notice while touring the island is that there is no traffic lights, the second thing you will notice is the breath taking coastal scenes and glorious sunsets. Make sure to stop at the Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse where you may spot seals lounging in the kelp beds close to shore or if your lucky you may spot pods of Orca swimming past the lighthouse off Cattle Point. In addition to island touring, sailing, kayaking and sport fishing is also available. One of the most entertaining activities available is whale watching. There is a permanent population of Orca in these waters and each day tour boats depart from these islands to bring passengers close to these fascinating creatures.

The waters of the San Juan Islands contain so much marine life due in part to the constant flushing of large tidal flows. Water flowing in from the Pacific is funneled between a large number of small islands, creating sometimes punishing and awe-inspiring currents. These quantities of water and the swift currents they bring enable large populations to thrive in this area. Scuba divers who frequent these waters are blessed with good visibility and endlessly entertaining dives. Be forewarned, however. This is dry suit country and the summer water temperature drops into the high 40s, while winter temperatures can dip several degrees colder.

While in Friday Harbor, we dove with Emerald Seas Diving and Marine Center an efficient and professional operation, but don't look for them when down there because Island Dive & Water Sports has now acquired and runs Emerald Seas Dive Shop.  Once you dive here, the "Emerald Seas" of the northern Pugent Sound and the San Juan Islands will stay with you forever. The beauty and thrill of diving here will call you back…and we know we will soon answer this call.
 

Divers Alert Network

DAN diving insurance is
highly recommended for all divers...

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Frequently Asked Question's

What's the weather like?
The weather is very mild. During the summer the temperature ranges from 60 to 80 degrees and in the spring & fall you can expect the temperature to range from 40 to 70 degrees. Even when it's windy, dive operators can find a calm dive site that's protected by one of the 172 islands.

Click for Friday Harbor, Washington Forecast

When is the best diving?
Diving in the summer is good because it's warmer, both underwater and on the surface. The best visibility is during the spring and fall. The most popular diving months for the local divers are March, April, September and October.

How cold is the water and do I need a dry suit?
The average year-round water temperature is between 48 to 52 degrees. A good 1/4 in. or 7mm farmer john style wetsuit will keep most divers comfortable underwater. About 30% of the sport divers in the northwest use dry suits, especially when diving in the winter. It's the time on the surface between dives where most people get chilled. Look for charter vessels with running hot water and heated cabins so that you can stay warm and comfortable.

Where can I stay?
Below are only a few choices where you can find lodgings

Hotels: ( in town )
The Inns at Friday Harbor
Discovery Inn 
Friday Harbor House
San Juan Inn
Orca Inn ( Phone: 877.541.6722 )

Bed & Breakfast: ( in town )
Harrison House
Friday's Historical Inn
Tucker House B&B and Cottages

Search for other lodgings:
San Juan Island Travel Guide
Friday Harbor and San Juan Island Web Directory

How do I get there?
The San Juan Islands are located north of Seattle and is accessible through an efficient ferry system and small engine aircraft from various points in the area. For the more adventurous traveler, small seaplanes are available to airlift you to your destination. We departed from Anacortes, but there are departures available from Vancouver Island in British Columbia and other cities in the general area.

By Water: Washington State Ferry - departs from Anacortes, WA. Take I-5 North from Seattle, look for Anacortes/San Juan Ferry turn-off. Seattle to Anacortes is approx 1 1/2 hours. Arrive 1-2 hours early during high season...ferry lines can be long. To avoid long ferry lines leave your car at the ferry terminal and walk-on!! cheaper and easier. San Juan Island has plenty of public transportation in the summer.

Phone: 206.464.6400
Time: 1-1/2 hours
Anacortes/San Juan Islands: Ferry SchedulesRoute Map

By Air:Seaplane

Harbor Air
Phone: 800.359.3220 or 360.378.6277
From SeaTac Airport

West Isle Air
Phone: 800.874.4434 or 360.378.2440
From Boeing Field

Kenmore Air Seaplanes
Seattle - San Juan Islands Daily Flight Schedules
Phone: 800.543.9595 or 206.486.1257
Float Planes from Lake Union and Lake Washington

Who do I dive with?

Island Dive & Water Sports - is a full-service dive operation in the beautiful San Juan Islands. They are located on the waterfront in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

Location: 2A Spring Street Landing, Friday Harbor, WA
Mail: P.O. Box 476, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Phone: 800-303-8386 or 360-378-2772
Fax: 360-378-5549
Email: info@divesanjuan.com

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Links

IslandCAM & FerryCAM - Bringing you live updating images from the beautiful San Juan Islands in Northwest Washington.
File Island Tour /  File Ferry Ride ( Courtesy of Kenmore Air )

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Expedition Corner

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Last Modified: November 30, 2006

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