Church Island is a steep, treeless rock sticking out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca just off the Southern tip of Vancouver Island. It's one of those exposed, current-swept spots in this area that I've been wanting to dive for a long time. The current in this area is powerful and unpredictable. Even on windless days, there is often a swell rolling in, crashing against the rocks. I've often motored past this island in my boat looking for a place to tie up and dive, but the obvious current and that swell prevented me from bothering to bring my boat in close to the rocks. I was recently (Sept. 11, 2011) on my way to another local site and I noticed that there wasn't any swell around Church Island for once. It was 9:30 and the Race Passage Current Table was showing an ebbing current with a slack at 11:00 (changing to a flood). In actuality, the current here was already flooding (again, that unpredictability). The East side of the island was mostly protected from the current by the "current shadow" of the island itself. There was also a small, narrow notch on the East side of the island that was a perfect spot to tie up my boat. I figured I'd go for it and carefully try for a dive. I tied up and cautiously swam down out of the notch through a forest of bull kelp. Visibility was about 50 feet. Straight out from the notch, there was a slope of boulders, rubble and sandy patches bottoming out at about 60 feet deep. There were some quillback rockfish, lots of urchins and some clumps of branching hydrocoral. I swam North and the rubble slope turned into a stair-stepping, solid rocky reef that was covered with tiny burrowing cucumbers. I've never seen such a large area completely smothered by them before. I was swimming around the corner of the island and the current was flowing strongly against me so I turned around and swam South past the rubble slope. A wall started up and ran along the South East side of the island. It met a flat bottom at 80-90 feet deep. This wall was covered with plumose anemones, crimson anemones, red burrowing cucumbers, hydrocoral, etc. With the good visibility and the sunny weather, this was an amazing, colourful wall. I kept my eyes open for "magical" Juan de Fuca species like soft corals, basket stars and China rockfish, but I didn't see any. As I was nearing the Southern tip of the island, the current was getting intimidating so I turned around and swam North again. At the base of the rubble slope, I could see another low reef popping up in the distance. There wasn't much on it except urchins. I spent the rest of the dive up in the kelp near my boat. There were some small schools of black, yellowtail and copper rockfish.
Having pushed my luck by diving here, I figured I'd leave and do a second dive somewhere else. I then paused and told myself that conditions like these don't show up too often so I changed my tanks and went down for another dive here (this time with a video camera). After the dives, as I was entering Becher Bay (heading back to the boat ramp), I saw a group of whale watching boats off in the distance. I wasn't sure where the whales were so I cut my engine and drifted, trying to see where they were and which direction they were headed (it's illegal to come within 100 meters of them). Suddenly I heard a puff of air and 3 orcas surfaced and swam right by my boat. I think they came closer than the allowed limit, but there weren't any DFO officials around to give them a ticket.