This is a narrow channel (about 120 meters wide) between the South-East tip of Gabriola Island and Valdes Island. It's a popular boat dive out of Nanaimo. I drove down one day to have a look since this area is a part of the island I've never been to. At the end of Stalker Road (on Gabriola Island) there's an area for a few cars to park and a sandstone bay. If you look out from shore, Gabriola Passage is around the right-hand point (Josef Point). It's a bit less than 200 meters from the beach to the narrowest part of the passage. I could hear the rushing water even before I could see the tidal rapids (there is sometimes over 8 knots of current here). When I climbed over the boulders to get to the point, I could see the water rushing through the channel like white-water rapids. There were even some decent whirlpools.
I came back for a dive the next day (April 14, 2009). I showed up about 2 hours early to make sure I didn't miss the current table slack. The current was running at about 2 knots. It was nowhere near as impressive as it was on the previous day, but the flow was still obvious. Eventually, about 1/2 hour early, I walked down the beach and swam out on the surface until I was near the point. I didn't feel any current so I dropped down and swam into the channel. The plankton/freshwater season must have hit the Strait of Georgia since the visibility was only 6-10 feet. The bottom dropped down in walls and ledges to about 50-60 feet. Then there was a slope of boulders going deeper. I made it down to about 70 feet where the bottom seemed to be mostly flat. Because of the visibility, it was pretty dark down here, but I could see carpets of cup corals, plumose anemones, various sponges, encrusting hydrocoral, giant barnacles, seastars, urchins, etc. I noticed lots of colonies of cemented tube worms covering large areas of rock. There were also mats of tiny orange hydroids covering half of the other stuff. Because of the darkness and visibility, I probably missed a lot of things. Fish life was mostly quillback and copper rockfish. There were also a few kelp greenlings and I'm sure there were lots of tiny sculpins, gunnels, warbonnets and what not that I didn't notice. So far I had managed close to 45 minutes without feeling any current, but now I was starting to feel it swirling around. Since the current was supposed to be changing to flow back to my entry beach, my plan was to ride it back. Instead, it seemed to be flowing in different directions as I swam along. Half the time I seemed to be swimming against it so I figured it was time to get out of there. I made it back around the point and swam back on the surface as near to the shore as I could get. The bottom here was shallow, flat sand. I saw a large dead octopus here being eaten, ironically, by crabs. Considering Gabriola Passage's fearsome reputation, I was surprised how easy of a dive I had. Of course I hope I'm not naive enough to assume it's always like this. It's obvious that most of the time this place can be very dangerous, especially when diving it from shore. Nevertheless, I'll definitely have to carefully check the current tables and come back some time of year when the visibility is better.