This is a small island at the North-West corner of the Chatham Islands group in the Oak Bay area. Strongtide Island is separated from Ten Mile Point by Baynes Channel, which can see up to 6 knots of current according to the chart. This is some of the strongest current off Southern Vancouver Island. This place is mentioned in the book "Diver's Guide, Vancouver Island South" as one of the author's top 10 dives in the Victoria area. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical since the dives I've been doing in the Discovery/Chatham Island group have been disappointing for such a current-swept area. I wanted to give it a try though, so I took my boat across from the Cattle Point boat launch on Sept. 7, 2009. Near the Northern tip of Strongtide Island, there's a shallow rock that's exposed at most tides. This marks the best diving area according to the guidebook. Just South of the rock, there's a small protected bay with a pebble beach, where I tied up my boat. I had made sure that it was a better-than-average day for current and I showed up early so I wouldn't miss the slack. About 45 minutes before the Baynes Channel slack I cautiously started to swim out from the bay towards the open channel. The first thing I noticed was the incredible visibility. As I reached the outside of the bay, I could clearly see the bottom 30 feet below me. There was a bull kelp forest with several urchin-covered boulders surrounded by bright, white sand. I descended and continued to swim out. Almost immediately there were rocky reefs dropping down with walls, canyons and piles of boulders. Visibility was 40-50 feet which is about the best I've seen in the Victoria area (outside of Saanich Inlet, of course). The rocks were completely covered with yellow sulphur sponge, giant barnacles, plumose anemones and pale, feathery hydroids. Looking closer, I could see piles of nudibranchs, cup corals, encrusting hydrocorals, crimson anemones, tunicate colonies, etc.... With the good visibility and carpet of marine life, my first impression was that I was diving at Race Rocks. Unfortunately, I didn't see any soft corals or basket stars. There also weren't as many crimson anemones and I didn't notice many brooding anemones, but I'll stop the Race Rocks comparisons and continue on. There weren't swarms of fish here (probably from the frequently-extreme current), but I did see groups of quillback rockfish, kelp greenlings, small lingcod, copper rockfish and buffalo sculpins. I swam along the base of the slope (70-80 feet deep) where the mostly-flat bottom stretched out into the channel. Unlike most flat-bottoms that are silty and relatively lifeless, here there was clean-swept rock covered with plumose anemones and all the same life that was piled on the rocky reefs. I wonder if the entire bed of Baynes Channel is like this, or if eventually there's a layer of sediment. I made it to about the outside of the shallow rock at the tip of the island before I turned around. On my way back I noticed a large, old-fashioned anchor covered with marine life. I'd guess it was 6-8' long. On a windy day when the current is up, this is a nasty place to be in a boat. I wonder if this anchor was from some old sailing vessel's desperate last attempt to avoid smacking into the island. Seeing the anchor made me instinctively glance around to see if there was any sign of a wreck, but it was difficult to tell with the marine life covering everything. As on all great dives, I wanted to keep going and see what was around the next corner, but my remaining air and the increasing current prodded my common sense so I swam back up through the kelp into the bay. So far, I think this was one of the best dives I've done all year. I must have hit it on one of the best days of the year for visibility so I hope my expectations aren't too high for next time.
By the way, I hope if anyone reads this and decides to try this place out, they understand the issues involved with high-current diving and don't just throw themselves in at random. If you end up drifting lost in the Strait with a bad CO2 headache don't send your lawyers to me.