Great article on diving the San Juan Islands by Rick Stratton, at the Dive News Network!

Explore, Enjoy, and Dream in the San Juans

Warm and Gooey like a Chocolate Chip Cookie

Just a scenic ferry ride or a short flight from the northwest Washington mainland lies a paradise for the adventurous in spirit. Whether you yearn for the slower pace or the excitement of new experiences, the Salish Sea has something tailor-made just for you. Both locals and visitors explore, enjoy, and dream of the immense untapped potential that is waiting to be uncovered. Imagine feeding your soul with a romantic dinner and a glass of local wine. Dream of satisfying your eyes and appetite with an abundance of crisp fruits, flavorful vegetables, sustainably-raised meats, and wild-caught seafood. And just envision the comforts that await after an exciting day of diving: a mug of steaming hot cocoa, and a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie in front of a warm, calming fire.

Article by Rick Stratton; photos by Jan Kocian

A massive body of water, the Salish Sea features a multitude of places to explore: Puget Sound, the Straits of Georgia, and the Straits of Juan de Fuca were formerly recognized as the Salish Sea by the United States in 2009 and Canada in 2010. Because of this unique duality, the sea acts as a perfect fusion of U.S. and Canadian culture and industry and plays a pivotal role in the regions’ tourism and freight economies. And with maritime tourism comes enthused adventurers eager to send their paddles, skis, snorkels, whale-watching binoculars, and BCDs out into the iconic waters.

Located just above the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands is an archipelago comprised of over 400 islands and rocks and harbors a shoreline spanning over 478 miles.  Accessing the islands is a bit tricky, as it is not connected by land, but many public and private sea and air travel operations are available. Visitors to the archipelago will find themselves enveloped in nature above, on, and below the waters: lush pines and firs house sea diving birds and bays are accented by reef structures.

Aquatic explorers, regardless of their craft, often frequent the sea due to its bounty of flora and fauna that is unique to the region. The world class cold water diving here features Pacific Northwest locals such as Puget Sound king crab, the well-recognized giant Pacific octopus, rockfish, wolf eels, and lingcod. Encrusted within the cracks and crevices of the earth, nudibranchs, tunicates, giant acorn barnacles, giant plumose anemones, and a variety of sea urchins paint the underwater landscapes with bursts of vibrant color. Marine mammal maniacs have a lot to look forward to as well: Steller sea lions, river otters, harbor seals, Dall’s porpoises, and common minke whales routinely frequent the area. And a mainstay for tourists and locals alike, the resident orca pods, are a spectacular sight not be missed. Occasionally, the cetacean families are visited by transients looking to feast on smaller critters.

As to be expected from an area so vast, and with so many fun opportunities, many charter operations and watersports centers are available to answer any questions a curious adventurer may wonder.

Countless divers flock to nearby British Columbia in order to experience the beautiful aquatic landscapes and indescribable flora and fauna; however, making the trip over the border can often be challenging. In response, Nautilus Explorer, a charter operation based in Richmond, BC, has extended its services: launching from Anacortes, WA, and aboard the Nautilus Swell, passengers can explore the San Juans and Canadian Gulf Islands.

“It’s going to redefine liveaboard diving in the Pacific Northwest. It all just got a whole lot more convenient.”  –Mike Lever, Nautilus Explorer President mike-lever-fbMike Lever

One of the region’s largest outfitters, Outdoor Adventures, has been sharing these experiences with guests since 1985; the company’s three-hour tours offer just the right amount of time for vacationers to take in the Pacific Northwest majesty and, more often than not, they go back home craving more. Owner Bill Corson has offered sea kayaking trips in the San Juans for more than 30 years and considers it one of the most unique places in the world. The area is, in essence, an ancient mountain top that is slowly, but surely sinking into the sea.

“Our customers are amazed at the beauty and abundance of sea life in these waters,” Corson explains. “Our trips are like mystical adventures in a Northwest island location that has unbelievable sunsets and pristine waters. Incredible wildlife includes sea cucumbers and colorful starfish on rocks – everything you see is so vibrantly alive; it is just breathtaking.” –Bill Corson, Owner of Outdoor Adventures bill-corson-fbBill and Kelly Corson


Adventurers departing from Anacortes have many options available to them.

Founded in 1998, Diver’s Dream Charters has provided chartered scuba trips out of Anacortes. The Coast Guard licensed Lu-Jac’s Quest offers routine diving excursions to the San Juans and is fully equipped to suit the needs of underwater photographers. But the ship’s best feature, according to many, is the man behind the wheel. Skipper Phil Jensen is well-recognized by locals for his expertise and breadth of knowledge.

Ron Akeson is owner of Adventures Down Under, a dive center located in Bellingham near the U.S.-Canadian border, and has been doing recreational and technical diving in the region for more than 30 years. Akeson is a frequent customer with Diver’s Dream Charters and enjoys the time he spends with Captain Jensen.

I am always happy to work with Philip Jensen. He is unflappable: cool, calm, and collected. He is a fantastic captain who is familiar with all the sites and knows when and where to place divers for the best [dive] conditions.” –Ron Akeson, Owner of Adventures Down Under ron-akeson-fbRon Akeson


Kelley Scarzafava has co-owned Anacortes Diving and Supply with her husband Bob for the past 17 years and loves the diving in the nearby San Juans. Kelley is especially fond of the unique underwater photography opportunities presented to her guests.

“The sealife is incredible and we get close encounters with so many different kinds of life,” she elaborates. “We recently discovered a new dive site off Colville Island near Lopez Island. The pinnacle had great life including giant Pacific octopus, wolf eels, tons of fish, and beautiful basket stars!”

Considered the gateway city to the San Juans thanks to access via Washington State’s ferry system, Anacortes is easily accessible for both American and Canadian tourists and explorers. “We get a tremendous amount of tourist traffic in the summer months, but it is reasonably quiet the rest of the year,” Kelley jokes.

Another close associate to Captain Jensen, Kelley greatly enjoys the time she spends on Lu-Jac’s Quest.

“He is a great captain! He really knows the water and how to read it. While the currents can be predictable, the water is always doing things you don’t expect. Mother Nature sometimes throws the unexpected at you. Captain Phil is experienced as is a master at putting you in the right place. He is also great at protecting you from other recreational users: also known as fishermen. When you are diving a popular fishing spot like Deception Pass between Whidbey and Fidalgo Island, you want Captain Phil at the helm! You know he’s on the hailer and is making sure his divers are protected.”  –Kelley Scarzafava, Co-Owner Anacortes Diving and Supply kelley-scarzafava-fbKelley Scarzafava


“The boat [Lu-Jac’s Quest] is very nice, comfortable, spacious, and roomy,” Kelley continues. “There is always hot soup on for hungry divers and at the end of the dive trip a warm chocolate cookie. And who doesn’t love a warm chocolate chip cookie at the end of the day?”

About Stephanie

Married to the sea!
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