The Princess Sophia has Evolved into one of the most Beautiful Artificial Reefs on the West Coast. Divemaster Log June 12 2011 Nautilus Swell Alaska

Divemaster’s Log 12.06.2011
The beginning of a new trip shows great promise from the start. A group of avid underwater photographers from Wetpixel turn up early to drop off luggage before heading out to explore Juneau’s beautiful surrounds. As we pull away from the dock that evening, the vivid oranges, purples and reds of a spectacular Alaskan sunset stretch in bands over the mountains and glaciers of the Juneau Icefield.

Morning dawns clear and bright over Vanderbilt Reef, the site of our first two dives: The Wreck of the Princess Sophia. While a tragic story, over the last almost hundred years the hulk has evolved into one of the most beautiful artificial reefs on the West Coast, with a plethora of Giant Plumose Anemones blanketing its rusting hull, Decorated Warbonnets hiding in its many cracks and crevices, and the extremely rare Prowfish, once thought to be exclusively a deep water creature making their homes in the collapsing superstructure.

As we tie up to the marker buoy that announces her presence, faces glow with smiles as last minute adjustments are made to cameras, housings and SCUBA equipment. Pulling up the line, another surprise lies in store: the often cloudy water on this site looks clear, meaning good visibility for our intrepid adventurers. Splashes follow one after the other and we are headed downwards, free-falling into the sea’s embrace.

The visibility is spectacular, sixty feet or more at depth and theĀ  clarity allows free exploration of the site. At ninety feet, three decorated warbonnets are found, two entwined together around a rusted girder and another peeking its head out of the exhaust pipe of an ancient engine. Prowfish a few yards deeper try to disguise themselves amongst schools of black rockfish and massive lingcod, but their white facial decorations give them away. Just off of the wreck a rotting trunk holds plate glass, most likely photographic negatives that once held images of people and places now forgotten, now washed away by the sea.

The afternoon passes with whales breaching in the distance, but becoming shy as we slowly approach on our way to Lena Bay, where another shipwreck awaits us. The Princess Kathleen, owned by the same company as the Sophia, attests to the harsh conditions that the Canadian Pacific Company dealt with in order to supply an entire coast with supplies, mail, transportation and often, the only news of the outside world that entire communities would receive all year. She ran aground after a radar failure at night and lies on the bottom, almost entirely intact after over fifty years on the bottom. Exhausted after three spectacular dives, all aboard hurry back to the Swell to enjoy dinner and a hot soak in the outdoor tub on the top deck, before filling the lounge to discuss photography, editing, and compare images from the day. The talk goes well into the night, despite the promise of early morning whale watching. What will the next day hold for us here in Southeast Alaska?
Surface temps 15 C
Water temps 7 C

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