Skookumchuck: Challenging the Rapids

Viewing a torrent of flowing liquid turmoil while safe and dry on shore is enough to make anybody hesitate about signing up for a dive charter in the Skookumchuck Narrows. This is also the place where rushing tidal currents commonly reach impressive speeds of 14-16 knots (30 km/hr)! Looking down at churning whirlpools strong enough to challenge 30-foot boats (9m) might make any diver question if it’s even possible to pierce this witch’s cauldron.

Dive boat in the Skookumchuck, BC, Canada. Photo by Barb Roy
Dive boat in the Skookumchuck, BC, Canada. Photo by Barb Roy

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Yet hundreds of divers travel to British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast every year to take on the “Skook” and test their dive skills for a look beneath. With the help of a professional dive charter operator, the Skook might be tamed long enough for a quick look or a fun exploratory ride.

The word Skookumchuck comes from the Chinook language with the word skookum meaning “strong” or “powerful”, and the word chuck meaning “water”. Although there are several place names in British Columbia using the word Skookumchuck, most refer to it as the area located on the lower part of Sunshine Coast.

Underwater, visiting divers are treated to a collage of vibrantly coloured marine residents at over a half dozen different dive sites within the zone. Each area is quite unique, revealing an array of different fish, anemones, tunicates and even nudibranchs, over a rolling bedrock terrain full of surprises.

“We commonly take only skilled divers to the Skook two to four times a month, all year long,” comments Kal Helyar, co-owner of Strong Water Retreat and Porpoise Bay Dive Charters, located a few minutes by boat from the notorious Narrows. “The trick is not only being able to read the water movement, but knowing when to put your divers in and when to safely get them back onboard before the current picks up again. If everyone is ready to go, bottom-time can be anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes.”

I recently had the opportunity to take on the Skook with my husband, and fellow adrenalin dive junkie, Wayne Grant. Actually, we’re not really adrenalin junkies, just photographers, although I’m not sure if there’s a difference, because we tend to go where the critters are, be it at 60 meters (200 feet), under the ice or in a high current channel.

Fortunately for us, Kal knew exactly what he was doing and didn’t drop (...)


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