Dungeness crab in Florence North Jetty, photo courtesy of Paul Furnari.
Oregon is a world-class destination for recreational activities like mountaineering, climbing, and kayaking. It is also a surprisingly good place to dive with a number of active dive shops calling this state home.
Of the many beautiful dive sites in Oregon, perhaps the most popular is the Florence North Jetty. In 2003 this site was designated an official dive park and the old fish ladder that jutted into the Siuslaw River was converted into a user-friendly entrance.
Where once entering the site meant scrambling over a wall of jetty rocks, today entering is as simple as walking down a few stairs. There’s even a staging area for gear if you have a few things to set down.
While Oregon does offer some good salt-water diving opportunities, many of the dive sites—like the North Jetty Dive Park—are located a little upstream of the river mouth, often along a more protected bank, or behind rocky fingers.
This particular site is popular with divers from all over the state and is a hot bed for those who have a shellfish license or who enjoy collecting cockles and crabbing.
The site is also used for scuba training as it is easy to navigate and brief. A due north heading will mean you run straight into the jetty rocks. Ascend along these rocks and you’ll be on the right side of the channel.
Given that Florence still has a fairly active fishing community, boat traffic is a concern. Providing you ascend along the jetty rocks and not in the middle of the channel, however, you shouldn’t have any problem.
It is very important to dive this site at the slack tide as there can be a fair bit of current. Swim into the current on your way out, and ride the current back to the entrance on your way back. If you dive the site enough times you will become familiar with some key markers that help you figure out where you are.
When you first swim out, you will find yourself in a small, protected area. Descend here and follow a large pipe down to about 20 feet. Where the pipe ends, we usually drop straight down the jetty floor, which is at about 35 feet. Here you will find two objects that you can use as navigational aids—a brass crab measurer, and a handrail we refer to as the “viz checker.” If you can see from one end of the handrail to the other, you have 10 feet of visibility. Any less than that and your guess is as good as your buddy’s.
A word to the wise: do not be deceived by what visibility looks like in that more sheltered entrance area/bay. Visibility in can often look a lot better, or a lot worse. You don’t truly know until you get down to the viz checker.
The best time to dive the site is at high slack. Not only is visibility usually better, but heading upriver will take you in the direction of “the crab hole.” To get to the crab hole, simply keep the rocks to your left. After a few minutes you will find yourself atop a pock-marked sandstone shelf. This shelf is home to another type of shellfish called the rough piddock. Sometimes, even a wolf eel can be found having made its home in the shelf wall, or in nearby rocks. The crab hole drops down to between 55 to 60 feet. This is as the name suggests one of the best places to find crab. Other marine life you can expect to see in the North Jetty includes various sculpin, nudibranchs, chitons, anemones, kelp and whitespotted greenling, ling cod, hermit crabs, seaperch, sole, the occasional pipefish and if you’re lucky, octopus and wolf eels.
If you arrive at this site before the high tide and have two vehicles available, you can always ride the tide in from the Coast Guard tower which is located a little further up the jetty. Entering at the Coast Guard tower is not for the faint of heart and is a bit of a rock scramble. Be careful if you do this, and make sure you kick away from the rocks as soon as you have entered.
Visibility at these sites can be anywhere from 2 feet to 25 feet. For the most part, expect around 10 feet.
If visibility is terrible and you don’t fancy a drift dive, Woahink Lake is a great backup option. It’s only about 7 miles away and is a favorite for new divers and certifying dive shops. The lake has many points of interest as well, especially if you use the Canary Road exit off the Oregon Coast Highway and enter from the boat ramp immediately after the first bridge. Here you will find a number of sunken boats and other peculiar attractions that have to seen to be believed.