Seasonal diving takes on new connotations when you’re in the interior of British Columbia. As with the rest of the province, our best diving conditions for visibility come during the winter months, while our best access to diving sites and site safety come in the late spring to early fall season, when visibility is at its worst. In the interior though, we have the added issue of site access. Several of the more interesting shore dives in the Okanagan are only really accessible during the Parks season, when all the parks are fully open. Some, like Bertram Park, can be accessed (with some difficulty) in all seasons, but others would require more logistical support to get to and from the site than can be mustered easily. Recently, we hit Ellison Park, a first time for me, where I did three great dives.
Ellison Provincial Park is located 16km southwest of Vernon, on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake, and consists of 200 hectares of forested area, and an impressive if not always easily accessed shoreline. Like all parks, it’s seasonally open, and access to the lower area where the diving is is only possible if you have key access. Fortunately, the good people at Innerspace Water Sports have that key. The event was another great effort by Kelowna Divers and the Okanagan Dive Club, and consisted of two to three dives per person, and a BBQ lunch. On a personal note, after my last dives, I’d rinsed my drysuit and hung it in such a way that water remained unnoticed in both boots, resulting in an emergency drying attempt and me bringing my wetsuit, just in case. Fortunately, I managed to dry it enough to make the dives dry(ish)!
The conditions were a mixed bag, which isn’t unusual given the time of year. The water was cold, there was a lot of particulate, but not enough to ruin vis, and of course, no current! My maximum depth was 21.3m , and the sights worth seeing are all max out around 23m to 24m, so the dives are well within the capabilities of all levels of divers. Vis ran from three to about eight metres, and it was a touch on the dark side for the deeper areas. Dive lights were a good piece of kit to have for these dives. It was good to see that the diving culture being fostered by Kelowna Divers is along the lines of BSAC, as all the divers present had all the gear they’d need for the dive, and that the level of safe diving oriented thought was high.
Photos above by Franki Beaney
The dives themselves follow a pretty straight forward pattern. Surface swim out along the lefthand shoreline, and descend after the rubble field. Pushing out from there, there are what look like scaffolding rods sticking out of the bottom. Just past them is a sunken speedboat with a sunglasses wearing plastic skeleton inside! Macabre humour I know, but still fun. Also, I can’t give better direction that these vague ones, since we only find this boat on my last dive, by fluke! Truth be told, my buddy and I had very different dives compared to everyone else for the first dives that day, we somehow missed the wrecks until the way back on the first dive!
Pushing back towards the shore, there’s a gently sloping wall, and two more wrecks. It takes about five to ten minutes of finning to reach them, depending on your speed. The first wreck is a Boston Whaler Barge, with a slide trail and minor debris trail leading to it. It’s not much to see, but it beats looking at rocks! The next wreck is a short distance from that, and is the wreck of the Bobby MacKenzie, a small tug. This wreck is fairly open, with some areas that could be entered with proper gear. I definitely want to go back and do a better check out of this wreck.
Now, there is a fourth attraction at Ellison Provincial Park for those looking for something a bit more exotic. A short distance from, and a bit deeper than the Boston Whaler Barge, is a metal and glass gazebo looking structure. One of the other dive teams took a spare bottle down with them, and filled the roof with air, creating a bit of an old school diving bell effect. While not for all divers, I was up for the challenge, and entered the bubble, and had a quick chat with my fellow brave soul in the sulphur smelling air before popping my regulator back in. This is not an activity for all, and we had other divers around to be sure nothing went awry. Remember, dive safely.
So, overall, the Ellison Provincial Park’s dive park is pretty fun! I recommend it strongly if you have the chance to dive it, and remember that the keys are essential if you don’t want to lug your gear down a long, steep road or the longer, but less steep trail from the parking area. If you do dive it, the morning will will give the best results, and you’ll also have to deal with fewer campers.