Happy Anniversary to the SS Capilano!
Today, October 1st, 2015 is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Capilano, now one of British Columbia’s top dive sites.
The 122 foot long cargo steamship struck a submerged object at approximately 9:25pm on the night of September 29th, 1915. Captain Nelson was not immediately informed of the strike, as it was so soft crew members believed the vessel just hit a log, a common occurrence in BC waters. It was only when he heard the ship's whistle echo off an island - in just 5 short seconds, that he realized something was seriously wrong, and the ship had veered off course.
The Captain steered the vessel towards a small port where the Capilano was inspected from bow to stern… no leaks. Nothing. Nada. Captain Nelson decided the voyage would continue. Around 1:30am on October 1st, 1915, the ship was felt to be listing to port. The crew were stunned to find around 2 feet of water already on board. It is thought that when the Capilano struck the submerged object, possibly a rock, it became wedged into the hull, like a cork. Sometime later, it worked it’s way free and the water poured in.
At around 3am, the crew abandoned ship in a large lifeboat. According to testimony, the SS Capilano finally sank below the waves at approximately 5:30am on October 1st, 1915.
The ship lay undisturbed for around 60 years before it’s discovery by a fisherman in 1975.
The site of the SS Capilano is now known as one of the very best dive sites in British Columbia. Sitting in 130 feet of seawater the wreck is just within the limits of recreational diving, and is a fantastic dive, and training site for technical divers.
We can reach the site from our winter Campbell River location or our summer Comox location within minutes. The site is in an exposed location, with wind being the most limiting factor for suitable dive days. Luckily this part of Canada has some of the best weather in the entire country, and Pacific Pro Dive skippers are experts at finding the wreck - there's no one better!
Descending down the line towards the ship, the first thing that hits you, if the viz is good, would be her outline. The plumose anemones that cover the ship dramatically, and eerily, outline her with a white glow that can be seen from some distance away. Like a gigantic glow in the dark model ship. It’s a fantastic thing to see.
As you get nearer, the outline of white becomes more detailed, as hundreds of white plumose anemones come into their own, each one with an accompanying fish of some description.
The SS Capilano is covered with life. If one man's trash is another man's treasure, then one Captain’s shipwreck is a diver's gold mine. The SS Capilano is a giant, colourful condominium of pacific marine life at it most vibrant and healthy. A stunning site for photographers and videographers.
You’ve never seen so many longcod. Shouldn’t that be lingcod?! These things are huge! And everywhere! The stern of the ship has giant lingcod in every corner or crack, bigger than any we have seen elsewhere in BC.
The cargo hold - now a giant open area to freely descend slowly into, like the belly of a beast, is a site to behold. Shining a light in the corners as you go, you’ll see a dozen or more lingcod scatter like rats in all directions. It’s quite simply stunning; the life here is insane!
Rockfish are in abundance of course. No BC site would be the same without our little punk rocker friends, with some occasional large ones dotted around, but general numbers are reassuringly positive.
There’s also a friendly octopus that lives there too…
Given the sheer number, and size of fish on the wreck, it comes as no surprise that this can be a popular fishing spot. We advise you keep close to a buddy, and always have at least one cutting device on you in case of entanglement in fishing line.
Some parts of the ship are deteriorating fairly fast, and absolutely no penetration should be attempted on this vessel. But it’s deterioration adds to it’s charm. The SS Capilano looks and feels like a shipwreck. It’s what divers think of before they even learn to dive. It has a unique visual quality to it that no other BC wreck really has.
Towards the stern you can find reminders of her crew - old shoes on the deck can still be seen, offering a powerful reminder that the Capilano was a home, a workplace, and a highly reputable sailing vessel in it’s day.
We’d recommend all divers use nitrox or another mixed gas for this dive. There are no shallow features here, the entire wreck sits between 100 and 130 feet, so it will be a deep dive. Advanced certification, wreck, and deep are all recommend. Of course, Pacific Pro Dive offers them all! It's also a fantastic dive site for rebreather divers, and once again, you know who has you covered for all your rebreather needs!
The SS Capilano has become one of the most prominent wreck dives in British Columbia, and one of its best dive sites in general. Great for tec divers and more advanced recreational divers, the SS Capilano is a firm favourite of Pacific Pro Dive. We can’t wait to take you there!
For more information, read John Rawling’s fantastic article and dive report: