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Salish Sea Shipwreck

The Sunken Saskatchewan is a Magnet for Sea Creatures and Scuba Divers

Three miles off the shores of Nanaimo, British Columbia, ocean alchemy has transformed a steel warship into an extraordinary artificial reef. Ghostly plumose sea anemones decorate the formerly floating fortress that is now home to rockfish, lingcod, feather stars and crabs.

A scuba diver floats alongside the turret of the sunken HCMS Saskatchewan
A scuba diver floats alongside the turret of the sunken HCMS Saskatchewan. Photo by Brandon Cole

Under the layers of life is the former destroyer HMCS Saskatchewan. This Mackenzie-class ship was commissioned in 1963, served in the Royal Canadian Navy, was decommissioned in 1994 and purchased by the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia (ARSBC).

After careful preparation and cleaning, the 366-foot-long ship was scuttled in 1997 to create a thriving reef ecosystem benefiting denizens of the deep and scuba tourism. ARSBC’s sunken fleet in B.C. waters totals eight ships and a retired Air Canada Boeing 737, but the Saskatchewan is likely the most popular.

Its moderate depth (ranging from 45 feet to 130 feet), upright position and normally mild currents mean scuba divers of all levels can swim alongside the anemone-covered radar platform and replicas of the imposing deck guns, while more advanced divers can explore inside the command bridge.

salish sea shipwreck hcms saskatchewan interior brandon cole scaled e1575960917827
A scuba diver peers into the Saskatchewan. Photo by Brandon Cole

Water clarity is usually at its best in the winter, making it the ideal time to experience the Saskatchewan.

For safety, divers study the ship’s diagram before submersion, breathe a blend of oxygen and nitrogen to safely maximize their time underwater, and carry strong lights to penetrate the emerald gloom.

–Photos and story by Brandon Cole, last updated in October 2022.

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2019 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.

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