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Blake Island

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

If you look southwest from our window — along the line through Duwamish Head and then Alki Point — the next land you see is Blake Island.  That’s the piece of my shoreline exploration that I saved for last.

BlakeFromLincoln

Blake Island, and some other things, from Lincoln Park in West Seattle

The island, at one time privately owned, is now a state marine park.  It’s reachable only by boat, and affords amenities for all kinds of travelers. Popular among tourists is a commercial cruise that includes a traditional meal and a cultural program with dancing and storytelling, featuring lore from several Native American peoples, most of them hailing from north of here. The little marina also attracts sailboats and small powerboats, and there’s a fairly lavish campground there, with pay showers.  There are more campsites, with offshore moorage, along the western shore.  And on the northwest corner of the island there are three Cascadia Marine Trail campsites. I had yet to try packing the Ikkuma for a camping trip, and an overnight stay here seemed like a reasonable test, in preparation for bolder expeditions later.

Blake Island is a not-unreasonable distance from West Seattle, even for solo paddlers; but it’s much closer to Manchester, or, better yet, Southworth, on the Kitsap Peninsula.  And besides, it’s actually easier to find overnight parking at those places; so I rode the ferry from Fauntleroy and launched from the little street-end just north of the Southworth ferry dock, leaving the car in the big commercial lot nearby.  I paid for two days, in case I got delayed.

Southworth

For weeks I had been pondering tides and currents, wind and temperature. Ironically, by the time I tired of dithering and just set out, conditions were far from ideal.  My trip coincided pretty well with the new moon and the summer solstice, meaning big daytime tidal exchanges. Boaters are warned about a north wind against an ebb through Colvos Passage, and the wind exceeded expectations.  There’s a current-prediction station south of the island, but I wasn’t sure how much of that current I’d see on each side. It could have been nearly two knots, during the hours that I might ordinarily travel.

So I got, for me, an unusually early start. It took only about half an hour to reach the island’s nearest, southern point. Then as I was coming up the eastern side the waves got bigger, though they never exceeded a couple feet. I rounded the marina’s breakwater and landed on the beach to the north (there’s a little sandy area inside too if you need it).  A raccoon there seemed unconcerned at first but then bounded away as I bumbled about.  I paused to have a drink and call home.

Conditions improved as I paddled around the north shore toward the campground. One of the three campsites was occupied, so I took the one furthest away, closer to the point. My first acquaintance here was an excitable bird, which I took to be a killdeer. I thought at first that it was trying to get my attention to lead me away from its nest or something, but I gradually got the idea that maybe it wanted to be fed. It was trailing its wings, spreading its tail and generally looking expectant. The rules posted on the nearby kiosk clearly prohibited feeding; otherwise, we might have become very good friends.  I’m not sure that mating would have been out of the question, had I been a second killdeer.

A human eventually arrived also, a young fellow living in Austin but currently on a voyage of self-discovery.  (He had lived on the Kitsap Peninsula as a child, so this was something of a homecoming.)  I complimented him on his camp, which included a hammock and a couple of coolers for food and drink, stored beneath his picnic table.  It was not clear to me that he had arrived on the island under his own power, but there was no shortage of space so I didn’t even ask.

My new neighbor warned me about raccoons, saying that he had been having to chase them off. He didn’t mention the deer that I would see in camp as dusk fell.  The three of them, despite their greater size, made much less commotion than the other animals, and I could easily have overlooked them myself.

Besides some gulls, the only other creature of any size on display was a heron who would greet me from the shoreline as I arose on the second day, but who did not wait around to be photographed.

There was evidence of some other wildlife, though, involved in a little mystery.  For each campsite, the park provides a critter-proof safe, about the size, shape and color of a sidewalk trash can.  I used mine mostly as an armoire, since I’d brought my food and toiletries in my own bear vault, a sturdy round container that fits in my forward hatch.  As I was stowing my gear inside the door I noticed that there seemed to be a chunk of driftwood, about the diameter of a knackwurst, standing in one of the corners.  In each of the corners, in fact.  Opening the door again later I found, in place of one of the sticks, a lot of fresh sawdust.  I believe that the standard “bear saver” has a little square hole at each corner of the floor, probably for drainage or anchoring or something.  If the holes aren’t closed in some way, then tiny, clever, persistent animals can use them for access. After I realized this, I noticed a little pile of similar sticks nearby, ready to be fed into the square holes like firewood into a stove.

From the stern of the kayak I had withdrawn the tent ingredients, now cunningly repackaged into three long narrow components to fit around the skeg housing, and with a flick of the wrist and some matching up of tabs they became shelter.  Actual bedding travels in a conical bag in the prow (no metal is stowed forward of the cockpit, where it could interfere with the use of a compass).  I breathed life into my air mattress and shook out my sleeping bag,  hung some stuff out to dry, and began contemplating an afternoon of leisure.

The park provides plenty of trails for hiking.  I took the one that I knew led over to the longhouse. One reason that I had considered putting off my trip for a few days is that, during the summer season, dinner as well as lunch is served there  An ideal evening might have included their baked king salmon, at least as an alternative to my freeze-dried chicken. Also, I’ve not seen the show. But I chose to avoid the crowds and the summer heat. I poked around a bit and took advantage of the fresh water provided there.

madrona

There’s lots of beach walking to do also, and there was eventually a nice sunset. I retired soon thereafter, resolving to get underway as early in the morning as possible. It was windy during the night and I thought I even heard rain, but I arose early and was on my way home before 6:30.  The current could have been as fast as a knot by then.  At one point I crossed a boundary that spun me a little, but for the most part the surface of the water was calm.  The crossing was even quicker than on the way over.

Fort Ward

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

RestorationOn two of my earlier trips I had neglected the area between Rich Passage and Restoration Point.  This left a tiny sliver unexplored at the south end of Bainbridge Island — and a chance to visit the park at the site of historic Fort Ward.

For half a century, starting in 1903, the fort stood guard at the narrow pass leading to the Bremerton shipyards and other important installations. After spending another fifty years as a state park, it is now part of the Bainbridge Island park system, and a stop on the Cascadia Marine Trail.  There are 4300 feet of shoreline, a path that can be part of a loop for hikers and joggers, a boat ramp, and campsites.

I finally got there early in June, and set out on a short trip that was notable for its wildlife encounters.  First, a seal surfaced quite near me, possibly distracted by the teeming, unattainable aquaculture in giant pens nearby.

Restoration2

Then I paddled around a rocky little point with a ruined structure where perched a good-sized Bald Eagle.  A photo from the other, sunlit side shows it to be a juvenile, despite its bulk.  That’s Blake Island, by the way, between us and Mt. Rainier.

I saw an adult perched on another structure on my way out, and on the trip back there were two, probably the parents.  They posed patiently as I paddled by, but moments later I heard a lot of loud, high-pitched chirping behind me, and then watched them being chased away by a crow.  Our northwest crows are not particularly large, but they do possess considerable self-confidence.

Fay Bainbridge Park

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

I had been up the coast of Bainbridge Island as far as Murden Cove, but that left a little bit of visible shoreline.  The solution seemed to be to paddle south from Fay Bainbridge Park, near the northern end of the island, although it would mean covering some extra territory; so on May 18 I moseyed up along Sunrise Drive toward Pt. Monroe.

SurfLog The park caters to all sorts of campers, so there are plenty of facilities, including three sites meant only for boaters, bikers or hikers — and even a volleyball court. The setting is splendid as well.  Though the sky was gray for much of my visit, I was able to see both Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier (knowing just where to look).

Also on display was the largest surf log I recall ever seeing.  One would want to avoid landing at the same time as this imposing bit of driftwood.

On my way down to Murden Cove I noticed what looked like a brand-new bench at a street end just north of Skiff Point, and I resolved to stop for a picture on my return trip.  But after I landed there I got to talking with a fellow and his dog, parked in a Subaru in the little parking lot, and forgot to get out the camera.  Later research showed that there are indeed now launch sites both there at Manitou Park Blvd., and south of the cove at Yaquina Place, according to helpful information from the Kitsap Water Trails Association. I could have saved a lot of paddling if I’d known this — but I’m not sorry that I chose Fay Bainbridge anyway.

Eagle Harbor

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

Bainbridge Island accounts for a good bit of the shoreline visible from our window, by dint of its ten mile north-south length. It’s one of those islands you could drive to, in theory; but from Seattle that trip would mean going south to Tacoma, then north through Bremerton and all the way up to Poulsbo, then back south over the bridge at Agate Pass. The ferry, by contrast, takes you from downtown Seattle to Eagle Harbor in about half an hour.  Once there, you can drive a few blocks to the downtown Waterfront Park — or walk, so you don’t have to bring a car at all.

Bainbridge Island downtown Waterfront Park, from Eagle Harbor

The park has a lot of attractions for boaters, with launching and nearby parking for those who trailer or hand-carry. There’s not just a restroom but a shower room too, and sometimes an outside spray for rinsing off equipment and bathers.  A boat house next door with rowing shells means that the facilities are busy at some times, in the morning and at the end of the school day, and parking could be a block away.  But the boat launch itself is in a pretty setting, right across the street from a community center. In fact, a better picture would be the one from the top of the ramp, through the graceful arch of the trees, framing convenient picnic tables etc.

I first launched here in mid-October 2016, on a trip to Blakely Harbor. I was back early the following May to paddle to Murden Cove, halfway up the island.

Washington State Ferries at rest

Eagle Harbor is where the vessels of the Washington State Ferry System gather when they’re not in use. Here’s the current gallery — I’m sure I’ve been aboard all of these at one time or another. On this trip I encountered the ferry Tacoma four times.  Snowball and I had passage aboard her coming and going, for one thing.  Then, by the time I got ready and was outbound on my way north, I saw her rounding Bill Point, the south end of the harbor, just after I started across the channel. I made it across with time to spare, but I did feel a bit rushed.  On my way back from Murden cove I waited for her just outside Wing Point instead.  A clear day like that one gives the harbor a nice mountain backdrop.

wing

It should be noted that the waterfront park and dock will be closed July 31, 2017 – March 1, 2018, for still more improvements.

Port Blakely

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

Blakely Harbor is a pretty quiet place today, but in the 1800s this was the site of the world’s most productive sawmill. The original car ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island had its terminal here. Now there’s a park instead, its uplands unmanicured but well-designed.  I launched here yesterday for a trip around Restoration Point, seen below in the distance, toward Fort Ward.

blakelypark

There are two plausible put-in spots, and I started from the one further back in the bay, which allowed the use of wheels to get the kayak from the road nearly as far as the beach. (I donned drysuit and boots to carry the boat across a swampy little pool, and loaded it on gravel beside deeper water.)

Not only have most signs of industry faded, but some lavish residences have appeared. The dock in the picture above is just the first of several along the north shore, one of them with a boat house big enough to shelter a matching one-and-a-half-story houseboat inside.

The south shore of the bay is in some ways even grander.  I knew from the map that it was bordered by Country Club Road, so I looked for a building to match. This one seemed like a good candidate, but the small windows and adjacent rail fences suggest that it may be just the stables. Later research showed that this area is in fact called The Country Club at Seattle, a nine-hole golf course wrapping around the point and shared by the owners of the eighteen houses built there, and mostly handed down within families, since the nineteenth century.

scc

Around the point, I had a good view of Manchester but soon tired of the southerly breeze and decided to save this part of the trip for another day, starting next time at Fort Ward.  On my way back progress was easier, but when I arrived at the park I found my earlier launch site thronged by youngsters, so I landed at the official boat launch, the one shown in the first picture. So far so good; but that meant moving the boat artisanally up the dozen or so fairly steep steps to the road. On such a nice, leisurely November afternoon, it seemed nearly a pleasure.

This was not my first trip to Port Blakely. I had paddled here from Eagle Harbor about a month before and explored its inner lagoon, but had trouble then understanding how road access might work. A map like the one posted on the kiosk near the beach seems no longer available on the web. On the other hand, there is a detailed history of the area, with plenty of old photographs.

The Distant Shore

Friday, November 4th, 2016

As Seattle’s coastline became more familiar, we shifted our gaze to those farther shores that lie on the other side of Puget Sound.

puget

Here a ferry returns from one of those lands — Bremerton, or maybe Bainbridge Island –passing West Seattle on its way downtown.  In this picture Alki Point appears as just a little spit, pointing west toward Blake Island. Beyond that island lies the Kitsap Peninsula, to the north as far as Manchester and Orchard Point. Still further north the more prominent mass of Bainbridge Island hides the channel that separates them, Rich Passage.

Actually, this isn’t quite the view from our house. For composition and clarity, the photo was taken from a spot a couple of blocks north — and four hundred feet higher — revealing some detail not normally available to us from home. Still, we consider all of this to be part of our local landscape.  Who could resist taking a closer look?

The Sound can’t be much more than five miles across in most places hereabouts, certainly not a stretch for an intrepid solo paddler, but I have chosen practicality over the thrill of the “purist” approach.  I figure it will take about seven ferry trips to different launching points to cover all the visible shoreline.  The first two are already done, and are described in the next entry.

The Kitsap Peninsula

Friday, November 4th, 2016

I decided to start my examination of the distant shore at Manchester.

The big peninsula that gives Northwest Washington its odd shape, the peninsula with Mount Olympus and the famous rain forests, is the Olympic Peninsula. Protruding from it, or, perhaps more accurately, within it, is an arrowhead-shaped land mass called the Kitsap Peninsula, separated from the rest by a long narrow channel called Hood Canal. Islands flank the eastern side of the peninsula like little bits broken off from it, hiding much of it from Seattle; but a few miles are exposed to us, and this stretch of the skyline offers attractive facilities and a chance to reconnoiter some places that will be important later, like Blake Island and the southern end of Bainbridge.

One day in July I picked up the boat at Salmon Bay, put it on the car and arrived at Fauntleroy before 9:30, in time for the one of the last reverse-commute ferry sailings. Even with an intermediate stop at Vashon Island it was a quick and pleasant crossing to Southworth.

Driving north from there, following my recollection of the map I had sketched the night before, I soon arrived at Pomeroy Park. I wasn’t sure whether the Port of Manchester expects people without boat trailers to pay for parking, but I bought a ticket just in case, for $7, from a machine that takes credit cards. There are two docks, one attractive to kayakers but still high enough to require some effort getting in and out. The deck grating provides useful finger-holds.  A small adjacent beach would be an alternative.

pomeroy

I chatted a bit with a fellow who was fishing for crabs, and then paddled off to the north. The first landmark is a big pier with signs warning that it belongs to the government and to keep away. This is Orchard Point, which appears on the charts without much explanation, perhaps not to attract the attention of evil-doers. The Navy has a lot of facilities between here and Bremerton; they also had a very big ship anchored off Manchester, but there seemed to be plenty of space for me to go between.

I paddled past Clam Bay, skirting an array of buoys there. arriving at the beach at Manchester State Park sooner than I was expecting, and paused for a snack.  There was a selection of logs for seating, complete with a neighborly ground squirrel. Upland there was some kind of event organized for youngsters, but they seemed mostly occupied with food and games.

manchesterstate

I took a good look across Rich Passage toward Fort Ward. I had chosen this day in part for its small and well-timed tidal exchange, thinking that I might try crossing to Bainbridge Island. But exploring the other park looked like a bigger project than I wanted, so I topped off my water bottle and just headed back. I had come further than necessary already: my part of Seattle was well out of view until I was back at Clam Bay. I glimpsed a marine mammal spying on me there. I think it was probably a seal, but it didn’t wait around for introductions.  There were also many jellyfish along the way.

That first trip to Manchester took care of only a very small portion of the visible coast.  I returned just before the end of September to paddle a few miles south toward the mouth of Curly Creek, and then followed the shoreline east just a bit to an old pier where I was sure that Seattle was well hidden behind Blake Island.  Each way I kept a respectful distance from a float where a number of seals were resting and sunning themselves; but both times one of their number launched to follow me and make sure that I left their area safely.   The ship is one of several, probably idled by a shipping company’s bankruptcy, anchored near Seattle.

hanjin

Back at the Southworth ferry dock I took some time to examine the facilities there and especially the parking arrangements.  This will be the place to launch for an eventual overnight trip to Blake Island.

 

Salmon Bay

Friday, July 8th, 2016

Last winter the Moss Bay Rowing Club stopped offering storage space, so I went looking for a new home for our boat. There were waiting lists for the marinas on Lake Union, and the Port of Seattle didn’t have anything convenient, and the obvious place anyway was at the Salmon Bay Marina.

Salmon Bay is the westerly part of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The name was bestowed by the Old Settlers themselves, William Bell and and the Denny brothers; later generations turned part of the tidal reach into fresh water by first draining Lake Washington through what had been Ross Creek, and then damming it up with the Ballard Locks. The pleasing result was a protected waterway that served commerce and industry and just about anybody else who enjoyed messing about in boats. One prominent example is Fisherman’s Terminal, where picturesque vessels pose for tourists between voyages.  Here’s a photo I took a couple of decades ago, looking west from the south end of the Ballard Bridge:

On old picture of Fishermen's Terminal from the south end of the Ballard Bridge.

The marina lies beyond the terminal, on the other side of the blue ship near the top center of the picture. It’s not a convenient walk from my house, but a bus goes near, and it offers a lot of advantages over South Lake Union. There’s a little lounge that is available 24 hours a day, and plenty of free parking.

By the time of the move I was already mostly car-topping the boat, and carrying it from the Moss Bay dock up to their not-inexpensive parking lot was a nuisance. At the marina though, I could back the car up to the rack and wrestle the boat directly onto the top.  After just a few weeks, access was blocked by another, bigger boat that came to dwell nearby; but by then I had bought a set of stern wheels for use on long, paved approaches, so I simply switched to a ground-level spot that would have been unthinkable before.  The boat actually hangs in a pair of slings, and it takes only a few minutes to fit the little dolly on the back and roll it out to the car.  This arrangement solves two other problems: I can get the boat from the storage area to the car without bothering anyone, even when the office is closed; and the wheels keep the stern from scraping on the ground as I put the boat on top of the car. It’s even possible to leave the wheels attached while driving to the proposed launch site, if wheels will be required there; and, so far, that has not proved unwise (I attach them by three separate means).

It’s also possible just to roll the boat down to one of the marina’s docks and launch from there.  I have already done that more times than I expected to — this is a pretty interesting part of Seattle. And by the way, many of the boats in the picture above still appear regularly here, as seen in this view from a few days ago:

fisher

Seattle’s seacoast

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

There are lots of stunning destinations for paddlers in the Pacific Northwest, worth enduring long drives and frustrating ferry connections. But there’s also plenty of shoreline close to home — much of Elliott Bay is visible from my window — so I felt that I should at least become familiar with my own neighborhood.  After I finished exploring Lake Washington last year, I turned my attention to the rest of Seattle’s soggy City Limits.

Looking north toward Alki Point from the Emma Schmitz Viewpoint at Me-Kwa-Mooks Park in West Seattle.

Looking north toward Alki Point from the Emma Schmitz Viewpoint at Me-Kwa-Mooks Park in West Seattle.

Glacial geology largely determines the paddling experience here: our hills of clay and gravel tend to meet the water steeply. There aren’t any spectacular cliffs, but there aren’t a lot of  beaches either. Sediment collects at the mouths of ravines, though, and in some places it has been augmented by civil engineering.

A lot of the shoreline has been claimed by private development, but sometimes this process works to the paddler’s advantage.  The first chapter of my coastal exploration began at Golden Gardens, the beach near what was long Seattle’s northern limit. The park came into being as a way to attract visitors to the suburban real estate available uphill at Loyal Heights, but it now entices bathers and picnickers from all over.  So one day last August I launched from the beach there and paddled south.

As I had hoped, I got as far on this trip as West Point, the tip of what is now Discovery Park, a place with a markedly different sort of history.  A military base starting in the 19th Century, busy during World War II with embarking troops and even prisoners of war, this big hill began returning to civilian use in the 1970s.  There was apparently a shipyard at one time too. Today, though launching is not permitted, there are two accommodating beaches, the southerly more attractive to bathers, the northerly to birders.  Facilities are within hiking distance from either.  By the way, the name of the park is not vaguely aspirational, it’s the name of the ship commanded by George Vancouver during his exploration in 1792.

From Discovery Park I paddled eastward into Salmon Bay, toward another important government facility, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. The locks themselves offer only passage, not rest; but for paddlers wishing to pause near here, there is a City park along the south shore. Launching is not advertised, but there is a little beach near the railroad bridge from which to visit the tourist attractions, such as the fish ladder, depending on how long you are willing to leave your boat.

Commodore Park, on the seaward side of the Ballard Locks.

Commodore Park, on the seaward side of the Ballard Locks.

The trip from Salmon Bay back to Golden Gardens can be made in nearly any sort of weather, as it is possible to paddle inside the Shilshole Bay Marina breakwater for much of the distance.

Later, Golden Gardens was also the put-in for one of my last city-limits trips, north to well within the relatively new City of Shoreline.  I went a couple of miles further than strictly necessary, in order to reach Richmond Beach, a bit south of Point Wells, one of my earliest Puget Sound landmarks, learned on my first sailing trip here four decades ago.  The shoreline in between is almost all railroad tracks built on fill, the one intermediate stop being Carkeek Park, the beach at the mouth of the restored Pipers Creek.  By the time I landed at Shoreline I was thinking of having Alex collect the car and come to get me, so tired I was of the north wind and mild chop; but the return trip seemed pretty easy and I was glad that I had not given up.  By the way, Carkeek Park is another of those historical Seattle oddities:  it was originally located clear across town, but moved (the name at least) when the Navy built the Sand Point Naval Air Station — itself now a city park and renamed for longtime Senator Warren G. Magnuson.

Weather was seldom an issue on these trips: without deadlines, I was free to choose only good days for my two- to four-hour paddles.  The one place where scheduling seemed more important than weather was quite near my home: for the downtown waterfront I picked a time mid-day and mid-week in late autumn, so that there would be fewer ferry crossings and no water taxi or sightseeing boats.  I paddled from Jack Block Park across the bay to the Bell Harbor Marina, seeing only one ferry sailing, then south along the shore and the north end of Harbor Island. A day with some north wind against a strong current from the recently-flooded Duwamish River gave me the roughest water I encountered during the entire project.

Bell Harbor Marina in September

A quiet Bell Harbor Marina on my first visit, in September 2015

One other leg would bring me close to the Washington State Ferries: my last, from Lincoln Park, in West Seattle, south to the border with Burien.  The ferry dock is just south of the park and I had forgotten to check the schedules, but early-afternoon traffic wasn’t hectic.  The picture below shows the ferry Cathlamet departing for Vashon Island and then Southworth; I waited and then passed, carefully, behind the Sealth, just returned from Vashon.  On my return I paddled by the empty dock, just vacated by the Sealth on a later trip.

Seattle’s southern limit intersects a wide beach at the end of Seola Beach Drive SW.  The place looks perfect for street-end water access, but it may have fallen into the cracks between the two jurisdictions.  The road is closed off with chain-link fence, and building construction is taking place.  I slid the boat onto some relatively firm ground, sat on a hatch cover, and popped open a can of apricot juice. A crow began marching toward me, as though familiar with human visitors, but then decided instead to pursue a gull who was flying off with a clam.  The compass confirmed that my Seattle project was complete, but from here I could see parts of Bainbridge and Blake Islands, and possibly part of the Kitsap Peninsula, that are also visible from by house. If this was an obvious stopping point, then there are plenty more starting points too.

December 2015

Friday, December 25th, 2015

There was possible snow in the Christmas forecast, but it didn’t turn up and in fact the drizzle ceased by mid-morning.  There was no wind, and it seemed like a merry time for paddling.

elfI saw only three other boats moving on all of Lake Union — the two kayaks that you can glimpse in the background here, and one launch motoring up the west side.