Though my trip along the Duwamish River ended in the tidal zone, our “sea” kayak still hadn’t seen a lot of salt water. Back when we were shopping for our first boats we had paddled the western shore of Elliott Bay, but only as far south as what is now Jack Block Park. The distance from there to Terminal 105 represented a gap in our explorations that would be temptingly easy to fill.
So a week or two later, on May Day, I set out for West Seattle. Though it’s fifteen acres in size, Jack Block Park is scarcely noticeable from Harbor Avenue, because of the way that it is nestled within the Port’s Terminal 5 — there’s just a driveway that crosses the bike path and some railroad tracks and then turns out of sight. After some distance there’s a long-term parking lot near clean, modern facilities. It’s another drive, or walk along well-maintained paths, to the beach and similar facilities, opened to the public in 2011. The area had been a wood-treating plant and then a Superfund site, its hazardous sediment now capped with nice-sized pebbles.
Since I was planning to begin and end in the same spot, I tried out the idea of handling the boat entirely by myself. Having to move the car after freeing up the boat is a nuisance, and my choice of low tide didn’t make the carry any shorter, but there were no real problems.
I had also chosen a day with a north wind, which got started earlier than expected. Inside the West Waterway though the chop diminished and I paddled along happily amid the tugboat traffic there. One barge, nudged along by a couple of tugs, bore shipping containers, a crane and some other equipment, and, at the top of the stack, another boat that might have looked fairly good-sized anywhere else.
I paddled beyond T-105 and then turned east past the south end of Harbor Island, once only a spot in the mouth of the Duwamish for trading ships to dump their ballast but now the heart of the City’s working waterfront. There’s a marina at the south end. The bike route runs very close to here and in fact I paddled right out underneath the fishing pier where we often stop, into the East Waterway.
Visible from here are a number of landmarks familiar to Seattle tourists, but probably in an unexpected order.
I moved respectfully aside for the boat coming straight toward us, the Olympic tug Lela Joy, and then watched her tie up to the left of the picture and behind. After a bit I turned around and retraced my journey, getting, for the day, four really good looks at the underside of the West Seattle Bridge.
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There’s another reason for interest in Jack Block Park. It’s in the eye of the storm of protest over oil exploration in the Arctic. Shell Oil plans to base its drilling rigs at Terminal 5 during the winter season. The arrangement with the Port of Seattle drew fire from environmental groups and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has suggested that permit conditions may not have been met. Citizen protests, including a kayak flotilla, are expected. The Stranger describes the situation in this article.