Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day 13: Wing Point

Fun of a different sort at Wing Point. Strong south wind brought actual swells to Puget Sound, and the Wing Point sandbar created near-surf conditions at the point. Rocking and rolling in 8 feet of water made for a real ocean swim day. Stormy weather was a great time to hit Wing Point.

(photos: Wing Point from the water. Interesting how the character of a place changes day to day.)

Just inside the sandbar, where the water was a bit deeper and more sheltered, moon snails scoured the sand. Turbulence brought movement to the sandy bottom, and the sand waves (like mini sand dunes 1 inch tall) were marching slowly towards shore.

Some surprise visitors dropped by, and you should hear more about that next week.

air temp: 36F
water temp: 49F
Dec 17, 1pm, mostly cloudy
wind strong from the south, 20-30 mph
high tide, falling
visibility 5-15 feet
today's distance: 0.75 mile
total so far: 13.51 miles

today's notables:
moon snails
stormy conditions with sand waves on the bottom

Today I'm joined by Seattle Times reporter Michelle Ma and photographer Erika Schultz. We meet at the ferry dock (glad that's over with) and drive over to Hawley Cove. We talk a bit, they take some pictures and video, and then I get in the water.

Or...I try to get in the water but a bright blue broken ballon floats up to my ankles. I can't stand balloons in the water, they're terrible for wildlife. I pluck it out of the water and whine a bit about the harm caused by balloons and other trash. Like the discarded lighter on the beach. Argh, what about a light-hearted fun swim?

I resolve to dive in and have some fun, but a plastic bag floats around my calves the next time I try to get in. OK, this is too much, staged by King Neptune for the benefit of the news people. I can see writing, somebody is going to get fingered for ocean abuse. It's...OLD NAVY. How perfect is that, a store called Old Navy polluting the ocean with a totally unnecessary single use plastic bag. I can't leave it, so I pick it up and rant a bit about plastic bags killing ocean animals.

Then, finally, it's into the water. The cold shock wave hits, every time I swear the water has gotten colder. Even though I know it's coming, somehow I can never quite get used to the initial blast of cold, followed by the icy fingers of water leaking in through the seams, gaps, and actual holes in my wetsuit. The cold ring on my face is probably the worst, so I drop in for some quick swimming to fight the chill.

The south wind has a swell running, so the swimming is harder and the waves smack me around enough to cause extra flushing. That's cold water pouring into my wetsuit in a big flush instead of the more typical icy fingers. In a few minutes I'm warmed up and ready to go.

I can see the waves breaking on Wing Point, I saw them from the beach actually. It should be a bit of a wild ride out there.

No sand dollars here, the colony must be closer to the ferry terminal, just offshore of the west side of the Hawley Cove beach. I recommend it highly.

Splashing through the waves, this is much more like ocean swimming than the first 12 legs of my tour. Not a lot of exciting bottom action, most of the action is above the surface. I hear motor noise and look up, it's the ferry coming towards me. But no worries, I have a big red buoy drawing a line in the sand. Ferry on that side, me on this side. I'm glad to hear how loud the boat is, there's no way I could miss a boat this size coming nearby, even with all the wave noise in the water and a rubber hood over my ears.

I see a brilliant, beautiful moon snail bobbing along down there on the bottom. Or rather I'm bobbing up and down so the moon snail slides closer and then further away in time with the waves. I duck down and peer at it, it's a big one at least a foot long with a shell the size of a large soup bowl. Motoring along visibly, oblivious to the action above. It's a relief to finally get under the surface thanks to the majesty of a moon snail.

This is a transition that's usually easier, with my typical calm wind and glassy water swims. But with all the action on the surface and above, getting under is more difficult.

It's like looking at one of those split perspective images, where it's either two faces looking at each other or a vase depending on how you look at it, likeRubin's "ambiguous vase" illusion, visible here. How does this relate to oceans? As I talked about my tour with Michelle, I had a new insight into what I'm finding.

Getting underwater is like going through Alice's looking glass in Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There," more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland. She plunges through a mirror and finds a very different world.

Most of us only see the surface when we look at the ocean, we miss the underwater world. Thus a beautiful Eagle Harbor looks surprisingly different and much sadder from underwater. This is true even for me, an ocean person with clear knowledge of what I'd find under a typical marina thanks to my scientific experience.

I'm building a new underwater awareness, the ability to look at the water that I've already toured and easily get through the looking glass and re-enter the underwater consciousness. And I hope I can convey a little bit of that to others who may not choose to get there the way I do.

Now that I've gone through the looking glass on today's swim and found myself focusing underwater, I notice something beautiful.

The turbulent, tumbling water is stirring the sandy ocean bottom, making the sand waves dance. These are the mini-sand dunes that are formed on a shallow, sandy ocean bottom, maybe 1 inch tall and 2 inches wide. As I look closer, I can see some sand particles lifted off the bottom each time a wave passes, and the sand waves are very slightly reshaped. This is the march of the sand waves, they're reforming before my eyes.

What fun this is, to find a miniature drama on the ocean bottom.

I watch the sand waves for a few minutes, hovering and riding up and down in the waves, and then head on out to the tip of Wing Point.

There are some wave deflectors built with concrete here, and a heavily armored shore. No wonder why. Crashing waves make this look like an exposed coastline instead of a sheltered Puget Sound shore.

It's a lovely roller coaster ride and I spot a person watching me from a living room window. I wave and she waves back. Hi. I'm having fun, how about you?

She may wonder, what is someone doing in the water during Seattle's most disruptive winter storm, with snow and cold (cold for us). My answer, I'm going through the looking glass for an adventure.

It's a quick swim back, running with the wind and swell. There's no good exit for me here, and it's just as easy (and more fun) to swim back to Hawley Cove to get to my car. I'll start at Wing Point next time, and head Bainbridge's outer coast to Yeomalt Point, where I've been warned about the rip currents. Yeomalt is an Anglicized version of a native word that means "where the currents meet."

Sounds fun, especially during a storm.

But to finish Wing Point right, I want calm water so I can explore the sandbar better. It's hard to see everything that's here from a roller coaster.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day 12: Ferry yard and ferry dock

The air has a chill, it's a match for today's swim. Around the ferry maintenance yard in a half mile loop through the harbor channel, then back to shore and under the ferry dock. A bit tough, it needs proper staging. But fantastic, with the sun, calm water and view of Mt. Ranier (right).

What better day to have my brother in town, and the reprise of mischevious scheming from many years ago? My wife, brother and sister-in-law (left photo) will drop me at Waterfront Park just after the ferry leaves. I'll swim out to the channel and around the rusting hulks of dead and disused ferries, and hopefully under the ferry dock before the next boat arrives from Seattle. They'll be nearby to quiet the alarm if anyone gets too worked up over a guy in a black rubber suit swimming under the ferry dock, and they'll get some action photos.

Quick and quiet, and hopefully no Homeland Security alerts.

At least that was the plan...

I'll admit to being a little nervous driving to the harbor. The swim is totally reasonable, there's nothing beyond limits. Everything should be fine. I wonder if it might seem otherwise to some, like an extreme sports thing. Interesting. Is that how extreme sports happen, after working up to something it seems reasonable, but from the outside it looks nutty?

The dropoff goes well, walking through the snow in a wetsuit definitely seems odd, but the chill doesn't really cut through the rubber and I'm not outside long enough to get cold. Quick gear on, a few photos and I'm in. Thanks team.

I stroke harder than usual out into the channel, between a dock, an empty ferry slip and a old ferry boat resting at the pier (photo at right). It feels strange to be heading out into the channel and I pause frequently to look around. I want to know the where, what, and who over everything moving anywhere close to me. I won't trust my ears alone, even though motor sounds are so clear and distinctive.

The loop around the ferry maintenance yard is taking longer than I had hoped. It feels like more than the half mile I calculated on my Google map, maybe I'm swinging wider than I had figured. It takes what seems like a LLLLOOOOOOOOOONNNNNG time to get out and turn east around the boats, headed for the ferry dock. (Note: it's more like 3/4 of a mile, the satellite photo in Google maps is old and there's a lot more dock and boats to swim around now).

As I make the turn and come within view of the ferry dock, I see the next ferry come around the point from Seattle, heading for the ferry dock. I'm not going to cross under the ferry dock before the next boat arrives. I'm not going where the boat goes, I'll be closer to shore swimming under the pilings of the ferry dock, well away from the ferry. But I'm worried that the security people will be more intent when there's a boat at the dock. Oh well, I could sprint for the dock, but I don't think I'd make it anyway. Change of plans.

Finally, after what seems like a long 30-40 minute swim, I pull around the last boat and turn for the shore (photo at left). I'm the little splashy dot near the docked ferry boat. I'm swimming free in murky brown/green water in the bright sun, with no sign of the bottom. I want to get close to shore and out of the channel, then I just have the ferry dock security to worry about.

Here's the bottom, time to turn right and head for the ferry dock. The boat is just about to dock, it will arrive maybe 5 minutes before I get there. Swimming past the Harborview condos, the bottom is sand and gravel, with lots of shell debris. It's nice to notice that.

The cars start to drive off the ferry just before I arrive. I want to make this quick, I can see people walking along the edge of the car ramp that leads to the ferry, could it be security people waiting to wave me away? I put my head down and swim for the other side.

Will there be any obstacles under the docks? I usually swim slowly under a dock, watching all around, with one hand in front of my face in case I miss seeing some lines strung between pilings. But the sun is out and I can see fairly well even under the dock. I do keep looking around, and pause to check for obstacles, and everything looks fine (left photo).

Then...anticlimax, I'm under the car ramp and headed for the pilings that hold up the foot passenger ramp. Again, no apparent obstacles. I look up at the car ramp, see the same two people looking at me, it's my brother and sister-in-law. Great, no worries and I wave at them. I'm out the other side, and now if anyone objects at least I'm past the docks.

A nice feeling of relief, and I swim along the shore, wondering whether the human drama above the water leaves me capable of noticing anything underwater. I start seeing some tracks in the sand, about 1-2 inches wide and wandering several feet. But I can't tell who made them. Then there are more tracks and I can see...sand dollars. I haven't seen a single sand dollar yet this swim, and here's an entire city of them. I found a million dollars underwater, I'm a rich man.

It's a beautiful sand flat with what must be millions of sand dollars, mostly in 5-10 feet of water. They're piled up on top of each other, there are so many it hardly seems possible. Here's a link to a photo of a similar bunch of sand dollars.

What fun, a fantastic underwater site to close out the swim. I work slowly towards the shore, the sand dollars continue until the water is only about 4 feet deep.

My team is on the shore waiting, my wife first then my brother and sister-in-law (photos at left).

As I'm getting out, a small Coast Guard boat arrived and circled around offshore of the park. It's the 25 foot Defender class boat, with two deck-mounted machine guns, fore and aft, described here (photo right, and you can just see the Coast Guard "Defender" approaching as I get out of the water in the photo at the top of the post). We wonder if someone will meet us at the cars, but we're good and we get home without any problem. Next leg, on to Wing Point and my beloved open beaches again.

air temp: 29F
water temp: 49F
Dec 8, noon, sunny
wind light, variable
high tide, slack
visibility 10-20 feet
today's distance: 1.20 mile
total so far: 12.76 miles

today's notables:
sand dollars

View Larger Map

More Eagle Harbor day 11

I'm ready to get out of the harbor and back to the open coast. The Swim Around Bainbridge is showing me much, including better and worse than I expected. And now, I've got my first malady. It's industrial disease
of the psychic sort, caused by prolonged exposure to the dim views under the dire straits of a developed harbor.

(Industrial Disease: a disease arising out of, and in the course of employment, resulting from exposure to, the absorption of or intoxication from harmful chemical, biological or physical agents to which the general public would not normally be exposed.)

What a surprise, it's not the toxic sediments of the Superfund site, nor the E. coli hazard from swimming in someone's toilet. I'm brought down by the mundane underside of an everyday sight.

The mirror-like surface of the water hides an ugly view. Now that I've seen it, I'll never look at a harbor the same again.

air temp: 46F
water temp: 50F
Dec 11, 12:00 pm partly sunny
wind from North, 5mph
high tide, falling
visibility 10-20 feet
today's distance: 1.19 mile
total so far: 11.56 miles

today's notables:
clams, clams, clams

Today, Swim Around Bainbridge friend Rob Dryden helped with the shuttle. He contacted me via email and offered rides. Since the start and end today are in town, I wanted to avoid the typical hike. We left my car at the exit and Rob dropped me at the entry point. Thanks Rob (photo at right).

The first part of the swim was muddy, boring, and quite nice. It's not being in a harbor that's bad, I like this bit. One especially nice part is a shallow sandbar that I pull over using my hands, too shallow to swim. I'm face to face with acres of clams. It's mostly the dead shells that show, but also siphons and little water jets coming out of burrows in the sand.

But soon, I re-enter the hazardous harbor and clarify my diagnosis. I'm sure now, it's the marina that makes me feel bad swimming through the harbor.

I get out at Waterfront Park, take a quick gaze at the ferry yard coming next, and hustle off to my car to get back to work. My view of the wet underside of Bainbridge Island is modified by Eagle Harbor, and I think I understand the change.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Day 11: Eagle Harbor

Swimming in a marina sucks. That's the answer to the attitude problem in swimming Eagle Harbor. One more little bit and I'm outta here.

I started from a nice little "road end" park on Gowen Road (photo at right). It's beautiful, even with the junk tire in the foreground. Notice the fantastic clouds and reflection in the water (photo at left).
We do grey here in Seattle, more on that later.

It was a good swim at first, a bit boring over the mucky bottom and with some docks to dodge. But bursts of sunlight were nice, the glassy water is always a delight, and the cold air and water made it even better since I was staying fairly warm. Well, a few cold toes.

But when I hit the marina, I started to feel like crap again. It was pathetic, swimming past the dock and moored boats, wondering how many poop molecules were leaking around the snorkel in my mouth and imagining what I would think if I were the people walking on the dock looking at the idiot swimming by. Here's the marina, looking to the right from my exit at Waterfront Park (photo at right).

So now I get the Eagle Harbor problem, I'll just swim on out of the harbor and never look back. I long for the open coast again.

just one tiny obstacle, the ferry dock looms. And, even worse, the ferry maintenance yard is before the ferry dock. Here's the ferry maintenance yard looking left from my exit (photo at left) Should I go around or under? Or, portage? Would that be cheating?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Swim Around Bainbridge on blog, Watching our Water Ways

Swimming Around Bainbridge is a beautifully simple idea.

So says Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan in his blog "Watching our Water Ways" where he discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related. Here's his post on my tour:

Swimming around Bainbridge Island, a little piece at a time, is a beautifully simple idea loaded with potential for suspense, excitement and exploration.

Mark Powell // Kitsap Sun photo

Island resident Mark Powell wanted to find a way to know his island better when was struck by the inspiration to swim around it, observing the variety of sea life, shoreline structures and underwater formations along the way.

As Tristan Baurick writes for the Kitsap Sun, Powell considered waiting for the right weather or the right time of year to begin, but then he realized any delay could kill the inspiration. So he took to the water on a windy Columbus Day, Oct. 13, slipping into the cold water at Fort Ward State Park. (View his blog, which includes an entry for each leg of his journey.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been following the blogs of two 16-year-old boys, each sailing separately by themselves around the world. There’s Zac Sunderland of Thousand Oaks, Calif., aboard a 36-foot Islander, who left Los Angeles June 14 (See Zac’s Web site and blog).

The other 16-year-old is Mike Perham of St. Albans (England), who left Brighton on the South Coast of England on Nov. 16 in a 50-foot custom racing yacht. (See Mike’s web site and blog).

Both boys hope to be the youngest to sail around the world solo. It is a pretty remarkable feat to contemplate — what with risky seas, boat mishaps and dangerous people lurking in various corners of the world.

So I’ll keep following the adventures of these two boys who have their separate dreams of sailing. Their blogs contain details of their travels, which aren’t much while they’re at sea, but the photos are nice.

Still, my admiration goes to Bainbridge Island’s Mark Powell, whose trip is filled with adventure of a different kind. From Mark’s blog, I am hearing things about things somewhat familiar to me and personally more interesting.

As Powell writes in the introduction to his blog:

I’ve got an itch. I’m indoors too much, and lacking adventure. So, thrashing around a bit on what to do, it came to me.

I’ll swim around Bainbridge Island, my home island.

It’s all here, 53 miles of shoreline with at least a small dose of almost everything you’ll find in the modern ocean world.

We have a Superfund site and pristine shoreline, armored banks with fancy houses, and forests that reach the water. Some good fishing, and some sadness over what’s missing.

Thanks to Mike Sato for catching a name error in the initial post

Tags: Bainbridge Island, Mark Powell, Mike Perham, Zac Sunderland

This entry was posted on Monday, November 24th, 2008 at 6:27 pm and is filed under Education, On writing, Puget Sound, Shorelines. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More Eagle Harbor day 10

My Eagle Harbor swim vexes me. What's the source of my dismay in gazing at the Harbor's underside? Is it really so sad, or am I coloring the water somehow with my attitude? Could the pollution be in me?

I did see more garbage on this leg than any other, but that's no surprise. As a sharp contrast, Blakely Harbor was fun and glorious even though it's the site of long-abandoned heavy industry.

Eagle Harbor's dismality is a new puzzle, and I don't have all the pieces yet. I want to dive in again soon to swim the north shore and try again. In the next leg or two I'll reach the ferry maintenance yard and ferry dock, and the question of what to do. Around, under, or avoid? It would be so easy to slip under the ferry dock, so long as nobody raises an alarm.

air temp: 47F
water temp: 49F
Dec 7, 2:00 pm cloudy, light rain
wind calm
medium tide, falling
visibility 10-20 feet
today's distance: 1.56 mile
total so far: 10.37 miles

today's notables:
spotted ratfish
shark buoy

Today, I have a timeline, I've got a mile to swim (or so I thought) and an hour before I'm due for the promised Christmas tree hunt with my kids. A wonderful swim first (or so I thought), then a nice family afternoon. My supportive wife drops me off and plays with the kids on the beach. She probably cringes as much as I do when I drop under the first marina. Maybe more, since it's harder to watch and not know whether there's a problem.

I'm cautious of obstacles, dangling cables that could snag and trap. But the first marina and dock are clear. At least clear of debris. The water is murky brown/green and it's dark and hard to see more than about 10 feet. I kick through the worst of it with my hands in front of me in case I miss seeing a problem.

No worries, it's clear swimming. And on to the next dock. I see a few oysters on the gravel and sand bottom, and a spotted ratfish. Enough to say it's not a dead ocean under all of this use.

It gets old, ducking under docks, swimming inside of a marina boom. I swim faster than usual to get past the worst of it.

But somehow, clearing the docks doesn't clear my head. I'm out in some open water but it's not that fun. I strike on ahead hoping to cruise through the murk and find something--anything--that transforms the harbor into a delight.

I keep stopping and watching for boats, I'm in a harbor and it's possible I could miss hearing the whine of the motor. Nothing except a couple of delightful kayakers, my first on these swims. They obligingly start to paddle by until I hail them. We chat a bit, me bobbing strangely at the surface without treading water. The buoyancy of two wetsuits is fun, I can float vertically at neck level with no work. They paddled over from Wing Point, ducking under the same docks, etc. No, I'm not really a maniac.

It turns into a long swim. My google maps measurements have to be off, I know I've gone a mile and there's some distance left to swim. My family gives up waiting when I'm not done in an hour, because they have to pick up a friend for a play date. We left a car at the exit point, so I can make it home, but I end up being late.

Finally, I come around the last point and head across the flats to the car, another quarter mile or so. It's murky, the bottom is silty, and I still feel down about the whole thing.

Whatsoever posesses me to turn day 10 so negative? I don't know, at least not yet. I'll be back to these sites or nearly so on my way back out of the harbor. For better or for worse.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Day 10: Eagle Harbor

The beauty of Eagle Harbor shines in these photos (today's exit point looking left and right).

As I'm swimming through Eagle Harbor I see some big gaping jaws with nasty teeth, it's a big shark. Oh wait, it's a joke buoy, an attacking shark where you can tie up your boat.

I did meet some nice kayakers halfway through the swim, they asked if I was keeping warm (yes). I mentioned my path, and they wondered aloud in a friendly way if I'm a maniac. Naw, just an ocean guy with an itch to do this Bainbridge Island underwater tour.

The shark buoy was fun after a moments hesitation. Not so much fun in the rest of the human presence in this yucky swim. Unlike all 9 of the swims before today, this one was more of a lesson. Garbage near marinas and houses, some dark murky water, too many docks to swim under or around and bunches of boats.

You can probably see it coming in this sequence of photos of getting in the water. First, here's dad and the kids as I'm getting ready, getting in the water, and then about to disappear under the first dock. I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised, but it was worse than I expected.

I'm just disappearing under the first dock in the larger photo above, that little white dot is me.

Today's swim tested my mettle, whether I'd stick it out and complete the shoreline. The water was a beautiful above. But beneath, the Heart of Darkness. This is what we do to our beautiful ocean when we love it to death.

It's not the wounded ocean of massive commerce. In some ways that would be easier to take. This is the ugly scene of you and me, looking out from our single houses and clusters of boats, and neglecting what's beneath the beauty. Below the mirrored surface of the water is where we find our true reflection in the ugly shallows of Eagle Harbor.

I feel dirty and swim fast. I want to slip through as quickly as I can. There's nothing for me here.

I see a spotted ratfish and feel sorry for the poor thing. Prehistoric and magnificently strange, and living in a junky harbor.

How many people know what's down here? What proportion of the live-aboards and live-on-the-shores have even put on a mask and looked down here? Maybe I should tell them how bad it looks. More on this later..

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wild Places

What are wild places? I used to think know, WILDERNESS. The big expanses of undeveloped land in the named and lawfully set aside Wilderness areas.

But there is the wild that lives in us, the feelings that mark our experience of the wild. And the feelings are not tied to named Wilderness areas. Sometimes they come out, surprise, with the sight of a wild bird in a fairly tame forest patch.

The wet underside of Bainbridge Island is wild. I've seen enough of it to know for certain. Underwater touring has taken me through a lot of water, and I've seen a lot of ocean bottom in my 8-some miles so far. I'm savoring the find of a wild world all my own, to be reached just by plopping off the beach and moving 100 feet offshore.

Give me fifteen spare minutes and a plunge underwater, and I can have a getaway that's as wild as most Wilderness hikes. Now that's a find.

The photo above right shows the wild water of the point between Rockaway Beach and Blakely Harbor, home of the tubesnout crew (see day 8). In the far background is wild Mt. Ranier, just peeking over wooded Blake Island.

I'm reading a book called "The Wild Places" by Robert Macfarlane. It's an adventure with a question at it's heart:

Are there any genuinely wild places left in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales? That is the question that writer Robert Macfarlane poses to himself as he embarks on a series of breathtaking and beautifully described journeys through some of the archipelago's most remarkable landscapes.
I picked it up as an accompaniment to my swim, and I've found it influential.

Macrarlane talks about the various wilds that he finds in England, and he finds his picture of what's wild changing dramatically as he moves through his adventure.

It's a good companion to my adventure, and I'm lucky to have found it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Day 9: Eagle Harbor

How about a Superfund site to spice up a swim? Or a prehistoric fish not usually seen in shallow water? Today was a fantastic sunny day with light wind and good visibility most of the way. I used two wetsuits to hold out the cold, and some new gloves, and I stayed warm. Even though I felt like I was in a full body cast. It was a nice swim with some strange spotted ratfish, and one disturbing site...

I passed the partially cleaned Superfund toxic waste site where lots of oily goop was found seeping into the ocean as recently as 2006. Nice. It's Bainbridge's worst ocean mess, except maybe lucrative strip mining of shallow sand flats to catch Geoducks. The Wyckoff creosote plant resulted in millions of pounds of creosote contaminating our ocean at this beautiful little sandy beach with a fantastic view of Seattle. Ugh.

Even with all of this ugliness, the sand flats had a wild feel when I pulled around the corner into Eagle Harbor and looked around.

photo at left: Wyckoff Superfund site and Eagle Harbor, taken from the ferry.

photo at right: Bainbridge-Seattle ferry passing Rockaway Beach and entering Eagle Harbor.

air temp: 45F
water temp: 50F
Dec 4, 11:00 am sunny
wind from the NE, 0-5 mph
medium tide, falling
visibility 10-30 feet
today's distance: 1.00 mile
total so far: 8.81 miles

today's notables:
spotted ratfish
superfund site

I got in at the north end of Rockaway Beach, after stumbling down a steep grassy hill, next to an old landslide. I'm wearing my shorty wetsuit under the cracked and torn old full wetsuit. I also bought some new, thicker gloves and I'm wearing my thickest booties.

The bottom is mixed sand and gravel, and lots of shell litter from clams and barnacles, along with a few oysters. I expect Geoducks, but don't find any. Right ahead are the steel walls of the Superfund site, they contain the contaminated soil to limit seepage into the ocean. They make for a very inhospitable shoreline, 10-15 feel of vertical steel walls, for maybe 1/4 mile along the point at the mouth of Eagle Harbor.

I look around quite a bit, I'm close to where boat traffic comes in and out of the biggest harbor on the island. The big boats stay outside the channel buoys, so I stay inside, but I want to watch for small boats. I'm in fairly shallow water and I don't think anybody would come this close to shore, but I'm keeping a watch just to be sure.

Once I'm in the harbor, the bottom shifts to sand, and I wonder how much has been placed to "cap" the toxic sediments from the creosote plant. The "cap" is supposed to keep the toxic mess in place, it's cheaper than trying to dredge the mess and dispose of it, but the whole process is a bit dodgy and prone to problems like movement of the sand that forms the "cap." It's probably the right solution, but it's far from perfect.

Did I say yet that I'm staying nice and warm today? Two wetsuits oughta do it, even though it's hard to move in this body armor. Better than getting cold, I guess.

Further around the corner, I see some strange looking fish on the bottom in about 12-15 feet of water over the sand. I can't identify them from the surface so I dive down and see what looks like a deep-sea fish. Wow. I've never seen anything like them in shallow water, only out the window of a submersible (deep-diving sub), or caught in a deep trawl net. I've been lucky enough to dive down as far as 10,000 feet in the Alvin submersible, at a hydrothermal vent and other interesting deep sea locations.

They're spotted ratfish, also known as a ghost shark or chimaera. These fish have cartilaginous skeletons like sharks and rays, and are mostly found in very deep water. There are a few shallow water species, including this one. Very nice fish, they're copper colored with bright white spots and big eyes, and they're beautiful in today's bright sun. They don't startle very easily, and I can get a really good look. There are at least 10 of them, lurking on the bottom with their heads into the slight tidal current so they look like they're in loose formation. There's a nice picture and comments here, on

These ancient fish are closely related to fish that lived 200 million years ago (ore older), and they have unusual mating habits, including a grasping arm that comes out of the male's forehead and grabs the female like a velcro sticker. The male has "claspers" that trasfer sperm to the female for fertilization, and the female produces just two embryonic offspring that live inside a leathery egg case that eventually gets deposited on the ocean bottom.

I can't believe my luck in finding these fantastic fish!!!! Here's a YouTube video of some spotted ratfish from a nearby location in Puget Sound.

View Larger Map

click blue markers for notes on progress

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Blown out, no swimming

OK, I knew this wasn't going to be easy. Bad weather, torn up gear, and work are keeping me out of the water.

It's hard to sit on the shore and look at the water, but I don't want to swim when I can't see the bottom. I've had a couple of chances to go out but the wind was up every time. I actually went to the beach twice, and turned away from the blown out murky water (photo top right).

And since I'm complaining, let me take this chance to moan about my torn up gear. Here's my beloved drysuit (left photo), sadly cut open when the zipper froze up and broke, locking me in the suit. It's a fantastic O'Neill windsurfing drysuit, probably 18 years old. It never got a lot of use, but it served me well when I was doing active things in cold water. The zipper got stiff over the years, and finally just quit moving. It might be dead, since it would cost a pile of money to replace the zipper.

And here's my fantastic O'Neill wetsuit (right photo) which has seen a lot of use, and is torn nearly to shreds. Those cracks on the shoulder and neck go all the way through the rubber to the nylon backing. Swimming in this suit sends icy sips of water through these and other cracks with each stroke.

I'm not sure what to get to replace these suits, and I don't have the money to spend on swimming gear right now anyway. I have my eye on a Patagonia surf suit, but it's a bit costly. Any advice on the best for swimming but also doing a bit of diving? I don't swim hard enough to stay as warm as an all-out ocean swimmer, I do a lot of looking around.

Any sponsors out there who want to donate some gear?? O'Neill, I've got a great story for you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Rockaway Beach day 8

Rockaway and outer Blakely Harbor offer great fun, and adventure in getting cold thanks to a wardrobe malfunction. Harlequin ducks perch on the rocks, sending a message about how wild is the ocean, even within spitting distance of a suburban living room.

photo: Eagle Harbor and Mt. Baker

This swim has lessons about the wild, and I wouldn't be getting them diving to a selected point of interest. My ocean traverse of the island has me testing the wildness of the ocean all along the route, and finding it wild all over.

I'm now fully addicted to this swim, and already wondering what the hell I'm going to do with myself when I'm done. Presumptuous of me at mile 7 out of 53.

New problems await just ahead, and not all of them about wildness. Development may intrude as I enter Eagle Harbor and Baingridge's port activity. Like the armored superfund site and how do I get past the harbor docks? What about the ferry maintenance yard, buildings on a maze of pilings? Do I swim under right at the shore, or around into the harbor proper, where the boats roam? Are there cables to snag the unwary swimmer? We'll see. Maybe I shouldn't be looking ahead just yet. Will you all bail me out of jail after the cops wonder what a diver is doing under the ferry boats that carry thousands of commuters each day?

air temp: 45F
water temp: 50F
Nov. 23, 12:30pm sunny
wind from the north, light
medium-high tide, rising
visibility 10-30 feet
today's distance: 1.46 mile
total so far: 7.81 miles

today's notables:
crab vs. crab battle royal
harlequin duck
bald eagle

First the drysuit hokey-pokey gets worse. The zipper is getting harder and harder to zip, and it finally fails. Sproing..the zipper pull breaks off leaving me trapped in a half-mast zipper with no way to open or close it. I can't swim and I can't get out. A quick executive decision to make, do we cut the drysuit or try to work the zipper loose? It's clear and calm and I want to swim. Scissors, please.

I prevail on my patient and bemused wife E, asking her to delay the trip taking my 4 year old child C to a birthday party (imagine how much fun that is!). Please, get me out of this $#(*& broken drysuit?! Pretty please? At first she says of course, but then 5-10 minutes later with the snips and scissors failing to cut through the sturdy waterproof zipper and C really eager to go, we're all ready for this zipper adventure to end.

Finally, sturdier snips get through the metal/rubber zipper and I'm free to peel out of the sweaty skin-tight rubber suit(I was a bit thinner when I bought the thing 15 years ago). Sadly, there's a saga to begin over the "what do I do now" ennui that ensues once I stare at my trustry drysuit that now looks suspiciously like garbage. I'm not ready to give up yet, even though I probably should. Maybe I can get a sponsor to give me a new suit. But until then...

I slide into my old wetsuit (which is falling apart and even so would be barely adequate if it was in good shape) and head for the beach. Dammit, nothing will stop me from swimming after waiting 4 days for a chance to go, spending 45 minutes trying to get ready, and looking outside at a perfectly calm sunny Sunday morning. An ocean awaiting and no way to swim? I don't think so. (Note: the decision to go out with a minimal wetsuit will matter later, during a long swim in water that's gotten colder. Brrr...)

Rockaway Beach presents a problem...ACCESS. It's hard to get to the ocean without trespassing, and I face a LONG walk for either the entry or exit.

I have a strategy for this leg, park in the middle, bushwhack down a small bluff in my wetsuit and booties, trespass to get in the water, swim, hope for a reasonable exit, and then have a one mile walk back on the road. Not a great strategy, but it's the best I can do for this piece of water.

The parking is fine, at a small park with legal water access. But I can't get in here, it's in the middle of today's swim. I walk up the hill and to the top of the bluff over the water and look for a way down. If I can't bushwhack down, it's a loooong walk around by road to get the the beach below the bluff, west down Hall's Hill Road and back east on Seaborn. You can see all of this on the map, my bushwhack started from the intersection of Halls Hill Rd and Rockaway Bluff Rd. It's not too hard to beat through the bushes, I wander a bit and make it down near my entry point, saving about a mile of walking.

As expected, there's no legal entry, but a slink through a construction site arouses no ire and I'm in. last. Cold, clear water, gravelly beach, underwater again. The flood of cold water pours through the cracks in my dead wetsuit, but I convince myself that it'll warm up in a minute and feel better soon.

I'll swim a bit to warm up. Under the docks and look, there's bags of oysters under the last dock. Someone growing out some oysters, or holding them to eat later. Yum. More oysters here in outer Blakely Harbor than anywhere else on my route so far.

After a few short minutes, I'm warmer and past the houses, to a surprising little stretch of wild water. No houses, no roads, just a bluff and fairly quick dropoff to 15 feet of water. I've got my best visibility so far, I can see far out to either side and the bottom is clear at 20 feet. I can see distance and feel big water here, finally. Thick eelgrass carpets the patches of sand, bedrock ribs rise up and hold lots of life, and there are surfperch darting about.

I enter a school of small, needle-like fish, about 4-5 inches long and spotted. Tubesnouts everywhere! The school goes as far as I can see in either direction, hovering over the bottom with the fish spaced fairly evenly at a body-length distance from their neighbors, heads all pointing east up the harbor. The swim slowly, and I float motionless hoping they'll get used to me. They do and ease closer, and begin to mill about a bit, breaking formation. I can get within touching distance, but I just drift and watch dreamily. The sight of this many fish always feels grand and rich. A profusion of life.

As I pull up to the corner, turing north to Rockaway Beach, the swell rises up to about a foot, the water turns murkier, a current runs against me, and the rough rocky bottom sends lumps up near the water's surface. I have to watch the pitch of the waves to stay off the rocks. It's not exactly difficult, since it's Puget Sound, but I do actually have to notice what's around me to stay safe. An end to the pleasant hospitality of the last stretch of water. It's a bit of work to round the corner.

Here's the park at the south end of Rockaway Beach Rd, and there's my car. With a bit of a chill setting in I think about getting out. My hands and feet are getting a tiny bit distant-feeling, but I check in with my body and the core feels good. I'm not too cold overall. I'll swim on.

photo: Rockaway Beach from the little park

The beach is nice, although absolutely frosted with houses and nearly no space in-between. It's mixed gravel and bedrock bottom. The wave action makes me bounce a bit, but it's still the Sound and it doesn't really qualify as rough water.

I find a couple of fascinating animal scenes.

First, harlequin ducks! The absolute stars of the duck world, I've seen them diving in mountain streams before, an amazing thing to watch. One favorite day with harlequins was in Olympic National Park in the Elwha River above the endangered dams. Nice to write that, the dams will be coming down soon. Demolish dams, baby, demolish dams!!! OK, I don't mean that, just demolish bad dams that destroy rivers without producing sufficient benefits, like the Elwha dams.

These fantastic and wild ducks are perched on a rock in front of modern suburbia, they don't seem to fit in. But ocean is ocean, and the harlequins testify to what I'm beginning to learn...the wild is close to the surface in the ocean. Much closer to the surface than almost anything on land. This is a funny wild, I can be there within sight of a suburban living room, with a warm crackling fire and a football game on TV. But down here, with only my eyse poking out of the water, I'm in the wild. With my silent sentry friends on the rock, guarding my wild.

photo: Eagle Harbor mouth

Then, one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, the crab vs. crab smackdown.

I saw a dungeness crab that looked funny. Looking closer in about 8 feet of water, I see 3 claws. Now wait, crabs don't have 3 claws. Looking closer I see the dungeness crab has a smaller spider crab on it's back, and is proceeding to try to dismantle the spider crabs belly plates. The spider crab is waving one claw and trying to fight back, but it's not getting much grip on it's larger rival. I think I know how this story ends. Dungeness is winning.

I've rarely seen such a natural fight to the death in nature, and never anything this dramatic. Wow. I have a thought to watch through to the end, but I think it better to leave them to their struggle and swim on.

I'm a mile out from my entry, or more, and I start looking for an exit. There's no place to get out except people's very small yards. The houses have maybe 10 feet between them, so to walk through these yards would be fairly intrusive if anyone's home. I'm not keen on this type of trespass, I don't want to scare or bother anyone. I swim on and keep peeking out looking for a wide yard to duck through.

Finally, the shore starts to turn to a bluff and I can see the walled-off superfund site ahead. The old creosote plant with it's metal beaches (now that's a story for the next swim).

I've got to get out. I choose a small beach with a house that looks deserted. I scoot onto the beach, pull off my fins, gloves and hood (to show a bit of human form to the world). Trying to remove gear, I notice that my hands and feet are cold. OK, numb in fact. I'm officially cold. Using two gnarled claws, I get the gear off and try to walk up the hill. Barely feeling my feet, it's a bit tough to walk. I have to assume there's something down there on the end of my legs. I can barely feel the ground, and only in the middle of my feet. The toes are long gone.

I set my teeth to chattering on purpose, just to test. I've done this before, cold on a mountain. It's my personal test of how cold I am. If I'm cold, the chattering will often continue and be a bit hard to stop. No problem, the teeth chattering stops as soon as I quit forcing it. I'm cold, but no real problem. Except the stumping along issue and the house ahead.

I slip between two houses where there's a bit of a gap, I'm not right next to any windows. Then I see I need to follow a driveway to get up the bluff, so I duck into a driveway, pad up to the street, and I'm good, no alarm raised and I have a decent walk back to the car. Turns out to be a mile in the 45F air, so I don't really warm up walking.

Taking off the wetsuit is a bit hard with two claws, but soon I'm in the car and away to a hot shower.

What to do next time? Tackle the drysuit repair issue, and in the interim maybe wear my shorty wetsuit under the decomposing full wetsuit and get better gloves.

This cold thing is for the invertebrates that don't mind being 50F, me, I don't like it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Swim around Bainbridge in the Kitsap Sun

Here's an article about my Bainbridge swim in the Kitsap Sun, by Tristan Baurick. I think he gets it!

Fall Chills Can't Stop One Man's Underwater Tour Around Bainbridge

By Tristan Baurick
For the Kitsap Sun
Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mark Powell wanted to know Bainbridge better.

So, on a windy fall day, he decided to swim around it.

"I got the idea near the end of summer," said Powell, a 50-year-old who spends much of his day at a desk job. "But I thought I needed to prepare more, have better weather, have better gear, a better swim suit. Then I thought 'what the hell... if I don't start now, I never will."

He made the short drive from his house to Fort Ward State Park in mid-October, slipped on an old windsurfing dry suit and grabbed his goggles to begin the first one-mile leg of a the larger 53-mile trek. Then he hit an awkward snag.

"The damn zipper on my dry suit got stuck," he said. "I stood next to my car, thrashing around trying to pull the zipper shut, and it wasn't moving."

A passer-by came to his rescue.

"Maybe she saw me doing the Hokey-Pokey with the zipper," he said. "Thankfully, she doesn't ask any questions."

Powell didn't want to reveal his ambitious plan in case it dissolved in waters that may prove too cold or in a growing fear about the dangers of swimming alone in murky water.

But once he eased into the 50-degree waves, Powell found that slow, steady movement kept him warm. He also found that the undersea world along his south Bainbridge neighborhood was worth describing in a blog.

"There are fields of sea anemones... carpets of them in some places," he wrote in the Oct. 18 entry of his blog, Swim Around Bainbridge. He also noted seeing "Xanthopleura elegantissima, the green sea anemone of the Pacific Northwest. Beautiful. And a crab scuttles away, threatening me with its claws, the magnificent Cancer magister, Dungeness crab that is just about the best seafood on the planet."

If Powell sounds like he knows his undersea stuff, it's because he does. He used to be a marine researcher, spending much of his time on boats, getting his hands wet. These days, he works as an administrator for the Ocean Conservancy, a Washington D.C. nonprofit. He's largely tied to a desk, a computer and a phone, expressing his love for the sea in policy more than in practice.

"I've been an ocean guy my whole life," he said. "I missed that connection. I was also telecommuting to D.C. and was doing nothing that gave me a local connection."

Believing that other islanders may also long for a greater connection to the water, Powell uses his blog as an open invitation for readers to hop in with him as he explores the island's briny underbelly.

He envisions a fleet of swimmers dogpaddling along with him for all or part of his adventure.

In doing so, Powell hopes others will feel a closer link to the marine environment and, in turn, care more about its welfare.

"Look out at Puget Sound. It looks fine. But below the surface, its in trouble," he said, referring to industrial pollution, declining salmon populations and other ills. "I'm just doing my small part to get under the surface and to bring people with me."

Powell has found that connecting to the water is tough when so few physical connections exist on Bainbridge.

"The big thing I've noticed since I started is how hard it is to get access to the water," said the native of Oregon, where beaches are publicly owned.

With only a handful of waterfront parks and a few dozen road ends, much of the island's shore is dominated by waterfront homes.

Powell sometimes slips through private property to get to the water. He takes his shortcuts as unobtrusively as he can, and tries to minimize his bizarre rubberized ninja appearance.

"I take off the black rubber hood and I hold my fins where people can see them because I know I do look a little creepy," he said.

He thought about trying to call landowners ahead, but, like his whole attitude toward his swim-around-the-island adventure, Powell decided to "just kind of do it."

"I could spend my whole life trying to get permission," he said. "Or I could just go swimming."

On the Web: Track Mark Powells progress as he swims around the island at his blog,

photo credit: Tristan Baurick, for the Kitsap Sun

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day 8: Rockaway Beach

Big swim today, including a real crab vs. crab smackdown, a split drysuit, and a fabulous school of tubesnouts.

The sky was clear, showing a view of the Cascade mountains over Seattle (top left) and Mt. Ranier (top right).

The beautiful sunny sky and fairly clear water made for a nice day of looking around, and I had my first feeling of wide open spaces underwater, just below the sheltered north shore of Blakely Harbor, before pulling around the horn to Rockaway Beach and the swell and lower visibility. I could see 30-40 feet in either direction, and 20 feet down, and it was wild and open in every direction. Fantastic. And that's when I saw the huge school of tubesnouts, little needle-like fish in a swarm near the mixed gravel and sand with thick eelgrass. Very nice ocean here.

The water got colder and so did I, thanks to the split drysuit. There was a bit of wild water, a lot of private beach, and my first scuba divers at the little park on Rockaway Beach (left). Also a bald eagle right over my head (right).

1.46 miles of swim today, that's the rest of Blakely Harbor and most of Rockaway Beach (map below). More later.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day 7: Guest post

Jill Fanning's contribution, after being my first guest swimmer on Day 7, Blakely Harbor. Photo (right) just before getting in the 52F water.

On Nov. 18 I accompanied my son-in-law, Mark Powell, into the waters of Puget Sound as he continued his swim-around-Bainbridge. I am very excited about his explorations below the surface, and I offer here some of my thoughts from the top of the water.

The tide goes in, the tide goes out. Tides keep us honest, keep us mindful of change. Life flows, new waters come, with new meanings.

This water is bright and clear. I love to go bathing in wintertime at high tide. I wade out waist deep and dunk completely under several times. The water washes my spirit, my mind. I emerge from the water slowly, giving thanks to Grandmother Ocean for removing my negative thoughts and feelings.

This water is bright and clean. Sure, it is dirtier than it was 45 years ago when I first met it. There were more orcas and seals then, in the Seattle area. But it is much cleaner than most urban bays, and efforts are underway to improve things. Point source industrial pollution is much reduced, and people are slowly becoming aware of all the plastic bags and pesticides we offer to it.

Precious water, rolling past the islands, filling up the inlets, bringing fishes, boats and flotsam, bringing food to the creatures of the bottom.

Beautiful water, singing on the beaches, rolling all the pebbles, misty in the morning, shining in the sunset, mystery in the darkness.
The tide goes in, the tide goes out, life flows, new waters come again.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Blakely Harbor, day 7

What better comment on floating mid-harbor than the mad laughter of a loon? Is it nutty to be swimming around Bainbridge Island on a cold Puget Sound November? Day 7 had a number of firsts, and here's a first that makes my swim look sedate by comparison.

Today I had my first guest swimmer, my mother in law from Montana, Jill Fanning. You won't believe this (see photo), I walked into the water entirely covered in neoprene rubber and she had nothing but a bathing suit. She's 70 years old and she routinely takes refreshing dips in Puget Sound. It's a cleansing experience for her.

Getting in (left) and Jill hitching a ride out to sea (right) in the water that's feeling cold to me even in my drysuit.

She did get out of the water fairly quickly, leaving me to swim out across Blakely Harbor a quarter mile to my starting point on the far shore. Once I turned west along the south shore of Blakely Harbor, I encountered a light current working against me. Strangely, I was against the current all day, swimming into the harbor along the south shore and then out of the harbor along the north shore. The tide must be spinning a circular pattern, taunting me.

air temp: 50F
water temp: 52F
Nov. 18, 12:30pm cloudy
wind from the north, light
medium tide, falling
visibility 5-15 feet
today's distance: 1.09 mile
total so far: 6.35 miles

today's notables:
common loon

Once again the darkness of the Blakely Harbor south shore, under the trees shaded by hills. With a black mud and sand bottom, not a lot to see. The rains have brought some fine debris into the water, further clouding sight.

I'm moving towards an interesting place, the old Port Blakely millsite. This entire harbor was once a bustling town, now gone sleepy. According to Picture Bainbridge from the Bainbridge Island Historical Society, the Port Blakely mill was known as the largest lumber mill in the world in the 1890s. It ran night and day and employed over 1000 men. The harbor was busy with mill business and a shipyard. Reports say Port Blakely had electricity before the less notable town of Seattle, visible just across the water.

President Rutherford B. Hayes visited the mill and the town of Port Blakely in 1891, and press coverage conveyed the feel of the town:

Port Blakely, the site of the world renowned Port Blakely Mill, is one of the busiest and most thriving towns on the Pacific Coast, and the throb of the ponderous machinery is manifest both day and night. The noise of the whirring wheels, the heavy pulsations of the many engines and the incessant hum of the saws and the planers impress a person...

Now all is ruin, at least these works of men. The deep harbor remains, a few pilings and the concrete bunker that once housed the steam engine that ran the mill. Port Blakely and Blakely Harbor experience nothing more sharp than the call of a loon on a grey day.

north shore of Blakely Harbor, photo credit Islandwood

And we're not even done. Entering the millsite I come to a wall in the harbor with a small inlet to the head of the harbor. It's visible in the map below at the far left end of the harbor. Swimming through the entrance, there's the expected profusion of life where the swift current runs in and out with the tides. Then into the black enclosed harbor to find a small flock of nervous buffleheads.

I have a mind to swim up to the creek mouth, there are few estuaries of note on Bainbridge and this is one. Islandwood, located just upstream, is promoting salmon restoratoin and I'd like to see one. Islandwood is a local institution with outdoor education programs among much more. I float at the creek mouth, hoping beyond hope to scare up an adult coho or chum salmon waiting to motor up the creek and spawn. No such luck, but I count myself as having seen a salmon in my mind's eye. Someday I'll see that here.

Coming out of the millsite and headed towards the harbor mouth, I find oysters galore on the north shore of the harbor. Among the mill ruins and further out, oysters and oysters. One of my favorite ocean animals.

I have to swim out around a floating dock, past my parking place at the Port Blakely park and beyond. Finally, as I'm starting to look for an exit I hear a faint voice. "Where did you come from?" Looking up, there's a friendly woman on the shore above me. I said around the harbor. She didn't see where I came from, then I was just there, surprising her. I ask if I may get out at her house and she is pleased to say yes. My first friendly resident, inviting me to traverse her yard. We talk very briefly, and then I walk on, heading for the car and back to work. A nice lunch break of barely over an hour.

I found the underwater path to somewhere else today, that plunging into the water that carries me far away. It was a good swim.

View Larger Map

Next, around a point and back to the more exposed shoreline.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Day 7: Blakely Harbor

Out in the middle of Blakely Harbor I heard someone laughing at me. It was a loon, about 100 feet away. I paused in the greenish brown murk, feeling the cold, and paddled quietly to about 50 feet before it dove underwater. I had a moment to feel the strangeness of floating in the middle of nowhere before plunging ahead.

Cloudy, dark, cool, grey water like a mirror. Very Puget Sound.

1.09 mile today, plus 0.23 mile "starting" swim across the open water of Blakely Harbor to get from my parking place to my starting point.

I had an interesting tour around about half of Blakely Harbor, including the old Port Blakely mill site, once a thriving metropolis but now totally abandoned and a park. Also an excursion up to a creek mouth.

Visibility was only 5-10 feet with a lot of fine debris, but the oyster beds were fantastic! More later, including my first guest swimmer. You won't believe the story.

Next swim, out of Blakely Harbor and around the horn to Rockaway Beach.

View Larger Map

Friday, November 14, 2008

Day 6, Blakely Harbor

Blakely Harbor, close up (left) and wide angle (right)

Day 6, and I've been uncovered. Tristan Baurick, a reporter for the Kitsap Sun, found me and asked to talk. He came with me to my entry point today (photos above), we talked a bit, he took a few pictures, and then he watched me swim away from the beach.

I'm also getting some interest from potential guest swimmers. tres arboles said yes, we only need to set a time, but now my wife wants to be first and her mother wants to take a ceremonial dip in just her bathing suit as part of the next swim. Then a CA friend wants to fly up and join a leg or two. Wow, this is starting to take off. Will it be more fun or too much trouble to coordinate? So long as everyone is flexible, it should be fine.

I head into Blakely Harbor, expecting to find quiet water. It's been raining and windy for several days, but today is mostly sunny and almost calm.

Surprise, today there is an actual north swell running about 1 foot. That's unusual for a fairly calm day in Puget Sound. The water isn't quite as clear as I expected with the recent calm.

A few surprises today...a sea lion swam by the beach just as I was about to get in, I saw a kingfisher on a branch over the water, and I ended up swimming much farther from shore for part of the day since the bottom slope was very gradual in the sandy part of the harbor.

air temp: 49F
water temp: 52F
Nov. 13, noon, mostly sunny
wind from the northeast at 5mph
medium tide, slack
visibility 5-15 feet
slight swell from the north
today's distance: 0.93 mile
total so far: 5.26 miles

today's notables:
basket star
California sea lion

This is about 10% of the way around Bainbridge Island, and most of the way around the island's southern peninsula where I live. Things will get more and more unfamiliar from now on.

View Larger Map

The ocean bottom where I get in is mostly gravel with bits of bedrock and sandy patches. The water feels cold starting out, as usual. The water is also fairly dark, with the sun low in the sky (November at this high latitude) the hills and trees shade most of this north-facing shore. It's a bit hard to see, especially in a few places where there's a bit of murk in the water.

The harbor has more sand than the exposed coastline, including broad expanses of clean sand with little ripples formed by wave action. Patches of eelgrass are scattered around, and there are only a few obvious surface-dwelling animals. The action in these sand flats is mostly under the surface. Holes of different shapes and sizes are everywhere, and occasionally a stream of bubbles comes streaming up out of a hole in the sand.

After getting out, I notice a sign on the road for a beach replenishment project, a landowner wants to put sand on the beach, either to protect property or make a nice place to enjoy the shore. I wonder if they know that most of their sand is where I am, and that pumping sand onto the beach will end up replenishing the ocean bottom in a few short years? Maybe they don't care, and they'll just do it again in a few years.

I'm out of time and have to get out and go back to work, but the beach is a bit steep. After I haul out, there's a short hike up to the road, and my breath is steaming in the cold air. Later, back at my car, my whole body starts steaming after I peel off my drysuit. It's not really dry in this suit, enough water gets in and gets warm to produce steam when I peel off the suit.

Now I have to hurry back to my office and join a meeting, this longish lunch hour has got to end. I've only spent an hour and a half away and I got in a very nice swim!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Day 5: Restoration Point

Big swim today, I want to get all the way around Restoration Point, to get past the Country Club and the signs warning me away. At least they don't own the water and a person can swim by, but it'll take at least a mile to get past the private land.

View Larger Map

blue markers show entry and exit points, click for notes

There's some wild water here, as my wife calls it. Around the point there is what passes for swells in Puget Sound, and a more exposed feeling. Also a buoy where sea lions haul out and rest. Not exactly open ocean, but then I probably wouldn't be swimming 53 miles in the open ocean.

Nice Seattle view, the picture at right is looking east past the Country Club dock to Seattle, with a telephoto to bring Seattle closer.

I have some time today, a chance to swim as far as I want. We'll see how far that is.
The picture at left is a view looking north towards the entrance to Puget Sound.

Air temp: 55F
Water temp: 52F
Nov. 9, 11am, cloudy
wind from the SE at 5mph
medium tide, rising
visibility 5-25 feet
Today's distance: 1.44 mile
Total so far: 4.33 miles

Today's creatures of note:
dungeness crabs (big)
giant barnacle (fields of these big guys)
And I found some of my favorite creatures today, OYSTERS! I brought home my first souveniers, two oyster shells. Well, 3 really but two are fused together. An introduced species from Japan, and very good to eat raw!!

I drive out Country Club Road, turn off Upper Farms, and park where it turns into Bean's Bight Road. Narrow, fairly private, not many places to park. I find a spot near a big garage, and quickly sneak through an open spot onto the golf course and skulk down towards the water.

To make these quick entries I put on my drysuit at home, slip on my booties as I get out of the car and just grab my mask, fins, snorkel, hood and gloves and trot down to the water. Then, I get partway in before stopping to put on the rest of my gear. I figure I'll just plunge in if anyone challenges me, and see if they bother coming in after me to give me a hard time. I've already pictured sitting there in the water getting yelled at, then waving and swimming away. Is this picture my imagination, or will I actually make entries like that?

Will it be easier or harder if people start paying attention to me? I might get some encouragement. But another possibility is that I might get people watching out for me and trying to send me away because they don't like what I'm doing.

I was worried about the golf course entry, but it doesn't matter, I'm in cleanly and swimming out towards Restoration Point.

The bottom is fairly typical of what I've seen so far, sandy patches mixed with bedrock and gravel. The bedrock tends to stick up here, instead of being flat shelves. Instead, it rises up in the form of rocky ribs between patches of gravel or sand. A bit of eelgrass and geoduck flats, and then the bottom gets rockier as I approach the point.

Restoration Point was named by Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy when he anchored here in 1792, after the English Restoration which restored the monarchy in the late 1600s. So my swim relates to King Charles II of England. Huh.

Right off the point, in open Puget Sound, two sea lions are sitting on the red buoy. On the bottom at the point, there are big patches of shell debris, broken shells from barnacles, clams and oysters. It's worth exploring a bit, even though I don't want to get too close to the sea lions. I've been yelled at and harassed by a sea lion years ago, and I don't want to repeat that experience.

On the north side of the point, the bottom drops off a bit more steeply in some places and there's more vertical relief. I'll be swimming in 4 feet of water and see the bottom drop away to 15 feet. This is different, off Fort Ward and South Beach the bottom was fairly flat.

I swim under the Country Club dock, which is about a mile from today's entry, I think. A little further on, I get a few lucky sparkles of sunshine and some beautiful underwater coves that are little sandy patches surrounded by rock walls. One of these is fabulous, with calm, clear water maybe 20 feet deep, bright white sand, and great visibility. I can see the bottom clearly. Enjoying the view, I swim slowly along and feel like I really don't want to get out. I'm a little tired and my hands and feet are a bit cold so I decide to pull out on a convenient rock.

From here, I'll enter Blakely Harbor with my next swim. The harbor is to the left in the picture which is northwest. The kitchen sink in the photo is sitting on today's exit rock.

After a little scramble up the shore I find myself right at the intersection of Country Club Rd and Upper Farms, probably only a half mile from my car. A mile and a half swim could turn into a long walk, so I'm happy to have this nice cross peninsula road that isn't even private.

When I get back to my car, a dog comes out and I worry that I'm found out. A minute later, a man on a bike comes out of the same sneak I used to get down to the water through the golf course. He says hi and is perfectly nice. This is my first encounter at a sneaky entry point, and he doesn't care. It's a nice end to a great swim.