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.

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