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


Brian Zimmer said...

I just read the article in the Saturday paper and commend you on your endeavor -- best of luck! I'll be keeping my eyes open for movement in the water.

BTW, I love the maps -- I'm a mapper too.

Mark Powell said...

Hi Brian, thanks for the comment. I'll try to slip by quietly, so I don't know how visible I'll be. Let me know when I get close to your area.

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