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.

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Iguana said...

Do those doubled up wet suites really keep your warm?

Do they limit your movement? (I find wearing one for surfing in the summer is pretty restrictive).

Are they 4.3 thickness?

I'm curious because I would love to do some winter surfing down at West Point, but I don't think my single 4.3 wet suite is enough this time of year.

Dr. Dave said...

Happy New Year from Shilshole Bay Boy (SBB), who has snorkeled an average 110 times per year since 1992, mostly on the west side of the Sound -- currently on #1,913 --
an unemployed PhD in Lit. from UW;
available for collab. & writing projects: 206-283-4701.

"Happy your mingled atoms, O waters smooth and deep! / I am alone...(and) If the gods, the echoes, and the waves, / if so many sighs consent to solitude: / Alone...Yet still I am he who draws near to himself." -- Paul Valery, Charmes

"And in the final analysis, a good swim in the sea, the twisting body and the undulation of water around it, and a purely idle meditation -- this shows the whole of man, pure activity." -- Paul Valery, Teste, 87.

Jean said...

Wow, I had never heard of moon snails before. They sound huge! It'd be great to get the chance to see some in person sometime, but until then, online photos and your description will have to do.