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.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Day 4: Bean's Bight

Size matters, and today's swim is proof that things are BIG and a bit odd in Puget Sound.

Today I pulled around the corner and came in sight of downtown Seattle, with the Space Needle and downtown skyscrapers. Yeah, the Space Needle is that Jetsons-looking tower built for the 1963 World's Fair in Seattle. The biggest tower around that looks like it was designed by a kid. A strange sight from half underwater. It was cold, the coast was deserted, although I did get my first people waving and hollering at me from shore, a couple of kids standing on their beach.

And I found myself turning into The Creature Aquatic, peering out of the glassy-smooth water with just my eyes showing, looking at the private shore. I've had enough time in the water this month to feel like I belong underwater, and to feel strange and a bit sad when it was time to climb out. I wanted to keep going but duty called, this was just a short weekday excursion with an ending time.

Today was colder, winter is coming. I switched back to the drysuit, and good thing I did.

Bean's Bight cast of characters:

geoducks (many, HUGE clam) largest burrowing clam in the world. Pronounced gooey duck (but it's not gooey and it's not a duck!)
moon snail and moon snail shells (BIG snail) Polinices lewisii, largest moon snail in the world
sunflower starfish (20 arms, BIG nearly 1 meter)
dungeness crabs (lots)

Not seen today, but also big in Puget Sound:
The Giant Pacific Octopus, reaching perhaps 25 feet across and 400 pounds, the largest octopus in the world.
The giant Pacific Seahorse, up to a foot tall and perhaps the largest seahorse on earth.

Air temp: 51F
Water temp: 53F
Nov. 5, 3pm, cloudy
Medium tide, rising
Visibility 10-20 feet
Today's distance: 0.82 mile
Total so far: 2.89 miles

I got in near the east end of South Beach, heading past the privately owned area with the gate and path. I'll swim past the gate and have to walk back through in my dive gear to reach my car, hope that works out OK.

The water is perfect glass, sky mostly cloudy but brilliant swimming water. Visibility is good, up to 20 feet and the feeling of the swim is magnificent.

The coming winter has brought a chill, buoys say the water hasn't cooled much but it feels colder. The air is colder too, and it's a jolt to slip gently underwater. My face hurts a bit, but the draw of the clear view is strong. In just a few strokes I'm feeling alive and at home.

This photo shows the shore, the water, and in the distance Mt. Ranier (you can't really see it in the picture, with most of the mountain hidden in the clouds. It's huge when it's out, looming over the water and covered with snow.

At the end of South Beach, there is more of the same bedrock shelves, with gravel patches and scattered boulders. Moving along, sandy patches start to appear and my first real sand flats with lots of eelgrass. I know what's coming soon, and sure enough.....GEODUCKS!

It's pronounced gooey-ducks, even though they're not gooey and not ducks.

These clams are some of the most amazing animals I've ever seen. The biggest burrowing clam on earth, with a shell size up to nearly one foot, and a siphon so huge it can't be pulled inside the shell. Geoducks can live up to 100 years, and sit 3 feet under the surface of the sand, with that huge siphon reaching up into the water.

After the fields of geoducks, a magnificent moon snail that reminds me of nothing but a big racing sailboat with a huge spinnaker unfurled. I dive down 12 feet and pick up the moon snail just to hold it. The moon snail's shell is big, and it takes a while to duck back inside when it's all ballooned out and crawling around on the sand.

The eelgrass and sand flats say "barracuda" to me, so I know I must have forgotten the cold, since I'm thinking of the barracuda haunts found in much warmer waters.

View Larger Map

click blue labels for notes on progress

I finally prowl the shoreline and slip out of the water where I can't see any's the damn golf course. I've heard of this place but never seen it, you can't see it from the road. It's a silly little golf course with sand "greens" and thankfully it's deserted today. I slink along the hedgerow of brambles, and wander back and forth a bit until I find a trail through the backyards and fences to Bean's Bight Road. Then it's just about a mile walk back to my car. But there seem to be people everywhere, and some gardeners smile at me, and one lady on the phone in her living room glares when I open the one gate I need to pass and slide by the path just outsider her fenced yard, where the gardener told me last week that it was probably ok to pass through. Then I'm back to my car without a hassle.

Here's the cormorants on the South Beach pilings again, this time with two herons off to the left, taking up a bit more room than the otherwise evenly spaced coromorants.

Next swim, around the southeast point and up the east side to Blakeley Harbor. That should be fun.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Day 3: South Beach

south beach looking east (left)

south beach looking south (right)

Not a great swim overall, murky water with low visibility. I'll wait for better water before getting in again. Still fun to get wet and I did see some nice crabs and a few fish. Got past the 2 mile mark, so I've seen quite a bit of the wet underside of Bainbridge Island now. I'll be back for more when the water clears. Plenty of winter days have very clear water, so it shouldn't be too long.

View Larger Map
Click blue markers for labels showing entry and exit points for day 3 (and other days)

dungeness crabs (lots)
many colors of starfish
fields of anthopleura

Air temp: 58 F
Water temp: 53F
Nov. 1, 11am, mostly sunny (lucky, rain had been falling for 2 days)
High tide and falling
South wind, 10 mph
Visibility 2-10 feet
Today's distance: 0.54 mile
Total so far: 2.07 miles

Today started badly, the zipper on my wetsuit failed. I switched to my wetsuit because it's hard to move my arms in my drysuit, but the wetsuit is OLD. Just as I was ready to get in the water, the zipper popped open, useless. I took off the wetsuit and got the zipper back together and got in.

To find...the onshore wind had turned the water into MURK. I can barely see my hand at the end of my arm. Should I get out of the water? No, I'll swim along the shore a bit and see what happens. Again, I'm about to give up when I see darkness down below, the bottom. It's barely detectable in about 10 feet of water, so I turn parallel to shore to swim a bit and see if it gets a little better and becomes worth swimming.

After about 50 feet, I get away from the sandy bottom and the water clears. It's worth going on since I can see. With the old wetsuit, I'm getting a lot more water inside my suit, and it's a bit cold. Hmmm...maybe too cold. I swim vigorously for a minute or so to warm up and I think it'll be ok.

I'm swimming along South Beach, and approaching Toe Jam Hill Road. From here, the access is through private land. I'm not sure where I'll find a place to get out without traipsing through someone's yard.

The ocean here is similar to the last two swims, boulders and gravel mostly, with some bedrock shelves and some sandy patches. Fields of anemones, and lots of dungeness crab, mostly just under the legal size (hmmm...wonder why?).

As I swim under a large private dock, I expect to see swarms of fish. Nothing, no fish and not much on the pilings even. Since it's high tide, I'm swimming over areas that are barely underwater during low tide. Our tides can be 10-12 feet, so maybe things are sparse because I can't see the bottom in deeper water, below the low tide line.

I pass through some murky areas, and I can see boulder tops sticking above the surface, with some waves breaking on them. They're tiny waves, so no worries about getting pounded, but I don't want to swim into a boulder without seeing it. I kick slowly, with one hand out in front of my face where the visibility is really bad.

Soon, I decide I'm missing too much and it's not even fun to swim through the murk, and decide to pull out. Looking for a good exit, there's nothing but houses and yards. I choose a staircase between two houses, duck between them and onto South Beach Road, and I'm fine. Nobody visible at either house.

I've learned that I won't do much swimming during an onshore wind with whitecaps, at least not where there's some sandy bottom. The wind makes the water too murky and it's just a swim, with no chance to see the ocean bottom.

Next swim takes me to Bean's Bight Road, and the real private land, with signs warning people off. I'll get in where I got out, and then swim off into the private areas and see what I find for exits.

Private beach land is truly private here in Washington, people can own the shoreline and even the ocean bottom. And they tend to feel righteous about it sometimes. This exclusive area probably has some people who like their privacy, I hear it's old money and longtime family-owned property, so we'll see.

photo: fall on Bainbridge