Saturday, February 28, 2009

Day 18: Rolling Bay

The saddest shoreline I've yet seen on Bainbridge has to be Rolling Bay. It's the scene of a devastating mudslide that took the lives of 4 people, a couple and their two young children, 3 months and 2 years old.

Right: photograph of the slide by Teresa Tamura,
The Seattle Times, as published in The Atlantic.

This slide is not really an ocean event, but I must bring it up. Getting in and out of the water here brought me a palpable feeling of despair. The slide is cleaned up, but there are about 6 abandoned houses below the most dangersous area and there is extensive work going on in an attempt to stabilize the slopes above nearby houses that remain occupied. According to a geologist quoted in the Atlantic piece, these slopes want to slide again and eventually they will.

The abandoned houses (condemned) feel awful, I saw a rusting child's bike and a moldy refrigerator through a broken doorway as I walked by. I felt an urge to hurry past the scary slopes; they look menacing even though the weather was dry.

Shoreline living here is so attractive that people accept the risk and occasionally pay the ultimate price. I understand the attraction to the ocean, and maybe this is an ocean event. This place is unbearably sad even now, 12 years later. I do not want to live nearby.

It's hard to get in the 44 degree water after last swimming in tropical Mexico, with water at 80 degrees. Oh well, here we go.

The water is glassy-calm and it's fun to wander the sand flats. The action here is under the surface, and I finally get a good picture of geoduck chimneys. (Oops, looks like these are piddocks, I stand corrected--see comments). Pictured here are 9 large animals living within about one square foot or a bit more. The size of the siphons says there's a lot of metabolism happening, and some of these clams could be several decades old, or more.

Mixed in are a few northern feather duster worms. Further north they show up in big clumps. I've only seen a scattered few of these so far. They have a strange almost-black color to their gills reaching out of their tubes. Brush by too close and whoop-they're gone hidden safely away inside their tubes. See photo at right for a clump of feather duster worms.

air temp: 47F
water temp: 44F
Feb 27, 2pm, mostly sunny
wind calm
low tide, rising
visibility 15-20 feet
today's distance: 1.25mile
total so far: 19.43 miles

today's notables:
geoducks and piddocks (another clam)
northern feather duster worm
sand dollars
huge sand flats

The day starts with a nice treat, I park at Brackenwood where I'll be getting out and start hoofing it to Gertie Johnson Rd where I'll get in, over a mile away on the roads. I've made it about halfway and a white minivan pulls up, asks if I need a ride. It turns out to be Randy, a guy I know from playing basketball. He's also a windsurfer and knows that a person walking in a wetsuit could use a ride. Thanks Randy!

I get in the water below the abandoned houses of Rolling Bay Walk (photo at right) and swim north. These houses are truly SQUEEZED between the water and the steep hill above. At high tide, the water level is partway up the concrete wall--it has barnacles on it. And there is no road above. When they were occupied, the access was the flat area at the top of the same concrete wall. It's barely wide enough for a car at the far end, and it was used as a driveway leading to a few garages. Wow.

This is not tropical Mexico, the water is C-O-L-D and the icy fingers and ice cream headache are not fun. But the miracle of being underwater skips right past the chill and brings me back into Puget Sound's embrace.

It's good to get back into my home waters. There's something about the familiar sights and feels that is rewarding beyond what I expect, even as I do it again and again. The glassy water and incredible Bainbridge shorelines are special. Here's a photo (left) of the fantastic glassy soft water with Mt. Baker in the distance beyond the open water that leads to Canada.

Sand flats, sand flats, sand flats, and eelgrass. The sand flats go on forever, just out of my reach as I swim since this is a fairly low tide. The current is running against me and progress is slow all day. It feels like I'm barely moving even while I'm working hard. To float is to move backwards. I'll have to pay more attention to the tidal currents as I approach and move into Agate Passage where the currents can push a slow boat backwards on a strong ebb or flood. And all of that in a narrow 800-900 foot wide funnel.

The usual suspects are here, dungeness crabs, vast beds of eelgrass, a few moon snails. No fish today. These pictures of the crab and sand dollars show the magical light that was sparkling on the bottom. By the end of the swim the water was rippling just a touch from a vaporous breeze, and there were micro sand dunes on the bottom from past wave action.

The combination produced the slightly rainbow hued sparkling waves of light visible in both pictures.

The swim is uphill all the way. I try further out, closer to shore, nothing helps. The flats are endless, here's all the sand that people want on their beaches. Nearing the north end of the swim, there are some rocky patches and boulders with huge barnacles. I get out at Brackenwood. I can probably stretch out the next swim and make Fay Bainbridge State Park (about a mile and half). That marks the northeast corner of the island, and I started on the southwest corner.

I've been expecting a 53 mile swim. According to the city, that's the amount of shoreline we have on Bainbridge Island. But my google mapping says my swim may be more like the low forties. Not sure why the difference, but if I'm right I could be approaching the halfway point.

View Larger Map
click map or link to enlarge, click blue markers for notes on beginning and end of each swim.


xpend83 said...

Mark, great to hear you're back in the water. I've two comments:
1) I'm not sure why your shoreline distance measurement is different from the city's, but I have a guess. Shorelines are essentially infinitely complex -- so the more you smooth them when measuring, the shorter they get. I suspect you're doing significant smoothing as you measure on the map.

2) I don't see any geoducks in your picture of clams. Chances are those are piddocks. Geoducks have no separation between the two siphons, their two siphons are about the same size, and they are smooth inside with no protuberances.

REEF ( offers free classes on identifying local fish and invertebrates. Janna Nichols can tell you who is teaching a class near you. I won't put her email here so she doesn't get inundated with spam, but if you email me I'll give it to you.

John F. Williams

Mark Powell said...

This is the second comment (one private) that said piddocks, not geoducks. My bad, I'm no expert on these things.

Lots in Samara Costa Rica said...
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