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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Swim around Akumal

Akumal is a lovely coastal town in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, south of Cancun. I spent 11 days there on vacation, and explored the area's shallow reefs.

Here's a view from above water, looking out to Half Moon Bay from the Yool Caanal condo (right).

This area has a lot of shallow coral reefs, easily accessible from shore. The reefs block most of the waves and make for very sheltered swimming inside the reefs. Outside the reefs the waves can be bigger although the area is quite safe under normal wave conditions. Yal-ku lagoon is a short walk from yool caanal, and provides completely protected conditions, very clear water, and some very easy fish watching.

The conditions were great, air temp around 75-85 most of the time and water temp around 78-80 allowing me to swim for over an hour without a wetsuit and not get the slightest bit cold (in February!). In afternoons at low tide, the shallow rocky flats near shore heated up to the high 80s (felt like a warm bath even to kids).

I swam all over Half Moon Bay, the northern part of Akumal Bay, and all of Yal-ku lagoon (see map below, click to enlarge and zoom). I spent most of my time cruising Half Moon Bay going over the sand flats, along the inner margin of the reefs, through channels to the outer reef margin and back and forth along the outer edge of the reefs. My favorite spots were the outer reefs of Half Moon Bay where the most living coral is present and where the depth dropped off to 15-20 feet. The only negative was a bit more surge.

View Larger Map

The inner part of Half Moon Bay is 2-10 feet deep. The blue markers on the map identify our condo and my 3 primary swimming areas, Half Moon Bay is the center with 3 markers. The inner flats are very easy for kids (with water shoes), they're mostly rocky flats and beginners can practice snorkeling in water where they can easily stand up if they want because of water in a mask or snorkel, or because something looks a bit scary. My kids got comfortable enough to enjoy watching a large barracuda swim with the sardines in the warm shallow water just feet from shore.

I spent hours each day in the water, and was lucky enough to see turtles and loads of fish and invertebrates. I got pictures of maybe half of the interesting things I saw, posted below. The corals are not in great shape, but there is quite a bit of living coral, especially on the outer edge of the reef zone. Also lots of new corals just sprouting.

My kids (ages 7 and 4) learned ocean snorkeling here, and got to see turtles and lots of fish on their first coral reefs. It took a bit of encouragement but the conditions were safe and it was amazing to hear their squeals of delight while underwater. They now know that the real ocean has real fish and animals, and they can go out and find sea turtles underwater. Go kids!

Here's a beach scene from the area, featuring the supremely hot Mrs. Swim Around Bainbridge (left).

Here's the number 1 boo as she's snorkeling in the ocean for the first time at age 7 and seeing coral reefs, fish, a turtle, etc (right).

Here's boo number 2 learning to snorkel at age 4 (right), and looking at what he called "inifinity fish" after swimming through vast schools of sardines (left).

I'm so impressed to see these two little boos snorkeling in the real ocean. A dive instructor from Bainbridge's Exotic Aquatics said that kids this young can learn, and these two are definitely not too young.

They did some swimming and I did some towing and we got out to look at coral reefs despite a few bouncy waves now and then, sponges that looked like they were sending creepy fingers up to grab little toes, and some big scary-looking fish like barracuda and greater amberjack.

Here's a small sample of what we saw underwater (hope the IDs are right). Click photos to enlarge.

french grunts and a doctorfish

stoplight parrotfish terminal coloration

stoplight parrotfish initial coloration

sharp-tailed eel

reef squid

hawksbill turtle

southern stingray

hound needlefish (aka houndfish, crocodile needlefish, mexican needlefish)

caribbean trumpetfish

black grouper

spotted trunkfish

sergeant majors

french angelfish

juvenile blue tang

adult blue tangs

foureye butterflyfish

horse-eye jacks

sailors choice grunts

peacock founder (note the camouflage)

and here's a sighting of the rare Mexican blogfish

Hasta la vista, Akumal.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bainbridge underwater on TV and video

See Puget Sound like never before, and learn about the world-class ocean diving available right off the beaches of the Seattle area. And while you're having fun, learn about what makes our ocean so special.

All brought to you by Still Hope Productions with an underwater TV show, and a travelling event that will be on Bainbridge at Islandwood Feb 1, 2009 and REI in Seattle April 2, 2009, 7-9 pm. Check the Still Hope website as more events will be added.

Or if you can't make any of that, you can buy an amazing DVD, I have a copy of Return of the Plankton, it's unbelievable and I'll be buying it as a gift for friends.

Did you know that there are colorful fish and invertebrates in Puget Sound that rival tropical reefs for beauty? Get a DVD and see for yourself!

image: low-res sample from