Evergreen Sailing Part Two

In the late 1980s Evergreen embarked on an additional project, restoring a 44’ Luders Yawl named the Resolute, which along with a sister ship named Flirt was purchased for a dollar in a government auction. They were part of a fleet of a dozen matching boats that served as training vessels at the Annapolis Naval Academy in the years during and following WWII.

Flirt was re-sold and RScreen Shot 2020-07-18 at 8.58.28 PM.jpegesolute spent a few years under a shed in the maintenance yard at Evergreen having some frames and decking replaced. For the first time an engine was installed, a 30 horsepower Perkins. The work was supervised by Don Fassett, a cantankerous, retired naval engineer and machinist. Don was full of truisms like “don’t hit it harder get a bigger hammer” or “a little putty and little paint will make the old girl what she ain’t” or more succinctly “it says here” which could serve as justification for anything under the sun. The original Kilroy, Don could fix an aircraft carrier at sea.

IMG_8807Don also owned a 40 foot William Garden designed sloop named Swirl II that he added to the fleet. Swirl II was not certified for commercial use so the number of paying passengers was limited to six

The Resolute, certified to carry 13 paying passengers, was launched and joined the fleet in early 1990. With the addition of the Resolute, the total number students for day trips now stood at 31 — 12 for the Seawulff, 13 for the Resolute and 6 for Swirl II.

Summer excursions were now capable of comfortably carrying 18 paying passengers. By charging each passenger $250 for a week long trip we were able to pay captains and boats more than $100 per day each. Don’s cut including Swirl II came to $1200 per week.

Leisure Education paid the full amount to me, the expectation being that I would then donate half back to the Evergreen Foundation which would disburse payments for the boats’ maintenance. For three consecutive years the donation was enough to put me into the President’s Club and buy me a dinner with Joe Olander, the College President. Then someone noticed that not only did I donate nothing, I took half. Henceforth the school’s half was taken up front.

The Resolute came with an impressive pedigree, things like winning the Bermuda Yacht Race. She had been sailed by at least two presidents, JFK and Jimmy Carter. Rumor had it that Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe spent the night aboard in San Diego where the boat was kept for several years.

We entered the Resolute in a couple of races and kept pace with the fastest modern boats. We also scheduled weekend Leisure Ed classes around boat shows and other events in Seattle and Port Townsend where we handed out flyers for the upcoming summer trips.

Whatever else we were doing, we inevitably ended up teaching sailing as well. Having grown up sailing on my father’s boats I remember little of the learning process and am a terrible sailing instructor. I assume people know things they don’t and have little patience.

Don’s approach was simple: “Keep yourself in the boat. Keep the boat in the water. Keep the water out of the boat.” He was quick to remind people of things like the “left handed rule of thumb”. If you hold a line in your left hand so that it’s coming out from under your thumb and coil it with your right hand it will naturally coil clockwise like it should. If you pull the line to an arm’s length each time, each coil will be six feet in length. Counting the number of coils and multiplying by six gives you the total length. And so on. Hopefully some students learned a thing or two. Some people instinctively have a feel for it. Some people can take the wheel and immediately find the groove. And some people would never find it in a million years.

In 1990-91 Fred Tabbutt put together a year long program called Geology and Chemistry of Pollution. We went out once a week, ultimately collecting over 250 benthic samples and analyzing them for lead, cadmium, copper and some organic compounds. It was advanced work for an undergraduate undertaking. Students learned everything from basic chemistry to the operation of a gas chromatograph. Students learned everything from basic chemistry to the operation of a gas chromatograph. They did so with great enthusiasm, having experienced the whole process from gathering the samples to presenting the results.

Fred had a doctorate in chemistry from Harvard University and was teaching chemistry at Reed College prior to coming to Evergreen as one of the initial faculty. While sailing to or from sampling sites Fred would go through work books solving equations. What’s torture for some is meditation for others.

We did day trips for Upward Bound, a non-profit getting inner city kids out of Tacoma into nature. On one trip the wind was flat when we left the dock. We put the sails up and motored out into Budd Inlet. A high school age girl was sitting on the aft cabin next to me. A very slight wind filled the sails and the boat healed half a degree. I noticed her finger nails dig into the teak as she spoke. “Why’s this muthafucka leanin?'”

I replied “This muthafucka’s supposed to lean”. I went on to explain the basic principals and realized I had everyone’s complete attention. We sailed along in the gentle wind and I told stories all afternoon.

We did overnight trips through Olympia Parks and Recreation. On one of these a young man spent the entire weekend on the bow, watching the bow wake. When departing he stated “This has been the best experience of my life”. We taught a little sailing to those interested in learning. The life changing benefits may have been the invisible ones.

During summers we continued to offer Leisure Ed trips in British Columbia for the general public. A few academic programs also ventured north. On one of these trips we were entering the US through Blaine with three boats and 22 students. I picked up a phone at the head of the dock.

“Hi we’d like to enter the US. I’m skippering the Seawulff on an educational trip for The Evergreen State College.”

“Get back aboard the boat. Don’t allow anyone off. We’re watching you. We’ll be down in a minute.”

Three agents soon appeared at the head of the dock, accompanied by a medium sized black dog. First they had everyone line up on the dock with their personal belongings. The dog sniffed her way down the line. The agents pulled everything out of every cupboard, lifted up all the floorboards and made a general mess of all three boats. The dog went through everything. As they headed up the dock one agent could be overheard. “Must have been a false tip”.

In June of 1992 I got wind of a guest faculty hire named Gerardo Chin Leo. Although hired to teach Spanish, Gerardo had a PhD in oceanography., I found him in his office and talked him into doing an August class in Oceanography. We’d study primary production (Desolation Sound), a fjord (Princess Louisa Inlet), and estuary (the Fraser River) and marine environments (Juan de Fuca). We’d practice and learn chemistry, biology and ecology. We cleared it easily with the deans. I would skipper the Seawulff. Swirl II would be skippered by Don Fassett. The Resolute would be skippered by Sean Bethune, an acquaintance who grew up sailing with his parents and sister in the South Pacific.

On August 1st, 1992 we departed Olympia at 9:15 in zero wind under power. At 10:15 we passed Dofelmeyer Point and made our way through Dana’s Passage. We saw Bonepartes Gulls, a Marbled Murlette and seals. At 12:30 they passed Mcniel Island Penitentiary. At 2:30 we cleared the narrows. At 4:00 we were in Colvos Passage. At 6:00 we were sailing in 10 knot winds off Seattle. At 8:15 they rafted up to swirl, anchored off the north end of Bainbridge Island.

We got underway at 6:16 on August 2nd and spent the morning dodging freighters. We passed Point Wilson at noon under power and began the journey across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There was some question about the identity of a bird we were seeing, either an immature common murre or a marbled murrlette. San Juan Island slowly came into view through the haze ahead. Buff colored grassy slopes.

We passed through a pod of orcas. One passed underneath and surfaced with a loud “woosh” 50 feet away. Two black zodiacs and assorted other boats were pursuing them. We also saw Dalls Porpoises and Harbor Porpoises.

Although a seemingly impossible distance, we had learned how to make the run from Bainbridge Island to Bedwell Harbour Canada in one day. We’d ride the outgoing tide past Point Wilson, cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and ride the incoming tide up Haro Strait. We arrived at Haro Strait at 3:00 PM a little later than we had hoped. By 7:00 the tide had changed and we pulled the Seawulff into Ried Harbor and anchored, Swirl and Resolute rafted alongside.

On August 3rd they departed Ried Harbor at 06:30 AM. At 08:30 we cleared Canadian Customs in Bedwell Harbor. At 9:15 we were underway again. Outside Bedwell Harbour we again saw a couple of Harbor Porpoises and numerous seals. At noon we were motoring through Trincomali Passage. At 15:30 we passed tiny Tree Island to port with its small protected beach, picnic table and shade umbrella. At 17:15 we ran through Dodd Narrows with a strong current.

At 7:00 the three boats rafted together at the public dock in Nanaimo. I pitched my tent on the after deck and crawled in and tried to get warm. I had forgotten my sleeping bag. I spent a miserable night trying to sleep rolled up in a single blanket that I borrowed from Don, Sarah, one of the students and I went to a couple of thrift shops, finding bedding and other things.

On August 4th we moved to the fuel dock and took on fuel. At 11:40 we were underway again sailing in winds of 10 to 15 knots from the southwest. The Resolute in the hands of a master jockey like Sean was marching all over the Straight of Georgia. She ran east toward Vancouver then back west across Seawulff’s stern, passing on a broad reach. They then launched the spinnaker and were gone from sight in no time.

At 7:30 we anchored in Blind Bay in a hole behind Fox Island. At 11:00 some of us were still awake talking in the cockpit. We noticed glowing patterns in the water, around the anchor chain and trailing fish. Gerardo joked. “OK. Everyone overboard to explore the naked truth of bioluminescence.” But it turned out to be no joke. We swam in water warmed by granite during the day, diving and swimming around and under the boats. Our hands, arms and legs left glowing phosphorescent tracers in the water. It was an underwater, surrealistic, psychedelic wonderland.

We pulled anchor at 07:45 and at 08:30 they were silting in Malaspina Strait in 15 to 20 knot winds from the south. At 3:00 they passed Lund to starboard. At 4:00 we passed Sarah Point, named after George Vancouver’s daughter Sarah, because of its stunning beauty. Sarah sat on the bow laughing. It was her birthday. At 5:00 the boats rafted to Swirl II, at anchor in Tenidos. All went ashore to Unwin Lake. Sarah and I bathed in pool at the base of a small waterfall near the outfall of the lake.

It rained hard during the night. On August 6th I awoke at 05:00 in a soaking wet bed. Water had soaked in under the foam mat. At 06:00 I emerged to a dismal scene. The crew had stretched the tarp over the cockpit and made some coffee. Windows and hatches, dry from the summer weather, had all leaked. Misery prevailed.

By noon the rain stopped. The sun peeped out here and there, now and then. We hung bedding, towels and other items throughout the rigging of the three boats where everything readily dried. I went ashore, alone, where I bathed at the base of the little waterfall. At 4:00 PM Gerardo called class.

At 7:50 I was alone, holding down the anchor. I moved to a more protected area behind a small island. The other boats had gone off to conduct night plankton tows targeting bioluminescence. The students also dove and swam through the bioluminescence watching tracers spin away from every movement. They observed phosphorescent tracers outlining fish that ran from the bows of the vessels.

At 11:30 the boats were still out exploring the night sea. There was an ominous whirring in the trees overhead. The wind in the bay was blowing in circles. Lightning was flashing but there was no thunder. The boats finally tied up together at 12:45.

The morning of August 6th I rowed ashore with some of the students for a short hike to a blanket of moss overlooking the boats at anchor. At 11:00 AM we were back aboard observing the previous night’s tows under the dissecting scope. Ceratium bucephalum was present along with impressive dinoflagellates. There were ubiquitous copepods. Peridinium claudicans. They also observed samples under the compound scope and found Thalassiora hyalina. Salinity around Desolation Sound ranged around 25-26% or ppt or parts per thousand. The ocean is typically 32% salinity. Turbidity ranged between 10 and 17 Formazin Turbidity Units, FTUs.

The students noticed opaque swirls in the water’s surface near the mouth of the stream. Gerardo explained it as a blending of fresh and salt water, a mixing zone. The beginning of the food web. The preparation of the water for consumption by phytoplankton. The marine environment was looking more and more complex.

At 1:00 we departed Tenidos. At 14:30 they arrived at Prideaux Haven, peaceful coves surrounded by granite, moss and forest, a place of serene beauty, a world class destination with yachts jammed in like sardines.

The place where tides coming in from the north and the south around Vancouver Island meet is Desolation Sound. As a result, there is little tidal flow. Little exchange of water. The tide just goes up and down. The water is warmed by the sun shining on granite surfaces to an ambient near surface temperature of 70 degrees fahrenheit. In protected bays like Prideaux Haven it goes even higher.

Prideaux Haven is worth seeing but we didn’t stay around. Sean led the way past Melanie Cove and through a shallow rocky channel to Laura Cove. The rocky bottom was visible the whole way. Somehow we made it.

At 6;30 we went shopping at the Squirrel Cove store. At 8:00 we moved out and rafted to the Swirl II anchored in inner Squirrel cove.

On August 8th we departed Squirrel Cove. The wind picked up from the south creating a lee shore situation, where the wind will blow you ashore if you lose headway. The Seawulff’s dinghy came untied but we retrieved it with barely enough water under the keel. In Baker passage we encountered gale winds and progressed under reefed main and staysail.

At 2:00 we encountered treacherous conditions off Sutil Point, steady winds of 35 knots and five foot breaking seas, building the entire length of the Strait of Georgia. There was rain coming sideways and spindrift coming off the water. Visibility was about a mile.
Nearing Sutil Point Swirl II lost steerage and drifted toward the rocks. They were in ten feet of water in breaking waves before they got things fixed. Resolute rounding the point ripped her mainsail completely in two. At 7:00 the three boats anchored separately in Gorge Harbor, each setting their own anchor. Everyone gathered below decks for the evening. As the sun set lightning struck several times nearby, followed shortly afterward by rolling thunder. As the evening progressed the time between flash and sound grew shorter. A bright flash and loud boom hit simultaneously. Lightning had struck within Gorge Harbour, the sound bouncing from wall to wall. We prepared a makeshift cake out of some tortillas with one candle to celebrate Sarah’s birthday. The electrical storm continued well into the night, keeping everyone awake.

At 8:30 we departed George Harbor, damp and dreary. A large immature bald eagle watched from a perch on a tree. At 10:00 we rounded Sutil Point in light rain and wind. Somehow, everyone remained in good humor, joking, reading, napping. One couldn’t ask for a better crew. At 7:00 we anchored in Ballet Bay, which is in Blind Bay. In Blind Bay we bought three coho salmon off a neighboring fishing boat.

We pulled anchor at 8:00 on August 10th. We passed an adult oyster catcher apparently feeding a youngster, a seal leaping from the water and three bald eagles perched in trees. At 10:00 we rounded Captain’s Island into Jervis Inlet. Resolute’s crew were busy on deck sewing a long patch in her mainsail. The weather was perfect. Weather on the 8th seemed like a bad dream.

At 1:00 we rounded Prince of Wales Reach, motoring up close to the cliffs, dotted with zones of lichens, moss and small trees. Fir trees grow out of places so steep they appear inverted. In places the cliffs shoot vertically strait up. Twenty feet away from shore the depth is 270 fathoms or 1620 feet. No anchoring here. In valleys in the distance clear cuts and logging roads are visible.

At 4:00 we arrived at Malibu Rapids and drove through with a five knot current and plenty of rocks, white water, whirlpools and Young Christians on shore watching and betting on the chances of a successful passage. One doesn’t often get to see three big boats running rapids. Patty, one of the crew, attended Malibu as a teenager. She claimed it was a “circus of pot-smoking, screwing and carryings-on of all sorts in the name of Jesus”. We saw some sleek gull-like birds scooping fish off the water’s surface in flight. Mew Gulls?

At 4:30 we tied alongside Swirl II, anchored near the base of Chatterbox Falls European style with a stern line tied to a tree ashore. I had by now anchored in the spot four times and was still dumbfounded by so much beauty. A kingfisher dove next to the boat and flew to a nearby limb with a small fish.

That evening the class gathered around a fire ashore. After a meal of barbecued salmon we sat discussing oceanography.

At 10:00 on the 11th the Seawulff cast off from the other boats to perform sampling. Gerardo expected to find oceanographic parameters of a fjord, that is, sharp delineations going down to colder, saltier, heavier depths. The Seawulff’s cable and winch allowed us to take water samples from 700 feet down. It’s on these thermoclines and haloclines that nutrients and critters tend to reside. it wasn’t easy to get samples along these intervals because the depths were so great.

Gerardo talked frequently throughout the day about the marine environment. How much new organic plant material is being produced. How much of this is available to other organisms. Proteins to make tissue. Carbohydrates for energy. Animals need pre-formed organic matter. Plants use light from the sun for fuel. CO2+H20+Carbon = sugar.
That afternoon a student named Cory and I took the dinghy over to a small stream about a quarter of smile toward Malibu on the north side of the inlet. The stream tumbles down steep granite faces collecting in pools, one above another, perhaps fifteen in total. The sun warms the water to a comfortable temperature. Some of the pools are chest deep. Cory walked ahead, up the steep granite face. We’d stop and soak a while then climb to the next pool.

On August 12th at 09:00 we departed Princess Louisa Inlet and ran once again through Malibu Rapids with the full force of the tide. Underway in Jervis Inlet Gerardo talked at length about oceanographic tools and methods. How we measure the amount of O2 in a light bottle and a dark bottle as a measure of photosynthesis…. that most plants are smaller than 100 microns and how life on earth begins and is regulated at a microscopic level. We sampled at depth intervals where activity was detected on the fathometer. We observed the same sleek gulls we’d seen on the way in and were once again unable to determine what they were. They have a light colored head and bands on the ends of their wings.

At 2:30 we rounded Captains Island and entered Agamemnon Channel. At 5:00 we entered Pender Harbor and anchored first in Gerrands Bay, then in Maderia Bay where we went shopping for food and ultimately the three boats ended up in Garden Bay, rafted together on the Seawulff’s anchor.

The Seawulff had a large CQR or plow anchor and 100 feet of heavy chain and a mechanical windlass. Boats that cruise in BC are all set up like this. In a calm, protected place like Garden Bay, we might put out 60 feet of chain in 30 feet of water. Our radius might be as little as 15 or 20 feet. This can be important in anchorages that are crowded by rocks and other boats. Unlike a traditional or danforth type anchor a plow anchor will reset itself. This is important in places where the current changes direction with the tide. A plow anchor on 100 feet of chain will always hold.

Ashore we found the restaurant and store had become expensive and not particularly friendly. The Seattle and Vancouver Yacht Clubs had purchased the docks. Garden Bay had become a rude, ritzy place compared to only a few years before. Some of the crew took over the bar, got stinking drunk and had a pretty good time throwing up all over the bay and the deck of the Resolute. The poor girl was taking a beating. We decided that henceforth we’d anchor in Madiera Bay with the locals and leave beautiful Garden Bay for the yacht clubbers.

At 6:15 AM on August 13th we departed Pender Harbour. By 8:30 we were in Welcome Passage. At 10:00 the three boats raised their spinnakers in fifteen knots of wind from the north and began a memorable day of sailing. It was Saturday and opera played on radio BBC. Students read and talked quietly. The Resolute ran away like a thoroughbred with the Seawulff not far behind and Swirl II off to the east.

At 2:00 we were approaching Porlier Pass. The plan had been to pass through with the tide but we were well ahead of schedule and would have had to buck an impossible current so we continued on, maintaining radio contact between the three boats. We continued on to Active Pass where we passed through, still bucking a 3 knots current, being so far ahead of schedule. At 7:00 we anchored in Bedwell Harbor, well ahead of where we all went ashore for karaoke night at the local tavern.

On August 14th we departed Bedwell Harbor at 9:00 AM. We encountered Harbor Porpoises and diving ducks. Surf Scoters, White Winged Scoters and Western Grebes were plentiful throughout the trip. A few hours later we cleared US Customs in Friday Harbor and moved over by the University of Washington Marine Lab to anchor. Gerardo lectured about the journals ,encouraging students to take a “systems approach”, to think in terms of three distinct ecosystems and the different dominant processes evident in phytoplankton distribution and growth. Does transect data support the model in Desolation Sound? Is O2 higher in enclosed or open areas? Does salinity increase at depth in Princess Louisa? Top to bottom? Were changes abrupt? Why? And what could we expect to find in the San Juans?

That night all paddled ashore to Friday Harbor where we ended up dancing in a bar.
August 15th we departed Friday Harbor after taking on water. Swirl II put her anchor down at Jones Island, first on the south side, then on the north side and everyone got aboard the Resolute and Seawulff. In West Sound, Orcas Island, we dragged the otter trawl. We had a permit to drag in US waters but not Canadian so this was the first try. The net came up full of an assortment of nektonic fish, crabs, shrimps, algae and other things. We bought a 20 pound King Salmon through Thish’s aunt who lives on Orcas Island.

At 6:00 we were back at Jones Island rafted to Swirl II. Everyone rowed ashore where Don cut the fish in half longitudinally, stuffed it with onions, garlic and parsley, wrapped it in tin foil and slow cooked it over a fire for forty minutes, turning it several times. It was delicious.

The last two days, in San Juan Channel, we were repeatedly hit by wakes from large power cruisers that rolled us violently, often by surprise, sending cameras, microscopes and food and utensils flying. There was a lot of cursing. Now the same boats were anchored at Jones Island. On one cruiser two men and their wives and kids were screaming at each other through the afternoon, drinking beer and eating hot links. Boats vying for a spot at the small dock repeatedly cut each other off. As evening descended, a large Seayray was running its generator. The blue light of a TV screen was visible within. Why would a person spend a quarter million dollars on a boat that burns 25 gallons of fuel per hour to come to a crowded anchorage with too many people with a similar disinterest in what was all around them and watch TV? We moved further out and anchored separately in deeper water. In the morning the cruisers in the bay were tangled up in their anchor rodes.

We got underway at 10:00 on August 16th and performed more otter trawls bringing up flounder, rockfish, crabs, shrimp, seaweed and the ever ubiquitous slime gobs and slime balls. South of Cattle Point we caught a beautiful rat fish. We performed drags in water as shallow as 10 feet and as deep as 100 feet and keyed out all the things we could.
We also performed more plankton tows and found mostly diatoms, Ditylum, Thalassiosira and Chaetoceros.

We had now accomplished all the goals of the class. The three boats headed south across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Half way across we encountered a Minke Whale.
The three boats anchored in Port Townsend the evening of the 17th and from there split up and went their separate ways, Resolute taking some students to Seattle, Swirl II heading for Boston Harbor and Seawulff heading back to Olympia. It was an excellent trip but so were many others.

Founding faculty continued to retire and new hires had different ideas. Dean Olsen, a recent hire took an interest in the program. But Dean was an economist and it wasn’t easy finding use for the boats in the study of business and economics. The students didn’t seem to have the same level of interest. Facilities managers regularly invoked biblical expletives. Lawyers squirmed and wrung their hands.

On one occasion I was awakened in the middle of the night by some noise on deck and emerged to find a student in the water. It took all the strength three people to get him aboard. Two empty bottles of vodka on the table, brought aboard in their luggage, told the story.

After unloading the crew in Port Angeles I decided to give the boat a thorough cleaning which is how I came upon a note to the following week’s crew tucked in a pre-arranged spot under a mattress. It read: “Your skipper Harry may seem like a nice guy but if you push him even slightly too far, he’ll turn into the world’s biggest asshole.” I returned the note to its hiding place. The following week’s crew were as timid and cooperative as could be.IMG_8802.jpeg

The College tried high priced day trips on the Resolute and Leisure Ed classes were terminated. A per day lab fee was added for academic programs. Use of the boats dropped along with funds. There were no regular academic offerings. Science fell off the plate.

From its inception the program had its problems. It was the work of men… a waning societal legacy. There were women available. Sarah Peterson, a librarian at Evergreen, was a licensed captain who would have been perfect for the job. Unfortunately, that job never came to be.

Inquisitive minds recognized shortcomings in academia and saw interdisciplinary studies as a way to address these shortcomings. For some the move to a State College was a step down. But the college was a new blank slate. Now, a few decades later, original faculty hires started retiring. Bob Sluss’s departure in particular left a vacuum.

It’s great being away at sea. There are no bills to pay, no phone calls. But these things continue to exist awaiting your return. Extended field trips can be a strain on families and friendships. It takes commitment. A lot of planning goes into a program like Exploration Discovery and Empire. It’s easier to teach the same class year after year and hand out grades.

Perhaps the biggest cause of the program’s demise was a lack of regulatory structure. There was no boating program per se. There was no inherent protection for the boats. Facilities managers for whom the boats were extra work lobbied from the beginning to get rid of them and when opportunity showed itself the end was quick and dirty. Liquidating the boats was a great loss for the college. Truly understanding natural science requires being out in nature.

A particular event punctuated the ending. On one of our earlier trips Don Fassett insisted we go into Port Ludlow. Port Ludlow is a simple bay surrounded by development on all sides. I doubted if there was even any place to anchor but Don insisted. We followed Swirl II past log booms seemingly heading to the mud when Don suddenly veered left into a beautiful bay full of birds, surrounded by overhanging trees on all sides. A serene perfect anchorage, the place became a frequent stopover.

On this last occasion I followed Don Fassett once again into Port Ludlow. Turning left into our favorite anchorage, we discovered the perimeter of the bay lined with new houses. The trees and birds were gone. The serenity of the place wasn’t even a memory. It was like we had pulled into the wrong bay. Our hearts sank.

The summer of 1995 I accepted a job working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, driving a boat out of Neah Bay. NOAA had established the Sanctuaries and Reserves Division to administer Marine Sanctuaries. The Olympia Coast National Marine Sanctuary was just coming into existence. Marine reserves were the subject of my thesis. I could hardly not take the offer.

But what might have been…



June 8th, 1986. 10 o’clock PM. Strait of Juan de Fuca, the vast Pacific Ocean ahead. Thalassa, a Truant 33 designed by William Garden, has all the attributes of a good sea boat — tall bow with plenty of flare, rounded midsections, modified full keel and canoe stern. The wheelhouse is a potential weakness but the windows have been reinforced. At 33 feet overall Thalassa is not a large boat. She’s light-footed in the gentle waves.

As we passed Tatoosh Island, we steered a course to the southwest, gradually gaining distance from shore. Don Davidson and myself, both licensed captains, would sail with a local physician named Chris King to San Francisco Bay. Chris owned the boat and knew every inch of it. We were all life-long sailors.

At 2 AM a dim light appeared on the horizon and immediately became the brightest object any of us had seen afloat. A second fuzzy light appeared behind the first and also grew in intensity. As they approached the objects turned into thousands of smaller lights, which slowly took the shape of ships, cruise ships. They passed close by, every deck and cabin light blazing.

We crossed the ships’ wakes continuing offshore to the southwest. The brightness of the departing lights made whatever was ahead complete darkness by contrast. The outline of the shore behind vanished in the mist.

The plan was to head southwest until we were 100 miles offshore, then head south paralleling the coast to central California and angle southeast to San Francisco Bay. This was chosen over option B, hugging the coast, ducking in and out of the most horrendous series of harbor entrances imaginable, in fog and all kinds of weather, while hopefully not getting blown onto the rocks. Going offshore would be more comfortable, or so we figured…

The wind gradually picked up out of the west. By dawn we were beating nicely on a starboard tack. Mid-morning the wind continued to build and came more from the northwest. We changed the roller furling genoa to a heavy duty 110% jib that could be furled smaller as need be. Sea kindly Thalassa threaded her way smoothly through waves as porpoises danced off the bow. We cheered them on, applauding spectacular jumps and stunts.

June 9th. The sky was clear, broken here and there by puffy white clouds. The ocean turned a deeper blue, the blue to which the term “blue water” refers, as opposed to the greenish blue closer to land. Sometimes the line between the two is clearly visible. We were 100 miles from shore, heading due south.

The wind was at our back. The seas were running about eight feet giving us a little push. It was the kind of day sailing is all about. But it was getting chilly and we realized none of us had brought any gloves. Chris managed to find a pair of white wool ladies dress gloves on-board that brought a smile. We cracked open a bottle of wine to toast our good fortune.

Late afternoon the wind picked up suddenly. Chris turned on the VHF radio. After several minutes of static a voice announced “Gale warning! The coast guard cutter (obscured) lying 200 miles off the Oregon Coast reports winds of forty knots, gusting to 55, and seas twenty feet and higher.”

The North Pacific is the biggest, widest body of water on earth. The bigger the water body the bigger the wave. We decided a sea anchor or drogue would hold us back increasing the likelihood that waves would break over the boat. Figuring that Thalassa’s wheelhouse and cabin doors might not stand up to being pounded by waves, we decided that our best chance would be to sail through whatever nature might bring our way. There was a small painting on the foreword bulkhead of Francis Chichester rounding Cape Horn in heavy seas flying only a small jib. It looked like a plan for which Thalassa was well suited. We dropped the mainsail and lashed it firmly to the boom.

By sunset the wind tore across wave tops spreading spindrift down their faces. We furled the jib to the size of a bed sheet. Thalassa’s hydraulic steering worked easily but steering was still tiring and we decided on one hour wheel watches. Turns at the wheel drifted into one another. One hour on, two hours off, turning the wheel from lock to lock, back onto a southerly compass heading, or toward Scorpius visible in the cloudless southern sky.

June 10th the wind and the waves continued to build. We reduced the jib to the size of a hand towel. Preparing for the midnight watch, layered up inside oilskins and a safety harness, I opened the companionway and from the cabin saw a shadow come up over the sky. The tiny boat battled its way backward up the wave. Near the top, the wave struck the stern giving Don a shower. I reached across the cockpit and latched the safety harness to the binnacle and stepped out. Standard practice. We didn’t want to lose anyone overboard.

There are basically two things that can go seriously wrong in a wave. I learned about them years prior. As a teenager I spent a couple of summers in Santa Cruz working in restaurants. My neighbor at the time was Mervyn Cadwallader, who went on to be one of the first deans at Evergreen State College. One day Mervyn invited me to go “big wave body surfing”.

We arrived at a place called Little Wind and Sea with our swim fins. Most waves in Santa Cruz break right. The waves here broke left and they were unusually steep. Mervyn estimated them at 16 feet. We swam out to where he said “This looks good”. A wave approached and he yelled “Swim” which I did. The wave broke on top of me, sending me for a loop. When I swam back out, Mervyn said “That’s what’s called getting sandwiched”. He then got us lined up again and when another wave approached yelled ”Swim” which I did. The wave grew in size and I found myself looking over a cliff. It broke throwing me down onto the water below. I was then drawn up into the wave and tumbled over and over. I made my way back to the surface in time to grab a breath of air and dive under the next wave.

At this point surfing has turned into skin diving. You hug the bottom and let the wave pass overhead. It’s why board surfers don’t surf Little Wind and Sea. There’s no beach, only rocks on all sides. The only way out is the way you came in. I got back to the surface in time to get a few breaths and dive under the next wave, followed by a few more. When I got back to Mervyn he explained “That’s what’s called going over the falls. You want to be somewhere between getting sandwiched and going over the falls. That’s all you need to know.”

As it turns out, there is more to know. The third wave I caught. Per Mervyn’s instructions I held my body strait and rigid like a board, turned toward the open shoulder of the wave and experienced one of life’s greatest thrills. Water rushing over your skin causes friction. Body surfing is a tactile, sensual experience. It became an obsession.

Sailors have different terms for getting sandwiched and going over the falls, the worst kind of wipeout, but the effect is the same. Waves may also push the stern to the left or right causing a broach. The boat may get knocked down on her side. All kinds of things can happen. But generally the drill is to keep the boat heading down the waves unless you find yourself preparing to jump off the top of a mountain in which case you turn away, heading across the top of the wave or over its backside, down into the next valley, wallowing in foam.

Waves as big as mountains dwarfed tiny Thalassa. She stood on her nose and surfed, pegging the knot meter at ten knots in a vertical dive. Sometimes the rushing water would come up close to the level of the foredeck but Thalassa’s tall sea bow always stayed above the rushing water. If the bow had gone under we were at risk of pitchpoling, where the boat rolls stern over bow.

Dining consisted of crawling or sliding the length of the cabin floor forward to the galley and cracking a cupboard door open and grabbing whatever flew out, perhaps a nutrition bar and a bottle of water. Using the toilet was a matter of wedging oneself into place and holding on.

How could we possibly survive? We were dodging bullet after bullet. Which one would have our name on it? I wondered, although it didn’t seem possible, if conditions might possibly get more intense and if so if any vessel of Thalassa’s dimensions would not be smashed to bits.

The wind pressed clothing against our bodies. Thalassa rolled far over to starboard, then hard over to port, standing on her nose speeding down a wave, or rolling on the summit looking out at mountains crawling across the landscape, or standing motionless in a valley looking up at an undulating approaching mass of water.

Although we were heading in a generally southerly direction, navigation per se was dictated by each wave. It was survival sailing. We had only the vaguest idea which direction we were heading or how far we’d come and didn’t really care.

By the storm’s third day exhaustion was complete. Sometime before dawn I passed the wheel to Chris and stumbled into the cabin, removed my rubber boots, vomited in one of them, collapsed in my bunk and lost consciousness.

June 12th. When I awoke, the cabin was bright with sunlight. Adding to my confusion, the engine was running. Outside, the waves were steep and menacing but smaller, perhaps twenty feet, of which perhaps the top couple of feet formed white caps, conditions that posed little threat.

I sat up and looked toward the cockpit. Nobody was there. The wheel turned back and forth, being driven by the auto pilot. I cleaned out my boots and put them on and stepped out. The boat was running directly downwind under power, flying the small jib. I let the jib out partway, took the helm and reduced the throttle.
After a while Chris emerged. “At dawn I was finished” he said. “I started the engine and turned on the autopilot”.

The satellite navigation system had not survived. Chris brought out a sextant and a stack of books. We tried working up sun sights but the bouncing and rolling of the boat made it impossible to come up with anything meaningful. But there were other, simpler options.

Before noon we started passing the sextant around, taking sites every minute or so for nearly an hour. We then threw out the outliers, the obvious errors, and were able to get an average for the sun’s highest point in the sky. Comparing this to declination in the nautical almanac for that day gave us a latitude fix.

Chris had also noted the moment of sunrise. Halfway between this and the moment of sunset would theoretically correspond to the zenith hour angle in the nautical almanac from which we could calculate longitude.

The morning of the 12th began with perfect sailing in rolling seas coming from the stern quarter. Mid morning a ship appeared off our bow. We raised them on the VHF and got a position. We were eight miles due west of where we thought they were. The noon sights for latitude had been exact. Timing sunrise and sunset to get longitude, not as exact but not bad.

Throughout the windstorm the sky had remained clear. By late morning a thin mist limited visibility to a mile or so. By noon we were immersed in heavy fog. We were then navigating by dead reckoning, following the compass and guessing our speed. We still had the depth sounder and the VHF radio though neither was at that time of any use.

Friday the 13th. We continued sailing through thick fog in a southeasterly direction, angling toward the California coastline. Every few minutes someone would check the depth. There was still nothing down there but water. But there was no certainty that the depth sounder was even functioning. To add to our anxiety we kept hearing what sounded like surf off our port side.

Something was surely out there in the fog. We sailed on listening and checking the depth sounder with less frequency as the day progressed. The night passed without incident and the morning of the 14th dawned again in thick fog. By late morning the fog was breaking here and there. We passed a small fishing boat, then another and several more.

Then Chris emerged from the cabin and announced “We have the bottom gentlemen.” Sure enough, a broken line appeared on the screen, eighty fathoms or about 500 feet down. We followed that contour for a while, then it grew shallower which we figured must be the edge of the San Francisco Bar, location of the Potato Patch Shoal. The water then grew deeper again to our relief. We followed depth contours curving around to the east, sailing toward land lying somewhere dead ahead. The readings continued to grow deeper. The Farallon Islands appeared astern. Point Bonita appeared off the port bow. The Golden Gate Bridge appeared overhead.

How big were the waves? Taller than Thalassa’s 45 foot tall mast. According to the Coast Pilot and Sailing Directions, the largest waves on earth, measured in the Eastern Pacific off the coast of North America, can measure over 100 feet.

Hawaii to Victoria

July 24th, 1985. Kaneohe Hawaii. We’re off, heading north aboard Valhalla, a Bristol 40, a 15 ton full keel center cockpit ketch. A boatload of friends followed along for a while, out through Kaneohe Bay, firing off rocket flares.

We spent a leisurely month in Gerry’s condo readying the boat and provisioning. Doc and Linda who live across the Makani Kai marina lagoon make up the other half of the crew. They brought a bean bag chair aboard to Gerry’s consternation. “Well maybe we can use it for something.”

Last night some locals held a luau in honor of our departure. Gerry was repeatedly praised by local Hawaiians for his efforts on behalf of the community, especially in the creation of jobs through several smart investments. One old friend of Gerry’s recited Ogden Nash at length to lots of laughter.

Almost immediately we began to encounter 25 knot winds and eight foot waves from the northeast, the direction we want to head. Valhalla’s high flush deck and bow quarters hit these waves with a tremendous bang and she shudders from bow to stern, rising, falling and rolling and crashing. In the main cabin, hams and cabbages swing in mesh bags from side to side. Trying to move around the galley, one is continually knocked off balance, bruising everything from the waist down. It’s much easier to remain in bed.

July 26th. And so it goes, day and night. Winds dropped a little to 20 knots. Each person does two hour wheel watches so it’s two hours on and six hours off around the clock. Since Valhalla’s wind vane works flawlessly, a wheel watch generally consists of lounging in the bean bag chair watching the Pacific Ocean go by. The beanbag chair forms to fit a person’s body so he or she can relax. It’s continually occupied.

We continue sailing due north. The North Pacific High, lying northeast of Hawaii, is a big clockwise rotating system. Sailing east from Hawaii would be sailing into prevailing winds and currents. It’s easier to sail north first toward the Aleutians and then turn east toward North America. We’re still 400 miles southwest of the center beating into winds of 15 to 20 knots and seas of about four feet.

Beat beat beat. Not much else to say. Winds 15-20, sometime 25. Seas moderate. Boat pitches, rolls and pounds. I’m experiencing some nausea in the mornings, gone by the evening. Gerry’s a little worse. Doc is taking pills of some kind. We’re all crawling around nibbling at crackers and sipping tea. Except Linda, whose been making sandwiches and sneaking off to the forward cabin to eat so as not to embarrass the men. Gradually the nausea seems to be subsiding and appetites are returning.

Linda and I both vied for chief cook and decided to share the job, alternating daily. Doc has no interest in any aspect of food other the consuming it. He’s a giant of a man, not long retired from the navy. Doc was a medic in Vietnam – the guy in the movies who swims out into the Mekong River holding a bowie knife in his teeth to save a wounded buddy.

Doc can be heard wandering the deck during his nighttime wheel watches. Sometimes he dangles himself overboard from the shrouds to take a leak. Gerry has asked him to show more caution but he doesn’t seem to care. It’s like the man has no fear.

July 27th. There was talk on the radio today of storms and dense fog to the north, the direction we’re heading. We spent the day making palm frond hats.

There is a portable shortwave radio in the cockpit that’s always turned on. Usually it sits silently awaiting word from the outside world. Sometimes we’ll tune in Radio Moscow or Radio Free Europe. Sometimes we hear a ham operator or another boat. Gerry listens for ham operators on the mainland. If he hears one he’ll turn on the ham radio in the main cabin and see if he can pick up the broadcast. If so, he responds.

The mainmast backstay, strung between glass insulators, doubles as the antenna for the ham radio. When broadcasting a lot of power goes to the backstay “lighting it up” as Gerry jokes. Broadcasting drains the batteries unless the engine is running. So that’s the order. First start the engine, then attempt to contact the ham operator on-shore. If that person responds, Gerry gives his call sign and asks them place a phone call.

“Do you want to take a haul or do you want to go downtown?” the voice responds.
“I’ll take a haul” Gerry responds. This means the ham on shore makes a collect call and patches Gerry through to friends and family back home.

July 30th. Last night while on the evening wheel watch, I noticed a dim red light off the port stern. We called on the VHF radio, channel sixteen. “Vessel to the west, this is the sailboat Valhalla, over?”

After a few seconds a suave French accent responded “Sailing vessel Valhalla, this is the freighter Francois LD, over.” There was a further exchange of positions and other basics and the French gentleman asked “Are you eating well?”

“Very well thank you”

“Excellent. Have a pleasant evening and a good watch.” Are we are “eating well”? French priorities I guess.

August 5th. Sunday. Twelve days out. The sea state has definitely changed. We’re sailing on a glorious broad reach in 15 knot winds. Three foot waves gently roll Valhalla as she glides along through the sea reaching speeds of six knots. Gerry claims that he’s “had her up to nine point three knots in the South Pacific” and “Dinner’s on me for anyone who can beat it.” That’s funny given that Gerry always insists on paying.

We’ve been sailing through mile after mile of Velella velella, a small jelly fish with a membrane like sail on their back. They cover the ocean. Every square meter of sea surface is occupied by at least one, as far as the eye can see.

Occasionally we see a booby. Boobies resemble albatrosses. Enormous birds with long wings. They’re graceful fliers, soaring effortlessly, riding small updrafts along the tops of waves. But whereas albatrosses typically pick up food from the surface, boobies dive and fly underwater like a penguin.

During the 2 AM change of wheel watch, Gerry and I were sitting in the cockpit admiring the evening when a flash of light darted underneath the boat. Having never seen anything quite like that we were both alarmed.

Then three lights streaked under the hull, turned 180 degrees and charged again from the opposite direction, streaming phosphorescent tracers.

We jumped to our feet. “Porpoises! Yell. Sing. Dance.” Gerry broke into song “Ooooklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.” I joined in. The porpoises swam under the boat slower and surfaced several times close to our beam, checking us out. Then they were gone. They thought we were a killer whale or a big shark or something and they were going to ram us.

Waves can hide things. If the boat is down in a trough you only see what’s in the trough with you. If the boat is on top of a wave and a nearby object is down in a trough, you won’t see it. Both the object and the boat need to be on the tops of waves for the object to be seen. If someone falls overboard they may be hard to find even if you immediately turn and search for them.

Yesterday I spotted a round object a few hundred yards away and immediately turned toward it. We didn’t see it again until we nearly hit it, a large glass float from a fishing net covered with marine growth. We pulled it aboard as a souvenir.

This afternoon we sailed up next to a booby. No-one even saw it before it was practically in the boat with us. “Look at that big duck” Doc announced. It did look like a duck, though five times the size of a duck. The big bird watched as we humans passed, curiously looking at each of us in turn. It then took to flight and flew back and forth across our stern examining the plastic squid that we towed. The great bird stretched its wide sailplane wings, gliding gracefully along the top of a wave, riding a moving updraft. The booby would flap its wings slowly a couple of times to gain altitude, then glide. Fortunately it didn’t go for the bait.

The prevailing wind direction has changed over the past week, first coming from the West, then from the East.

August 10th, The sub tropical high, that great clockwise rotation in the Northeastern Pacific, doesn’t stay in one place. It moves daily over hundreds of miles, divides in two and does all kinds of gyrations that we’ve been tracking on the chart from short wave weather reports. Around mid-day Gerry came on deck from the navigation station and called to Linda who was at the wheel “Change course to 90 degrees. Due east.”

Everyone gave a cheer. This means that we’ll now have wind and seas at our back. It also means we are over a thousand miles from land in any direction, as far from land as one can be and still be on planet earth.

The motion of the boat improved and I made pizza. We had a party and drank some wine. I went to bed early and got up at midnight when my watch began. That’s when everyone else went to bed. As soon as I was in the beanbag I felt the wind pick up. It seemed to build quickly over the next twenty minutes and I called out “Hey Gerry, I think we need to shorten sail.” There was no response. “Hey Linda. Hey Doc.” Nothing. The wind built to about 25 knots and Valhalla was still flying a jenny and un-reefed main.

Waves don’t break in the middle of the ocean like they do near shore. Ground swells may form, the result of some distant storm, but they don’t topple like surf does on a beach. Ground swells can be big gentle rollers. Often smaller wind waves form on ground swells, little waves on big waves as it were. Somewhere far to the west a storm had generated big waves that after crossing a thousand miles of open ocean had evolved into big gentile rolling mountains of water, taller than Valhalla’s mast.

Amid this raging beauty, the steering vane quit working, having sheered a pin. I took the wheel, steering Valhalla on a broad reach down the face of a huge swell. She surfed the wave beautifully. I didn’t dare let go of the wheel and I could raise no-one to help. But the big tub of a boat was doing OK. Up on a big wave, swoosh down the face, white water boiling off both sides abeam.

This was the best. Sailing doesn’t get any better. It was like a dream. It was glorious. I decided to let them all sleep.

Leaning hard into the wheel I sang. “I get pushed out of shape and it’s hard to steer, when I get rubber in all four gears, she’s my little deuce coup, you don’t know what I got.” And so it went, all night long.

At dawn the wind subsided slightly and Gerry poked his head out of the hatch.

“What the heck time is it?”

“Looks like about six maybe.”

“How long you been on?”

“All night long” I said. “Hey Gerry. 9.8 knots. You owe me a dinner.”

August 11th. Yesterday the seas leveled out and we caught a small skipjack tuna. Linda filleted it and made poisson cru, raw fish with coconut.

Today beautiful weather prevailed. High pop-corn clouds dot the sky in every direction to and over the horizon. A person can see about 27 miles on the surface of the earth. A person can see farther from above the surface on, say, the top of a mast. A person can likewise see something in the sky that’s farther away. Clouds that are thousands of feet in the sky can be seen hundreds of miles distant. And on this day, these clouds plainly bent over the edge of the Earth. Sailors have known forever that the earth is round. It’s as plain as can be.

Linda made tuna cakes with hollandaise. There was some leftover hollandaise so the following morning I made English muffins for some Eggs Benedict. Doc joked that I’d make a good wife. I didn’t really consider that an insult but I did wonder what he meant and noticed a glance from Gerry.

Later when we were alone Gerry mentioned something about Doc’s declining restraint. I replied that I think Doc’s just feeling put out because I didn’t wake him up the other night when we turned east and all got drunk. Gerry said something about he and I experiencing some seasickness at the start and as we adjusted it went away whereas Doc’s been taking meds all along and has never made the adjustment. Without the meds, he gets seasick.

Gerry says that he got a look at the bottle and it says to discontinue use if the user develops what they refer to as “psychotic symptoms”. Doc is not psychotic and may be the nicest guy in the world but the bottle also says don’t mix with alcohol. Although Doc never drinks to excess who’s to say a beer or two wouldn’t act as a catalyst.

Gerry thinks the trip has been like running a marathon. One step at a time. The beginning was painful. The middle was like a dream. And now with the end in sight we’re full of euphoric anticipation.

Perhaps but my feet don’t hurt. In a footrace you want to give it your all and arrive spent. Nothing left in the tank. In sailing, you never know when you’re going to want that full tank. You want to arrive rested and ready to go again if need be.

August 14th. Good weather continues though the wind comes from all around the compass. We ate clam spaghetti. Vancouver Island has been visible through the mist off our port side. We’re running to the southeast roughly paralleling the shore. The sea has changed from deep blue to a greenish hue.

I’d expect to be wanting to set foot on land but that just isn’t the case at all. I’d just as soon provision in Neah Bay and head back to Hawaii. It’s a bit of a surprise. Perhaps this is where I belong.

August 15th. 22 days out of Kaneohe. Last night we spotted the red and white rotating light on Tatoosh Island and soon were anchored in Neah Bay.

In the morning, we pulled anchor and headed toward the fuel dock but were cut off by a small gillnetter. Neah Bay is home to the Makah Tribe of Indians. One after another the tribal fishing boats cut Valhalla off trying to get to the fuel dock. At one point we were along side one of the boats and Gerry called out “Got any fish to sell?”

“Chinook salmon, caught yesterday.” We bought a fresh, freshly cleaned salmon, fueled up and headed east up the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I poached the salmon in white wine with plenty of garlic. Usually people lose weight on an offshore voyage. On this trip everyone put weight on.

Post script:

We arrived in Victoria in the early evening. It was still light and we found a spot at the commercial dock, away from the crowds. We were quite an oddity with our palm frond hats and coconut running lights.

A fellow in a cowboy hat caught our lines. “You folks look like you’ve been at sea for a while.”

I stepped ashore and introduced myself. The dock seemed to move under my feet which is always the case after a while at sea. Got to get your land legs back. I asked if the dock was moving. The cowboy just laughed and introduced himself as “Randy, Randy Daffy” as if I might recognize the name.

We talked a little more and decided to get a beer. Walking along Randy told his story. “I’m a rodeo cowboy. I ride bulls. World champion last year. This year I wrecked.”


“Hit the wall. I was unconscious for a week. I woke up a month ago and I’m still trying to find my footing.”

We arrived at an establishment that looked inviting. It was on the lower floor of a large building, at the bottom of a long, heavily carpeted stairway. Randy and I tumbled down the length of the stairs landing at the bottom in front of the gatekeeper who pointed back up the stairs and said “Same way out you came in guys”.

“But I haven’t had a single drink yet” Randy protested to no avail. “Man. I guess I don’t need it anyway.” We parted company after a while and Randy went back to his hotel to get ready to catch a plane out to Campbell River to go fishing.

That day I took a ferry to Port Angeles where my mother and sister picked me up. Gerry’s family came to Port Townsend to sail down to Tacoma with him.

Doc and Linda were going to stay on the mainland for a while but didn’t like it and immediately caught a plane back to Kaneohe. Some time later they signed on to deliver another boat from the Marquesas to Hawaii. Doc went overboard on his night watch and though they retraced their path, they were unable to find him. I bet that big guy swam for days.

Journal: Tuna Fishing

The summer of 1977 I had the good fortune of fishing for albacore tuna aboard a 62 foot halibut schooner. Built in 1920, the Coolidge was directly descended from a long line of heavily built North Sea sail powered fishing vessels. The halibut schooner fleet was comprised primarily of people of Scandinavian descent living primarily in Ballard, Washington. Though they mostly fished for halibut in Alaska they’d sometimes fish for albacore tuna as far south as Mexico when the halibut season ended. The Coolidge did not have refrigeration so we needed to off-load every 16 days.

Following are some excerpts from a journal I kept that summer.

Saturday, August 27th, 1977.

Westport, Washington. She’s a graceful, massively constructed, old bird. Tucked behind her bulwarks a wheelhouse looks minuscule on such a substantial hull. The decks are wood, sealed with black pine tar. Winches and machines are everywhere. Sixty two feet long, the Coolidge has a tall straight bow and sleek lines characteristic of a halibut schooner. A round bottomed boat, she rolls even when in port tied to a dock.

Harold’s cabin consists of a bunk in the wheelhouse. I have the entire forecastle to myself. Four upper and lower sea bunks line each side for a total of eight. A long table runs down the center with benches on both sides. Port side aft is the galley, dominated by a large diesel galley stove against the bulkhead. The forecastle of a traditional sailing ship. Five inch square frames are visible in places on eight inch centers, more frame than space between the frame.

As Harold the owner and skipper explains, halibut schooners are built using measurements off a model rather than drawings on a piece of paper. Her design evolved over centuries when folks went to sea without motors and the shape of the hull was paramount. The Coolidge is one of the faster boats in the fleet in spite of her limited power, a single Allis Chalmers truck engine.

Sept 6th. Tuesday. We’ve been running through some weather which makes everything difficult. We shut down for a while last night. The Coolidge’s riding sail holds her bow 45 degrees off the wind and waves. Sometimes she’ll sit motionless for a few seconds, then there’s a thundering crash against the side of the boat and she lurches and shudders. She’ll roll slightly one way and farther back the other way and then back the other way right up on her beam, 90 degrees over on her side, or so it seems. One doesn’t fall out of one’s bunk because it’s basically a coffin, a shoulder width box.

In the course of the night I made my way on deck toward the head. Ten foot breaking waves covered the landscape as far as the eye could see, the whitecaps aglow with phosphorescence. It was a boiling, day-glow, neon other-world.

Sept 9th: We ran through the night and much of the day south past the latitude of San Francisco. Lots of time to sleep and read. In the past days we’ve seen many Dall’s porpoises who have a shorter nose and Bottle Nosed Dolphins who have as the name implies a longer nose. The dolphins typically cross under the boat and are gone.

We got a good look at a very big whale. It swam along side for about twenty minutes. It may have been a blue whale. Enormous, smooth and unimaginably powerful, it moved with slow isometric movements, pushing down on the water with its control surfaces and accelerating. It would blow, the wind carrying spray for some distance, then arch its back applying pressure on its tail and glide under the surface. Further away we saw what appeared to be sharks and killer whales circling a carcass of some kind.

For a while we were accompanied by three bottle nosed dolphins, playing in front of the boat in a relaxed kind of way, staying close to the bow and making intricate choreographed movements, two dancing in unison, turning, jumping, diving, and the third going the opposite way in counterpoint.

The weather improved and we started catching fish, a few at a time every few hours. We fished with the Arrow, a larger halibut schooner with her wheelhouse aft and the Tryend, a smaller halibut schooner with her wheelhouse forward like the Coolidge’s. The halibut schooners are the only boats this far offshore because they are the only boats that can stand the beating.

So much working no time for the journal. The fishing is easy in that you don’t bait hooks and clean fish. It’s hard in that I’m the only crew. We’d been catching about 75 fish per day. Then the weather cleared and the catch went up to 120 fish and then as high as 270 fish. On those days work extends around the clock. Then a million boats appeared and it turned into a derby. Harold shook his head and off we went farther out to sea, 150 miles offshore.

According to Harold, the migration of albacore tuna is a bit of a mystery. They disburse into the central Pacific and then in August make their way east toward Washington, Oregon and California where nutrient upwellings from the continental shelf stock the web of life and feed this gathering of species. Albacore pursue small squid on the surface though they’ll also dive deeper in pursuit of other fish.

Being warm blooded, albacore like specific water temperatures. Following temperature gradients is a way to find the fish. They arrive off North America hungry and will bite anything, such as a brightly colored plastic squid. Porpoises never bite at the plastic squid.

When albacore first come out of the water, alive, they’re iridescent, the colors of a rainbow. Large bewildered eyes stare to the side. They flop and attempt to get themselves moving, through water, to breathe. But they slowly suffocate and the color goes out of their once beautiful flanks. They become a gray corpse to be packed away on ice. This fishing business is in spite of all the beauty not an entirely happy place.

Sept. 14th. Whatever lettuce or other greens we brought along are long gone, either consumed or victims of the ravages if nature. Entropy is constantly on the march.

Throughout the night I heard subdued chirping sounds. I ventured on deck. The moonlit sea was calm. No wind. There were no other boats in sight, just groups of porpoises as far as the eye could see in every direction. About 35 were gathered around the Coolidge. New York City in porpoise land. I wonder if they always group up like this at night and fill the water with chirping sounds.

Throughout the day as we motored further offshore the dolphins re-appeared in groups of as many as 20 and swam, diving and flying through the air. They’d drop back far behind off to one side and then accelerate and pass the boat in seconds, even though the Coolidge was going 10 knots.

About 20 dolphins swam for a while close to the bow in a complex dance. The water was crystal clear and their movements underwater clearly visible from above. They dove in tremendous swoops and turns, sometimes sounding straight down to 50 or 60 feet and climbing at 45 degrees straight out of the water, soaring through the air. They would appear on the horizon and come leaping and diving and arrive in seconds, often swimming in pairs or trios. The big leaders are first to arrive. The ones with scars on their bodies. The rest of the flock is an even mix. Sometimes a pair will repeatedly brush up against each other in a sensuous display or rub each other around in spirals. I envy their endless exuberance, their absolute freedom, no confines of dwellings roads or paths, no gravity. A three dimensional world in which to play.

I’m dreaming in full, living color every night. I dream about San Francisco’s wooden stairways and old buildings. I dreamt about an acting school in the country. I’m standing with a group in a circle. They all say something and look at me. Someone says that I should sing or something. I try to sing. They all walk away. I dreamt that a friend was studying apostrophology, the study of apostrophes, I dreamt about sneezing rats, which upon awakening turned out to be the old hull squeaking and growling in gentile waves.

Sept 15th. The weather is picking up again. I ate breakfast in the galley, one arm locked under the table for support, chasing food around a plate.

We’ve been keeping pace with the Arrow. She shows her real beauty when the weather kicks up, her tall, straight bow slicing into the seas, rising and lowering; her sleek narrow entry, her wide round midsection and low fat stern gracefully rolling along. The image of the old boat in her glory, surrounded by 100s of leaping and dancing dolphins will not be soon forgotten. They filled the half mile distance between the two boats. I watched them for half an hour from the bow, particularly a group of ten that played there. They swam under water deeper and deeper until I could no longer see them, though the water is very clear. They were all gone as suddenly as they appeared.

Sept. 16th. 60 miles from landfall. Lots of cleaning to do. Some rain helped with the decks. The sunrise this morning was a spectacular display of purple, orange, blue and gray pastels, layered in rolling lumps of clouds, streaks and stripes.

The water turned greenish brown. We saw land, then the Davenport smokestack then Santa Cruz off our port side and ultimately Moss Landing dead ahead.

Lost Opportunity


Budd Inlet lies in the shadow of the Capital of Washington State, in plane view of elected representatives and agencies assigned with protecting waters of the state. It is a symbol of state waters. If Budd Inlet is not protected, what waters will be? And yet Budd Inlet is a sickly remnant of a once vital ecosystem. Species that once proliferated are gone. The waters contain too much nitrogen and too little dissolved oxygen. Toxic chemicals flow from undetermined sources. Estuaries that would have been ideal candidates for restoration have been developed. Land that is unnatural fill has been protected and restored.

Management typically does not follow broadly accepted scientific protocols. As such, the science is incomplete and manipulated. The most applicable disciplines, ecology and oceanography, are never employed in land use decisions.

Ecology is a branch of biology pertaining to the interactions of plants and animals in the environment in which they live, recognizing that these interactions are complex and beyond our complete understanding. The goal of Ecosystem Based Management is to maintain an in-tact system where the mysteries of life can play out.

Oceanography is the study of the interactions of physical, chemical and biological parameters. Physical parameters would include shape, structure and circulation patterns. Chemical parameters would include dissolved oxygen and levels of nutrients including nitrates. Biological would include all species from plankton up to apex predators.

Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) seeks to incorporate the full array of interactions within an ecosystem rather than considering single species or issues in isolation. Research narrows the scope of study to be thorough. Managers manage specific concerns. There are few inherent tendencies or incentives to look beyond the immediate.
An Ecosystem Based Approach

The Puget Lowland Ecoregion borders the shoreline of Puget Sound. Lowland watersheds tend to drain directly to the sound through many streams. What happens in these watersheds directly impacts Puget Sound. These watersheds are heavily urbanized. If we want to improve the health of Puget Sound we need to do a better job of managing lowland watersheds. We’ve in many cases unnecessarily blocked the hyporheic zone, the area of saturated soil on either side of and below a stream and the accompanying filtering actions of sand and gravel and interactions with biota. In Olympia, 160 miles of surface and near surface waters have been confined to culverts.

Each lowland stream that flows directly to the Sound has an estuary which together form a “string of pearls” for migrating salmon. Estuaries rank among the most productive ecosystems. Rivers and streams slow and broaden as they encounter seawater, expanding the photic zone, the area penetrated by sunlight, and increasing the time water takes to move through. Because of their position at the base of a watershed, estuaries have high nutrient concentrations. In a modified estuary phytoplankton blooms and die offs result in low levels of dissolved oxygen. In a natural estuary persistent mixing patterns move zooplankton up into the system where they can help control phytoplankton abundance.

Phytoplankton are the base of the food web on which all life depends. Phytoplankton generate atmospheric oxygen through photosynthesis and sequester carbon as they have for millions of years. They were among the earliest forms of life. They are the reason the earth looks like it does from space.

Modifications to physical parameters such as shape, structure and composition impact chemical parameters such as dissolved oxygen and biological parameters such as plankton. We cannot fix a damaged ecosystem without fixing physical parameters. The baseline should be the way things once were, not the way they are now. There’s plenty of ecology occurring in urban settings and lots of room for improvement.

Budd Inlet, A Case Study

Budd Inlet is the southernmost body of water in Puget Sound. Olympia, the State Capital, lies at its southern end. The Deschutes River, now impounded by a dam that forms Capitol Lake, flows into the bay, as do a number of streams. The Port of Olympia occupies a long peninsula that divides the bay into East and West portions.

East Bay, the estuary of Moxlie Creek, is a semi-enclosed water body on the eastern side of the Port Peninsula. Both East Bay and Moxlie Creek are classified as federally degraded waterbodies. There are too many nitrates and too little dissolved oxygen and the sediments are contaminated with dioxin, PCBs and other toxic chemicals.

Historically, the Cascade Pole wood treatment facility occupies the end of the peninsula. Dioxin laced creosote was spilled at the site. In 2001 a confined disposal site was constructed at the location for contaminated sediments dredged from the neighboring nearshore. A sheet pile and slurry wall surround the site. Neighboring soils on land were not included and contamination has since been found in these soils. Dioxin in surface sediments indicates probable ongoing uncontrolled sources.

Low levels of dissolved oxygen have also been documented in Budd Inlet. The problem is most propounded impacted. Oceanography is the analysis of physical, chemical and biological parameters. These are typically expressed in this order because physical parameters, such as strcuture and circulation, impact chemical parameters, such as dissolved oxygen and biological parameters, such as phytoplankton.

A stream in a pipe is unable to process nutrients because there is no sunlight and hence to plankton. Molxie Creek runs through a half mile long culvert before entering East Bay. The estuary of Schneider Creek across Budd Inlet on the western chore runs thought a 500 foot long culvert. Both culverts are intertidal, the tide backs up their entire lengths. In both cases, the most important part of any watershed, the estuary, is run through a pipe.

Estuaries are the place where fresh water and nutrients flowing from land encounter and mix with marine waters. Fresh water being lighter than salt water tends to flow out on the surface drawing salt water and marine organisms in underneath. Nutrients are consumed by phytoplankton, tiny plants in a process known as primary production, the origin of life Phytoplankton are in which are in turn consumed by zooplankton which either grow into larger fish or are consumed by larger fish which are then consumed by larger species and so on up the food web. Persistent mixing patterns, the result of natural structure best illustrated by tide flats are critical to the process. It all happens best in shallow waters in the presence of sunlight and atmospheric oxygen.

In Puget Sound, the most important physical parameters, the estuaries including those of streams, have been channeled through long culverts. They’ve been dredged for navigation and other human uses and their shores have been armored with concrete and rock to prevent erosion and provide for industry and development.

Indicator species such as apex predators tell us a lot about the health of an ecosystem. Waterbirds such as diving ducks a especially good indicators for a bay like Budd Inlet. On June 15, 2002 the City of Olympia was presented with the West Bay Habitat Assessment by R.W. Morse. R.W. Morse is the author of several popular field guides and considered a leading expert on Northwest Birds.

Although there were still many birds, the report states that the “biggest surprise of the study” was that the number and diversity of waterbirds had dropped significantly. A mere 15 years earlier 30 to 80 waterbirds would be seen per visit, just between the 4th and 5th ave. bridges. The R. W. Morse Assessment is comprehensive. Fifty six surveys were conducted over an eight month period. Along West Bay they counted 39 species of waterbirds and six raptors, for a total of 15,231 sightings. The authors suggest repeatedly that we should make some effort to find out why the birds were vanishing and have since vanished.

As of 2002 birds facing local extinction included: Red-necked, Horned and Western Grebes, Pelagic Cormorant, Surf Scoter, Barrows Goldeneye, Hooded, Common and Re-breasted Merganzers, Ruddy Duck, Bonaparte’s Gull and Mew and Red-winged gulls. Some were already considered locally extinct including: White Winged and Black Scoters, American Wigeon, Canvasback and Rhinoceros Auklet.

Today, the rate of outright extinction is six times higher than the average over the last 500 years. But this number doesn’t account for a much larger number of species whose status is deteriorating. We work to reduce those critically endangered species from going extinct while species at low risk move into higher-risk categories. The extinction risk in birds is accumulating much more rapidly than previously appreciated, (8)

Scoters were predicted to be locally extinct as of 2004, which turned out to be an accurate prediction. Populations Puget Sound-wide were falling more slowly. Populations fell more quickly here because there’s something particularly wrong here. It’s no mystery what’s wrong and what solutions wold look like. We a bay mitered with dioxin and PCBs two of the most biologically damaging chemicals known. We have too many nutrients and too little dissolved oxygen. We’ve lost primary production (healthy phytoplankton populations) and secondary production (healthy zooplankton populations) and spawning and rearing habitat (for forage fish). We know how to fix these things: Daylight streams. Clean up and restore estuaries. Bring back tide flats and salt marsh.

Citizen actions and responses from the Port and City of Olympia

On July 7th, 2015 Olympia Urban Waters League (OUWL) gave a six minute presentation before the Olympia City Council on the potential benefits of removing culverts in Moxlie and Indian Creeks. This began a two year process of lobbying city staff and council members on the feasibility and benefits, especially in the lower watershed including the waters of East Bay, the most degraded waters in Budd Inlet.

The Olympia City Planning Commission, made up of community volunteers, stated that Moxie Creek could not be daylighted because the culvert runs underneath buildings. Ouwl responded that the stream could follow any pathway as long as water flows downhill. The Design Review Board, also comprised of community volunteers, refused to allow public comments on the subject.

The City recognizes that spawning habitat could be improved in both streams through the addition of large organic debris and the removal of 22 upstream culverts but until long downstream is removed the potential will not become significant. In response to suggestions to daylight the downstream culvert the response is that until upstream conditions are improved potential is likewise limited. It’s not worth fixing A if we don’t fix B and it’s not worth fixing B if we don’t fix A so let’s fix neither. (8)

Development moves forward

In 2017 developer Walker John and architect Ron Thomas entered into a contract with the Port to build a large mixed use structure called Westman Mill at the head of East Bay, on top of fill in the exact center of the historic estuary of Moxlie Creek. The City issued a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) determination of non-significance (DNS), meaning among other things that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was unnecessary. OUWL, feeling that an EIS should have been required, appealed the plan. The group felt that by not considering contamination source control and restoration, the plan was in violation of numerous acts and laws. They hired a team of attorneys and paid the City $1000 to appeal.

The City, the Port and the Developer didn’t want to prepare an EIS. They formed an alliance and assembled a legal team. Dale Kamerrer and Jeff Meyers of Law, Lyman, Daniel, Kamerrer, Bogdanovich, P.S. represented the City. Heather Burgess of Phillis Burgess PLLC represented the Port. Joseph of Rehberger Cascade Law Group PLLC represented 3rd Generation Development.

Hearing Examiner Mark C. Scheibmeir rendered a decision on May 3rd. He declared that according to City Code a stream in a culvert is “not a stream” and that the appeal as such was a collateral attack on a city ordinance; that arguments that the development would limit future restoration of Eastbay and Moxlie Creek are “speculative” and “do not constitute an adverse environmental impact”; and most significantly that OUWL failed to demonstrate “evidence of specific and perceptible harm” to themselves or their property, that is, they lacked standing.

OUWL felt that city ordinances do not supercede the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts, that some members of OUWL do have standing where marine waters are concerned and given that the tide backs up the entire length of the Moxlie Creek culvert, it is intertidal, brackish marine waters and OUWL should have had standing. In order to make these arguments OUWL would have had to have standing and without standing they could not make the arguments.

OUWL appealed the decision to Superior Court. The Port/City/Developer legal team responded with an Affidavit of Prejudice to Disqualify Judge James Dixon who they felt wouldn’t be fair and objective. Judge Christine Schaller was appointed who in a swift decision reaffirmed the Hearing Eaminer’s decision.

The Moxlie Creek culvert lies 200 feet east of the Westman Mill development in the exact center of the historic estuary of the stream. Being historic fill, deep pilings were driven. Retail space is provided on the ground floor, eighty five market rate housing units above. The scale of the building, the pilings and other features mean that the historic course of the estuary can now never be recovered. (1870 drawing of Budd Inlet with star on Westman Mill locations)

We’ve lost over 160 acres of tide flats, sea grass and salt marsh to fill in the historic Moxlie Creek estuary. We had an opportunity to get four of them back. We had an opportunity to restore intertidal areas in the Moxlie creek estuary. Instead we got the Westman Mill development.


Westman Mill Development

Capitol Lake:

Capitol Lake was created in 1951 by the construction of a dam. Beginning in 2001 Friends of Deschutes began advocating gof rte removal of the dam. A protracted debate ensued. In 2009 Friends of Deschutes disbanded and the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team was created. A counter group, the Capitol Lake Improvement and Protection Association formed to counter the effort. The State formed the Capitol Lake Adaptive Management Plan to manage a seemingly endless series of meetings that continue to this date.

Somewhere between half and two thirds of the historic estuary currently lies outside and north of the dam in an area dominated by the Port Peninsula and East Bay. Getting rid of the dam would not equate to restoring the estuary. East Bay, the estuary of Moxlie Creek was a dominant feature in the estuary. Many rivers have a companion stream that helps shape and form the estuary. Examples include Hylebos Creek for the Puyallup River, Medicine Creek for the Nisqually River. Somehow, Moxlie Creek and East Bay have escaped the discussion.

Much of the debate focuses on salmon habitat which is ironic. There was no native anadromous (seagoing) salmon run in the Deschutes River because of Deschutes Falls. We have constructed a series of fish ladders and established hatcheries above the falls so there is now a limited hatchery run. By contrast both Indian and Moxlie Creek have historically supported limited numbers of anadromous fish. Chum, sea-run cutthroat, coho, chinook, and steelhead all migrated to Indian Creek. In recent years, salmon of unknown species have been observed in Indian Creek immediately upstream of the confluence with Moxlie Creek and coho, chinook, and steelhead spawn in Moxlie Creek, primarily in the upstream creek segments within Watershed Park. Information on the population status and trends of resident fish in Moxlie Creek is not available. (7)

The Salmon Recovery Funding Board gives grants “for purchases and projects aimed at supporting endangered salmon”. In 2019 Capitol Land Trust was awarded $471,832 to buy 220 acres along the Deschutes River and Silver Creek to conserve chinook, coho and steelhead habitat. South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group got $183,187 to install wood structures in the Deschutes River that serve as a place for fish to rest and feed and also slow down the river to reduce erosion. The problem is there are no endangered wild salmon stocks in the Deschutes River because of the falls. There were and may still be wild stocks in Percival, Moxlie, Indian, Ellis and Schneider Creeks. It would make better sense to invest that $655,000 in culvert removal, if our true interest is supporting endangered salmon populations.

Why would we invest endangered salmon restoration funds to enhance hatchery fish? Hatcheries are inherently not ecosystem based. Their structure is artificial. Some portion of natural selection is taken out of the equation. They can compete with native fish and pollute their genetics.

South Budd Inlet probably never supported the numbers of salmon that we find in river estuaries that aren’t blocked by a waterfall. Although little data exists, anecdotal accounts indicate that South Budd Inlet once supported enormous populations of herring, sand lance and surf smelt. These forage fish provided important food for salmon migrating through.

Ongoing sources of dioxin

A Sediment Characterization for Budd Inlet completed in 2008 was to serve as a guide to identifying sources of ongoing contamination. After sampling the entire bay for hot spots we were going to seek out their sources and clean them up. Once the sources were controlled development could proceed.

The City has chosen to reverse the process and base cleanup on development priorities. In 1980 over a million cubic yards of contaminated dredge spoils were used as fill somewhere on the Port Peninsula. The highest levels of dioxin contamination in Budd Inlet are found at the southern end of East Bay adjacent to a million cubic yards of fill underlying places being developed. Why was so much money spent on the Sediment Characterization if we’re going to ignore it?

The ubiquitous mischaracterized cleanup

Dioxin is a family of chemicals that are like PCBs built around a chlorine atom. They are among the most bilabially damaging chemicals known, having gained notoriety for Agent Orang in Vietnam, Love Canal New York and Times Beach Missouri. Dioxin in Budd Inlet is especially problematic because as a component of creosote it moves with ground water and tidal flow.

In 2001 contaminated sediments were removed from the area lying north of the Port Peninsula and placed in a containment cell at the previous location of the Cascade Pole company where logs had been treated with creosote over several previous decades. On the northern side toward the bay a steel sheet pile wall was installed. At the southern, landward side a slurry wall, a trench filled with liquid bentonite clay, was installed. Prior to 2001 over a million cubic yards of contaminated sediments were dredged and used as fill. The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) who oversaw the dredge and fill operation has no idea where the fill was placed.

A few years later when installing utilities work was halted because holes in the ground were filling with oily substances. It was then determined that the log yard was also contaminated and the slurry wall was extended. According to Federal protocols slurry walls of this type should not be used in areas that are impacted by tidal flux which the log yard is twice each day. We also know that sheet pile walls have a limited life expectancy in salt water environments. So really nothing about this effort will be effective and long lasting.

There is a long list of cleanup activities that have been carried out in Budd Inlet. In reality and according to the proper definition of the word, very little has been cleaned up. Contaminated soils have been moved around and capped in place. A hot spot in the shore near the Westman Mill development contains dioxin in over 1100 parts per trillion (ppt). By contrast, the USACE threshold for open water disposal in Puget Sound is 3.5 ppt. The Port’s consultant claims that 1100 ppt is just a pile of old wood debris and not a concern, a claim that’s accepted by the Department of Ecology.

Two decades ago, a small environmental group reached a lawsuit settlement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency that launched a major new effort to tackle water pollution in Washington state.

Under the 1998 agreement, the state Department of Ecology had to develop cleanup plans for nearly 1,600 bodies of water, from the Puget Sound to the Palouse River that winds through the state’s wheat country, with the EPA overseeing work called for by the federal Clean Water Act.

The group — Northwest Environmental Advocates — as of 2019 is now back in U.S. District Court, alleging that federal and state officials have moved too slowly, and that they violated federal law by failing to get the plans done by a 2013 deadline.

“You’ve got a lot of foot-dragging. They push a lot of paper … but when it comes down to doing anything about pollution controls, they (Ecology) slow walk it,” said Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates. “And the EPA is unwilling to step in when the state fails. That is why we turn to the federal courts.”

A Better Way. Solutions.

A science based approach would begin with observation, much based on previous science. We observe that too much nitrogen, a nutrient for plants, can cause an overgrowth of phytoplankton. During the growth phase the phytoplankton produce lots of dissolved oxygen through photosynthesis. But then since they’ve overproduced they die and rot which gobbles up all the oxygen. The problem ultimately isn’t too much nitrogen it’s too little oxygen.

Then we form a hypothesis… low dissolved oxygen in Budd Inlet is the result of septic tank failures or LOTT or not the result of runoff from the Port, or whatever.

And the one that we’ll never advance. Low levels of dissolved oxygen in Budd Inlet are the result of Olympia’s having run 160 miles of surface water through culverts. The study below states that nitrates travel 18 times farther in buried pipes. A reasoned hypothesis would be that long culverts are a major source of low levels of dissolved oxygen.

The study of oceanography is taboo in this discussion. Oceanography is the tudy of physical (shape, structure, current). chemical (oxygen, nitrates) and biological (plankton) parameters. One proven way to improve chemical and biological conditions is to improve physical conditions. These lines are never connected.

There has been a failure to consider the effect of watersheds on marine water quality, asserting for example that there is no correlation between poor water quality in East Bay and poor water quality in Moxlie Creek which flows into East Bay. There has been a failure to meet standards for surface water runoff by asking for and receiving extension after extension on Port of Olympia log yard discharges. There has been a failure to control groundwater discharges, a failure to make any effort regarding ongoing uncontrolled sources of dioxin coming from historic fill. Definitions are important. A restoration should be a restoration. A cleanup should be a cleanup. Sustainable should be sustainable. Native salmon should be native salmon not hatchery salmon. Changing the definitions of words leads to confusion.

Phytoplankton account for half of all photosynthetic activity on Earth. Their cumulative fixation of carbon through primary production is the basis of oceanic food webs. There is virtually no primary production in East Bay because Moxlie Creek runs through a half-mile long pipe and empties into a dredged hole. Phytoplankton are the oldest and one of the biggest carbon sinks. They’re a major source of atmospheric oxygen.

Sea grass and salt marsh hold fifteen times the carbon per acre as Amazon rain forest. When coastal habitats are lost not only do they no longer capture carbon, carbon captured in the past is released. They turn from carbon sink to carbon emitter.

One of the tenets of science is the “baseline”, the starting point, that to which what comes later is compared. We use current conditions as a baseline the hope being to determine if things are getting better or worse. The true baseline lies much fatter back in time. What existed before we began inflicting damage on natural systems.

Another frequently battered term is “best available science”. Good science begins with observation. We then form a hypothesis, run a test or experiment and then arrive at a conclusion. If we don’t follow these steps science can be pointless, incomplete and manipulated.

Indigenous people have long followed scientific methodology. They observe, for example, that birds are circling, hypothesize that herring are being driven to the surface by a predator, test with a dip net and conclude that such is the case. The experiment is repeated to improve probability and refine the conclusion. This is not to claim that indigenous people have some kind of genetic or biological imperative to understand these things. They are contained in traditions which developed over thousands of years of practicing good science.

The Deschutes, was named Steh-chass River. The Steh-chass people lived in three large cedar plank homes, up to eight families in each. Another village, Bus-chut-hwud, “frequented by black bears”, was located near what is today Percival Landing. In what is today East Bay, a long estuary lead to another village and namesake stream, the Pe’tzlb. There were also villages in the estuaries of Percival, Schneider and Ellis Creeks.

Nisqually tribal historian Cecelia Svinth Carpenter in her book Fort Nisqually states that “Almost every freshwater outlet on Puget Sound” was”inhabited by one band of Indian people or another. The Sequalitchew band of the Nisqually Indian Tribe had lived in the sheltered cove at the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek since as far back as any Inidan person could remember. As the floor of Sequalitchew ravine edged itself down the hill to the lower elevations, if followed the bed of the stream. By the time both entered the area of the cove, they were just a bit above sea level and had settled down to form a relatively flat shelf before making a final descent to the salt water of Puget Sound. It was on this long, narrow shelf or cove, safely above the rise and fall of the tide, that the people of the Sequalitchew had long ago built their cedar homes. In those days there were between 40 and 50 people living in the village counting all the men, women and children, perhaps representing five or six extended family units.”

Ecosystem based management should begin with the true baseline, that which existed prior to our destroying it. We might learn to be caretakers not takers. We don’t own the water air and land. We should in all decisions consider the effect over seven generations, 200 years. We might learn what we can about how indigenous people sustained livelihood for thousands of years. First People recognized the importance of stream estuaries. Olympia doesn’t even recognize their existence.

The situation is not unique to Olympia. An 1800 page global assessment of nature has been compiled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). A 40-page “summary for policymakers”, published on May 5th, is a powerful indictment. Around a million species face extinction within decades. Only 13% of the earth’s wetlands present in 1700 still exist. Natural ecosystems have declined by 47%. The global biomass of wild mammals has fallen by 82%. (4)

Other studies indicate a $40% reduction in plankton world wide. Diatoms, the largest type of phytoplankton algae, have declined globally more than 1 percent per year between 1998 to 2012, with significant losses occurring in the North Pacific. Published in 2015 the findings were reiterated by three more studies on phytoplankton abundance, published in quick succession. According to National Geographic, The Living Planet Index score for freshwater populations of water dwelling animals has plummeted by 83 percent. A report from the World Wildlife Fund affirms a nearly 50% decline in marine life populations between 1970 and 2012.


The City and the Port are public entities. The costs of employing the legal team they assembled to defeat opponents of the Westman Mill development were substantial. The members of OUWL also paid for legal council in addition to paying the City $1000 for the right to file the appeal. A United Nations IPBES report states that governments must end the “destructive subsidies” that “drive the plundering of the land and ocean at the expense of a clean, healthy and diverse environment on which billions of women, children and men depend”. It calls for a “transformative change”, steering the world away from the “limited paradigm of economic growth”.

Our laws are representative of our ways of thinking. Often our way of thinking is also formed by our laws. When slavery was banned it took little time for the idea to be found unacceptable, even to the most ardent racists. It simply was no longer in our mindset. There are two movements afoot in this direction:

The Rights of Nature is the recognition that ecosystems and all their components have rights just as human beings have rights. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, we acknowledge that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And we, the people, have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the injured party, with its own legal standing in cases alleging rights violations. Governing bodies like the City and Port of Olympia would no longer be able to dodge appeals based on merit by denying standing. (5)

It has been suggested that ecocide, the willful destruction of ecological systems, be made a crime under international law at the very highest level, somewhat akin to genocide. Although such movement by the United Nations may be a long time coming, there’s no reason it couldn’t happen at a state level. If an individual or group of individuals falsify or ignore plainly presented information and degrade natural systems and species in the process, they could be found in violation of the law and be subject to prison sentences. (6)

If we want to reverse the damage done to Puget Sound we should allow science into the process. We should form hypotheses based on observation and follow accepted protocols to test these hypotheses. We should explore oceanographic parameters. How are modifications to structure impacting water quality and species richness?

And ultimately we must accept ecological grief. There’s a power and honor in grief. It means we’ve loved something. We’ve had a connection to a place and its species. We need new rituals to celebrate that love… to mark and share the loss.


(8) Olympia Woodland Trail Feasibility Study dec 1998 containing Caldwell and Associates 1996, fish habitat investigation Indian Creek prepared for Olympia Parks

(1) West Bay Habitat Assessment Final Report
June 15, 2002
RW Morse Company

(2) Urban Stream Burial Increases Watershed-Scale Nitrate Export
Journal Pone, July 17, 2015 Jake J. Beaulieu et al

(3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_Q-0xj7-dk

(4) Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Sandra Díaz et al. May 2019

(5) https://therightsofnature.org/what-is-rights-of-nature/

(6) https://ecocidelaw.com/the-law/existing-ecocide-laws/


(7) (Appendix D: Summary of Olympia Stream Basin Traits, pg D26) (Source: Aquatic Habitat Evaluation and Management Study, City of Olympia, 1999)

(8) https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2019.0633

East Bay Development

The Cascade Pole cleanup site is located at the north end of the Port of Olympia. Beginning in the 1930s wood treating businesses operated at the site, most recently from 1957 to 1986, the Cascade Pole Company. Creosote was released to the environment during the plant’s operation.

The primary chemicals of concern are dioxin and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Dioxin, a family of chemicals better referred to as dioxin/furans, is the most biologically damaging non-radioactive substance known. Toxicity is measured in parts per trillion (ppt). Dioxin damages DNA and has been linked to things like cancer, birth defects and diabetes. It breaks down very slowly and accumulates in our bodies. Dioxin can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled and ingested in our food.

East Bay is also considered a degraded water body because of PCB contamination. This is especially important because PCBs are very much like dioxin and can not only add to its toxicity but magnify it. They’re both part of a category of chemicals known as heavy halogens, chemicals built around chlorine, bromine and fluorine.

The most common way we pick up dioxin is from our food. This is one reason that source control, preventing dioxin from entering the marine food web, is important for human health. People get very little dioxin via inhalation or dermal contact because most people are rarely exposed directly to dioxin. People who live and work around it are going to be at greater risk.

Toward the end of the 1980s a group of citizens entered the Cascade Pole site and painted skull and crossbones symbols on large tanks located there, drawing attention to the problem and bringing about a Federal Superfund designation. The Washington State Department of Ecology and Cascade Pole entered into a legal agreement in 1990 and the cleanup began. 35,000 cubic yards of sediment were removed, and the area was backfilled with clean. The dredged sediments were placed an engineered containment cell. A system was installed to pump and treat contaminated water. A steel sheet pile wall was constructed on the seaward side and the upland area was paved to form a large parking lot.

Unfortunately, in the 1980s, prior to Superfund recognition, the Port of Olympia dredged 1.1 million cubic yards of sediments from the adjoining area to create a marina. Those sediments were spread around the southern end of East Bay as fill. It’s no coincidence that the southern end of East Bay today has concentrations of dioxin ranging as high as 1000 to 4210 ppt. By comparison the USACE standard for open water disposal is 3.5 ppt. The standard for MTCA cleanup sites is 11 ppt. The only plausible source of dioxin entering East Bay is fill that was dredged from sediments adjoining Cascade Pole in the 1980s. No other viable hypothesis has been presented.

Before cleanup can begin, the sources of contamination need to be controlled. The Port of Olympia and the State of Washington are investing $4 million toward the identification and control of dioxin entering East Bay. The search for sources of contamination looks toward shore but ends there because the shore in that area belongs to the City and the City has no interest in cooperating.

Restoring the health of East Bay will be largely a matter of restoring physical parameters. Today Moxlie Creek runs through a half mile long culvert and empties into a bay that’s been dredged to an unnatural depth and it’s banks have been filled and armored with rock. It bears little resemblance to what it once was.

All life in the sea depends on plankton. Habitat for phytoplankton is defined as the “photic zone”, the area of water penetrated by light. There is no light in a pipe, hence no plankton. Plankton function best in an estuary with persistent circulation patterns in the presence of abundant sunlight and oxygen. Tide flats are one of nature’s perfect designs. The Estuary of Moxlie Creek can only be fixed. It can’t be moved or remediated elsewhere.

The Port meanwhile is moving forward with development of the historic estuary. Developer Walker John is planning to build 85 market rate housing units on the western half of 4.5 acres of land adjoining State Ave and Chestnut, the only area available for intertidal estuary restoration. Developing any portion of the site would also pose risks to occupants if a real cleanup was undertaken. Nobody wants to look out their window at people in moon suits working down in a big hole.

East Bay is federally classified as a 303(d) degraded water body. In addition to dioxin, PAHs and PCBs, there is too much nitrogen and too little dissolved oxygen. It’s just about a sick as a water body could be. This makes it a good candidate for outside funding. Money is available from federal sources such as the National Estuary Program and state and non-governmental organizations. These grants are competitive and based on costs and benefits. They go for work that’s complete and not piecemeal and to applicants that haven’t demonstrated a lack of commitment by giving away opportunities.

To offer both restoration and cleanup is golden. Sadly, Olympia prefers to develop in sensitive areas and cleanup as development proceeds. It’s a destructive, expensive strategy.

Garden Bay Blog

I’m Harry Branch, retired captain of fishing, charter, education and research vessels. I have a masters degree in Environmental Studies from The Evergreen State College and wrote a masters thesis about marine reserves. I’ve studied oceanography and ecology, scientific disciplines widely viewed as taboo.