Quartermaster Harbor, Vashon Island


When Daylight Saving Time gives our Friday evening daylight cruising period a big boost, we begin to range farther north and south of our typical winter cruising ground of the middle Puget Sound. In late April of 2002, we returned to Quartermaster Harbor, which juts into the southern shore of Vashon Island and is roughly equidistant from Tacoma and Gig Harbor in the south Puget Sound.

Leaving Elliott Bay on a drizzly April evening, a gloomy-looking downtown Seattle was visible behind the Alki Point Lighthouse. Established in 1887, two keepers lived on site prior to automation, after which one of the two keeper's dwellings was remodeled to house high-ranking Coast Guard officials and the other is still home to a resident keeper.
We encountered quite a parade of large ships in the VTS lanes east of Vashon Island. The first was the Wallenius Wilhelmsen Elektra, a 22,588-ton PCTC (pure car truck carrier) capable of carrying nearly 6,000 cars. Built in 1999, it looks very modern. It was followed by the equally new 1,138' container ship Skagen Maersk, which was being overtaken by "K" Line's 48,237-ton Chang Jiang Bridge, which looks much older, but was built in 1992. Check out the bow wake on the latter.
At Point Robinson on Vashon Island, the lighthouse is dwarfed by a huge radar tower. The lighthouse began service in 1885 and was automated in 1978. Still maintained by the Coast Guard, it is open to the public  for visits on the weekends and has an adjoining park with picnic tables and beach access. There were people on the beach when we went past.
Vashon Island has many parks, and two of those accessible from the water are in Quartermaster Harbor. Pictured is Dockton Park, operated by King County Parks, which is about halfway inside on the eastern shore and is very popular with boaters, with over 50 slips, walking trails and a boat launch. The city of Dockton was named by the Puget Sound Dry Dock Company who operated a shipyard here in the 1890s whose drydock was the largest on the west coast.
The second park is Burton Acres at Jenson Point, a peninsula which juts into Quartermaster Harbor forming the protected inner harbor where we like to anchor, just northwest of the park. It is always calm and quiet here, most vessels favoring the floats at Dockton, the main activity being rowers who frequently practice on the smooth waters, which they were doing as when we arrived.
The next day we set off in the dinghy to explore. At the northwestern corner of the inner harbor the road bridges Judd Creek where an abandoned double-decker barge sits. I later spoke with a local who reported that it was once a bunkhouse called the John D which was brought down from an Alaska mine. A friend of the local inherited it when the owner died, and found that it was filled with vintage sewing machines, many of the cabinets of which he subsequently restored and sold. A derelict now, there are apparently more watercolors painted of this scene than anything else.
At the southwest corner of the inner harbor is the village of Burton and The Quartermaster Harbor Marina, with no transient moorage and a locked gate guarded by razor wire with dissuades shore access even by dinghy. When we arrived, the gates were open for power-washing the docks, and upon asking were told it was alright for us to tie off our tender and take a look around. This is the view looking north across the marina to the inner harbor. The docks at the far left of the picture are of the Quartermaster Yacht Club, which welcomes members of reciprocal clubs but is otherwise strictly off-limits.
The man cleaning the docks was a wonderful source of information. He told us the history behind the abandoned barge at Judd Creek and about an intertidal lagoon at directly east of the the harbor from Jensen Point. Not shown on our charts, it is accessible only at higher tides -- a runabout is pictured entering ahead of us. Inside were a wide variety of residences, from large houses with extensive lawns, to rundown homes with junkyards, and one with horses grazing near the water's edge.
The most intriguing recommendation given by our local acquaintance was to visit the madrona (arbutus) forest, apparently the largest in Washington state, in the trails through DNR land south of Dockton Park. We tied off at the park floats, which were quite full with a rendezvous, and headed up the hill on West 260th street. It was a very pleasant walk on a warm spring afternoon with the sun shining through the forest that crowded the roadsides. This is the view looking back towards the docks.
About a 1/3 mile up the road, a trailhead leads south into the madrona forest. The trees arching high over our heads gave a cathedral-like aura to the hushed environs. While madronas are quite common around the Pacific Northwest, it is very rare to find oneself in an entire forest of them -- it was most impressive.
Directly east of the forest is an unused gravel mine, which is visible from the water in East Passage. This is the old conveyor used to transport gravel to waiting barges.
The view across East Passage from the cliffs was simply stunning. Here you can see the rest of the conveyor heading towards the remains of the dock, which is now a popular scuba dive site. In the foreground a dive boat is tied between the pilings, while Tacoma is visible in the distance on the right.
This is the view looking north along the eastern Vashon Island shoreline, with Des Moines visible in the distance.
We returned home the next day, passing by the gravel mine from the water side. Dive boats seem to be a constant fixture here -- we will have to try a dive here sometime.

To learn about more of these adventure, see our book Cruising the Secret Coast.


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Copyright 2012 Jennifer and James Hamilton