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