Ask any rower what the ideal conditions are, and you’ll hear flat water, no wind, no boat traffic or wake, easy water access off low docks, etc. All true, and unlikely to be found on a regular basis in Port Townsend Bay. But these conditions are not all that makes rowing a deeply satisfying experience. The magnificent water and mountain views are daily parts of our experience. But the truly outstanding feature of rowing here is the plethora of other creatures sharing the experience.
Heading out from Point Hudson, it is not unusual to catch the curved back of a harbor porpoise fishing close to shore. A sea lion has is frequently seen showing off its catch of a large salmon. A short piece, about 3km, across the bay you enter the estuary of calm water in the channel behind Rat Island (named for its shape, not its inhabitants). Here, while catching one’s breath and rehydrating, one is surrounded by nature. The harbor seals are the first to greet you, popping their heads above water the check out the modest disturbance created by the oars and slip of your shell. In summer, herds of seals are found lounging on the beach with their pups, occasionally surging into the water making what sounds like a waterfall, at the approach of your boat. Earlier in the season, Caspian Terns roost on the island making an awful screeching racket while darting back and forth across the island in search of small fish for their young. There are almost always Bald Eagles to be seen on the bluffs on Indian Island or flying low across Rat to perch with the Cormorants on the old tower outside of the island’s entrance. On the way back across the bay, one may encounter Guillemots, Auklets, Murrelets, Buffleheads, Mergansers and Brants – and occasionally hear the warbly call of a Loon.
But what could be more iconic in the Pacific Northwest than an Orca. Our Learn to Row class was out in this June learning the basics of oar handling, stroke sequencing, team work, when one of the students pointed out toward Whidbey Island. We all turned around to see the magnificent arc of two Orcas backs and their towering dorsal fins only a few hundred meters beyond our boats. Miraculously, a photographer (@douglas_fir_photography) happened to have us in his sights as he snapped pictures of the surfacing whales and shared this photo with us.
We may not have flat water, a shell dock, fresh warm water, but sharing the richness of our world with the many species of animals above, on and under the bay, is a daily thrill.
Calm waters behind Rat Island with Olympic Mountains looming.
Seals behind Rat Island coming to see what all the excitement is about.
“Learn To Row with Orcas” (photo credit: @douglas_fir_photography).