Location is key for scenic Puget Sound forts

May 26, 2009


A paddle tour of Port Ludlow’s harbour gets you close to the W.N. Ragland, until recently owned by Neil Young.

Long before Johnny Cash popularized the song “Ring of Fire”, U.S. naval tacticians constructed a triangle of fire at the mouth of Washington state’s Admiralty Inlet, within sight of Victoria and the southern Lower Mainland. Over a century ago, three forts—Casey, Flagler, and Worden—were built there overlooking Puget Sound’s northern entrance, where the straits of Georgia, Juan de Fuca, and Haro converge. Woe betide an enemy vessel that strayed into the crossfire of artillery mounted at the forts.

Fact is, none ever did. About three decades after the forts were built, technological innovations, chiefly the advent of aviation, neutered their effectiveness. No longer was Seattle imperilled, at least by threat from sea. Still, it was two decades before the U.S. military abandoned the forts. When they did, in the 1950s, Washington state officials stepped in and, in a move akin to turning swords into plowshares, rendered the properties into parkland.

In a state where public waterfront is at a premium, that was a mighty coup indeed. Not only did the citizenry of the Evergreen State benefit, so did denizens north of the Peace Arch border crossing. All three forts lie within easy getaway distance from Vancouver. Before the onset of summer vacation, when the parks teem with campers, now is a good time to plan a visit.

At first blush, you may wonder what would compel you to brave a border crossing just to visit an old fort. Once you’ve seen the forts for yourself and experienced the natural beauty of the settings the three share, you’ll understand the triangle’s strategic importance. Although none sport battlements to rival the ramparts of Quebec City, the panoramic landscape in which they nestle—capped by mounts Baker and Rainier—offers more than ample reason for exploration. Although Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey Island lies within comfortable striking distance for day-trippers from Vancouver, Fort Flagler, on Marrowstone Island, and Fort Worden on the nearby Olympic Peninsula offer overnight options. These range from campgrounds at the two state parks to resorts and heritage bed-and-breakfasts in Port Townsend and nearby Port Ludlow, affordably priced even if the Canadian dollar has retracted from last year’s dizzying rally against its greenback counterpart.

A common characteristic of the shoreline shared by the landscapes surrounding forts Casey and Flagler, as well as many of the islands in northern Puget Sound, are smooth-faced cliffs similar to those at Point Grey. All three state parks feature kilometres of fine-gravelled beaches paired with endless views. On the Whidbey Island side, kids will delight in clambering around the old gun mounts and restored lighthouse at Fort Casey. The bluffs rising high above the beach are a fascinating backdrop to this wind-swept area. The Olympic Peninsula lies directly across the water to the west. On a clear day, the jagged, snowcapped peaks of Hurricane Ridge stand out sharply. As seen from the opposite side of Admiralty Inlet at forts Worden and Flagler, a long line of peaks extend from the north shore and Mount Baker’s smooth south face to Mount Rainier’s distinctively shaped volcanic snowcone near Seattle.

The best place to take this all in is from a bike seat or a boat. Although Whidbey Island features an extensive network of pedal paths around Fort Casey, rip tides incited by the convergence of currents deter boaters on Whidbey Island’s shoreline. The paddle option is only recommended on the Olympic Peninsula side of the inlet, particularly the clear, shallow waters surrounding Fort Flagler’s Marrowstone Point, named by Captain George Vancouver for the soft clay cliffs that define the shoreline. Whether you paddle from one of the park’s launch ramps or walk the perimeter of the point, the ever-changing views are a constant source of wonder.

Consider renting a kayak either at Port Townsend’s tourist-thronged waterfront or at the far quieter Port Ludlow nearby. Launch at Port Ludlow’s marina and enjoy an hour or two paddling around Ludlow Bay. This region has long been known as the wooden-boat capital of the Pacific Northwest. There’s plenty to ogle from a water-level vantage point. In Port Ludlow, the sight of a majestic schooner—the W.N. Ragland—dwarfs all else. Once owned by Neil Young, who named it for his grandfather, its twin masts, with riggings strung like spider webs, tower 32 metres above a broad, sloping deck ( also see companion article posted in our “News” section). Because the sheltered bay lies on the lee side of the Olympic Mountains, barely a breeze ruffles the Ragland’s reflection on the bay’s surface. Only passing river otters dare disturb the scene. Launched in 1913 as the Lilli—her “born” name—she originally saw service as a rock hauler in the Baltic Sea. Since the late 1970s, she’s been a rock hauler of a different sort, one that inspired Young to write, “As long as we can sail away, there’ll be wind in the canyon, moon on the rise, as long as we can sail away.”

Access: Fort Casey lies 190 kilometres south of Vancouver via I-5 and Highway 20. Take Exit 230 in Mount Vernon–Burlington. Washington State Ferries links to Port Townsend–Fort Worden from Keystone on Whidbey Island, a 30-minute crossing. Reservations are strongly advised. Regional tourism information is available from Washington State Tourism. Fort Flagler lies 30 kilometres south of Port Townsend near Port Ludlow. For information on the W.N. Ragland, visit www.wnragland.com. Visit www.portludlowresort.com for kayak- and bike-rental rates.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article

Sail Away to Port Ludlow

May 25, 2009

Access: Port Ludlow lies 30 km/18 mi. south of Port Townsend. Washington State Ferries links Port Townsend with Keystone on Whidbey Island, 200 km/120 mi. south of Vancouver on Interstate 5 and Highway 20 via exit 230 in Mount Vernon-Burlington. The ferry crossing takes 30 minutes. Reservations are strongly advised: visit wsdot.wa.gov/ferries. For details on Port Ludlow, visit portludlowchamber.org. Regional tourism information is available from Washington State Tourism, experiencewa.com. For information on the W.N. Ragland, visit wnragland.com. The Resort at Port Ludlow’s marina provides launching facilities, including a hoist, for $5. Kayaks are also available for rent. Visit portludlowresort.com for rates and related activities, including cycling and golf.

Pining to sail away with Neil Young? Sadly, you’re a tad too late, at least if you’d hoped to sign on with the crew of the W.N. Ragland, which the singer owned for the past four decades. Last fall, Young sold the 35-metre schooner to Walter Wallace, a yacht broker based in Port Townsend, Washington, renown as the wooden boat capital of the Pacific Northwest.

When contacted aboard the Ragland, Wallace offered further background on the schooner. Launched in 1913 as the Lilli—her “born” name—she originally saw service as a rock hauler in the Baltic Sea. “Neil moored her in Port Townsend but she attracted so much attention that I moved her down to Port Ludlow which is a lot quieter environment,” he said. As to why Young reluctantly parted with the Ragland, Wallace pointed out that wooden boats typically foster strong emotional attachments with their owners. “All I can say is he had personal reasons to sell. At dinner last fall he told me how he’d used it for family escapes over the years—after the births of his children, for example. He changed the name to honour his grandfather. Over the past three years I’d been taking care of her. When he saw how much attention I paid her, he felt like the boat is in really good hands.”

Although Wallace wouldn’t divulge the sale price, he did admit that to raise the cash he parted with two boats, a large fiberglass yacht from his brokerage business and a 21-metre tugboat which he used as a live-aboard residence. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with her. One of the things that makes her different from other cool boats is that Neil had an open cheque book policy. No expense was spared. There’s $50,000 worth of rope alone in the rigging.”

As much as Wallace enjoys living aboard the Ragland, whose private stateroom occupies a third of the below-deck space, he admitted the storybook vessel should be sailing, not tied at dock. “I can’t fund personal expeditions so I wrote blind to National Geographic and Disney—who’ve just committed to making a feature film a year about the planet for the next decade—to see if there is an environmental cause which might suit her. She’s been around the world seven times. There’s no reason to assume she won’t be seaworthy for another 80 years before needing a refit.”

Launch at the local marina and take an hour or more to paddle around Ludlow Bay. It’s easy to pick out the Ragland. From the water-level vantage point of a kayak, the sight of the schooner dwarfs all else. Twin masts, with riggings strung like spider webs, tower 32 metres above a broad, sloping deck. Two hefty anchors dangle from the bow. As the sheltered port lies on the lee side of Washington State’s Olympic Mountains, barely a breeze ruffles the Ragland’s reflection on the bay’s surface. Only passing river otters dare disturb the scene while you float placidly.

Visiting Port Ludlow without time to explore the bay by boat? No problem. Enjoy a perspective on the Ragland—framed by the Olympics to the west and Mount Baker in the northeast—from a small picnic area anchored with a ceremonial pole carved by local S’Kallum tribal artists. Pick up some goodies at the marina’s chandlery, then follow a public footpath that leads a short distance past the resort. The inn is worth a stop in itself for the numerous historical photographs of the former logging town on display. Port Ludlow is the original home of Portland-based Pope & Talbot, a logging company with deep ties to B.C.

A far more panoramic waterfront venue, albeit beyond sight of the Ragland, lies a pleasant 30-minute drive north of Port Ludlow in Fort Flager State Park on Marrowstone Island. One of three batteries built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to protect the mouth of Puget Sound, the park features 6 kilometres of fine-gravelled beaches paired with endless views extending from the Lower Mainland to Mount Rainier’s snowcone east of Seattle. Port Townsend lies on the west side of the bay with Whidbey Island to the east across Admiralty Inlet.

For more information on Forts Flager, Worden, and Casey, see my related post under “Articles”

Delta Library Appearance

May 19, 2009

I’m appearing at the George Mackie Library (8440-112th St,  North Delta) on Wednesday, May 20,  at 7 pm.

Come out to see a Power Point presentation of Louise’s images taken from our most recent best seller, “Best Weekend Getaways from Vancouver”

Bring your questions about summer tarvel plans in B.C.  If you can’t make it to the library, post them here.

Happy trails!

Igloo Building in Mount Seymour Park

May 5, 2009

Ever done something you’ve always wanted to but didn’t know it? That’s how I felt while building an igloo in Mount Seymour Provincial Park on Vancouver’s North Shore. As I stood like Atlas holding up the world – in this case a suitcase-size slab of compacted snow – I realized I was exactly where I was meant to be at that moment, creating a memory that would be added to my accomplishments in life’s rich pageant.igloo1

Thanks to the coaching from Mike Harding, expedition leader with Westcoast Adventures, we fashioned our “dome away from home” in about three hours. Then Louise got to work digging out a snow kitchen where we gathered with Mike, his staff, two snowshoe instructors from Mount Seymour Resort, friends Janice (pictured above and below) and Scott Greenwood-Fraser , and fellow journalists Ann Campbell of Vancouver and Alf Alderson from the U.K.


Once again, Louise had a chance to test the video feature on her Leica C-Lux 2. While the little camera has many fine features, a decent view finder would be a helpful addition. As it is, Louise shoots blind and hopes for the best. Part of the learning process on this production is familiarizing ourself with the iMovie editing system on Louise’s Mac. Bearing that in mind, here is a rough cut of our weekend experience which we’ll update with a cleaner edit in the days ahead.

The Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia publishes a helpful guide on building snow shelters: FMCBC Training manual VII. Call 604-736-3053 to request a copy.