More than a few people have asked us this: Why are multiple cargo ships visible at anchor across the Sound, off Manchester, almost continuously? It was a common sight during last year’s dispute at the Port of Seattle, but nothing like that is happening now. When we asked the Port, they pointed us to the U.S. Coast Guard, which manages the anchorages there. And with the help of the 13th District Public Affairs team, we have the answer.
Chief Petty Officer Randy Hale explains that the area is known as Yukon Harbor, and it was designated as an anchorage area in the 1970s; with Bainbridge to the north, Blake and Vashon Islands to the south, it has protection from our area’s sometimes-brutal windstorms. It wasn’t used much until the Port dispute a year-plus ago, but now, the reasons you’re seeing more ships there this winter are multiple: For one, CPO Hale says, “Smith Cove West anchorage [off Magnolia] is closed seasonally (winter months) – this reduced the amount of available anchorages in Elliott Bay.” That, CPO Hale says, is coupled with an increase in port activity overall (we’re checking back with the Port of Seattle about this – most of the anchored ships are waiting to get to Terminal 86). And finally, a side benefit: “On a good note, the utilization of Yukon Harbor Vessel Traffic Service Puget Sound has experienced a significant decrease in the amount of reported anchored vessels dragging anchor, reducing the risk of damage to our beautiful waters.” Overall, this is expected to continue: “It will likely be utilized more frequently than what residents are historically accustomed to seeing.”
When the Kitsap Sun answered a similar question in 2012, its story noted that it was rare to see more than one at a time. Lately, anecdotally, our checks have shown three there almost continuously – including right now, as shown on MarineTraffic.com.
If you’re looking across the Sound to this area, you might also see ships that are docked west of Yukon Harbor, at Manchester, which is a U.S. Navy fuel depot – such as this one we reported on in 2014.