West Seattle, Washington
Though cruise season has officially begun, that ship’s not sailing away just yet, and some are noticing it at anchor off Manchester today. It’s the 3,000-passenger-capacity Carnival Splendor (photographed by James Bratsanos as it sailed past Alki towar the anchorage known as Yukon Harbor, after a few days at the Smith Cove terminal in Magnolia). The season schedule shows Splendor is scheduled for its first cruise one week from today.
The state Department of Ecology has sent advance word of a drill you might notice if you’re looking toward Harbor Island or the downtown waterfront tomorrow (Tuesday, April 12th). Starting at 9 am, the alert says, “Kinder Morgan and NRC will be deploying equipment to exercise their oil spill contingency plans, and test the geographic response plan for that area. Activities will start at the Kinder Morgan facility on Harbor Island [map], and then move to the waterfront near the Seattle Aquarium. Crews will operate oil spill skimmers near Harbor Island and deploy boom near the Seattle waterfront.”
Thanks to Robin for the tip. The Muckleshoot Tribe‘s canoe family is gathered at Don Armeni Boat Ramp right now, preparing to launch. They told us they’ll be paddling this afternoon to Alki Beach and back.
Tribes’ canoes have been largely out of action during the pandemic; the traditional summertime multi-nation Canoe Journeys have been on hiatus, and there’s no date set yet for when they’ll resume.
Thanks for the tips! The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) passed West Seattle about an hour ago, headed home to Bremerton. As noted here, it headed out seven weeks ago; Josh Farley of the Kitsap Sun reports today on the training that the carrier’s crew has been engaged in.
11:53 AM: Thanks to Kersti Muul for the tip – transient killer whales are northbound, approaching south West Seattle, closer to this side of the Sound. Let us know if you see them!
2:58 PM: As of Kersti’s latest update in comments, they’re off Alki.
Thanks to Karen for sending the photo! Amid the unsettled weather mixing sun and showers, sailboats were in view off Duwamish Head. While the U.S. Coast Guard Notice to Mariners shows several races/regattas around Puget Sound today, the only one listed in this area is the Corinthian Yacht Club‘s Center Sound Series Race #2. Third race in the series is in two weeks, on April 2nd.
ADDED: Another photo, sent by Stephen:
Thanks for the photos! Another submarine sighting off Alki today, in the noon hour – above, Ted caught the submarine in the background, with swimmers in the foreground. Below, Mike‘s photo with a closer look:
It’s on the MarineTraffic.com tracker simply as “U.S. submarine,” currently off Whidbey Island and continuing northbound.
Thanks to Garrett for sending the photo! The Military Sealift Command ship USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE 11) passed West Seattle, northbound, this morning. This U.S. Navy post about a training exercise last year describes it as a “dry-cargo/ammunition ship.” As of this January USNI News report, it was part of the carrier USS Carl Vinson‘s strike group. We last mentioned this ship three years ago; MarineTraffic.com shows it entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca right now, after leaving Manchester this morning.
Thanks for the tips! That submarine just passed West Seattle southbound, and according to MarineTraffic.com is now rounding the south end of Bainbridge Island, on its way toward Naval Base Kitsap. Submarines don’t often show up on the public tracking service but this time, this one is identified as “U.S. submarine.”
11:11 AM: Thanks for the tips, and the pic above from M. The USS Nimitz (CVN 68) is the aircraft carrier seen passing West Seattle, northbound, about an hour ago. Josh Farley of the Kitsap Sun reports that it’s out for sea trials after repair-work completion at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
11:26 AM: Another reader photo:
Two orca-related items:
WHALES’ MONDAY VISIT: We mentioned orcas were in the area again Monday. Today, two photos from Trileigh Tucker, who says, “There were about 4 adult orcas and one or maybe even two babies – waiting to hear back from Orca Network about the babies. ON identified them as T124s. The lighting was just gorgeous.”
RESEARCH BUOY: As mentioned in our daily preview list, a King County research boat was out this morning deploying a buoy to listen in on undersea noise, a major threat to orcas. Here’s the video recorded during the livestream and Q&A:
This isn’t off West Seattle – closer to Edmonds – but the research over the next three months will be of interest to orca-watchers all around Puget Sound. Full details from King County are here.
A little over one year ago, we reported on that University of Washington research vessel’s work off Alki Point, studying methane bubbles seeping from the Seattle Fault. UW oceanography professor Paul Johnson explained the project involving the R/V Rachel Carson, years of work that could someday help predict earthquakes, among other things. He also shared this undersea video showing the bubbles:
This week, the UW announced that research for which Professor Carson was lead author has been published in the January issue of Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. The UW post also talks about some of what’s happened since our report, and what’s next:
… In follow-up work, scientists used underwater microphones this fall to eavesdrop on the bubbles. Shima Abadi, an associate professor at the University of Washington Bothell, is analyzing the sound that bubbles make when they are emitted. The team also hopes to go back to Alki Point with a remotely operated vehicle that could place instruments inside a vent hole to fully analyze the emerging fluid and gas. …
The area off Alki Point is not the only methane-bubble site they’re studying – others in the region include an area off Kingston. Among the mysteries they have yet to solve is the source of the methane.
At the end of a socked-in day, we learned that somewhere in the fog, an aircraft carrier passed by … for the last time. The USS Kitty Hawk has been mothballed in Bremerton for more than a decade, and was towed away today, headed to be scrapped in Texas, as the Kitsap Sun‘s Josh Farley reports. We don’t have a photo of its passage in the fog today, but here’s a pic we published (courtesy of reader Gary) the day it arrived in Bremerton in September 2008:
Meantime, also on the water between here and Bremerton this murky day, a submarine:
We received that photo from Kelley Leigh, who was on a state ferry headed for downtown Seattle that passed the submarine arriving in Bremerton just before 3 pm today.
James Borrow, who often shares photos of interesting offshore sights, photographed that boat off Alki on Tuesday. We asked the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife what kind of research its crew was doing. Here’s what WDFW’s Chase Gunnell found out for us: “Our understanding is that boat is contracted by the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe to do test fishing (also known as catch sampling) for Puget Sound winter Chinook (also known as blackmouth) and other salmon in coordination with WDFW during the ongoing Marine Area 10 winter salmon season.” That season opened on New Year’s Day and is scheduled to run through the end of March, allowing fishing on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays, with a daily limit of one salmon. Gunnell says WDFW has its own boat out test-fishing those three days, as well, and has staff doing spot checks at area boat ramps including Don Armeni – here are the charts of what they’ve found.
SIDE NOTE: This past weekend, we learned from Gunnell, some of the people fishing off West Seattle were participating in the annual Tengu Blackmouth Derby – a derby with an 85-year history. Here’s the story.
12:19 PM: Great day to be on the water, with this break in the weather after all the storminess these past two weeks! Thanks to everyone who texted/emailed about the passing sailboats – the photo above is by David Hutchinson. This is the Three Tree Point Yacht Club‘s Duwamish Head Race. 48 boats are listed as registered; race results will be here later.
12:43 PM: Thanks to Gary Jones for more photos:
MSC Monterey arrived today at Terminal 5 in West Seattle, the first international-cargo ship to call there since July 2014. The expansive terminal hasn’t been idle all those years – it’s seen controversy with oil-drilling rigs as well as more-routine use such as domestic cargo via Matson – but the biggest activity has been the first phase of the half-billion-dollar “modernization” project. Now that phase of work is done and the first berth is in service. The Northwest Seaport Alliance invited news media onto the dock this morning for a quick (and soggy) look.
Two of Terminal 5’s giant cranes – which arrived last June – are being used to unload MSC Monterey; terminal operator SSA Marine‘s T-5 manager Dana Brand explained the other two aren’t in use because the carrier wants to stay a few days, rather than a quick in-and-out. This ship isn’t utilizing all of the newly opened berth’s capacity in other ways, either – for one, it’s a 6,500-TEU (container equivalent) capacity ship; a much-bigger and newer ship – MSC Virgo, 15,000 TEUs – will be here in a few weeks. That ship will use shore power, unlike this one. Also of note, this ship’s containers are all going out by truck, not by rail, though the latter will be used later this month.
Trucks move quickly through an automated gate – potentially seconds for what used to take minutes, including the efficiency of a central control for all three active Seattle terminals – 5, 18, and 30. And the second phase of T-5 work includes moving the gate complex further into the terminal, so there’s more on-dock room for queueing, taking pressure off the roads leading in. For even more efficiency, negotiations are under way toward direct ship-to-train offloading – that would require ships to be loaded in a way that groups all the containers set for a particular destination, which isn’t the way it works now.
Today’s mini-tour included key maritime-industry reps made available for media interviews. We asked Rich Austin, president of ILWU Local 19, what T-5’s opening means for his union’s local workforce, which had dozens of people working at T-5 today.
Terminal 5 now has a second berth to be modernized, and SSA has to decide whether to lease that one too. We talked with SSA Marine executive Edward DeNike and NWSA CEO John Wolfe about what’s next:
Terminal 5’s opening will take some pressure off the supply-chain backlog, DeNike acknowledged, though right now the maritime backup isn’t too bad around here – DeNike said three ships are waiting in this area, compared to more than 140 in Southern California. Prior to the berth opening, T-5 has been in use for months as extra container storage; the number of extra containers there is now down to 3,000, from a peak of 11,000.
Thanks to the texter who sent the photo. We’ve received a few questions about what that crane is doing alongside the Fauntleroy ferry dock. First – no, this is not related to the ongoing planning for future replacement of the dock. The crane is from Pacific Pile & Marine, doing “routine maintenance” on the dock, Washington State Ferries tells us. It’s happening a bit later than originally scheduled because of the weather and should last a few days. The WSF maintenance-updates page notes that the terminal has been scheduled for counterweight-cable replacement.
P.S. If you missed last night’s first session of WSF’s winter community meetings, you have a second chance – 1 pm next Tuesday (January 11th); the registration link is here.
Thanks to Stewart L. for excellent photos of an offshore sight often mistaken for an orca – “sailing” sea lion(s). He photographed these earlier this week, “relaxing in style along the fence line just north of Don Armeni mid-morning. Very close to the shore because of the super high tide, which makes getting photos easier.”
We’ve featured this before, but seldom with this close of a view. As explained by David Hutchinson of Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network in this WSB report from 2019, sea lions raise their flippers to regulate their body temperature.
But if you do think you’re seeing wildlife in distress, not something normal like this, SSMSN is at 206-905-SEAL
For the second consecutive day, water-watchers in west-facing West Seattle saw an inbound submarine – and this time, it was the damaged USS Connecticut (SSN 22), on its way to Bremerton for repairs, 2 1/2 months after hitting an undersea mountain. Thanks to James Borrow for the photo! Here are arrival details from The Kitsap Sun‘s Josh Farley.
11:02 AM: Thanks to Tom for the photo. He and others have tipped us that a submarine is currently stopped off Manchester, across the water from West Seattle. So far there’s speculation thst it’s the damaged USS Connecticut, which was seen at Indian Island yesterday, after leaving San Diego on Wednesday. After colliding with an undersea mountain in October, the Connecticut underwent preliminary repairs in Guam. We’re checking with the Navy to see if they’ll confirm this is the submarine off Manchester.
12:25 PM: We haven’t heard back from the Navy but the report on The War Zone, linked above, was updated a short time ago with a Navy statement saying the Connecticut is still at Indian Island, so this may be another submarine (commenter Ethan suggests the USS Ohio) instead. Here’s another photo – this one’s from Carrie:
2:57 PM: Just heard from Lt. Cmdr. Ben Anderson, who confirms that the submarine seen off Manchester is indeed USS Ohio, not USS Connecticut: “Ohio-class guided missile submarine USS Ohio (SSGN 726) returned to its homeport of Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton today, following a scheduled patrol in the Indo-Pacific.”
11:30 AM: Thanks to Marc Milrod for the photo, noticing that the state ferry M/V Cathlamet, usually on the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route, was instead being escorted into Elliott Bay this morning. The Triangle Route still has two boats, but the second one right now is M/V Chimacum. Washington State Ferries spokesperson Ian Sterling tells WSB, “Cathlamet is headed into Vigor for maintenance. Sealth has been at Vigor for its maintenance and will go back on the route tomorrow, I believe. In the meantime, the Chimacum is pinch hitting on the route to cover the gap. A bit of boat ballet, but all planned to ensure service is maintained on the route.” That actually temporarily adds a bit more vehicle capacity, as Chimacum carries up to 144 vehicles, while Cathlamet maxes out at 124. The 40-year-old Cathlamet had trouble earlier in the year, with a smoky clutch problem that led to an emergency response in July.
2:30 PM: We asked what the maintenance will involve. Sterling’s reply:
the scope of work is similar to what we just did on Sealth:
Vehicle deck steel renewals
Fire main and sprinkle piping renewals
Navigation deck non skid
Change out propeller hub assembly
10:07 AM: If you can take a break for some Wednesday whale-watching, we just heard from Kersti Muul that a group of whales had been seen heading southbound through the Seattle/Bainbridge Island ferry lanes, so they should be visible from West Seattle soon if they’re not already, Let us know if you see them!
11:22 AM: In addition to Kersti’s updates in comments, we’ve also heard from Patrick via email, “Two orcas behind the ferry Cathlamet. Looks like they are fishing but they did a full breach. South of Brace Point. Heading South.”