Local Attractions

The small city of Anacortes spans the north end of Fidalgo Island, extends a thin arm to the east, grabs a wide peninsula to the west, and funnels south into the green heart of the island. East of the city proper, two oil refineries scatter storage tanks and pipe stacks over a thumb of land called March Point. Anacortes’ city limits include residential areas, thickly forested parks, a small airport and the busy San Juan Island ferry terminal.

On a map the city seems to be reaching out and gobbling up the island, but the “Old Town” of Anacortes huddles close to the waterfront on the north tip of the island. With deep water access to the Salish Sea, Anacortes is a watery gateway to the Pacific. In a time of relentless real estate pressure from Seattle’s explosive growth, it heartens me to see the laid back, unpretentious city is hanging on – perhaps by a fishing-line-thin thread –  to its working waterfront roots. Pleasure and leisure are the raison d’etre for most boats you see around the island, but businesses serving working boats persist.

This sliver of working waterfront draws me into town, camera in hand. Here is a group of buildings and ships that caught my eye in Anacortes.

 

1. The Shell Oil and Andeavor refineries are major tax payers and employers for the county, but compared to other refineries in the U.S., this complex is small potatoes. Gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, fuel oils, liquefied petroleum gas, and asphalt are manufactured here on March Point. This view from Anacortes looks across Fidalgo Bay, where eelgrass beds and tidal marsh provide habitat for fish, shellfish, invertebrates, and birds.

 

2. Following the road around March Point reveals ships and birds plying the waters, with a backdrop of snow-covered Mount Baker in the distance. Behind you, the refinery business never stops, but neither does the wildlife.  A Great Blue heron rookery, situated less than a mile southeast of the refineries, was found to contain 757 nests at last month’s count, by the Skagit Land Trust, which protects and monitors the nesting site.  Small herds of cattle graze among the refinery tanks, and eagles roam the sky. Industry and nature appear to coexist without incident, but realistically, I know there are dangers – obvious ones like an accident in 2010 that killed five workers, and insidious risks, like the slight decline in eelgrass reported last year.

 

3. A small fishing boat, probably out for Dungeness crab, returns to Anacortes under heavy skies on a Friday afternoon in November. Marine industries – seafood preparation, boat repair, cargo handling, marinas, etc. – employ about 15% of island residents.  I enjoy seeing boat traffic involved in work but when summer comes, it’s a different story, as the town fills up with recreational boaters from all over the world.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I hope the balance doesn’t ever shift entirely away from marine businesses.

 

4. I found this Dungeness crab washed up on a sliver of rocky shoreline in town. Most likely it was caught, and then thrown away, because it’s under the size limit of 6.25 inches. Females, softshell and undersized crabs must be released if caught, but they may not all survive. The daily recreational limit here is just 5 males; the tightly regulated season runs from October 6th through the last day of December. Commercial, licensed crab fishers have a 30 pot limit in the area near Fidalgo Island. The entire Puget Sound commercial Dungeness crab fishery is expected to land 2,874,707 pounds of crab this year.

 

5. The “Oregon” fishing vessel is tied up at Trident Seafoods. Across the channel is Guemes Island; the rolling hills of the San Juan Islands rise in the distance. Seattle-based Trident Seafoods is the biggest seafood company in the U.S. They process fish on board and onshore, with over 40 vessels and 17 plants. At their Anacortes plant, built in 1989, fish like pollock and salmon, caught in Alaskan waters, are frozen and made into ready-to-cook portions for food service use.

 

6. A Trident Seafoods’ catcher/processor, the 312-foot-long Island Enterprise, is undergoing work at Dakota Creek Industries, a ship building and repair business based in Anacortes. Billowing tarps worthy of Christo prompted me to pull over for a closer look.

 

7. Another look at the Island Enterprise under wraps at sunset. Dakota Creek, family-owned and run for over 40 years, builds and repairs everything from fire boats to ferries to research vessels, and of course, fishing vessels.

 

8. One more shot of the Island Enterprise at the dock, taken just after 4pm on a chilly November afternoon.

 

9. Just a few blocks from the working waterfront is Pelican Bay Books, a new and used bookstore with an understated and functional exterior, and a beckoning interior. Their espresso is very good and you can cozy up near a fireplace on a worn leather sofa with a book, the NY Times, or the local paper, if that’s your preference. Maybe someone will play a little subdued jazz on the piano. Maybe you’ll buy a book, or maybe you’ll just enjoy the ambiance.

 

10. Another late afternoon view of the bookstore’s side door.

 

11. The older section of Anacortes has loads of charming, slightly funky small homes, like this one on a side street.

 

12. Back near the waterfront, between Trident Seafoods and the Puget Sound Rope Corporation, there are three tall tanks, a parking lot and a handful of buildings. What’s going on there, I don’t know. There’s no sign (other than the Keep Out signs) and nothing helpful came up online.

 

13. Three tanks and a telephone pole.  OK, and a fence and a sidewalk. A bit of barbed wire, too.

 

14. This decrepit building has become a favorite subject of mine. It was built in a diamond shape, with the wide angle to the right in this view. I read online that the lot and building sold for $500,000 in 2008, so I assume there were plans to tear the building down and build anew, for light manufacturing. Those plans must have fallen through, and the old warehouse, built in 1900, is still standing.

 

15. The acute angled side of the building.

 

16. One end of the building is almost in the Guemes Channel. It was probably a fish processing plant. It would have been a smelly, miserable job a hundred years ago.

 

17. Working the scene with different lenses. This was taken this summer, when the blackberries threatened to crawl into the building. I used a vintage Takumar 28mm, f3.5 lens.

 

18. This view was taken with a different vintage Takumar lens, a 50mm f2.8.

 

19. How much longer will the old building stand?

 


53 comments

    • Thank you, Hien. It was good for me to learn more about the area. Just today I learned that Dakota Creek is hoping the US Senate will pass a waiver that will allow the launching of a huge ship they built. It turns out that they used too much imported steel, in violation of a law from 1920. They say this was an error and the ship has been sitting in dry dock for a long time, so the builder and the ship owner are losing a lot of money. Local news can be interesting!

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  1. My guess would be not much longer….but I suppose it depends on whose scale you’re reckoning.
    What a wonderful insight into your corner of the world, Lynn. And you have clearly done your research.
    I was going to say “far more research than I would do” but then…..yeah…our curiosity rarely stops with the image, does it?
    Not that I could say for certain, but it looks like a fabulous palette to work with. No wonder you stuck with mostly color images. You do the subjects justice.
    Greatly enjoyed.

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    • See my reply to Hien, above, re the research. There’s always so much more to learn. Yes, the colors around here are appealing – a lot of it is the light, I think. It’s brighter (but surely there is a more poetic way to say that) than where I used to be, because of all the water. Thank you!

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  2. The processing of the first ten or so is excellent, creating a vivid sense of place and atmosphere. And, as usual, your commentary provides q very helpful context.

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  3. Wonderful photos! Was in Anacortis some years ago on the way to Orca Island. Brooks Jensen used to live there until recently, as I’m sure you know. Had lunch at a very cool seafood place (I’m sure there are many there). You’ve really captured the feel of the town.

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    • Well, that’s funny….it’s a very funky town, with a strange sort of charm. I actually don’t know where Jensen lives; I thought it was here – maybe nearby? The business still has an address in town. As for seafood places, I guess there are a few – nothing too fancy, which is fine with me – and I guess I have plenty of time to try them. Thanks Howard.

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  4. Beautiful post, Lynn! 1 is a beautiful image, with wonderful light. I like 3, 5 and 7 too. And I love the pics and the words in 9 and 10 – what a wonderful place, would love to go in there! And in 13, the caption, yes, right on, just the thing – it does just what it says on the tin – I can very much identify with this!!! A 🙂 🙂 🙂

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    • 🙂 It’s good to hear your reactions. The bookstore is a big plus, locally, and they’ve done beautiful work inside with all the shelving and other woodwork – down to the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom (am I supposed to say loo?). But there are a few signs that might dismay you – one near the coffee that says “Please take your call outside” – I’m OK with that – and one on the piano that asks for only skilled playing. That one bothers me. Let’s not get too precious or pretentious. In #13, that “just what it is” notion is straight out of the early 70’s NY art scene, later reinforced by zen training. I’m drawn to that deadpan, pared down aesthetic but I’m also drawn to work that shows feeling. You probably are too, right?

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      • Yes, that’s right, in lieu of bathroom, you can say loo … 😉 .. And I’m 100% with taking calls outside, 101%!!! That enhances everyone else’s quality of life. And I agree with you about the piano notice. Deadpan, Zen, yes, I’m right with you on that too – absolutely! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  5. What a fabulous series, Lynn. I love those billowing tarps in that light (esp. #7), as well as your favorite decrepit warehouse, at all angles with the vintage lenses. Amazing. That little bookstore does look very unpretentious, so I’m glad inside is charming and cozy. Sounds like a great place to spend a cold and dreary afternoon. 🙂

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    • Yes, I’m glad the book store is here for the cold and dreary days. The selection is pretty sophisticated there, too. Bit if you don’t want to pay $7 for your used paperback novel, you can go over to the thrift shop and see if any of their 25 cent or one dollar books will do. 🙂 Thanks – and I’m glad you liked the tarp shots and the others, too!

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  6. The photo that crept up on me was #2. I initially glanced right past it, and then looked at it a couple more times, and just really like it, and the fabric texture of the sky & plume.
    And I like the b & w shot #16 of the old warehouse, because somehow it conveys the feel of the place best, like a very old person – – clapboards sloughing off, sagging beams, boarded-over windows, bad knees and probably a couple of vertebrae out of whack, etc. but somehow not pathetic or sinister-looking, really more picturesque.
    Well, I always “share” my random reactions, so those tarps (great shots) remind me very much of Monty Python’s “Crimson Permanent Assurance” sketch, where the over-the-hill insurance company hoists its tarps and goes off pirating.
    Does Puget Sound Rope actually make ropes? It’s a long skinny building, with those kids from summer camp, that seemed to really really like braiding lanyards? I’ve been in port cities, and sometimes they have “Ropewalk Lane” or something similar, where they’d walk up and down, stringing huge ropes together for ships

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    • I wasn’t entirely happy with the composition on the tank and smoke (vapor?) photo but I played with it, and I can always go back and try again. I’m glad you like it. The B&W warehouse image feels like the south for me for some reason, and I agree that it has a very different feeling from the others. Definitely not sinister, but the building does look very, very forlorn in person. A photo can transform.
      I always enjoy your wacky associations – I don’t know that Monty Python scene but I can picture it. 😉
      Yes, they’re making rope! Sometimes one of the big warehouse/factory doors is open and you can glimpse inside – it’s so cool! But seriously, BIG rope for marine use, no lanyards. I love imagining Ropewalk Lane, and all those lengths of rope hanging in the air….makes me think of NYC’s Chinatown, the narrowest streets, with lots of laundry and stuff overhead, in the old days anyway. And maybe the ropes are sorted on the pavement, but I like the idea of them in the air.

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  7. Looking at your photos, I understand I should probably spend more time in Anacortes. So far it’s just been a place to board a ferry from. But your images are inspiring and makes me want to stop and spend some time next time.

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    • It’s an odd town, Otto, and a cursory look is not inspiring, plus you have a ferry to make, so I get it. You have to dig deeper, and pick at the edges of the town. 🙂 Yes, it’s worth it, and I can imagine you would do great work with some of the industrial scenes.

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  8. I took Anacortes to be Spanish but Wikipedia says otherwise: “The name ‘Anacortes’ is an adaptation of the name of Anne Curtis Bowman, who was the wife of early Fidalgo Island settler Amos Bowman.”

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  9. Beautiful set of images and narrative, Lynn. They add additional perspective to the discussion at Romancing Reality that you reference in the comment above. I particularly like the monochromes.

    Image 2 and the caption referring to ‘the backdrop of snow-covered Mt.Baker’ reminded me of a poem in a little book I purchased in Bellingham while travelling several years ago. The last lines of the poem:

    “Bleached plumes spout from the Georgia
    Pacific plant as logs from the Chilean
    forests soften into toilet tissue as plush
    as willow catkins, as white as the impassive

    peak of Mt. Baker that announces
    it, too, can spout plumes, can clear-cut
    forests on the steepest slopes,
    turn them to soft white ash.”

    excerpt from ‘Waiting for Mt.Baker’ by Susan J. Erickson

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    • What a perfect accompaniment. We thought about moving to Bellingham but I wasn’t comfortable there – not a reaction I could describe concretely, just a feeling. I just read that the Georgia Pacific plant was active from 1926 – 2007 – wow! It was plenty long enough to contaminate the site, and now they’re working on a clean-up plan. The poem says it well. Thanks you very much!

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    • Ah, but we’re in a rain shadow, and we don’t get as much precipitation as Seattle, or Bellingham, etc. That helps. Doing the research was fun – I learned things. 🙂 I’m glad you appreciated it, and it’s good to hear from you – thanks!!

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    • Hi Camilla – I like both lenses – check the text again and you’ll see it’s two different ones. The one people talk about is the 50mm, and for some reason mine can be harder to focus, but I’ve made some wonderful images with it, and since it’s f1.4, I bet you’d love it. The other one only goes down to f3.5 but it’s also nice – it has a classical feeling, and it’s really easy to use. The warehouse sale is a mystery.

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      • I figured it was the 50mm you were thinking – and reading – about. Mine has the yellow tinge to the optics that you probably read about. I understand that you can get rid of that by just leaving the lens in the sun or under a special lamp. The yellowing didn’t look good in the photo above, and I tried to counteract it a little. You can see the problem, compared to the 28mm. 🙂 The reason I haven’t tried to remove it is that for many foliage photos, especially closeups and spring, summer & fall images, it adds a nice, interesting warmth.
        Here’s a good discussion about the yellowing —
        https://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/4010268

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  10. Fantastic pictures of your environment! I love nr. 6 and 9 to 11 are great, 13 too. They look very much like contemporary art – so close and right in the moment. They remind me of drawings from some artists I can’t think of at the moment. Maybe it looks like painted. I can’t really explain. Very well captured!! Nr. 6 ist so fascinating because of the forms that grow out of ship and canvas, interesting and funny at the same moment. The buildings take us right into other times. Strange somehow, this decay. Time travelling 🙂

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