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?