Why are so many cargo ships anchored off Bainbridge these days?
Ever since Captain George Vancouver laid anchor off of Restoration Point in 1792, Bainbridge Island has had an association with the maritime industry.
The famed “Mosquito Fleet,” a small flotilla of private boats, sailed between Seattle, Bainbridge Island and other Kitsap communities in the early part of the last century, dropping off passengers on docks scattered around the island and throughout the county. The remnants of some of these structures – mostly pilings but some real (updated) structures like the one at Point White – still remain.
Later, there was the private Black Ball ferry that sailed between Bainbridge and Seattle, which was taken over by the Washington State Ferries in the 1950s. Around World War II – and prior to the ferry system being organized – minesweepers were actually built in a plant near the current Bainbridge ferry terminal. Can you imagine that happening today?
Our one remaining maritime installation is the ferry maintenance yard in Eagle Harbor, which employs more than 200 workers, and has a pretty interesting and significant legacy.
Of course, all of this nautical history was preceded by a US Navy Commodore named William Bainbridge (May 7, 1774 – July 27, 1833). During a long and distinguished career in the Navy, Commodore Bainbridge served under six presidents beginning with John Adams and is notable for his many victories at sea.
According to Wikipedia, he commanded several famous naval ships, including the USS Constitution, and saw service in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. Bainbridge was also in command of the USS Philadelphia when she grounded off the shores of Tripoli in North Africa, resulting in his capture and imprisonment for many months. In the latter part of his career, he became the U.S. Naval Commissioner.
Some five Navy ships have been christened USS Bainbridge, including the first one, a 259-ton brig built in 1842, which served in the Civil War, and the current model, a guided missile destroyer built in 2005.
Truth be told, this backstory is a rather long-winded and a roundabout way of trying to explain why we often see large cargo ships anchored off the south end of the island – sitting roughly between Bainbridge, Blake Island and Port Orchard.
At any one time, a visitor to, say, Fort Ward Park or South Beach Drive, might see as many as three or four of these hulking container ships resting in the waters off shore. One ship, the Hapag-Lloyd has been anchored there for more than a week.
What’s going on? Well, for one thing, Bainbridge Island is located smack in the middle of the Puget Sound, almost directly across from the Port of Seattle and only 10 or 15 nautical miles from the Port of Tacoma.
Combined, both ports are among the largest and busiest on the West Coast, if not the world. Due to the coronavirus and related issues, there is pent up demand for consumer goods from China and elsewhere overseas; plus, many ports are experiencing increased traffic.
The next port of call for ships sailing to Seattle and Tacoma, for example, is usually the Port of Vancouver. That port, according to published reports, is seeing unloading back-ups due to Covid-19 safety protocols and increased volume.
That situation, in turn, is causing delays down the import-export trade chain, meaning we may be witnessing more cargo ships anchored off our shores for the immediate future.
Some people might complain, but at the end of the day, it’s really about living on an island that is – good, bad or indifferent – a small part of the international economy.