Boomers & Bivalves

After passing Port Townsend in May, 1792, Captain George Vancouver proceeded to explore the first long inlet he espied, and anointed it “Hood’s Channel” in honor of Admiral Lord Samuel Hood.

The Captain surveyed south with crews in two longboats far enough to confirm the fjord’s terminus. On charts he abbreviated the name to “Hood’s Canal”, which ambiguity has confused mariners ever since.

The long inlet is not, of course, a canal but rather a glacial fjord, and to paradolians it plainly resembles a large intestine on the charts, with tiny Gamble Bay as the appendix.

Leaving alimentary school musings behind, Team Jupiter follows Vancouver’s progress 228 years later and, along the way, surveys objects both dangerous and delicious.

Passing under the high western span of the Hood Canal floating bridge Jupiter makes easy way until confronted with Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, the largest nuclear submarine base on the west coast. Yellow markers for the exclusion zone buffering the service yards warn us to give this place a wide berth.

Three trident ballistic missile subs are in port. These “boomers”, in onomatopoeic naval jargon, are accompanied at dock by support vessels. Unleashed in the water are small, armed guard-boats shuttling impatiently inside the floating perimeter like vicious dogs.

A billboard, large enough to read at a remarkable distance announces…


Our binoculars are burning into a military drama more fantastical than fiction.

The fairwater planes are the first visual evidence that a submarine lies nearby. These behemoth Ohio Class nuclear fueled ships are 560′ in length and carry a crew of 150 for tours of up to three months. Each has two rotating crews and is capable of carrying twenty-four ballistic or cruise missiles.

Leaving the Navy in our wake, the southern reaches of the Hood offer us tranquility, and we relish two quiet days ashore at Alderbrook Resort in the Skokomish Valley. We trek miles on trails and bathe in the ancient forests.

Sleep is deep and pacific moored to Alderbrook’s generous dock, free from cold-war threats.

The Hood Canal is an epicenter of bivalve aquaculture, and as we navigate its length we pass manifold floating oyster farms and tidal clam beds.

Having previously relished the lush oysters of Quilcene Bay, we determined to visit the source while heading north. The inlet lies adjunct to Dabob Bay, another dynamic naval operations area just a 30mm gunshot from the Kitsap sub base.

As we round into Dabob, yellow lights flash ashore, and red lights on Naval ships. Exercises are clearly underway. Hailing Naval Range Control on the VHF, we are authorized passage hard on the western shore, and thanked for our communication.

Beyond the Hood Canal Bridge we pass our trinity of previous ports of call. Abreast the west side of intriguing Naval Magazine Indian Island, the logistics backbone of the Pacific Navy fleet, we are again in military domain.

Here, southbound martial vessels are required to check their armaments at the door to Puget Sound before proceeding into the populous environs of Bremerton and Seattle. Here, northbound, is where they are re-armed, fueled and provisioned before dispatch on patrols.

At the wharf where nuclear war-heads and other munitions are transferred, we photograph the nimble attack submarine, USS Seawolf.

Soon we enter enigmatic Kilisut Harbor through its shallow circuitous entrance. This lake-like haven lies slender and protected between Indian and Marrowstone islands.

Indian Island, in spite of its martial role, is also a rich nature conservation area.

Marrowstone is a quiet residential island with Fort Flagler State Park at its northern tip. It lends its particularly fitting name to another local oyster in our sights.

Halfway down Marrowstone indents Mystery Bay, which name derives from prohibition smuggling. We find Marrowstone Island Shellfish and the Norland General Store, where large fresh oysters can be harvested from a cooler for a modest sum.

The bay and its businesses appear much as they did sixty years ago.

Fresh Grilled Marrowstone Oysters

Gather oysters from a local source and keep on ice until the grill is very hot.

Meanwhile, prepare a dipping sauce of mayonnaise mixed with sufficient lemon juice and smoked paprika to make it exciting to the tongue. Warm your favorite bread.

Place oysters on the grate, cupped-shell-side down and cover with a grill lid. Heat until the shells open (you will hear them popping, no need to peek), five or ten minutes depending on size. Remove from grill and snap off the top shell at the hinge, leaving the oyster and its juice in place. Drizzle with sauce and eat warm from the shell.

Note: Oyster shells do not open wide like clams or mussels. When popped they are ready to eat.

Fresh grilled oysters served with sauce, pan de bono and local Marrowstone wine.


Nearby in the channel

Where the shark boats sleep,

Lie the oysters awake

All breathing the deep.

Water over-washes both secret beasts.

Some are for war,

Others for feasts.

Poems from Puget Sound
Sen Yu, ed. 1988, University of Washington
Jupiter at anchor off Naval Magazine Indian Island


  1. DeeDee and Terry says:

    Such an interesting and historical adventure.
    And right thru a torpedo field. Thanks so much for sharing the details. We love oysters !

    • Yes! That gets your attention. We’ve eaten more oysters in a week than should be allowed. So lovely to eat them right at their source, then toss the shells back where they came from.

  2. Tina Jones says:

    Thank you, Fiona for taking us back to the lovely NW Pacific…you do a great job of capturing the area in your words and terrific photos ~ Especially enjoying the culinary part!! 🙂 Safe travels from the HOT East Coast!

    • Thank you, Tina, for reading our adventures! It is indeed very lovely here. Not too many cruising boats out, except at weekends. So far we’ve been able to get moorage with no trouble.

  3. Sally Seymour says:

    From small intestines to partially surfaced man made leviathans to crackling oysters, you find the best to discern and ponder. Thanks for the vicarious adventures. -Sally W

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