Fort Ward & Middle Point, central Puget Sound, WA 10–11 Apr 2021


Jan 10, 2009
Seattle WA
[Cross-posted on]

The most famous relics of Puget Sound’s nineteenth-century harbor defenses are the three large forts of the Triangle of Fire, the main line of defense and a terrific kayaking destination. Less well known but more of an adventure to visit by kayak is Fort Whitman on Goat Island, guardian of the back door to the sound. Together, these forts comprised the primary components of the defense against an enemy fleet.

The defense system’s secondary components were sited just outside Bremerton, then as now a major navy base. Here, Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island and a subsidiary installation on the mainland at Middle Point formed a last line of defense. If an enemy fleet survived the gun lines to the north, Fort Ward and Middle Point stood ready to blast the ships out of the water using electrically fired, underwater mines.

Today, the waters of Puget Sound are free of mines. Fort Ward and Middle Point are now both parks, accessible by land but with special campsites reserved just for kayakers. I paddled out from Seattle for an overnight visit.

00 Route map.jpg

00 Route map. Currents can run nearly five knots between Fort Ward and Middle Point, but I was fortunate to hit them at only half that speed.

Springtime had come to the Pacific Northwest. Most of the seabirds and waterfowl that winter on the inland waters had departed for their breeding grounds.

Some seabird and waterfowl species nest on the outer coast, some nest in the arctic, and some nest on freshwater inland. Few species nest in Puget Sound. Each year between April and August, we experience something of a bird desert on the inland waters.

Still, even now in mid-April, not quite all the birds had departed. I encountered surf scoters, pelagic cormorants, harlequin ducks, horned grebes, red-necked grebes, and a handful of pigeon guillemots. A few buffleheads and common goldeneyes were still lingering, as was a single, immature, male black scoter, a surprising find this late in the season.

The cormorants had all completed their transition from winter plumage to breeding plumage. The grebes had all nearly completed theirs. Three of the four pigeon guillemots had completed their transition, but the fourth guillemot had not even begun.

01 Kayaking across Puget Sound.JPG

01 Kayaking across Puget Sound. Kitsap Peninsula to the left, Bainbridge Island to the right, Olympic Mountains in the background.

02 Alki Point lighthouse.JPG
02 Alki Point lighthouse seen from south. Alki Point is prominent from the north and south but obscured from the west.

03 Horned grebe breeding plumage copy.JPG

03 Horned grebe breeding plumage. In winter, this species is usually quite approachable, but it becomes shyer during the breeding season.

04 Steller sea lions off Bainbridge Island.JPG

04 Steller sea lions off Bainbridge Island. These individuals were so habituated to boats they paid me no mind.

05 Harlequin ducks Beans Point Bainbridge Island.JPG

05 Harlequin ducks at Beans Point, Bainbridge Island. The females’ mottled plumage is perfectly adapted for camouflage among the rocks.

Fort Ward was formerly a state park, now a municipal park of Bainbridge Island. The park is day-use only except for a single campsite reserved for kayakers only. The park consists of a long, shaded, paved road along the beach, as well as some forested uplands. There are small, three-inch and five-inch gun batteries along the beach and a larger, eight-inch battery up the slope on private property.

Middle Point is still a state park, part of the larger Manchester State Park. Originally, Middle Point housed the naval mines and mine-control station, while Fort Ward protected the minefield with its guns. In 1910, the mine storage and control mission was transferred to Fort Ward, and the mine facilities at Middle Point were repurposed.

There are a lot more hiking opportunities at Middle Point. Even though there were more visitors here than at Fort Ward, Middle Point felt less crowded because it is a larger park. There is a car-campground in the upper part of the park, but the kayaker-only campground is down near the water, isolated from the noise and crowds.

06 Fort Ward battery.JPG

06 Battery Vinton, Fort Ward. One of the three-inch gun batteries along the shore.

07 Middle Point torpedo house.JPG

07 Middle Point torpedo storehouse. I tried kicking the mines to see if they would explode, but it appears State Parks has disarmed them.

08 Inside Middle Point torpedo house.JPG

08 Inside Middle Point torpedo storehouse. This building was constructed to store mines in 1901 only for the mines to be moved out in 1910, proof that military boondoggles have a lengthy pedigree in the United States.

09 Battery Mitchell Middle Point.JPG

09 Battery Mitchell, Middle Point. This battery was intended to house additional guns to protect the minefield from interference by enemy boats, but the guns were never even installed.

On my way back across the sound to Seattle the next morning, I swung north to Blakely Rock, a tiny islet of public land. The rock is nearly awash at high tide, but at low tide, a lovely sand and shell beach emerges, perfect for picnicking.

Harbor seals, dunlin, black turnstones, and a lone bald eagle occupied the rocky portions of the island, but the birds and animals left enough room on the beach for me to pull ashore for a leisurely lunch in the sun.

Secretly, I was hoping to find space for a tent on Blakely Rock, so I could use it as a private campsite on some future trip, solitude guaranteed. Unfortunately, the only flat parts of the island submerge at high tide, so it is suitable only for day visits.

In 2013, a local artist installed a twelve-foot-tall statue on Blakely Rock without permission. I had heard about this thing but never seen it. I don’t normally approve of artistic installations in the wild, so upon my arrival at Blakely Rock, I was gratified to discover the statue was gone.

It turns out the statute toppled over—or was pushed—less than a year after its installation. It must have been the harbor seals who took it down.

10 Harbor seal asleep at Restoration Point.JPG

10 Harbor seal asleep at Restoration Point, Bainbridge Island. Thanks to my approach from downwind, the seal did not hear or smell me until I was quite close.

11 Pigeon guillemot Restoration Point.JPG

11 Pigeon guillemot at Restoration Point. This was the only seabird I encountered still completely in its winter plumage. It’s springtime, buddy, time to put on new feathers!

12 Kayaking to Blakely Rock.JPG

12 Kayaking to Blakely Rock. Onshore flow, a common phenomenon in the warmer seasons, kicked up a little chop in Puget Sound but not enough that I felt the need for a drysuit.

13 Reading on Blakely Rock.JPG

13 Reading on Blakely Rock. A rare opportunity to be alone in the middle of densely populated Puget Sound.

Despite being such a short trip so close to home, this paddle offered a little of everything that is important about kayaking: wildlife encounters, quiet campsites, lonely islands, and a little bit of history.


[Cross-posted on]
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Sep 17, 2012
Alex, I looked at the tide table a few months ahead to see if there would be a time when the High Tide was lower than usual, giving you a window for the evening. No joy on my first pass. Even though there were days when the high tide was 7 ft instead of 10 or 11 ft,,it would rise to about 12 ft around 4 am - that sort of thing. If it were high tide was lower in the early morning, it would be high around the time you’d be calling it a night.

So … did you know there are portable hammock stands that consist of four poles arranged like two “V”’s with the wide ends facing each other - set at an angle with the feet slightly crossed? Look up TENSA4. I don’t know about the salt water effect on the metal tubing, but a brave person could hang above the water line. Anchors for the kayak and the stand itself would need to be secure under water.

Or … you could build your own setup using 2 x 2’s. In that case the 2 x 2’s are set up as two tripods (three legs each) with a ridge line pole suspended between them. The hammock is hung on the ridgepole, taking the inward compression force. It would require some “portable” adjustments - sleeves that combine shorter pieces to make longer legs, etc. But it would be relatively cheap with 2 x 2 lumber and strap to the outside of your kayak.

Maybe it would be two bundles of 8, 3ft long, 2 x 2’s. Two of the 3 ft sections make one leg so that’s six sections per tripod. That leave four more 3 ft sections for a 12 ft ridgeline. If you could lash a 6 ft, 2 x 2, to the boat you could do it with two bundles of 4 six foot 2 x 2’s; three for each tripod and two left over for a 12 ft ridgeline.

You can do this!


Nov 2, 2005
Funny to see you sitting there reading a book on the beach at Blakley Rock. My only stop there looked similar until a container ship bound for Tacoma passed by and the wake nearly swept me away. I recognized my situation early enough to zip up my drysuit and grab the bow toggle of my Coho before the wake felt the shallows, built and broke on me. I was quickly off my feet in chest deep water swimming with my boat in tow.

I learned something that day in 2006.
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