The Point That Isn’t

A brief history of Point No Point.

A few miles north of Kingston, a spit of sand extends a quarter mile from the shore where Admiralty Inlet enters Puget Sound. The S’Kallam called it "big nose" (Hahd-skus), descriptive if inelegant. Lt. Charles Wilkes, disappointed with the poor anchorage in the lee of the spit, called it Point No Point. Wilkes commanded the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1841. Wilkes was a cartographer; Point No Point was the name that made the charts.

Lighthouse at Point No PointI often walk the gently shelving beach at Point No Point at low water. It’s one of the rare beaches this side of the Sound with sand that stretches for miles. The headlands that back the beach rise several hundred feet—glacial till and sedimentary rock, mostly. The soft rock erodes into sheer cliff faces embedded with shells.

A single immense boulder, twice the height of a tall man, stands at the tide line. It’s an erratic once carried by a river of ice that flowed through Admiralty Inlet, abandoned when the glacier withered and withdrew. At its greatest depth that glacier buried Seattle beneath 3,412 feet of ice. It gouged the rock and shaped the land beneath my feet and left stray boulders as a remembrance.

Lightkeepershouse Coho, Cutthroat, and Chinook have migrated past this indefinite point longer than the memory of man. Beach anglers fish for them on the outgoing tide. The oldest documented eagle’s nest in Washington state commands a view of the spit and the migrating salmon. And sea birds hunt the shoals.

There are people who count dead sea birds for a good cause. On Point No Point they’ve counted the usual cast of characters—Glaucous-Winged Gulls and Double-Crested Cormorants—and some more exotic—Bonaparte’s Gulls, Buffleheads, Horned Grebes and Northern Fulmars, Pacific Loons, Pigeon Guillemots (birds with the unsavory habit of spitting fish oil when disturbed), Surf Scooters and Western Grebes.

It may be that the oldest eagle’s nest is known because the Point has been continuously occupied by light keepers since 1880. Point No Point was considered sufficiently hazardous to earn the first light on Puget Sound. In 1868 the bark Iconium grounded on the Point and in the winter of 1875 the Windward steered so widely to avoid the dangerous shoals that she wrecked on the opposite shore. Even the existence of the light, however, was of no help on August 24, 1914.

S.S. Admiral Sampson, lost off Point No Point, 1914The passenger liners S.S. Admiral Sampson and Princess Victoria were both moving cautiously in thick fog, making revolutions for slow ahead. They sighted each other too late to avoid collision. The bow of the Princess Victoria, sharp as chipped flint, almost cut the Admiral Sampson in half amidships. Most of the Admiral Sampson’s passengers and crew climbed over the railings onto the deck of the Princess Victoria who managed to limp into Seattle with a 14 foot gash in her bow. The Admiral Sampson sank by the stern, taking with her 11 passengers, 4 crew, and her captain.

Cottages now occupy the backshore along the point. Even the steel superstructure of a former President Lines steamer—round ports, bridge wings, port and starboard running lights, and a Grateful Dead sticker—has been pressed into unlikely service as someone’s home. The houses occupy the route of the first road built on the Point in 1908, a road between the light house and the village of Hansville. It was one and a half miles distance between the two. The road was only one mile long. (It didn’t actually reach the light house for another 11 years.) An enterprising resident imported an automobile so that he and his friends could drive back and forth on a road going nowhere, drunk as loons probably, hooting and hollering.

The light has been automated, the keepers long gone, and radar has mitigated the Point No Point’s hazard to navigation but  the fog horns of ship’s transiting Admiralty Inlet still bellow in the winter, cutthroat trout and sea lions still skirt the shore, and sea birds still hunt the shoals in season.

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