Smoke on the Water
Day trip to Point Roberts
What: Bellingham-Point Roberts Passenger Ferry
Where: Bellingham Ferry Terminal and Point Roberts Marina
WHEN: Tuesdays and Fridays through November
Cost: Free with reservations
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
When the Port of Bellingham recently began operating temporary emergency passenger ferry service between Bellingham and Point Roberts, I realized something important was missing from my life.
Despite living and working in some of the most obscure, sparsely populated pockets of Whatcom County for decades I’d never set foot in the exclave before.
“If not now, when?” I said to the Lady of the House—who only expressed enthusiasm when I took the initiative to reserve two free round-trip tickets.
Apparently, a big part of her hangup stemmed from harboring a misconception that Point Roberts was some kind of “joint protectorate” governed by Canada.
“There,” I said, tracing my finger along the 49th parallel on the page of an atlas. “It became part of our country more than 170 years ago when the United States and Great Britain set terms for the Oregon Treaty.”
“See the peninsula dangling into the Strait of Georgia right there?” I queried, tapping the water a few miles northwest of Blaine. “Not even six square miles total, but Secretary of State James Buchanan insisted on keeping her under the stars and stripes.”
Tempted though I was to extrapolate, when the Lady uncorked a demonstrative yawn I hastened to wrap things up.
She wasn’t too thrilled about the wildfire-induced air quality warnings in the forecast either, and only my willingness to perform a litany of neglected household repairs dissuaded her from bailing.
“Sort of ironic that it took plague-induced border restrictions to facilitate this adventure,” I said as we arrived at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal early the following Friday.
“Maybe for sightseers like us,” she replied as we strolled through smoky fog to the dock. “But while we go traipsing through their parks and beaches on a whim the good people of Point Roberts are compelled to scramble around Bellingham doing vexatious errands.”
The Lady was right. As tourists, we were taking up space on a vessel whose maximum capacity had been reduced to 60 passengers due to COVID-19 protocols. Resolved to be courteous, we climbed aboard the 100-foot Salish Express with the caveat that either of us would give up our seats if needed.
Thankfully, since there were only 20 passengers that morning, we had no compunction about commandeering a table to gourmandize breakfast behind transparent plastic cordons.
Once lines were cast off and fenders pulled in the idling vessel slid out into Bellingham Bay and we were thrilled to feel the engine accelerate.
After the captain made various safety announcements we ventured outside to promenade on the upper deck. Fluffy clouds greeted us overhead, but a thick brown haze enveloped the mainland.
Then, just as the rising sun commenced to radiate the atmosphere, we slipped into a fogbank that buried us in whiteness. Huddled together against dank breezes, the Lady and I kept our eyes peeled for hazards until the familiar bluffs on Portage Island protruded into the mist, precipitating our entrance into Hale Passage and beyond.
Roughly two hours passed before our boat finally rounded the jetty into the Point Roberts Marina—a pleasant enough voyage despite the fact that encroaching wildfire smoke whittled our panorama down to a narrow corridor of water.
We’d planned to spend our afternoon exploring the peninsular terrain afoot but since air quality had deteriorated to such a palpable level it seemed more prudent to hunker down ASAP.
On the road outside the marina we made our way to Lighthouse Marine Park, where we relegated ourselves to a breezy section of beach overlooking the Strait of Georgia where whales are known to frequently pass.
While I soon fell to napping with a small hunk of driftwood for a pillow, the Lady leaned languidly against a log watching waterfowl cavort as the Tsawwassen ferry glided back and forth in a haze.
Hours passed and we were content to stay put. But after lunch the pangs of claustrophobia commenced.
“I feel marooned,” the Lady lamented as we observed the same diving loon resurface for the 500th time. Fortunately, a local fisherman arrived to alleviate the tedium. Whistling tunefully in a tattered straw hat, he pulled a wagon full of gear down the beach and set up his lines nearby.
“I’m a postal carrier by trade,” he said, reeling in the first of many flounders. “But my spiritual calling is this.”
He regaled us with insightful stories about the denizens of Point Roberts and when a low-flying cormorant snagged one of his hooks, I was happy to assist with the rescue.
“It does tend to stay pretty quiet up here,” our benefactor mused. “For instance, a few years ago some kids stole a potted flower from the Post Office and that story stayed on the front page of the newspaper for months.”
As time grew nigh for our evening departure, he offered to whisk us to the marina in his SUV, making sure to give us a quick tour of some important landmarks we’d missed.
With the car’s windows rolled down and our masks intact, he showed us just enough of Maple Beach, Kiniski’s Reef Tavern, and Lily Point Marine Park to spark our interest. We look forward to exploring these and many other places upon our return.
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