A cold but sunny winter’s day at the locks in Ballard did not make me think that being on the water would be fun. However, someone clearly had a different idea. While I was walking around looking at the boats and the wildlife, a guy was out sculling in his boat. He came quite close to the overflow from the sluice gates and had to work to position himself with the flow and turbulence from the water as it headed towards the sound. It seemed like a very cold time to be out there, but I guess he was enjoying himself?
The railway that runs from Seattle up to Everett and either on to Vancouver or east across the Cascades crosses a bridge that is just outside the locks at Ballard. The bridge is a bascule bridge and, since there is quite regular boat traffic including sailing boats with high masts, it is frequently opened. The low winter light does a nice job of illuminating the underside of the deck of the bridge when it is open. I was more interested in the shapes at the end of the bridge where the rails end. They are clearly shaped to interlock with the opposite rails on the bridge approach and also to have a shape which allows the wheels to smoothly pass over without some sudden impact forces. As they stand up in the air, they strike me as rather fascinating.
The salmon that come through the locks in Ballard come in three waves according to the park rangers. There are three types of salmon and each type comes at a slightly different time of year. (I’m sure the sales like this so they get three feeding times!). Within the fish ladder, they have a viewing gallery which allows you to see the fish as they loiter for a while before surging up the next step in the ladder against the flowing water.
It is quite impressive to see how fast they can go when they make an effort. They swim gently against the current in the viewing area waiting for a time that seems appropriate to them. Then they align themselves with the inlet port through which the water is rushing. This needs a dose of acceleration to avoid being pushed back into the gallery and then, once they are stabilized, a surge of effort and they zip up the port. Photos don’t do it much justice but video is a better medium. The reflections off the glass are not ideal but you will get the idea.
We took a visit to the locks at Ballard on the 4th July weekend. We had anticipated a ton of boat traffic for the holidays but we were wrong. Maybe everyone was at home with family members. The result was very limited traffic through the locks. They were just using the smaller lock. One boat that did make the traverse was a rather nice looking old wooden sailing boat. I imagine it requires a fair bit of upkeep but it looked like the sort of boat that you could make relaxing trips in if you had a load of spare time.
The rail bridge just downstream of the locks at Ballard has been photographed by me many times. However, recently I found myself on the south side of the bridge for the first time. Why I haven’t been there before, I cannot say. It puts you on the better side not only for the light but also for the angles. The train crosses the road after it leaves the bridge so you can be more in line with the bridge or you can walk down to the shoreline and look back at it. Needless to say, I did both!
Sunny Saturday afternoon and we were coming back from Discovery Park. Our route took us passed Commodore Park which gives immediate access to the Chittenden Locks at Ballard. With it being such a nice afternoon, we decided it was worth a brief stroll across to see what was going on. There were a number of smaller boats coming through the little lock which we watched for a while. Then, coming up from Puget Sound, we saw a large commercial vessel approaching.
It was a tug returning from time out on the open ocean. There are plenty of tugs in the area – many of which are not too big – but this one was a decent size. No doubt there are larger ones for open ocean recovery of vessels but this was still impressive. The crew was busy preparing for port. Hosing the salt off the superstructure, greasing up exposed metalwork and gathering all of the trash. They had to wait for a short while because the lock crews were still working the smaller lock. Then they were summoned in. A little burst of power from a tug this size can really get the water churning. Since they needed the larger lock, the other waiting boats were brought in too.
Once the water level was raised, the lock gates were opened and the water flowed through to finally balance things out. The current whipping past the tug made it look like it was moving at some speed even though it was standing still. Once cleared to depart, they pulled off gently. Since a lot of small craft were behind them in the lock, they couldn’t just give it the beans or their wash would have bounced everyone around. Instead, a delicate application of power and they were on their way. Below is a little video of them to go with the stills.
A trip to the Chittenden Locks in Ballard in the fall is a good time to see salmon making their way up through the fish ladder en route to their spawning grounds. If we know the salmon are there, so do their predators. On this day, it was seals. Seals and sea lions are both common at the locks when hunting for salmon. A pair of seals were playing around in the waters near the locks, no doubt choosing their moment for a snack. Another pair of seals had been a bit more aggressive in their thinking. They had made their way into the fish ladder itself.
There are gates on the entrance to the ladder that are intended to allow the fish through and not the larger predators but I guess on this day, the gates had been left open. Our first glimpse on one of the seals was as it was chomping its way through a salmon it had already caught. It was making swift work of it. A while later we saw them again. They would haul themselves out on to the walls of the ladder for a break before diving back in to search for the next snack!
The salmon head to spawn in phases with the three different breeds coming at slightly different times. They head through the ladder at the locks in Ballard in the fall but, before they head into Lake Washington, they pause in the approach area. The transition from salt water to fresh is something that they have to adjust to and the area just by the locks where the fresh water is spilling out provides a good place for them to get adjusted. They can stay for a couple of weeks or more. The result was that we saw a lot of salmon swimming around in the waters by the dam. This was not a risk free occupation as shall be covered in a future post.
The smaller of the locks at Ballard has mooring points that float with the water level so the boats can tie up and wait for the process to be over. In the big lock, the boats have to let out or take in their lines as the level changes because they are tied to the lock side itself. When the boats were down, the lock crew shouted out clear instructions to everyone to keep their lines tight until instructed to do otherwise. As the boats had come in, we had watched with some amusement a guy who didn’t seem to know how to handle his boat. Judging by the text on the boat, it was a share scheme of some sort.
I wandered away as they started to move out of the lock but Nancy and Mum stayed to watch. Judging by the shouting that followed, one of the boats had let off his lines early. When the gates open, there is a flow out of the lock which starts to take loose boats with it. One of them started to rotate and take the other boats with it. I missed the whole thing but I was able to guess who was the one that hadn’t followed instructions. Hmm…
While watching a bunch of leisure craft heading through the locks at Ballard, a tour boat was coming from the opposite direction and was fed into the smaller lock. I headed across to watch it come into the lock. It was a pretty snug fit. All of the people onboard were out on the deck watching the lock process. I was watching them watching us. They were below me when the boat entered the lock but, once the water level was up, they were looking down at us on the lock side.