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Touring a rich Naval history in the Sound

Almost painting-like, the Sound and its Naval history come together to entertain all of the senses. Photo credit: Nancy Covert

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Anyone who works all week at either of Pierce County's military installations isn't likely to want to spend the weekend at another military installation. A trip north to Sinclair Inlet - home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard - may change your mind.

Almost 50 years after Lewis and Clark mapped President Jefferson's big real estate purchase, Capt. Charles Wilkes and his crew expanded on those discoveries.

In addition to taking celestial sightings on the bluff near the British settlement at Ft. Nisqually, Wilkes' observations in 1841 included a survey of the harbor across from present-day Port Orchard. Wilkes' report about Dyes Inlet (to the north of the city) said it was "deep enough for the largest class of vessels."

Today, that harbor is the site of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. A short drive north is Bangor Sub Base and Keyport, where the Naval Undersea Museum is located.

Established in 1891 as a Naval station, during World War I, 25 submarine chasers, two minesweepers, seven seagoing tugs, two ammunition ships and 1,700 small boats were built there.

During World War II, the yard served primarily as a repair site for American and allied ships. Anti-submarine nets were installed in Rich Passage (between the mainland and Bainbridge Island) to deter enemies from gaining access to the shipyard. (Historic note: during WWII, the net was in place, which prevented the Seattle/Bremerton ferry from getting through. A phone call inquiry to the publisher of the Bainbridge Review confirmed the delay).

Today, the U.S.S. Turner Joy, a refurbished Vietnam-era destroyer, serves as a floating museum and is open for public tours. It's located at the north end of the Bremerton Boardwalk adjacent to the Bremerton Ferry Terminal.

In search of a photo opportunity of the mothballed ships, I inquired at the terminal information desk and learned I had only a short wait before I could board one of two foot-passenger ferries operated by Kitsap Transit. Vessels operate at half past and quarter to the hour.  The reduced fare is only $1; the rate is $2 otherwise.

If you're fortunate to sail on the Carlisle II, you can brag that you've cruised on the oldest continuously operating vessel in the U.S. It's identified by the large black gilded letters "HT Co." (H.T. for Horluck Transportation) painted on the ferry's smokestack. The 1917 boat - part of the famous Mosquito Fleet that plied Puget Sound during the early 20th century - operates across Sinclair Inlet, ferrying passengers between Bremerton, Port Orchard and Annapolis.  Looking back toward the shipyard, home to a lot of mothballed aircraft carriers, there's no question that Bremerton is a Navy town. Capt. Charles Wilkes definitely would have felt at home.

Bremerton is located on the shore of Sinclair Inlet via Highway 16 (becoming Highway 3). Take the Bremerton exit from the highway and proceed east. Alternately, take the Bremerton ferry from the Coleman Dock along Seattle's waterfront.  Contact for information about schedules, fees and special needs. To tour the shipyard, call 360.476.3236 or visit For information about passenger-only sailing times, call 360.373.BUSS or visit

Bremerton Chamber of Commerce, 301 Pacific Ave., Bremerton, 360.479.3579,

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