Southeast coast of Cypress Island


Every day Never Closes


Boaters cruising by the southeast coast of Cypress Island may not recognize Deepwater Bay due to its long shoreline configuration. The mile and a half long bay is formed between prominent Cypress Head to the north and symmetrical Olivine Hill to the south. Tucked away deeply into its far southwestern most extension is well hidden Secret Harbor.

First time visitors to this bay are immediately intrigued by the three strange craft which seem anchored along the southern shoreline of the bay. These are not actually watercraft but commercial fish pens. Analogous to land based farming and animal husbandry, the enclosures are used to raise a domesticated variety of Atlantic salmon for local and distant markets. Small young fish which are hatched and reared in Washington are brought here for their final growth in the clean waters of the San Juan Islands. Unlike many of their slower growing terrestrial counterparts their growth is extraordinary; gaining 40 times their weight during their one and a half years in salt water.

Depending on operations, workers visible on the net pens may be carefully approached by boaters interested in these facilities. If not too busy, they’ll often be glad to tell you about the pens and may even allow you to come aboard for a closer look. Paddlers and especially power boaters should be very careful when approaching due to subsurface anchoring lines and other structures around the pens. Visitors should never climb onto the pens unless invited, but much of the structure is visible from the water anyway. Below the surface an outer large mesh predator net prevents marine mammals from coming into contact with the fish or the more delicate fish nets. Recently added, a six foot high "jump" net has been installed around the perimeter of the pens to protect the fish from a seasonal visitor. Unlike their more reticent cousins the harbor seals, unless prevented, the massive sea lions think nothing of pulling-out onto the pens and dipping deeply into what must seem like a bottomless bowl of fish.

The arrangement of the fish pens hints at an unusual feature of Deepwater Bay. Intuitively, one would assume that the deepest part of the bay is in the center. This is exactly opposite of actual conditions. During flood (rising) tides a strong current flows counterclockwise around the shoreline of the bay. With ebb (falling) tides the powerful clockwise current dominates. Accented by the steep cliffs of Cypress Island that continue below the water, the deepest water depth is maintained near the shoreline of the bay. In the center of this sometimes cauldron of activity is the lower energy, depositional environment of Deepwater Bay. Sporting sand dollars and other bottom creatures this important eelgrass habitat supports most of the natural marine life in the area.

The rocky cliffs rising above the bay provide evidence of the serpentine and olivine deposits found on this part of Cypress. Despite small quantities, the high quality of chromate deposits found in these formations led to a number of nearby mining attempts. To the north a little before Cypress Head, a small bay formerly known as Mexican Bay was once the dock site for a mine located just above it. Now private property, the bay is seldom entered due to its extreme shallowness which can allow it to become a mudflat during the lower tides. On the south end, on the cliffs of Olivine Hill, another mining attempt was made. When the first ore cart was lowered from the cliff to the anchored barge floating below it, something went wrong. The cart broke free, plummeted through the bottom of the barge, and immediately sank both the barge and the mining company.

Cruising the long shoreline of Deepwater Bay can be a pleasant experience. In the distance, high above the already high cliffs, birds may be seen circling on updrafts. At the shore, tiny streams and almost hidden springs trickle charmingly into the saltwater forming mini-waterfalls. Eagles perch in snags near shoreline waiting ever hopeful for salmon to swim by pushed up to the surface by the bay’s shallow center. Though frequently protected from the strong winds of the islands, paddlers and boaters in small craft will still want to consider the differences in currents found inside and outside of this long shoreline bay on Cypress Island.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 4/6/2010


On the southeast coast of Cypress Island, Deepwater Bay is a long shoreline bay framed on the north by Cypress Head and on the south by Olivine Hill. Secret Harbor is located at the bay’s southwestern-most extension into the island. Counter-currents along the shoreline of the bay may be strong during large tidal changes.


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