PAT NEAL: Discovering Discovery Bay

IT WAS GOING to be one of those days. With the razor clam season shut down, the blackmouth salmon season shut down and the steelhead fishing restricted to where you can only keep imaginary hatchery fish, seafood harvesting on the Olympic Peninsula has been limited.

Then the first daylight low tide exposed the clam beds and oysters just like the old days when the old-timers said, “When the tide is out, the table is set.”

Nothing compares to the succulent steamers, meaty butter clams, monster horse clams and oysters there for the picking. Unless it’s the jumbo Dungeness crab, prawns, scallops, halibut and cod lurking offshore beneath the massive balls of bait fish, being chased by schools of salmon, being stalked by seals and sea lions, which are all prey to the Orca.

It was a web of life that made Discovery Bay the most fertile body of water in the Pacific Northwest. Until now.

Discovery Bay was most likely carved by a lobe of the continental ice sheet that melted 15,000 BP.

Geologists consider the bay famous for having more tsunami deposits than anywhere else in Washington.

There are 10 layers of these deposits that average about 300 years apart, hidden beneath the surface of the salt marsh. These represent Cascadia Subduction Events as recently as 1700.

Native Americans were probably living at Discovery Bay since the melting at the last Ice Age — if the nearby Manis Mastodon site in Sequim, where a spear point was stuck in a mastodon rib about 14,000 years ago, is any indication.

That’s about how long people have been digging clams here.

The Englishman Robert Duffin was the first European to visit Discovery Bay in July 1788.

His long boat crew was wounded and the boat was pierced, “in a thousand places with arrows.”

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver sailed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca looking for the fabled Northwest Passage. He anchored in Discovery Bay, naming it after his ship Discovery. The S’Klallam traded with Vancouver while he made his astronomical observations and the crew made spruce beer.

Vancouver described Discovery Bay as, “Almost as enchantingly beautiful as the most elegantly furnished pleasure grounds of Europe.”

S’Klallam tradition relates that about 1800, a British Man of War anchored in front of their village at the head of Discovery Bay.

Two S’Klallam men were invited to go aboard the ship, where one was dressed in European clothes and shot. The other escaped.

The villagers scattered into the forest. That night 11 sailors from the ship went to shore to spend the night in one of the longhouses, where they were found clubbed to death the next morning. The bodies were taken aboard and the ship sailed away.

In 1850, the English Captain Hinderwell started logging timber for her Majesty’s Navy on the shores of Discovery Bay with a crew of 100 S’Klallam, who spent four months falling, trimming, skidding and loading 18 spars on his ship Albion.

In 1853, Captain Talbot and Cyrus Walker anchored their schooner, Junius Pringle, in Discovery Bay and went ashore where they measured a fallen Douglas fir 280 feet long and 14 feet in diameter. They got an idea to build a sawmill.

The California Gold Rush had created a huge demand for lumber.

In 1858, the first saw mill was built on Discovery Bay.

A clipper ship, The War Hawk, sailed lumber from Discovery Bay to San Francisco in a record four days before she sank in Discovery Bay.

This began a legacy of environmental degradation we will continue next week.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected].

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