A boat tour of Ralph Munro’s Bainbridge

Ralph Munro remembers the day when torpedoes struck the Crystal Springs shore.

He also remembers a gray whale slipping past Rich Passage’s submarine nets, and how Civil War vets were once the land barons of Bainbridge

Munro, an island native and former secretary of state, was one of the guides aboard the historic steamer Virginia V on Sunday. The sold out four-hour tour was aimed at highlighting the history of 30 ferry landings around the island.

At the end of the trip I hopped off the boat sure that the story I’d write would be full of Munro’s comments. It wasn’t. Munro, I realized after looking over my notes, had said very little about ferries, the topic of the tour and the subject of my story. But he had plenty of colorful and interesting things to say, especially about the island’s west side.

For my story about the tour of ferry landings, click here.

For highlights from Ralph Munro’s steamboat tour of Bainbridge, read on…

Fort Ward: During World War II, the Navy stretched nets across Rich Passage to nab any Japanese submarines bold enough to slip into Puget Sound. Island residents soon learned the nets weren’t as foolproof as the Navy claimed.

“We woke up one morning to find a gray whale had gotten through,” Munro said. “We asked how a whale could get through but a submarine couldn’t. We never did get a good answer.”

Point White: Abraham Lincoln was generous with frontier land for his most decorated veterans. Munro mentioned two Civil War vets who were awarded huge Bainbridge spreads. A Congressional Medal of Honor winner by the name of Jack Nibbe was lucky enough to get the whole south end of the island.

Crystal Springs: Munro pointed to several old homes that were owned by members of his family and that of the Hansen family.

“The Hansens and Munros have been neighbors since 1896,” he said. “We were all neighbors and then we married some of our neighbors.”

Despite the marital unions between the two clans, the Munros and Hansens sometimes clashed.

“Well, the Hansens were Democrats,” said Munro, a Republican. “So we have had some problems.”

Also at Crystal Springs, Munro pointed out a few creosote pilings that were leaning together, forming triangles that were used by the Navy for torpedo target practice. The Bainbridge Review would print weekly notices letting islanders know when to steer clear of the Crystal Springs beach behind the targets.

One day in 1954, five errant torpedoes struck the beach, surprising – but not injuring – the nearby inhabitants.

“Can you imagine that happening today, with all the lawyers on Bainbridge Island?” he asked.

Fletcher Bay: It was in this vicinity that Munro’s mother would row out to Navy ships and give the sailors fresh-baked cookies. In return, the sailors would hand over butter and sugar.

“That’s so my mother would have more material for making more cookies” when the sailors swung by Bainbridge again, Munro said.

Agate Passage: Munro also used the tour to con common historical misperceptions.

“Some people think Agate Pass is named after the rocks,” he said. “That’s pure baloney. It’s named after a man named Agate.”

Alfred Thomas Agate, to be precise. He was the sketch artist on Lt. Charles Wilkes’ exploration of Bainbridge and surrounding areas.

At the bridge, Munro warned passengers to watch for falling bottles…and dummies.

“Watch your head,” he said as the Virginia V slipped under the span. “You might get hit by a beer bottle from somebody coming in from Silverdale.”

He didn’t admit to tossing bottles, but Munro fessed up about dropping fake drowning victims.

“We made a homemade dummy and tossed him in,” he said with a laugh. “About 15 boats stopped. We sat on the bridge and laughed at ’em.”

One thought on “A boat tour of Ralph Munro’s Bainbridge

  1. Fabulous article! These are the sorts of stories that I can read to my kids to help them develop an interest in the history of their island home.

Comments are closed.