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Whidbey Island
and The Legend of Deception Pass

Chapter Eleven

Deception Pass—Spectacular, Dangerous

Spectacular Deception Pass, spanned by a bridge between Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, in the Northwest's Washington State, is a stretch of rushing water, beautiful and dangerous, framed by gorgeous scenery. It is the unsurpassed vista of Island County, with a bridge connecting Fidalgo and Island counties with Mount Baker in the Cascades to the East, and the low blue outlines of Vancouver and Fidalgo Islands to the west.

For generations Deception Pass has drawn explorers, fishermen, sightseers, artists and photographers to its roiling waters. Many are the stories told by fishermen who frequent its tide-rips and whirlpools, and in spite of the obvious dangers, continue to brave its sometimes smiling surface by boats too small or too light or overloaded.

Deception Pass is a challenge, a dare, a siren complete with rocks and music. The chart drawn by the Spanish explorer Francisco Eliza in 1791 named the Pass "Boca de Flon" as the designation for the mouth of a river, which the outpouring waters resembled.

A year later Captain George Vancouver explored the same area and named the Pass "Port Gardner." Later, in 1792, Vancouver 's First Mate Joseph Whidbey sailed through the Pass and reported his findings to his Captain. Vancouver then corrected his "Port Gardner" designation and renamed the waterway "Deception Pass." He also honored his First Mate by naming the newly discovered Island to the south, "Whidbey's Island."

What may be the earliest description of the Pass was written by Vancouver who wrote, "A very narrow and intricate channel, which, for a considerable distance was not forty yards in width, and abounded in rocks above and beneath the surface of the water. These impediments in addition to the great rapidity and irregularity of the tide rendered this passage navigable only for boats or vessels of very small berthen."

Deception Pass at the eastern entrance is approximately one-fourth of a mile wide. In the middle it is about three-quarters of a mile wide. The bridge spans two passes. The smaller, Canoe Pass, is dwarfed by Deception Pass itself. Pass Island forms a natural base for the bridge cantilevers across the two passes.

In the late days of the 1800s, Captain George Morse, one of Oak Harbor's first settlers pointed out to his children as they sailed on his sloop through the Pass that one day it would be a natural place for a bridge.

Captain Morse was ahead of his time some 50 years or more but his vision of a bridge caused him later as a state legislator to get a bill passed allowing money for approaches. Although the project was not realized within his lifetime, he successfully set the vision of a bridge in motion. Through World War I and the 1920s the vision became stronger, and in 1935, during the Great Depression, Deception Pass Bridge became a reality.

It was September of 1925 when Deception Pass came into our life... when the little Star touring car with Mother and Dad and four siblings braved the waters east of the Pass to board the little cup-and-saucer ferry on Fidalgo Island.

The ferry landed just east of Cornet Bay among towering fir trees along the bay road, with Goose Rock looking down from the west, then ten miles of country road through farms and forests to Oak Harbor. There was no bridge between the Islands at that time and it would be ten more years before such an undertaking would be dedicated, but the little Deception Pass ferry will always remain in our memory with elation. Our first child, baby Mary Lee, was born in the Anacortes hospital in April of 1935, and as we came home via the ferry we looked to the west to see the two arms of the bridge reaching toward each other from Fidalgo to Whidbey, with Pass Island support.

In Oak Harbor we found that the dream of a bridge across Deception Pass was foremost in Whidbey Island minds, with the annual Deception Pass Picnic at Cranberry Lake the outstanding event of the year which drew hundreds, not only from Whidbey but Fidalgo and the mainland. So it was that 63 years later, we find ourselves remembering the stories associated with Deception Pass and the bridge; the people who lived at a time when there was only a small ferry joining the Islands, and their importance in history!

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