Ports of Call: Bremerton
Esther Bielmeier Boyd was a WWI-era shipyard worker in Bremerton, Washington who was anonymously immortalized in black and white photography in 1919. She stands casually in the picture over an open rivet-heating furnace, tongs in hand, and wears a distracted smirk from under her brimmed hat. Her hands are protected by heavy gloves, her feet by work boots. When a statue of her from the photo was erected in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Memorial Plaza nearly 100 years later in 2009, it was her son who identified her to the world.
“She would’ve been embarrassed,” Lyle Boyd said of his humble mother to the Kitsap Sun. Welcome to Bremerton, a Navy town that’s transforming into a boater-oriented destination.
When boaters talk of their favorite places, it’s unusual that they’ll say Bremerton. Tucked in the Central Sound due west of Seattle, Bremerton’s gritty soul has always been married to the Navy. From the days of Esther to the conceivable future, the Bremerton Naval Shipyard is a cornerstone of American military might in the region, and understanding the Navy’s role in the community is key. “Our War Count” of built and repaired WWII warships is proudly displayed on the bow section of the decommissioned USS South Carolina alongside Esther’s statue. When the clock hits five, a stream of ship workers, predominately men with long beards and sturdy barrel-builds, flows from the shipyard.
But Bremerton’s future is diversifying. The town completely rebuilt the marina and surrounding area in the late 2000s. Now public art, open plazas, and new attractions like the revamped Naval History Museum have settled into their new locations. Not all boating towns are quaint hamlets on scenic islands, and Bremerton remains one of those authentic working communities where you could conceivably buy a round for off-the-clock shipyard workers. Bremerton, in essence, is still Esther the Riveter, with all her plain-Jane beauty and honest, working soul. These days, Esther may have a bit of spending money and maybe she puts on a nice dress to go out on the weekends. But it’s good to know, if the world grows sour, Esther still has her work gloves and knows how to dish out warships.
The Bremerton Marina is the go-to choice for boaters, as it is in the center of the fun. The marina is on Sinclair Inlet, which is accessible from either the north (southbound through Agate Passage) or south (through Rich Passage) sides of Bainbridge Island. As always around the narrow passages of Puget Sound, the tides are worth consideration. The Seattle-Bremerton ferry runs east-west through Sinclair Inlet, so be mindful. The ferry terminal is a few blocks from the Bremerton Marina. Everyone is bound for the same port of call.
For boaters, the Bremerton Marina is the go-to choice, as it really is in the center of “New Bremerton” and the hub of the fun. The marina is on Sinclair Inlet, which is accessible from either the north (southbound through Agate Passage) or south (through Rich Passage) sides of Bainbridge Island. It’s the first marina to the right if you’re approaching from the north. As always around the narrow passages of the Puget Sound, the tides are worth consideration. The Seattle-Bremerton ferry runs east-west through Sinclair Inlet, so be mindful. The ferry terminal is a few blocks from the Bremerton Marina, so everyone is bound for the same place.