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Whidbey clammers take advantage of historic low tides

Clamdiggers Samantha Hicks and Richie Slater sort through horse and butter clams Thursday afternoon, as they dig into the shores of Penn Cove beach. - Liz Burlingame / Whidbey News-Times
Clamdiggers Samantha Hicks and Richie Slater sort through horse and butter clams Thursday afternoon, as they dig into the shores of Penn Cove beach.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame / Whidbey News-Times

These were the die-hards.

The people dressed in rubber boots, North Face jackets and toting an emptied bucket of Scoop Away. The people who take the day off work and head down to Penn Cove at 12:30 p.m., some of the lowest tides of the day, to sit knees down in ocean drudge and dig furiously.

Friends Samantha Hicks, Debbie Buse and Richie Slater wanted clams Thursday, and with near-record low tides, the setting was ideal.

“This is about a minus 3.9 tide. We need to get out there fast though,” Buse said, grabbing shovels from the back of the truck.

The lowest recorded tide in Washington state was close to a minus 5 feet in 1916, state Marine Research Manager Morris Barker, said. The tides this year are a result of an unusual alignment of the Earth, sun and moon. When they align closely, low tides are at a maximum.

Morris said late spring is usually the lowest tide season in the Puget Sound.

While the low tides are a miracle for clam and mussel diggers, they’re creating a problem for Washington’s ferry system. Some crossings for the Port Townsend-to-Keystone route had to be canceled because of low water at the Keystone Harbor and strong ebb currents.

Linda Macomb from Washington State Ferries said most trips will be canceled before and after the tide changes, when the current is heaviest. Cancellations will be posted online at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.

“The boat is smaller than we’ve had before and we don’t want to risk injuries from a bumpy ride,” Macomb said.

In the meantime, seasonal clamming is at its peak; the biggest peak in years. And Hicks, Buse and Slater, along with a few other die-hards, aren’t wasting time.

“We don’t hit every low tide, but we’re out here a lot. Trust me, it’s worth it,” Hicks said.

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