PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. — Life can be complicated when you live on a deserted island -- especially when your boat sank last winter.
“Well, that's the thing about living on the island,” said Marty Bluewater. “It is kind of a paradise, but if something goes wrong it can go real wrong.”
Bluewater lives a life few can imagine.
It’s a life of solitude and peace in one of the most pristine parts of the Northwest -let alone the country. But right now, he’s just worried about getting back home and getting a new boat put in the water.
"It's been really inconvenient, but Joe has saved the day by bringing us over in his boat," Bluewater said, referring to a friend giving him a ride back to the island paradise that he calls “Fantasy Island.”
Bluewater is 73 years old and lives by himself on Protection Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In fact, he’s the only person who lives on the island.
Fifty-one years ago, Bluewater and his parents paid $7,000 for a vacation property on Protection Island. It was supposed to be huge development with 1,000 homes, but in the 1980s environmentalists stepped in and requested the island be designated a National Wildlife Refuge.
Bluewater supported that position, but his family had already purchased the land.
After a long legal battle, the family was offered a settlement and the opportunity of a lifetime. He could stay on the island forever.
“They gave the option of ‘life use,'" Bluewater said with a wide grin. "At the time I thought, life use? Whatever that means I'll take it. The fact that I'd end up the only person here, I could've never dreamed that up in a million years.”
A retired Seattle Parks worker and Woodland Park Zoo manager, Bluewater spends his days far from the rat race of city life. He cuts driftwood to burn for heat. The closest thing to a traffic jam is a flock of seagulls on an unpaved road. After more than half a century here, he is one with nature.
“Now, I just feel like I'm another one of the creatures running around,” he said. “And the way I’ve built my cabin, it feels like my little nest."
Surrounded by soaring bald eagles, noisy seabirds and seals sunning themselves on rocks, the simple life is for Bluewater.
“The big thing was when we finally got a toilet in here,” Bluewater said. “To actually flush a toilet was a big, momentous time.”
Bluewater has no electricity. Everything runs on batteries or solar power.
“What I spend on double A and triple A batteries every year is ridiculous,” Bluewater said. “Thank God for Costco.”
Bluewater's water comes from a well powered by a generator.
Propane heats that water, providing him with one of his greatest indulgences.
“I can count maybe no more than twice that I've used the inside shower,” Bluewater said, pointing to an exposed outdoor shower he built on the deck of his cabin. “I come out here in the snow. Sometimes I'll come out here in the middle of a clear, starry night and take a shower just for the heck of it.”
If his boat isn't running, friends ferry Bluewater to the mainland for supplies.
Those friends have become a critical connection to the outside world.
“I don’t get lonely,” Bluewater said. “I've got so many friends that come and go, so when I'm here by myself it's because I want to be here by myself.”
But island life does carry its concerns. Last summer a fire broke out on the island that threatened all Bluewater has worked for.
The cause remains unknown.
“It got pretty close to my cabin which would have been a total disaster and broke my heart completely,” Bluewater said.
A few years ago, Bluewater slipped and broke his ankle.
“Fortunately, my cell phone worked, so I called some people and told them what happened," Bluewater said. "I was able to make my way to the mainland and they took me to the hospital. Had it been any worse I would have had to call the Coast Guard.”
Most concerning, however, is what he sees as a natural imbalance on the island. He believes eagles are threatening the seabird population.
“That's a problem for two reasons,” Bluewater said. “Number one because you don't want the seabirds to be endangered. Seventy percent of the seabirds in Puget Sound come here to nest. Also, they broke a lot of hearts and took away this land from a lot of people to preserve this as a seabird sanctuary. So, you can't let the eagles destroy that, as much as we all love eagles.”
Bluewater lets everyone know he's at home at his cabin when he flies three giant multi-colored flags off the south cliff of his property.
He is the proud protector of Protection Island and will be the last human to ever live there. When he dies the island becomes the property of the federal government.
“I probably care about this island more than anybody and that will never change,” Bluewater said, wiping away a tear. “This island is so important to me for so many reasons. It has been a giant part of my life. That’s beside the point that it’s just a beautiful place to be. It’s a special piece on the earth. I just feel blessed that somehow I got to be a big part of it."