Puget Sound Bound
When the Float Plan Keeps You Close to Home, It’s Nice to Have Puget Sound as Your Backyard.
By Deane Hislop
Under a clear cobalt blue-sky, we were on the bridge taking in the sights and unseasonably warm temperature as Easy Goin’s diesels purred at no-wake speed in the Swinomish Channel. Motoring past the picturesque community of La Conner with snowcapped Mt. Baker dominating the background, Arlene and I were beginning a 30-day, 320 nautical mile cruise from our homeport of Anacortes south to Olympia and back.
Each year thousands of northwest boaters make extended cruises to locations north – the San Juan Islands, Canadian Gulf Islands, Desolation Sound or destinations further north – but boat owners who live in the greater Puget Sound region, it’s not mandatory to go north to enjoy a prolonged voyage.
In previous years we were one of those boaters heading north for multiple months of summer cruising. But due to family obligations and commitments, we only had a 30-day window (mid-May to mid-June) so we pointed Easy Goin’ south into Puget Sound. Arlene and I have always enjoyed exploring the many seaside communities, marinas, state parks and anchorages, the area has to offer, and this would be a return to our old cruising grounds before we retired and relocated Easy Goin’ from Des Moines to Anacortes. It would also be an opportunity to visit some family and friends along the way.
The Sound, as it is referred to by locals, has 1,332 miles of shoreline, 1,020 square miles of cruising area and 16 prominent islands. George Vancouver was the first European to explore it, in 1792 he claimed it for Great Britain and named it for one of his officers, Lt. Peter Puget.
Two natural factors must be taken into consideration when cruising these waters, especially early in the season. The first is the constantly changing spring weather. Winds can rise and shift quickly, but the NOAA VHF weather channel has regular updates, and you’re never far from good shelter.
The second is tide. In the Sound, tides flood south and ebb north, but currents in channels and narrows don’t always follow that rule. Tidal currents, as strong as 8-knots, are robust enough to effect travel time.
Our trip began with a challenge to our navigation skills. We needed to be at the Port of South Whidbey at Langley later that afternoon to meet-up with a grandson, who would be joining us onboard for dinner and a visit. That put us transiting the Swinomish Channel and Skagit Bay during a minus 0.3 tide. Many boaters avoid the area during a minus tide due to lack of depth and strong currents. There was only 8.5-feet of depth at the northern entrance of the channel and 6.5-feet at the extreme southern portion, but we followed the navigation aids and made the passage successfully and arrived in Langley early in the afternoon, providing time to stroll through the charming seaside village before our grandson’s arrival.
The South Whidbey Harbor at Langley has a reputation of being a small, tight marina suitable only for small boats, but with the addition of a 300-foot floating breakwater a few years ago guest moorage has been significantly increased.
Grandma Arlene out did herself with dinner, offering a variety of delicious choices. We visited until we couldn’t eat any more and the stories ran-out. The evening was a wonderful beginning to our trip.
After a lazy and relaxing morning, we pushed-off and headed 15-miles south to The Port of Edmonds, our destination for the next two nights. In all our years of cruising we had never overnighted in Edmonds, and we discovered a peaceful, historic waterfront town with fine arts, boutiques, and entertainment. Walkable and easily accessible from the marina on foot or via the marina’s courtesy van, downtown Edmonds showcases boutiques, gift shops, bookstores, cafes, restaurants, a couple breweries and a distillery.
The afternoon of the second day, local friends Doug and Betty joined us onboard for dinner and to celebrate Betty’s and my birthday. We had a great visit and were treated to a beautiful sunset as ferries crisscrossed Puget Sound as the sun slipped behind the Olympic Mountains.
We spent the following few days visiting several central Puget Sound’s seaside communities and marinas.
Kingston is possibly the only city in Washington State where you can get an authentic French crepe at five o’clock in the morning while waiting for the ferry. This tiny seaside village’s tree shaded main street is lined with restaurants and shops with great food and colorful names.
In the historic town of Poulsbo, the Norwegian theme runs throughout, and its public art tells Poulsbo’s story. The heritage of the first settlers is told in mural and sculptures. On the side of the Boehm’s Chocolate building, a mural depicts a Viking ship in a Norwegian fiord. On the side of another building a mural depicts a Norwegian woman with snowcapped mountains.
Brownsville with its marina, delicatessen, grocery store and butcher shop is a must stop. The deli is famous for its sandwiches and generous portions. Sweeney’s Country Style Meats, just up the road from the marina is known for its smoked meats and seafood. We couldn’t resist purchasing some Louisiana hot links and smoked ribs.
Our next stop was the beautiful 475-acre Blake Island Marine State Park to enjoy the Memorial Holiday weekend. As we entered the boat basin, the volunteer Park Host directed us to an open spot on the dock. We were lucky, because shortly after our arrival, the docks were full, and the host was turning boats away. The Park ranger informed us that the island receives 100,000 visitors a year.
It was new for us to be in a State Park and have shorepower, 30-amp power had been installed on the dock a few years prior, making it the first marine park to offer power. We also learned from the Park Host, that boaters can stay up to seven days, unlike the three-day limit at other state marine parks.
We spent the holiday weekend visiting with other boaters, hiking the miles of trails that crisscross the island and relaxing onboard. In the evening, just before dark, the field above the boat basin would fill with grazing resident deer.
Back on the Move
Memorial Day was moving day, and we set a course for Winslow Wharf Marina in Eagle Harbor, on Bainbridge Island. Entering Eagle Harbor, we took note of the relatively narrow entrance and were on alert and respectful of Washington State Ferry traffic.
The great thing about Winslow is that it’s small and everything is within walking distance of the harbor. A friendly island community, it blends Pacific Northwest heritage with a casual, artistic, and forward-thinking sensibility. The result is a vibrant, charming small island town that welcomes visitors year-round. Additionally, the selection of shops and restaurants is outstanding.
The next morning, we said our good-byes and headed for Dockstreet Marina on the Foss Waterway in Tacoma, to rendezvous with friends Bill and Patty, but first we made an interim stop to top-off the fuel tanks at Des Moines Marina, which offers some of the best fuel prices in Puget Sound.
The Dock Street Marina is an outstanding facility at the very end of the waterway, where the Museum of Glass, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, and the Washington State History Museum sit at the top of the marina ramp. The Tacoma Art Museum and Foss Waterway Seaport and a plethora of restaurants are all within a 10-minute walk.
The following morning, we hopped on the free light-rail and headed for the LeMay – America’s Car Museum, which contains 350 cars along with engaging exhibits that cover fascinating facets of America’s love affair with driving.
That afternoon Bill and Patty arrived aboard their boat, Sunshine. After a nice visit, appetizers and drinks we walked to Harmon’s Pub & Brewery for dinner.
We were on the move south through the Tacoma Narrows to Penrose State Park the next day. We arrived late in the afternoon and discovered no boats on the state park mooring buoys located on the eastside of the point, so we claimed one and enjoyed a little piece of the park all alone.
The weather and winds in Puget Sound can change quickly, and after dark that’s precisely what happened, making for a bit of a rough night as a high-pressure system moved in and delivered daytime record temperatures of 90-degrees for the next few days.
A Rising Tide Floats All Boats
The breeze was predicted to continue for the next couple of days, so we made the decision to move to the protection of the Longbranch Improvement Club Marina in Filucy Bay.
We were experiencing the lowest tides of the year, minus 3.4-feet, as we made our way to narrow Pitt Passage where we discovered a sailboat aground on Wyckoff Shoal – and still two hours from low tide. The skipper had attempted to take a shortcut, cutting inside the navigation markers. They would have to wait for the flood tide to re-float the vessel, so after checking to make sure everyone on board was ok and determining there was nothing we could do to assist, we continued to Filucy Bay.
After enjoying a couple days of protected moorage, warm temperatures and an unobstructed view of the continental U.S.’s highest mountain, Mt. Rainier, we released the lines and set a course for Swantown Marina in the state capital of Olympia.
With not a ripple on the water and a temperature of 85-degrees, we piloted Easy Goin’ from the bridge, where we got our first sight, upon entering Budd Inlet, of the imposing Washington State Capital building, which bears the fourth-largest masonry dome in the world. Downtown Olympia is nestled at the southernmost tip of Puget Sound, beneath Mt. Rainier and within sight of the majestic Olympic mountains. It’s a blend of historic buildings, beautiful scenery and eclectic retail and dining experiences.
After checking-in we headed to Budd Bay Café for lunch, then it was to Olympia Seafood Company for some clams and oysters to take back to the boat and a quick stop at the Farmer’s Market for fresh produce.
Making the Turn
After a couple days in Olympia, it was time to start heading for home, but we had a few more stops in the float plan. We exited Bud Inlet and made an overnight stop at Boston Harbor Marina before heading up Pickering Passage with an interim stop at Hope Island Marine State Park and then continuing to Jarrell Cove State Park.
Jarrell Cove is our favorite south Sound state park, offering 14 mooring buoys, two docks, 30-amp power, restroom, showers, pump-out and hiking trails in a beautiful wooded setting. Across the cove is privately owned Jarrell’s Cove Marina which has fuel and a few provisions.
Chain Saws and Wine
We enjoyed the peacefulness of Jarrell Cove for a couple of days before it was once again time to be on the move. We headed for lunch at Lennard K’s Boat House in the nearby small waterfront community of Allyn, in Case Inlet. As we walked up the road, we passed the Chainsaw Carving School where two carved signs got our attention. They were placed such that they read “Wine Tasting George Kenny School of Chainsaw Carving.” We had a good laugh and continued to lunch. Once back onboard we headed for Fair Harbor Marina, our moorage for the night.
We arrived under a sunny sky and brisk wind from the south. The small privately-owned marina and uplands were as beautiful as we remembered them. The small store on the dock was well stocked with provision and gift items and the docks were in excellent condition.
The next morning, we listened to the VHF weather radio report. The forecast for the balance of the trip was rain and partly cloudy at best. After a day of relaxation, we departed Fair Harbor with plans to make over-night stops at McMicken Island and Joemma Marine State Parks, then anchoring in Oro Bay before transiting the Tacoma Narrows, taking advantage of the five-knot ebbing current, and our ultimate destination of Gig Harbor. We moored Easy Goin’ to the dock at Jerisich Park, located in the middle of town and took advantage of the 30-amp power and city water supply.
Rich in maritime history, Gig Harbor also boasts one of the most perfectly protected harbors in Puget Sound, offering sheltered anchorage. We found downtown itself was an enticing place to relax. With a backdrop of Mt. Rainier and idyllic scenery, the waterfront offers a variety of attractions and services within walking distance.
With the wind blowing 15 kts with gusts to 25, and predicted to continue for another day, we decided to spend an additional night in the protection of the harbor before continuing north to Port Orchard Marina in Sinclair Inlet for a two-night stay.
We woke to calm winds and partly cloudy sky, so mid-morning we made our way out of the harbor and headed for our next destination. Our course took us north in Colvos Passage, where the current always flows northerly regardless of the tide, providing us a continuous two-and-half-knot push.
Port Orchard Marina is within easy walking distance to downtown shopping and dining. Besides a walkable waterfront featuring family activities, playgrounds, parks, Farmer’s Market and an array of excellent dining and shopping options there are an abundance of events and festivals year-round.
After checking in and visiting with Cathy Garcia, Marina Manager for both Bremerton and Port Orchard Marinas, we walked through town checking-out the shops and restaurants then enjoyed lunch at La Palapa.
The second day we hopped aboard the foot ferry Carlisle II which crosses Sinclair Inlet to Bremerton. Bremerton is home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and has a distinct Navy flair which is tastefully and proudly displayed throughout the city.
Push for Home
The final day of our Puget Sound Cruise was a long one. We departed Port Orchard and headed north through Agate Passage, up the eastside of Whidbey Island and transited the Swinomish Channel to our homeport of Anacortes. The ride home was on a warm clear day and the view from the bridge was outstanding.
Our cruise through Puget Sound was enjoyable and ended much too soon, and it reminded us of all that the Sound has to offer northwest boaters.