Rumor was that boating destinations were getting swamped with vacationers desperate to get out of the house and on the water. Our thoughts were to avoid towns, avoid people, and avoid crowded anchorages. We armed ourselves with a state park mooring pass, our South Sound Sailing Society reciprocal membership, and three cases of wine. By the way, we stored the wine on the port side of the boat and that helped keep her on her lines. Otherwise she has a slight list to the starboard.
August 4th we cruised out to Penrose Point and found a mooring buoy for the night. The next day we caught a bid ebb tide that swept us through the Tacoma Narrows, and into Colvos Passage. There, in 300 feet of water I spotted a crab buoy swimming its way north up the channel. It was clear to me that someone’s trap had fallen into deep water and was lost. I know that you are not supposed to pull up a crab trap that you don’t own, but when a trap with 100 feet of line is in 300 feet of water it’s in no one’s interest to have it bounce along until it hits bottom again. And then, the lost trap could continue to catch crab for months, crab who would not survive that small prison. We spun around, scooped it up and got the name and address of the owner written on the float. I phoned the owner in Tacoma and told her that her crab trap will be spending its vacation with us in the San Juans until we returned back south in a couple of weeks. She was delighted.
The big ebb pushed us all the way north past Blake Island (crowded), through Rich Passage to the park dock at Illahee, a nice long run for one day. We watched the kids jumping into the water over and over all afternoon. I had a bee fly into my shirt and got stung twice for a nice surprise “hello” from nature. The next day we shot through Agate Pass in a driving rain, to arrive later in the day at Port Ludlow and a quiet anchorage.
|Island Spirit and Traveler at Sequim Bay Park|
Day four we rode the next strong ebb through Admiralty Inlet and around the corner to the entrance to Sequim Bay where we soaked a crab trap and caught our dinner. We reset the traps and continued on into the bay to find dock space at the state park float. Our friends Rick and Ada were there on their new boat Island Spirit.
Day five was my birthday; sixty seven is the magic number now. Rick and I took his dinghy out through the bay entrance spit and found my two crab traps chock full. We sorted out the little ones and the females and still came back with a big haul. As the wind was building and the chop getting high, we brought the traps back into the bay where it is calmer. Don’t want those traps taking a hike on us! At the dock I had the pleasure of showing Rick how to murder crabs and rip their bodies apart. I don’t think he enjoyed it ever so much. Ada, on the other hand, couldn’t keep her fingers out of the steamed crab picking dish that evening.
We had crab out our ears on my birthday and for subsequent days after that. Three days at Sequim Bay and it was time to push north. Our crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca was a little bouncy and the wind was not quite strong enough to keep the sails full so we ended up running the motor the second half of the crossing then found pretty Aleck Bay on the south side of Lopez Island for a calm night at anchor. From Aleck, we sailed around the corner to Spencer Spit. I spied fourteen boats on buoys and anchors on the south side of the spit, quite a crowd. Just as we were headed toward the north side to count all those boats, a mooring buoy opened up and we had the good luck to snag it. If you see it, take it.
We rowed ashore and met Jane and Richard, our friends who live on Lopez, and had a nice social distanced chat amid swarming bees. One of the bees got into my beer and I got bit on the lip when I spit it out. Connie sucked the venom out and I was fine, but shaken. That’s when Connie told us the story about when her daughter Tesla got stung on the buttocks as a small child. Connie’s friend told her to suck that venom out. She did and soon Tesla was back at play. Connie has lots of interesting talents, I have found.
From Spencer Spit we sailed through Peavine Pass out into Rosario Strait and made our way to Clark Island for a hike and a paddle and a bumpy night on a mooring ball. We re-learned the rule that you do not leave kayaks or a dinghy in the water where a confused tidal situation exists. Traveler was swept down current but was pointing the wrong way, trying to chase her tail. The dinghy was trying to move to the front of the boat and the two plastic kayaks played an endless drum solo going all night. The mooring buoy tried to keep the beat on the nose of the boat. I awoke sleepy eyed and tired. Always bring the kayaks on deck. Always secure the dinghy so it can’t dance against the hull. Always bridle the mooring buoy so it cannot bump the bow. How many times have I got to tell you?
From Clark we motored over to Matia and found a quiet spot on the southeast corner in a small cove full of puffins. We hiked the beautiful island amazed at the old growth trees preserved there. The shoreline rises steep on both sides with wonderful scooped out ovals and caves in what appears to be sandstone.
Check traps, no crab, means chicken sausages for dinner. I placed two traps, two sets in different places, and still no crab. That evening at twilight we watched three sleek otters snacking their way down the cove. I bet they know where the crab are.
On that second night in the southeast cove of Matia, we welcomed in a small boat with two women aboard and an Irish setter. The setting sun at the head of the cove blinded them as they cautiously made their entrance. “Come on in, there is plenty of room.” I said. They glided on into the cove and dropped the hook in twelve feet of water. The moon rose but we couldn’t see it, it was a new moon. The next morning we had a ten foot drop to a minus one foot tide and they were aground. Oops. We considered ourselves lucky to have three feet under the keel. We all know that new moon and full moon means big tides.
That morning we watched that little sailboat go from full tilt to floating then we headed out into deeper water, motoring and sailing around the north end of Sucia Island. Echo Bay is the largest anchorage. I counted ninety boats there, an amazing amount. All around us were recreational fishing boats, crab floats, shrimp floats, paddle boarders, and kayakers. It was a piloting nightmare. Evidently Sucia is very popular, especially in a Covid summer.
We decided to give Sucia a pass and headed around the north end of Patos, running through tide rips at the tip of the island with its scenic lighthouse. We found Active Cove with its two buoys taken plus a few more boats anchored leaving a small space for us to squeeze in and drop our hook. Going ashore in the dinghy, we avoided the people camping (no masks) and took a nice walk out to the lighthouse and back. Normally Patos is a quiet place. Not that day. Anticipating another minus tide, and having an uncertain amount of swing room, we pulled up our anchor (in twelve feet of depth) and ventured out into deeper water, sailing then motoring over to Waldron Island. Waldron is not a destination Island. There are no facilities, no parks to speak of, no mooring balls and no protected anchorages. On the positive side, there were no visiting boaters. With light winds from the north, we were clearly in a period of hot, calm days so we felt comfortable anchoring on the unprotected south side in Cowlitz Bay. We had the place to ourselves and a wonderful evening with a bright sunset and dinner in the cockpit. How well it pays to get off the beaten track.
With spotty cell service, we finally confirmed with Connie’s son Ezrah that he would be flying into Friday Harbor at 3:25 so we sailed south past Flattop, Jones, and Yellow islands. As we approached Friday Harbor the boat traffic got heavier and we had some close calls with power boats as we entered the harbor. Everyone seemed to be in a big hurry. Sea planes were landing. Ferry boats were embarking and debarking. Dogs were barking. Music was blaring. The guest dock was full and the area near the docks was crowded with boats at anchor. Dropping the anchor in 50 feet, we mounted the outboard on the dinghy and headed to town.
The Friday Harbor market has a huge wine and beer section – clerks were stocking nonstop and customers were loading libations into shopping carts. We grabbed two dozen eggs, fruit, and some double AA batteries and checked out of there. The cashier said the real estate market on San Juan Island was booming as city dwellers were suddenly seeing the upside to living on a quiet island.
Ezrah joined us fresh off a 30 minute seaplane flight from Kenmore (his first!) and we headed off around the east side of Shaw Island, crossing through Peavine Pass to Pelican Beach recreation area on the NE side of Cypress Island. The mooring balls were all occupied and another half dozen boats were anchored. We tried three times to get an anchor to set in the rocky bottom before giving up and motoring over to Guemes Island where I found a shallow flat area between Guemes and Jack Island that gave us a nice safe anchoring spot in 25 feet of water, 300 yards from shore. Again, we found a place with no facilities but wonderful anchoring and we had the place to ourselves.
The morning of Day 15 Connie saw some boats headed east and surmised that some of those boats on Cypress were heading out. We brought up the anchor and motored back over to Pelican Beach on Cypress where we found an open mooring ball to hook onto. Taking a kayak and the dinghy ashore, we skirted the group of old guys who were camped on the beach with their fleet of little Pelican sailboats. A Pelican rendezvous! The trail from the beach climbs to Eagle Cliff above Foss Cove where we had wonderful views of the Islands all around. Back aboard, we set out crab traps and caught two rock crabs. This was Ezrah’s first time crabbing and first time murdering a crab. Yum.
Day 16 Ezrah realized that he had to be home early so we made a group decision to make a run for Puget Sound, leaving at 06:30 and motoring south with the stiff current and straight into a strong south wind. A small craft warning was in effect in the eastern entrance to the Strait, set to expire at 08:00 so we figured we’d catch the tail end of that event. Sure enough, down near Deception Pass the going got pretty rough as the current against wind brought up rollers and chop. Luckily, we were able to get some breakfast down before we hit the bumpy seas. Going into the galley to cook would be a bad idea at that point. We’ve learned that lesson.
We had water over the bow and water running down the decks and all manner of things crashing down below. But still we were keeping up a good five knots of headway. Having had enough of the rough treatment, we turned to port to get closer to land where the going was somewhat smoother as the wind didn’t have as much fetch, being blocked by the land and the Whidbey Island Air Station. I realized that we were in a cautionary zone for the Air Station but…. Oh well, what could we do now? We kept a watch out for marines coming to run us out of their restricted waters. It took us six hours that morning to get into Port Townsend and a couple more to wind our way into Mystery Bay between Marrowstone and Indian Islands. Our lowest depth in that winding channel was 9.5 feet. We draw 6.5. By that time the sun was shining, the seas were calm, and the beleaguered crew was able to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing. That meant that the captain got to take a nap. I love napping.
Consulting the charts and the tide and current tables we planned our next day’s run to Edmonds. Along with the rules about bringing kayaks and dinghies aboard at night is the rule that says to never enter shallow passages on a falling tide. If you run aground, you are stuck as the water retreats around you. We set our departure time to 2:00 PM just an hour after a minus 1.5 foot low tide, still pretty low but if we struck, we’d soon float off.
Calling ahead that morning I found an open slip at the Kingston Marina. Now that we had a reservation, we knew there would be a place for us when we arrived after the office closed. We’d been away from services now for 17 days and were looking forward to washing down the boat and getting ready for the predicted rain showers coming in with a low pressure system from the south.
On the way out of the bay we spied two sailboats, both stuck in the mud. They had tried and failed to negotiate the shifting channel earlier that morning. However, as we made our exit, both boats started floating. Rounding the north end of Indian Island we watched the submarine pen and found an actual submarine inside with a crane loading something. The young sailors in the patrol vessel saw us looking through the binoculars and started coming our way. I checked the chart and it appeared we were in legal waters so….let them come! I notched up the throttle and got the heck out of there. Ezrah took the helm and brought us through the narrow Port Townsend canal and out into Admiralty Inlet where we caught the significant current that sweeps down towards Hood Canal. Being that we were crossing a large flow, our boat was crabbing sideways and forward at seven knots. Rounding Point No Point we flew south, letting the wind vane self-steering do the work. Eventually the wind disappeared and we finished the day’s run under engine power. At Kingston we took our reserved moorage slip but then moved over to a reciprocal slip that happened to be open. Ezrah left the boat and took the ferry across to Edmonds. The almost free slip at Kingston was nice to have as we were able to wash the salt off the boat, top off the water tank, grab a head of lettuce and catch up on a bunch of email. We spent two nights at Kingston.
The following day we sailed into a southerly predicted to be 10 to 15 knots. After getting the main hoisted the wind increased so we put out about half the genoa. The wind built and so did the seas until it felt like 25 knots directly from the south with four foot wind waves. Now we were stuck with a strong southerly and a full main that we’d have to fight to get furled. Crossing over to an indentation in the shoreline just north of Shilshole bay, we were able to get in close enough to blanket the wind a little so the main could come down without incident. Arriving at Shilshole marina around 3 PM, our friends Scott and Karen took our lines and we settled into a nice afternoon catching up with them. Their Catalina 42 was there right across the dock. Drinks. Dinner. Dessert.
Trains rumbled through the night, waking us up. After being in quiet anchorages for three weeks, the city seemed overly loud to us, and felt very busy. That next day we crept out into the sound and hoisted the geniker in the light winds, ghosting along at 2 knots for a while, then increasing to 3 knots off Blake Island. At Vashon we were at 4 knots building to a screaming 7 knots by the time we made Three Tree Point. As we made the turn around the south side of Vashon Island the wind came on the beam and Traveler tilted over sharply. And now here we were again, over canvassed… but having a great time. Right at the entrance to Quartermaster Harbor is Piner Point with a good sized vertical wind block. We took advantage of the lull to pull the geniker into the sock. Motoring into the harbor we found anchorage at Dockton in 30 feet of water.
The following day we caught two crabs then sailed south and west to Gig Harbor where we anchored in 40 feet of water along with a crowd of boats and crab pots. I got two more big rock crabs that ended up as fried crab cakes for dinner. In the morning I caught two more in the morning and reloaded the traps with the remaining stinky bait. On the way out of Gig Harbor we pulled up the traps with one good sized rock crab and we headed south, steaming, picking, then freezing the crab harvest. Now that we were in the southern waters all we found were rock crab. Up north we caught Dungeness Crab which are larger, easier to crack, and have a lot more meat.
After passing under the Tacoma Bridge we were in the south Puget Sound fishing area where the crab season is closed so our crab fest was over… at least for this year. Oro Bay is just north of the Nisqually Delta. We found anchorage there in 20 feet and a quiet night with few sounds and fewer boats around us. Back in familiar waters, we found our slip at Swantown Marina the next day and made multiple runs with the dock cart, emptying the boat of provisions. After buttoning up the boat I gave her a last look and noticed a slight list to the starboard.
Thank you Traveler. Thank you for getting our minds off the issues of the day and setting our minds at ease for a much needed recreation. And thank you, dear reader, for staying with us through a very long blog post.