A Mini Mid-Summer Cruise Through South Puget Sound

Itinerary… 7/23/20 – 8/7/20

Port Madison: 7/23 – 7/26

Blakely Harbor: 7/27 – 7/28 (Just a stop for the night

Gig Harbor: 7/28 – 7/29

Oro Bay 7/29 – 7/31

Filucy Bay 7/31 – 8/1

Henderson Inlet: 8/1 -8/3

Swantown Marina, Olympia: 8/3 – 8/5

Wollochet Bay: 8/5 for a short stop

Oro Bay: 8/5 – 8/6

Gig Harbor: 8/6 – 8/7

Port Ludlow: 8/7… Home Port

Port Madison, Bainbridge Island 7/23 – 7/26

We left our home port of Port Ludlow on 7/23/20. We made our way South passing Point No Point and the many small boats trolling for salmon, Pilot Point, Rose Point, Apple Cove, and Kingston. We gained Bainbridge Island after motoring 21 nautical miles, and entered the lovely anchorage of Port Madison. I covered Port Madison in an earlier post and will just highlight that anchorage here to give a better flavor of the sights and sounds of our 15 day mini cruise into the reaches of South Puget Sound:

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This panorama looking to the Northwest, shows the serpentine entrance to Port Madison that runs between two sandy shoals. We came in at low tide and didn’t see anything shallower than 10 feet. The channel is clearly marked. The inside bay is very protected from all but Northwest winds, and if you anchor further into the bay than we did, and althought it is quite shallow, it is protected from all but the most persistent winds.

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Looking to the Southeast you can see there were no other anchored boats close to us when we arrived on a Tuesday. There were however several boats on private moorings.

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By Thursday evening there were a few more boats, anchored at appropriate social distance spacing; Unlike Glorietta Bay in San Diego where the weekend boaters have a propensity for anchoring right on top of each other. Having the ability to spread out into thousands of nearby anchorages makes for better distancing. Northwest cruising…

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This lovely Mason 43 anchored to the Northeast of us Thursday night. They left early on Friday morning. Funny little cruising world… as I’m writing this, the same Mason 43 anchored next to us in the Port Ludlow bay. It came in early last evening and left in the morning on an outgoing tide. Both places just an overnight stop on the way to somewhere else. It seems they may be heading North. We didn’t get a chance to talk to them about their plans

About Port Madison: On May 10, 1841, the Wilkes Expedition spent time in the area and surveyed the bay. Most expeditions use naming conventions based on who led the expedition, or after a member of the expedition. As this was a U.S exploratory mapping expedition paid for by Congress, what better thing to do than to name it after the 4th president of the U.S., James Madison.

As with most well timbered and accessible ports in the area, an enterprising industrialist built what else… a lumber mill on the bay’s shore in 1854, and Port Madison became a booming mill town. (More about the Wilkes Expedition: https://timeandnavigation.si.edu/navigating-at-sea/us-goes-to-sea/wilkes-expedition/maps-charts)

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While at Port Madison we went on a hike on a short trail through a delightful patch of woods. The trail started at a small public park on the Eastern shore between the Seattle yacht club outstation and the Port Madison Yacht Club (both much smaller and rural than they sound…) and ended on a country lane. We met a few people along the way, all wearing masks, and chatted with an elderly couple who were outside in the sun tending their flower garden. They had the most amazing purple hydrangeas. They offered for us to take as many blooms as we could, but having to hike back with them, get in the dinghy etc. we declined… and thanked them for the offer!

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I try to keep political statements etc. out of my blog writings. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps because I feel it is about travel and not about presenting my self to others on any particular position on political, religious or other scale. This sign was across the street from the lovely couple with the hydrangeas. Every once in a while though… those non travel thoughts will creep in.

This is a nicely done sign…

These days, we all do seem to be living on small self created islands. And… regardless on how well, VHF radio, wifi, cell, TV, satellite communications, undersea cables, social media etc. is installed and operational to make distance communication possible, we can’t seem to talk to a person sitting across the table, expressing different opinions than us and connect with any depth of understanding… and by the way… Science is definitely real.

Perhaps that may change. Perhaps it will not. We all need to work on it.

Nuff said.

Considering that Port Madison is just 6 miles or so from Seattle, the bay was uncrowded and restful. Fellow boaters anchored nearby were quiet and considerate. I have a feeling that we will return to Port Madison many times in the future…

Blakely Harbor, Bainbridge Island 7/27- 7/28

Blakely was a stop on the way further into the South Puget sound. Port Madison is on the North end of Bainbridge. Blakely Harbor is 9 miles South and rests on the West side of Bainbridge facing East towards Seattle, a measly 5 nautical miles to the East. Considering that… there were only a few boats in the harbor… in the middle of summer.

This is a view from Blakely Harbor facing West. In the saddle area you can see the Olympic mountains in the distance, snow free for the most part this time of year. In the West end of the harbor and between 1864, and 1922, a sawmill operated. At its peak, the mill produced 100 million board feet of lumber per year and was “once known as the largest, highest-producing sawmill in the world”. I’ve heard that several times up here. Port Ludlow, Port Orchard, Port Madison, Port Gamble, Port Blakely all had huge mills in production at one time or another. Lumber in Washington was “king” for a very long time, and it still is in one way or another…

If there is a best thing about Blakely… It is the night view of Seattle to the East at night. To the left you can see the Space Needle. The last midget-tall building you can see on the right, just right of center is the Smith Tower. When I was going to U Dub… I worked there in the VA outpatient pharmacy… The darkened mass on the right is Alki Point. The Duwamish called it “Prairie Point” ( Lushootseed : sbaqWábaqs ) Say that 5 times…

The “Smith Tower” is a “skyscraper” in Pioneer Square in Seattle, Washington. Completed in 1914, the 38- story, 484 ft (148 m) tower is the oldest skyscraper in the city, and was among the tallest skyscrapers outside New York City at the time of its completion. Imagine that. I worked there in the VA Outpatient Pharmacy when a young tyke… Now it is dwarfed by other tall buildings. At 484 feet it only looks into the naval of the Columbia Center, (formerly named the Bank of America Tower) which stands at 933 feet which is still the tallest building in Seattle and the state of Washington.. Factoids to live by… Histories to consider. Hell, look it up. What else do you have to do in your self isolating castle?

Gig Harbor: 7/28 – 7/29

(Wickipedia) During a heavy storm in 1840, Captain Charles Wilkes brought the captain’s gig (small boat) into the harbor for protection.[11] Later, with the publication of Wilkes 1841 map of the Oregon Territory, he named the sheltered bay Gig Harbor.

In 1867, a fisherman, Samuel Jerisich, came to the Gig Harbor area, along with many other immigrants from Sweden, Norway, and Croatia. The town was platted in 1888 by Alfred M. Burnham.[12]

(Mostly from the Wiki) Gig Harbor was officially incorporated on July 12, 1946. Commercial fishing, boat building, and logging dominated the economy until the construction of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. Until then, the primary method of transportation between Gig Harbor and the economic center of nearby Tacoma was by steamship. Starting in 1836, steamships started plying the waters of Puget Sound and quickly developed into what was eventually dubbed the “Mosquito Fleet”. Gig Harbor, isolated from Tacoma and Seattle by Puget Sound and the Tacoma Narrows, could not be reached by automobile or horseback except by a very long and arduous trip south around Puget Sound and Hammersly Inlet. The boom was to be short lived, as the first bridge collapsed just months after it was completed. The resource demands of World War II prevented another bridge from being built until 1950. Between the time when the first bridge collapsed and when the second bridge was completed, a state-run ferry service delivered drivers directly into downtown Gig Harbor. Remains of the ferry dock can still be seen just outside the mouth of the harbor at the southeast end of Harborview Drive. The area has been turned into a small park, where the public can see a panoramic view of the Cascade Mountains, Point Defiance, and Mount Rainier.

My memories of Gig Harbor harken back to 1971 through 1976 when I, and my friends used to frequent the “world famous” Tides Tavern. a watering hole, health food oriented tavern with 3 pool tables and many beers on tap. Their pizza was out of this world and the food, sandwiches, and most edibles were made from the freshest organic flora. The Tides was a very special place. Alas… the pool tables are gone, along with most of the organic fare, and their incredibly good dungeness crab sandwich. It seems quite corporate now, indistinguishable from other corporate restaurants. Les and I went there about 6 months ago and had a mediocre meal of cod and chips… The tee shirt wall is still there, and sales of tee shirts and hoodies are still ongoing, but the place no longer has the feel of a local watering hole. Great for the never ending line of tourists. Not so great for the local wanting to sit down and sip a beer with friends. Paradise lost… paradise lost.

The view off the stern of GN… towards the mouth of Gig Harbor.

A quiet summer day.

Panorama looking North into the inner bay. Middle of summer… few boats as you an see. Boats come in, anchor for a day then leave… an unending chorale of rattling anchor chains… relatively busy during the day… quiet at night. Covid-19 is having a way with us humans…

Oh… and Gig Harbor has gondolas and gondoliers. Our last “home port” was the Coronado Cays Yacht Club in South Coronado in South San Diego Bay. We had gondolas going by our boat every evening. We talked to one of the Gig Harbor Gondoliers. He knew the guys down in San Diego. Small world really…

By now.. you may be getting the impression that we are on a wildfire, ping pong cruise through the South bay staying no more than a few days at most at our anchorages. You would be right. To us, though, it feels slow paced, filled with a lot of down time relaxing, napping, eating, partaking interlaced with occasional boat rides.

On the one hand, there are so many places to visit. On the other hand according to Chaim Topal playing Tevye, a poor Jewish dairy farmer in “Fiddler on the Roof”… “There is no other hand”! Most restaurants, cultural centers, museums, and other places to visit are closed or nearly so. Our cruise has been a time of motoring, which we love to do in our lovely boat.. and anchoring in places that don’t have many amenities. We have 400 gallons of water, up to 800 gallons of fuel, a means of generating electricity and lots of storage. We motor. We anchor. We live the life of vagabonds. We meet people (at a reasonable distance), and occasionally go into ports and acquire fresh food, then leave. It is interesting and quite self sufficient. Patiently observing a new full moon rise and ascend can be enlightening. Listening to coyotes at dusk is enervating. Watching seal pups and listening to their bawling is a moment of inspiration. Taking a hike through mature, second growth forests is calming.

Oro Bay 7/29 – 7/31

From Gig Harbor we headed South through the infamous “Narrows”. We passed under the dual Narrows brides that span the waters between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula. There is such an interesting history about the original bridge named “Galloping Gertie” and its early failure. Wickipedia has a nice synopse of the issue if you care to read about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacoma_Narrows_Bridge

A huge amount of seawater floods and ebbs from the inland waters South of the Narrows every day. It is the only channel connecting all of the Southern waters. We’ve been through the Narrows several times now and it is very important to watch the tides and more importantly the currents that flow through it.

During our passage from Gig Harbor down to Oro Bay on Anderson Island we timed it just right and you can see that we benefited with a 5.4 knot current pushing and pulling us through the channel. (SOG = speed over ground. STW = speed through the water) So, with our engine at just over idle we were making 12 knots through the channel. The water was moving South at 5.4 knots. Nice…

Kai was not impressed. He slept through most of the passage. He does that a lot now that he is going on 12 and has a bit of congestive heart failure. We fear for his future and what life will be like without his steady presence. A tale for another day…

The cutest damn ferry: The Steilacoom / Ketron Island / Anderson Island / McNeil Island ferry… a rural ferry designed to carry rural traffic.

I covered an evening in Oro Bay, Anderson Island on a previous post: https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/boatingongreatnorthern.org/1975 but I have more to add…

Oro Bay, Anderson Island is a small bay on the East side of the island. The entrance is shallow and narrow. The inner bay varies between 20 feet and mud depending on the 10 foot tide. Yuz gotz to be careful about reading yer chart lads and lasses… Not much of significance seems to happen in Oro bay. There is a Tacoma yacht club outstation that docked a boat while we were there, and a very laid back local yacht club.

For the most part, Oro bay seems to be in a state of retrograde evolution. What once was, is for the most part… no longer what it was. Old rotting pilings speak to the past when they were new, coated in creosote and supporting, docks, small piers, oyster farms and fish net barns; all human endeavors that once were vibrant and are now curiosities and fading memories. Best to pay attention to the eagles, ospreys, harbor seals and the many aquatic ducks that make this place their home. A nightly coyote serenade is an additional treat, and… Oro bay has one of the better views of Mount Rainier seen from from any anchorage.

Not a particularly clear day, but sunny, warm, light winds and… Mount Rainier

Oro Bay is also the resting place of the Ocean City, a 189-foot, 50-car ferry built in 1928. Originally steam-powered, it was built for the Reading Railroad. Re-powered with a 1,600-horsepower Fairbanks-Morse engine, the ferry was acquired by the State of Virginia in 1950. Captain Tom Palmer, an Anderson Island Ferry captain, purchased the ferry in 1984, and hoped it would supplement his current 30-car ferry. He and his brother brought Ocean City from the East Coast to Puget Sound via the Panama Canal. Palmer’s ferry service was taken over by Pierce County, and she was never put into service. Go figure…

Another ‘oddity’ we discovered and had never heard before… the eerily human-like sounds emanating from a baby seal pup following it’s mother around the little bay. At first we couldn’t figure out where the sounds were coming from, and eventually determined that it was the seal pup. Its utterings were tired sounding moans and pleads (I need a nap now), indignant and wanting demands (more fish and clams please… NOW), burbled laughter (that was fun, let’s do it again… NOW); Sounds not unlike a non-verbal 2 year old would make, all day and all night long…

Plenty of time to put together a nice Great Northern taco casserole…

Filucy Bay 7/31 – 8/1

Longbranch Washington has this gem of a little harbor: Filucy Bay. There is a quaint little marina with transient dock space and a Northern and Southern anchorage that will accommodate 10 or more boats depending on where the wind is coming from. Thick mud on the bottom makes for safe anchoring. It also has a nice view of Mount Rainier.

The Longbranch Marina
The tranquil upper bay…

Henderson Inlet: 8/1 -8/3

Immense space. No boats. A huge nature preserve full of harbor seals (lots of moaning and chortling babies, cormorant rookeries squeaking, squawking, hissing and squealing, noisy great blue heron rookeries, pidgeon guillimots flitting about, gulls, eagles, ospreys, ducks of every color… no boats to speak of, quiet houses lining the East shore. Nature abounds… no more pictures! We paddled parts of the Inlet on our paddle boards. I do not take my cell with me when I paddle… I have been known to fall in the water.

We had several lovely, relaxed days in the Inlet on the side of the Inlet close to the rookeries. Noisy, close at hand nature… a cacophony of breeding and living animals that added to the ambiance. We’ll be going back in the future.

Swantown Marina, Olympia: 8/3 – 8/5

The Capital Building of Olympia
GN at the Swantown Marina

It is interesting… Other than the above three pictures, I have no others to show for our visit. It was hot. We walked a few places. We took naps. We ate. We sipped fine wine. Olympia is a wonderful town to visit… in normal times. It has the best farmers market. It has many ethnic restaurants, bistros and places to eat… that are mostly closed or only offer takeout due to Covid. Still. As other countries are “containing” the virus and opening up… we in America are entering a very dangerous phase of increasing pandemic concern. For Les and I, our safest place to be is on our boat anchored in places like Oro Bay, Henderson Inlet and Filucy bay. We are currently anchored back in Port Ludlow. We will go back into the dock to do laundry and fill our water tanks and then leave for the better safety of anchoring out.

Wollochet Bay: 8/5 A short stop

Anchored in the inner reaches of Wollochet Bay

I’ve heard about Wollochet Bay for years. We’d read all the cruising guides., and most give it a fairly good rating. We thought we’d poke our heads in and check it out. We went in. We anchored. We left in a whirlwind.. Why…? Well, after being there for about an hour, the ski boats started up. I was taking a nice little nap and Great Northern started to rock a bit. GN is a fairly heavy boat and the hull form is pretty good at deflecting and warding off the sorts of waves that cause a boat to roll. I got up and watched as a 22 foot ski boat attempted to get an older novice skier up on two skis. They’d set everything up. She’d yell “hit it” as you are supposed to to. They’d hit the throttle and nearly pull her arms out of their sockets and she’d tumble forward and fall. The driver would then spin the boat around and and circle the fallen pseudo skier with the tow rope so she could get set up again. This happened about 8 times WITHIN 50 FEET OF OUR BOAT!!! As all this was going on, other boats pulling skiers blasted through the area within 20 feet of the downed skier and tow boat. Several jet skis, what I call “bay lice”, blasted through the area between our boat, the fallen skier, and the other skiers as if we were all gates on a downhill slalom course. Several Lasers and a few Optimum sailboats launched nearby and became part of the miasma. Damn sez I in disbelief and horror. Damn. In a lull of activity we hauled anchor and got our bony asses out of that hell hole. Wollochet bay will not be on our future list of visitations unless we go in there in the dead of winter when other less prepared boaters are not skiing, running bay lice, or otherwise plugging up the bay and behaving dangerously. We headed back to Oro bay for the night. Instead of listening to whining 2 and 4 stroke engines… we listened to a babbling seal pup following it’s mother throughout the bay. Our kind of place.

Gig Harbor: 8/6 – 8/7

View from the pilot house looking towards the outlet of Gig Harbor
A Westsail 32 that we anchored by in Gig Harbor. We had a sister ship to this boat named the “Quiet Answer”. It was the first boat we lived aboard and that hearkens back to the 1980s… last century… heck, last millennia…

We were in Gig Harbor for one day and evening. We drove over to the Tides Tavern to order a pizza so we didn’t have to cook dinner. The pizza oven was down and out for the count. Sandwiches were down and out for the count. They had hamburgers and salads, and deep fried fish and chips. We went back to the boat and made up a nice dinner, ate it and retired early.

Port Ludlow: 8/7… Home Port

The last day of our cruise was spent dodging ferries, small fishing boats, logs, dive boats and tidal flotsam. The sky was cloudless. The sun was out. The winds were light Navigationally… we went with the currents and for the most part had between 1 to 2 knots of “push”. We thought of breaking up the day by stopping by Madison Bay or Blakely Harbor… but the passage was only 5 hours from start to finish and after the 10 to 12 hour passages between San Diego and Catalina we were used to… what was a 5 hour passage. We got back to Ludlow and anchored off the marina so we could tap into the wifi signal with our long range wifi antenna and router.

Now it’s your turn. What have you been up to? What is your summer story?

5 thoughts on “A Mini Mid-Summer Cruise Through South Puget Sound

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