South Sound Sailing (Part One: 2020)

I started this post in the fall of 2020 and unfortunately never got around to finishing it. While no longer current, it chronicles our initial foray into Puget Sound boating. I hope you enjoy it!

First, let me say that we were very fortunate that, during the worldwide COVID pandemic, we had the opportunity to move between isolating in the comforts of our modest home and the socially distanced confines of our small sailboat. We know that most of our family, friends, and few followers did not have this luxury and needed to face the risks of working while we were out exploring. So, let me say thank you to all of you that continued to support our society, including first responders, nurses, doctors, social workers, scientists, delivery drivers, grocery store clerks, bankers, home health providers, marine suppliers, government employees, and many others. Please know that we were doing our part to support our local economy, traveling locally (for the most part), maintaining social distance, wearing face masks, washing our hands frequently, and staying home whenever we felt unwell.

Ok, maybe this post should be titled South Sound Motoring, as opportunities to sail in the southern Puget Sound seem to be infrequent at best. So, we spent quite a bit of time listening to the iron genoa as we traveled to several really cool anchorages not too far from our home port of Olympia, including Hope Island State Park, Tolmie State Park, Joemma State Park, and McMicken Island State Park.

As Washington’s stay-at-home restrictions began to ease, we purchased an annual Washington State Parks mooring pass. This pass effectively allows unlimited moorage at State Park docks and mooring buoys, although the stay at any one location is limited to three days. 

Hope Island

With our newly acquired mooring pass affixed to the port side of our boat, we headed off to Hope Island State Park in early August. Hope Island is about 8 NM north of Olympia via Budd Inlet and Squaxin Passage. This tiny island is adjacent to Steamboat Island and the small community of Carolyn Beach. We had visited the area by car a few weeks earlier and had noticed that it was quite popular with lots of people enjoying the beach and surrounding waters. We could also see that there were quite a few boats anchored around Hope Island. 

To be honest, we had never picked up a mooring buoy, and our anchoring experience was limited to our Advanced Coastal Cruising class and a weekend trip to China Cove in San Francisco Bay. So, we were a bit nervous as we approached Hope Island early on this pleasant August afternoon. Our guide book noted three mooring buoys on the northwest side of the island and two on the south side. Unfortunately, as we approached the southern tip of the Island, we could only see one mooring buoy – and it was already occupied. We proceeded clockwise around the Island and found that the buoys on the northwest side were also occupied. So, we set the hook in the anchorage on the east side of the Island just outside of the narrow passage between Hope Island and Squaxin Island. We were ready for our first overnight on the Puget Sound!

Our anchorage adjacent to Hope Island in Squaxin Passage.

After a fabulous meal, we watched a few sailing videos and turned in for the night. We had downloaded a new iPhone-based anchor alarm before leaving, but we had neglected to really study the app before relying on it for the night. So, you guessed it, the alarm kept going off throughout the night! Between the alarm and my anxiety of dragging anchor as the tidal currents changed, let’s just say that I didn’t get much sleep. And although we used the app again for the second night at Hope Island, I learned that a phone-based anchor alarm is not ideal – particularly when the phone is inside the cabin. The accuracy of the GPS signal frequently resulted in our “position” being outside the designated swing area. The only real way to address this was to make the swing area extra large, which defeats the purpose of having an anchor alarm. It’s definitely time to identify another solution.

A hearty breakfast at Hope Island.

Our dingy, Skitten, came along for the ride, and we had planned to row over to Hope Island. But given the amount of boat traffic and numerous groups on the island, we opted to spend our time aboard. We continued our work installing new deck fasteners to hold the new dodger in place, and I set up the ham radio and checked into several maritime HF nets. After another enjoyable meal, a sundowner, and a few more sailing videos, we retired for another night of anxiety and poor sleep. 

We hauled anchor on the morning of our third day and motored back to Olympia. We stopped at the marina for fuel and to pump the holding tank. And then its always an hour plus of cleanup to ensure that S/V Scat! is ready for the next adventure. 

Filucy Bay / Tolmie State Park

The following week, we aimed our sights on Filucy Bay. Due to a lack of wind, we once again motored out of Budd Inlet. Only this time, we headed northeast through Dana Passage. This was our first experience with the tides and currents through a narrow pass. Fortunately, we timed our trip with slack tide and our trip through Dana Passage was uneventful. From there, we rounded Devils Head on the southern tip of Key Peninsula and headed north to Filucy Bay. We arrived mid-afternoon only to find the northern portion of the bay packed with other anchored boats. We attempted to anchor in the southwest portion of the bay, but our anchor slipped as we backed down on it. So we hauled anchor and headed back out of the bay. 

Float plane preparing for an on-water landing in Filucy Bay.

On our way out, we were buzzed by a low-flying float plane. We initially thought the plane was on a sight-seeing venture, but soon realized that we were in the way of the pilot’s preferred landing zone. The plane pulled up, circled around, and successfully completed a water landing from another direction. We waved as the plane proceeded to a float dock between us and the shore. Although we learned of many navigational hazards and right-of-way priorities during our Advanced Coastal Cruising class, the need to avoid low-flying float planes was not on the list.

A successful landing!

Since the sun was getting lower on the horizon, and because we were new to boating in the Puget Sound, we were anxious to find a place to drop anchor for the night. Our new plan was to head to Tolmie State Park and hope for a vacant mooring buoy. After another hour of motoring, we arrived at Tolmie to find none of the buoys occupied. Armed with our new State mooring permit, we successfully picked up our first mooring buoy, attached our bridle, and settled in for the evening. 

S/V Scat! attached to its first Puget Sound mooring buoy at Tolmie State Park.

Over the course of the next few hours, two other boats arrived and picked up adjacent moorings. While we did not meet our neighbors, it was helpful to learn that the mooring buoys seemed readily available through the afternoon and into the evening. I guess we’ll see if this trend continues. 

We spent the next couple of days happily doing boat projects while enjoying the clear blue skies, tree filled horizon, and pleasant temperatures of the South Sound. We did, however, row to shore at one point in a futile attempt to register our use of the mooring buoy. It was during this trip that we learned that the Puget Sound fosters populations of live sand dollars. As we glided over the clear waters, we could see beds of these furry brown Echinoderm. Fun fact, sand dollars are actually flat burrowing sea urchins!

Laurie expertly rowing us back to S/V Scat!

Washington State Parks limits the stay at their marine parks to three nights. So we planned to begin the two hour journey home once the sun crept above the horizon. Unfortunately, the Sound’s version of Karl the Fog soon obscured even our neighbors on the adjacent moorings. Although S/V Scat! does have AIS, she does not currently have radar. So we each enjoyed another cup of tea while we waited for the fog to clear. Once we could see across the channel, we dropped the mooring and started our journey back to our home port. 

Puget Sound’s version of Karl the Fog!
Joemma Beach State Park

With a little more confidence in ourselves and our little boat, we headed off in early-September, to meet with friends at Joemma Beach State Park. Joemma is located on the Key Peninsula, and it includes 19 campsites, four mooring balls, and a sizable floating dock. Although the beach and boating facilities are open to the west, the park provides a pleasant stay when the weather cooperates. Upon our arrival, we picked up a mooring and settled in for a late lunch. 

S/V Scat! resting comfortably at a mooring at Joemma Beach State Park.

Next up – find our friends a potential campsite. We rowed over to the floating dock, tied Skitten securely, and walked around the campground looking for decent motorhome-sized site. Once our friends arrived, we enjoyed a socially-distanced campfire and adult beverages. As the sun set and the moon rose, we remembered that we had broken an oar earlier in the day and now had to paddle back to S/V Scat! in the dark. As we were unable to row, we each took a paddle and slapped the water from respective sides of the boat. We eventually made it, obviously, but resolved to ovoid this scenario at all costs in the future. 

After visiting again the following day, we unhooked from the mooring and headed back home. We really enjoyed the integration of boating and camping and know that we’ll definitely seek-out similar opportunities with friends and family in the future. 

Sunset from our mooring at Joemme Beach State Park.
McMicken Island

In late-September, we again provisioned Scat! and headed north through Budd Inlet. Our objective for this trip was McMicken Island. Once through Dana Passage, we headed further north into Case Inlet. McMicken Island is a real gem! Its located just east of Harstine Island, and during low tide, McMicken is connected to Harstine via a narrow spit of sand. This tiny land bridge, known as a tombolo, disappears during high tide.

There are three moorings buoys in the cove formed by the two islands and the tombolo, and an additional two moorings on the more exposed east side of the island. While the interior buoys were occupied, we were able to snag one of the east-side buoys for our stay. Once again, we settled in for a cozy evening aboard. And fortunately, the weather cooperated. 

Later in the morning of the following day, we hopped in Skitten with a plan to row clockwise around McMicken Island. The tide was coming in as we approached the south side of the tomobolo, and we spent well over an hour simply watching the tide envelope the narrow spit of land. I found it quite interesting that the water level was higher on one side of the tombolo than the other. And we were enthralled when the water level crested the land spit and finally carried us across to the cove side. I guess I’m easily amused sometimes. From there, we easily finished rowing around the island and back to Scat! just in time for happy hour.

A disappearing tombolo as the tide came in

The following morning (my birthday), we unhooked from the mooring and motored back to Olympia. Unfortunately, this would be our last boating adventure of the season. 

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