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 While no longer current, it chronicles our initial foray into Puget Sound boating.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. 


It’s been quite a while since we’ve updated this blog, and a lot has happened in our lives and across the planet. It all started soon after Laurie and I retired at the end of 2018. We took a short, but relaxing trip to Cabo San Lucas; hauled Scat for twelve days of intense boat work; explored Joshua Tree National Park with good friends; squeezed in a trip to Indiana to visit Laurie’s parents; vacationed through Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, and Flagstaff with my family; hung out with my parents in Victoria, BC and visited Butchart Gardens; got tired of the blazing California heat and decided to escape to the cooler climate of the Pacific Northwest; updated and sold our little cottage in Placerville; moved back in with my parents (again) for two months while we purchased a condo in DuPont, WA; moved us and all of our stuff the 750 miles up Interstate 5; snagged an opportunity to transport S/V Scat! to Olympia; splashed S/V Scat! in the beautiful Puget Sound; repaired several thousand dollars worth of boat work previously completed during the 2019 haul out; and then got the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company (really) for four months (and counting) during Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. And somehow in the middle of all of this, we also successfully completed our ASA Coastal Navigation, Bareboat Cruising, and Advanced Coastal Cruising classes.

Unfortunately, this didn’t leave us much time to pursue our retirement dream of sailing Mexico and the Sea of Cortez. However, given the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and with the recent birth of our first grandchild, we are in a sweet position to start exploring some of the best cruising grounds in the US and Canada (once its again safe to do so) while remaining accessible to our families. In the meantime, we’re doing our part to curtail COVID-19 by staying hunkered down in our new condo as much as possible, and by maintaining social distancing and wearing face masks whenever we venture out. We’re really looking forward to sharing our adventures aboard S/V Scat! someday soon. So, stay tuned!

Sundowners on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, January 2019.
Happily enjoying our first visit to Cabo San Lucas, January 2019.
Exploring Joshua Tree National Park, March 2019.
Thousand Palms Oasis, Coachella Valley Preserve, March 2019.
Bob with his daughters, Megan and Emily, at the entrance to Death Valley National Park, May 2019.
Exploring the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, May 2019.
Butchart Gardens, August 2019.
Laurie on deck of S/V Hakuna Matata as we embark on our seven-day Advanced Coastal Navigation class in August 2019.
Lucky shot of a Humpback whale breaching while aboard S/V Hakuna Matata, August 2019.
Bob at the helm of S/V Hakuna Matata as we prepare to go under the Golden Gate Bridge towards the end of the Advanced Coastal Cruising Class, August 2019.
Approaching the Golden Gate Bridge, August 2019.
Our cottage in Placerville never looked better, October 2019.
Leaving California for Washington with Skitten on the roof, January 2020. Don’t worry, we made a second trip with a full-size U-Haul truck.
S/V Scat! prepared for her two-day journey to the Puget Sound, March 2020.
S/V Scat! whizzing by at 55 mph+ outside of Red Bluff, CA, March 2020
S/V Scat! nestled in her new slip at the Swantown Marina in Olympia, WA, March 2020.

Maintenance, Repairs, and Upgrades

As I cleated-off the last dock line, having returned SV Scat! safely to the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor, we reflected on all that happened during the past 12 days while Scat was in the KKMI boat yard.

I had been a little nervous when we motored the relatively short distance from the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor to the KKMI boatyard, as we had removed the main (and only) sail the previous afternoon. Without the sail, we had no “plan B” if the iron genoa stopped unexpectedly as we negotiated our way through the expected tankers and cargo ships maneuvering to and from the docks of Port Richmond’s inner harbor. Fortunately, the few tankers and cargo ships there were were already docked by the time we set off for KKMI.

When we had originally met with our KKMI project manager, we had requested that the boatyard: pull the mast and replace the rigging, install a dripless shaft seal, and install our manual windlass. We had also planned to replace the mast lights with LED, install a new VHF antenna and cable, and install a mast-top wind speed / direction indicator ourselves. As with most boatyard projects, this simple list grew considerably and stretched what we thought would be about a week to 12 days.

First up on this Friday – mast removal! KKMI’s expert rigger removed the hangers and topping lift from our wishbone boom and placed the boom on makeshift stands on deck. As I removed the bolts, pins, and leash that affixed the mast to hull, the rigger worked diligently to remove the wedge blocks that held the mast firmly to the deck collar. This turned out to be more of a chore than we had expected! Even with a gentle tug from the mast crane, the mast didn’t break free from the blocks. It took more than an hour of chiseling, hammering, and wiggling to free the mast. Upon completion of this intermediary task, the mast was expertly lifted from Scat and placed on stands in the boat yard. We had officially become the motor vessel Scat!

The plan was to haul the boat the following Monday, so we spent the rainy weekend tracking down and installing new anchor, running, and steaming light fixtures and LED festoon bulbs. We also consulted with a local marine electronics expert and ordered a new VHF antenna and coax cable, as well as a new B&G Triton wind instrument. We installed this equipment in our “spare” time over the ensuing week.

When we awoke on Monday, the KKMI crew were already busy with the many boats and projects in the yard. After a quick discussion with our project manager, the rigger hoisted the boom from our deck, we motored over to the travel lift. It always makes us nervous seeing our little boat swinging from the lift straps.

After a quick power wash, we were able to inspect Scat’s underside. It had been about 19 months since we had the boat hauled and painted in Vallejo. During this time, we had accumulated a surprising amount of growth – especially on the propeller. In fact, the prop was sporting an entire ecosystem.

[We think they are tubeworms.]

It was also evident that prop shaft zincs would need replacing. I had installed two zincs during the previous haul out, but only one remained loosely attached to the shaft. We also observed barnacles starting to spread out from the bottom of the keel. In addition to new cathodic protection, Scat was going to need new bottom paint and propeller sealant. The KKMI team would have time to complete this work while the the dripless shaft seal was being installed.

After the pressure wash, Scat was shuttled over to an open space in the yard and placed on three sets of stands. Our boat listed slightly to port as shewas placed on the stands. While this didn’t appear to matter, it made us nervous every time we climbed the ladder to board. And, we lived on the boat for a week while it was on the stands, so we did quite a lot of ladder climbing.

Installation of a dripless shaft seal turned out to be quite a project. But it wasn’t actually the installation;rather, the difficulty was in separating the propeller shaft from the coupler. It took the experienced mechanic more than two days to separate these two parts and extract the shaft from the boat. The mechanic patiently worked on this project while contorting his body around in our engine “room.” Fortunately, installation proceeded on a more expeditious pace. However, the final test wouldn’t occur until Scat was splashed back in the water and a proper leak check completed under power.

While the mechanic worked diligently from our bilge, we installed the mast lights and ran the coax and wind transducer cables through the mast. We also purchased and installed several new blocks for the halyard, topping lift, and choker. Not wanting to risk extracting the internal halyard from the mast, we agonized for several days (well, I agonized – Laurie was a little more blasé). about how to install the new block. We searched far and wide for a block that could separate similar to climbing pulleys that I’ve used previously for mountain rescue. In the end, we tied a tag line to the end of the halyard and pulled it through the 49 ft mast. This was surprisingly easy, and within just a few minutes, we had the old block removed, the new block installed, and the halyard rerouted through the mast. Apparently, like many things in life, I anguished about this for nothing!

Soon after the shaft seal project was completed and the bottom paint was touched-up, Scat was again hoisted by the giant straps of the 35 ton travel lift (affectionately know as Ella Liftsgerald) and carefully lowered into the water with our mechanic onboard. Fortunately, after about an hour of inspection, including running up and down the channel under power, we were deemed leak-free so we docked near the mast crane.

Next up, installation of the RC Plath manual windlass that Laurie inadvertently purchased last summer. Everyone agreed that this project would be easier to complete with mast removed since this would provide mostly unfettered access to the chain locker. The same mechanic that installed the dripless shaft seal was assigned our windlass project. Given the stoutness of our forward deck, as evidenced by the lifting of the boat during the initial attempt to extract the mast, the project consisted of constructing a mounting platform with a small piece of starboard and aligning the new hawse pipe with the original hawse pipe hole. Once accomplished, it was simply a matter of gluing and bolting the whole assembly down (I’m making it sound easier than it actually was). The final placement was perfect and will allow me to lower and raise the anchor without wracking my knuckles on the mast!

The final project was to re-step the mast, affix the wind transducer, attach the boom, and figure out how all of the lines and blocks attach to the mast and deck fittings. The prudent thing would have been to snap several clear photos before the mast was pulled. Yes, that would have been a good idea! However, between the cryptic drawings in the owners manual and a bit of common sense, the three of us (me, Laurie, and the KKMI rigger), were able to reassemble the important parts of the running rigging. With the mast back in place – even though the sail still filled the back of our vehicle – we shed the M/V moniker!

In the end, we completed the following projects during our 12 days in the boatyard:

  • Install new topping lift and boom hangers
  • Install new VHF antenna and coax
  • Install new mast top wind instrument and cabling
  • Replace anchor, running, and steaming lights with LED fixtures
  • Replace pendant line block
  • Replace halyard block
  • Replace topping lift and a choker blocks
  • Remove prop shaft, replace the cutlass bearing, and install a new dripless shaft seal
  • Sand hull and apply new bottom paint
  • Clean propeller and apply an anti-growth sealant
  • Install new aluminum-based prop shaft cathodic protection (formerly zinc’s)
  • Remove old knot meter and insert a plug with new O-rings
  • Install new manual windlass

We were both amazed at how fast our little craft moved through the water as we motored back to our slip in the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor.

Benicia Bound

As the Coast Guard patrol vessel approached our tiny boat in Mare Island Strait during mid-August 2018, the captain yelled over to me “Have you ever been boarded?” My heart raced a little as the Coast Guard vessel maneuvered alongside. We were just about to turn into the wind and raise the sail at the start of our journey to Benicia.

I knew, however, that everything was in order since we easily passed our courtesy inspection with the Coast Guard Auxiliary just two weeks earlier. I yelled back, “No. What do you need us to do?” And Laurie, at the helm, added, “Should I keep it in gear?”

The Coast Guard commander yelled back, “I noticed that it looks like your CF numbers fell off the port side.” “We’re USCG documented” I replied. “I can show you the paperwork” as I pointed to our Auxiliary certification sticker affixed to the port side of mast.

Disappointed at our eagerness and apparent readiness (we were wearing our inflatable PFDs after all), the Captain opted not to board, wished us a good day, and the patrol boat headed back to their quarters at the east end of the Vallejo Marina.

We hoisted our sail and proceeded down Mare Island Strait on an outgoing tide and with a light breeze coming from the west. Soon, we entered Carquinez Strait and pointed the bow east towards the City of Benicia. With the wind coming directly from the west, no spinnaker, and no way to prevent an accidental gybe, we prudently steered a zig-zag course towards Benicia.

As we sailed under the Carquinez Bridge, we once again heard the squawk of a loud parrot. “It must be a speaker” I commented to Laurie. “But why?” I chuckled that some biologist was probably able to convince some highway engineers that the presence of parrots would keep the pigeons and swallows from making a mess of their work.

Our zig-zag course gave us plenty of opportunity to practice our controlled gybes in light wind conditions. (And, I got a good workout!) We learned, however, that even in moderate winds, we should consider a chicken-gybe (i.e. 270 degree tack) rather than the risk and effort of a controlled gybe with our massive single sail.

After dodging a few tugs and fishing vessels, we arrived at the entrance to the Benicia Marina, fired up the iron genoa, dropped our sail, and motored into the marina. Laurie carefully guided our floating home into the narrow slip, which allowed me to easily step onto the dock and tie off the mooring lines. All in all, it was a relaxing 3 1/2 hour trip!