Seattle to Oro Bay, Anderson Island, Puget Sound Washington
Photo: Going South Under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge
"How far north are you going this year?" asked one of our Shilshole neighbors when he saw us wheeling a cartload of duffels and grocery bags down the dock.
"We're not going north this year; we're heading south." I paused at his surprised expression, and then continued, "South Sound that is."
To many Seattle boaters there are only two cruising destinations: north to the San Juan Islands, Desolation Sound and Alaska, or the "Big Left Turn" -- South to Mexico and beyond. For the last 40 years, we had been cruising to Alaska or northern British Columbia, or west to the West Coast of Vancouver Island. This year we had only 12 days for a cruise. That was enough to make the San Juan Islands if we'd wanted to, but we didn't. After summers of cruising in the isolated areas of Alaska and British Columbia, the San Juans just felt too crowde.
Years ago we had spent a week cruising in South Puget Sound. We'd also taken the occasional three-day weekend trip to Oro Bay and Penrose Point in the area. We remembered quiet waters, empty anchorages, and lots of state marine parks. What was it like now or would we find the rural equivalent of Seattle's construction cranes? We'd find out.
July 22-23. Oro Bay, Anderson Island.
Photo: Osprey anchored in the entrance to Oro Bay
We turned south out of Gig Harbor toward the Tacoma Narrows and suddenly, there were no other boats until we motored under the bridge and passed a small sailboat heading north. Our chart plotter showed us going 11 knots over the ground, meaning we had 5 knots of current with us. The small sailboat was going to take a while to get through.
Once through the narrows we headed toward Oro Bay on Anderson Island, motoring on smooth waters. The majestic shape of Mt. Rainier floated over the mainland ahead of us. I reminded Steve of our favorite anchorage in Oro Bay, near the entrance with an unobstructed, awe-inspiring view of Mt Rainier.
"We'll see. It's Saturday. It might be crowded."
We zigzagged through two red and one green buoy, avoiding the three sandspits that bracketed the entrance. The bay was even more deserted than I remembered: a few resident boats on buoys, a few transients at the outstations of Bremerton Yacht Club and Tacoma Yacht Clubs, and that was it. On shore we saw the same scattering of houses we'd seen on our last trip here, lots of trees, and the old ferry in the south corner where it had always been.
We anchored where we had planned with the white cone of Mt Rainier in full view.
That afternoon at high tide, we put our new electric motor on the dinghy and puttered off to explore. We threaded the dinghy through a marsh on the west end of the bay, watching seals swim beside us and kingfishers swoop from nearby trees. We approached the old ferry. Despite its peeling paint, it still looked grand. I could imagine passengers climbing the outdoor staircase or strolling the decks. "Ocean City" it said on the front of the cabin. A speculator had bought the ferry from New Jersey, hoping to rent it to the state ferry system or to Mason County for the Anderson Island system. But neither system had been interested and the ferry had never been used in Washington State.
Photo: The old ferry in Oro Bay.
We returned to Osprey and ate dinner in the cockpit in view of Mt. Rainier. As the sun set behind us, it lit the freight trains running along the shore five miles away, then turned the eastern sky and the mountain pink.
I awoke several times in the night to hear the lonely distant wail of train whistles-- far enough away so their noise didn't bother us but close enough to remind us of how close we were to civilization.
We spent two nights in Oro Bay, enjoying its peace, chatting with a few boaters at the yacht club outstations and just generally relaxing. The second evening we motored the dinghy along the forested shore, admiring tall firs and Madrona (Arbutus) trees.
To us the San Juans meant crowded anchorages and constant boat wakes that knock what little wind there is right out of our sails.
Photo: A yellow kayak near the shore of Oro Bay.
An Oro Bay organization had purchased a large block of the bay's shoreline for a park, but I didn't know exactly where it was or whether the park had been developed. Motoring the shore, we saw some wooden fence rails among the trees with interpretive signs behind them. We looked for a trail from the beach but saw only unbroken bluffs. We were about to conclude that the park didn't include access from the water, when we saw several people walking along the shore. When we asked how we could get into the park, they pointed around the corner, "There's a stairway, we just came down it." Sure enough, tucked in a little cove was a stairway leading down from the forest.
Photo: Stairway to Jacobs Point Recreation and Conservation Area.
Steve didn't feel up to hiking among tree roots, but the next morning he dropped me off on the beach below the stair, promising to come back in half an hour. I climbed up the stairs and found a sign saying, "Welcome to Jacobs Point Recreation and Conservation Area." Following a trail inland, I walked among towering firs and hemlock interspersed with alder. This looked like old growth: lots of tall trees far apart, sunlight reaching the forest floor, salmon berries and huckleberries in the underbrush. I smelled the pungent aroma of pitch and leaf litter.
All too soon, I had to turn back. We had a flood tide to catch through the Nisqually Reach to Dana Passage and Hope Island State Park 10 miles away.
Since our last trip here, Oro Bay had become an even better place to visit.
July 24. Hope Island.
Photo: Osprey tied to a Parks buoy off Hope Island. Note the windscoop.
Hope Island shimmered in the sun and a string of State Park buoys invited us to stop. To the East Mt. Rainier peaked over Squaxin Island while across Squaxin Channel, a row of houses crowded together on Carlyon Beach. With Olympia just a few miles south down nearby Budd Inlet, Hope Island was a refuge in a suburban environment.
A current swirled by the buoys. I stood on the starboard deck, boat hook in hand, ready to snag the buoy's ring. Steve turned Osprey upcurrent, then reversed the engine to bring us to a stop. I hooked the boat hook under the buoy's ring, but the boat was still moving forward. As I struggled to hang on to the buoy, I heard a sharp snap and suddenly we were racing away in the current and I was holding a pole with no hook. The bronze hook had snapped right off.
Chastened, we motored around the corner to the island's east side to a second string of buoys. The current was less strong here, but without the boat hook, I had to lie down on the deck and grab the buoy's ring with my hand. My first attempt failed, boat speed pulling the buoy ring out of my hand before I could thread the line through. The second time Steve approached more slowly, giving me more time to thread the line. I finished pulling the line through the ring and tied it off to the bow cleats.
The water shimmered in the 80+ degree heat and not a breath of wind disturbed it. We rigged the wind scoop we had bought in Seattle and settled in to enjoy the hot weather. We might have taken a little left turn instead of a big one, but it wasn't the north, not even the San Juans, and definitely not Alaska.
Later, I took the dinghy ashore and trekked the short distance across the island. A sign in the forest told me the island had once been logged for agriculture. One of the families that had farmed it was the Schmidt family of Olympia Beer. They had grown grapes there.
Tall Douglas firs left unlogged for wind breaks alternated with shorter trees where land had been cleared. One homestead with an apple orchard and a windmill remained, maintained by park rangers. We eyed the apples but they were still too green to pick.
Deer browsed among the apple trees. Of the 5 buoys off the island, only one other wase occupied. Once again, South Sound had lived up to our expectation as a quiet getaway only a few days from Seattle.
Photo: Deer in an old orchard on Hope Island.
Tomorrow we would return to "civilization":Olympia