The day after the Pocket Yacht Palooza boat show, I joined a small group of other boaters on the 2021 Palooza Crooza. Most of us launched at the Port Townsend Boat Haven. The first day we cruised to Mystery Bay, on Marrowstone Island. The next day we cruised around the east side of Marrowstone Island and south down to Mats Mats Bay for the night, and then back to Port Townsend through the PT Ship Canal the final day.
It was a great time, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know everyone and checking out their boats. I really enjoyed having some long days to do absolutely nothing but sit around and enjoy the scenery after traveling to each spot. My friend Michael’s daughter was on the trip, Mara. She said it was a bit boring, but better than being bored at home doing chores. And I agreed, all around. The kind of boring you savor. Mara took the picture below of my boat, on the first day. Best pic of my boat sailing ever.
This trip was particularly special for me because I was cruising in my just launched, heavily modified, CLC Skerry. I gave it an off-center daggerboard, so that I could sleep on the floor, and decks, with sealed bulkheads, and a bunch of other changes you can read about here. I slept aboard both nights, and was pleased that all my planning and hard work was successful. It is a very viable little micro-cruiser. Although I did come home with a few ideas for improving some things.
Day 1 – Port Townsend To Mystery Bay Through Kilisut Harbor
I had very nice wind the first day, from the southwest in the morning. I was able to point from the Boat Haven in Port Townsend to the entrance to Kilisut Harbor, in one tack. After an easy short tack through the narrow entrance between Rat Island and Indian Island, I pulled into Rat Island, one of my favorite destinations by itself, and chatted with friends Michael and his step-daughter. They were in a cool 19′ Bartender, and were playing support/photo boat for this trip.
While on Rat Island, Keith and Mary short tacked through the entrance in their stunning Welsford Penguin that they built, showing excellent boat handling skills.
Kent also showed up in his Atkin design Walter Piel, that he built. I instantly fell in love with this boat. It is designed to use a low power outboard, but can also be rowed. It looks very stable, and just a great all around utility boat that is also very economical to run. He said it is great for pulling crab pots, and rows rather well for its size. If only more boaters would return to these sensible designs for work boats. I saw far too many 300hp, $200,000 dollar fishing boats on this trip, that are pulled by $80,000 trucks. Boy would that buy a crap ton of fresh fish at the store. But I guess saying “look at the 21 pounder I just bought at the store,” does not puff up the ego in the same way.
As enjoyable as Rat Island is, the wind was calling me back to the boat. The wind had switched around to a typical northwest, and I had a great downwind sail, running straight down the middle of Kilisut Harbor, nearly catching up to Keith & Mary, who had to stick to the winding, deeper channel. Kilisut Harbor has some extremely shallow areas, and I did get a little nervous as the eel grass started to tickle the bottom of my rudder.
I beached the boat at Mystery Bay, as did Michael with his Bartender. Almost everyone else grabbed a spot on the dock. Not long after, another 19′ Bartender was being launched, that has a bit of history behind it. The designer of these famous Bartender boats, George Calkins, lived out the end of his life on Marrowstone Island, and the boat being launched was the last one he built, and his personal crabbing skiff. It would switch hands to a new owner that day, the third owner since George.
Michael was cracking me up, telling how it is starting to drive him nuts when everyone who sees his boat asks him if he knows about George living on the island. Understandable.
That is one of the great things about hanging out in Mystery Bay. The local community really uses the park, and there were cool boats launched all day to check out, that were not with our group, like this fun sharpie, that had a unique inboard rudder hung in a cassette, like a daggerboard.
And we witnessed a thrilling row-of-war, with both contestants in the same boat, at the same time, facing each other. We had a hard time figuring out if they were going forward or backward. Either way they were having a blast and actually getting somewhere, and everyone on shore was busting a gut. The boat was built by friend Steve Chambers who lives in California, and it is based on a Pacific Handliner. I emailed him this picture, and he was happy to hear it was being used by so many people that day.
Throughout the day a few more boats from our group sailed in. Steve showed up in his Montgomery 17. Vivian in her Sea Pearl 21. We actually had two Sea Pearl 21 boats in this group, which was unusual. There are not many in our area. Hunt was sailing the other.
Jeff showed up in the SCAMP he built, and launched it at Mystery Bay.
After lazing about most of the day, shooting the shit with everyone, and making a freeze-dried camper’s dinner, the water returned to my boat, hinting that it was time for my first night’s sleep on the boat at anchor. I have probably slept a total of three years at anchor on bigger boats, but nothing this small. So I was slightly apprehensive.
I rowed out to a protected spot and got myself all sorted. It was very calm, and I had a wonderful sleep. My boom tent is not yet done, so I slept out under the stars. In the middle of the night I noticed the bay was full of phosphorescence, sparkling little lights in the water when I splashed my hand through it. Sure, sure, you say, it was your hand splashing into the water, in the middle of the night, when you are about to tell us you are nearly 50. Totally believable.
When I was building the boat my long time friend Vince looked at it critically, and asked me, “You are almost 50, right, and you are going to sleep on the floor of that tiny boat?” Yes, and other than a bit of a sore shoulder and hip, it was perfect. Just enough room for everything, and nice and cozy at night. A thicker sleeping pad is in order though.
Day 2 – Mystery Bay To Mats Mats Bay Through Admiralty Inlet
I rose early the next morning, because I wanted to make it around Marrowstone Point near slack tide. That point has given me a scare before in this boat. The tide can stack up and can create some nasty chop and standing waves. So I was up at 4:30am. I quietly pulled anchor, rowed to the beach to use the facilities at the park, as the tide was still going out. When I returned only a few minutes later, my boat was nearly grounded again, but I managed to push it off. I then rowed out and anchored again, enjoyed a quick hot breakfast, and started rowing north in Kilisut Harbor, sipping hot coffee when I needed a break. It was a negative .45 tide, and still going out in the direction I was headed. Never before in a dinghy have I been forced to follow the marked channel. The big area on the east shore of Kilisut Harbor was a tidal flat, crawling with Great Blue Heron.
A few folks in our group were fairly new to the huge tide ranges and strong currents of these waters, and how the tide really defines how, when and where you can travel in a small boat, particularly if you don’t have a motor.
Because of that, both mornings of this trip I rose early and got moving, because it was what the tide dictated. And honestly, I love this about sail/oar boating. I did not really want to get up at 4:30am, but experiencing the flat calm morning waters and the beautiful light as the sun was just rising, coming to understand Kilisut Harbor better because I was able to see it so dry, and watching the activity of early bird and sea life, was all because I had to move with the tides. I experienced an intimate moment with this beautiful world, that would have been lost to me if I had a motor. What a magical morning I was having.
Further north in Kilisut, two eagles were actively chasing a seagull. My neighbor has an eagle nest in his yard, and has told me there are piles of seagull bones and feathers below, so this was more than sport. Failing in their hunt, they returned to their lookout atop one of the channel markers.
One of my friends Glenn, who lives on Marrowstone and often rows the area, had told me that the cut between Rat Island and Fort Flagler did not go fully dry until a negative two foot tide. And he was correct. I shaved off two miles of rowing by sneaking through a thin bit of water, instead of having to use the main channel.
I had hoped for some wind after that point. But I ended up rowing the entire way to Mats Mats Bay, about 16.5 miles. Even without any wind, I put on my drysuit out of caution, before rounding Marrowstone Point. But all my concern was for nothing. There were just a few bumps, and I was quickly around and soon so hot from rowing the drysuit came off again. I credit it to good timing.
There was a big fish opening, with hundreds of fishing boats out near the shipping lanes south of Admiralty Inlet, and a good number down the east side of Marrowstone Island. I ended up rowing along side a trolling boat for much of the length of the island. I imagine they were surprised at my 3.5 mph rowing speed. Or maybe they just thought I was in the way.
I rowed, rowed, rowed, my boat, merrily down the stream, singing as I went. I was going with the tide. Although in truth I was having a bit of a culture clash in my mind, listening to all the fishermen bragging about the big fish they had caught on the VHF radio… “Sea Slaughter, Sea Slaughter, Sea Slaughter, you out there? I just caught a 21 pounder with your secret lure, you are a living legend.” I was sorely tempted to get on the horn and start making up the big fish I was catching. 28 pounder here, oh my god, and another, 32 pounds this time. Not very nice.
Then I got the funny idea to rename my boat Merrily, just so that grown men would have to hail me on the radio…”Merrily, Merrily, Merrily, this is Sea Slaughter.” I can just hear all the uninvited boaters on the radio who can’t help themselves but reply, “life is but a dream.”
How deep those simple words are… life is but a dream, be merry. Why not? So I quit having pointless arguments in my mind with imaginary strangers about how much better I am than them, and got back to enjoying the beautiful world around me. What a judgemental turd. A rowing turd. A finless brown.
I continued rowing down the coast, close to shore, enjoying the scenery. Inquisitive seals, probably wondering what the hell that long legged water bug was doing up there, would pop their heads above the surface and stare. I had no idea if they liked my silly song. I was making up new lyrics at this point to row row row your boat, about how the wind had come up, a reef in the sail, the ocean was getting bumpy, and things were decidedly less merry. The adult version. I don’t think kids would like it. They prefer this alternative:
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
If you see a crocodile,
Don’t forget to scream.
Anyway, I rounded the southern tip of Marrowstone Island, the Olympic mountains peaking out to the west, there was still no wind, and I was getting tired. So I sat on the back deck and talked to my wife on the phone for about a 15 minutes.
Nothing to do but continue on rowing to Mats Mats Bay, despite my sore ass. I think I pulled in at around 11 am, having rowed about 16.5 miles. I am no stranger to rowing fixed seat boats, but I learned a fair amount that day, and improved my stroke a good bit.
The entrance to Mats Mats Bay is so small, and has such a hard left turn not far in, that even when you have been through before you are not sure where it is. It is a joy of a bay to discover by boat. It should be called Surprise Bay. Although, the bay was experiencing an algae bloom that had turned it brown as though a dirty river was pouring in. I dub thee Montezuma’s Revenge Bay.
Because I had such an early start, I did not see another boat from our group for at least an hour. Keith and Mary rolled in, anchoring close to the dock. They have a water crazy chocolate lab, that they load into their skin on frame canoe, and bring to shore. That dog is a nut, but adorable, and incredibly well trained. A few more of our group rolled in over the next few hours. They did not have much wind early, some had motor troubles, and then in the afternoon there were whitecaps and a bit too much wind. Our group size was dropping fast as a few more headed back to PT.
Over lunch I shared how growing up in Port Townsend, we would hear these huge booms fairly regularly. It was the basalt rock quarry that is right next to Mats Mats Bay setting off explosive charges. My father-in-law was a truck driver at the quarry. Someone set off a charge when his truck was too close, throwing it, and giving him a pretty bad injury that left him retired on pension. The upside was that he used the opportunity to go to the Wooden Boat School. Thank god for our mutual love of boats, or I am not sure what we would talk about. They stopped mining Mats Mats awhile ago, and property values soared.
In recent years they filled in the huge mining pits at Mats Mats with dirt dug out of the Seattle tunnel project. See the video here that shows the area from a drone.
Mats Mats has a healthy population of Osprey. There is a huge nest that you can see in a tree behind the port boat ramp parking lot. And apparently there is a donkey in the area, its loud braying echoing across the water.
After another enjoyable day of hanging out together, talking boats, politics, and whatnot, I once again rowed out to anchor for the night. And of all the ways I could die while boating, something completely unexpected almost killed me that night.
Here is what happened. I had decided to sleep in my Gore-tex military surplus bivy sack, because my sleeping bag had collected a bit of dew the night before. I did not zip up the side of the bivy, but I did throw it over my head. Well, I woke up in the middle of the night, all hot and groggy feeling, and breathing really hard, like I could not get my breath. I threw off the bivy, and could suddenly breath normally. I think I had been asphyxiating. I had heard about people dying in bivy sacks if they are all closed up, but normally they say that if you leave the zipper open a bit you will be fine. I did far more than leave a little bit of it open. I will never pull one of those things over my head again. Lesson learned. My wife turned a touch white when I told her that one.
Day 3 – Mats Mats Bay To Port Townsend Through The PT Ship Canal
The next morning I got up at the crack of dawn again, and headed out before 6am. I needed to be through the Port Townsend Ship Canal by 7:30am, before it started flooding the other way. That narrow channel can produce over four knots of current. And once again, there was no wind, so I rowed. It was a very calm out, with a misty fog, and not another boat in sight. The eagles were out hunting, harbor porpoise made their graceful arc through the surface, with me failing to guess where they would come up for a picture, and seals once again gazed with indifferent curiosity. I tried making different clucking sounds, as though to a dog or child, to see if I could get a response. Nothing.
Unfortunately I must have made a mistake in my research, because I arrived right at 7:30, but the current was already kicking against me, at easily a couple of knots. I should have been there an hour earlier. Had I known that, I might have waited until the tide switched in the afternoon, and relaxed more at Mats Mats. I mean waking up at 4:30am is acceptable, but 3:30? No way.
I rowed like a mad man, barely crawling past a fly fisherman looking so relaxed, the contrast was hysterical. “Getting my workout,” I yelled. He said something, but I can’t hear much out of my left ear, so I just grinned like an idiot and nodded, flapping away at the oars. I had figured he had said something like, “beautiful boat, you are doing great”. Only just now did I realize he was probably suggesting it would be far easier to get out and walk the boat along the shore. What an idiot I am at times. Yes, that would have been the thing to do, and fully possible.
Nope, instead I gave it everything I had for the first hundred feet or so, inching my way into an eddy on the side, where the channel widened up a bit. I still had to keep at it, but I was making enough good progress that I even managed to take a picture or two that grabbed me.
My fellow Pocket Yachters almost ran me down, until their little motors met the two or three knot current in the channel. Suddenly they could only make a bit over a knot, and I pulled ahead for a short period. Steve’s motor picked that moment to act up, just as the bigger boat was coming through.
After a nice, but uneventful row north past Indian Island, and Port Townsend Bay, I was ready to be done. I had rowed another 12 miles (maybe 13 if you count the frantic strokes in the canal against current). My wife brought the trailer down, I said goodbye to new friends, and headed home to clean and unload the boat. There sure is a lot of junk needed to spend a couple of nights on the water, even with such a tiny boat.
It was a pleasure to meet such fine people and go boating alongside them. And it was very satisfying that all of my thought and work turning the boat into a minimalist cruiser had paid off. The boat was a roaring success. Once I finish up my boom tent, and make a few other minor changes, it will be a very capable little cruiser, in protected waters at least. I will use my Lavro Dory for going north.
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