Inside Waters: Coastal waterways, cozy nighttime anchorages, and a little musing.
The Inside Waters Project
Inside Waters is where I express appreciation for the beauty of our Pacific Northwest waters and share the joy of small boat explorations. There will also be a bit of musing about boat projects, cruising gear, and my boat collecting problem.
Over time there will be some solidly useful stuff here. Like the PT Day Trips project, which will be a resource similar to a day hike guide, but for quick boating adventures from Port Townsend that are suitable for many small boats.
Hopefully the shared stories, pictures and local knowledge tips will both entertain and inspire you to get out on your own small boat adventures.
Galen, Port Townsend & Small Boats
I grew up in and currently live in Port Townsend, WA, bastion of all that is wooden and boaty. Each summer our little coastal village hosts the largest wooden boat festival in North America. There is also a wooden boat building school, for learning to sharpen a chisel and wield a caulking mallet. Maritime trades flourish in the boatyards, plugging holes in boats of yachties and fishermen alike.
For a new boater, Port Townsend can be a bit of a tease. From the north shore, through a wispy blouse of fog hanging over the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the alluring shapes of the San Juan Islands can just be glimpsed. Once you have crossed that daunting strait, and have experienced those demure islands, then Port Townsend whispers about the the nearly mythical Inside Passage, a marine trail that winds all the way to Alaska through narrow channels of islands covered in huge evergreen Fir and Cedar trees, and snow capped mountain faces that fall straight into the sea. If you brave some of the strongest tidal currents in the world, whirlpools and deadheads, you are treated to an experience of nature like no other: life altering encounters with whales and seals, fjords whipping with winds that always seem to be on the nose, daring open ocean crossings, and misty emerald islands dripping with sad wolf howls, while bears crunch down shoreline mussels like noisy potato chips.
The many little passages around Puget Sound and the Hood Canal, south of Port Townsend, are also very enticing, offering hundreds of miles of interesting small boat cruising, and lovely evening anchorages and campsites.
Oh, how wonderful you may think, to have grown up in that center of nautical culture, for being instilled with the love of boats and exploration of those wild northwest waters. You would be incorrect. You will never find a more wretched hive of wooden boat pimps and water junkies than the backwater that is PT. I had no real chance, and hold this town solely responsible for the nearly psychotic need of my next-boat-fix and thin bank account. This seemingly pleasant town lurks beside the turbulent Admiralty Inlet, the firehose through which the Pacific Ocean is channeled into and out of the Puget Sound, so it is no wonder that lowlife flotsam is ejected onto these shores at regular intervals.
The truth is I love this place and the good people here. In the handful of other towns I have squatted in, I felt on edge, uncomfortable, reluctant to even own furniture. PT created me, so it is no wonder the puzzle piece called Galen nestles comfortably here amidst family and community, and it is on these waterways where I feel as imperfectly whole as a person can.
A few years ago my wife and I had a little cabin built, and we ourselves built an even bigger boat barn/workshop. Our home lies a short walk to a high bluff view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the San Juan Islands, and another short jaunt to a public beach along the same coastline. We (wife, dog, and I) make this walk daily, and it always lights my boating desire. Marine fog regularly rolls through the evergreen trees on our property, and fog horns from ships and our local lighthouse can be heard in the season (fogust we call it). Often in the middle of the night when taking the dog out I will hear the deep chug, chug, chug of the massive props of merchant ships coming in from the sea on their way to Seattle. I never tire of these sights and sounds.
Boating was not in my family. But I remember when it really sank its teeth in. One youthful summer some new friends invited me along for a week of “sure it will be safe” sailing to the San Juan Islands, in a small open boat with no motor. My parents said no. I went. The raw nakedness, debauchery, and near death experiences of that trip left me permanently scarred. My noggin forevermore had a hard wire between “freedom and happiness” and “the next boating adventure”.
Why small boats? The adage that the smaller the boat, the more you will use it, is true in my experience. And while boats can be among the most beautiful creations of humankind, they still play second fiddle to the beauty of the natural world. So I like to consider boats as beautiful tools used to experience nature. And the smaller the boat, the more intimate and tactile that experience. But the reality is, they are far more than just tools to me. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about and doodling boats, looking at boats, and just having fun in them. Small boats also cost less to own, both initially and in continued maintenance and labor; particularly trailerable or car-toppable boats. And their affordability gives the perfect excuse to own a small quiver of them (you can see mine here), each suitable for different tasks. Small boats are kinder to the environment in many ways. And then there is my boat addiction, which has less chance of ruining my finances and marriage, if contained to small boats.
Yes, small boats are for me, but otherwise I rarely discriminate. I love sailing in both monohulls and multihulls. Sometimes a fast planing motorboat is the right tool for the job. But the relaxed speed of an efficient displacement hull is hard to beat. I shy away from big motors, because of my love of nature. And adventures in a sail/oar boat without any motor are most enjoyable. True, I have never enjoyed kayaking, thanks to tight hamstrings and a bony ass, which is a shame; they are the ultimate seagoing small boat. When a smaller, car-toppable boat is needed a slender fixed seat rowboat is my choice. With all types of craft I am drawn to lightweight structures and efficient hulls. And yet, I have never been in a boat race in my life and have no desire to start. I have lived on boats a few times, and have to admit that beyond cruising for a few months at a time, liveaboards have lost their sparkle.
While I have no training or experience in traditional wood boat building or design, I have a fair bit of experience in wood composite boat building. I have built two boats from scratch, including a 23 foot trimaran of my own design, and I have repaired or refurbished over a dozen others. Boats always need work.
Now a little past my 50th birthday, I find that exploring the shores close to home, in the Salish Sea and Puget Sound, hold the most interest. Even just a couple of hours of dinghy sailing in Port Townsend Bay recharges my batteries. But in my youth I could only think of going north, escaping home and family. So I frequented the San Juan Islands and the British Columbia islands on small sailboats.
Once, on a 26 foot Thunderbird sailboat I owned, I spent months venturing far up the Inside Passage of British Columbia, just shy of Alaska, taking time to explore the many fjords that cut deep inland through the mountains. Someday I may yet venture by small boat all the way up into Alaska and back. And I would like to circumnavigate Vancouver Island. But mostly I think about checking out little places that are easy to get to, close by my wonderful hometown.
When not in the Pacific Northwest, I make a living exploring warm tropical waters, where I discard even the smallest boat with only a snorkel in my mouth. But that is a different story and website.
See you on the water!
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