Exploring Chimacum Creek by dinghy was one of a long list of adventures I wanted to accomplish in 2022. Growing up in Port Townsend I have sailed by the mouth of the creek dozens of times, and have traipsed all over the steep hills that run the length of this little ribbon of water, coming back with boots full of mud. But for some reason I have never explored it on the water. And I am sure glad I did, because it was a blast, if a very cold blast, and I discovered something completely unexpected along the way.
I had waited for a good weather window, and picked a day with a nine foot high tide in the morning, which would give me the best opportunity to explore as deep into the creek as possible. The creek winds for many miles, and the short stretch accessible by a small boat meets the ocean in Port Hadlock, so I launched my modified CLC Skerry in the Boat Haven in Port Townsend, and headed off.
It was a lightly overcast day, with almost no wind, and cold at 35°F. The forecast called for very light winds of at most 5 mph out the northwest. I considered leaving my sailing rig behind and just rowing. It would be about 8.5 miles round trip. I am glad I did not though, because the forecast was inaccurate and I ended up sailing a good amount both directions.
As I rowed through the Boat Haven marina I came across a sleeping flock of some type of sandpiper resting on the dock. They would suddenly explode into flight, flashing bright wings, before returning to the same spot. Beautiful birds.
Leaving the marina I headed south for Kala Point, in very calm waters. The clouds were soft and colorful, with streaks of sun trying to get through. After a couple of miles I cleared the wind shadow of Port Townsend and a northwest wind tempted me to put up sail, which I did. Stow the oars, pull the daggerboard hull plug, drop in the daggerboard, pull the rudder down, haul up the sail, give it a little downhaul tension, and off she went. Before long I was moving nicely downwind. And by the time I approached Kala Point I was moving smartly along. The wind was increasing.
This is where I grew confused, and then elated, with the discovery of a bit of water I was completely unaware of. After rounding Kala Point I dropped sail, expecting to row into Chimacum Creek. Tracking close to the sandy shoreline of Kala Point, that is peppered with huge old logs, I found a completely unexpected passage cutting through the beach, with a large body of protected water behind. The inlet was about 25 feet wide. And the little lagoon behind was completely unknown to me. I grew so confused by this piece of water I did not expect, that I started to wonder if Chimacum Creek somehow originated within, even though I knew better. So I rowed in. The inlet was very shallow; just a few feet deep in the center. After maybe two hundred feet it opened up into a lake sized piece of water, completely surrounded by the beaches that make up Kala Point, and the higher bluffs to the west. Rowing around I found that the entire area was only a foot or two deep. It dawned on me that what I was rowing over was a large tidal flat, that had filled up with the 9 foot high tide. Much of the time this area would be dry, with no access by boat. I love finding interesting surprises like this. It is the reason I pick a destination to go explore in little boats, instead of just sailing around the bay.
I plan to come back and explore the tidal flat more at another high tide, so I rowed back out, and headed south for Chimacum Creek. I did not want to miss high tide. And sure enough, not much farther down the shoreline the entrance to the creek revealed itself.
The opening to Chimacum Creek was protected from the wind by the hills to the north, so I had a very calm water to play in. There were some folks walking their dogs on the south shore who called out appreciation for my little craft, and asked if I was going to head into the creek. I yelled yep, and they affirmed I should be able to row deep into the creek because of the high tide. There was an abundance of ducks near the north shore, from Mallards, to Buffleheads. But I was an unwelcome interloper that stirred up a noisy evacuation drill before I could get close enough for a decent picture.
The forested hills around the creek are moderately tall, and you don’t see any buildings. So it is a very natural experience. There are tall fir trees, some maples and alders, and a good number of Madrona trees. I rowed slowly and quietly up the creek, hoping to catch sightings of wildlife. There were many more ducks as I rowed, and some very chatty Kingfishers. But I did not spot any other wildlife.
It was a calming pleasure to slowly explore the entire length of the creek, as I snapped pictures of the shoreline. I ended up rowing over 3000 feet inland, winding through several turns, deep into the hills. Near the end, the creek eventually broadens out into a mud flat covered in grasses, and the creek became too narrow and clogged up to go any farther. Turning around, there was a very light current from the creek that I drifted with back to the ocean, and then beached my boat near the entrance. Irondale Beach County Park runs a good way south of the creek entrance, and that is where I stopped to walk a bit. My legs needed a stretch and my feet needing warming. I had worn thick insulated socks, and my normal rubber boots, but they were not cutting it on this cold morning.
Before getting back on the water I did some jumping jacks to warm up and noticed some waves picking up out past Kala Point. The wind seemed to have picked up more, and the tide was likely starting to go against it, making for some chop. I figured I was going to be in for a fun upwind sail back to the marina in Port Townsend. And I also figured I would be frozen once I arrived, which was correct on both accounts.
I rowed off the beach and then hauled up the sail and dealt with all the other sailing accoutrements. As I headed back north, and edged out past the protection of Kala Point, there was indeed about a one foot chop. The wind was coming directly from where I needed to go, so I tacked back and forth heading north. Having done this many times before I knew that with the tide going out I needed to keep more to the west. Fortunately the waves were not so big that I was taking much spray into the boat. I did not have on my drysuit, and did not want to put it on. By the time I would get it on I would have been blown to Irondale County Beach. My little boat is a leaf on the wind.
It was sensational sailing, of a sort I don’t often experience in Port Townsend Bay, because the wind was very steady, at around 10 mph. Normally I don’t sit up on a rail in my dinghy when sailing because the wind is normally inconsistent and gusty, and my boat is very tender. But I sat on the rail most of the way back. I was very pleased to see that modifications I had made to stiffen up my carbon fiber mast worked like a charm. The sail shape held flatter on each tack, and the boat was really moving well to wind. Before, the mast would bend under all the downhaul tension, the sail would bag, and performance windward would suffer.
I got home shortly after 1pm, having left the marina at 8:30am. As I often do after an adventure in this boat I marveled at how it gets me where I want to go and back, over and over again. I just love the boat.
Almost every time I go on one of these adventures I come back with a list of things to fix or improve on the boat. This time was no different. A control line that keeps my boom from moving too far forward needed to be lengthened. And I still need to figure out some sort of strap to keep my oars in place when sailing, so that if I capsize the oars don’t get lost. And, the entire sail back my daggerboard was emitting an unusual hum. I am used to that sort of foil humming at Hobie Cat speeds, not little double ended dinghy speeds. Later on I found that a piece of leather I had glued on as a spacer had come partly lose, and it was flapping alongside the daggerboard. Mystery solved, and easily fixed with some new glue.
And there was new gear needed. My feet were freezing when I made it back to the marina. And I was not going out again this winter without some insulated boots. I promptly ordered some insulated Xtratuf brand rubber boots. I have another pair of that brand that have lasted me over 20 years. They have a good non-slip sole for slippery docks and boat ramps. I also picked up some new neoprene gloves with a fleece lining. I am interested to see how they hold up to rowing, and at keeping my hands warm. I also picked up a book on shore birds of the Pacific Northwest at our excellent used book store in Port Townsend. I needed to look up those birds on the dock.
The morning after my little adventure my wife commented that I was singing a lot of made up songs to the dog and to various inanimate objects around the kitchen. I was particularly cheerful. It was the boating. It’s a soul balm, with lasting power.
Tips On Visiting Chimacum Creek In Your Small Boat & Local History
There is a rich Native American history associated with Chimacum Creek, and there have been huge efforts to clean up the watershed feeding the creek, resulting in Salmon returning. To read more about that history and for tips about adventuring to Chimacum Creek with your small boat, visit this page.
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