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 December 1, 2016   Karen Higginson
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Carved totems overlook the marked entrance to Blake Island’s small-craft harbor.

From the February 2009 issue of 48° North by Migael Scherer

Winter cruising often keeps us close to our home port, but that doesn’t mean we can’t “get away.” Sure, destinations like Poulsbo, Gig Harbor or even downtown Seattle offer plenty of shore-side diversions and relief from cabin fever in bad weather, but sometimes you just want to be where it’s quiet, where you can leave the boat for a walk in the forest. A bit out of the way, though not too far. Three parks in the middle of Puget Sound offer these experiences for boaters.

Dockton County Park

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Dockton County Park’s stout pilings, and the typography of Quartermaster Harbor, provide excellent protection for pleasure boats of every size.

This 23-acre marine park on the east shore of Quartermaster Harbor is an ideal destination for a weekend circumnavigation of Vashon Island. The sleepy community of Dockton was once a busy shipyard, with the first dry dock in Puget Sound large enough for sailing schooners. Today nothing remains of this industry except a few floats and piers, and several rows of pilings. On top of the steep bluff, the wood-framed supervisors’ homes, known locally as Piano Row, still oversee the long-gone shipyard.

Dockton County Park has picnic tables, play equipment, and paths up the bluff. A swimming area and launching ramp are on the south side of the park’s moorage floats. Showers are in the restrooms on shore.

Approaching: stay north of the anchored boats and the pilings, fish pens, and rafts that fill the south end of the harbor.

The long, outside park floats form a squared-off “J” that opens to the north. These concrete floats are braced with stout double pilings; inside are a fair number of concrete finger floats. Depth at the outside float is about 5 feet deeper than at the ramp.

A fee box is located at the restroom on the pier. Moorage is limited to three nights per week.

Anchorage is good in 3 to 5 fathoms (18-30 feet), mud bottom. Protection is excellent from the south, but a strong northerly coming over the low isthmus at Portage can raise a good chop. All mooring buoys are private.

Rates, facilities, and other information are available on the internet (www.kingcounty.gov/parks).

Illahee State Park

This 75-acre rustic park in the southwest portion of Port Orchard channel, west of Bainbridge Island, is a nice stop-over for small craft during settled weather. The park has a sandy beach, a fishing pier and float, and mooring buoys set beneath a steep bluff. Trails lead a mile up the bluff to a campground in old-growth cedar and fir. Near the campground is a playground and a ball field, and restrooms with showers. The campground is open year round.

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Old-growth forest dwarfs the picnic shelters at Illahee State Park.

Approaching, look for the parking lot bulkhead and launching ramp at the park’s north boundary. Slightly south are restrooms and a bathhouse.

From the south, approaches are clean, provided you stay in deep water 100 yards or so off the bluff. From the north, watch for the low, detached floating breakwater (set east-west) north of the park dock, and stay east of it. Despite its reflective uprights, from a distance this breakwater seems to be part of the dock itself.

The park float is set north-south. Depths are good, about 10 feet shallower on the inside (where protection is best). Park mooring buoys are south of the float. The south buoys are shallowest. Fees are charged year-round for the float and buoys.

Anchoring is okay north of the breakwater, in 3 fathoms or more. South, toward the park, the bottom rises more steeply. The worst weather in this exposed anchorage is reported to come from the north.

Rates, facilities, and other information are available on the internet (www.parks.wa.gov).

Blake Island State Park

This spectacular marine park is only seven miles from downtown Seattle. All of its 475 acres are public. Most facilities are near Tillicum Village, at the northeast point of the island. The carved, decorated longhouse and totem poles seem to have emerged from the woods on their own, testimony to the island’s heritage as campground of the Suquamish Indians.

Boaters are welcome to the salmon dinner and stage show held at the Tillicum Village longhouse, one of the few places in Puget Sound where traditional Indian dances are routinely performed. Beyond Tillicum Village the island is all forest and beach, with trails that take you around, over the top, and through several campsites. The distance around the entire island is about four miles. The facilities on Blake Island are open year round.

Approaching from the north, the island’s low northeast point appears as a clump of trees. From the south, the sandy isthmus to the breakwater jetty, and the madronas off the campground, are also visible. Approaches are clean and deep, except along the island’s northern shore, where a considerable shoal extends almost 500 yards off the northwest corner of the island.

A small-craft harbor with floats is tucked in behind the rock breakwater at Tillicum Village. This breakwater is connected to the island by a low sandy isthmus. Enter northwest of the breakwater, between the three green and three red marks on pilings. Depths are steady, but you can easily go aground if you wander out of this narrow dredged channel. At green “5” make a sharp turn to port (southeast) into the harbor. Currents in the entrance channel can be strong and generally run opposite to the current in Puget Sound, ebbing when the sound floods, flooding when it ebbs.

Inside the breakwater, the L-shaped float closest to the entrance is for commercial tour boats only. During winter, the north leg of the “L” is tied to dolphins further in. The pier with the small hoist, and its attached float, is for state park vessels.

Guest moorage is on the remaining floats. These are about 100 feet long, arranged in two wide “U” shapes open to the north. Each “U” is connected to the island by a ramp. Depths are good except on the south side of the floats, nearest the island. Fifty feet of the guest float, on the north side closest to the hoist, is reserved for 30-minute loading and unloading. A self-service pay station is on shore at the head of the ramps; fees are collected year round. If you arrive in mid-afternoon or later, expect to pay the overnight rate for any stay longer than 30 minutes. Maximum stay on the floats is seven nights. Protection is good in almost any weather, except when gales build up from the north.

Showers are in the restrooms south of Tillicum Village. Nearby are horseshoes and playground equipment, as well as picnic tables and barbecues.

Mooring buoys surround the island. Fees for these buoys are collected year round.

Buoys west of the harbor entrance are set on a fairly narrow shelf. If you anchor, note that the bottom is hard, with rocks and shoals charted off the Blake Island shore. The shoal widens northward at the northwest tip of the island. Protection is good from southerlies, but in any weather you are exposed to ferry and freighter traffic.

Buoys southwest of the harbor entrance, around the breakwater, are set on a fairly broad anchoring shelf. Watch for kelp along the shore to the southwest. This anchorage is partially protected from the north, but exposed to the south and to freighter traffic in the sound.

Buoys are also on the west side of Blake Island, along with a linear system (charted as a suspended mooring cable) for tie-ups. Depths at the buoys vary by as much as 15 feet, so check the tides; the deepest water is to the south. If you anchor, secure your hook on the narrow shelf in line with, or slightly west of, the buoys, and check that you won’t drag into water too deep for your anchor line or too shallow for your boat. Toward shore the bottom rises abruptly to a sandy beach, where there are picnic tables and fire pits, campsites, and pit toilets. Protection is good from the north, but open to southwesterlies.

Rates, facilities, and other information are available on the internet (www.parks.wa.gov).

Migael Scherer is the author of A Cruising Guide to Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands and Back Under Sail: Recovering the Spirit of Adventure.feb-2009