A Brief Escapade to Carr Inlet

From the July 2020 issue of 48° North

Weekend adventures are the ones that many of us live for. Friday evening to Monday morning—that magical window is all ours, and the effort to get out is always a worthwhile investment. Weekend-long jaunts may represent the bulk of our on-the-water experiences and usually deliver lots of rich rejuvenation. There’s no wrong way to do it, and definitions of ideal differ based on personal preferences and methods of enjoying the water. Across that spectrum is the shared goal of making the most of it—to have the Ultimate Weekend.

Check the fairway, ease the boat in reverse, Leigh throws the bow line on Cambria and steps aboard. Pulling away from the dock at Shilshole is always a special moment. The beginning of a cruise. That feeling of heading out. Destinations may change, but with fenders and lines stowed, there is no set path, no narrow strip of trail or concrete to follow. Life’s concerns melt away and are replaced by the routines of sweeping the horizon, monitoring engine instruments or, if I’m lucky, trimming sails.

This year marks my 50th year on the water mucking around in boats. Since my first cruise as ‘skipper’ (age 13, speedboat camping on Jones Island) to the present, being on the water has brought me much joy and more than a few humbling learnings. Cruising and racing sailboats to Alaska, circumnavigating Vancouver Island, trips up and down the Inside Passage, and a few voyages down the coast, experiencing Northwest waters has been immensely gratifying.

Through my years as a liveaboard, I’ve developed an appreciation for those who frequently get off the dock. Some endlessly prepare for the big cruise, but rarely leave their slip. Books are read, systems are enhanced, all with aspirational dreams of far off lands that may or may not come to fruition. After decades of boat-based adventures large and small, it is the simple act of just getting out there that appeals to me most—for a day, a night, or especially for a weekend. It has always been a great source of fulfillment and enjoyment over the years.

My most recent Ultimate Weekend was a trip to Carr Inlet in the South Sound. With limited time and a cruising speed of 6 knots, balancing relaxation, exercise, and destinations can get tricky. It’s technically possible to ride currents north to the islands and back within the confines of a weekend, but I prefer a more relaxed pace and destination.

Carr Inlet is about 35 nautical miles away from our home port of Shilshole, with Blake Island providing a convenient stop along the way. Stitching together a stop at Blake, then continuing south to one of the three main anchorages in Carr Inlet makes for an easy, rewarding getaway. If currents are well timed, the return trip puts you back in the central Sound on Sunday afternoon or evening.

Weather and tidal current get votes in the planning stage. If there is a strong southerly Saturday morning followed by a northerly Sunday afternoon, I just might rearrange my trip to head north instead of south. Yet, on this weekend, light northerlies were forecast Friday and Saturday with a front and the associated southerlies on Sunday. Tidal exchanges were significant, making current planning important, but easy.

Our itinerary called for anchoring off Blake Island Friday night and then heading down Colvos Passage Saturday and getting to the inlet Saturday evening. I find that managing expectations is important, for both me and my mate. Do conditions require a first-light departure to hit a favorable current on Saturday morning? Or a more leisurely mid-morning departure. Food preparation factors in as well. In calm weather with a late morning departure, Saturday’s breakfast could be a virtual feast. A first light departure or heavier weather calls for a different approach.

With weather and currents determining elements of schedule and expectations—and plans communicated to all parties—we set out from Shilshole. Trips to Blake are usually uneventful, but I like to check AIS to see if any container ships are headed up or down the Sound. The southbound Seattle ones aren’t bad. They’re slowing and their wakes are usually (but not always) ok. The north or southbound ships to or from Tacoma are the ones to look out for. A smooth day of motoring or sailing can turn briefly and unexpectedly violent with a steep, sharp wake. Thinking ahead for traffic and wake helps us plan if and when to get out snacks or refreshments in open containers.

Blake Island loop
Blake Island’s 3.8-mile perimeter trail is perfect for a hike or jog.

A Friday afternoon hop over to Blake offers a respite from the news and social media. There’s good cell coverage, but we try to resist the urge. Enjoy the present. As the crow flies, boaters are less than 8 nautical miles away from Seattle, but quiet views await on the west side of the island. After setting the hook, it’s happy hour. Time to sit in the cockpit, chat and connect. Sunsets can be spectacular from that side of the island. It isn’t wilderness, it isn’t a grand adventure, but it doesn’t need to be. Within the friendly confines of a weekend, it’s what you have. Savor it.

We usually anchor, but there was an empty mooring ball on this particular evening, so we grabbed it. In front of us were two fellows in a small sailboat relatively new to sailing and a few boats over was a couple on a Sceptre 41 that I knew had sailed the South Pacific—a perfect mix. We ate dinner in the cockpit as the sun set. Snuggled against the western shore of Blake, the island went from shades of green to gray, then black as lights twinkled on the opposite shore.

With the Saturday morning slack at Tacoma Narrows around noon and a building flood afterwards, there was no need to set the alarm and leave at dawn. In our case, this made for a leisurely morning with exercise. Sailing is great, but on my Maple Leaf 42, it’s not all that aerobic.

Whether you walk, run, or stroll, Blake Island’s fabulous perimeter trail is roughly 3.8 miles in length. Leigh runs this trail every chance she gets, and I huff and puff trying to keep up with her. We’re both 63, so it’s a good and much needed workout. On this cruise, we kayaked to shore and took a morning run around the island.

Back on board, we cast off from the mooring buoy and began the 17 nautical mile jaunt south to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, with Carr Inlet about 11 miles beyond—in total, it is usually a 4- to 5-hour trip.

Colvos Passage on the west side of Vashon Island is usually quiet and scenic in its own way, and I often think about its namesake while passing through. According to Washington State Place Names by James Phillips, Charles Wilkes bestowed the name during the United States Exploring Expedition (which formed the basis for the Smithsonian Institute) after a midshipman on his expedition, George Colvocoresses. Wilkes believed that Colvocoresses was too long for geographic honors, and truncated it to ‘Colvos’.

Unexpectedly, the intrigue in Colvocoresses’ story extends far beyond his involvement in Wilkes’ expedition, even beyond his later command of the USS Saratoga during the Civil War. Born in October of 1816 on the Greek Island of Chios, Colvocoresses endured childhood trauma when he was kidnapped and other members of his family were killed by Turks during the Greek War of Independence in 1822. His father was eventually able to pay the ransom and buy back his freedom. After the ordeal, he was sent to Baltimore, Maryland, and became the adopted son of Captain Alden Partridge, founder of the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy. Colvocoresses had quite the career, but his life ended as violently as it began when he was killed in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1872. A 2014 article in the Hartford Courant—“Murder Mystery: A Sea Captain Meets His Fate on a Bridgeport Street”—points to multiple theories ranging from murder to suicide to faking his own death to sail off to the South Pacific. That’s a lot of drama tied to the quaint channel through which we made our way south!

We arrived at the Narrows near the peak flood. Largely keeping to the center of the channel, Cambria stayed above 11 knots over the ground most of the way, peaking at 13.8 knots! Not bad in a just-shy-of-7-knot boat.

Rounding the south end of Fox Island, there are three primary choices for anchorage in Carr Inlet. Over several weekend trips to the inlet, we’ve anchored in each of them. Our order of preference is: Mayo Cove (Penrose State Park), Rosedale, and Horsehead Bay.

Mayo Cove can hold quite a few boats, and is home to both Penrose State Park and Lakebay Marina. Shore access is easy and it’s a great place to go ashore with either kids or dogs. Don’t want to cook? You can get take out from the Lakebay Marina.

The bay formed by Raft Island near Rosedale provides good anchorage, but shore access is limited to a small strip near the church. We didn’t go ashore, but the Rosedale Market offers breakfast and lunch. During our visit, we kayaked around the bay with running architectural commentary on the waterfront homes.

Leigh paddles around Horsehead Bay

Horsehead Bay provides good anchorage, but is entirely ringed by private homes. There is a launch ramp on the eastern shore that provides shore access. We kayaked around the bay and “Private Property, No Trespassing” signs proliferated. Our evening there was quiet despite a southwest wind gusting over 20 knots.

The South Sound has a different aesthetic than the San Juan Islands or British Columbia. High-speed passes from water skiing and jet skis are common. In Horsehead Bay, ski boats zipped in and out. I glared at the first two that bombed past at 30 plus knots. These were ski boats; their wake was no more than a ripple and we hardly felt it. After the third boat whizzed by, we started waving and received friendly waves in return. This was their inlet and we were guests. When in Rome…

The flip side of a leisurely Saturday morning waiting for the flood was an early Sunday departure to catch the ebb home. We had the anchor up shortly after 7:00 a.m. to retrace our route, hitting 11 knots northbound through the Narrows and maintaining 8 to 9 knots up Colvos Passage.

Our return trip was so efficient, in fact, that it put us back in the central Sound a little too early to head to the slip. Instead, we found dock space at Blake for another jog around the island and came across the only other couple on the trail, fellow Sloop Tavern Yacht Club members, Mike and Karen, walking around the island in the opposite direction. It is endlessly fun to encounter friends randomly when out cruising!

In a weekend with accommodating conditions, Carr Inlet is easily accessed from the central Puget Sound, and a stop at Blake Island (or Gig Harbor) is an excellent way to break up the trip. Pristine and untouched may not be words many people use to describe the area, but we enjoyed all the trappings of an escape: we sailed, read books, relaxed, jogged, and kayaked. Traveling that many miles might not be everyone’s idea of an ‘ultimate’ weekend, but for us, it offers a terrific destination and a great chance to get out on the boat.