Dean, Dennis, and Alan on Kingfisher.

There is a tipping point in late August where summer gives way to the cooler, shorter days of early fall; and it always seems to happen during our annual boat trip. We tried to schedule the trip earlier in the summer this year, but events conspired and piled up, forcing us back into our traditional cruising window in late August, and its transition to autumn.

This is our third year with Sea Lab, our C-Dory 22 cruiser, and Tekla and I chose to explore the South Sound instead of heading north to the islands. This summer had been so busy we figured staying south of the Narrows would mean less travel time and even less planning, which was good because this year we did virtually none. Also, the South Sound is usually less crowded and there are many places to visit and explore with several state parks for moorage and hiking, and plenty of other fun to find.

Tekla and Tim Tim the swimming sailor dog.

Our friend Alan was also heading South on his boat Kingfisher, a Ranger 29 sailboat. We decided it would be fun to rendezvous and hang out together as buddy boats. An interesting sidebar to the trip was that Alan’s friend Dean was coming out to join the Kingfisher crew. Having lived all his life in the inland deserts of Arizona and Colorado, Dean had never been boating before. It is always fun to have a newbie aboard to show them the ways of the Northwest water mongers as well as the wonders that abound in our cruising grounds. And, as it turned out, Dean had some valuable skills to lend.

Our only plan involved meeting Al and Dean at Boston Harbor in Olympia for Friday night music on the dock — a weekly event we had been hearing about all summer that sounded like great fun.

We had a couple nights of solo cruising before Boston Harbor. On Thursday, our friends Rob and Tracy on their boat Blue Pearl, a Sea Ray 23 with a throaty sounding V-8, joined us at McMicken Island State Park in Case Inlet. They agreed that the Boston Harbor music night sounded like a good time, so we made a third reservation for Boston Harbor on Friday. We had ourselves a flotilla!

Sea Lab, Blue Pearl, and Kingfisher rafted in Eld Inlet.
Wading the high tide at Evergreen College forest.

The Sea Lab and Blue Pearl crews enjoyed a beautiful evening on mooring buoys at McMicken. The next morning dawned sunny and warm, with the tide very low exposing the long sandbar on the west side of the island. We dinghied over to the beach — Tekla, Tim Tim the sailor dog, and I in our kayaks, and Rob and Tracy together on their SUP — and hiked the trails around the island and then waded the sandbar to watch the current flowing and to enjoy the warm swimmable water of the bay. This turned out to be a big day for Tim Tim. He is getting up there in age and, even though he loves being on the boat, he has always avoided going in the water. The day had turned hot and we were slowly wading deeper, Tim Tim wanted to stick close to us so he was wading too in the increasingly deep water above the sand bar and, before he knew it, he was swimming in the slow current with his doggie PFD on. The water lifted him off the bar and he swam in a little circle back to the bar. He did this over and over clearly enjoying the experience and the cooling effect of the water. It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks!

We had such a good time poking around on the island that the time got away from us, and we were late to leave for Boston Harbor. Wanting to get there before the band started, we untied from the buoy and raced the eight miles down to the marina. We arrived in plenty of time, and had the slip next to Al and Dean.

When we pulled up, we found them napping on deck, they hopped-to at our hail and our conversational greeting during the approach caused me to completely blow the landing. If I’m concentrating and paying attention, I usually do better at docking, but distraction can cause me to forget how different the control of an outboard powerboat is, and my mind automatically reverts to the tiller mode of our old sailboat. Nonetheless, I made it the second time, nobody got hurt, and I didn’t hit anything.

The Blue Pearl crew was assigned the slip across the dock from us, they made fast their dock lines and were ready to go. I put on a clean shirt and we all headed up to the party as the band Waking Bear was just warming up and the beer had clearly been flowing for a couple hours. It looked like we had just walked into “Margaritaville” — festive and electric! We danced all night and really liked Waking Bear, they played all original music, brought tons of energy, and were lots of fun.

Saturday came around and we had no further plans, so we hung around during the heat of the day while Rob and Tracy motored off to explore some of the surrounding waterways. A couple of hours later Rob called and said they had found a nice anchorage in Eld Inlet near the Evergreen College forest, and there looked to be some good hiking and beach walking. I conferred with Al and Dean, and we decided to make that our plan.

Peaceful easy evening swinging on the anchor in Eld.

Kingfisher readied and pulled out of the harbor while I waited for Tekla to come back from an errand. She arrived a couple hours later, and we stopped at the fuel dock then headed west across the bay and around Coopers Point into Eld Inlet. This was new water for all of us and it was fun to explore what is essentially our own backyard.

Eld Inlet turns out to be a wide, shallow body of water that is mostly surrounded by oyster farming. It is anchorable just about anywhere if weather conditions are calm and stable. We arrived to find the other two boats rafted at anchor and we tied Sea Lab alongside just in time to get involved in discovering Dean’s particular talent. Turns out, Dean loves to cook. Not only that, but he especially likes to make meals from whatever ingredients happen to be at hand. After hearing what we each had in our larders, he selected numerous ingredients and soon we had a lovely meal for six on our tiny island of boats floating in paradise. After our fine repast, we broke out the grog and the stringed instruments and had a small-but-lively jam session in the fading light.

We repeated this pattern at Jarrell Cove State Park and Penrose Point. In all, we enjoyed six nights of fabulous cooking by Dean. I have never been on a cruise with a dedicated cook before but Dean, you are welcome to come back to the Northwest to go cruising with us anytime! He was even able to incorporate a can of salmon that had been kicking around on Al’s boat for several years to make awesome salmon cakes.

Summer heat stayed with us most of the trip until the morning we were to go our separate ways. The day dawned cool and drizzly and, sure enough, that seasonal change snuck in while our attention was diverted by the fun and fellowship of boating with friends. It always happens that way, we start off our trip in the summer and, when we return home, the light has changed, the days seem so much shorter and I have to put a sweater on. It happens so fast.

Relaxing on Sea Lab making sure the pirates can’t get into the cooler.

Since we switched from sail to power, I’m always observing and noting little differences. When we cruised our sailboats, all of life on the water slowed down literally and figuratively. The light of summer changed then too, and it was fall when we returned. This year, the rapid weather shift made the transition feel faster and seemed to mirror our increased pace of travel and life on the water. Vroom vroom, it’s autumn.

Maybe next year we’ll manage to go cruising in June!

Dennisand his mate, Tekla, reside in Auburn, WA and now keep Sea Lab in the water at Tyee Marina.