Seven Day South Sound Sampler Cruise
Pacific NW Cruisers commonly refer to all the waters beyond south of the Tacoma Narrows as the “south sound”. The region is characterized by a series of narrows fjords and inlets. The winds develop less “fetch”, and waters are often smoother in the south sound.
Farms, forests, and clusters of private homes typify the rural shorelines in this region. Several community and private marinas offer overnight moorage, as do the ports of Olympia, Shelton, and Allyn. State parks are almost as ubiquitous here as in the San Juan Islands, yet to everyone’s perpetual surprise the south sound remains uncrowded.
South sound destinations are close enough for a weekend cruise from the larger cities on Puget Sound, and varied enough to offer a rich itinerary for a one or two week cruise.
Negotiating the Tacoma Narrows:
Every drop of tidal water flows into and out of the south sound through the Tacoma Narrows, and so must vessels arriving from ports that are more northern. Predicted currents in the narrows are routinely 2-4 knots, and occasionally exceed 5-knots. Speedy powerboats up on plane will be only slightly inconvenienced, but 7-knot sailboats or trawlers bucking a 4 or 5-knot current would find the four mile narrows a long and tedious passage. Slow cruisers typically time passage through the narrows to go with, rather than against the flow.
If bucking the current, northbound boats will find a little relief from the most extreme flood currents by favoring the eastern shoreline. Southbound boaters running against a strong ebb will make slightly better progress near the western edge of the narrows.
South Sound Sampler Cruise:
There is no right or wrong way to enjoy the south sound, but cruisers unfamiliar with the area might consider including the following ports of call during a week’s itinerary. Any one or two of the destinations would be a great choice for a one or two night weekend getaway. The Sampler Cruise will include many of the south sound’s traditional highlights.
Night 1: Mayo Cove near 47.16.035 N, 122.42.600 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
Facilities at Mayo Cove include Lakebay Marina and Penrose Point State Park. Mayo cove is shallow, and it is important to consult a properly scaled chart before approaching the cove. Rocks and shoals at the end of Penrose Point require a generous rounding. Penrose Point State Park features mooring buoys on both sides of the point, as well as a dock and float in Mayo Cove. The float grounds in a mud bottom at the lowest tides, so a review of a tide table is in order before using the float. The mooring buoys will not ground most vessels of normal draft. The park features about two miles of wilderness beach, and the same very low tides that bedevil vessels moored at the park float reveal an enormous, immensely explorable sand spit parallel to Penrose Point.
Boats drawing less than 6-feet can find overnight moorage at Lakebay Marina. The marina offers 10 transient slips for boat up to 50-feet LOA. The charming facility is a reminder of a simpler and more basic era, and might be considered “rustic” by boaters prioritizing luxurious amenities. Lakebay Marina guests have easy access to the state park, with the advantages of 15-amp shorepower. For marina information, please call 253-884-3300.
Night 2: Filucy Bay near 47.12.60 N, 122.44.98 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
Pitt Passage, (separating McNeil Island form the Longbranch Peninsula), eliminates a longer run around McNeil Island when cruising from Mayo Cove or other Carr Inlet locations to Filucy Bay. Pitt Passage is not recommended for inexperienced navigators or anyone without a detailed chart, so many boaters elect to round McNeil instead of attempting the shoal and winding Passage.
The Longbranch Improvement Club operates a marina on Filucy Bay. The facility is a favorite south sound destination for club cruises and squadron rendezvous. On a clear day, the view of Mount Rainier is spectacular! Plan on a lazy day aboard the boat, or launch the dinghy for some fishing, crabbing, or exploring. During late summer, blackberries are found in abundance along bucolic, winding, roadways ashore. Community dances during Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends attract boaters from throughout the Pacific NW. For marina information, please call 253-884-5137 or click to
Night 3: Joemma Beach State Park or McMicken Island State Park both near 47.14 N, 122.50 W (coordinates nor for use in navigation)
Case Inlet separates the Longbranch Peninsula from Harstine Island. Joemma Beach State Park is on the eastern side of the inlet and McMicken Island is near the Harstine Island shoreline. The mooring float at Joemma Beach is removed every September, but replaced prior to Memorial Day. Joemma Beach features acres of grassy picnic sites and room for kids to run. Good harvests of clams, crabs, and oysters can be gathered here (in season, with appropriate permits).
McMicken Island State Park enjoys ore shelter from prevailing winds than does Joemma Beach. There are five mooring buoys at McMicken Island, with substantial room of additional boats to swing at anchor. Oyster gathering is often productive here, (be sure to shuck the oysters on the beach and leave the shells to help spawn future generations).
Night 4: Port of Allyn near 47.23.00 N, 122. 49.52 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
Located at the end of navigable waters in Case Inlet, the Port of Allyn offers a surprising combination of a decent guest dock and a quaint, waterfront village. Allyn is relatively undiscovered and anything but overrun with visitors. The town is a mix of historic buildings, novel roadside enterprises, as well as a grocery store, restaurants, and café’s. Allyn will allow the ship’s cook the option of taking a night off. A careless navigator could easily go aground near Allyn, but boats drawing less than 8-feet should find adequate depths along the eastern shoreline when travelling in Case Inlet. Most skippers will make a sharp turn when opposite Allyn and make a direct approach. Consult a detailed chart and a tide table, and approach on a slow bell with one eye on the depth sounder.
Boaters reluctant to pick a safe course through the shallows immediately surrounding Allyn often put in at the Fair Harbor Marina, located behind Reach Island. The outstanding Marina is a popular destination for club cruises, and only a dinghy ride away from the Port of Allyn.
Night 5: Jarrell Cove near 47.17.07 N, 122.53.19 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
Jarrell Cove is a favorite destination of south sound boaters. This well protected bay, on the north end of Harstine Island along Pickering Passage is indisputably among the scenic gems of the Pacific NW. Jarrell Cove State Park, on the eastern shore, has at least a dozen mooring buoys as well as 2 docks. (The inner side of the larger dock can go aground during the lowest tides). Attractions at the park include beachcombing and exploring the back bay beyond the moorage float by dinghy. Deer graze on the grassy meadows and in the old apple orchard on many evenings.
Jarrell Cove Marina is on the western shore of the bay, a half dozen oar strokes away from the state park. A convenience store, fuel dock, and limited guest moorage are available.
Night 6: Hope Island State Park near 47.10.97 N, 122.55.85 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
Hope Island is only accessible by boat. Once a self-sufficient family homestead, vestiges of the old farm are still visible when exploring ashore. An attractive combination of fields, forests, and wilderness beaches, Hope Island is a gem very worthy of inclusion in a south sound cruise, easy to explore but relatively undeveloped. Mooring buoys are located along the southern and NW shorelines.
Night 7: Swantown Marina, Olympia near 47.03.55 N, 122.53.85 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
Olympia is an all-American small town. Something of a Norman Rockwell kind of place. The largest city in the south sound is also the Washington State Capital. Swantown Marina offers full service guest moorage a short walk from attractions that include a busy farmer’s market (Thursday –Sunday, except during winter). Downtown Olympia is very walkable, and offers a laid-back hometown ambience spiced with an active arts community.
Walkers will enjoy exploring along the boardwalk at Percival Landing (the docks there are undergoing renovation, and closed until early 2011), a stroll through the scenic capitol campus, or a short hike through Capitol Lake Park for bird watching and a back to nature experience. Extra points awarded shoreside explorers discovering the monument marking the historic end of the Oregon Trail.