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Puget Sound, Here I Come

A reputation for rain may just be the locals' plan for keeping us away.

September 15, 2009
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Do you ever have the nagging feeling you may be living in the wrong place? I do, all the time-and not just because I live in New York City, which tends to engender complicated love/hate relationships, but because the beautiful Puget Sound exists.

The Puget Sound area covers roughly 2,500 square miles of the northwest corner of Washington State. Loosely defined, it extends from the Canadian border on the north, to the Pacific Ocean on the west, and includes the Hood Canal, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Haro, and Rosario. That’s also 2,500 miles of shoreline-and not just any shoreline. The Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier, and the Northern Cascades provide dramatic views from the deck of any vessel. Secluded anchorages and breaching orcas add their own excitement, even when fog obscures the heartstopping view.

In the Pacific Northwest, people boat year-round, but the best cruising months are from April to October. In the far south, Olympia’s Percival Landing Park, named after the old steamship wharf, offers moorings and easy access to city attractions like the boardwalk and downtown shopping. But a picnic area, public art projects, a playground, restrooms, and showers make hanging out right here a nice alternative to city bustle.

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A little farther up the sound Jarrell Cove State Park offers a mooring field, large dock, and beautiful wooded setting, as well as a pump-out station and toilet facilities. Nearby, privately owned Jarrell Cove Marina has fuel, groceries, and shower facilities.

Gig Harbor is across the Narrows Bridge from Tacoma and has a reputation for beauty that only partly explains the paucity of moorings. Take a Tall Ship cruise of the harbor, stroll the town’s quaint shops, and get a bite to eat, no matter what you’re craving. Gig Harbor’s dining scene offers Italian, Mexican, Thai, and seafood. If you enjoy the arts, the Gig Harbor Art Walk, which takes place the first Saturday of every month from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., has been supplemented by summer Art Evenings on Thursdays, when galleries and downtown businesses stay open until 8:00 p.m.

Blake Island is a 475-acre state park, just south of Bainbridge Island, with a fantastic view of the Seattle skyline and plenty of mooring possibilities. It’s worth a stop just for Tillicum Village, where you can experience a Native American dance demonstration and a traditionally baked salmon-not something you get every day!

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Port Orchard and Poulsbo are Kitsap Peninsula towns that are favorites with cruisers. Port Orchard was known as Sidney, back when it was the county seat. Poulsbo is a town that was founded and settled by Norwegians, who felt at home surrounded by the snow-capped peaks. Cod from the Bering Sea was processed here and visitors can still attend the First Lutheran Church’s annual Lutefisk Dinner the third Saturday of each October. If lye-processed whitefish doesn’t rock your boat, (and it’s served with peas and bacon, so how bad can it be?) there’s always the Kitsap Harbor Festival, held each Memorial Day Weekend in Bremerton and Port Orchard. Bremerton is home to a naval station and there’s a distinct navy flair to the festival offerings. This year, there were screenings of “From Russia With Love” and “The Hunt for Red October,” as well as a Tall Ships parade, a classic boat show, and the all-important exclamation point of a pancake breakfast.

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Port Townsend is the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula and its spectacular range of majestic mountains. It also bills itself as a “Victorian Arts Community” and there’s plenty for cruisers to take in. There’s a “Concert on the Docks” series on Thursdays, offering everything from a “gypsy string swing band” to “hippy hillbilly bluegrass.” Tie up, grab a local brew from Water Street Brewing, and enjoy the show! Saturdays are gallery stroll days, but Port Townsend is a great place to hop aboard a local boat for guided whale watches and wilderness tours.

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If you’re ready for some pampering, head to Orcas Island, in the San Juans. Rosario Resort, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is in Cascade Bay halfway up the eastern shore of Orcas Island. The Moran Mansion, built by Seattle mayor and shipbuilder Robert Moran between 1906 and 1909, was converted to a resort many years ago. A local family has acquired Rosario and is doing a renovation that has limited accommodations and closed the spa for this season. But the marina is open, with more than 30 slips, numerous mooring buoys, access to the Rosario Museum and the Cascade Grill. And, in the meantime, if you must have some spa pampering, head to Roche Harbor Resort.

Last but not least, there’s Friday Harbor, on the southern end of San Juan Island, which was once claimed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. At the turn of the century, Friday Harbor was a prosperous agricultural outpost and an important waypoint for the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. Today, the scenic port thrives as a destination popular with second-home owners and wealthy retirees. There are no major shopping centers, chain restaurants, or easy bridge access to the island, and that’s the way the locals want to keep it.

Puget Sound has so much to offer that this broad sketch can’t possibly do it justice. And yeah, yeah: I know. It rains a lot. But a native recently told me that it doesn’t rain for long-cloud cover is the real reason for the area’s reputation for gloominess-and I happen to be of Celtic descent. We invented gray days. So if I’ve left out your favorite Puget Sound cruising destination, by all means, let me know at [email protected]. After all, I may be planning a move.

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