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Kayaking Port Townsend and Indian Island
Base Camp
Pre-trip Planning
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Washington Kayaking Travel Article
Port Townsend and Indian Island

A Sea Kayaking day trip around Indian Island
by Brian High

Base Camp and Pre-trip Planning

We chose for our base camp a one-bedroom "Castle", a quaint little 1880s building that looked like the little "rook" chess piece at Fort Worden (North of Port Townsend by Point Wilson Lighthouse). The ceilings seemed like they were 12-feet tall. The thermostat controlled gas fireplace, newly remodeled kitchen and bathrooms were great. We especially enjoyed the claw-foot bathtub. Near the beach. Nice view of Whidbey Island and the Cascades, including Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier.

We knew we wanted to:

1. Be at the Indian-Marrowstone "causeway" at high tide
2. Pass through Port Townsend Canal and the Fort Flagler spit with the 2.5- to 3-knot tidal current

Trip Description

Seeing as how the high tide was around noon and the sun would set around 4:30, this means we had to launch at the Fort Flagler spit, travel south to the causeway through Kilisut Harbor, portage over the road at the causeway at high tide, then have lunch, paddle through the canal near maximum ebb current and return to Fort Flagler.

Since the tide would be against us at the spit at the end of the trip, we decided to launch at the north side of the spit (facing Whidbey Island) instead of the south side in Kilisut Harbor. We could have also simply launched from Port Townsend, adding about 2-3 miles (each way) to the trip, but as chop was forecasted, the winter days are short, the air was cold, and the trip was already going to be 11 miles of paddling at a minimum, we decided to do the extra driving (about 45 minutes each way.) Fort Flagler is a very nice park with great beach access (near campsites, including some Water Trail sites for kayakers).

This worked out very well for us. We launched at 10:45am and paddled through the break in the spit past several harbor seals peering at us from the surface of the water. Then, we crossed over to the east shore of Indian Island (off limits Navy property -- a munitions storage facility) and followed the coast for about 5 miles through the harbor to the causeway. It was very sunny, about 40 deg. F air temperature and about 50 deg. F water temperature. We had a 5-8 knot headwind. We saw heron, kingfishers, cormorants, sea gulls, and a few other boats (two motor boats and a row boat). The harbor was beautiful, especially Mystery Bay and the south end of the harbor. Plenty of signs warned us not to land at Indian Island (US Navy property.) The shoreline was very natural, though, and made for nice scenery. The only development we saw on that side of Indian Island were the signs, a fence near the causeway, and a clearing with a road and some mowed lawn with a "Firing Range" sign. It took us about two hours to travel Kilisut Harbor.

We crossed the road at slack tide, and although some people go through the four-foot wide concrete drainage pipes, we chose to portage. We had some trouble finding the route through the winding inter-tidal passages to Oak Bay, but eventually we portaged again to reach a nice beach where we launched into Oak Bay.

For lunch we stopped at the county park beach just before the south entrance to Port Townsend Canal. The beach is popular among dog walkers and fisherman. We enjoyed chatting with them, meeting their dogs, and eating our PBJ sandwiches. We then launched and went through the canal at maximum ebb current -- about 2.75 knots, staying mid-channel through it (and beyond) toward Port Townsend. Shortly thereafter, we passed a private Navy campground area (with park benches, garbage cans, and RV hookups) on Indian Island and some docks with "Police" boats - military police.

A police boat sped off toward the next docks where a large ship was moored. The wind was picking up and as we traveled north we experienced up to 1-foot wind waves from behind us. When we got to the ship, there was a big sign that said to stay 1000 yards away - roughly 1/2 mile. We stayed pretty far away, at the edge of a line made by buoys. The police boat went out of sight then returned to a full stop about 1/4 mile away from the ship. The ship looked like a Navy cargo ship. On the dock was a huge crane. (The ranger at Fort Worden called this the "Crane of Death".) We waved at the police boat occupants and they waved back. After we passed and were about 1/2 mile beyond the ship, the police boat went back toward the channel.

By this time, we were back at the spit. We passed near it to the north, noticing the strong current passing through the break in the spit. We were glad to have parked where we did so we did not have to paddle against this current. We ferried across it, being eyed by some harbor seals swimming along the opposite side of the spit. We landed at about 4pm. Subtracting the hour we took for lunch, we did the 11 miles in 4-1/4 hours, paddling casually. Our wetsuits had kept us warm all day, but when Marcia took hers off to change into dry clothes she got chilled, so I kept my wetsuit on. The restroom was very nice at the park. It even had a hot shower, at least in the men's room. I did not take a shower, as I was looking forward to a bath back at Fort Worden.

I highly recommend this trip, or even a short paddle in Kilisut Harbor. Next time, though, I think we will either go around Marrowstone Island or stick to the mainland shore (Port Hadlock to Port Townsend) to avoid the west shore of Indian Island. Kayaks can be rented in Port Townsend at Fort Worden or other places.

Also, as the Wooden Boat School has moved to Hadlock, near the north end of Port Townsend Canal, be sure to visit this facility offering classes in traditional (European-style) wooden boat building. Occasionally, Corey Freedman of the Skin Boat School teaches traditional (Aleutian-style) skin-on-frame kayak (baidarka, or "ikyak") building here. Across the street are some rental cottages and a charming little cafe. I assume prices on the cottages would be very reasonable. The quiet bay, and little activity on this waterfront, would be ideal for a quiet "maritime" getaway. Hang out at the cafe, peek in on wooden boat building classes, paddle, fish, or relax on the small beach.

Also, in Port Townsend check out Pygmy Kayaks showroom and try some wooden "stitch and glue" kit-built kayaks. They are very friendly and helpful. While in Port Townsend, you can have some good beer, good food, and sit under a traditional Alaskan "Hooper Bay" canvas-on-wood-frame kayak, a small exquisite cedar strip canoe, or pristine Pygmy wooden kayak while you dine at Public House Grill and Pub.

Related Web Sites

Fort Worden State Park (Port Townsend)

Fort Flagler State Park (Marrowstone Island)

Currents at Port Townsend Canal (Oak Bay to Port Townsend Bay)

Tides at Port Townsend

NW Wooden Boat School (Port Hadlock)

Corey Freedman's Skin Boat School (Anacortes)

Pygmy Boats, Inc. (Port Townsend)

Wooden Boat Foundation (Port Townsend)

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