Harvesting Mussels on Hope Island

M Sterling Kayaks low-cut Illusion sea kayak at Hope Island.

I’ve only just begun foraging for shellfish around Puget Sound. Eventually I’d like to explore all of the designated harvesting beaches in the area. It gives me yet another reason to get out and paddle, with the added challenge of trying to arrive at my destination at the right time, when beaches are exposed at low tide.

My diet is normally entirely plant-based, but I will eat a small amount of wild foraged shellfish a few times a year. Oysters or mussels are simple organisms that are most likely not sentient and don’t feel pain. Harvesting them also poses very little environmental impact. Because they are filter feeders, oyster farming actually improves water quality. An annual shellfish and seaweed harvesting license costs a little over $16 when you purchase it online. Refer to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Harvest Rules. Mussels can be harvested from salt water year round, up to a limit of 10 lbs/day.

Mussel bed at Hope Island, WA

A handful of Foolish Mussels

Shellfish Harvest sign on Hope Island, WA


Cooked mussels
Mussels cooked with a little white wine, garlic, and Earth Balance.

I also always refer to the Shellfish Safety Information site for beach closures due to pollution and biotoxins. Not surprisingly, the areas around Seattle and Tacoma are typically closed to shellfish harvesting due to pollution. Biotoxins such as the one that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) can even occur in the San Juan Islands, despite the much colder water and strong currents. The risk of PSP varies depending on the species. Mussels accumulate the toxin faster than other species, so it acts as a good indicator species. Clams accumulate the toxin at much higher levels and take longer than mussels and oysters to clear the toxin. Concentrations of PSP usually start going down in October and November, but clams can still be toxic an entire year after an algae bloom. This is important to know because some beaches on the Department of Health map appear to be closed (indicated by the red color), but they are actually only closed to clams and are still open for mussels and oysters.

Caretaker's house on Hope Island, WA
The island caretaker's house.

Hope Island is one of my favorite destinations in the South Sound. It has pristine beaches but is easily accessible from Boston Harbor north of Olympia. I discovered yesterday that it is also a good site for finding mussels. Beds of mussels are located on the south east gravel beach right next to the entrance to the park. These are the smaller Foolish mussels (Mytilus trossulus), and only grow to 3 inches long, as compared to the larger California mussels (Mytilus californianus) you find on the coast which grows to 6 inches.

Dungeness crab, Hope Island, WA

Jellyfish, Hope Island, WA


The put-in is the public boat launch at Boston Harbor. The boat ramp is right next to the marina building. There is free parking right next to the boat launch for people with kayaks and canoes, and restrooms with flush toilets across the street in the parking lot. Boston Harbor Marina is a full service marina which includes a grocery store and kayak rental.

View Larger Map

The distance to Hope Island is 2.85 nm, 7.11 nm round trip including circumnavigation of the Island.

Before going, check the currents in Dana Passage.


Visiting the Kalakala

Kalakala from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

After hearing that the historic art deco era ferry Kalakala was recently put up for sale by owner Steve Rodrigues for $1, I wanted to see it again. The ferry has been evicted from it’s current berth in the Hylebos Waterway so who knows how much longer it will be in Tacoma. It needs to be moved by the end of the year or it will be seized by the Coast Guard. But it may not even be in condition to be moved. The Coast Guard said that improvements need to be made to keep it from sinking or breaking apart when towed.

It is a short paddle (1.5 nm) from the new Dick Gilmur public access kayak beach on Commencement Bay to see it. It looks like it’s in pretty bad shape.

Kakala path

Thanks to Katya Palladina for the photos.




Vashon Island Sea Kayak Circumnavigation


[My GPS track: Departure from Owen Beach (green track), north on Colvos Passage, return from Wingehaven (red track), south on East Passage and Quartermaster Harbor. 27.5 nm]

Vashon Island is practically in my front yard, so I could have started this trip from home. Instead I decided to launch from Owen Beach in Point Defiance Park. Originally, I planned this trip as an overnighter around both Vashon and Maury Islands, with camping at Blake Island. But by leaving from Owen Beach and crossing into Quartermaster Harbor at Portage, I was able to shave a few miles off my original plan and make it a day trip.


The day started out overcast with patchy fog but it cleared later and warmed up to about 80 degrees. Dozens of boats were out, including the 1924 motor yacht, MV Westward. 


My first stop from Owen Beach was Lisabeula, a Cascadia Marine Trail campsite maintained by the Washington Water Trails Association. It has a small grassy field and a port−a−potty. I also noticed access to a road and a small parking lot, although the campsite is reserved for people coming in on human−powered boats. 
Along the northwestern shore I found the famous driftwood man of Vashon Island!


The ferry terminal serving the Southworth and Fauntleroy ferries lies on the north end of the island. There is a Mexican restaurant called La Playa located right next to the terminal. It would have been very easy for me to pull up on their boat ramp and stop for lunch and a beer, but I had packed a lunch and didn’t really want to dawdle. Maybe next time!

Wingehaven is a Cascadia Marine Trail campsite that is built on the site of a 1930s waterfront mansion. Nothing is left of the house except the stairs leading from the beach and the crumbling stone railing running along the top of the bulkhead. It’s a beautiful spot with a lush shady lawn and a bench that looks east across the passage to Mt Rainier. This would be a great place to camp, unfortunately there are no restrooms facilities, not even a port−a−potty. I ate lunch here sitting in the sand with my back resting against the warm concrete bulkhead.


Planning for currents for this trip was easy. The current in Colvos Passage always flows north. The currents in East Passage are usually weak and variable. I had to paddle against an ebb current while going south on East Passage, but by crossing at Portage I took advantage of the ebb in Quartermaster Harbor, as well as a little push from a northerly breeze.

The mysterious collection of exercise machines I saw at the east end of Portage Ave a couple years ago are still there.


I wanted to travel light so I chose not to bring any kayak wheels for the portage. I didn’t really need them anyway: I crossed the isthmus in 200 steps. Fortunately the tide was high. At low tide I would have had to carry my kayak a much longer distance over the tide flats in Quartermaster Harbor.

When I finally made it back to Owen Beach (27.5 nm later), I realized that my feet were really sore! I actually didn’t notice until I got out of my kayak and started to walk up the beach. It felt like I had a big blister on the ball of my right foot, but I didn’t. It was caused by engaging my legs against the foot board and pushing with my feet all day, to get a more effective forward stroke.


Sea Kayaking From Dash Point to Tides Tavern, Gig Harbor

Tides Tavern

I've attempted to make it to the famous Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor with a sailboat a few times. Most of the time I didn't make it because the wind was too light. I was successful once when the wind was blowing 15 knots. Another time I made it by motoring through the Narrows but when I got to the tavern there was no room to tie up on the dock. It's a Gig Harbor landmark and very popular place!

Traveling by kayak is much more predictable than by sail. You can count on actually getting to your destination eventually. This time I left from Dash Point and paddled a straight course to Point Defiance. Conditions were calm and I had a little help from the flood current. The green path above is the departure and the red path is the return trip. You can clearly see how the growing ebb current (flowing north) affected my path right outside of Gig Harbor in the Narrows.

It must be getting warmer since I saw my first Jet Ski of the season. It won't belong before the South Sound will be overrun with Jet Skis and power boats and start looking and sounding like a suburban lake. Bastards! (I've been spoiled by having the water all to myself this winter.)

The entrance to Gig Harbor is remarkably narrow. If you didn't know where you were going you could miss it completely.  


After unzipping my drysuit and tying the top half around my waist by the sleeves I walked into the tavern and treated myself to lunch: a roasted vegetable salad washed down with Coors Light, although after paddling all that way there I wish I had ordered something with more carbs. The Tides has a large and varied menu. It was actually much busier than the photo shows.


On the way home I came close to this tug towing a barge. A powerboater drifting next to me advised me over his loudspeaker that I should go ahead and cross in front of the tug. I could make it, he said, because he calculated that I was doing about 5 knots.  I decided against taking his advice.

Saratoga Passage

Saratoga Passage

Has anyone out there seen the Gray Whales in Saratoga a Passage this time of year? I paddled from Camano Island State Park southeast to Camano Head, across to Whidbey Island and then northwest to hoping to find some. I understand that Gray Whales migrate 10,000-12,000 miles from their calving lagoons in Baja, Mexico to the cold arctic seas and along the way some of them stop in Puget Sound and are known to frequent Saratoga Passage where they feed on ghost shrimp and tube worms. April through May is supposed to be a good time to see them but I've had no luck. That was a couple weekends ago, so they may be there now. I went at low tide and the Whidbey Island side of the passage was shallow, so I got a great view of all the crab hiding in the eelgrass beds. 

P4044064 P4044072 P4044087

The Kalakala

While paddling in Hylebos Waterway this morning I ran across what looked like the rotting hulk of an old spaceship.  It was the Kalakala, an historic and unique Washington State ferry constructed in an art deco style that operated in the Puget Sound between 1935 and 1967. She's in pretty bad shape. Recently she was threatened with destruction for her scrap metal. It is not clear to me whether the Kalakala Alliance Foundation is still able to continue the restoration or not.



Tall Ships, Small Ships

Aboard the Hawaiian Chieftain: Tall Ships Tacoma 2008 from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Tall Ships-15

Tall Ships-12

Well, it has been an exciting 4th of July weekend.  The Tall Ships Festival came to town and everyone who has a boat of any kind has been out watching them on Commencement Bay.  My friend Richard Lovering, who happens to live on a boat literally in the middle of the festival, says he’s finally had enough of listening to people singing sea shanties while dressed up like pirates with stuffed parrots on their shoulders and saying "Arrr" all the time.  I guess the festival gets loud and stays loud long into the night. You know how the yachting crowd is -- they’ll use any excuse to get drunk and Tall Ships is just one big party.

Today I joined the South Sound Area Kayakers for a paddle from Owen Beach at Point Defiance to the festival on Thea Foss Waterway.  Dozens of little boats had crowded the waterway and the air was toxic from all their gasoline and diesel fumes.  Of course, when paddling right behind one of these boats you are at the perfect height to breathe in their exhaust.

Out on the Bay I got a few pics of the Hawaiian Chieftain giving the Amazing Grace a broadside.  Damn those guns are loud!  For more pics take a look at my photo album.

Tall Ships-23

Tall Ships-10

Tall Ships-25


Thea's Park

Theas4Theas3Today's paddle:  I left from Thea's Landing and paddled along the Tacoma waterfront.  It was totally flat water and very industrial, but there were a lot of rotting piles and docks to play around and practice bow rudders and hanging draws.

Theas2Theas1Thea's Landing Park is named after Thea Christiansen Foss, founder of the Foss Maritime Company, the largest tugboat company on the West Coast.  She started the business in 1889 with a rowboat she purchased for $5 from a fisherman down on his luck.