Northwest Yachting February 2019

Page 90


Hood Canal: Below the Bridge By Norris Comer The Olympic Peninsula—and by proxy its eastern fjord border of the Hood Canal—may be the most unapologetically wyrd place in the universe. Note the Old English spelling reminiscent of the Wyrd Sisters of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, witches who would live happily in the Peninsula’s brooding, moss carpeted forests. Culturally, this corner of Washington is hanging onto reality by a thread and physically only by the world’s longest saltwater floating bridge and a narrow land base. It’s the land of the vampires and werewolves from the Twilight series, where sci-fi giant Frank Herbert of the Dune series lived out his last days, and where local literary legend Tom Robbins set his breakout novel Another Roadside Attraction in which Peninsula hippies and their pet baboon happen upon the body of Jesus and make a sideshow of it while on the run from the Vatican. Cruise down the Hood Canal and you can pull a $100 oyster feast right out of the muck and watch a nuclear submarine cruise past. You can’t really do that anywhere else that I know of. Explore the Peninsula enough and one feels like it yearns to break free, not just of the continent but maybe the limitations of mainstream Earth itself. It’s hard not to have your mind loosened a bit from “normal” while out on the Big Hook. For boaters, this piece complements a previous Ports of Call (Hood Canal: Beyond the Bend, September 2017 issue). Here we explore the northern entrance at the record-holding Bugge Bridge (Hood Canal Floating Bridge) to Pleasant Harbor. Boaters of all stripes will enjoy deep waters, nooks and crannies that only the locals have mastered, and some backyard wilderness that’s both far away and right next door. I recommend taking your trusty bike aboard, for Hood Canal marinas tend to be a mile or two away from the nearest town. This is also a great playground for those who like to live off the fat of the land, with plenty of angling and harvesting opportunities. And that epic Olympic Mountain range setting!



Take a Gamble While technically “above” the floating bridge, adorable dot-onthe-map Port Gamble is a worthy mention. Nestled at the mouth of the sheltered harbor of the same name, Port Gamble is a historic hamlet that blends equal parts cozy boutique strip, historic coastal Washington sawmill town (complete with museum), and indoor and outdoor event venues. This concoction guarantees that a wedding will probably be taking place whenever you visit, the stunning backdrop providing the icing on the nuptial cake. Everything about Port Gamble makes the town an ideal boat-friendly gem except one critical detail: boat access. The closest we get to a marina is a public floating dock at the Salsbury Point Park, a mile or so walk or bike to the west, operating from April to October. The alternative way to visit Port Gamble by boat is probably to anchor within the sheltered confines of the bay itself and dinghy or paddle in. Bust out a chart, and you’ll see that the bay has a nice muddy bottom and a max depth in the 60-something-feet range. It’s probably best to land the dinghy on the south side of the breakwater west of the channel entrance to Port Gamble Harbor near the rack of rental kayaks, otherwise you risk being on the wrong side of a chain-link fence (and perhaps local regulation). Mind the sounder, for there’s plenty of shallow mud flats to get ye.

Float the Boat The iconic William A. Bugge Bridge (known by most as the Hood Canal Floating Bridge) is an odd duck of engineering, fitting for the offbeat Peninsula feeling. The bridge connects the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas via Route 104 and is the longest floating bridge located on a saltwater tidal basin in the world at nearly a mile and a half long (third longest floating bridge in the world overall). A journey across the bridge is a nautical bucket list item. If transiting through the bridge, you may want to consult the Washington State Department of Transportation website ( to satisfy those questions and check for announced closures, openings, and other curveballs that are common in a place through which the Navy regularly moves its most prized warships. Basically, you have to request an opening at least an hour ahead by calling (360) 799-3233 or hailing VHF channel 13.

Bangor Base South of the bridge, you’ll pass a relatively empty stretch of the Hood Canal. Probably the most head-turning feature is Bangor, specifically Naval Base Kitsap, on the east side. The third largest Navy base in the U.S., this military juggernaut is no joke—homeport for many nuclear submarines, housing for one of the U.S. Navy’s four nuclear shipyards, the only West Coast dry dock capable of handling Nimitzclass aircraft carriers, one of two strategic nuclear weapons facilities, and the Navy’s largest fuel depot. Give Bangor a wide berth and hang to the west when passing. Keep an eye out for escorted convoys and immediately dash out of their way if you see one. I was once at the helm of a small sailboat in Puget Sound when a convoy of a nuclear submarine and six-or-so U.S. Coast Guard Cutter escorts rounded a bend and plowed toward my direction. Rules of the road be damned!

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