2016 Winter Trip to the South Sound (December/January 2016/2017)

Our friends from Maryland, John and Ellyn, came out to Seattle for a leisurely weeklong trip on the Gyrfalcon.  There’s nothing quite as relaxing as being in a warm boat on calm seas in the winter in the PNW.  Thanks to John for providing his photos of the trip to supplement mine–I apparently was not focused on photography.

December 24, 2016 (Day 1:  Ewing Street Moorings to Tacoma, Dock Street Marina)

We left the dock at first light, which, in December in the Pacific north-wet, is not very early.  Mains were on at 0800 and we were underway by 0815.  We went through the small locks, and were headed through Shilshole Bay and down south by about 0900.  It was a good day for wildlife viewing as it was very calm and a bit overcast.  We saw seals, belted kingfishers, Barrow’s Goldeneye, common mergansers, and double crested cormorants (or as Peter says, BEKI, BAGE, COME, and DCCO).  In this part of the world, the best birdwatching on the water is in the winter.

We had a pleasant trip down to Tacoma, and docked at A Dock at the Dock Street Marina.

View of Tacoma from our boat

As we pulled the boat in with a spring line, we realized that starboard side about midships was up against the power/utilities pedestal–it was right at the edge of the dock.  The pedestal had broken loose from its base. We felt really bad, until we took a closer look and saw that the pedestal had been repaired numerous times before, and that we had just bent one of the angle brackets used in a previous repair.

While relaxing in the saloon, Ellyn spotted a belted kingfisher on a nearby boat.  It was repeatedly beating its catch on the rail.  None of us had seen that behavior in Kingfishers before. Note–it was overcast and late afternoon, so there wasn’t really enough light to get good photos, but it was a very cool thing seeing this kingfisher behavior.  Here are a few shots as a slide show.

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Peter and John  spent time putting up holiday lights, and Nancy cooked some bread for dinner.

Peter and John putting up lights

The finished products

Fresh baked bread


The lights at night

December 25, 2016 (Day 2:  Tacoma, Dock Street Marina to Filucy Bay)

Years ago, Peter and I had taken a similar South Sound trip (chronicled in the Guillemot blog at https://guillemot30.wordpress.com/2012/01/).  In going through the Tacoma Narrows, we had a total lapse in judgement which resulted in the closest we’ve come to capsizing in a boat.  For years, we have wanted to return to the South Sound, only with better knowledge and judgement.  This was our opportunity.  For many of you not from this area, you may be familiar with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge as Galloping Gertie, a bridge that famously disintegrated because of a harmonic vertical wave motion.  There are some fantastic videos of the collapse, which many of us saw in science or math class:  http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/tnbhistory/connections/connections3.htm

This day in 2016, the winds and current were calm and the trip under the bridge and through the narrows was uneventful.

Wildlife viewing:   We saw Barrow’s goldeneye, western grebe, horned grebe, common loon, pigeon guillemot, surf scoter, double crested cormorants, pelagic cormorants, red necked phalaropes, bald eagles, (BAGE, WEGR, HOGR, COLO, PIGU, SUSC, DCCO, PECO, RNPH, BAEA), along with a great show by sea lions fishing along the shore, and the usual harbor porpoises and harbor seals.

There were also kite surfers out playing along the shore

December 26, 2016 (Day 3:  Filucy Bay to Swantown Marina in Port of Olympia)


After a very restful night at Filucy Bay, we turned the mains on at 0945, raised the anchor at 0955, and went south through Drayton Passage.  At 1200, we passed Olympia Shoal, and by 1300 we were docked at the Guest Dock at Swantown Marina.  Port side tie, bow in towards shore.

Coming in, the charts, bouys, and GPS display didn’t seem to be lined up.  Although we were in the middle of the channel (according to the buoys), the chart had us right at one edge.

It did not help that our depth finder had decided to take a temporary vacation – and we did not know how deep the channel actually was under our keel.

As in previous days, we saw lots of wildlife:  seals, bald eagles, pelagic and double crested cormorants, surf scoters, common murre, and hooded mergansers.

December 27, 2016 (Day 4:  Docked at Swantown Marina in Port of Olympia)

We went to the capitol building, and took a tour.  We had a great docent–we thought she must have been an elementary school teacher during her working years to be so good at moving people along. We asked her, and she wasn’t – just a very good guide/

Most of the time we just hung around, watching the wildlife:

Male Bufflehead

Male Hooded Merganser


We had some great weather while at the dock:

The wind really picked up on the 27th.  We ended up doubling up on our bowline to spread out the pull.

December 28, 2016 (Day 5:   Swantown Marina in Port of Olympia to Wollochet Bay)


The morning dawned clear after the rainy days in Olympia.  The breeze calmed down a bit, but there were still 10 kt winds at 0900 when we planned to leave.

Female Bufflehead

Female Hooded Merganser


Fortunately the winds were pushing us off the dock, so it was fairly straightforward to maneuver so that we could clear the boat that had docked behind us.  We headed back up the channel, toured Oro Bay, and had a great view of Mt Rainier.  We had sightings of sea lions and Bonaparte’s gulls, among the other usual wildlife sightings.

Peter was excited to use his new sous vide cooker to prepare some steaks.

December 29, 2016 (Day 6:   Wollochet Bay to Quartermaster Harbor, Vashon Island)

The next morning was cloudy but warm.  We raised the anchor about 11 am and headed out during a calm day.  We crossed uneventfully under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and headed for Quartermaster Harbor.

During the day, we contacted Chris, our electronics technician, who suggested a cold reboot of the Furuno navigation system. It worked like a charm – apparently the depth-sounder had stopped talking to the rest of the navigation system. It is impressive how addicted we become to our electronic “servants”

This is one of our favorite off-season anchorages.  Quiet, protected, and full of wildlife.  Some of  the highlights were rafts of surf scoters, western grebes, and some porpoises.

John kindly documented the state of our Markey winch, which will be the subject of the next blog.


December 30, 2016 (Day 7:   Quartermaster Harbor, Vashon Island, to Shilshole Marina)

We started early this morning, since we had a bit of a trek and the days are short in the PNW in the winter.  We had a commitment to the Audubon Christmas Bird Count for New Years Eve day, so we needed to make sure we were there on time (more about the bird count later).  We had the genset on by 0730, the mains on shortly after, and were underway by 0820.  We went up the west side of Vashon Island up Colvos Passage.

We docked at the end of I dock at Shilshole by about noon.

Wildlife count for the day:  Harbor seals, harbor porpoises, surf scoters, double crested and pelagic cormorants, western and horned grebes, red throated loons, common mergansers, and glaucous wing gull.

December 31, 2016 (Day 8: Shilshole Marina to Ewing St Moorings) Christmas Bird Count


The birders like to start early.  This particular pelagic bird count is organized by Wayne Palsson and has been going on since at least 2002.  For more about citizen science and the Christmas Bird Count from the audubon society, see the link below.


We were planning on about 8-10 birders.We ended up with twelve. We had the generator on by 0700, and the mains on shortly afterwards.  The birders started arriving at 0700, but it was too dark to leave the dock (for Nancy to see to pilot the boat, and for birders to see the birds).  We ended up casting off at about 0745.


Hardy birders on the Count

This is what the Furuno GPS looked like after the day long observational research (as the VTS system called what we were doing).

You can see how we crossed back and forth through the traffic lanes.  I think we caused some consternation as the VTS folks found our course hard to predict (I did too).

Thanks to the birders who helped bring the Gyrfalcon back through  the locks and into our slip.

It was a fun but very long day.  John, Ellyn, Peter, and I were exhausted.  The next morning, all 4 of us went to the airport to go our separate ways–John and Ellyn back to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Peter to who knows where, and Nancy back to SF for her last few days at Amgen.

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2 Responses to 2016 Winter Trip to the South Sound (December/January 2016/2017)

  1. Bob Wheeler says:

    Nice read. For many years I have noticed that the winter variety of birds is great. Can’t believe you didn’t see a Blue Herron. Thanks for sending.
    Bob Wheeler

  2. guillemot30 says:


    We saw Blue Herons – we just didn’t take any pictures

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