Southern Puget Sound's Case Inlet has myriad gunkhole opportunities.
FOURTEEN-MILE-LONG CASE INLET OFFERS THE recreational boater excellent cruising opportunities in the well-protected waters of southern Puget Sound. The inlet is defined by the forested shorelines of the Kitsap Peninsula on its eastern boundary and Hartstene Island on the western side.
Between Washington State Parks, Department of Natural Resources tidelands, city and county parks and Native American reservations, there is plenty of natural landscape in the South Sound, and Case Inlet is no exception. A half dozen little bays and coves and four small islands add uniqueness and scenery to the area. A rocky shoreline is interspersed with occasional sand or pebble beach, and its forest is full of the varying greenery of stately firs, cedars, hemlocks and madronas and scattered deciduous trees. Visiting boaters will find a wide array of moorage and anchoring options within the area of Case Inlet. It’s entirely possible to spend several idyllic days exploring the inlet and never run out of things to see and do.
Arlene and I have spent plenty of time exploring the area, and it calls us back time and time again. A few years ago we decided to spend our summer cruise in southern Puget Sound, a large portion of it in Case Inlet, instead of making our customary cruise north. It made for a wonderful time, and the expense was far less than running north into Canada.
Case Inlet may be a relatively small area, but there is normally plenty of room. There is almost no commercial traffic to dodge, and the only ferry runs a few hundred yards between Herron Island and the Key Peninsula.
Rounding Devils Head to enter the inlet, we cruised up the east shore to find Taylor Bay indenting the peninsula. It’s small and shallow but a delightful place to poke your bow into. Two and a half miles farther is Whiteman Cove and the 122-acre Joemma State Park, formerly the Robert Kennedy Recreational Area, with 500 feet of dock and 3,000 feet of beach. The park is exposed to southerlies, the prevailing winter winds that sweep up the inlet, so the docks are removed during the off-season. There are trails where you might spot foxes, raccoons, deer and a variety of birds.
Another 2.5 miles and we arrived at Herron Island. This mile-long island, lying a half mile offshore, is restricted to property owners and is served by a ferry from the village of Herron. Safe passage can be made between the island and the mainland over a shoal extending from the island’s northeast side. Stay 300 yards off the north tip of the island, and you’ll find a safe depth of 13 and a half feet at zero tide.
Despite the difference in spelling, many people think the name for the island, bay and village comes from the great blue herons that use their stiltlike legs to wade the shoreline looking for their next meal. In reality, the name was bestowed by Capt. Charles Wilkes in honor of the cooper of the expedition, Lewis Herron.
Continuing along the east shore, we found Dutch Cove, a shallow little finger bay favored by some skippers as a temporary anchorage to sit in the sun and relax.
Vaughn Bay, a great gunkhole, is 12 miles north of Devils Head. A 2,000-foot-long sand spit extends across nearly the entire mouth of the bay. A channel around the north end of the spit has only one and a half feet at a zero tide, so passage should be planned accordingly. Once in the bay, turn south to avoid the sandbar extending from the north shore. You’ll find good holding in nine to 12 feet over a mud bottom. The spit is Department of Natural Resources public tidelands, making for great beachcombing or a picnic lunch. All other tidelands are private. The bay is one of the best locations in southern Puget Sound from which to watch the sunset as it disappears behind the Olympic Mountains. There are houses around the shoreline and a community center and boat launch ramp at Vaughn Village at the head of the bay.
The head of Case Inlet is shallow and has many private and commercial oyster beds, which are marked with vertical sticks. All these sticks rising from the water’s surface is a strange sight. Two towers straddling the tide f lats support 50-foot-high cables across the inlet. Most skippers will discover the extreme northern reaches anywhere beyond the cable crossing too shallow to navigate. Beyond this point it’s mostly mud, with Coulter Creek Salmon Hatchery at the inlet’s head.
A half mile before the cable crossing on the west shore is the seaside village of Allyn, which has a public wharf and a boat ramp. Proceed slowly and watch the depth at low tide, which is reported to be six feet of water beneath the dock at a zero tide. The town was named for Judge Frank Allyn of Tacoma, one of the founders of the town in 1889.
The port has developed a delightful waterfront park with a pavilion, totem pole, picnic tables, launch ramp and playground. A short walk from the dock is the historic and picturesque St. Hugh’s Church. A little farther up the road is a grocery store, fast food, a liquor store and restaurants. This is where you’ll discover Chainsaw Carving Gallery and School, with a large collection of carvings of bears, eagles, human figures and other natural as well as imaginary shapes on display for public enjoyment, and there is no charge for admission.
Cruising south along the west shore of Case Inlet turns up several little coves, inlets and lagoons, too small to be of much interest to the skipper and crew, yet fun to explore by dinghy or kayak.
Opposite Vaughn Bay is Reach Island, locally known as Treasure Island, and restricted to property owners. The island is connected to the mainland via a bridge that has a clearance of 16 feet. The channel under the bridge has a minimum depth of one foot with a rock drying at five feet near the middle.
The small Fair Harbor Marina, best approached from the south end of Reach Island, has 350 feet of guest moorage, power, showers, restrooms, a country store and fuel dock, gas only.
Just to the south is Stretch Island Point State Park, also connected to the mainland by a bridge with a clearance of 14 feet. The small four-acre park offers five mooring buoys and is a favorite spot for beachcombing and picnicking. The small cove inside the northwest side of the island and the mainland is a choice gunkhole for setting an anchor. The channel is too shallow for safe passage, but good anchoring can be had inside the southwest end of the island up to eight fathoms over a mud bottom.
To the west is Pickering Passage, with lovely McLane Cove, and popular Jarrell Cove, with its 650 feet of state park dock and 14 mooring buoys. Also in Jarrell Cove is a small seasonal marina with fuel. From here south, Hartstene Island forms the western shore of Case Inlet.
McMicken Island, which is also a state marine park, is a satellite of Harstine Island located just south of Pickering Pass in Case Inlet. The tiny island park offers a quiet place to anchor or claim one of the five mooring buoys. The tranquil cove, created by Harstine Island, McMicken Island and the tombo between the two, is a wonderful location to set the hook.