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Mystery Bay Marine State Park: A bird-watcher’s paradise

Mystery Bay Marine State Park is a little bay outside Marrowstone Island, just east of Port Townsend. The park and the greater Killisut Harbor between Marrowstone and Indian islands are gems. Mariners willing to navigate the tricky, yet well-marked, shallow entrance to the harbor are rewarded with a protected bay teeming with birds and aquatic life easily explored by dingy or kayak.

Great springtime sailing

Blustery conditions plus a favorable current helped us get to Marrowstone Island in under 5 hours.

Marrowstone Island has been on our list of places to visit for awhile now, and when our Spring Break plans to explore the more-populated Poulsbo got nixed in the wake of growing coronavirus concerns, we figured the time had come for us to explore this more remote and more socially-distancing-ready island.

Waking up on March 22, 2020 in Port Blakely Harbor to southerly winds sealed the deal. We pointed the bow north and had a ripping broad-reach to running sail in 15 to 20 kts of apparent wind.

We started out under full mainsail and no jib and easily reached 8 kts in building seas and bitingly cold wind. So we dropped the main and rolled out the jib, and enjoyed a much more controllable sail up of about 6.5 to 7 kts that we helmed from inside our pilothouse so I could warm up. (After all, that’s why we got this boat!)

Once outside Marrowstone, we dropped our sails and started the engine.

Entering Marrowstone Island’s harbor

A pair of eagles helped maintain our attention on the markers guiding us safely toward Mystery Bay.

Getting into the harbor requires careful attention, especially at low tide.

Starboard of the entrance is Indian Island and the Indian Island Naval Reserve. When we arrived, a destroyer was positioned under a crane and behind a floating barrier, presumably waiting to be loaded.

Near the entrance, to port, you’ll see a spit covered with seagulls and oystercatchers. Consider it a preview of what’s to come.

Green and red markers guide you along a long hooked path flanked on each side by shallow water. (Mind those markers!)

Once we wound our way along the carefully guided entrance, we motored over to Mystery Bay Marine State Park and tied up to a state park mooring buoy paid for in advance with our annual mooring permit.

Culturally and ecologically important

The dock at Mystery Bay with pumpout normally available April through October.

According to the State Parks, Mystery Bay and Marrowstone Island is part of the Chemakum tribe territory. While the tribe had a permanent village in nearby Port Townsend, they came to Mystery Bay to gather clams.

The bay also is home to ecologically important but sensitive eelgrass. Eelgrass provides ideal habitat for fish and shellfish and is key to keeping Mystery Bay healthy. Because of that, park officials encourage boaters to tie up to mooring buoys rather than risk tearing up eelgrass by anchoring.

Today, the bay floor is still covered with oysters and clams, and is a popular spot for clamming. While paddling around the protected bay, we saw oysters as large as heavy rocks, clamshells galore and black sand dollars scattered all over the sandy floor. The bay is shallow enough that reportedly it gets warm enough in the summer for swimming.

The park is a great spot for bird-watching, too. Black oyster catchers thrilled our kids as they picked around the shallow areas for a meal during low tide. Ducks, coots, gulls and even a pair of harbor seals cruised around the bay and kept us entertained from our kayak and our cockpit.

The park is small with a dock and a few picnic tables. We did venture ashore our first day to stretch our legs and have a picnic. However, given our arrival shortly after a stay-at-home order was issued due to COVID-19, we limited our activities on land and did most of our exploring on the water.

A great place for quietude

Our only neighbor while visiting Mystery Bay in March 2020.

I imagine that during a typical summer, the bay could get a little busier than what we experienced in the spring.

Regardless, given that the tricky entrance likely deters many boaters and the fact that bay just isn’t big enough to host a lot of boats, I think we’ll hit up Mystery Bay anytime we are looking for some easily accessible peace and quiet.

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