Great sailboat anchorages close to Seattle

Life in a marina can be fun and certainly convenient. But if you ask me, there’s no better feeling than being on anchor. I love being surrounded on all sides by water. There we get the chance to see more marine life from the comfort of our cockpit, and the feeling of being gently rocked to sleep in a well-protected anchorage just can’t be beat.

Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea is home to dozens of great anchorages. We have big harbors with plenty of swing room for boats and small, tucked-in little nooks that provide an amazing amount of solitude for being surrounded by 4.2 million people.

Since getting s/v Polaris, we’ve anchored all over the Sound in all kinds of weather. The cool thing about Puget Sound is a boater doesn’t have to travel very far to find a great anchorage. In this post, I’m going to list a few of our favorite anchorages that are less than a half-day away from Seattle if sailing at a cruising speed of 5 knots or less. This is by no means a comprehensive list and I will be adding to it as we check out more nearby places to drop the hook.

Anchorages featured here are:

Port Blakely Harbor, Bainbridge Island

There are remnants of the old sawmill and shipyard still visible today, including an abandoned building that was updated to honor the death of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The details

  • Distance from Elliot Bay in Seattle: About 5 nautical miles
  • Anchoring conditions: Good holding, in mud, about 35-50 feet
  • Good place for: Hiking, kayaking/canoeing/paddleboarding, swimming (in summer, if thick-skinned or in a wetsuit), tidepooling at nearby Blakely Rock

Port Blakely is an easy choice, but that doesn’t make it any less of a good one. It’s about an hour away from the Elliot Bay, relatively roomy and well-protected from southerly or northerly winds. Given its proximity to Seattle, it does fill up during the summer months, particularly around holidays. But it’s so close to Seattle, you can easily make the trip there after work if there’s daylight.

We have noticed that the cellular reception isn’t great, which could be a problem if you are trying to work or do anything else online. Port Blakely also is not within close walking distance to grocery stores or shops, so be sure to provision up before heading here.

In addition to its close proximity, we love hiking along the shoreline and into the woods on the Blakely Harbor Trail ashore on the western end of the harbor. We beach our dinghy on the north side of the shore near a rack of kayaks stored for residents and then find the trail.

Kayaking here is lovely, though there isn’t much to see in the shallows unless you head out toward the rocky entrance on the north side of the harbor. There we have seen crabs, plumose anemone and the occasional starfish.

During a minus tide, though, we took our dinghy from the anchorage over to Blakely Rock, which sits just outside the harbor and is the only visible part of a shoal that you most definitely want to avoid with your sailboat. The rock, however, is home to all kinds of marine invertebrates. Our kids had a field day searching for critters like blood stars, crabs, anemones and sea snails.

Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island

Anchoring in Eagle Harbor isn’t tranquil, but it is fun to watch the ferries come and go.

The details

  • Distance from Elliot Bay in Seattle: About 5 nautical miles
  • Anchoring conditions: OK holding, in mud, about 30-45 feet
  • Good place for: Sight-seeing, hiking, kayaking, shopping, museums, culture

Perhaps just as close as Port Blakely to Elliott Bay is Eagle Harbor. This long harbor is near the community of Winslow on Bainbridge Island.

Similar to Blakely Harbor, Eagle Harbor has an industrial history. It has been the site of shipbuilding and a wood mill. The result is the seabed in much of the harbor was contaminated with creosote. In the 1980s, it became an EPA Superfund site. The EPA has since “capped” much of the contaminated seafloor by burying it under clean sand. Anchoring here could pull up that clean sand and bring the dirty seafloor back up.

Because of this, anchoring is limited to a small area not far from the the Washington State Ferries maintenance dock. This makes the area where you can anchor pretty cramped, but in the fall and winter time, we had no problem finding a spot. We have yet to anchor here in terrible weather. For the most part, its a calm anchorage.

We don’t necessarily come here for the solitude, but that’s fine. We love exploring Winslow’s shops and restaurants, where you can provision, pick up gifts and dine on fantastic food that rivals what you can find in Seattle. There is a trail that winds around part of the harbor and includes signs that explain the community’s history as a sawmill (and the environmental impact the past has had on the present).

Transient boaters may be pleased to know that the city of Bainbridge Island manages a small dock with power, water and pump-out. This makes it a great stop if you need to charge batteries, top off your water tank or pump-out before heading to another anchorage. First come, first served.

Here are the fees and other info:

  • Power is $5 a day
  • Docking, 3 hours or less: 10 cents per foot
  • Docking, 24 hours, 50 cents per foot.
  • For now, showers are closed.
  • Boaters normally should prepare to raft up during the busy months, but for now, no rafting up is required.

Winslow also is home to the Bainbridge Museum of Art, which has free admission, a weekly farmer’s market from April through December, and a children’s museum that for the sake of families of young kids, I hope can survive the pandemic.

We just recently discovered the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American Exclusion Memorial, a park that is still under construction located near the south shore of Eagle Harbor. We accessed the memorial by taking our dinghy to a tie-up near the Bainbridge Island Marina. Once out of the marina, you’ll see an entrance to the memorial on your left.

The memorial honors the 200+ residents who were forced from their homes during World War II after the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Walk through the guided path to learn about the families who were forced from their homes and taken to internment camps. You’ll read about the many who lost the farms and businesses they had before the war, and how children were removed from school and missed graduations and ball games. And yet, many of the remaining Bainbridge Island residents worked together to preserve their neighbors’ properties while they were interned.

We enjoyed learning about this too-often ignored part of our country’s history and incorporated some of the lessons from the memorial’s message into our homeschool.

Port Madison, Bainbridge Island

We checked out Port Madison recently on a lovely, cold week in November.

The details

  • Distance from Elliot Bay in Seattle: About 9 nautical miles
  • Anchoring conditions: Good holding, in mud, about 15-25 feet
  • Good place for: Hiking, kayaking/canoeing/paddleboarding

Port Madison is on the northern tip of Bainbridge Island, and would be a great place to tuck into while on the way to Port Townsend or other points north. We only recently ventured into the deep, winding bay near the community. There are a few private docks, a Seattle Yacht Club outstation and several private moorings. Nevertheless, we found a spot to drop the hook about midway into the bay.

We took the dinghy to the public dock on the bay’s south side to get on land and stretch our legs a bit. There is a short lovely trail that takes you up a hill into the woods and to some painted rocks well-known by locals. After that, most of the walking we did was on residential streets. Thankfully, Port Madison doesn’t get a lot of traffic.

A frog and ladybug rock; you either love this or hate this.

Like the other anchorages near Bainbridge Island, Port Madison was a mill town at one point, and like most of Bainbridge Island, was once home to the Suquamish Indian tribe. These days, its a picturesque bay with a mostly high-end residential community surrounding it. Port Madison definitely feels like a calm, secluded anchorage, even though there is housing and boats all around.

There’s not much to do here in terms of sight-seeing, but plenty of space for calm, protected kayaking. We enjoyed exploring the length of the bay and rounding a tiny islet called Treasure Island.

Liberty Bay, Poulsbo

Come to Poulsbo for its huge anchorage, stay for the Scandinavian pastries.

The details

  • Distance from Elliot Bay in Seattle: About 16 nautical miles
  • Anchoring conditions: Good holding, in mud, anywhere from 12-40 feet
  • Good place for: Hiking, kayaking/canoeing/paddleboarding, shopping, sight-seeing

West of Bainbridge Island and tucked deep into the Kitsap Peninsula is the long, wide anchorage of Liberty Bay and the lovely town of Poulsbo. It takes us about a half-day to sail or motor to Poulsbo from our slip at the Elliott Bay Marina. It’s short enough to do without too much planning and long enough to feel like you are getting away from the city. Just check the tides and currents when going through Agate Pass. The currents can reach up to 6.5 kts so try to time your arrival around slack tide.

Liberty Bay is a wonderful anchorage in great weather and can be a good refuge in poor weather. We’ve anchored here in the summer when there have been dozens of boats, and we rode out a storm here while cruising in the fall. (You can read more about where we anchored in Liberty Bay during a gale.)

During the late summer and early fall we spotted tons of harbor seals cruising the bay and lounging on the breakwater near one of the town’s marinas. We didn’t get to do much beach-combing here, but really enjoyed kayaking the long, wide anchorage and checking out other boats.

And then there’s Poulsbo. The historic downtown is immediately accessible from the dinghy tie-up. You’ll find some cute clothing and gift shops, a market with some pricey, but unique foods and drinks, a marine supply store and, of course, pastries!

Our favorite is Sluy’s, located downtown. We usually grab a sampling of their wares; a few cookies, a danish, some bread and a fritter or two. Then, we take a walk along the Bay on a path that winds through a waterfront park.

If you need to do a full provisioning run, you can walk a mile or so to the local Safeway.

Illahee State Marine Park

During the summer months, the dock and pier at Illahee State Marine Park can get quite busy with families fishing and crabbing.

The details

  • Distance from Elliot Bay in Seattle: About 11 nautical miles
  • Anchoring conditions: OK holding, about 10-25 feet
  • Good place for: Hiking, kayaking/canoeing/paddleboarding, swimming (in summer, if thick-skinned or in a wetsuit), tidepooling

Illahee sits along Port Orchard Bay just south of Bremerton on the Kitsap Peninsula. Like many marine state parks, it has a few mooring balls (five) and a small dock if you’d rather tie up. We have not anchored here, opting to use our annual moorage permit, but I have seen boats anchor near here. It can get quite shallow if you get as close as the mooring balls (we recently tied up here and at low tide our depth sounder read about 10-11 feet), and the seafloor drops off pretty quickly if a little farther out. So be careful where you anchor.

The fastest way to Illahee from Elliott Bay is via Rich Passage on the south side of Bainbridge Island. You’ll have to share the relatively narrow passage with the Bremerton Ferry and, if you are lucky, a Navy ship. But in general, it’s an easy voyage.

In the summer time, the pier and the dock is crowded with families fishing, clamming, crabbing and oyster harvesting. Just above the beach starts a lovely, short but steep, half-mile hiking trail up the hillside. A sign informed us that an Eagle Scout project is to thank for the hillside stairs that made the journey a little easier.

We are avid kayakers and enjoyed paddling near the beach during low tide to look for crabs, starfish and other critters.

While there are no grocery stores close to the park, there is a Fred Meyer about 2.5 miles away. We opted to go the long way by walking through residential streets and taking a side trip through the Illahee Preserve. Given the distance and the roundabout way to the store, I wouldn’t recommend Illahee as a spot if you need to provision. But for those looking to get their steps in, it is possible.

Other anchorages

We have yet to check out all the anchorages near Seattle, but plan to visit the following this winter and spring:

  • Manzanita Bay
  • Dyes Inlet

Let us know about your favorite nearby anchorages!

Summer 2020: First stop, Port Blakely Harbor

On late afternoon of Tuesday, June 23, with a lingering list of boat projects, crap still piled up on the settee looking for a permanent home, we shoved out of our home marina in Elliot Bay and pointed for Bainbridge Island’s Port Blakely Harbor.

Seattle was warm and blustery, a rarity on a Seattle summer day. After I took us out of our slip and motored us out of the marina, C and our 12-year-old daughter, A, raised the mainsail. With the wind coming out of the north, we enjoyed a lovely beam- to broad-reach sail with A at the helm for most of the time.

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