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Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - Tacoma Narrows

A wonderful paddle under a clear sky and lovely full moon! Photo credit: Patrick Shaffer

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • CURRENTS: TACOMA NARROWS NORTH END  (MIDSTREAM):S@1154 / +3.4 @1416 / S@1735 / -4.4@ 2140; SOUTH END: +4.5 @ 1502 / S @1749 / -4.8 @ 2103. 

    TIDES: T NARROWS: 13.4 @1712 / -1.4 @ 2352.   


    SUNSET: 1759 / MOON RISE: 1754

After a road detour down Pearl Street I arrived at the boat launch at the Pt Defiance Marina around 2:00.  I think Pat arrived about the same time and we got unloaded and our cars moved in the adjacent parking lot after paying the $7 fee at the kiosk.  The handy Honey Buckets are gone but there is a restroom facility at the ferry dock. I got two cancellations and it was about 2:30 or so when I called James who was on his way, arriving a few minutes later. We were able to get on the water at 1515 after a quick pre trip huddle which included reviewing the deck lighting requirements. We got going once the incoming ferry docked.  A quick radio check and we continued north a few hundred feet away from the shoreline.  There were a few power boats around but were never an issue as we headed along under totally blue and cloudless skies.  However the lowering sun became an issue as we approached the point with the glare directly into my eyes. The shoreline became completely shadowed as a chop arose and soon we were in lumpy waters approaching the point. James had moved to my left and was lost in the shadow and I was trying to find Pat who had fallen behind. I yelled to them but while they both heard me they couldn’t understand what I was saying. 


We got around the point without mishap and briefly came together in the calmer water before continuing on towards the bridge.  We crossed under about midpoint and rode the current, pausing a bit to watch a large and very active sea lion wrestling a fish while being attacked by the usual screaming seagulls. We waited a bit before turning left to avoid the back eddy when approaching the shore at Titlow Beach.  James had suggested Boathouse 19 which has its own dock as an alternative to Beach Tavern but we stuck with the original plan  with that as a plan B if it was too full.  The flood tide was at max so while there was little landing room the carry was very short to put the boats on the fenced grass area beside the railroad tracks.  I discovered my deck light was missing the suction cup and did the best I could to duct tape it on the back deck. We got most of our gear off and headed past the displays of jack-o’-lanterns and dressed up skeletons on the street in front of the pub.  Once inside we found a small table off to the side to squeeze into and eventually had our meal.  The noise level was awful even for the number of people that had almost filled up the place.  After going to the bathroom and putting on an extra top layer I suited back up and we went back to the boats around 6:45.  The sun had gone down and the purple Olympics stood with an orange backdrop against the rapidly darkening sky.  The Narrows bridge lights were already bright in the almost completely dark channel.  The light on my back deck had to be readjusted and then James ripped a wrist gasket which I taped up under the handy street light with the Nashua tape from my kit before starting out.


It was dark by the time we put our boats in the inky water.  The carved pumpkins on the top of the pilings were back but sadly not lit as were made our way carefully past the pilings and headed east to catch the rapidly building current. The moon had risen and was shining like a spotlight with no clouds anywhere. We didn’t go all the way over to but were pretty close to the midspan as we moved under the bridge easily going at least 6 knots.  Nobody wanted to stop so soon we cleared the lights and headed towards the blinking red nav aid on the west side of the channel.  Very soon I saw the flashing white light up the channel at Pt Defiance and had us turn to the right and head for Salmon beach so we wouldn’t get pushed too far north too soon.  We were puzzled by a blue and green light up near the point.  I knew it had to be a boat but couldn’t tell if it was moving towards or away from us or what kind of boat it was. The only other light past the houses was a tiny campfire about a mile or less from the north end of Salmon Beach.


As expected, we made fast time moving up the channel towards Pt Defiance.  Just as we were getting close to the rocks the blue and green lights showed that the boat was now on the other side of the point. It took off east just as we reached the rocks.  I had us go wide in case of seals/sea lions on the rocks.  I couldn’t hear any water chattering but did hear a few chuffs from the marine life.  Getting around the point this time was a non event as the swirling currents only jerked the boat a few times getting past the rocks on the north side.  We could see what looked like a dump truck in a floodlighted area on Five Mile Loop immediately above the rocks at the point.  There had been construction work in progress years ago when I had done this paddle but I thought it was all finished by now.


Now the brilliant moon was ahead of us, leaving a glittering path and we could see little seal heads popping up and down all around us as we continued east.  Birds flew ahead of us but I couldn’t tell if they were seagulls or hopefully owls. The stands of trees were clearly lit and threw shadows on the beach and the only lights were at the buildings at the beautifully renovated Owens Beach park area.  It didn’t take much longer and we were gliding past Anthony’s Restaurant to the tune of “Jeepers Creepers” and back to the quiet boat launch at 2100, completing the six nautical miles in about 90 minutes with little or no effort.


The temperature was dropping fast and excellent teamwork was used so we didn’t waste any time getting our boats carefully up the very slick boat ramp and eventually loaded our cars. We had a quick post trip huddle with thanks exchanged and no complaints. 


I found out the next day that there had been a body discovered on the cliffs at Point Defiance about 2 pm on Sat.  The blue/green lights we saw must have been the last of the Police Marine units that were at the scene.  The “dump truck” must have been the mobile crane unit that was used by the Tacoma Fire Dept to retrieve the body.  I’m glad that we missed all that and instead had a wonderful paddle under a lovely full moon!  Both paddlers performed well and did a great job of staying together in the dark with excellent group dynamics.