Traveling from Seattle to the San Juans via Admiralty Inlet is a long run to make in one day. One convenient stopping-off place on the trip is Port Ludlow, allowing you to divide the trip into two legs (two other such possibilities on Admiralty Inlet are: Fort Flagler/Mystery Bay and Port Townsend, but this post is about Port Ludlow).
Port Ludlow is a very sheltered bay and a wonderful gunkhole. It is not particularly tricky to get into (see Gig Harbor), but it will be scary the first time you do it. Look at the chart to the left there (depths in fathoms). Note that between the buoy "N2" and the dayboard on Tala Point, the best depth is 24 feet. Now look to the right, toward open water: the depths there are 120 feet and on down. Yes, there is a ledge there, and yes you are going to go over it. There is enough water, but it is quite alarming to see your depth sounder go from 150 feet or more to 24 feet in a very short distance. You will absolutely believe that you are going aground. And yes, you probably do want to split the distance between the buoy and the dayboard. Entering Port Ludlow is a test of faith.
Once you are over the ledge, things are easy. Motor on beyond the privately maintained lite on the end of the hook, and you are in some of the most protected waters in all of Puget Sound. This is not a particularly shallow anchorage - you will be in 30 - 50 feet of water, but it is a sticky mud bottom with good holding. Pay attention to the cable zone noted on the chart at the back of the harbor. We have personally proved that there are, indeed, cables there (a story for another time).
There is also a delightful anchorage in the bight behind the twin islands, at the back, southern end of the harbor. But you will not want to attempt entering at low water. It is best if you explore the passage to the secluded bay with a dinghy before taking your deep draft vessel back there.
Until fairly recently, Port Ludlow was a mill town. All of the land was owned by the Pope & Talbot timber company, and the mill was on the spit, where now there live condominiums. Having sold off the shoreline and some of the second tier, I believe that Pope & Talbot is still selling off prime real estate for development around the harbor. Here is an excerpt from the Port Ludlow Resort's site, giving a brief synopsis of the history of Port Ludlow:
In 1853, Port Ludlow became the site of one of the Northwest’s earliest sawmills. The mill supplied lumber to pioneers and settlers until 1878, when Andrew Pope and Captain William Talbot purchased and invested heavily in renovating the operation. Pope & Talbot, as the venture came to be known, transformed the small mill into a thriving logging, milling, and shipping enterprise.
Port Ludlow became a swash-buckling shipbuilding town and with the money came businesses, churches, and plenty of social options from card playing to dance halls and bawdy houses. During this era, many homes were built for workers in the eastern style of the owners’ hometown of East Machias, Maine.
During the Great Depression, the mill lost business and the owners were unable to fund new equipment to keep the operation competitive. It was finally closed in 1935. Many of the homes constructed during Port Ludlow’s glory days were loaded onto barges and transported across the Hood Canal to Port Gamble or Bremerton for military housing. By 1950, Port Ludlow had declined to a near-ghost town, though farmers and small logging businesses still operated in the area.
The 1950’s brought a new beginning to Port Ludlow with the increasing value of Port Ludlow’s Real Estate. Also the post-war population growth created a market for recreational home sites and property.
In the early 1960s, a floating bridge was constructed to span the Hood Canal. The bridge became an economic lifeline for the eastern part of the Olympic Peninsula, providing easy access from Kitsap County and the greater Puget Sound area. In 1966, Pope & Talbot recognized that Port Ludlow’s unique water and mountain views and pristine natural environment — now with a fast bridge connection — would provide a spectacular place for a residential community.
Thus, they began the first phase of a planned residential community at the site of the original Port Ludlow mill.
This is a quiet, peaceful anchorage, with all the shoreline being residential except for the marina on the north shore. It is run by very friendly folks - give them some of your business if you can - you won't regret it. (You will find me plugging business only very rarely - this one deserves it).
Although I have billed it here as a layover, Port Ludlow deserves more - it really qualifies as a destination.