Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Destination: Filucy Bay (Longbranch)

If you arrived here by searching for a chart or charts, please see this page.

South Puget Sound
Soundings in fathoms
(click for a larger version)
A favorite destination in the South Sound for many is Filucy Bay, located on the Southeastern corner of the Key Peninsula.  Many will refer to Filucy Bay by the name of the tiny town centrally located on it: Longbranch - most folks will use the names almost interchangeably.  Calling Longbranch a town is probably historically accurate, but tho it has a zip code, there is not much there beyond the marina of the same name.

To reach Filucy Bay, you will want to ride the tide thru the Tacoma Narrows (at the right in the chart).  Unless you are a power boat with a very large engine, you're going to want to make the Tacoma Narrows passage with the tide.  Probably you'll want to do so even if you have that large engine, because the tidal flow here can be prodigious.

After running the Narrows, you will continue to ride a lessening tide South, past Fox Island and then past the opening to Carr Inlet.

Filucy Bay
Soundings in fathoms
(click for a larger version)
Thread the needle thru Balch Passage, the narrow little run between McNeil Island on the North and Anderson Island on the South.  If the tide is still running strongly when you make this passage, do not get too close to Eagle Island - there can be a substantial current running to the South of Eagle Island which could drag you into very shallow water.  I almost ran us aground there.

You may have heard of McNeil Island.  It is the site of a maximum security Federal Prison.  There are signs all along the shore urging you to stay away and cautioning against picking up swimmers.  This is Washington's version of Alcatraz...  they do mean business.  Although the actual prison only occupies a small part of the island, the entire island is off limits, therefore much of it is in a wonderful natural state.

Do not attempt to approach Filucy Bay from the North thru Pitt Passage, between McNeil Island and the Key Peninsula without local knowledge.  Pitt Passage is shallow and littered with rocks.

As you enter Filucy Bay, occupying the Southern point which forms the opening you will see a beautifully sited large white estate - this is the aptly named "Faraway", built as a resort for the well-heeled in 1910, when it was indeed far away.  Today it serves as a retreat for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

The bulk of Filucy Bay is 8 fathoms, with a mud bottom.  It is an excellent, protected anchorage.   The water is warm; there is an oyster farm up the narrow part of the Northern arm of the bay.  And most unusual!  The bay is littered with sand dollars!  I had never seen them alive before visiting Filucy Bay.  In life they are covered with black, almost velvety waving hairs, and position themselves edge-on on a slant into the sand, looking for all the world like tiny crashed flying saucers.  Their skeletons (the traditional sand dollar) are everywhere.

Right in the middle of the West shoreline, almost directly across from the opening to the bay is the Longbranch Marina.  In 2010, a disagreement between the marina owners and Pierce County, which owns the wharf that serves the marina, as to who should maintain that wharf caused the wharf to be condemned by the County due to its disrepair.  But fear not, the disagreement has been settled and the wharf has been rebuilt - the marina is open!


Anonymous said...

I have used Pitt Passage for years in smaller boats (24 to 40 foot displacement). I go slow by nature, but have found this pass to be well enough marked to allow safe transit at all but the lowest tides.

bob said...


You, Sir, are braver than I.


Matthew said...

Pitt Pass is usable by small and large boats alike, but it is definitely a spot where "local knowledge" is everything.

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