Boats sit idle on their mooring buoys in a calm Mystery Bay.
Boats sit idle on their mooring buoys in a calm Mystery Bay.

With the sun gently rising, I poked my head out of Yahtzee’s companionway to watch orange and purple hues spread over glassy Mystery Bay. Down below, the smell of hot coffee wafted through the cabin and while the boys played and read books, preparations for a hearty breakfast were well underway.

It was the start of a leisurely day at Mystery Bay with our friends Ryan and Autumn aboard Velella, and typical of us, we were going to make it up as we went along.

The morning sun lights up Velella.
The morning sun lights up Velella.

The day prior we’d each enjoyed a fast and fun ride up Puget Sound on a strong southerly and chose the bay to spend a relaxing last few days of 2016. We’d visited Mystery Bay once before, but it was merely a quick anchorage for the night and then we were out. This time we were going to explore what the bay had to offer.

Getting There

Mystery Bay is located on Marrowstone Island, which is adjacent to Indian Island, and is near Admiralty Inlet and Port Townsend. A bridge at its southern end allows easy access for cars and flanking its eastern shore is Puget Sound and then neighboring Whidbey Island.


Kilisut Harbor is the long, narrow body of water that separates Indian and Marrowstone islands and entering the bay can be a bit tricky, though not difficult. Pacific Northwest boaters are used to deep water, but the snaking, shallow channel past Fort Flagler State Park needs to be taken with care. Fortunately, if you’re adept at following channel markers, it’s fairly easy to pilot successfully.

The winding entrance to Kilisut Harbor.
The winding entrance to Kilisut Harbor.

Once you’ve meandered your way south into the Kilisut Harbor, Mystery Bay is a relatively small indention in the western side of Marrowstone Island. On approach you’ll notice local boats swinging on private moorings, a park dock and mooring buoys, and a smattering of houses on shore. Anchoring is possible amongst the buoys and Nordland General Store has easy access for visiting boaters.


Mystery Bay State Park

The state park at Mystery Bay is only a 10-acre spot of land on the northern end of the bay, but it has 680 feet of moorage and a number of mooring buoys just off the dock. There is also a launching ramp for boats and kayaks, and crabbing in the area is said to be quite good. (Note to deep draft vessels: There is only 6.5 feet of water on the outside of the dock at zero tide.)

Yahtzee and Velella tied to the dock at Mystery Bay State Park.
Yahtzee and Velella tied to the dock at Mystery Bay State Park.

Aside from the dock and ramp, there are picnic tables and fire rings scattered throughout the grassy grounds and when the tide recedes, a pebble and sand beach provides a nice place to walk and beachcomb.

Exploring Quaint Marrowstone Island

By rowing dinghies and kayak, the six of us opted for a tour of the bay and a stop at the general store for coffee and to see what they had in stock. Mystery Bay is an excellent place to explore by paddle and the store’s dock is accessible at all but the lowest tides.

Nordland General Store is conveniently located in the southeast corner of the bay.
Nordland General Store is conveniently located in the southeast corner of the bay.

Walking up to Nordland General Store gave the feel of place where time stood still — which was a good thing. In an age where the grind of the rat race, the buzz of social media and the dizzying feed of unavailing news can become overwhelming, this place served up a welcome respite. I loved it.

A porch swing and chairs grace the entrance and when we opened the door, bells let those inside know we were there. Well, that and the two- and three-year-old boys with us.

One of Porter’s many turns on the porch swing.

Friendly locals sipped coffee by a wood burning stove in the back, and while this is no grocery store for a full provision — and doesn’t pretend to be — it’s a great spot to grab a few extra items for the boat, a six pack and bottle of wine, a bag of ice, or a cup of coffee and a pastry.

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Coffee by the wood stove is complimentary (donations suggested).

Here, we were tipped off to a walkable beach nearby, and being that we were up for the exploration, off we went. What we found was Marrowstone’s long eastern shore and a beach that can nearly take visitors the length of the island. Great for a walk, it was perfect for the boys to throw rocks and for all of us to stretch our legs.

Yahtzee’s crew gets a rare photo op on the beach.

Having a fire and s’mores is one of our favorite things to do this time of year and, come evening, we did just that. With the sun setting, we gathered around a crackling fire and talked about the year, our cruising plans, boat projects and what 2017 would hold.

Later, we moved the party onto Yahtzee for dinner and kept the conversation and laughter going into the night. I bet a lot of boaters do this at Mystery Bay State Park, and we were happy to join the ranks. It’s a gem of a place.

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