The Kilisut Cut by Kayak

I crabbed the inflatable kayak along the sand bar, looking for a channel. There wasn’t one. The current was against me, spilling over the wide breadth of the cut like a fan, the bottom visible a couple of feet below. I made for the eddies along the starboard shore, staying as close to the bank as possible. It was the inside of the dogleg and offered the most current relief. As I approached the turn, I was forced out into the center of the stream to stay in navigable water. “If I can make way here, I can make it all the way.”

I was paddling the new Oak Bay/ Kilisut Harbor tidal cut between Indian and Marrowstone Islands. This project was spearheaded by the Northern Olympic Salmon Coalition and coordinated with the Washington State Department of Transportation. It involved replacing a causeway with a 450-foot bridge and re-establishing a natural tidal channel between the two islands.

The Way it Was.
The Way It Is.
Image: John Gussman –

My journey began the day before when I left Boat Haven on Sampaguita, my Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, with the Aire inflatable kayak in tow. Strong Labor Day winds blew us quickly to Mystery Bay, where we anchored in the lee of the point, just off the Marine Park dock.

Sampaguita Tows the Kayak

The weather blew itself out that evening and the next morning switched to a light southerly. It could be easily overcome in the kayak and would be a help on the return trip. However, a predicted wind shift to the North in the early afternoon could be a bit more disagreeable.

The first order of business was a paddle to the Nordland General Store for an Americano and a peanut butter cookie. An old-fashioned place with a dock across the street for small boat access that harkens back to the country stores of my youth. With those morning pleasantries taken care of, I headed for the cut.

Mystery Bay is in the middle of Kilisut Harbor, while the cut is at the southern end. I still had a couple of miles to paddle. Just recently opened, I was unaware of any published information about the cut. But embracing the spirit of exploration, I didn’t search too hard. It would be what it was when I got there.

In the center of the tidal stream, with strong and steady strokes, I was able to keep forward motion, crabbing around and across the dogleg to the port side of the cut. The current runs along this edge with a deeper channel, but the uneven shore offers relief eddies. Rounding each mini-point put me right back into the stream, though I never feared I wouldn’t make it.

Prevailing, I rounded the spit to the hazy expanse of Oak Bay and landed the kayak for rest and refreshment. After my summit moment, I pushed the boat off the shore for the return trip. Paddling in the current, making four knots, I descended back into Kilisut Harbor. As I rounded the dogleg, the shallow inside corner that forced me into the current on the incoming trip was now exposed. With the depth decreasing, I was a little concerned about running out of water over the wide, shallow sandbank that extends into Kilisut Harbor. However, the kayak only requires a few inches of depth, and we glided over with no troubles.

I made it back to Mystery Bay just before the winds shifted to the North, having completed the main objective for my holiday weekend. Sampaguita and I would swing on the hook for the rest of the day and head back to Port Townsend the next morning. Paddling a newly accessible stretch of water was exciting, and got lucky with my ‘spirit of exploration’. Judging by the currents and depths witnessed, there are tidal states when it would not be navigable by even small boats.

Besides my amusement, it was evident the cut was also serving the purpose of exchanging water in the Harbor. During my paddle, Scow Bay, the lower half of Kilisut Harbor, was a murky brown with about one foot of visibility. The waters flowing through the cut were crystal clear and mixing in the Bay. With refreshed infrastructure for the islanders, improved water quality and habitat for plants and animals, and a new destination for small boat enthusiasts, I give the new cut a thumbs up.

Red and Yellow by Sail – Green by Kayak

Here’s some GoPro video of me transiting the cut: (Caution: This might feel like watching paint dry.)

And Back

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