In our wake – a look back to Jetty Island…

2005 Spring Cruise ~ Jetty Island, Port of Everett
The year was ’05, early in the spring. April as I recall. Catherine and I had hauled our 27’ Lyle Hess designed sailing vessel, Osprey, over the Cascade Mountain Range from eastern Washington to Everett, a coastal town on Possession Sound on the eastern edge of the Salish Sea. The plan was to rendezvous with our good friends Richard and Liza on their custom 30’ motor/sailor Chak Chak and spend a few days cruising Puget Sound. Life made other plans for our friends and they were delayed for a couple of days. No problem – the weather was fair and it felt good to my mate and I to simply have our vessel back in the water after a frozen winter dry storage period. Of course in early April the waterfront is rather quiet, especially when compared with the bustling warmer months, thus for the most part we had the launch ramp and guest dock much to ourselves.

The Port of Everett Marina and launch ramps are built in the tide zone of the mouth of the Snohomish River. Directly across from the port is Jetty Island, owned by the Port of Everett. Jetty Island, a narrow, 2-mile long man-made island, known for it’s large sandy beaches and relatively warm water. In the early 1900s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to attempted to create a freshwater harbor west of downtown Everett. Now a day-use park with no facilities other than a limited space dock. Jetty Island days are celebrated by the City of Everett Parks and Recreation Department during the summer. The park also provides free ferry service to the island from the 10th Street Boat Launch from June through the Labor Day holiday weekend. The wide flat beaches and strong winds make the island a popular destination for kiteboarding and these unique nautical athletes feature prominently later in this story.

Lyle Hess designed Balboa 27 ~ Osprey. We have since upgraded to a larger vessel but still fondly recall the many of thousands of miles we cruised in comfort and safety in this good old boat. Photo by J. Foster Fanning
During the 1st day after our launch Catherine and I kept Osprey berthed to the main guest docks at the Port of Everett. There was the usual need for access to marine stores and services (the endless checklists). Osprey had undergone some extensive upgrades during the winter and there were still a few loose ends to tie up. But as the lists shortened through out the bustle of one afternoon and another morning we found ourselves eyeing the empty docks of Jetty Island just a half mile upriver from our current location. I spoke with the harbor master and discovered those docks were property of the port and we were welcome to use them for the same fee as we were paying for the guest moorage (even with less amenities). Still the lure of a small island and unpopulated docks called to us and it was later on the second day after launch we finished the last of the ‘need-to-do’ items on the checklist. While motoring up the river with the Jetty Island docks in our sights I noted how strong the current is when the tide is out and the river in free flow. We took that current into account and secured the boat accordingly. That was on a sunny April, Friday afternoon and we did note a bit of what appeared to be small craft, day-use traffic around the dock. We were soon to discover one of Jetty’s best kept secrets – it’s shallow western shore with a long sandy beach is a top-notch kiteboarder recreation area.  Neither Catherine or I knew much about kiteboarding but we were interested and a walk thru the salal bush across the narrow island opened onto a wide expanse of beach with numerous colored kite-like sails and a diverse variety of wet-suit clad persons, a few romping dogs and a great feeling of fun. We found ourselves a couple of comfortable driftwood log perches, facing the spring sun and settled in to watch and learn a bit about kiteboarding.
These kite-sailors are getting ready for lift-off. Photo by J. Foster Fanning
Essentially kiteboarding, from this layman’s understanding, is a sport where a board rider is pulled through, across or just above the water on a large, controllable kite. The kite is attached via a harness to the rider who stands on the board. There were a number of differing kites and boards on the scene, representative of the wide spread in proficiency in the riders we witnessed. We had a fine afternoon watching a dozen of more kiteboarders, each with large colorful kites flying across, hovering in place or laying on the beach. Of course there was a dog or two in the mix, chasing and barking at it’s owner as kite and rider sped off harnessing the power of the wind in a manner somewhat the similar but at the same time so different than we normally do. Both Catherine and I were attracted to this sport and given the chance would have gladly tried our hands at it. As we drifted off with the riders toward the Jetty Island docks I knew we’d be back out on the morrow if the weather held and the kiteboarders returned.
That evening aboard Osprey we finally felt settled in. Most everything had been stowed, as mentioned earlier – the ever present checklist was down to a bare minimum and one our of the upgrades that I had finally finished installing after finding the correct parts was our new propane stove oven (an up-grade from a two burner stove). Catherine baked a sumptuous meal filling the vessel with wonderful smells of a fresh baked dinner and adding additional warmth to the already cozy to the cabin. Our small catalytic heater and a few well placed oil lamps augmenting our electrical lights really gave a pleasant air to the vessel and it was nice to be able to open the hatch, even on a rather cool early spring night and still be entirely comfortable below while early spring stars twinkled in. 
We slept in the next morning and were in the middle of an early Scrabble game when the first kiteboarders began arriving from the launch area in small powerboats. While our morning was given over to leisurely endeavors on Osprey, we noted more and more folks arriving on the dock and heading off toward the beach. Jetty Island is busy on sunny weekends. It was well after lunch by the time we wandered out to the beach. The docks surrounding Osprey were packed with small skiffs, open powerboats, a couple of jet-skis and a kayak or two. We had witnessed one fellow, desperate to reach his kiteboarding grounds and no one making the crossing to the island to hitch a ride with, dive in the water in his wet suit with his kite-pack held over his head and swim across to the island. Glad the river / tide wasn’t running.
This Saturday afternoon the western beach had easily twice as many kiteboarders as the previous afternoon. Plus the accompanying entourage equaled the number of active riders. Even the canine population had doubled. Once again we settled onto comfortable driftwood log seats and watched. There were a few instruction groups occurring. Some one-on-one lessons underway as well. There were free-lancers trying it out on their own (often eating a little sand in the process) and quite a number of mid-level skill riders. But there were a few, three or four, experienced riders and it was thrilling to watch them loft their kite, catch a good wind and take off. If the run lined up right they would soon go into freestyle lift-off, leaving the beach entirely and flying through the air for fifty to a hundred feet before touching down again. “Wow!” Pretty cool. We hung on the beach all through the afternoon wandering around talking with some of the folks there, most young adults. Through our dialog with some of the riders we gathered there are different techniques (as a 30 year skier I understand this aspect). The styles include waveriding, freestyle, freeride, jumping, and cruising. I was curious about the safety of the sport as we had seen a few crashes that in the ski world would have been termed “yardsales”, where gear and participant are scattered across the slope, or in this case the beach. The riders we spoke with told us about the improving systems in kite design, safety release systems, and instructions. However we were given to understand there was still the potential for injury or death due to body drag on land and water, hitting obstacles on land or water, and or getting entangled in the lines. As in any sport it pays to start basic and have some form of instruction to get started. 
The beach had started clearing off as the sun lowered in the April sky and the inevitable temperature change occurred. We drifted back to our vessel and once aboard, in her cozy cabin realized how chill it had gotten outside. Catherine soon had the oven going and was whipping something up while I went on deck to see to a few chores. The last straggler of kite-riders were a few of the young folks we had talked with on the beach. They paused to check out Osprey and say goodbye. I’ll tell you truly Catherine was quite the hit when she stepped topsides with a tray full of hot chocolate chip cookies and passed them around to our new acquaintances. There were smiles on faces all around in the growing twilight. The next day we did rendezvous with our buddy boat and have a great Puget Sound April cruise – but that’s another story. As it worked out our couple of down-time days on Jetty Island were quite pleasant indeed…

” A tourist remains an outsider throughout his visit; but a sailor is part of the local scene from the monent he arrives.” – Anne Davison
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About J. Foster Fanning

Photographer, Fire Chief, Commodore of RPSC Sail Club, Skier, Biker, Hiker, Wanna'be beach bum, Writer, Father, Grandfather and a bit more... 1st mate Catherine Brown & I spend about 70 days a year board, which includes one month long cruise annually. Our vessel is transportable and while we maintain a permanent buoy on Lake Roosevelt, near Kettle Falls extended cruises on the Salish Sea are part of our cruising grounds.
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