Geoduck and Oysters — Sailing to Dabob Bay at Hood Canal

When Ken and I purchased the Gwa’Wis, the entire San Juan Islands opened up to us.  I remember how exciting it was every time we slipped the lines and headed out of the Marina.  So many things to see, both close and far.

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One of our first long trips was an outing for geoduck, pronounced “gooey duck”,  and oysters.  Geoduck is the Anglicized version of the native “gweduc” which, not surprisingly, means “dig deep”.   I spent many days researching the best geoduck tides and places to dig for them and settled on a spot in Hood Canal called Dabob Bay.

For those of you that don’t know, a geoduck is a very large clam, sometimes weighing up to 10 pounds, that is peculiar to the backwater marine areas on the Pacific Coast all the way from California to Alaska.    Puget Sound being the apex of the geoduck’s range, there are large populations that live from the inter-tidal zone all the way out to the sub-tidal depths of more than 360 feet.   A much sought after delicacy that sells for as much as 60  dollars per pound; geoducks are harvested commercially, in subtidal areas only, by divers using high pressure hoses to dislodge these giants of the deep.  Ken and I, not being scuba divers, were limited to the 10% of the geoduck population that is ever exposed by the tides.

We chose Memorial Day weekend for our trip as the tides would be -3 and lower, which should give us ample opportunity to scoop up a few of  these elusive creatures.  We spent the week getting the boat supplied and making sure we had everything we would need for a four day trip.  The Gwa’Wis had a fresh water tank of about 20 gallons and a small ice box.  We supplemented our water and cold food storage needs with two five gallon water jugs and a D/C powered ice chest. My galley consisted of two one burner butane stoves and a small sink.  We had a small inverter for our computer, upon which we had our electronic charts, GPS, and a dvd player for movies. With plenty of drift wood available for the wood stove, and a large bag of charcoal briquettes,  we would be plenty warm. I have to admit, I was and am very spoiled.

Because we only had four days to get to our destination and back,  tides and currents would play a very big part in planning.  Dabob Bay is approximately 80 nautical miles from Anacortes so we would have to sail non-stop there if we wanted to have a couple of days to dig for the geoducks as well as getting some oysters and manila clams.  This was to be a harvest fest and we wanted plenty of time .  We carefully checked the tide tables and currents while keeping an eye on the weather forecasts as well.  Finally time to head out!  It is hard to believe how long days can be when you are planning a trip and have to wait to leave, I felt like a kid at Christmas.

We left the dock around 5:30 pm and with an outgoing tide and a light breeze we put the sails up and got underway.  I sailed until dark, then Ken took over for the crossing on the Straits of Juan De Fuca. There was quite a swell and the headlights we installed on the bow helped to spot the larger debris in the water, logs and such.  Hitting one of those would not be fun.  Ken sailed us through the night and as this was my first night crossing in bumpy water I have to admit I was a bit nervous.  I finally got to sleep though and was awakened about 8:00 AM just prior to going under the Hood Canal Bridge.

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The bridge

I have to say, it was a little scary to go under the bridge even though I knew there was plenty of room.  The day was beautiful, clear skies and sunshine, water like glass and unfortunately no wind.   I took over the tiller so Ken could get some sleep and motored us on our way. This was quite an education for me as I had to pay close attention to the charts so as to stay out of the restricted area by Bangor Naval Base,  and the naval exercise areas, while watching the shore for the warning lights that would indicate an exercise in progress and require me to stop our boat.

Noon found me making the turn at Tskutsko Point,  heading into Dabob Bay and almost to our final destination at Broad Spit where we could finally anchor.  Still no wind so on I motored.  Ken got up shortly after the turn and took over the tiller, taking us the rest of the way. We got anchored about 3:00 PM, the tide was heading in but we still had a lot of beach on the spit exposed and so into the dinghy and off we headed for some oysters. Broad Spit is literally covered with oysters, no problem shucking your limit in about 15 minutes.  After we finished shucking oysters we took some time to orient ourselves and plan for the next day’s geoduck excursion.We only had one day and wanted to make the most of it.

Sunday dawned bright and warm with the tide heading out and all the promise of our limits in oysters, clams and geoduck.  We had a bit to wait for the -3 tide that would expose the geoducks, so we took the time to get our limit of oysters first, then taking our clamming tools we dug our limit of  some wonderful manila clams.  We had several hours until the tide would turn and I was feeling pretty confident that we would limit (3 each) in no time at all.  I had quite the surprise in store.  I had never been geoduck digging before and had no idea what we were in for.  I had researched how to determine geoduck sign  from horse clam sign, (the tip of a horse clam neck is hard and leathery, fairly round. On a geoduck, it’s softer and more oblong or boxy), so off I went to mark some geoduck.  The first 3 or so ended up being horse clams, which is okay as we needed some chowder clams anyway.  Finally I did find a geoduck and Ken proceeded to dig.  And dig, and dig and dig, some three or four feet following the neck down to the shell.  Of course the hole kept collapsing on the sides and filling with water no matter how much I bailed with the bucket, but we persisted and kept on digging.  I am not sure how long it took but finally Ken let out a whoop and, covered from head to foot with mud, sand and goo, came up with the prize we had come after, a very nice geoduck!  Needless to say the tide was headed back in and we had no time to start another hole.  Boy did I learn a lesson that day– Geoducking is hard work!

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The first goeduck

But we were happy and took our catch and headed back to the boat for some rest and food for tomorrow we must head back home.






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One Response to “Geoduck and Oysters — Sailing to Dabob Bay at Hood Canal”
  1. Ken says:

    We have had a few other learning experiences, some gained by 50 years on the water, the most important few by the mistakes we have occasionally made. While at Broad Spit in Dabob Bay, Hood Canal, we dropped anchor and settled in for the next day or two. We were fine where we anchored, in fairly mild weather.

    Broad Spit is a tricky anchorage. On the SE side, which is the only protected area, there is a broad shallow shelf that then drops off to a couple of hundred feet of water, almost instantly. If you drop anchor in 15′ and run 80′ of line, you will be dry at low tide if you swing toward shore. The problem is, that the 15′ mark is also at the very edge of a deep drop to 200′ or 300′ and if you spring out to the end of your 80′ line, you will read 100′ or more.

    A stiff breeze came up on our last night, we woke up to unnatural boat movements. Bouncing onto deck, we found we were 1/4 mi off shore and in 300′ of water. We pulled up our 100′ of anchor line, got under way, and were fine, but that is not the way you want to wake up.

    On subsequent trips, we have tied up to one or more of a series of pilings located on the SW side of the spit. Depths are still a bit of a question at times but with a stern line, you can be secure, though not always as comfortable as when swinging at anchor alone.

    I prefer a free anchor swing to almost any other mooring, but here, the sacrifice of natural swing vs safety and security, might be worth the trade off. An alternative might be to run a stern anchor out and a bow line onto shore or to a shallow, secure anchor. You would be safe and secure but a bit bumpy if the wind happened to come abeam of you.

    Fair winds and safe sailing!


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