Cruising Stories

Bonding on the Boat

By
Elana
Rubin

We were surrounded. On our left, a fishing boat protruded from the dock. From the right, a strong gust of wind shook the American flag on the fly bridge. Tall wooden pilings formed boundaries on either side.Our slip at Pirate's Cove Marina in Manteo, NC, was narrow and complicated. Using the bow thruster, my dad turned the boat to back in. I stood on the bow with a looped spring line wondering how I was going to lasso it over the first piling. Ahead, a nervous dockhand watched from the fixed pier.

He motioned us forward. I prepared to throw as my dad maneuvered the thruster, but we began to drift away from the dock toward the fishing boat. The bow thruster roared as my dad fought against the wind, which was too strong. A powerful breeze carried us closer and closer until our stern was inches from hitting the other boat's bow.

My brother was asleep on the coach inside the cabin. My mom, who was standing watch from the cockpit cradling her injured shoulder, called for him, Get a bumper!My brother came outside dazed and yelled back, It's a fender! Stop calling it a bumper! But he rubbed his eyes and ran to haul one out from under the fly bridge stairs.

The owners of the other boat ran to their bow expecting a crash. The wind picked up, and my dad seemed to lose control of the thruster. I saw his scared face from the bow where I was still waiting, holding the useless spring line. Like a car accident or forgetting lines in a play, it was one of those moments when you wish time travel was real so you could try again. Memories of the last three days flooded back as I wondered how we got here.

Day 1: Crisfield, MD

Our journey began when my dad's captain's license finally arrived in the mail. To earn his license, he had endured a physical, a vision test, a drug test, CPR and a first-aid class and six written exams. Over the years, as my dad logged his 90 hours of sea time, our family took extensive family trips on sailboats, then motorboats and our 2017, 59-foot Prestige, Sababa. I loved a lot about those trips: gaining wind on the water, shuffling through rocky sands of uninhabited islands, strolling cobblestone streets under a blazing sun. But I also thought about sibling rivalries, petty fights and other things that happen when you stuff a family of five into tight quarters for a few weeks. When we docked at our home port, we were always surprised to find everyone had made it, that nobody was left floating somewhere in the Chesapeake Bay.

Still every captain needs a crew, so in July we packed our bags and began a two-week trip to the Outer Banks. This year featured my mom, suffering from a shoulder injury that was only relieved if she lay very still on her back, and my brother, 16 and uninterested in anything but his Nintendo Switch. My sister was away at camp. That left me, who had a boating license but had also forgotten everything about boating, to take on the responsibilities of first mate.

This year, I was determined to be a major contribution to our crew. The morning of the trip, I dragged myself out of bed and yawned over my father's shoulder as he taught me to start the generator, switch to general power, turn on the radar, thruster and chart plotter and set a course. We pointed the boat in the direction of Crisfield, MD, and engaged autopilot.

Docked and settled in Somer's Cove Marina, we watched Nights in Rodanthe, a film that takes place in the Outer Banks, excited for picturesque sights and culture. The movie turned out to be depressing. As wild horses galloped on the beach and the credits rolled, my mom blew her nose. My brother laughed at her.

Day 2: Norfolk, VA

Motivated by the hope of seeing wild horses in Corolla, we continued to Norfolk. My brother brought in the lines as we pulled away from Somers Cove and went back to sleep, leaving me to coil them and put away the fenders. We weren't adapted to life on a boat yet and acted like we would at home. After the inconvenience of docking and setting out, my brother slept and played video games. I read a book and flipped through social media. My mother had no choice but to spend most of the trip resting on her back. We docked at Waterside Marina by a Ferris wheel that glowed rainbow at night and toured the Nauticus museum and maze of cabins and machinery in the belly of the Battleship Wisconsin. On the museum walls, rows of white-capped sailors grinned from picture frames. Together in crisp matching uniforms, they pulled long lines and chains, landed planes and heaved barrels of gunpowder back in forth in impeccable assembly lines. The stakes on Sababa weren't quite as high. I thought about calling up to the fly bridge, where my dad was trying to concentrate on steering around crab pots, and ask him how to tie different knots then untangle all the accidental ones I got stuck in the long lines. In a rumpled T-shirt, I yelled commands at my brother, who was spilling tortilla chip crumbs around the cabin and couldn't hear me through his headphones. Family is messy, but a crew must work together. We weren't there yet.

Day 3-4: Manteo, NC

We woke at 6 a.m. to brave the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). The trip to Pirate's Cove Marina through a series of no-wake zones, locks and bridges could take up to eight hours. We had to be in Manteo, NC, by 3 p.m. to pick up our rental Jeep. Losing interest in the water, our imaginations were already settled in the Outer Banks driving over dunes, licking frosting off doughnuts, inspecting horse prints in the sand.

When we reached the Great Bridge Lock, I woke up my brother to help. He lay down on the couch and assured us he'd stagger up when the light on the lock turned green, permitting entrance through the first gate. From the fly bridge, my dad gave instructions for tying up to the side of the lock. My mom begged my brother to come out and listen. My dad threatened that he wouldn't be allowed to practice driving for a week if he didn't help, but he refused to budge. When the light turned green, he rose and tied up his line. He held it loosely with a blank bored expression. I pulled my line tighter to hold us in place.

What's wrong with you? I asked him. He didn't even look at me.

Our interactions usually went like this. From a young age, my little sibling's job was to irritate me. Growing up, we bickered and stole toys and told on each other. At home, we could squabble and cool off, continuing the conversation and the rest of the day as if nothing had happened. On the boat, we were stuck together. Trivial family arguments got in the way of efficiency and risk-free docking. Arriving at Pirates Cove Marina, we were annoyed and unprepared.

Sensing several potential problems, the dockhand directed us into a wider slip, and when the boat was close enough, he hopped onboard. He caught the stern lines and secured them to the dock. He hurled the spring and bowlines over the pilings, tightened and tied them. My brother and I watched, jumping out of his way. By himself, the dockhand accomplished the job of an entire crew.

I saw my dad's disappointed face and knew we had failed him. To add to our misery, the marina had no pump-out, and our holding tanks were full. Using the bathroom at the marina was difficult. At low tide, the boat was too far from the fixed pier. Forced to use a slippery stepstool, we could not easily get off the boat.

But it was almost 3 in the afternoon, and our Jeep and the scenic sites of the Outer Banks were waiting for us. We shook it off and left for the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk, where the famous siblings took their first flight. We drove to the quaint town of Duck and wandered the boardwalk, eating popular Donutz on a Stick. Worn out, we used the bathroom at the marina and went to bed.

The next morning, pumping out became an urgent matter. Nervous to maneuver through the shallow Manteo channel, my dad watched YouTube videos detailing where to hug the green markers, where to make a sharp turn, which areas to avoid. Pulling out of our slip, we were all alert, now aware of the stakes. It was time to act like a crew.My brother and I followed captain's orders as my dad instructed us how he wanted the lines. To make the return easier, we left the stern and spring lines with loops for the pilings intact. My dad was prepared, and we made it to the pump-out station without running aground. We had made it through one obstacle, and now the final test loomed before us. On the way back through the channel, my brother and I scampered back and forth, anxiously rearranging lines, double checking cleat knots and loops, while mom relayed messages from dad on the fly bridge. Silent with concentration, we approached the slip.

Three anxious dockhands remembered us and awaited our arrival. My dad slowly backed in. I threw the spring line over the piling. To my amazement, it stuck. I turned; my brother had done the same. He threw his bowline, and when I struggled, he came to my side and threw it over for me. I tensed and prepared to save us from whatever peril we faced next, but we were settled in the slip. The dockhands hadn't moved from the pier. The man who had helped us during our failed attempt told us Good job. Good job.

I'm so proud, my dad said in the cabin. The four of us smiled, wordlessly congratulating each other on a job well done. We helped each other off the boat and headed to our Jeep. Every crew needs some vacation time. At Jockey's Ridge State Park, we hiked the largest sand dune on the East Coast. At the peak, hang gliders floated across the sand with views stretching 10 miles in every direction across the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound. In the evening, we watched The Lost Colony, a historic re-enactment show that has been playing on Roanoke Island since the 1930s.

During pirate-themed mini-golf, we shared a laugh like seasoned mariners when the captain bellowed, Raise the starboard port! Recognizing his mistake, I realized that I did understand boating. I had listened to my dad talk about boats for 10 years. I had learned to turn on chart plotters and electricity, fuel up the boat and pump out the holding tanks, set out lines and fenders (not bumpers). We all knew our way around a boat. We learned to fail and try again and eventually discovered that teamwork got us safely in the slip.

Day 5: Corolla, NC

After climbing all 220 spiraled steps up the Corolla Lighthouse, we let the air out of the Jeep's tires and drove on the beach. Past sunbathers, warm waves and quiet houses, we drove off the sand roads following mounds of horse droppings. And there they were: three wild horses with long black manes chewing the grass in someone's lawn. It wasn't quite the image Nights in Rodanthe had instilled in me of horses galloping beside our Jeep, manes flowing in the wind, as they reared, kicking up and whinnying. I like to end a trip with reflection, perhaps an epiphany or two, but what I felt wasn't so dramatic. My mom's shoulder hurt, but she was pointing out horses, asking if we wanted to follow more mounds of manure. My dad, I knew, would rather be watching Wimbledon but instead was driving a Jeep on back roads, because he planned these vacations for us, our family. My brother opened a bag of Sour Patch Kids and offered to share. I looked forward to watching our last Outer Banks sunset as a crew who had unlocked the secret of working together and now would get along, at least until the next trip.

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The Autumn: Why Haul Out
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Water and Fall foliage at Dory's Fall
Dory's Fall

Why do so many yachtsmen hurriedly haul out their boats immediately after Labor Day? Sure, the kids are back to school, and the weather starts to change. But we have enjoyed some of our most clear, calm, beautiful days boating in the fall. I dare say don’t haul before fall, have a ball while everyone else is buttoning up their boats and turning to watch football or baseball. Perhaps those sun-soaked sandbar rafting days have passed until next summer, but from New England to the southern coasts you’ll still find glorious warm days, less boat wake and less boat traffic in general, which opens a world of late season cruising opportunities. My father always said boating is better once the “summer yahoos disappear.”

Boating Experience: So soon in fall? 

A FEW REASONS TO LOVE THE FALL BOATING SEASON

Red Fall tree with water and boat in the background
Cape Porpose Maine Fall

Fall boating is just quieter. As most boaters vacate the water in lieu of other pursuits, September and October can offer brilliant blue-sky days. Waterways that were jam-packed with everything from inflatables to tour boats a month prior are now more open for you to explore. Loud two stroke “boater-cycles,” as my friend likes to call jet skis and sea-doos (personal propelled watercraft) are trailered away leaving in the absence of their wake- jumping a more serene scene.

Foliage starts to pop on the waterfront come mid-September into October from Maine to Virginia. The sparkling water reflects the kaleidoscope of autumn leaves in their shimmering crimson, gold and orange. It’s spectacular, truly a photographer’s dream, whether you’re on a lake, the ocean, a beautiful bay or waterway. Boating in September, October, even into November a bit farther south, is a gem. Just be mindful of the forecast, hurricane season, and significant temperature shifts that invite pop-up storms.

Man's legs propped up on seats facing stern of the boat with sunset in the background
Block Island, RI.

The weather. With cooler fall days, temps trend toward delightfully crisp and clear. Days are also shorter, so midday boating is best for peak sun. For your boating comfort, have sweatshirts, sweaters or jackets handy, even hats and gloves, especially if you’re in northern New England.

Good news: Gone are the hot humid mugginess and the bugs that accompany spring and summer heat. Bonus: you have less chance of that scorching summer sunburn. Still, be sure to apply sunscreen, refraction on the water is real even when a chill is in the air. You may want to eat steamed lobster by the waterfront, but you don’t want to look like one. Evenings on the water cool off, making for great sleeping aboard. Snuggle under covers and wake to fresh air and hot coffee on deck that never tasted so good in another season.

Fall means more available dock slips, moorings and anchorages as many are pulling their boots “up on the hard,” which frees up marina space for you. The same prime spots that were impossible to get in summer, with wait lists at places like Block Island, Newport and Annapolis, are now wide open. Same goes for waterfront restaurants with tie ups; their face docks are free and on a first come first served basis.

Just be prepared that dockhands and marina staff may not be as readily available in the fall, as students that typically manage the docks have returned to their campuses, and marine techs are pre-occupied prepping folks’ boats for winterization and storage. Be ready to tend your own lines.

Wildlife abounds in fall. Migratory birds are on the move. Enjoy watching geese, loons and birds-of-a-feather flocking south as winter approaches.

Speaking of marine life, if you like to fish, then fall is your wish. As temperatures decline, the fish sense that winter is coming. In preparation of the next season, fish begin their migrating south and their subsequent feeding frenzy.

Sailboat on a mooring with fall trees in the background
Kennebunkport Fall Foilage

Snowbirds of the human variety start their boating trek south too, if they aren’t storing their boat up north. Cruising the ICW in fall can be a social circuit where you may see the same boat owners and crew as you stop along your way at various harbors and marinas. It’s entertaining to compare ship logs and experiences from your adventures, favorite sights and seaports, with fellow boaters along your journey.

I have always loved how friendly boaters can be, and how an impromptu sharing of dock-side drinks aboard yours or their top deck can quickly transpire into an animated evening talking about best and worst boating with your nautical neighbors.

Word of caution: don’t be like my dear deceased, super-dedicated-to-boating Dad who insisted there’d be one more great boating day in late fall in New Hampshire. He would hold out on hauling his 28’ Eastern well into November, insisting it’s not winter till December. I recall more than once having to chip the ice of the dock lines to free up his pride- and-joy, then boating to the nearest icy ramp while frost clung to the windshield, and it was bitter cold on the slippery decks. That’s taking fall boating to an extreme.

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Cruising Grenada
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Sugar Spice and Everything Nice

When the end of the cruising season in the southern Caribbean was upon us, we did what many Caribbean cruisers do: We sailed south for Grenada. We delayed as long as possible, knowing the hurricane season was upon us, but we didn’t want to be forced south. I had one impression of Grenada, and that was of rotting boats and retired sailors. It was a cruisers graveyard, or so I thought, and I was far from accepting an end to our sailing days.

Grenada is the southernmost group of islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago as well as the name of the main island in a cluster of eight smaller islands and about a dozen smaller islets and cays. The only thing I knew of its geography prior to arriving was that it was one of the few island groups in the Caribbean far enough south to be considered out of the hurricane belt. So, it was ironic that on our first day in the country we had to shelter in the mangroves from a Category 1 storm.

As we lashed our boat Ātea’s bow to densely bound tree roots and secured lines to the cleats of yachts on either side of us, our small unit became part of the larger, unified collective. Little did we realize that this interconnection would be representative of our Grenadian experience.

Safely through the storm, we disbanded and spread out to explore our new surroundings. We completed our clearance in Carriacou, Grenada’s northern sister island, and were amazed to see a hundred or so yachts anchored in Tyrell Bay, Carriacou’s main harbor. I knew Grenada was popular, but if the numbers of boats in Carriacou were anything to judge by, I’d have to cope with much larger crowds when we travelled farther south.

The south coast of Grenada not only provides the most settled weather, but it’s riddled with about a dozen safe harbors from the dominant easterly swell. It’s the reason cruisers gather on Grenada’s south coast and also the reason why they remain. Some stay for hurricane season, some use the island as a base for a few years, others retire from active cruising and either settle or sell. One thing was certain: Grenada was far more than the end of the line.

Before making the journey south, however, we wanted to stretch out the season by adding a short circumnavigation around Carriacou, known as “The Isle of Reefs” to the Kalinago people (the original Island Caribs). We spent our time there dodging bommies (submerged coral reefs) and soaking up the tropical island experience with our feet in the sand, our bellies in the water and our hands on a bottle of rum.

We stopped at Petite Martinique, the third and smallest of the three main islands. There we enjoyed rugged, rocky beaches and side-stepped clusters of goats grazing the green rolling hills as we hiked up Mount Piton for panoramic views of the surrounding islands. We climbed down into the Darant Bay Cave for framed views of the same islands at sea level.

Of course, we couldn’t miss a few sundowners on Mopion, a tiny sand mound rising amid expansive coral reef with a single thatched beach umbrella perched in the center. While technically a part of the Grenadines, its proximity to Petite Martinique made a quick dash across the border for a sip in the shade of this unique little spot a worthwhile experience. Carriacou is an island surrounded by unspoiled reef, and it did not disappoint. A quick tour of her perimeter was the perfect way to salute the end of an amazing Caribbean season.

With a quick stop-over in Ronde Island, a beautiful private island that’s halfway between Carriacou and Grenada, we continued our transit south. Again, I hadn’t prepared myself for the wild beauty of Grenada’s west coast. Mile after mile of dense, lush forest cascade down the leeward side of the island from peak to sea.

We hugged the coastline as we sailed the 13 miles down the west coast, looking up at 2,700 feet of volcanic rock and shear waterfalls that fed small rivers that ran down the slopes of the mountainous interior to the coast. While Grenada is well reputed as a tourist destination for holidaymakers seeking either a sun- drenched party or quiet refuge on one of its 45 beaches, I knew from sailing the coast that my preferences would draw me inland.

Grenada’s coastline contains many large bays, but most yachts head for safe anchorage behind one of the many narrow peninsulas that split up the southern coastline. As we pulled into Prickly Bay, the first of Grenada’s southern harbors, I knew from the crowd of yachts that I would escape to the interior as soon as possible. As it turned out, I didn’t get that chance. As soon as we dropped anchor, we were invited ashore for a cruiser’s jam session to reconnect with friends from past seasons.

The following day we crammed into the back seat of a taxi on our way to an event for the annual Chocolate Festival, and our schedule quickly filled after that with tours of cocoa plantations, cocoa grinding competitions, chocolate tastings and chocolate drawing contests. In additional to the island’s cultural events, we were also immediately drawn into the cruiser’s social scene.

On our first week of arrival our mornings were already booked into early morning yoga and bootcamp on the beach. The kids joined a cruiser’s homeschooling collective and regular extracurricular activities that were held under the shade of the trees. If we weren’t listening to live music or joining the locals’ beach barbecues in the evenings, we were sitting poolside and sipping beers from a $5 bucket with other cruisers at Le Phare Bleu, a boutique hotel that opened its amenities and services to cruisers during the pandemic.

Every morning offered an activity, and every evening we joined a social get-to-gether, so the weeks flew by in a social extravaganza unlike any we’d experienced. As yachts gather in Grenada every year for the hurricane season, the regularity of this influx of boats resulted in a solid cruising community and a variety of services and events. Far more than a collection of retired boats and sunburnt seamen, my preconceived notions of Grenada didn’t come close to the reality of the vibrant cruising network that existed on this popular island.

As we made new friends and reconnected with old ones, we really enjoyed the buzz that the tight community offered.

Pulling myself out of continuous activity took a concerted effort, but I eventually dragged the family off the beach and up the mountains.

After our trip into the interior, I developed a new passion for my time in Grenada: A short bus journey followed by a hike into the forest would lead us to one of Grenada’s many waterfalls. Unlike other tourist destinations where fees were handed over and you’d stand under falls next to groups of other tourists, we had the rivers for free and all to ourselves. Some of the trails were near the road, and we’d hop on and off a bus to walk the short distance to the falls. Others, such as Seven Sisters and the Concord Falls, required planning as it took a full day to hike in and out of the forest, clambering up steep banks and crisscrossing the river to wind through deep forest and get a view from the top.

Each part of the river that ran down from one of the six inland lakes had its own magic, and I was enthusiastic to see what each had to offer. Later I appreciated all that I’d experienced of Grenada’s inland beauty. As I paid $20 per person to stand in crowds under cascading water at Costa Rica’s most popular waterfalls, I couldn’t help but compare it to all that I’d seen in Grenada’s secluded, remote interior.

In additional to nature, we explored some of the historical roots of Grenada’s past. Grenada’s original economy was based on sugar cane and indigo, and with that, slaves were imported in the mid-17th century to work and harvest crops. We set out to search for some of the old plantation houses and slave pens that remained from that period, which took us on a wild tramp through the backstreets of quiet neighborhoods and into unmarked bush to find these lost relics.

It was quite the education for our children to see small, dank, windowless, stone slave quarters set behind grand old houses, a potent reminder of darker times in this beautiful and vibrant country. We also smelled and sampled some of Grenada’s current crops, nutmeg, mace and cocoa at the top of the list of exports, and enjoyed local culinary treats such as oil down, a vegetable stew that is the country’s national dish. Thanks to these excursions we can say that Grenada is, both figuratively and literally, full of sugar and spice.

Cruising often leaves you tied to the boat and, therefore, the sea. Grenada offered a wonderful period of enjoying the most of both land and sea in equal balance, so we were able to get the most of what the country has to offer. To see the beaches but not the forest, lakes and rivers offers only half the experience; likewise, to spend time inland but not explore the coast leaves only half an impression. As Grenada offers safe anchorage throughout the hurricane season, cruisers remain nearby for an extended period, sharing experiences and building friendships. This is unique for a community that is typically very transient, and it offers plenty of opportunity to create a home away from home atmosphere.

In addition, suitable yacht services are available, so that time spent waiting for the next season gives everyone a chance to get much needed repair work done. Far from being the end of the line, Grenada offers an interim rest stop where friendships are forged and yachts are restored on an island that offers a range of activities and opportunities both on and above the waterline.

Article and photos by Kia Koropp

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Our Adventures between the Great Lakes from Detroit to Port Huron
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My husband Tim and I spent 2021 traveling 8,000 miles around the Great Loop. Like many, we wanted to cruise in Canada, but we didn’t get the green light for entry in time. We were initially bummed, but our mood quickly shifted as we discovered some of our favorite stops on the stretch that kept us in U.S. waters, including our journey between Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

Stop 1: Belle Isle

Estimated Mileage: 2 NM

Belle Isle is the largest city-owned island park in America, located on the Detroit River between the United States and Canada. The island’s only marina is the Detroit Yacht Club, which has a limited number of transient slips for reciprocal members, so it’s best to explore while keeping your boat at Milliken Marina. 

Roughly 1,000 acres, Belle Isle is home to an aquarium, maritime museum, botanical garden, beach, picnic areas and playgrounds that provide a plethora of options to explore. You won’t find great spots to grab a bite to eat, so we recommend stopping at Atwater Brewery on the way back to the marina.

Stop 2: Harrison Township, Lake St. Clair

Estimated Mileage: 24 NM

Often referred to as the Great Lake’s smaller cousin, Lake St. Clair is large enough to easily keep your distance from freighters yet small enough to explore in a day.

By boat, you can visit several of the lake’s swimming spots in Anchor and Bouvier Bays (or “Munchies” Bay as the locals say), popular for their clear water and hard bottoms. After an afternoon of swimming, cruise through the Clinton River and tie up at one of several restaurants catering to a lively boater scene for a drink and meal. Crews Inn is one of our favorites for their fun atmosphere and great food.

Lake St. Clair Metropark Marina is a popular spot for transients. The marina is located in the park, so after docking, enjoy the expansive park’s beaches, trails, picnic areas and swimming pool.

Stop 3: Port Huron, MI

Estimated Mileage: 44 NM

Port Huron is home to the start of one of the longest fresh-water races in the world called the Port Huron to Mackinac Sailing Race, and the port is a charming and boater-friendly destination.

Ideal for its central location and friendly members, Port Huron Yacht Club is a great place for tying up, sipping a drink at the clubhouse and avoiding the drawbridges on the Black River. Another popular spot is about a mile farther down the river at the 95-slip River Street Marina.

Port Huron is home to the Island Loop Route National Water Trail, a 10-mile loop through the Black River, Lake Huron and St. Clair River. Your dinghy is a must through the Black River and for exploring the town and clear waters by boat.

Walk a mile along the Blue Water River Walk that runs along the St. Clair River. Be sure to leave enough time to watch the freighters go by and delve into the area’s history that is shared along the route. Continue a couple of miles farther to Lighthouse Park, where you can enjoy an afternoon at the beach and swim in Lake Huron’s crystal clear water.

During a stroll downtown, check out the Knowlton’s Ice Museum of North America to discover the history of local ice harvesting that took place along the Great Lakes.

When you’ve done enough activities to work up an appetite, Casey’s is the place for delicious breadsticks and pizza. For a more upscale option, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu at The Vintage Tavern. Maria’s Downtown Café offers a hearty breakfast, and Raven Café or Exquisite Corpse Coffee House are great options for a cup of coffee.

Kate Carney is a writer and Great Gold Looper who traveled 8,000 miles on Sweet Day, a 31-foot Camano trawler. Learn more about her and her husband’s adventures on lifeonsweetday.com

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