THE PORTAGE
Small Craft Advisor|March - April 2020
And Other Notes from Doubling the Salish 100
Emiliano Marino

In the bygone days of the Dulahlip people, a branch of the Twana who inhabited the southern end of the Tahuya Peninsula (at the southern end of what’s now called Hood Canal), the shortest way to get a tribal canoe to South Puget Sound was by carrying or sliding it on greased planks overland from the head of the canal (Lynch Cove) to the head of the inlet to the south (North Bay). In 1841, Lieutenant Augustus Case of the Wilkes Expedition, when exploring western Washington, dubbed the Dulahlip’s trail Wilkes’ Portage.

Now, over a century and a half later, if I wanted to circumnavigate Kitsap Peninsula and meet up with the Salish 100 cruising fleet in South Sound, I knew I’d do essentially the same as the ancients by portaging Taswens, a 15'-6" Gloucester Gull dory, on foot over the hilly, 4-mile strip of land that separates upper and lower Puget Sound. The traditional portage trail, last used perhaps 120 years ago, is long gone. I’d have to pull the sail and oar dory, on wheels, along today’s state highways: routes 106 to 3, to 302, then to North Bay Road; much of the way uphill and shoulderless, all of it heavily traveled by motor vehicles.

Preparing to Portage

Road maps showed the route, but where to haul out and put in? I resorted first to an aerial study via Google Maps and located potential sites, possible ramps and marshes, as close as possible to the roads. Then, there was nothing to do but explore the area firsthand and survey the prospects.

Up driveways, across dikes and knocking on doors, I was fortunate to find local assistance, a feasible haul-out place on Lynch Cove…private property, right next to the road. Then, at the other end of the portage, I was guided to Coulter Creek Park on North Bay, a beautiful and rustic site where camping is permitted for transient, human-powered craft. To be workable, the sites at both ends required coordination with 12-foot tides. The timing and dates were planned accordingly.

DejaVu Canoe

I should interject here a confession that this was not the first time I’d done a solo circumnavigation of Kitsap Peninsula in an open boat. Twenty years ago I’d pulled the same route in reverse, portage and all, in a 21-foot Nootka-style canoe. The first go-‘round was entirely a seat of the pants affair, taking things as they came. I had no prior knowledge of the portage route nor of places to pull out and re-launch.

This time was a little different: I had the benefit of not only the first circumnavigation’s experiences but also those of two round-trip Seventy48 races that had served in a way as shakedown cruises. So, happily, I had some idea what to expect, plus haul-out and launch places were pre-planned, I was well-provisioned, on a schedule, and had a chase car with Salty Sue at the wheel. (Unfortunately, I now I had an injury and an older body to work with.)

The Rickshaw Dolly

A good four months before the voyage we began the design and making of a suitable portage dolly out of reused, multi-purpose components: strong, stable, stowable and capable of carrying more than 250 pounds. Ultimately, the dolly was a simple rickshaw-like contraption made out of a milk crate, axle, and two well-inflated bicycle-type wheels. The boat’s mast doubled as a tongue. All lashed together, it was easy to float the boat atop and even easier to remove. (Though riding somewhat higher than desired, the dory was securely tied to the dolly and, when balanced out, was nearly effortless to support and pull.)

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