Editor’s note: We at Three Sheets Northwest love to get out on our boat and write about it. So when local marinas got together to create the Passport to Puget Sound program this year, we were intrigued. The program aims to give boaters another reason to head out for the weekend and visit local marinas, allowing them to collect prizes if they fill a “passport” with enough stamps. We’ll try to visit all 15 participating marinas this year, from Olympia’s Swantown to Cap Sante in Anacortes. What follows is the first in an occassional series about what we found on our journeys. Let us know what you think in the comments sections below.
The thwack! of the newspaper hitting the cockpit Sunday morning is not the only sign that isn’t your regular marina.
Dock Street Marina, at the end of the Thea Foss Waterway in Tacoma, has become known for its concierge level of service. Along with delivering the Sunday paper, marina employees present arriving boats with a complimentary gift bag containing discount coupons to local businesses, a mug and other items.
They’ll offer suggestions on local attractions, making hand-written notes on a map of downtown about places boaters might like to visit. They’ll deliver ice to your boat, provide slipside pumpouts. Craig Perry, Dock Street’s general manager, believes the marina’s employees are its best feature.
“They know the city inside and out,” he said. “They’re all really, really friendly. They love what they do.”
That level of service has garnered accolades for Perry and the marina, but Dock Street is distinctive in other ways as well.
Situated a short distance from I-704, State Route 509 and a railway line running along the waterway, it’s an oasis in the midst of a very urban, industrial environment. The busy thoroughfares hum with vehicle traffic and trains rumble along the tracks, occasionally sounding their horns. And to top it off, we were treated to 30 bikers roaring down Dock Street at full tailpipe decibles.
Quiet? Not exactly. But if you’re looking for an urban cruising experience, Dock Street is a great choice, particularly for museum enthusiasts. The Glass Museum — the only museum in the country dedicated solely to glass — sits directly in front of the marina.
Across a pedestrian bridge linking the waterway with downtown is the Washington State History Museum. The Tacoma Art Museum, the Children’s Museum of Tacoma and the Foss Waterway Seaport museum are a short walk away, as are restaurants, shops and bars.
The marina has 90 slips ranging from 36 to 60 feet, with about 20 slips available for guest moorage and a 320-foot dock suitable for groups of boaters. Its facilities are top-notch, with wide fairways and slips, large cement docks, spotless restrooms with free showers, power at both ends of the slips and cable available to all boats.
The location, buffered by tall buildings, a bridge and the Tacoma Dome, offers protection from both northerly and southerly winds, Perry said.
“The location is phenomenal,” he said. “It’s very protected. When other marinas as getting buffeted by weather, we’re just fine down here.”
Dock Street Marina and Delin Docks marina, located directly across the waterway, both opened in 2006 and are part of the waterway’s renaissance, along with nearby Foss Landing Marina, a 180-rack dry storage facility. Perry manages all three facilities, which are owned by the city.
The marinas sit on a waterway that was previously a toxic Superfund site, its desolate shores populated with abandoned buildings, junkies and a few decrepit marinas. Since the 1980s, $110 million has been spent cleaning up the polluted waterway, which is in the midst of a major redevelopment envisioned to include parks, a residential community, offices and retail shops along a 1.5-mile stretch.
An esplanade with grass and benches runs between Dock Street Marina and the Museum of Glass, and will eventually be continued north along the entire stretch of the waterway.
Seeing the area now, it’s hard to imagine the waterway as a barren wasteland where much of the marine life had disappeared. The aquatic environment has rebounded dramatically in the three years he’s been working on the waterway, Perry says.
“Now we’ve got five- and six-inch Dungeness, and anemones and mussels and rock crab and fish,” he said. “Last year people were fishing off the docks, the pink (salmon) run was so huge in here. It’s amazing to see how much it’s come back.”
Despite the improvements and some success in reducing crime downtown, Perry says Tacoma still battles an image problem as a gang-plagued, dangerous city. For the relatively fewer numbers of boaters interested in exploring South Puget Sound instead of heading north to the islands, the area is still a well-kept secret.
“Why spend the hours slogging and the fuel when you can come down here and have just as good a time? And it’s less crowded,” Perry said. “Once people come, we get returning customers. They come and decide that for the next few years, they’re going to explore the South Sound. There are so many places to go.”
It would be nice to have a full-service grocery store nearby, but you can find some upscale basics at the nearby Dock Street Sandwich Co. And there’s some great seafood and other tasty snacks to be found at Johnny’s Seafood, a local treasure that you shouldn’t miss. There are numerous restaurants close by, but it’s a good idea to bring most of the food and drinks you’ll need if you’re planning on dining aboard.
There’s just one thing Perry would like to change: the train noise. A stretch of railway line just south of the marina is slated to be closed and turned into a bike trail, but until that happens, trains traveling through the area must still sound their horns. With his customers in mind, Perry devised a solution.
“I just bought a big box of earplugs,” Perry said. “We’re going to put those in all the welcome bags.”
Dock Street Marina is located at 1817 Dock St., Tacoma. For moorage rates, reservations and other information, check the marina’s website, call 253.272.4352 or email firstname.lastname@example.org