Shantyboat Trip on the sloughs

I spent a few days out on my shantyboat exploring the sloughs near Everett Washington.  Ebey, Steamboat, and Union Sloughs are basically the delta for the Snohomish River which runs through Snohomish and enters Puget Sound in Everett, with  Ebey Slough joining the Sound in Marysville.  At one time these sloughs were quite the place of industry, sawmills for the most part, and you can see their ghosts at every turn in the pilings and abandoned structures.   The water is pretty muddy and somewhat polluted from the runoff from farms and the city.   In the two days I saw maybe four other boats away from the docks.   Not many people go there.    For me it’s a fascinating place, and a wonderful retreat from the world, even though it winds through some good sized cities.

I hadn’t been out on my boat for awhile, as I had to repair a crack on the bottom. More on that in a future story.  For now, know that the last time I went out I was a good half hour up the slough before I looked inside the boat, only to find a couple of inches of water.  I made a mad dash to shore back to the launch.   The boat sat for a few weeks while I figured a plan, then after a few days of work I was ready to go.


I store my boat in an old dairy barn, which protects it from the weather.  It also makes my wife and neighbors happy!


My tow vehicle is a Chevy Malibu Maxx.    It feels big back there, but works.

boat trailer and car

I launched in Marysville, Washington, at a great public ramp, but the tide was SUPER low, and the ramp was high and dry.  I’ve been boating on the sloughs for 12 years and this the lowest I’d seen the ramp.

1 dry 2

While I waited I spoke to some homeless guys along the slough.

Food? They say that’s not a problem, as there are several free food programs. It’s a place to LIVE that is hard for them, and my boat seemed ideal.  Cops chase them off from wherever they try to sleep, under bridges, for example. They hide in tall grass or the woods most often, though cheap hotels are valued as they provide a shower. Rainy days are the worst, they told me.One had been a plumber, the other did carpentry, and another never spoke.. to me or to anyone. The rumor was he knew seven languages and was from Vietnam. He seemed a bit troubled, though he was always sure to offer me a swig of beer or a hand-rolled cigarette as they got passed around. I respectfully declined, and the carpenter and plumber laughed at the thought. A part of me appreciated being asked, though the laughter was not out of place.

The carpenter had clearly done some brain damage with alcohol, but was a good guy. He talked quite openly, and with a bit of shame about his place in life. The plumber was a good looking guy, well spoken, and considerate. He was clearly a bight guy, and seemed less street pummeled than the others, though there was a sort of street confidence there, too. He said he felt safe, and that these guys were the most family he’d ever had. “We look out for each other”. Were there crazies/mentally challenged people out there? “A couple, but harmless”, he said.

Then a couple of new guys wandered in from the nearby reservation. “How’s your stab wound?”, plumber guy asks.  Paul introduces himself to me, not sure who I was or how I fit in, then shows his stab wound. I’d say it was healing nicely. He was a heavy enough guy the shank may not of penetrated into his innards. Actually, that’s when the beer got offered, as he had a couple of cans he was willing to share.   Up to that point things were dry.

Carpenter guy told me, as the others walked away, that his father owned a hotel, and he stayed there sometimes. He wasn’t allowed to have guests, though he snuck them in sometimes. “A lot of these guys could work, but don’t”, he told me. “I know a guy who has lived on the streets for more than 20 years. He doesn’t even try to get off the streets”. He spoke fondly of a past with boats, but there was none of that in his life now, and I could sense he didn’t believe there would be again.  Later, he also said he didn’t like the open beer cans.  That sort of thing just led to trouble, and the indians, he said, could get out of hand when they drink.   Plumber guy said they all could.

A weathered woman swaggered up, a rather attractive late 30’s or so. Until she spoke. Her teeth were a bit twisted, and something about her speech left me thinking she was about 80% there. She left a message with the guys to tell her boyfriend which “camp” she was at. She cannot be safe, though her demeanor didn’t imply it.

Honestly, I liked talking with these guys. There was a respect between all of us, dignity, and some open talk, a fascinating glimpse into a life I am glad I don’t know more about.

dry ramp

Looking back toward Marysville to the south, Mount Baker was as bright and clear as I have ever seen it.  The top was blown off in an eruption long ago.  This is the one spot on the sloughs, just outside Marysville, where you see a lot of homes.  I always leave those far behind.


Heading south from Marysville, after a good three hour wait for the tides, I went through a forest of pilings, clearly a part of the abandoned sawmill barely visible in the overgrown shrubs along the shore.   These pilings are a real danger, as many are rotted off just below the high tide line.  I’ve hit more than a few as I motor along, which is part of the reason I move so slowly here.

ebey pilings

Slow is best, as I have no place to go.  I’m already there.   I usually run at idle, and I can go that way for a weekend and barely make a dent in my five gallon gas tank.

1 slowly

And a video of the slow run.

I come across my first wreck of the trip.  A new one to me.   An old aluminum fishing boat of some kind.

wrecked boat

I’ve been going out on these sloughs for more than a decade, and this is my favorite spot to spend the night.   Beautiful.  Protected.   No homes in sight.  Here’s the view to the north.


Another shot of my evening on Ebey Slough… to the south.


Google Maps View

I settled in for the night as the sun set.

1 first night sunset

I used a cardboard solar oven to make dinner. A solid fours hours and it should have worked, but it was so windy the pot was cooling down. Checkout for plans.

In spite of What they say about Seattle, it was pretty hot, which helped with solar oven cooking.


I woke up about ten pm and took a shot out the window.  So beautiful at dusk.

1 dusk

In the morning I went exploring on the 20 or so miles of waterway.   Be careful, though, as there are SO many things to hit.  These are the worst, though this one is marked by some kind soul.  An old bleach bottle or something.


This was an odd sight for me, as that cut in the levee didn’t use to be there. It opened up in a flood one time a few years ago.   It drains into and out of a marsh on a small island.   Now there is an impromptu and very unofficial one-man shipyard there.    It’s a mighty big boat that seems to have suffered a mighty big fire.  Some of the superstructure is cut off, and there is some sort of house going on the back.   A guy working there told me with a lot of work and money it will be a great boat.   I hope so, though the sloughs are littered with broken dreams.  The added superstructure gave the boat an interesting mix of old and new.  A bit odd, but clearly shantyboat.   Big money shantyboat, if such a thing exists.


This dream isn’t quite broken, but it is seemingly stalled.   Basically, it’s a raft with a house, of sorts, on it.


It was pulled up to the high water line, so wouldn’t see what very often.

1 shanty 2

This old fishing boat showed up about 5 years ago or so.  She was floated here, and will never float again.  The metal bits will be here till the next ice age.

hulk one

hulk two

So many shantyboats out here, and so many wrecks.   Some, I’d seen floating at one time.   Others have been there for decades…. ruined.  This is one of the more recent wrecks, and it’s at a dock.


I knew this boat as The Widgeon… and while she was afloat I thought she’d be the perfect boat to convert into a home.   Not gonna happen.


This sort of boat  a dime a dozen on the sloughs.  Once a great boat, but well beyond her prime.

dime a dozen

And here’s another, somewhat optimistically listed for sale.


This one was restored a few years ago, but the time and money hasn’t gone into keeping her up.  Sad, as it is a beautiful old coast guard boat.


Such as a nice boat.  I hope she is saved.

cutter article

This boat had a million dollars of repairs done and was used as a party boat.  I’ve been aboard many times.   A guy on the slough told me it was headed to a new museum in Everett or Tacoma.  I forget which.


My favorite treehouse, actually on pilings.  I’d buy that and live there as a vacation home!


A houseboat.  Seems occupied, but I don’t know if that’s full time or part time.  It was either used for storage or was a rather messy place to live.


 I am using a solar charger from Fenix.  Very nice rig that kept my cell phone, kindle and nook charged with no problem.


For lunch on day two I tied up to a piling, mediterranean style, one end tied to the piling and the other held in place with an anchor.  The solar oven is on the forward deck, in this shot over the solar panels as seen from the rear.

1 lunch

You can’t really step out on shore, as the mud is very deep.   You can only get out at high tide, when you can step onto the grasses.

I’ll add more to this in the coming days.

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