We’ve been at Elliott Bay Marina (EBM) for six months now. EBM is well known for being beautiful, peaceful, and, to me, a bit pricey (it’s 11% more expensive than Shilshole, making it the most expensive major marina in the Seattle area). We’ve had a great experience here, yet at times I’ve been torn by a calling towards Shilshole. We’ve been on the Shilshole wait list for a year with no word, so we might just give up on that.
A year ago when I needed to find a home for our new boat, I had assumed Shilshole would be it – Shilshole is where we had always sailed with the Seattle Sailing Club, and it was the hub of all sailing activity as I knew it. But when I found out Shilshole had a 1+ year waitlist it was a scramble to find an alternative option; and I found there are surprisingly few reviews of marinas – even though lots of little details can make all the difference.
We enjoyed our stay at Fisherman’s Terminal, but wanted to get outside the Locks for better sailing.
The best parts:
- Peaceful and clean. EBM feels like an oasis, with a view of downtown and the Space Needle. It’s a great place to take out of town guests or have a boat happy hour / BBQ in the summer.
- Location on Puget Sound – quick access to great sailing, with multiple overnight destinations quite close by.
The location is even better than Shilshole for off-season cruising. In the summer Shilshole puts you slightly closer to the San Juans, but in the fall and winter we like to do shorter, local cruising. With only 8 hours of daylight, and faster moving weather fronts, short hops make more sense.
EBM is closer to short hop destinations – Eagle Harbor, Blake Island, Blakely Harbor, and Bell Harbor marina are all only an hour or two away (and even better, you can often sail there on a beam reach, rather than having to close haul on either your departure or return leg like you would from/to Shilshole).
- Connection with nature. EBM is so quiet and low trafficked, that nature has literally moved in. I’ve seen seals hanging out on the docks often – once a family of 4. The Great Blue Heron walks the docks regularly, and on a quiet evening you can watch him fish.
- Nice marina management and very secure docks. Super helpful and friendly people, and I never need worry about safety or theft concerns.
The biggest downsides for me are:
- Isolated. EBM is peaceful, but it’s also lonely. Sometimes that’s good, but sometimes you want to feel like there’s someone else out there – that you’re not the only living soul working under the stars in a marina of hundreds of boats. It doesn’t have the sailing community Shilshole has, and since they don’t allow permanent liveaboards or have organized races in the off-season, many boats here are rarely used. In the fall and winter, you might see no one else at all on your dock.
- Accessibility – Hard to get to if you don’t have a car. EBM is a victim of its own geography. It’s built below the bluffs of Magnolia, which make it inaccessible on 2 sides (west and north), leaving only one route in from the east. To the east are the train tracks, cruise terminal, and commercial shipyard. The train tracks and industrial areas are off limits, and add further complications for pedestrians or bikers.
- Car sharing: Uber’s get lost trying to find their way in here. You can’t easily use Car2Go anymore either, because the marina complained about Car2Go’s being left in their parking lot overnight, so Car2Go made the whole marina and adjacent streets a no parking zone (you can still pay for a stopover, but that makes Uber a better option – maybe).
- Buses: The bus routes to EBM are pretty bad, dropping you at a deserted stop in the middle of the Magnolia bridge, where you have to run across the bridge with no crosswalk just to get to the sidewalk on the other side. Or walk along the street which is basically a highway off-ramp. Not so safe in the dark.
- Stores: It’s hard to access good food or conveniences. There’s nothing really around EBM within easy walking or biking distance. Maggie Bluffs and Palisade are there, but Maggie Bluffs gets old quickly – not nearly as good as Highliner from our previous marina Fisherman’s Terminal – and Palisade is expensive. The fuel dock has a convenience store, but it closes at 4 or 5pm in the off season, and is pretty poorly stocked (it doesn’t have coffee, except for crystallized instant-style Folger’s, nor any fresh food of any kind).
On the whole we like EBM and might just stay here and let our Shilshole waitlist lapse, if they ever call. The 1-year plus waitlist at Shilshole has become a turn-off discouraging us from ever going there. It just doesn’t seem worth waiting a year for a marina, paying $50 (to get on the waitlist) for nothing, and not knowing when or if they’ll ever call to get us in there.
A beyond capacity marina has disadvantages in terms of flexibility too – at EBM we can take off for a month’s cruise, cancelling our moorage to avoid paying $500 for nothing, and know we can come back to the same place without having to deal with subletting our slip or getting back on another 1-year waitlist.