Arriving at Hat Island Marina early Thursday, islanders begin disembarking the Hat Island Ferry, which is called the “Hat Express.” At the top of the ramp stands Ray Brown, the captain. Below him on the dock are crew members Ryan Taisey, first mate (left) and Michael Jablinske. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Arriving at Hat Island Marina early Thursday, islanders begin disembarking the Hat Island Ferry, which is called the “Hat Express.” At the top of the ramp stands Ray Brown, the captain. Below him on the dock are crew members Ryan Taisey, first mate (left) and Michael Jablinske. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Hat Island: The somewhat secret, other-worldy Northwest gem

The rules are lax, it’s not public, and residents of the small isle off Everett like it that way.

Ray Brown says he has the best office in Everett. It’s not an office, and he’s not exactly in Everett — he’s offshore.

Brown, 58, is captain of the “Hat Express,” the private ferry to Hat Island.

At 7 a.m. Thursday, Brown piloted the 55-foot vessel from its dock near the Everett Yacht Club and headed south through the Snohomish River channel. The boat passed Naval Station Everett and embarked on its half-hour cruise. Hat Island — officially Gedney Island — is about four miles off Everett in Possession Sound.

Crossing calm waters on a soon-to-be-hot morning, a few passengers sat outside on the boat’s upper level. More than a dozen were aboard. In summer, the ferry runs Thursdays through Sundays. Some riders shared their love of the place that’s a mystery to many seeing it from shore.

“It’s quiet. Whenever I go out there I can sleep like a log,” said Christopher Pease, 55, a Hat Island “weekender” from Marysville.

Linda and Clint McCubbin, of Lake Stevens, were headed to their home on Hat to prepare for weekend visitors. Traveling with them was Ames, their Leonberger dog, a jumbo-sized breed. “He loves it on Hat Island. All the dogs love it,” Linda McCubbin said. “You’re not just inundated with rules there,” her husband said.

It’s true, some mainland rules don’t apply on the island, which is all privately owned.

Cars — a lot of them are old clunkers shipped by barge years ago — don’t need license tabs. “They don’t maintain our roads,” said Barb Conwell, the island’s harbormaster.

“We have two seasons here, mud and dust. Right now it’s dust, and the speed limit is 10,” she added.

Hat Island, about one square mile, has a summer population of more than 200 families. In winter, only 50 or so people live there, Conwell said. There’s a 127-slip marina and a golf course, but no store or restaurant.

Part of Conwell’s job is to make sure would-be visitors know the island isn’t open to the public, only to property owners and their guests. It’s only accessible by private boat or the ferry, which is run by the Hat Island Community Association.

The island has a fascinating history, detailed in a piece by Robert A. Brunjes on the community association’s website. It tells of the 1875 murder of Peter Goutrie, or “French Peter,” a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader and the island’s first homesteader.

In the early 1960s, an optimistic group formed the Hat Island Development Co., divided the island into 956 lots, and advertised land sales for what they envisioned as “Hat Island Riviera.”

Today, owners pay an annual fee to the homeowners association, which acts as a sort of government on the island. A board of directors oversees it. There’s a volunteer fire department, Snohomish County Fire District 27, and the island has emergency medical technicians, Conwell said. For life-threatening emergencies, Airlift Northwest offers an annual AirCare coverage plan.

Brown, an Air Force veteran, is an experienced sailor who has worked aboard yachts. He became ferry captain in 2008 after a career with Verizon. The island’s former ferry, the 46-foot Holiday, was gone by Brown’s tenure. A wooden vessel, it’s now in Alaska.

On Thursday, Brown was joined by Hat Express first mate Ryan Taisey and Michael Jablinske, a crew member who was collecting fares. Below the lower passenger deck, Brown showed off the boat’s two shiny Detroit Diesel 16V92 turbo-assist engines — “firetruck engines,” he said.

“They’re very thirsty,” said Brown, adding that at 12 knots the vessel burns about 17 gallons per hour per engine. Built in La Conner, the boat was once in Hawaii on a Maui to Lanai run.

For those aboard Thursday, it was a cargo vessel as well as a passenger boat. Everything — groceries to building supplies — must be ferried to Hat Island.

“You can’t just go to Home Depot, there isn’t one,” said Matt Kerr, 68, who was headed to his place on the island with his wife, Mariana, and her parents. Kerr’s other home is in Marysville. Among the items they brought were palm trees to be planted at their beach house.

Kerr is an island newcomer. Also aboard was Carlos Snellenberg, 21, whose family has a long history on Hat Island. His late grandfather, Wally Snellenberg, was among 12 developers who in the ’60s hoped to create the Hat Island Riviera paradise. “He built the A-frame that became the yacht club,” Snellenberg said.

A Bellevue College student, he has seen more young families coming to the island. Still, Hat Island remains a somewhat secret place. “It’s amazing how many people don’t even know about it,” Snellenberg said. “It’s one of those Pacific Northwest gems.”

It’s such a gem that Donna Lemke leaves her house on Lake Sammamish to stay in her other waterfront home — on Hat Island. “I love to come out here and swim in the saltwater,” said Lemke, 77, who said waters off Hat can warm into the 70-degree range.

Just before the Hat Express docked back in Everett, passengers were treated to an extraordinary sight. A small gray or humpback whale surfaced several times near the dock outside Anthony’s HomePort restaurant.

Lyle Whelchel was on the ride to Everett. For him, isolation is the island’s appeal. “I was just looking for someplace with less population density,” said Whelchel, 71, who moved to Hat from the Silver Lake area in December. In wintertime, he only sees a couple cars a day on the island.

“It’s close to home, yet in another world,” Linda McCubbin said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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