For three hours on a summer evening, peace meant Gordon Lightfoot playing on a boat’s hidden speakers and Captain Kelley Bronaugh singing along under his breath; waves sloshing on the bow, a …
For three hours on a summer evening, peace meant Gordon Lightfoot playing on a boat’s hidden speakers and Captain Kelley Bronaugh singing along under his breath; waves sloshing on the bow, a low murmur of laughter from the top deck, a sizzling grill, and nothing to worry about but doing the sunset justice through a camera lens.
“Oh, hey. I love this song,” Katherine O’Leary-Cole, Bronaugh’s wife and official tour guide of Pallin’ Around Charters, said, nudging Bronaugh’s shoulder.
The two shared a glance, some unspoken memory passing between them. Bronaugh cracked a smile and kicked the boat into high gear. It sliced through the Hood Canal waters with ease, carving a path from Pleasant Harbor to the mouth of Dabob Bay. O’Leary-Cole set about prepping the first appetizer for their passengers: warm brie with lavender blueberry compote and ginger-sugared pistachios.
Pallin’ Around Charters took its maiden voyage only a few weeks ago. After several practice cruises, Bronaugh and O’Leary-Cole deemed their refurbished 1969 Grand Banks trawler ready for action. Their first tour, an upscale dinner cruise, was a resounding success. They currently offer two other tours: a short family-centered nature cruise and a day-long shellfishing and kayaking cruise.
The nature cruise lasts two hours, and is offered every weekend from July 4 to Labor Day. It involves dropping an ROV (remote-operated vehicle) with a camera into the water and towing it through the depths of the canal. It has a live video feed hooked up to a TV inside the boat’s cabin.
“It’s a huge hit with kids,” O’Leary-Cole said. “It’s fun but also super educational.” This tour is in partnership with Mike’s Beach Resort in Lilliwaup. An optional oyster farm tour of Olympic Oyster Co. is available as an add-on, as well.
The tour takes place at a cove in Dabob Bay that’s only accessible by boat, Bronaugh explained. Though it is no longer an active farm, there is still an abundance of oysters; a guaranteed successful harvest.
They depart at 9 a.m. or noon, depending on tides.
“But not too dependent — no 6 a.m. tours for us,” O’Leary-Cole said, laughing.
All the gear needed for digging clams and shucking oysters is provided (participants must have a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife-issued license). The duo guide passengers through every step of the process, sharing their oyster-y wisdom and tips of the trade.
“It’s important to shuck them right on the beach,” said O’Leary-Cole as she set about prepping the oysters (Hama Hama ones, straight out of the canal—“only the best.”) for the second appetizer.
“The shells provide a landing spot for baby oysters, and they’re also an attachment surface for barnacles, mussels, and other little critters who need homes,” she explained.
After demonstrating the correct way to crack them open using a paring knife, she threw them on the grill and spooned bourbon, brown sugar, and garlic butter on each.
She shared one more piece of wisdom as they cooked: “You gotta leave as much juice as possible.”
When asked why, she responded with a shrug: “Because it’s tasty.”
As Bronaugh laid anchor in the cove, O’Leary-Cole told the origin story of the name “Pallin’ Around” as she served the entree (Alaskan salmon and seared flank steak with brown sugar soy sauce over risotto, bok choy, and mustard-roasted Kabocha squash).
Her aunt and her late husband adopted the phrase as their motto. Whether they were in Italy or at the grocery store, they were always just “pallin’ around.”
“They were the most vivacious couple I’ve ever known,” O’Leary-Cole recalled. “They took fun seriously.”
When she and Bronaugh married last July, they decided to model their own marriage after O’Leary’s relatives.
“We wanted to keep that pallin’ around spirit alive,” O’Leary-Cole said.
The boat was their marriage project. It took a while to refurbish the vessel because they did it themselves.
“It quickly went from cute activity to relationship tester,” O’Leary-Cole quipped.
Bronaugh, a talented carpenter and mechanic, arguably had the worse deal in the renovating process.
With a rueful look on his face, he talked about the time his coveralls got stuck in the engine bay crawlspace and he couldn’t detach himself. He tried for 20 minutes before he gave up and left the coveralls behind.
“The problem was, the coveralls were the only thing I was wearing,” Bronaugh admitted, promptly escaping to the wheelhouse before he was asked to tell any more embarrassing stories.
O’Leary-Cole’s challenges lay in designing a state-of-the-art menu given the nautical constraints.
“Marine air makes everything harder, even cooking,” she said. “We have to be resourceful.”
Pallin’ Around Charters does not have a commercial kitchen on the boat.
To navigate that, Jay and Michaela Kothman of Quilbilly’s restaurant in Quilcene have stepped up and offered their services as O’Leary-Cole’s prep cooks. They use her recipes, cook the components in their kitchen, then deliver the food to Pleasant Harbor fresh before the cruise disembarks.
O’Leary-Cole has enjoyed the process.
“I love experimenting with the menu, getting creative and trying new ideas,” she said.
She spent many years in the restaurant industry, starting in her teenhood.
“My first job ever was selling pastries door-to-door in South Carolina, where I grew up. I got a real job at a bakery, and then worked in various restaurants across South Carolina and Arkansas,” she said.
Her last restaurant job was in 2019, running a restaurant in Alaska.
“It was awesome, but just a ton of work,” she said.
It made her realize that the restaurant business wouldn’t be a good fit for her long-term.
O’Leary-Cole and Bronaugh moved to Washington that year. O’Leary-Cole recalled that the couple had thought,“this is going to be awesome!”
Then the pandemic hit.
It didn’t stop them, though. While other in-dustries suffered, outdoor recreation boomed. This allowed them to spend those three years building their dream charter business, combining their talents of engineering, carpentry, sailing, business, cooking, and hosting into one outlet.
“This is really where our passion lies,” O’Leary-Cole said. “It’s so great that we get to do this.”
After spending an hour in Dabob Bay so passengers could take advantage of the spectacular mountain views and the four kayaks and three paddle boards provided, Pallin’ Around set course back to the harbor.
As they neared the dock, O’Leary-Cole served cocoa meringue stuffed with bananas and vanilla soft-serve over Nutella, toasted marshmallows, and coconut drizzled with salted caramel for dessert.
Each cruise can serve a maximum of six passengers. Custom packages are available. All ages are welcome, but ages 12 and under must wear personal floatation devices when not in the cabin.
For more information or to book a cruise, call
360-300-7810 or visit olympicoasisdive.com/charters.