San Juan Islands
September is often a good time to be sailing around the San Juan Islands of
Washington State. In addition, the area is known for its rural landscapes, and
even more well-known for its wildlife, especially orcas and harbor seals.
The current in Guemes Channel, the main passage exiting the Anacortes area, was running around three knots. At full throttle, Harriet Tubman, a Caliber 40, made only about three knots over ground. Having left later, Orcastrate, experienced less current, and, being a larger boat (Jeanneau 44), made better time. Along the way to our destination at Mackaye Harbor on the south end of Lopez Island, we saw some harbor seals, and dolphins, and lots of black cormorants. All anchors were down well before the sun set at 7:30 pm. Dinner aboard Harriet Tubman consisted of hamburgers cooked on the grill, along with fresh coleslaw, and a sour cherry pie purchased at the Farmer’s Market. Aboard Orcastrate Mia seared fresh salmon, peppers, and onions for seafood fajitas with salsa and guacamole
Weighing anchor on Monday after a short delay due to
some morning fog, we motored northwest through Haro Strait on the west side of
San Juan Island. About half-way, in the area of Lime Kiln Point, we encountered
several orcas; a few of them quite close (but not too close). What a thrill!
Apparently, this spot is one of the best areas to spot them. Alas, we were
heading northward, and the orcas were heading south, so we continued on to Roche
Harbor to pump out, then on to Garrison Bay. Ashore at Garrison Bay is English
Camp, where British soldiers were encamped during the infamous
Several of the crew of Harriet Tubman went in to explore the remains of
their barracks and gardens. During the night, Hans, sleeping in the cockpit on
Harriet Tubman, was awakened by a harbor seal trying to climb into the
dinghy, only to be thwarted by Hans’s bravery.
Tuesday morning’s light drizzle quickly dissipated, however the clouds remained, and the wind was non-existent. Four of Harriet Tubman’s crew – Mary, Hans, Joel and Steve – returned to English Camp to hike up Young Hill to a lookout that provided an excellent view of our anchorage and the surrounding area. Meanwhile, Orcastrate decided to head back to Roche Harbor for more of a visit. Harriet Tubman did the same a few hours later. There was still plenty of time for coffee and ice cream before motoring to our next anchorage a few miles away in Reid Harbor on Stuart Island. Orcastrate got off a little earlier and made a tour back out into San Juan Strait in search of orcas, but by halfway through the loop on glassy calm water, the only crew not napping below were Mia at the helm and Mary Ann up on the bow. Mia headed on Reid harbor. Eventually the sleeping crew came up on deck. Park moorings were plentiful and free since our boats had annual passes.
Craig and Erik on Orcastrate carefully lowered the dinghy motor onto the dinghy. Even without oars, the likelihood of drifting all the way out of deep Reid Harbor before someone rescued them was slim. This seemed like a good plan until Craig couldn’t get the motor started. Hans came along rowing Harriet Tubman’s dinghy and he gave it a try with no luck. Mia railed at the AYC fleet captain who had assured her the motor had just been serviced, and at herself for not testing it anyway. Hans rowed Craig over to the dock to register our use of the park moorings.
Most of the crews of both boats went ashore on Wednesday to do some more hiking.
Steve provided ferry service with Harriet Tubman’s dinghy and motor. The
primary destination was a historic schoolhouse and the Stuart Island Teacherage
Museum. Both are one-room structures built in the early 1900s. The old
schoolhouse now serves as a library, and the museum has a lot of information on
the history of Stuart Island. A new school was built in 1980 and is partly
funded by visitors buying locally designed tee shirts, greeting cards and
postcards set up along a dirt road. Payment is on the honor system, but Venmo
and PayPal QR codes were provided.
It was then off to Friday Harbor. There were quite a few harbor seal sightings, but no orcas. Or much wind, for that matter. Harriet Tubman did manage to put out the jib for a little while, but not enough to warrant the effort of raising the main. After the hike (uphill both ways), everyone was happy for the easy sail. Arriving in Friday Harbor at our reserved slips, many went for the showers before heading into town for dinner. A pair of representatives from AYC delivered a pair of dinghy oars to Orcastrate and took a look at the non-functional dinghy motor. Then they took the dinghy motor away with them. While the rest of the crew took the very long walk back up the docks to a restaurant, Mia decided to chill on board, coincidentally waiting to find out the status of the motor. Long before her crew brought back her takeaway dinner, the AYC folks brought the motor back. They said the carburetor had been full of “gunk.”
Thursday’s leg of the trip was designed to be short, about ten miles so that there would be time to explore Friday Harbor in the morning. In addition to the many shops, Friday Harbor is also home to The Whale Museum. We found an extensive exhibit about orcas, which are not actually whales, as well as many other types of cetaceans – whales, dolphins, and porpoises
After lunch it was off to Blind Bay on Shaw Island. Finally, there was a breeze, enough for both boats to have both sails out for a couple of hours or more. Orcastrate sailed north and then turned east through the Wasp Islands along Shaw Island’s north shore. The currents and breezes were tricky so they motor-sailed to ensure safe passage. Harriet Tubman sailed north, but then turned back south and was able to sail wing-and-wing for a while. Unfortunately, the winds were funneling between the islands and after coming up the east coast of Shaw Island, Blind Harbor on the north coast was dead into the wind. So on came the “iron jenny'' to finish the day. The night was exceptionally clear, so an intense amount of stars were visible.
As Friday’s journey to Rosario Resort on Orcas Island was only about six miles, there was no rush to leave the tranquility of Blind Bay. Hans, Mary, Jan and Joel took the dinghy for a rowing tour of the bay, chasing off a few cormorants along the way. They stopped by Orcastrate, where the crew was indulging in a massive breakfast. Once underway, Harriet Tubman motored around a bit looking for more orcas, but didn’t find any. Orcastrate decided to go directly to Rosario’s. The resort is a historic landmark that offers stunning views and luxurious amenities. Most took advantage of the spa (hot tub, heated pool, showers). Harriet Tubman’s crew also attended the 4:00 pm slide presentation on the history of the resort, with accompaniment performed on a room-sized pipe organ. A lovely group dinner in the resort’s luxurious dining room that evening capped another relaxing day.
There was ample time Saturday morning for several hearty hikers from Harriet Tubman to go for a hike up to Cascade Lake, a mile or so from the resort. Joel described the scenery as “breathtaking, especially the golden sunlight that filtered through the high altitude smoke from the Canadian wildfires far away.” Orcastrate’s crew chose to have a late breakfast instead. Both boats were off the dock about noon and had a lovely sail in ten knot winds – finally!
The plan was to take moorings at Spencer Spit State Park on the east side of Lopez Island.. By the time we got there, all the moorings were taken, so we continued south a few more miles to Hunter Bay. As this was our last night aboard, we rafted up and had the traditional Club “must-go” party. However, by the time we finished eating (do we really ever stop?), the wind had increased significantly, so Mia and Steve agreed that the raft should be broken up.
By Sunday morning the wind had abated some, but our return to Anacortes was to the east, and of course that’s where the wind was coming from. As luck would have it, the current in Guemes Channel was again against us, though not quite as strong as when we left. As we had to be off the boats by 1:00 PM, there was little time to take advantage of the best winds of the week. Arriving back at the charter base by late morning, there was plenty of time to pack and get our gear and trash off the boat, and get shuttled to the airport bus pickup a few blocks away.
While there wasn’t much wind for most of the trip, everyone enjoyed the scenery,
wildlife sightings - especially the orcas - and the camaraderie that usually
accompanies a Club trip. In addition, the short distances on most days allowed
for some shore-based activities that provided alternatives to long days of
monotonous motoring. Overall, it was a memorable and rewarding experience for
Photo Contributors: Joel Mack, Mia McCroskey, Steve Krakauer
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