Our trip to the San Juan Islands was without incident and while it was a very beautiful part of world, part of us still longed for the truly magnificent scenery, much further north, of Prince William Sound. With the words of Cliff Rome (former owner of Northern Marine) ringing in our ears, as we crossed paths in Prince William Sound less than a year ago, “James” he said, “I feel very, very, very sorry for you. You have come to the best place on the face of planet earth first and it’s all downhill from here”. While Claire and I didn’t believe him at the time, we certainly now know, that what he said was true. I will say this for the very last time. If you truly want to explore a world without comparison then make way for Prince William Sound. You will be left, speechless!
With time in short supply and much to see and do we decided that we would focus our attention on a few select anchorages and marinas within the San Juan group of islands. After all, it’s impossible to see it all. From the southerly anchorage of Aleck Bay on Lopez Island to East Sound on San Juan Island, Echo Bay on Sucia Island as well as Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor, our plans were set.
Before we left Seattle for the San Juan Island’s Kevin from Red Rover fame asked if I would help him bring his boat from back from Everett to Seattle which was about a four hour run. A quick video of the trip departing Everett can be found on Pendana’s Facebook page. CLICK HERE
Also before we departed, Coasting Home, a Seattle magazine wanted to run a story on our trip to Seattle. The article entitled “The Extremely Scenic Route To Seattle” for those interested, can be found HERE.. Also Bianca wrote a piece for them on what its like being schooled on a boat. This article can be found HERE.
Our short, 60nm run north towards the San Juan Islands was without incident and Pendana quickly found her rhythm once we departed the constrains of Elliot Bay Marina. Heading north in Puget Sound was, if the truth be told, bitter sweet. While we are keen to explore the San Juan Islands and get to San Francisco, we are also sad to be saying goodbye to Seattle, a city that we all fell in love with.
Our first port of call on our run through the San Juan Islands was Aleck Bay on the southern end of Lopez Island. Not sure why we decided to visit this part of Lopez but probably because I had not heard much about it. This quiet, well protected bay offered us a chance to relax (some more!) and take in the scenery. It also allowed us some time for Bianca to finish her English final which while not due for a few more weeks she decided she wanted to get it done and dusted before we headed south to San Fran!
Second stop was to the north and to Sucia Island and Echo Bay via Rosario Strait. I had timed our departure to coincide with the currents that run through the strait and found that we were cruising along at 12.7kts for most of the run. Gotta love currents when they flow the right way! That being said, the traffic between Anacortes and Thatcher Pass was somewhat intense. A total of two crossing ferries, two crossing small boats, one container ship and two tugs and one Pendana, all arriving at the same time but from different directions.
Sucia Island is named after Spanish Captain Francisco de Eliza who named it “Isla Sucia”. Sucia in Spanish means “dirty” or in a nautical sense “foul”. This word was chosen because the shore was deemed dangerous due to reefs and hidden rocks but with today’s navigation aids and charts the approach was about as easy as it gets. While we had the island pretty much to ourselves I can only imagine at the height of summer how busy this place would get.
Interestingly, while at anchor in Echo Bay a beautiful old sailboat (“Adventuress”) came into anchor behind us. Launched in 1913 in East Boothbay, Maine, Adventuress (the name of the boat) was designed for luxury adventure by Bowdoin B. Crowninshield. The yacht was built for John Borden II, a wealthy businessman from Chicago, for an Arctic expedition to secure a Bowhead Whale specimen for the American Museum of Natural History. Now used as a tourist boat she certainly is one hell of an impressive looking vessel and looks amazing for a boat over 100 years old.
More on Adventuress can be found HERE.
Our third stop bought us back to civilisation and to the famous Roche Harbor, home of the very well-travelled San Souci. Our run to Roche Harbor was perfect from a mechanical and navigation point-of-view but less than ideal from a weather perspective. It seemed that we had seen the last of the blue skies, which was a shame as we worked our way up Spieden Channel in near gray-out conditions.
As we worked our way to the inner harbor we were allocated our berth and before long were tied up, connected to shore power and ready to explore. The only problem was at the precise moment we left Pendana the rain started in once again. Not so much rain but an annoying relentless, mind numbing drizzle that doesn’t really make things wet but rather a consistent damp that honestly, for a sun lover, such as myself, is beyond frustrating. Perhaps the weather is the reason why Washington State has more serial killers than any other! If one is not of sound mind, there is little doubt that the weather could easily push you over the edge.
That being said the days did have some sun shine so all in all it wasn’t so bad and adventures through the small town were timed with these moments of magic from high above. Roche Harbor is a picturesque small village which sits on the water’s edge. For boating lovers this place has just about everything you could need. I can only imagine how busy this place would be in the height of summer.
Before leaving Roche Harbor we were invited over to Snug Harbor to spend some time with the famous Dave Wright from ABT TRAC and his charming family. Dave is not only probably the most knowledgeable guy around when it comes to hydraulic stabilizers, world class pizza making but also as it turns out he is quite the S’Mores cook! What is a S’Mores you may well ask, if not from continental USA? Well it’s a roasted marshmallow with chocolate, either plain chocolate or these ghastly things called Reese cups which are basically chocolate and peanut butter mixed together. Once mixed a few hundred lbs of sugar is then added. Wow! And they think Vegemite is bad!! Anyway I digress. So, we have chocolate, a warmed marshmallow which is then sandwiched between two sweet biscuits. Now, something I did learn and that was that marshmallows taste a whole lot better when not burnt and on fire! Clearly us Aussies need to lift our game!
While in Roche the annual Grand Banks (“GB”) meeting was held with a large gathering of GB’s consuming the guest docks and filling the local restaurants. I have always liked the GB boats and while not capable of crossing oceans they are certainly a lovely looking boat with a tremendous heritage.
Claire and I have noticed over the last few months that our wind gauge which provides wind angle and strength was giving us some very odd readings. For example, it may be an estimated 10kts of wind when our gauge would show 32kts without a white cap in sight. As such, we decided to upgrade our old Airmar PB100 with the new and improved Airmar WX220. With Jeff Sanson from Pacific Yacht Management bringing Hokulani (Nordhavn 64) up from Seattle to Roche Harbor I asked if he could also bring with him our new WX220. With the new WX220 in hand we went about the simple process of replacing the old with the new and will test the system over the coming weeks to ensure accuracy and reasonableness of date displayed.
Our fourth stop was to be East Sound on Orcas Island but honestly we were all keen to get to Friday Harbor and prep for our passage to San Francisco that we decided to give it a miss. There is little doubt that we are city folk through and through and while another anchorage may have been fun we all felt that as time was fast evaporating, Friday Harbor may be a little more interesting.
So, our fifth and final stop before heading south was the bustling San Juan Island port of Friday Harbor. This is where we would prep Pendana for the short trip south to San Francisco and have her hull cleaned by divers. Someone remarked to me the other day, when I referred to the trip to San Francisco as short, that I was “mad” to refer to it as small trip. That may well be the case and please understand that in no way am I or Claire underrating the passage, as every passage needs careful planning regardless of its length but I guess it all comes down to perspective. For us, a three day coastal trip is not only an short trip it’s something that we feel that we can manage relatively easily. This only comes from the previous miles crossed and by taking baby steps initially to allow our knowledge and experience to grow. Still, the weather around these parts needs due respect as it can turn on a dime as such, Claire and I will give it all the consideration in the world as we plan our passage south.
Friday Harbor was picture perfect and while not as polished as Roche Harbor it took on its own charm and authority. Our arrival was a little like a baptism of fire with a rather large ferry arriving, a seaplane arriving directly behind us all while we manoeuvred Pendana into her assigned slip.
As is custom Claire and I went for a quick walk around town and felt somewhat compelled to have lunch at the famous Downriggers right on the water. Apparently this place burnt to the ground not so long ago and it took four years to rebuild. Why it took four years is beyond me but it did. No doubt, bureaucracy has gone a little mad in these parts! As it had only recently reopened Claire and I ventured inside.
We also decided while we were here to rent a car and do some exploring around the island. As we explored we came across something that was most definitely not on our radar. Pelindaba Lavender Farm. That’s right, as in the lavender plant. We were told they were the largest lavender farm in the USA. Who would have thought!
As we continued our drive around the island it was soon apparent that San Juan Island was everything we didn’t think it would be. It was lush, green and forest like in places with simply breathtaking scenery. Parts of the island reminded us of the UK and the drive between Windsor and Ascot/Sunningdale along the A332. While other parts felts entirely fresh and without comparison.
Back in Friday Harbor we were keen to spot Popeye, the famous seal. Yes, a little like Mona but even more famous. Apparently Popeye has been living here for over 23yrs and is quiet the tourist attraction. In 2005, the Port of Friday Harbor commissioned a life-sized granite sculpture of her which was funded by the port and a Seattle area foundation.
Before we left Friday harbor we caught up with the owners of Serendipity N86 (formally Aurora) and spent a lovely morning with Craig and Marie talking all things boats. We were also lucky to catch up with Ken and Roberta (San Souci N68, owners) who were also in town. We spent a lovely evening with them in Roche Harbor and said our final goodbyes. Ken, I will sure miss our breakfasts at 13 Coins that’s for sure!
One interesting observation we all made yet again on our jaunt around the San Juan Islands was that weather has a huge part to play in ones experience of these places. We were blessed with some lovely sunny days and yet again, we were also delivered the more typical rainy weather of the Pacific North West (“PNW”) and while we would have loved to have seen more sunshine and slightly warmer temperatures it simply wasn’t to be for the most part of our time in the San Juan’s. We are cognisant of the fact that weather and boating are, for us, a symbiotic relationship and they are joined at the hip. Boating and warm weather is a must to get the most from any experience. The fact that we love the PNW as much as we do, considering the weather it delivered, is testament to how special a place it truly is. The plan now is to get to San Francisco before heading further south to Los Angeles and hopefully….yup, you heard it here first, folks – some warmer weather.
With Pendana ready to go and her hull beautifully cleaned by a local team of young commercial divers (Sam at Steadfast Diving Ph: 360-298-6601 / firstname.lastname@example.org) we are all set to go. All that is left now is to confirm the weather window for our run south, which at the stage looks like Friday of this week. We are more than likely going to reposition Pendana to Neah Bay at the end of Juan de Fuca Strait on Thursday. For those interested you can follow our progress live and in real time by clicking HERE and then clicking on the LIVE tab.
The weather forecast as it stands right now (as at Monday 6:47am 5/22) shows that we have a good chance for making our direct run to San Francisco if we depart on Friday morning. As such the plan is to reposition to Neah Bay on Thursday. With the weather behind us, care of the nice high pressure system present, we shouldn’t see more than 7ft seas on a 9 second period for the first 12hrs / 10kts winds with conditions improving for day two to 5ft on 10 secs / 5kts winds. Day three winds and sea state pick up once again but all looks very manageable with wind forecast to remain under 20kts.
Its important to note that the weather along the north west coast of America and in particular the southern end of the Oregon coast can change on a dime so the plan, while solid at this stage, can change quickly. It’s not uncommon for boats to wait weeks for the right weather window to prevail.
Finally, for those who may be interested in buying a mighty Nordhavn 62 hull #4, the famous Seabird has recently been sadly put up for sale. This early model N62 is a truly fine example of what are increasingly hard to come by vessels. She certainly is priced to sell and with the current owner being probably one of the most knowledgeable folks around I have little doubt that she is in excellent shape. CLICK HERE TO LEAEN MORE
The next time you here from us we will be in San Francisco, where I understand and have been promised a solid dose of sunshine!