The family summer cruise this year is to Olympia, doing up the south sound. That didn't seem like quite enough to me so I put the word out I was looking to do a 5 - 9 day cruise to the San Juan Islands. I was fortunate and received a favorable response from a friend who put together the rest of the crew for the trip. Several of them participated in last year's cruise to Princess Louisa Inlet, but they had never cruised in the San Juan Islands. We set off on August 4 for a nine day trip with the following itinerary intended to make the most of a relatively short trip and several schedule constraints:
Smoke from BC wildfires tinged the sky, sun, and moon throughout our trip
Our best laid plans called for accommodating weather to go along with the auspicious currents on August 4 and try to make it from Shilshole to Sucia Island in a day. This would be the longest single-day journey for me at about 73 nautical miles. We could ride the ebb to the straits, and catch the flood north. As our departure approached, the weather forecast looked like it would work so I set a departure time of 5:00 AM on August 4. The crew brought a savory breakfast egg bake casserole which we cooked and enjoyed while underway. I spotted a whale near Smith Island. Humpback or Minke, not sure which: it had a small fin and long back. We did get a little ahead of things and ran into the tail end of the ebb out of Rosario Strait, and the winds were absent or unfavorable all day. The strait was as flat as I've ever seen it. All in all we made it in 11 hours, and with the 5 AM departure we were there in plenty of time to settle in for dinner. Dinner featured elk burgers, prepared in the style preferred by Hemingway. Look up the recipe it is pretty elaborate. The burgers were great: I ate two! Finished the day with a nice sun shower on the swim step, and we watched the first 20 minutes of Fury Road and called it a night.
We spent the day doing some exploring, hiking over to Fossil Bay, and then relaxing at the boat in the afternoon. I was disappointed to confirm my daughter's earlier report that "our" madrone above Shallow Bay, scene of many a family photo, now is disfigured with fire damage. I prepared chicken tikka masala (thanks to a jar of Patak's sauce), naan, and saag paneer. Great day. None of the crew had ever been to Sucia, and it was fun to rediscover it with them. We counted about 80 boats in Echo Bay, but as usual it never felt crowded. I did note several boats including a beautiful 50+ foot sailboat just fly past the last buoy and anchor close to shore in the area designated for eelgrass preservation. Irksome. As per usual while away from the dock, another solar shower capped the day off.
Ever-lovely Echo Bay. Smoke deprived us of the usual view of Mt. Baker
Former quarry site, Fossil Bay
The next day we were off to Reid Harbor. We enjoyed sailing most of the way, and favorable currents of about 3 knots off Spieden Island. A retired teacher who crewed with us on my father's J30, Diva, has been building a house on Reid Harbor over the past ~15 years. I hadn't been in there in maybe five years and was astounded at the beautiful home he has pretty much completed (there are still a few stray bits of Tyvek exposed). We checked it out but didn't connect with him, maybe next time. We did the hike to the schoolhouse and honor-system t-shirt shop. The crew picked up some postcards to mail home from Friday Harbor. After the hike, the sun shower hit the spot and we dined on some delicious chili pork stew, in the style of a chile verde. Much debate ensued over whether it was appropriate to add Tapatio to the chili, with the chef insisting the dish was perfect as it was prepared, in opposition to one crew member insisting on his philosophy that a diverse color palette on the plate is important and that he lives by the food mantra "if it looks right, it is right".
A new innovation from the crew: an improvised cockpit table
Our friend's house on Reid Harbor
As seen from the dinghy
Since everyone loves to hear about mishaps, I'll report that at this point we noticed the bilge pump was running periodically. This is a normal event if the water tanks had just been filled, with the overflow making its way to the bilge, or if it has been raining and drips come down the inside of the mast to the bilge. Other than those known and harmless incursions, Aeolus is a very dry boat. As neither of these events could be to blame, the bilge pump running is cause for concern. Upon lifting the cabin sole boards I observed a trickle coming from the direction of the galley. A tasting determined it was fresh water, so I checked a few spots for leaks but couldn't find any. Having spent 15 minutes trying to track it down, I gave up and just told everyone to shut the fresh water pump off when not in use so it won't pump all of our fresh water away, and left it at that. Mystery deferred, and the bilge pump was silenced.
View from the beach at the head of Reid Harbor
Next we were off to Friday Harbor where the the lone female crew member had a reservation on the 5:00 PM Island Clipper back to Seattle. We pumped out, filled the diesel tank, and hopped on the VHF right at 9:30 when they open up the first-come-first-served slip assignments. We had a great lunch at the Cask & Schooner, including the delicious crab risotto. A small bottle of port was purchased from the passionate port professional at the new shop, "Port and Chocolate". Popeye was present; this was a couple weeks prior to her making the news for biting someone. The Friday Harbor showers remain a highlight of any visit. They are on my all-time favorite cruising shower destination, partly because they are open to everyone regardless of whether you are a day visitor, on the hook, or a paying marina customer. They also have excellent water pressure, and are the only shower I've encountered with a visible timer countdown. We saw sister-boat Beluga the Pretorien at the docks. I understand it has just changed hands and wonder if it will be staying at Friday Harbor. The afternoon was spent at the bar at Herb's Tavern. The crew treated me to my first pull tab, and I won $20 which was applied to our bar tab. All in all a satisfying action-packed visit to the amenities and pleasures of shoreside businesses.
Carrot cake from the Cask & Schooner. Baked by our server's sister.
I love the interactions with other boaters you get at a busy marina like Friday Harbor. We had an interesting discussion with Bud Keith, the maintainer ("I'm not the owner, I just maintain the boat in exchange for free use") who was moving a Hallberg Rassy 42-ish into the slip next to us without using his engine, which it turned out was kaput. I've had a boat-crush for Hallberg Rassy's for a few years, and it has been observed that the hard windshield on Aeolus seems inspired by the HR design. I had noticed another HR sloop of about the same size on the guest dock and made a joke about there being a Hallberg Rassy rendezvous this weekend, to which he scornfully replied "that boat is a flush-decker!", making it clear that his was cut from a different cloth. He then proceeded to spray the boat down without closing the hatches which elicited a shriek from his wife down below and a "this isn't my day" look of self-exasperation from Bud as he hung their bedding up on the boom to dry. He told us all about the expense of being towed into Friday Harbor and bemoaned the fact that he had not purchased towing insurance. He asked if I read 48 North and I allowed that not only was I an avid reader, but I had just discovered that one of my neighbors back home in Seattle is the editor. Bud produced a tattered hard copy of an article on anchoring he wrote in 2013 and handed it to me to study ("It's my only copy, so I need it back"). You can read it online here. There were some great tips in the article which I intend to employ: a system for hand stitching colored webbing to the chain to mark lengths, and using a block and three pound weight to get your anchor-marking buoy to hold position. As we pulled out of our slip in the morning Bud left us with a final admonition to "get that towing insurance!"
After Friday Harbor we went somewhere I had not visited before: Blind Bay on Shaw Island. Much like Echo Bay and Reid Harbor it offers a very large, reasonably protected anchorage where the depth is consistently 20 - 35 feet, a very nice and easy depth for anchoring. After spending so many trips just blasting through the San Juan Islands on the way to BC waters where anchorages are more often cramped, deep, and challenging, I had a reborn appreciation for the easy anchorages we visited on this trip. We checked out the tiny Blind Island State Park and visited the store at the Shaw Island ferry dock. I wanted to try the crabbing which is reputed to be good due to Blind Bay being closed to commercial crabbers, but unfortunately our timing put us there on a Tuesday when crabbing is closed. Two of us finished the day with a sun shower, but it was the worst sun shower of the trip. Lots of flotsam in the water, an off-putting rotten fish flavor, and relatively chilly water failed to compel the third member of the crew to join in. We agreed it was not the best shower, but overall was an improvement and therefore worth the effort. I did not realize it at the time, but this was to be the final sun shower of the prequel cruise. Too bad it kind of sucked.
One of a half dozen campsites on tiny Blind Island State Park
A plea for help from Shaw Island
Then we were off to our old friend the Lopez Islander. What a place. Before entering the treacherous entry channel we ran into the Wauquiez Gladiateur, Jaco. We had met at a past rendezvous and stopped to exchange greetings and discussion of the depth in the channel. I knew we were good...at this point I've got that channel pretty dialed in, but it is always nice to hear confirmation that I did indeed read the tide tables correctly. We hit the usual shallow spot at the beginning that got down to about 10 feet (we need 6) but that was as low as it went. We had a crew exchange: one new friend departed for his off-the-grid cabin on the south end of Lopez, and another new friend came on board, bearing orange marmalade, Mama Lil's peppers, and a banana which was quickly removed from the boat before it could impart its curse. Our visit coincided with the start of my old college flatmate's annual family reunion, always held at the Islander. Good times were had by all, and we were allowed to shower on shore at the matriarch's room. We dined at The Galley, a spot where I had only had breakfast in the past. The carne asada's non-traditional cut of beef put me off at first, but it ended up being quite satisfying.
No bananas in the tailpipe for us
Shed Boys...not just a Port Townsend social trend. Seattle Times article on Shed Boys
Next stop, through the morning fog around the north end of Lopez and down to Watmough Bay. We had a plan to anchor there, meet up with the family reunion who were planning an excursion to this popular Lopez destination, and then a hike up to the south Lopez off-the-grid cabin for dinner. The fog was challenging but not too bad with visibility never getting worse than a couple hundred yards, and it was fun to use the radar for once. AIS kept me well aware of the several ferry boats we never saw but passed as we went on our way to Thatcher Pass. When we got into Watmough there were about 10 boats already there, but they were just waiting for the fog to clear and all took off around 11:00 when it lifted. And in keeping with the theme of the trip, I again remarked on what an easy and accommodating anchorage we were able to enjoy with consistent depths of 15 - 25 feet.
Entering Watmough Bay
Watmough is a fantastic destination that I can't believe I neglected until a couple years ago when we made our first visit. It is a shining jewel of the San Juan Preservation Trust, bought and preserved through a separate excise tax on all real estate transactions in Island County.
Another mishap occurred here in the form of a tragic accident with an extra large and sharp barnacle which punctured one of the new inflatable kayaks. Fortunately it was in a location that looked promising for a patch. The errant crew member required a tow back to the boat from the outer island in the below photo:
We hiked up to the off-the-grid cabin. I know I've done the hike to the Watmough rope swing before, but I didn't recall it being quite as much of an all-fours scramble as it is. We had a large standard poodle and a 75 year old (but fit and tough) older lady with us who needed a little help, coaching, and encouragement to make it all the way up. Thankfully the dog made it because I don't know how it would ever be able go back down once we got halfway up. Then we got a little turned around trying to get on the right path to the large cleared pasture adjacent to the cabin. Fortunately the pasture is big enough to show up on Google Earth and the cell coverage cooperated for once to help us navigate.
Mighty fine madrone grove on the hike up
Walking pasture perimeters as we approach the cabin
Power plant (solar on opposite side of roof) and the hot and cold running water station (with shower!)
The on-demand propane hot water heater and shower
The cabin was a delight, especially after having spent the past six days quizzing its owner on how everything works and having to imagine how it all was laid out. The composting toilet was much larger than I expected, with a very large drum below it. The propane on-demand water heater provided one of the best showers of the trip. The cabin interior felt odd with a fully functional propane stove, oven, fridge, and electricity but no running water inside. It all worked, and the place has a pretty neat vibe to it. And our dinner of prawns, clams, oysters, and seasonal veg was perfect. Our host gave us a ride to the Watmough parking lot in time to make it to the boat before dark. I pulled our crab pot to find nothing worth reporting, and put the boat to bed for the crossing of the strait in the morning. Originally we thought we might spend another night on Lopez and just do the trip to Shilshole in one day, but the forecast was calling for gales to build and I made the call to get across the strait while it was still "just" in Small Craft Advisory mode and not yet in Gale mode.
View from the porch
Again we had fog, enough to delay our crossing for a few hours. We also were hoping for wind and got some, but not enough to really sail the whole way across. So much for Small Craft Advisories, again. The VHF, which was practically silent on our trip up, was on fire with boaters calling in distress. One gentleman came on channel 16 with a frantic "MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY...Oh Lord I'm in trouble! I hit something I don't know what and now I'M SMOKIN'" The panic was coming through strong. As the Coast Guard followed up with their usual questions, they got to "Are you wearing life jackets?" and the caller paused and replied "NO! But we'll do that next!" We never heard the conclusion, but it didn't sound like water was coming in so I'm guessing he came out OK. That was the most exciting call but there were many others of the usual variety of overturned kayaks and disabled engines. Must have been a busy day for Boat US, the towing insurance people. We also saw what was either a rescue operation or some kind of training exercise happening at Smith Island, with the CG chopper and a supporting CG boat hanging around there for about an hour. I always monitor the radio, partly because it breaks up the tedium of long passages, but also as I know all too well, anyone out on the water can be brought low by unexpected calamities and I am always ready and willing to lend a hand should things go awry for a boater nearby. It is exciting to listen to these dramas play out, but also quite sobering especially when you've had your own near-misses with logs and other objects in the water.
For those tracking equipment failures and mishaps, our attempts to use the radome tilt adjuster while sailing failed as the adjuster just came unthreaded from its rod and we couldn't quite puzzle out how to fix it. Oh well, we just dealt with half the radar shooting to the sky and half to the depths. Another problem to fix in the off season.
For the love of God, somebody shut that hatch
We had a very nice stop in Port Townsend, including dinner at the Alchemy Bistro, a delightful evening of live music at the Uptown, and we even hit the farmer's market. A gentleman with a black tooth and American Legion hat at the Uptown tried to pick a fight with the first mate, who had to defuse things with some tough talk one-on-one in the men's room. He was belligerent to all and seemed to be tolerated with many apologies from the locals. We did observe him scaring off a group of Japanese tourists though, which probably amounted to a loss of revenue of $20 - $50 for the bar that night, which was a shame. We made friends with a local named Joe, an older man who frequently broke off our conversation with apologies as he spotted a promising new dance partner to ask out on the floor. Joe once windsurfed ("in only a swimsuit. no wetsuit!") from Golden Gardens to Bainbridge and back, just because he wanted to, and he has sailed to Hawaii and back. One of the crew was originally from Chile and Joe had spent time there, which was all it took for about half an hour of fluent catching up in Spanish to ensue.
Local band at the so-called dive bar, The Uptown
And that was it but for the final day spent motoring south to Shilshole.
It was a great trip in every respect. I really enjoyed meeting new friends and sharing old favorites from the San Juan Islands with them. The boat worked great. As usual, the extended time away and unfiltered exposure to nature provided a conducive backdrop for some memorable conversations. Good times.
That's it for the prequel cruise. Just think, next year it could be YOU crewing on our next adventure! Speaking of which...spoiler alert...how does Barkley Sound sound to you?
Next up, the family cruise to Olympia.Share on Twitter Share on Facebook