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7/18/2011

Braving Deception Pass just to become en snarled in Port Townsend Pea Soup Fog

          Is Deception Pass the fabled Northwest Passage?  Not if you are headed for the "Spice Islands"

       In the early days of exploring, Deception Pass was incorrectly charted as a narrow passage leading to a small bay.  As it turned out, it was indeed a narrow spot but it was not a small bay, instead it separated huge Whidbey Island from the mainland.  The small bay turned out to be a massive inland sea running all the way to Olympia, much of which ebbed and flooded through Deception Pass.

           The pass is really two passes with a small island in the middle.  Canoe Pass is on the north side and Deception Pass is on the south.  From a boaters viewpoint on the water, there is no confusing which side is the one to use.  Canoe Pass is much smaller and due to the curving cliff wall you cannot see all the way through.  The water flow routinely exceeds 8 kts,  (more on the Canoe side) which makes sailboat transits difficult without planning for slack tide and no current.

         On this trip we are on our way from Anacortes to Port Townsend and decide to spend the night at Cornet Bay, which is inside Deception Pass State Park.  Cornet Bay has a large dock facility with boat ramps, picnic tables, restrooms and hiking.  You may choose to tie up to the dock for a nominal fee, or anchor for free.  We arrive at and enter Deception pass on our 28 foot sailboat late in the day on an incoming tide.  Windsong cruises at about 5 knots and the pass current was probably running at 7 knots or so.  This adds up to a 12 knot ground speed, so the cliffs and gorgeous scenery just flew by as we raced along.  The water was turbulent with eddies and whirlpools tugging at our keel and rudder.  Steering the boat is a full time job.  The highway bridge overhead crosses at the narrowest point about 180 feet above. 
Deception Pass
Looking inward or east you can easily see large Deception Pass on the right and small Canoe Pass on the left. The current is minimal but may be four or five mph causing sailboats to wait for slack water.

Deception Pass and Canoe Pass
Again both passes are visible in this westward  (outbound view). Canoe Pass is on right, but due to S shape cannot be seen through. The current is obvious as shown by the whirls and eddies on the surface. The current is strongest directly under bridge and may be fast enough to stop a slow boat going against it.

Cornet Bay dock at Deception Pass
This is the Cornet Bay dock. Deception Pass is directly beyond little Ben Ure Island in background.  Only a third mile away the pass may be raging but at the dock it is a great place to be.  The four lane boat ramp is to the right outside the picture.



        Tourists are watching from the bridge, so it’s a good time to look up and wave.  Seconds later Deception Pass is behind us and we are cautiously making our way across a very shallow area most boaters avoid. We are sneaking into Cornet bay without going the long way around little Ben Ure Island.  It would’ve taken all of five minutes to go around but the gunkholer in me can’t resist thin water, and I am driving a five foot draft keel boat of all things. Besides, past experience has taught me that with the rising tide we can quickly float off any trouble I get us into.  By the time we complete our little short cut, I have added about thirty minutes by being super cautious, and traveled only a quarter mile.  

          While on final approach to the dock my crew is busy hanging out fenders and getting lines ready.  The only boat at the dock is a vintage sedan of about 50 feet. The skipper comes out and stands ready to receive our line.  She is a lady of the sea, she may be younger than her boat or maybe older.  It’s impossible to tell, and not polite to ask. 
  
           I don’t remember any problem with current or wind, but my crew seemed to be yelling and tripping over each other while trying to get us parked. I do remember handing our 12 foot telescoping boat hook to someone and the next thing I see is the handle disappearing into the water. After the pole is lost, everyone is silent, the lady on the dock holding our line must think we belong locked up somewhere safe and away from boats or at least saltwater. I don’t think you ever recover from a first impression gone bad.  

          I secure Windsong using four dock lines, a fore and aft line and two spring lines, picture perfect and by the book.  That should help our tainted image I think.  Smelt are running and there are about 20 fishermen on the docks.  Jaiden is 9 years old and is drawn to the fishing like a cat.  Soon a lady and her husband have him set up with a spare pole and he is busy catching the little silver fish about as fast as he can throw out the hook.  I am talking to the skipper of the older Chris Craft, she is up from the Tacoma area and has owned the boat for a long time.  It was a real beauty once, a classic, all wood hull, acres of mahogany and teak.  She had quit doing any bright work cosmetic maintenance years ago, the spar varnish was peeling and coming off in sheets.  She told me she was by herself and would spend the summer at one spot or another in the San Juan’s and Puget Sound. Judging by the blankets, tarps, and misc. junk hanging about, she’d been at it awhile already. 

        Around sunset Linda and I went for a hike out to a point where we had a good view toward Deception Pass.  It was high tide, the current had wound down to nothing, whirlpools and eddies were taking a short break.  We gaze out at the setting sun and spot a little boat being rowed in the pass as if it was a placid lake.  

         Back at the boat the fish have quit biting and the fishermen have left, a few more boats have arrived and taken their places at the dock for the night.  The Chris Craft has a couple long wood boat poles with shiny brass hook ends, they have either been stored inside or refinished recently.  The skipper says I can borrow one in the morning, just be sure to put it back when I’m done. I silently wonder if she thinks I’ll lose it like mine.  Ever since losing our pole I’ve been thinking of a way to get it back.  Low tide is just before noon and the water level may drop enough to see my pole on the bottom.  The water should be about 9 feet deep at low tide and with the Chris Craft skippers 12 foot pole I might be able to bring mine up.  

          In the morning a few fishermen are around but the smelt have left.  The kids don’t mind our planned late departure, they find plenty to do.  I’m waiting for all the waters of Puget Sound to rush through Deception Pass and lower the level enough to get my boat pole back.  I think, if we were under way as planned the current would flush Windsong back under the bridge and in seconds we would be shot into Juan De Fuca strait on our way to Port Townsend.  At about 30 minutes before low tide I am able to make out a light colored straight object on the bottom, I’m sure it’s my pole. I lower the skipper’s varnished wood pole into the water and check to make sure it floats. I don’t want to confirm any suspicions she already has.  It’s difficult to maneuver the wood pole under water because it floats, and my pole on the bottom is hard to see.  I manage to touch my pole and send it further away from the dock.  After more practice prodding I determine the middle of the pole and drag it closer. 

         The water is still dropping, but for how long?  Once we reach low tide the water will start back up, the current in the pass will reverse and we may be stuck on the inside until slack high tide in another six hours or so.  That means we won’t make Port Townsend. 

          Things are tensing up,  I want my pole back, but I want to make it through the pass too. I tell everyone to get ready to go, there’s no time to spare,  and we’re leaving in a few minutes.  The water drops some more and I can see the poles blurry outline quite well.  I lean over the edge between the boat and the dock and deftly drag my pole across the bottom until it is right below me. I can’t tell which end has the hook but I’m able to lift one end and begin to stand it up in the water when it slips and falls back to the bottom. Several times I  get it started up but each time it slips away.  I try picking up the other end while rotating the skippers pole just a little and manage to bring the end almost to the surface. I pin the pole against the dock, got it. 

       Lets go, I yell as I put the wood  pole back on the Chris Craft and thank the skipper.  We cast off and head for the pass. I don’t consider the shallow short cut we came in through, not at low tide and certainly not at full throttle. When we get around Ben Ure Island and see Deception Pass I fear we are too late.  Windsong is closing the distance fast, but as the canyon narrows the current increases, the fastest current is at the narrowest point.  

        Windsongs speed over the ground has steadily dropped even though her diesel motor is red lined at 3,000 rpm. We are just barely creeping forward until we are directly under the bridge, for awhile I thought we would make it.  I know there are people on the bridge watching us, but I’m not going to wave, I know they’re saying to each other “he’s not going to make it, he’s not going to make it.”  When I look at  shore 50 feet away I can tell we have stopped moving in spite of leaving a wake and the screaming motor.  Instinctively I shove the throttle lever harder and glance back at shore, no movement, we’ve lost the race. 

        It is loud on board, a wide open diesel is not quiet, the water is very turbulent and whirlpools form and move around in the eddies. Some of the bigger whirlpools make sucking sounds as they go by.  I’m at a loss, I don’t know what to do.  I’m about to give up and go back to Cornet Bay when Linda suggests moving closer to shore, where the current may be less.  The water depth is very deep in the pass, otherwise there would be massive rapids with this huge volume of water (sometimes there are).  We are only 50 feet from shore, but I gently steer us closer while studying the water beside us and ahead of us. At about 20 feet we start to gain a little and I look ahead watching for any sideways water that may slam us into the rock cliff. The narrowest place in Deception pass is only about 100 feet long.  If we can somehow make the next 100 feet we’ll have it.  For ten agonizing minutes we play tag with cliffs and whirlpools.  Time slows to a  crawl as we creep forward, gaining a little, losing a little, and then we win. Deception Pass lets us go.
Whirlpools in the San Juan's and Deception Pass
The picture flattens what is about fifteen feet across two feet deep and making sucking sounds.  This might be bad news for a kayak, canoe or small dinghy. Even bigger boats feel their tug on the keel.

     We definitely speed up, I know we have made it through. As our speed increases I move further from shore,  I turn and look up at the bridge and give everyone a big "we made it" wave.  Soon we clear the rocky point, turn south, running parallel to the shore on Whidbey Island.  The engine is quietly pushing us along at about 4 knots.  Looking at the chart I estimate it’s about 20 miles or so to Port Townsend.  Finally for the first time today I can relax.  We recovered our pole and beat the pass, let’s eat I say. 

         While skirting Whidbey Island the motion on board is uncomfortable, there’s a swell coming up the Strait of Juan De Fuca and when it meets shallow water near shore it piles up and we are on top of that pile rocking sideways. I have been following a depth line of about 50 feet which is pretty close to shore.  I like being close so I can see the scenery but I move out to over 100 feet deep and the motion gets a little better.  As I look ahead towards Port Townsend it looks hazy, most likely fog is on the verge of forming.  We have had several run-ins with thick fog and no longer consider it fun. Fog is dangerous and to be avoided. 

          The trip so far has been off the beaten track so to speak, close to shore and safe from commercial traffic, but Port Townsend is on the other side of Admiralty Inlet, the main route for overseas traffic in and out of Puget Sound. Where we cross is about three or four miles wide.  All ship and barge traffic headed to or from Seattle must use this stretch of water.  We’re glad the fog has held off when we make the crossing over to Port Townsend. We don’t see a single ship, just the Keystone-Port Townsend Ferry.  Several traveling boats like us are anchored just off shore from the seawall, we pull up to the town dock and tie up for free, no yelling or tripping and the boat hook stayed in its place, but no one is watching.  What luck I was expecting either no room at the inn or having to pay $25 a night.  Fore and aft dock lines, two spring lines, and we are set for the night. 

           The weather is not really overcast, it’s more like a high fog layer is just above our heads.  It is a little cold and damp.  To be sure, it is a dreary depressing day since we crossed over.  Soon we walk up the gangway and head into town. Port Townsend has a refurbished reborn old town area running along the shoreline and we quickly become immersed in gift shops.  The ice cream shop is a big hit.  There is a stairway that climbs the hill in the middle of town and we decide to walk up to the top and see what’s up there, our reward is nothing but some housing developments.  We follow a circuitous road back to the water and discover a maritime museum and the boat basin where we could’ve paid to stay.  Back at waters edge Jaiden is entertained playing in the city park. Next door is the police station with three police cars in the parking lot.  One car is an absolute mess, seagulls have been using it for target practice so much that it would be impossible to see out the windshield. I get a picture.  Kailey is in a snit, she wont talk, while we explored the Seafarers memorial earlier she just leaned against the wall and pouted.  Walking back to the boat is a short two minute trip in silence.  

           Visiting small towns by boat usually means you arrive at the back door right in the middle of town.  Port Townsend is no exception, any glitzy welcome display is probably up the hill somewhere on the main road.  Windsong looks cold, small and lonely at the bottom of the ramp. I see someone has come ashore by dinghy.  They have dragged their shore boat up onto the dock rather than tie up.  Probably a good idea, the passing ships wakes are pounding the seawall.  Out a ways are the same group of boats anchored, one undoubtedly belongs to the dinghy.  I busy myself making things ship shape.  Everything is getting wet, but it’s not raining.  The bean bag chair is getting wet but there’s no room in the cabin and it won’t fit in the lazarette.  I’m bored and restless, come on Jaiden, lets go for a walk I say. (I’m beginning to look forward to leaving in the morning).  We walk straight to a little wine shop I spotted earlier. Its thirty minutes from closing time and the owner is by himself.  I know less than nothing about wines so I busy myself comparing prices and looking for cool names.  I choose a red wine with a picture of a sailboat on the label. The shop keeper is a transplant from somewhere, so we have lots to talk about, every so often I tell Jaiden to be careful or don’t touch something.  Two hours after closing we leave the wine shop and walk  back to the boat to find a cork screw.  Linda is annoyed and concerned. Probably annoyed with being left behind with Kailey the grump and concerned for Jaidens safety.  I don’t remember if we ate or snacked for dinner.  It was a rough night Linda tells me in the morning, with all the waves rocking and slamming us into the dock, she hardly slept at all. I have to take her word for it, I slept well.  Outside the fog has dropped onto us, the anchored boats are not visible and yet they are less than 500 feet away.

Port Townsend fog and public dock
Public dock at Port Townsend is right next to the ferry dock but you would never know it in the thick fog.

 


     I watch the ferry leave and disappear into the gloom before it’s wake reaches us.  It’s obvious we can’t leave.  With my morning coffee in hand I step onto the dock, and notice we are at an odd angle.  Our half inch nylon stern line has parted from the pounding while I slept.  I make a mental note to allow more slack, double the critical lines and look into chaffing protection.  This may also explain why we had the free dock to ourselves.  Linda and I study our charts and current tables while waiting for the fog to lift, but I know we will leave when the fog is gone not when the current is going the right way.  Our plan is to head north across the eastern end of the Strait of Juan De Fuca.  We will go through Cattle Pass and into the protected waters between San Juan and Lopez Islands.


         The run today is a distance of about 25 miles, just a little further than when we came from Deception Pass. The kids are still asleep when we cast off two hours later and quietly slide past the anchored boats. The wind as usual is not much help, We motor-sail most of this leg, mostly because the sails help stabilize us and reduce the swell induced rolling.

strait of Juan De Fuca
Motoring across the east end of the Strait of Juan De Fuca is rolly polly. There was little wind but soon we unfurled the sails trying to reduce the nauseating motion, it didn't help much.

Cattle Pass in the San Juan's
At last Cattle Pass and no more waves or fog. Fortunately the tide was incoming or we would've been stuck outside for awhile. As it was we shot through. Lopez Island on right, Orcas Island dead ahead, Friday Harbor on left will take about half an hour with the currents help.






Launching at Deception Pass and Racing to the San Juan Islands and Friday Harbor


           Fourth of July celebrations are over, the crowds are gone, and we have until sunset to drive 275 miles, step the mast, launch the boat, and claim a spot at the dock.  This year we are hauling our 25 foot  sailboat, our trusty 9 foot dinghy and an inflatable kayak (three boats, three people).  We are sneaking through Seattle just ahead of rush hour and hope to be in the Anacortes area late in the afternoon, but I'm already talking of changing our plans as we drive along at 60 mph. Instead of going to Washington Park as planned, I suggest Deception Pass State Park.  We had been there before by boat and knew there would be a good ramp, docks, hiking, and  protected Cornet Bay. The only problem would be the threat of fog and nasty currents in the pass. I knew in the morning the current was favorable and fog, well fog was another thing.  I had previously announced that even with our GPS,  we shouldn't be  taking risks in the fog and,  we change plans or wait it out. Another consideration is that at Washington Park we will have to take off or anchor, but at Deception Pass we can stay the night at the dock.  We went straight to Deception Pass this time.
Deception Pass - Bowman Bay - Sharpe Cove




On our way to Cornet Bay we crossed over the double bridges spanning Deception Pass, but first I pull over so we can  walk out onto Pass Island.  We get great views of Deception Pass and  Canoe Pass.  As luck would have it a pirate ship replica full of tourists is going through just as we arrive. The ships cannon fires and smoke fills the air as the boom echoes off the canyon walls.  The water is deceivingly calm at slack tide, in another half hour the water will be rushing out to sea at more than 6 mph and the pass will have whirlpools, and standing waves (sometimes, not always) over 5 feet high, and that's just a normal summer day. In the winter it can be dangerous for even large vessels.  I took a picture looking straight down down at narrow little Canoe Pass, tomorrow Linda and I will  fail to get the dinghy through Canoe Pass, not being able to overcome the incoming current.

Deception Pass bridge on the way to the San Juan's






























Tall ship in Deception Pass firing canon










Canoe Pass in Deception Pass State Park
This is looking straight down from the bridge into Canoe Pass at slack water, tomorrow we fail to overcome the current with our 7.5 hp honda on a 9 foot dinghy
Deception Pass Bridge from Cornet Bay
Deception Pass bridge is really two bridges meeting on Pass Island, this view is looking westward towards the San Juans.

This view is from the Deception Pass bridge, Cornet Bay is in the background and off to the right past the little island.  If you come here I recommend you figure out a way to get out on this bridge, It is well worth the hike or drive, unless its foggy then don't bother.






























     Cornet Bay is just half a mile inside the pass so we arrive there a few minutes after crossing the bridge.  As soon as we pull into the parking lot it's obvious coming to Deception Pass is a good idea.  The docks have plenty of room for more boats, and the trailer parking lot is virtually empty.  While I start rigging "Sunshine" and prepare to step the mast, Jaiden and Linda walk down on the docks, within minutes Jaiden is back for his fishing gear.  In about two hours I'm ready to back down the launch ramp and float the boat. The trailers extension tongue and guides make launching and retrieving a simple affair.

Cornet Bay launching ramp at Deception Pass Park
This ramp is first rate and good at all tide levels, after  launching you can tie up for the night or up to three days at the float. 


Down on the dock we discover Margarette and her black lab mixture Mackee. A lady and her dog, and their vintage 1937 40 foot motor sedan. We had met them four years earlier when we were on a trip to Port Townsend.  Over the next two days we become friends again even though power boaters and sailors don't mix well.

Cornet Bay dock at Deception Pass
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 Jaiden is having a such a great time fishing and meeting new people that we decide to stay another day at Cornet Bay. This gives Linda and Margarette time to hike some trails. I get to read.

Cornet Bay fishing dock at Deception Pass Park

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        On an incoming tide Linda and I take the dinghy and perhaps foolishly attempt to circle Pass Island.  The currents and eddies aren't too bad in Canoe Pass, no standing waves have developed yet, but it is a challenge holding a straight course.  The swirlies are tossing us around so much Linda accuses me of doing it on purpose.  At the narrowest point directly under the bridge our 7.5 hp Honda can go no faster, we aren't making headway and are at a standstill unable to proceed. Briefly I consider riding a whirlpool counter current to gain another few feet, but instead just turn around.  The  run back to Cornet Bay takes only minutes with the current whisking us along. A week later when we return to go home Jaiden and I take another shot at Canoe Pass, only this time with a little lighter load the dinghy is planing along at better than 10 mph. We fly through Canoe Pass, circle Pass Island and return through Deception Pass. Small waves and whirlpools all around us, it's not really much of an achievement, but with Deception Pass's nasty reputation it will make a great story, and is a ride  that only few people get to experience in a little dinghy.  During our extra day at Cornet Bay we were able to study our current and tide charts bringing me to the realization that my plan to whale watch and ride the current northward in Haro Strait would be ill advised since we would most likely not get to a place to moor for the night until 8 o'clock or later. If any problems came up we would be in the dark. As it turned out, planning anything for mornings was a waste of time since every evening a blanket of fog descended on us.  

        On the morning of the third day we had to decide what to do and where to go, and if we were going through the pass we would need to go before 1pm or the tidal current would reverse trapping us for six more hours.  To make things worse some men in a pretty large sea worthy looking aluminum fisheries boat had just come back from the pass saying the fog was pea soup and waves were 6 feet forcing them to turn around. This was not good news, our only  option was to run through Swinomish channel taking us on a round about journey to avoid the pass.  Both previous days the fog had burned off in the early afternoon and the weather forecast was for more of the same, curiously the forecast said nothing about small craft warnings or waves any higher than 1- 2 feet. I decided we would go through Deception Pass then follow the shoreline northward, if the fog or seas were too much for us we would duck into Bowman Bay just outside the pass. 

        When I  announced we were leaving Margarette and some other boaters asked us to stay in touch by radio and give them updates on sea and fog conditions.  We left Cornet Bay and the outgoing current immediately pulled the boat swiftly  into Deception Pass, there was no turning back now, our little 10 hp outboard would not stand a chance of pushing against this current, (plus we are towing the dinghy and a 7.5 outboard) all we can do is maintain steering and go for the ride. The fog is thick, we can barely see the bridge where we stood three days earlier.  It's not  pea soup fog, in pea soup we can't see the bow of the boat and it feels hard to breathe but I know thats just me getting nervous.. Visibility is about a quarter mile so we are not worried about running into other boaters. Under the bridge are 4-6 foot standing waves and we bury our nose into the first one but the water rolls off before it gets near us in the cockpit, the next wave buries us also and the boat begins to hobby horse bringing the propeller out of the water for a few seconds at a time, I reduce throttle to slow us down and avoid over revving the motor. It never occurs to me that we could get some great pictures. The biggest waves only last for a few hundred feet at the narrowest point in the pass, and then the sea state returns to something you could paddle a canoe in. In short order it is quiet, and we are alone in the fog, the bridge is lost somewhere behind us,

        Deception Island is 1/2 a mile ahead and to one side somewhere, beyond is Juan De Fuca Strait,  Bowman Bay should be right beside us, if we could see anything I would turn in for a quick visit. We have to trust our hand held GPS to know where we are since all we see is white fog. Suddenly the radio crackles to life, it's Margarette wanting our report. I inform her that the sea is very calm and visibility is about a quarter mile or less, the standing waves are only under the bridge where expected. We gave Margarette two more reports on the fog as we made our way north along the coast.  I don't know what she finally did, but I think she went through Swinomish channel since she did not have a GPS to guide her through the fog.  We on the other hand continued north riding a very convenient counter current all the way to Skyline Marina in Burrows Bay where we promptly ran aground in the entrance channel right next to a sign reading "shallow water on right side"  Our retractable keel once again saves the day as we winch it up a foot and enter the moorage. Soft groundings are embarrassing but don't damage the boat. Skyline Marina is private and unless you are buying gas there is no place to stop or tie up. We are killing time waiting for the fog to lift, and circle around ogling all the million dollar boats before venturing  back into Burrows Bay.  Finally the fog starts to dissipate and we can  see all the way across Rosario Strait, plus a nice breeze has come up. I quickly kill the motor, hoist our main and working jib and point our little ship at James Island.


James Island Marine Park
James Island park four boat float and campground
Four boat float at James
       We are running on a fast beam reach, and cross the strait in record time, exactly the sailing I was looking for. As we sail along I can see the fog is still hanging south of us, I try to reach Margarette on channel 16 but she doesn't respond. We decide to head for Friday Harbor and shoot past James Island into Thatcher Pass.  Friday Harbor is a bustling little city, the county seat and largest city in the San Juan's. It also boasts a very large first class boat basin. Once through Thatcher Pass the wind falls off so we motor-sail in order to keep making good progress.  Around 5 o'clock I begin to worry that the harbor office may close before we get there so I use my cell phone to call the harbor master to reserve a slip. I'm informed they don't make reservations, so I ask if they have any slips available and he says he doesn't know, but when I arrive I can call security on channel 66a for a slip assignment. We ride some pretty good winds and benefit a lot from some  favorable currents  arriving at the outer breakwater about 6:45 where I radio the harbor master and receive our slip number for the night, I guess the phone was too easy. We drop sails and  motor, leaving no wake, into our slip.  Most of the boaters are enjoying dinner and cocktails, it is a fabulous evening.  Jaiden does a great job with the lines and keeping the dinghy from banging into the neighbors. After all the usual small talk and story telling with boat people (sailors) in the slip next to us we head into town for dinner, the weather is great and were starving. We pass by all the bars and grills, the grocery deli, Chinese food, Sea Food, and find ourselves at a pizza place we had discovered years earlier. Once dinner is devoured we window shop our way back to the docks. Jaiden is having fun running ahead and poking into side streets, a habit that is not setting well with Linda. We meet the resident seal again, he/she seems to hang out near the floating sea food store for some reason.



Washington State ferry leaving Friday Harbor
I didn't get a picture arriving so this shot is as we are leaving Friday Harbor, I have about 20 seconds to get out of the way before the Ferry  picks up speed

Friday Harbor
        Linda fills out a registration card and places it with our moorage fee into an envelope so that Jaiden can shove it in the little slot in the closed harbor office door. That's it, we don't need to do anything except vacate our slip by 1pm tomorrow.  Tonight I sleep like a rock, It had been a long day.  I wake up early when the boat people next to us leave, then roll over and go back to sleep.  Every day starts the same way, we make coffee on the camp stove using our 12 cup drip coffee maker.  If its cold out we set it up inside, if its nice we set up in the cockpit. Later Linda and I walk down the dock to the seafood store to buy ice and watch the seal beg.  Jaiden hauls all our garbage to the dumpster and then we cast off, we will have a small current against us all day as we make our way to Jones Island, but we have a light following wind. As soon as we clear the last wharf, Jaiden and I set the 150 drifter on a pole and wing the main out to catch all the wind we can. I experiment with different headings to get to Jones Island the fastest under sail. Our big drifter is helping us out pace several other boats going the same general direction. I mention to Linda that maybe I should rig a preventer so the boom doesn't pull an unannounced jibe on us. Hindsight is 2020, later Jaiden got a really hard whack that scared us all.

Sailing from Friday Harbor to Jones Island wing on wing
Wing on wing all the way to Jones, this is what its all about.

     The bean bag chair is Jaiden's usual on deck comfort zone, unless a sail change is needed.
We have sailed all the way to Jones, and we could have sailed right to the dock or anchor but using the motor is prudent when other boats are around.  As we motor into the bay at Jones there is no room at the dock so we decide to anchor on the right side where we have anchored before. This is Jaiden's first time handling the anchor. The cove is very quiet and all eyes are on us. the first attempt to set the hook fails, as I back down it easily comes loose. Jaiden pulls it back up as I motor back into position for another attempt, this time I have him pay out enough line for about a 7 to 1 scope before he cleats it hard, but it comes loose again. I ask him if he cleaned it completely of weeds and mud, his answer makes me suspect not. I go forward and assist sloshing the anchor up and down washing loose the snagged grass and muck, I can barely lift it, I think I know why it didn't hook the second time.  I run through the steps for anchoring and make sure he knows why and what we are doing. This time the anchor digs in. To prevent the boat having excessive swing we use the dinghy to set another anchor at about 180 degrees off the first, this will keep us off the rocks and away from the boats at the dock. Jaiden heads for shore in the dinghy, Linda and I settle in for some reading. Later we up anchor and move the boat to the dock when a power boat leaves.  Jones Island has camp sites on shore with fire pits,  for dinner we get a big fire going and roast kielbasa and marshmallows, several other boaters come around to share the fire and join in the conversation.  Later on when it is almost dark we notice the deer have gathered in the lawn area right next to us. After it is completely dark the children have fun walking amongst the deer and using their flashlights to spot the tame animals.

Jones Island tame deer in the San Juan's
The next day I get some good pics

Jones Island tame deer in the San Juan's
This lady was right next to me and I didn't notice, she never got up, its about two feet 


                                                   Full dock
      When we leave the campfire and head down the dock to the boat it is after 11 o'clock so we fall asleep immediately, but both Linda and I are up around 6 am and find each other on a hike across the island.  Our walks started separately but ended together.  We return to the boat, start the coffee and plan the day. Today we want to make it all the way to Lummi Island where my brother lives.  Our plan is to sail the entire way, anchor off shore near his house and spend the night visiting.  Coffee, bagels and cheese for breakfast, no sign of Jaiden makes us wonder if his head whacking yesterday was more serious than thought.  I've been paying attention to the wind and think we can sail away from the dock without using the motor.  There is a very slight breeze in the cove and much more once clear of the island. I set the 150 drifter and the breeze just barely holds the sails shape even though it is made of light weight 1.5 oz cloth. Any heavier sail cloth would have hung limp.  Since the boat is facing into the wind the sail is back winded at the dock, I cast off the bow line and keep the stern line with me on the dock, as the boat slowly pivots 180 degrees the sail fills correctly and begins to pull the boat away in the right direction. I step aboard and tidy up lines and fenders while Linda steers us deftly between anchored boats.  In no time at all we catch fair wind and leave Jones behind. It's a good feeling when your able sail away and not use the motor, especially with an audience, and much more satisfying than running aground.  

      We  head north around Orcas Island, Jaiden sleeps until close to noon, and its about this time that we begin to loose our battle with the current.  We knew that the current would turn on us but hoped the wind would stick around to make up the difference, it did not. We are halfway between Orcas and Sucia and have about 15 miles to go, the current is dragging us backwards at about 1 mph.  We have eaten our snacks, our trail mix, made sandwiches, drank the water, set the Bimini top to create a little shade from the blaring sun, and stared at the same point of land for the last two hours, discussing whether it was getting closer or farther from us. We drop the sails and start the motor, I quickly check our speed with the GPS, measure our distance and determine we will be about 8 more hours, which is unacceptable, so it's time to change course around Matia Island to intercept a counter current that will swing us right into Hale passage on the other side of Lummi Island. A longer distance but with smart navigation we will get there faster, I hope.  After about 30 minutes I start to question my judgment knowing that the current charts have not always been correct. I then change course again heading for shallow water near shore on Orcas Island, I know that the current is less in shallow water, plus I expect the wind to come back once we clear the shadow of Orcas and enter Rosario Strait. We are running along in about 30 to 40 feet of water when suddenly the depth sounder swings right up to 12 feet, I instantly slow down and turn abruptly away from shore. After conferring with my chart I know right where we are because the chart clearly marks an under water ledge coming out from shore. No harm just a little scare and a lesson learned for free this time. After about an hour conditions improve, as we come around Orcas and feel the influence of Rosario Strait the wind is on our beam. The seas are 3 to 4 feet with an off angle swell sweeping across.  This is very uncomfortable for Linda so she goes below, Jaiden and I really having fun, get the sails up and sheet her in tight, this greatly stabilizes the action as we leap from wave to wave but does nothing for the underlying swell. We are still unable to pick out Lummi Island from the background scenery, we can see the tall summit of course but the tip of the island is blurred with the mainland.

     We are making very good headway but the current is also dragging us south. Each time I tell Jaiden to hold a course steering towards a prominent landmark or feature, I need to correct myself in a few minutes due to the sideways drift. (set)  It's imperative not to steer for the tip of the island, but to steer well above to correct for the drift, otherwise we will find ourselves way south and have to steer directly into the current to get around the island. We are sailing very fast and the boat is so responsive I feel like saying to heck with the destination, and just sail. It is obvious Jaiden is enjoying manning the tiller even though it is hard work.  We have sailed about 6 to 8 miles and cleared the tip of Lummi Island, we now have to turn south into the wind, but with the current.  I set us on a close reach crossing Hale passage, with the current boosting us we should be able make two long tacks and round up in the little bay where we plan to anchor.  I call my brother Bill on the phone to let him know we are getting near, he wants us to call him when we anchor so he can pick us up in the car.  I need to adjust our course so as to not antagonize the skipper of the Whatcom Chief, the small ferry that serves Lummi Island residents.  By the time we close the gap the ferry has crossed in front of us several more times. When we started the passage this morning I knew we had all day to get here, part way here I was sure we would be very late or not make it at all, now it appeared we had time to kill and still have an early dinner. Jaiden handles the anchor again, he remembers everything I told him and we set the anchor very well the first try, we set the grapple anchor off at 90 degrees, I'm not worried about our swing room but the changing current direction every 6 hours or so. If an anchor is set from one direction it may pull out and not reset itself when pulled from the opposite direction.  Bill doesn't wait for us to call, we see him up on the road waiting to see where we come ashore.  The three of us grab a few things and climb into the dinghy, the first place we come ashore the beach is not very steep so to avoid getting our feet wet I push off and come ashore 100 feet further up where we have a nice steep gravel beach.  The three of us muscle the dinghy up into the driftwood and tie it to a tree. Bill says not to worry that someone may steal our dinghy and outboard, after all we are already trespassing on private property.

At Uncle Bills house we find more deer


fawn's and mom deer on Lummi Island

We enjoyed our visit with Bill, but it was the turn around point for our trip.  We did not have anything left to accomplish except find our way home.  The next morning we talked until late and then Bill gave us a ride back to the beach where we stashed the dinghy.  The boat anchors had done their job.  We weighed anchor within 30 minutes and slowly motored southward along Lummi Islands east shore.
The wind was blowing right in our face about 15 to 20 mph and throwing up spray and chop, we motored as close to shore as was safe (sometimes within 100 feet) to avoid the worst of the waves and wind all the way to Inati Bay where we ducked in and anchored for lunch. Jaiden took the dinghy to shore and explored the area. The beach and shore is private property belonging to the Bellingham Yacht Club.  We felt like trespassers due largely to their keep out signs on the beach. While sheltered in the bay we discussed our next nights destination and what course to be heading. Cyprus Island was too close, we wanted to stay out of the southern end of Rosario due to fog, Linda had earlier stated she would like to go through Swinomish channel as did I, I also thought a short stop over at LaConner might yield some ice cream for Jaiden. While anchored several other boats pulled into the small cove, I'm sure everyone was seeking shelter from the seas and wind.  While anchored I hanked on our 70% heavy jib and reefed the main to our second reef point. I raised the sails before we cleared the coves protection. The wind was still right on our nose so I set a close reaching course that would take us across Bellingham Bay and then on the return tack we would clear Vendovi Island and at that time would decide where to spend the night. By the time we had reached the mainland and needed to tack, I already shook out the reef and switched to our working jib, and then the wind just went away. We have been gone from last nights anchorage about four hours and I could still see the ferry at Lummi Island, we really needed to give up sailing and motor somewhere or risk being out after dark.  We have no problem navigating in the dark, it is eminently easier than fog, but we like to arrive in the day light and take a walk or short hike. We settle on Saddle Bag Island and start the motor.  Saddle Bag is a small 20+ acre Island marine park with a small shallow bay, when we arrive one other sailboat is anchored at the entrance to the bay, by morning there are two more, we circle the cove slowly checking depths and anchor to one side in about 10 feet of water. To check our swing, Jaiden drops the grapple from the dinghy before he paddles to shore. We can see  the people from the other boat on shore by a fire and Jaiden has joined them.  In a few minutes he paddles back and reports they are nice people, we all jump back in and head for shore.  After securing the dinghy we determine again that they are nice people and then excuse ourselves for a walk around the island.

Saddlebag Island near anacortes and Cap Sante

Anchoring at Saddlebag Island state Park

After circling Saddlebag Island we find the sun has set on all the boats but (Sunshine) ours. 

We talk for awhile around the fire then head back to the boat for dinner.  Back on the boat we discover the water pump switch had been left on, and all our water is gone down the drain, plus the pump has burned up from running dry.  We have a half gallon or so in the cooler plus a couple smaller bottles laying about. We are all really hungry and very cold. We light the camp stove and start cooking two boxes of noodle helper (servings for eight I think) we also light the propane radiant heater, our one big candle, and our gimble mounted kerosene lantern.  Pretty soon we are warm enough to remove our coats. Dinner is consumed rapidly and we are all looking for more servings. It is about now that I discover the kerosene lantern flame is getting smaller and I cannot adjust it, I trim the wick to no avail. Something is wrong, I suspect we are burning up all the oxygen but no one is light headed or feeling stranger the usual. Linda says we need a Canary. To test my theory we set the lantern outside in the cockpit and the flame immediately burns brighter, brought back inside it drops back to half again. We test it several more times and then close the canvas door to keep the heat inside..  I'm more than a little concerned over what we have discovered,  regardless we blow out all the flames and shut off the propane, its time for bed. I sleep like a log again, I wonder why. In the morning Linda and I get the propane heater going first thing, it's a small radiant heater that attaches to the small bottles. The heater is perfect for a small boat, but we worry about knocking it over and are considering some sort of mounting system. We make our coffee using some of our remaining jug water and raise anchor to quietly motor away. The water is flat calm with hardly a ripple, I leave the anchor suspended in the water hoping the boats motion would clean the mud and weeds off. Breakfast under way is coffee and some really hard bagels with cream cheese.  We seem to be benefiting from the incoming tide and I predict that as we get closer to Swinomish channel we will pick up more speed, but I'm wrong, the closer we get to the channel the  slower  we are moving.  I've never seen any publication with  channel predictions or even current flow directions, it seems to not make sense how the water can move out while the tide is coming in. Just as I think about increasing our engine speed I remember the anchor is still hanging from the bow, so I go forward to stow it properly.  Sure enough it is clean and weed free.  The tide is coming in but it is still very low water in Padilla Bay. The channel is well marked and a little narrow, we are meeting a lot of outbound boats, some are leaving  large wakes to bounce us around. Jaiden has appeared in the cockpit and wants to know where we are.  Linda is steering and we are moving only 2 mph, Jaiden and I both tell Linda that it looks like we are pointed toward shore, but she continues on course saying it looks right to her.  I gently suggest that from her position it may look correct, but from where Jaiden and I are sitting, it looks like were headed for land. Linda then says, something to the effect of "you can drive" and goes into the cabin.  Within seconds the boat runs into the soft mud bottom and comes to a halt with the motor still pushing. This is not the first or last time the boat has run aground. But it is the first time we have run aground right in front of a open railway bridge. By steering hard over I am able to use the motors thrust to slowly turn our stuck keel 180 degrees and then slide back out into the channel and resume our journey. Once past the railroad and twin highway bridges we are officially in Swinomish Channel, this is a man made channel connecting Padilla Bay with Skagit Bay.  If your unfamiliar with the area the names  mean little, but you should know that by connecting these two bays in 1937 the corp of army engineers created a nifty 11 mile detour allowing boaters to go around Deception Pass, missing the nasty currents, big waves and persistent fog. Using the channel also allows boaters to avoid all together the Strait of Juan De Fuca which can have its own behavior issues.  To overcome the opposing current we must run the motor at close to full throttle and only make a 2.5 mph over ground, so we of course run out of gas in short order.  I had earlier raised the main sail to help us along and now without the motor, the wind was holding our position so at least we weren't going backwards while I transferred gas.  This is the second time this trip I have filled the motors little 3 gallon tank  from my six gallon container on deck, this is pretty much all we have plus whats in the dinghy tank. Several more wakes rock us as I try not to spill any gas in the cockpit or any where else. As we approach LaConner we go right by the gas dock and I wonder if that's a mistake. The city maintains guest docks for short time and overnight visitors so we slide over and take about 40 feet for ourselves and the dinghy. (we have been towing the dinghy everywhere). Jaiden bounds off the boat looking for the restroom and I mistakenly tell him the wrong way to go (oops, sorry)  A local boat owner working on his vessel says hello, so I mention the current and how we have been all day coming from Saddle Bag.  He says the current flows north for 23 1/2 hours and flows south for a 1/2 hour, and no one knows when the 1/2 hour is. I said thanks, that clears it up. Linda says, that explains why all the boat traffic is going the other way.  Main street with all the quaint shops and eatery's is only a hundred feet from the dock so we join the crowds on the sidewalk to stroll up one side and down the other hoping to be enticed by some irresistible aroma or ambiance.  We settle for ice cream for Jaiden and a block of ice for the boat, and then make sandwiches on board. When we cast off later I think it looks like the current has slowed some, sure enough the GPS confirms we are making about 4 mph, still not good for fuel economy, but better. I could  turn around and buy gas but push on hoping for favorable winds. Some where in the channel the navigation aids reverse colors, because red is on the right and green on the left at both ends. This is not confusing to me at all because we just steer between the red and greens regardless. When we enter Skagit bay we are faced with a straight well marked channel leading us safely across a mile of mud flats, and I remember a skipper a while back complaining how he had run aground here, and he was in the marked area.  Linda is steering while I manage the sails and I can see the channel markers are not in a straight line like the official chart shows them.  Of course all charts have a disclaimer warning not to use them as your sole source of information. (thanks) Linda is keeping a sharp eye on on the depth which is only 12 feet. We are now less than five miles to Cornet Bay and Deception Pass, we have a light wind and the motor is only needed sparingly. As we make our way north four navy patrol boats go by us at high speed, twenty minutes later they return in the same formation only three this time. Judging their speed they must have gone through the pass into the strait of Juan De Fuca a short distance turned and came right back minus their leader. An hour later we approach the dock we had been tied to a week earlier and tie up in the same spot. Margarette and Mackee are gone of course, most of the big anchored boats are still there. Jaiden grabs his pole and mixes in with the fisherman on the dock.  Linda and I go about organizing the boat, we will eat and sleep on the boat tonight, and then in the morning, load her onto the trailer, unstep the mast and head for home. As I motor the dinghy towards the ramp for loading on the roof of the car I can't resist turning away and racing at full throttle, the dinghy planes very well with only one person, skipping lightly over the water. In a minute I find myself without my life jacket heading for Deception Pass determined to circle Pass Island. I think for a second if this is a wise move, then slowly  turn back to pick up Jaiden and both our jackets for one last ride through the pass.  John  July 2010
Deception Pass bridge from the hwy

Deception Pass bridge from Cornet Bay





7/14/2011

Map locating Boat Ramps, Docks, Marine Parks and boat launching ramps serving the San Juan Islands


Map of San Juan Island Area
With selected Parks, Docks, and Trailer Boat Ramps



 •  Boat Ramps = Purple    Parks = Red  •  Docks = Green
Most docks (floats) are in parks, resorts, marinas and may be used for overnight camping. Boat launching ramps have long term parking.  Parks without docks have anchor buoys or areas suitable for anchoring.

The facilities listed, are in my opinion, most useful for cruisers, which means lots of private resorts are not shown because they don't cater to transient boaters.

Click on the picture and then enlarge it to see dot colors better!

Note on trip planning:
I don't recommend taking your boat on a ferry and launching somewhere in the islands.  However if you must, there are county ramps on all four  islands served by the ferries except Shaw.  Many private resorts have ramps but they are inferior at best, nonfunctional at worst. The one exception is Jackson Beach Park  (Port of Friday Harbor) near Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Jackson has a good double ramp and float and you can park for free up to 72 hours.
The mainland ramps I recommend are Washington Park, Deception Pass Park or Squalicum Harbor (#1 choice most trips is Squalicum Harbor)