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Eight places in the San Juans where you can dent your pride and check your ego

        Someone famous once wrote, "I only worry near shore because that is where the shallow water is."  Okay, I don't remember exactly what I read but you get the idea.

        In the San Juan's we are pretty much always near shore (it's not that big an area) so should we worry all the time?  No! We should pay attention using our heads and our tools.

      All the rocks, reefs and shallows are marked on charts, the especially egregious places have buoys, signs, sticks and posts out in the water.   Of course with storms, high tides, poor maintenance, things go missing, so we are back to paying attention and using the old noggin.

       Once not too long ago we were motoring in flat mirror perfect water at about 7 knots in twenty feet of depth.  Up ahead I saw a disturbance (some itty bitty  ripples) I glanced at my chart plotter and saw nothing alarming, nevertheless as we neared the ripples I braked and prepared to go full astern.

         While watching the depth gauge,  suddenly -- there it was -- the depth dropped to six and then four -- and we came to a halt. (no we didn't hit) I stopped, turned and went around the shallow spot.

Worst places in the San Juans for rocks and running aground
on watch

Here is a list of potentially problem spots where you could easily relax your vigilance and get hurt.

read more - click here

  • Swinomish Channel (both ends)
    • Padilla Bay - the channel is clearly marked with poles, dolphins, and some buoys, but at high tide some boaters will (local knowledge) leave the channel luring others aground.
  • Prevost Harbor (south entrance)
    • south of Satellite Island is a rock strewn entrance to Prevost Harbor that saves time and distance, however you must not cut straight across even though it looks open.  Use your chart - go dead slow - spot the rocks - and stay in deep water hugging the Stuart side. Or just go around, it's only ten minutes.   At low or minus tide, deep water may be only three feet making this entrance unusable to some sailboats.
  •  Patos Island
    • Watch out for the very small channel between Little Patos Island and Patos.  This enticing short cut is small and easily transited, but you must only venture through with full control with the current in your face.  That way you can throttle back to zero speed over ground and still maneuver keeping only a few feet from a shelf. (rock ledge)  Once again it is only a few minutes to go around.
  • Ewing cove at Sucia
    • When approaching Ewing Cove from the northeast (Patos, Blaine, Vancouver, etc.) you will need to give wide berth to clearly marked offshore rocks.  There is a temptation to cut through when you get close, the marker is surprisingly far out and easy to miss.  When coming from Echo Bay or Matia this is not an issue.
  • Garrison Bay
    • While approaching from the north (Roche Harbor) in Mosquito Pass, the last buoy before making the turn into Westcott and Garrison bays is way out on the other side.  The temptation to turn early is reinforced by other boaters cutting across, but remember, chart depths are at mean low water, and that is why so many boaters get away with doing dumb things.
  • Jones Island
    • This peaceful hunk of enjoyment has a nasty surprise off its east shore. No, not the charted and postmarked rock at the entrance to the north cove.  This rock is charted  ( XX ) but goes under water at high tide and has no post.  It is a little more than halfway down the shore towards Deer Harbor and out far enough that if you are just poking along looking for deer and seals you may run into it. The answer is simple, know where it is and be looking for it - or stay farther offshore in deeper water.
  • Blind Bay
    • Two issues here,  first people ignore the warning of well charted rocks on the west side of  Blind Island.  Just pass on the other side.
    • The other problem I cannot substantiate, but is noted on Activecaptain, is that the charted rock just inside the mouth is charted wrong and is off by one hundred feet.  When warned, it means you must take heed and proceed with caution.
  • Fisherman Bay
    • Two primary problems once again. First, people ignore the marker at the entrance and cut between it and the point running aground. The dolphin marker is hard to miss, but skippers try to sneak across.
    • Second problem is that the Fisherman Bay channel may be too shallow to transit at low tide leaving you stuck outside or at the dock or anchored until the bay refills. (oops)

  This is by no means all the places to watch out for, you can get your gel coat scratched anywhere.  If you practice safe habits and slow down when you are unsure, you will be fine.   Remember, a safe practice is to keep watch at all times, autopilots do not steer around floating deadheads, and this is an active logging area where lost logs will float butt up and weigh thousands of hull piercing pounds.