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Victoria Cruise Itinerary and Customs at Roche Harbor

Note: this  is a very old post I am re-posting so some prices will be off.

Suggested Cruise to Victoria BC with Whale Watching
 and San Juan Islands Stop Overs
This article is for first timers to the San Juan Island area and has the answers you may be looking for.  Timeless advice to make your first trip a fun success.
  • places to launch and stay on your boat
  • distances between stops
  • customs and immigration
  • alternate planning
  • what to expect
  • basic boating information 
Study this map and familiarize yourself with names and places. 
 (Find Victoria, Roche Harbor, Swinomish Channel, Deception Pass)

Lets start this Cruise at Cornet Bay in Deception Pass State Park
(Your going to Canada and back, did you remember to bring your passports and Children ID's? the rules are changing)

Boat launch at Cornet Bay (Deception Pass)

Day one, you arrive at Deception Pass and its probably late in the day and your tired, so lets plan on spending the night right here  on the boat securely tied to the dock at Cornet Bay.  You will pay a launch fee and $10/day parking, plus 50 cents a foot for spending night at dock. Pay at the self serve kiosk. If your not sure of when your coming back simply estimate, leave a note explaining, the ranger will understand.  The ramp is very good, all tide. The parking is huge, you will not have a problem.
      There is a park store, but you should have done your provisioning in Anacortes.

Heading westward facing an incoming current, (another ten minutes and we wouldn't have the speed to overcome the 7+ mph current)

Day two, leg #1, our destination is Friday Harbor, but first you must time the pass.  You should already be familiar with the tide levels and  times at Deception Pass (download a page from any of of dozens of sites including NOAA) so cast off at high or low tide. You can be  half an hour early or late, this gives you a one hour window. (it takes just ten minutes to reach the pass from the dock)  If you are catching a falling tide (current is going out to sea) you can be very late but standing waves may scare you and the crew as you take a fast sled ride and shoot out into the Strait of Juan De Fuca.  If you are late and  head out on a rising tide, your boat may not have enough speed to overcome the in rushing torrent, and your stuck until the next slack water. The pass is not a problem, it is narrow with fast water for only about 250 feet, but slow sailboats can  meet their match every four to six hours.

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       By-pass through Swinomish Channel if for some reason you can't go through the pass, Fog is a very good reason to use the channel, and is known to frequent this area, sometimes hanging around for days. The channel will add 15 miles to your trip to Friday Harbor.  If you have a puttster boat, you better get going, faster boats can take it easy. You should stop at La Conner and walk the two block long main street, (30 minutes)  Use the three city docks, they are well marked.

       When you arrive at Friday Harbor, radio the Harbor Master on 16 or 66? asking for a slip assignment.  (don't make this trip, or any other without a marine (UHF) radio, a portable handheld for $100 will do just fine. Find your slip and pay at the office or out on the docks if they are still open. You can reserve slips by telephone in advance, their policy is to never turn away boaters.  They will raft you with others if need be.  You wont need a dinghy on this cruise, but if you have one you can anchor near the docks (anchoring is free) and dinghy over to the dinghy dock 24/7.  On the docks are bathrooms and showers. (this place is big) there is lots of activity, people to meet, etc. Do you have fenders for your boat? you need some. Dock lines too.

    Friday Harbor
          The guest docks are to the far left, notice all the sailboat masts, the main gangway and ferry landing is to the right out of picture

The town of Friday Harbor has lots of restaurants, stores, arts/crafts. all within easy walking.  The Whale Museum is especially worthwhile too.  The ferry dock is part of the scene, you can meet more crew or send some home. Heading home on the ferry is free. If possible spend two nights, you will be glad you did.

Below is Roche Harbor dock
Roche Harbor wedding party climbing out of water

Roche Harbor floats

Day three, leg #2, the next destination is only ten miles at Roche Harbor (Roach! Roche' some arguments here) Take your time leaving Friday Harbor, I think check out is 1pm, go to the whale museum, have breakfast ashore.  The shoreline on San Juan Island is lined with spectacular homes and vacation cabins, the water will probably be calm with lots of boats going both ways.  When you arrive at Roche, call the Harbor master and get a slip, or anchor out and use dinghy. They take reservations by phone months in advance, holidays are booked up early. At Roche are several easy hikes, the mausoleum and sculpture garden are highly recommended. If you left Friday Harbor early you will have the afternoon to explore Roche.  At the top of the dock is a great breakfast restaurant I never miss. Bathrooms and fistful of quarters showers are plentiful at Roche. Rumor has it that young lady's will assist you in docking. You can anchor pretty much anywhere and dinghy over to one of three dinghy docks to go ashore, or get a slip.

The sculpture garden is free and has acres and acres of forest and field planted with art.  It is well worth the five minute walk up from the dock.

 (no charge , donations accepted)
Store, cafe and restrooms are at the top of the wharf, fuel float is below, Roche is a good place to stop, don't miss it.

Day four leg #3,  today you need to get going early, our destination is the inner harbor at Victoria where you will tie up right in front of the Empress Hotel. I haven't written much about currents but it would be helpful if you planned this part of your cruise to have southward currents in the morning and northward in the afternoon (seriously, look in your tide and current forecasts) changing your dates by a week may make a big difference.  Remember as a rule of thumb most currents in the straits flow south with falling tides and north with rising tides. Around the islands it gets a little mixed up.  

     When you leave Roche Harbor the shortest route is through Mosquito Pass, pay attention to depths and navigation aids to avoid hitting rocks. I use the little memory aid of the 3 r's, red, right, returning, which means keep the red buoys on the right side when returning from sea. Of course, black (green now) coming back.  

      Once out in Haro Strait, keep off shore only about a half mile while cruising south, and hopefully you will see Orca's. 

This Orca is father away than it looks, This is the west shore of San Juan Island, just south of  Mosquito Pass.

       This stretch of water is a prime sighting area. Using your chart and GPS  to help decide where, cut across Haro Strait keeping in mind the current will assist or hinder your passage, if the current is against you cut across sooner to avoid the increased flow along San Juan Island.

         When you arrive in the outer harbor of Victoria, keep to the side or risk being hit by a angry float plane pilot. Signs warn you to follow some simple traffic lanes. Run straight to the painted red customs dock to the left of the Empress Hotel.  Everyone must stay on board until the skipper goes to the special customs phone on the dock, bring with you ages and names of everyone on board, plus a pencil and paper.  they will ask you a few easy questions and give you an authorization number to post on the window of your boat.  (Update 2014, I think you can just call an 800 number now, from your boat, that's what we did in Vancouver, it was very simple) Next cast off and motor over to the seawall and guest docks in front of the Empress Hotel, tie up anywhere you want. (rafting is allowed) Someone may come around to collect a overnight fee, but don't wait around, they may come in morning, you need to get off the boat and start sightseeing.

This is the dock in front of the empress hotel, this is where you want to go. Just make yourself comfortable anyway you can, there won't be anyone around except other boaters. 

        At the end of the sea wall are restrooms that are locked at 10 pm. Be sure to walk around the main downtown area, walk through the Empress, and don't miss the gardens out back. Check out Totem Park, and visit the Provincial Museum. Purchase a ticket  to ride a double decker bus out to Butchart Gardens. You will board the bus in front of the Empress, ticket sellers are walking around on the sidewalk, you cant miss them.  The bus driver will be your tour guide (it's included) and give you a little tour of Victoria on the way to the gardens. I highly recommend you catch a late afternoon bus so that you still have good daylight at the gardens, then after seeing everything, grab a picnic table, have a snack and wait for dark.

     After dark walk the gardens again when the lights come on. Your bus and driver will already be gone but that's OK, you will get the last bus back.  (ask the drivers for times, and don't be late) On Saturday nights the gardens do a fireworks show. When you finally get back to the boat it will be after ten and you will be exhausted, fall into your berth and  gently rock to sleep.

Ever changing fountain at Butchart Gardens

Empress Hotel

Government Building overlooks the inner harbor

Day five, leg #4  sleep late in the morning, your waiting for the afternoon tide to carry you back north.  While your waiting visit the places you have read about but thought you were going to miss, like the wax museum, or underwater gardens. About five blocks up past Totem Park is a large grocery store, you can get gas in the harbor as you leave.

      This leg is about twenty miles and with a helping current you can leave Victoria in the  afternoon and still have plenty of time to reach Sydney Spit Park before dark.  If you have a pokey boat, adverse current or leave really late you should not even start out.  

    Save the after dark navigating for another time, wait until morning and relax. As an option you could skip Sydney Spit and head straight back to Roche, which is especially desirable if you have a reserved slip waiting for you.

     When you do reach Sydney Spit Park you will find lots of anchor buoys and a nice size dock, on shore are all the expected park goodies plus some miles of almost flat hiking trails.  The park is a favorite day stop for locals that live in Sydney, you may make some new friends.

The dock at Sidney is huge plus they have a field of anchor buoys too big to count

Day six, leg #5  our destination today is "Jones Island State Park,"  but first you must go back to Roche Harbor and check in with customs and immigration, don't skip this, I've been told they share information, and you checked into Canada, Right?

     Leave Sydney Spit whenever the mood strikes, you will be cutting ten miles across Haro Strait and the current wont really matter, although slack tide would be preferred. Run straight to the red painted customs dock at Roche Harbor, you probably noticed it as the farthest one out.  You are not allowed to go anywhere (no stop overs) before you check in.  Everyone must stay on board until given the OK (not even to use bathroom) One person goes to the little customs shack with whatever papers you have.  The whole process will take only ten minutes, then you are supposed to move your boat away from the red painted area. If there are too many trying to check in boats will slowly circle in front, waiting for a space.

    After checking in, park the boat if need be and use the shore facilities, including shopping at the store at the top of the gangway. The store is really well stocked and has lots of ice, you can also fill up with gas at the dock just below the store.

     Now cast off, remember we are heading for Jones Island and it's about five more miles.  The entire island is a state park complete with running water, composting toilets, tame pygmy deer, apple trees, mowed lawns, tent camp sites, fire pits, kayak sites, and a dock that can hold about six to ten boats.  The cove is extremely well protected from storms, has a number of anchor buoys and lots of room to anchor. On Shore are easy shoreline and some moderately hard trails to hike. The beach is a good dinghy beach (steep and no mud) with good tide pooling on the sides. Many people myself included consider Jones the best of the San Juans.  When you arrive at Jones look for room at the dock, don't give up if there isn't any, boats move in and out.

The new dock at Jones Island is kinda ugly, but all of them are being replaced so get used to it
     I would seriously consider spending two nights at Jones since your getting there late and your tired, this would be a good place to finally sit down and read that book you brought.  The kids will love staying there.  Sailors may be interested to know that, its easy to sail up to, or away from the dock (no motor boys and girls) buoys of course are simple.

new friends discovering life in the pools

They say not to feed the deer, but they can't reach the apples

When the dock is full at Jones, simply anchor and paddle to the dinghy dock,
it can get crowded, but it always works out just fine.

Day seven, or eight, or nine, leg #6  about now on this cruise, you will be thinking maybe its time to call it quits and go home, maybe work is waiting. The good news is, you have had cell phone service just about everywhere so its not like you've been out of touch. Make a few calls and arrange to stay longer.  You don't need any beginner advice anymore, by now your a seasoned islander ready to strike out on your own.  Set a course, any course, and go while you still can.

       Wake up, wake up,  back to reality.
    Today were going to run all the way back to Cornet Bay, a distance of about twenty five miles, close to forty if you go through Swinomish Channel.  Hopefully you have been paying attention to your boats speed over ground (your gps) and have a pretty good idea what you can accomplish.  Keep in mind you will want to arrive at Deception Pass with a rising tide to be swooshed through, of course you may run into fog when you get outside the protection of the Islands and choose at the last minute to go around through Swinomish Channel. 

       One last thought; in the event you just want to take it slow and easy you will need another place to spend the night.  James Island is the place for you, it's just outside Thatcher Pass right on your way before you cross Rosario Strait.  You can spend the night at James and make your final decision whether to shoot through Deception Pass or go around via Swinomish Channel, in the morning.  James has a nice protected bay with anchor buoys, and a four boat dock, on shore are all the usual amenities, plus some easy trails to the summit with great views.

The dock at James is a four boater, so  be prepared to anchor  or use a buoy 

     When you arrive back at Deception Pass Park, I have found it works best to stay on board at the dock the last night, you can start packing and get the boat ready to put on the trailer first thing in the morning for the long drive home.  I have done it the other way too, where you pull the boat and hit the highway late in the afternoon, arriving home at midnight dead tired and a menace while on the road.  Do your self a favor and take it easy, get some rest and drive in the morning arriving home at a decent hour.

Deception Pass challenge you, fog get in your eyes, $10/day parking fry you? Try leaving from Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham click here >>   Suggested Itinerary

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