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Friday

What happens when a big boat drags anchor and slams into you?

     What happens when a big boat drags anchor and slams into you? The quick answer is, "nothing good." This is a short synopsis of what happened to us one 4th of July at Roche Harbor.
Roche Harbor 4th of July boats at dock

     In about thirty minutes the Roche Harbor staff will be lowering the flags and firing the cannon. Several times in past years, circumstances or poor planning have caused me to miss the ceremony. The firing of the cannon is what I really want to see. The belching smoke, the jagged dagger of flame, the explosive echo’s ricocheting across Roche Harbor. I anticipate a fantastic kick off for my best fireworks ever. Finally, the stars have aligned for me, and on the fourth of July at that. This is already a great trip. The kids will stay on the boat while Linda and I paddle ashore.  The lowering of the flags and cannon firing will be at sundown.
      I am in the cockpit tending to the dinghy, anxiously waiting to leave. When I look over at the boat anchored near us, I sense that it looks different. It is about thirty-five or forty feet long and easily over fifteen feet tall at the upper bridge.  The wind has been steadily increasing for the past hour and I suspect this apartment size power boat is catching the wind and straining at the anchor lines which would make him appear to move a little closer to us. I ask Linda, “Do you think that boat is getting closer?” As I’m watching, I become sure it is half the distance it was when I first noticed. Now I know for sure, we have a problem, the boat is only ten feet away. There is nothing I can do. The other boats anchor has broken out and it is dragging into us. The last ten feet closes rapidly, suddenly he is against us. I hold him off long enough to grab a fender and place it between us saving us both from damage. I am yelling and banging on his hull with my fist trying to get their attention, but Linda tells me she saw all of them leave earlier. 

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

Sunday

Top Things to do and Places to go in the San Juan Islands

Discover the top places to go and the best things to do by boat in the San Juan Islands. 

The difference between a truly wonderful vacation and a ho-hum boat ride is the memorable experiences and special places visited along the way.  These are some of our favorite haunts and things to do.  Maybe some will become your favorites as well.  

  • Matia Island one-mile loop trail:  This easy one-mile loop immerses you deeply into the shaded forest the minute you take your first steps. Towering trees, oversized ferns, and thick mosses line the trail.  Our first walk many years ago was so serene and calming that even our young kids were quiet and talked in whispers.  Matia Island pictorial
  • Pygmy deer on Jones Island:  The northwest is full of wildlife and deer are everywhere, or so it seems sometimes.  However, apparently, the many deer on Jones Island have developed to a much smaller size. Even the older bucks with big racks are only about waist-high.  Many of the deer are tame, and some are downright annoying.  One time a deer met me at the water's edge as I came ashore in the dinghy.   Several times deer have joined us around our campfires looking for handouts and letting the kids rub their heads and pet them.  I remember once a spike kept crowding too close to the fire, he was intent on getting at a bag of corn curls. It is against park rules to feed the animals so I don't know how they learned to expect treats from boaters.  Jones Island deer
  • While Deception Pass isn't located within San Juan County, any boating enthusiast would be remiss not to include it in their cruising itinerary. In fact, Cornet Bay, with its well-facilitated ramp, serves as a prime launch point for those embarking on their nautical adventures. But, here's a piece of advice – don't just launch and rush through; take the time to savor the breathtaking scenery.

    Consider planning part of your voyage around the four daily occurrences of slack tide. At slack tide, the turbulent waters temporarily calm, providing an excellent opportunity for exploration. A mere quarter-mile beyond the pass, still within the park's boundaries, you'll discover Sharpe Cove. Here, you can moor your vessel at the floating dock, and at the head of the ramp stands the remarkable Maiden of Deception Pass.

    This extraordinary statue, carved from a towering cedar tree, stands at an impressive twenty-five feet. It portrays a Samish woman gracefully holding a salmon aloft. The story it tells is one of unwavering sacrifice, representing a Native Indian woman who risked her life to ensure her people would never go hungry. It's a powerful testament to the deep connection between the indigenous people and the land.

    Just a stone's throw from the Maiden lies Rosario Beach, a renowned tide pool area. It's a place where nature's wonders are on full display, offering an opportunity to observe a rich variety of marine life and coastal ecosystems up close. So, when charting your course through these waters, ensure you dedicate some time to exploring Deception Pass and its fascinating surroundings. The remarkable beauty and cultural significance of the area are sure to leave a lasting impression on any adventurer. Deception Pass

  • Did you notice?
    •  As a writer wannabe, I enjoy playing with words. Lately, I have been kicking around artificial intelligence.  The next passage and the preceding passage were passed through an AI program.  I supplied the basic information, the fluffy language, not so much, enjoy.
  • The Swinomish Channel, a hidden gem for seasoned boaters, provides a picturesque and relaxing alternative to the sometimes turbulent waters of Deception Pass. Many visitors who park long-term at the  Cornet Bay boat ramp in Deception Pass Park, myself included, choose to embark on this delightful detour. When heading out, instead of veering right into the unpredictable waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Rosario Strait, consider retracing your route for a few miles and setting a course through the serene Swinomish Channel. This not only offers a respite from the challenges of the Pass but also shields you from the often encroaching fog in the Straits. As a delightful bonus, you can make a pit stop at the charming town of La Conner. Nestled along the banks of the channel, La Conner welcomes boaters with open arms. The town offers four docks, perfect for short-term or overnight stays. A leisurely stroll along the charming boardwalk presents a plethora of quaint shops, inviting bistros, and even a provision store for all your needs.So, when charting your course, why not opt for the scenic great circle route, meandering through the Swinomish Channel? Along the way, take in the breathtaking scenery, and don't forget to treat yourself to a delectable ice cream cone at La Conner, making your journey all the more memorable.  (not bad, but not me)
  • The San Juan's are full of hikes, walks, and places to explore and I'm not going to list all of them on Sucia, Stuart, Matia, James, Jones ...  But two hikes beckon me back again and again because they reward me, not just exhaust me.  Hiking to the top of *Eagle Bluff on Cypress and the top of  *Youngs Peak, aka Young Hill at English Camp. Both hikes are thigh burners and just plain hard work. Both are short and intense, we pace ourselves, rest, and keep coming back.  The summit views are worth it. Bring cameras and water.  Go to this link and then scroll down to #7 and #9
  • Use your dinghy, kayak, or paddleboard to explore Echo Bay:  Sounds simple enough and you probably already plan to,  but I suggest you go to Ewing Cove at the far northeast end of Echo Bay. You can sneak in with your big boat but using the dinghy allows you to paddle through some narrow slots and get up close to some cool cliffs and rocks.  You can even go ashore to use the privy, have a campfire, or drop off passengers who want to make the long hike back through the woods to Fossil Bay.  Ewing Cove has two buoys and is at the far north end or point of Echo Bay on Sucia Island.  Watch for rocks, follow your chart, watch the sounder, and go slow.
  • Sculpture Park at Roche Harbor: I don't believe the park is part of Roche Harbor but if you go by boat, you need to get a slip at the marina or anchor and go ashore at a dinghy dock.  Once on shore, walk uphill past the pool and cabins, and cross the road, you can't miss it. It's free, donations are welcome.  We enjoy strolling through the fields, meadows and woods. The unique large art pieces are spread out over twenty acres. Some spin and whirl, some are interactive, and some have deer grazing nearby.  There is something for all ages and dogs are welcome too.
  • Turn Point lighthouse museum hike:  Chances are that you already know about this very popular destination.  Most newcomers will be staying at either Prevost or Reid Harbors and then hike the 2.5 miles  (one way) from the State Park docks.  You can save two miles and an hour by taking the dinghy to the county dock at the far north end of Prevost Harbor.  We usually anchor near the county dock and then leave the dinghy tied to the small float while we walk out to Turn Point.
  •  Moran Museum:  You should stop by Rosario Resort in East Sound on Orcas Island.  You may anchor, tie to a buoy, ask for a complimentary slip, or spend the night.  While you are there make your way to the third floor of the mansion-turned-resort office and restaurant.  The top floor museum is dedicated to the early days of Robert Moran and the San Juans.
  • Friday Harbor music on the promenade:  The short promenade that runs between the marina office and main street is a small city park.  Most summer weekends the stage is filled with musicians entertaining cruisers and locals.  It is lots of fun and free,  Music will drift out on the dock to your boat but not if you are somewhere else.  When planning your travels, plan Saturday at Friday Harbor.  
Your interests will vary from ours, so this list may not be perfect for you. I suggest that you search this website, you may discover the perfect idea.
Turn point lighthouse museum
Turn point museum at the lighthouse











Friday

Leaving for La Conner this morning!

New Bombay motor sailor anchored at Cypress Island in the San Juan Islands
Windrose, aka "Rosey" has made it to the San Juans
In good company anchored at Jones Island

I wrote this post ten years ago.  It is about a tsunami damaged boat we rescued following the Fukushima Japan earthquake of 2011.  Windrose was pummeled but not quite sunk as her slip was destyroyed around her in Cresent City, CA.

As I write this post Rosey's journey back is finally almost complete.  Today will be another white knuckle trip up the interstate for six hours, and then Monday we will be slinging her into Swinomish Channel.  After a day or so rigging we will be heading the wrong way to Hood Canal to visit Camp Parsons Boy Scout Camp to pick up our son. Next week we expect to head to San Juan Island with three bicycles on board so we can do a little bike riding. Right now I am preparing to download some tide forecasts and somehow appease the fog gods to lay off the Strait of Juan De Fuca. I'm still short a trusted gps, the radar is not tested, and my brand new Humminbird was shipped off for repairs and wont be back in time. So we will be dependent on our eyes, good looks, and the antique spinning sounder that makes a whirring sound. I think we will be just fine, but don't count on us to make any appointments on time, which is what I would say if we were on a modern newer boat with all systems functioning.
7/22/12


Read about Rosey here  > Rosey's first trip after arriving at her new home in the San Juans

Read about Rosey's tsunami nightmare and repair here  >  Bombay Pilothouse Project

Saturday

Visit Olga on Orcas Island and ride your bikes up Mt Constitution or Moran Park

      Olga offered us an empty dock, so we gladly accepted. On other visits we turned away vowing to return when there was room.  The private mooring field is peppered with so many buoys it demanded full attention slipping through.
Kraken at Olga dock in the San Juan Islands
Olga public dock has room for about three boats on each side, all buoys are private.

Kraken at Olga dock on Orcas Island
The dinghy's at Olga belong to locals, there is no access to beach except, a nasty slippery, very steep, and thorny trail in brush under ramp.

Olga dock on Orcas Island
The sign says it all

       On shore at the top of ramp is a flagpole, and a memorial bench. There are a couple blocks, if that, of roads to walk, some say private drive, keep out.  There is no bathroom.  The old store across the street was closed up many years ago, and the property is for sale, but the little post office is in business.  Up a moderately steep hill about 1/4-1/3 mile is a restaurant on the main road. Some other boaters made the hike and reported good food.  Other than private homes, most which look like second homes, there is no other business.  That's it for Olga.  I'm glad we finally stopped by Olga, but except for a nice dock to tie up to, and a pleasant little bay to paddle and dinghy sail, what can I say.

       On a much more positive note, I rode my bicycle around a little, and after checking my maps I realized that Olga is the shortest and most convenient starting point for a grueling ride to the top of Mt Constitution.  7 miles versus 7.5 starting at Rosario.  I did not make the ride due to being late in the day, but I plan to come back and give it a try.

         Next time we are in the area and need a place to spend the night, I'm sure we will stop again.
Oh, and we saw a little baby deer on the beach, way to go Olga!


Monday

Creating maximum space at the dock and general good manners.

Orca killer whales in  Haro strait Off shore from LIme Kiln park



   Having just returned from a 200 mile sweep around the San Juan's, I am fresh with observations and thoughts of how to improve the experience.

      Everyone knows that dock space is first come first served and not to expect room for one more when you arrive.  However, there is room for more if you try using some common sense.  Somewhere in the mountain of state park dock rules and regs is the suggestion to locate boats close together.  Spacing boats fifteen feet apart is not helpful and yet it is common. Tying ones dinghy to the float instead of rafting it is another obvious inconsiderate ploy that effectively exclude others.  By the way, did they pay for the extra dinghy footage?

       Speaking of dinghy's, many parks have designated dinghy docks but I see people with fifteen foot inflatables, complete with 50hp outboards, consoles, windshields and bimini's, side tied at the dinghy dock forcing real dinghy's to make do as best they can.  What is really annoying is when you realize the offending dinghy belongs to the fifty five footer tied to the same float.

      Speaking of  bigger or smaller boats,  a considerate skipper will let his longish bow area stick out beyond the end of the float so his fifty five feet only uses forty feet of  dock.  Stop! I know this trick is a bad idea in some locations and for some boats. Obviously, I'm not suggesting being foolish, I'm suggesting being thoughtful and considerate.

       While we are talking considerate  activities,  how long is long enough or too long to run a generator?  During my latest visit we were treated to a generator running for eight hour stretches.  It was during the daytime and it was fairly quiet but come on, at least get off the dock and anchor out a ways. I was anchored out myself, it must have been no fun at all for the people close by.

       I spend some of my non San Juan boating time around jet skis, water skiers, tubers, newbies, loud music and alcohol fueled people enjoying the water.  As such, I expect close encounters, big wakes and general on water mayhem.  But not in the San Juan's, the San Juan's attract an older more refined, mature crowd. We have miles of room to navigate, there is really no reason for close encounters. Jet skis are outlawed and proper boating is the norm.  On this visit a thirty five footer at high speed overtook us and passed by so close they would have hit us if I had turned unexpectedly.  I had no time to react, their wake rolled us so violently that one crew was thrown out of their seat and some of our belongings came crashing off shelves and out of cabinets breaking on the cabin sole.  I regret I did not get a picture or name of the offending boat.  I am not embarrassed that acting on reflex, I cussed them over the radio.  Then after realizing in my haste I may not have keyed the mike, I did it again clearly to make sure they heard.  I hope they heard me but my antenna was down with the inflatable on the roof so my range was greatly reduced.  I apologize for may last paragraph, I'm still reeling when I think about the incident.

     On an upnote, at Jones Island, as we were anchoring, a skipper at the float yelled over to us that he was leaving in a few minutes. We aborted lowering the hook and moved over, thank you very much.

     Also at Jones, we thought we lost a cell phone, trail mix and passports in a drybag at our camp site, only to find it two days later where a racoon had stashed it in the bushes, unharmed but chewed on.

     

      

Wednesday

My get home system is finally put to use.

 More than a decade ago I installed an outboard bracket to carry the dinghy motor on the back of my  40 year old Nordic Tug.  The transom mounted bracket allows me to store the 5hp Honda and easily transfer it to and from the dinghy.  Thinking way ahead, I mounted the bracket down low  so that if I ever needed an emergency push or trolling kicker, I would lower the motor, connect the fuel line and away we'd go.

Well it finally happened.  Last month, the tug made a strange sound so I shut off the motor and began drifting.  Because I had forgotten how the mechanism worked and fiddling with it while hanging over the back end was a little uncomfortable, it took me a few minutes to get the prop in the water and the fuel line connected.  After about ten pulls the motor came to life and we were ready to go.

Holding the cowling I pointed it at what I guessed was straight ahead.  I shoved the gearshift into forward and twisted the tiller to a medium fast idle.  At first we didn't move but then it was apparent our nearly ten thousand pounds was actually making headway.  Because I was hanging over the back, I yelled to Linda, asking if we were pointed okay or should I try steering.  Her answer was not helpful.

I made my way inside and determined we were indeed headed for a mud flat.  I turned the wheel and observed an agonizing slow response.  The gps showed we were making 4 mph but our smallish rudder is designed to have the force of the diesel engine pushing our 18" prop wash against it. The outboard is far over on one side and actually behind the rudder.  Never the less we began turning away from the shallows.

So,  the system worked.  I can't say I am impressed with performance but it will beat using the canoe paddle that I keep on board.  The two gallon fuel tank will be very limiting and I am aware that the outboard can't be lowered with the dinghy on its davits.  

I know others have get home plans and motors, I thought some may benefit hearing my experience.

Oh, and the tug, as always, it was fine.


Monday

San Juan Islands Cruise Starting at Cornet Bay in Deception Pass State Park

This post first appeared in the web site in  2011. Parking and launching fees at Cornet Bay have since gone up a little.
       Camping, traveling, vacation rentals, condo's, resorts, on a budget, is it even possible? Yes it is. Inexpensive (cheap) vacations are possible if you go by boat or yacht as some say. The trick is to already own the yacht and then camp on it at all the great places.  Think of it like going to RV parks only without the garish over the top  land schooners parked on the best reserved spots.

           Okay, no more promos for boat camping.  Assuming you are a newbie to the San Juan Island boating group, you may be wanting to know why you should start at Deception Pass State Park if you are headed for the islands.  Simple, the park has the best all weather, all tide launching ramps and long term parking lot. Plus,  Deception Pass is one of the places to see that you should not miss, and the Cornet Bay dock is a wonderful place to hangout overnight, or for a few days or longer. 
Map of San Juan Islands showing rosario strait, Anacortes, Friday Harbor, James Island, Deceptiopn Pass

Snapshot showing Cornet Bay and Deception Pass

The Google photos above with labels will help you to orient yourself. Because slow boats must time their passage through the pass you may find yourself spending the night at the dock.  I always plan to spend the first night at the dock because  after driving six hours, rigging and launching my sailboat, it's late and I'm tired.  My crew can fish, hike and race around in the dinghy while I take a break.  The next day I'm ready to go, and cast off at slack tide which may be at noon or 9am.  The time doesn't matter, I'm on island time now.

The launch fee is around $6, parking is $10/day and staying at the dock is 50 cents a foot. The ramp has three or four lanes with floats. Trailer parking is abundant and long term.  You can anchor out for free, anytime, anywhere. There is a fist of quarters shower that short times you in the bathroom.  Lots of locals and campers come down to fish off the floats, but boats tying up have priority. Try explaining that to a fisherman.

It is a very short run out the pass, under the bridge and into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, where high seas or fog may cause you to change your plans, if so, just head the other way to Swinomish Channel.  If you have never cruised the channel do it anyway, it only adds about 15 miles to your trip and is well worthwhile.  Or when you come back a week or so later, use the channel, but try to work it into your plans.  FYI, your boat will need to make 10 mph or better to overcome the worst of pass current, otherwise you will have to time it like the rest of us.  Of course with a favorable current you can rush on through, but the standing waves can be pretty big at times and an open bow boat will seem like a poor choice. The pass is narrowest directly under the bridge, so you will have a fast current for only a very short distance.

Deception Pass boat launch at Cornet Bay

Dock and ramp at Deception Pass State Park (Cornet Bay)

        You should run through Deception Pass.  Next door, Canoe Pass, while navigable, should only be used at slack water, is very narrow  and sight distance restricted right under the bridge, it is a little creepy when the whirlpools turn on and begin spinning you towards the rock cliff face.  Sometimes we take our 9' dinghy with its 7.5 hp motor around Pass Island and wave to the gawkers on the bridge, but when the flood or ebb starts cascading, a dinghy has no business in either pass.

         When you come back a week or so later and are ready to head home you can wait  for slack water outside the pass at the dock in Sharpe Cove or Bowman Bay. 

           I always spend my last night at the dock, and get a good rest for the long drive home.
Here's a link to the marine parks locating map  marine parks maps etc. click here


Deception Pass at slack water

Tall ship ghosting through the pass at high slack water (photo taken from bridge)
 In 60 minutes standing waves 3-6 feet tall may form and the current will be 5-8 mph

I would be remiss to not point out that  most boats can transit the pass a good deal before or after slack water, slack water is simply zero current like in the picture.  Also don't forget Swinomish Channel is just around the corner and avoids the pass altogether.

Saturday

Friday Harbor Marina Map

       For first timers it is really handy to know where your assigned slip is in a maze of  fairways and other boaters.

        Even regular visitors can forget where G-dock is  or which side are the odd numbered slips!

Anyone see the dinghy dock?  (It's at the end of A-dock)

Tip #1  Ask for a slip close to land, that quarter mile walk gets old real fast!
Tip #2  If your visit includes loading and unloading passengers and gear,  save yourself a long walk and use the load dock below the marina office. (just motor past the fuel pier) The side facing land is for public use. The other side is for VIP's

Friday Harbor Marina Map showing slips, slip numbers, fuel, gas dock, and ferry  terminal
Image Courtesy the Port of Friday Harbor
Click on image for bigger view

Roche Harbor Marina Map


Thanks to Roche  Harbor Resort for letting us use their area map, it also shows where the Mausoleum and Sculpture Garden/Park are located.
Our 2019  cruise guide shows this updated map and the new  Friday Harbor map as well. It's really nice when getting a slip assignment to be able to check the map and know exactly where to go.
Roche Harbor marina map showing slips, numbers, dinghy dock, fuel dock, stores, anchorage, boat ramp, visitor trails
Roche Harbor

Monday

Sobering thought worth thinking about

 

I was busy cleaning out my laptop and as usual became sidetracked reading something I wrote.  I immediately noticed punctuation and other errors but more than that, I vividly remembered the situation I had written about and how shaken I was.  I remember thinking that perhaps risking my family's lives was not my decision to make.  I remember considering turning around and quitting boating right then and there.

I hope I have caught the attention of others like me.  Below is the gist of what I wrote almost ten years ago.


Crossing Rosario Strait heading into Thatcher Pass, we were all staring out the front and not paying attention to our sideways set (side drift) when out of the corner of my eye I caught a movement that turned out to be rocks coming at us fast. (full flood must have been 3+ knots) The current was forcing us sideways straight onto the rocks of tiny Pointer Island. I swung hard over and pushed her to full throttle, our outboard barely pulled us away with one hundred feet and two or three seconds to spare. I shuddered thinking of my family on board and almost quit boating right then and there.


While we’re talking currents, I am sure you know that your boat will be dragged sideways whilst you drive forward when crossing a channel or fast water.  It is very easy to not pay enough attention to the currents “set and drift” and what’s on the side of your boat. Let’s put it simpler, if you’re driving forward and looking forward you will miss what you’re heading for sideways. It is easy when close to hazards to allow yourself to be dragged into them because your looking where you want to go, not where you are really going. Tip. Please re-read that last sentence and get it into your default system, it may save your boat or someone’s life.


Please leave your SCARY story in the comments below.  You will never know but you may save someone. John