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Cruising, camping and wok cooking in the San Juan Islands

 Do you use a wok at home? How about on the boat or camping on shore?  Okay, that was easy, what about cooking on your propane fire pit?  Hot dogs and marshmallows don't count.

Wok Cooking and Propane fire pit while cruising the San Juan Islands
Tossing stir fry in wok.

I am certainly not a cook, chef, or even someone who barbecues but I have become completely sold on woks and open flames.  About five years ago while camping, one of our group said, "Shall we stir fry dinner?"  He then pulled out a round wok and inserted a three-foot-long broken-off shovel handle into the wok's hollow metal handle. Using a paper towel he wiped off the inside, squirted in some canola oil, and held it in the campfire flames.  Out of the cooler came baggies full of chopped veggies, fish, and chicken.  The wok was smoking hot by the time we had paper plates organized. I still remember the sizzle as the first of the chicken went in.  A minute later chopped carrots, chestnuts, mushrooms, sprouts, noodles, etc, etc.  He cooked one large plate at a time almost as fast as we could load them up.  It was very, very good and really hit the spot considering it was early spring and we were all freezing and trying to stay warm.

When I got home from the trip, the first thing I did was find myself a wok at an Asian cookery store.  I chose a 14" thin, lightweight wok with a hollow metal handle, $13.99.  Five minutes with an angle grinder and my old broken handle slid neatly (jammed) into the wok's handle.  I couldn't wait to go camping and stir-fry something.

That summer the drought continued and open fires were banned once again so our fire consisted of our propane fire pit.  Of course, I had to try the wok and it worked.  In fact, it works better with the fire pit than the open campfire because the flame height is easily adjusted.  Plus the open fire tends to smoke and burn the chef.   I made two modifications, greatly improving the system.  I bought a three-legged folding stand that is ten inches high.  The stand is for campfires but fits in my fire pit perfectly.  I also found three scraps of stainless sheet flashing about 6 x 8 inches that I lean against the stand to act as a chimney and wind stopper. Before I used the wind stopper, the flames lazily blew around, afterward they concentrated under the wok getting much hotter, much faster.

That's it, I stir fry, make popcorn, and cook in the cockpit, or on the dock, or in camp.  I plan to make another, shorter handle before our next boat trip.  Overall the wok and handle is about four feet, and our cock pit is about four feet so I am banging into things and people.  I think about two feet overall should do it.  The wok gets sooty and smudgy so I keep everything in a drawstring bag I made out of old dirty sailcloth.

wok cooking with propane fire pit
To take this picture I had to set the wok down
 so it immediately began burning.

wok cooking popcorn on fire pit
The foil is extra wide and is loosely attached with four little spring clips. Foil burns easily so it
doesn't last forever unless you are careful with flames. I wait until I hear the first couple of pops and then lift the wok up about a foot above the flames shaking continuously.  

Excellent results in a couple minutes, see the stand and the flame deflectors leaning against it? 
When we cook meals, I do two portions at a time, the wok easily handles four but tossing is heavy and challenging.   In the boat,  or with large portions, I use wood spatulas to avoid making a mess.

I clean up with soap and water and scour with salt. Reheat a little to dry and then lightly re-oil. Or if it looks okay, I just oil it inside and out and put it back in the sack.

I need to update my boat camping list to include the wok. Here is a link to that list.


Deception Pass - How to Navigate Strong Currents and Dangerous Waves

Deception Pass, located in Deception Pass State Park in Washington, is notorious for its strong tidal currents and swirling eddies. The pass can be treacherous for boaters and kayakers. Here are some tips for navigating safely through the Pass:

Deception Pass bridge, Canoe Pass on left
Looking inbound at what actually is two separate bridges.
You can see narrow slot of Canoe Pass on left side, Deception Pass on right side.

First, let's understand that in the San Juans, Puget Sound, Gulf Islands, pretty much everywhere, there are nasty places where you can get into trouble if you are prone to doing stupid things.  Driving into a storm or wild surf with breaking waves is a mistake for most of us regardless of our boat or skill level.

That being said, the rising/falling  tides cause currents.  Large tide ranges usually mean faster currents. Narrow passes or jutting headlands tend to intensify things. Add to that, strong winds and storms and you get places to avoid on your vacation cruise.  

Deception Pass is very narrow, but only narrow for a short section directly under the bridge.  Consequently, the high current speed and accompanying swirlies and waves are confined.  As you approach the bridge you notice your speed or lack of it rapidly changing making you acutely aware or your boats agility's.  Most sailboats don't have the top speed needed to overcome normal pass conditions on a calm summer day. The water may be mostly flat, whirlpools minimal, no waves and yet the boat stalls out under the bridge with the skipper wishing his 6.75 mph boat could make 7 for just another hundred feet.  Of course going the other way the same boat will whisk through at a breath taking 12 mph.

If the current and wind oppose each other and this is very common, the conditions will be pretty much the same except with increasing wind there will be standing waves directly under the bridge for a short distance.  These waves could range from not much to something that buries the bow and sheets across the deck into the cockpit, making an open boat a very big mistake and a wet thrill ride for sailboaters.  

Slack water: There is no way for me to predict what you will face, that is up to you but slack water happens four times every 24 hrs when the tide changes from incoming to outgoing and vice versa.  Normally during slack water it is flat, the whirlies go away and you can paddle a dinghy around Pass Island.  Keep in mind though that a far away storm can still send swells and waves your way, so no guarantees.  Slack water may last just five minutes before a change is noticeable, up to an hour before things reverse and really get going again.  You can figure that if you missed the window by three hours, then you really didn't care. Powerful, capable boats generally don't pay much attention except when stormy weather is afoot, then even the big boys watch out.

Pass Island: Deception Pass is actually two passes and two bridges separated by Pass Island.  Canoe Pass on the north is quite narrow, not wide enough for boats to safely pass each other. There is a S curve causing limited sight distance and probably should not be attempted by anyone reading this article.  From time to time excursion jet boats will run through Canoe Pass and competent boaters looking for a thrill will shoot through but it is not worth the risk of life or vessel.  On the other hand, I have taken my dinghy and circled Pass Island many times taking pictures but only during slack water.  I remember vividly once stalling out in Canoe Pass with my 2.5 hp outboard, unable to make headway.  I moved back and forth for a minute trying to gain a little ground.  When I gave up and prepared to turn around I was shocked to see how the waves had grown behind me.  A chill of fear hit me because to turn around I would be broadside for a bit and in a very bad place mere feet from cliffs and in an S turn no less.

Cornet Bay:  Less than a mile inside the pass is Cornet Bay. At Cornet Bay is a large boat ramp, transient docks, restrooms, showers, long term parking, fuel and a convenience store.  Cornet Bay is a great place to start and end your cruise or just hang out while waiting for pass conditions to improve.

Bowman Bay, Sharpe Cove: Is just a short half mile outside the pass.  There is a small dock and protected bay where you can wait for pass conditions to swing your way.

Swinomish Channel:  Fog and bad weather sometimes plague Deception Pass and the Strait of Juan De Fuca.  Sometimes, even in summer the weather gods wont line up with the best planned vacation.  If that happens, simply go another way.  Swinomish Channel is about four or five miles from Deception Pass, back towards Seattle.  Going through the eleven mile channel pops you out near Anacortes and very handily avoids, waves, currents and sometimes pea soup fog.  Along the way you can visit La Conner, walk the boardwalk, or even spend the night at one of three city docks or the county marina.

Sharpe Cove float at Deception Pass Park, Bowman Bay
Tiny Sharpe Cove dock, outside Deception Pass

Deception Pass outbound, view from Cornet Bay
Deception Pass on left, current beginning to speed up, directly under bridge about 5mph 
Cornet Bay docks and boat ramps
Cornet Bay transient floats, 3 day max.

In this article I have tried not to downplay risk nor make it seem that the pass doesn't deserve your utmost respect, it does.  Just make it part of your trip, time you passage for near slack water and have a great cruise.

more Deception Pass insights > Almost losing our battle with the pass


Fifteen best lessor known destinations and hikes not to miss when cruising the San Juan Islands

San Juan Islands Boaters Must-See List

These are special places to go and great things to do that our years of cruising have rewarded us with. Some of the very best places are walks or hikes that are off the beaten path and seldom visited. I have listed them in somewhat of a great circle to help you stay oriented, but you will not be able to visit all of them in one day. I suggest that you mark them on a paper map or chart for later reference.
Check out these places too.  Not really must see places but exploring and gunkholing places.  little coves and back doors

#1 Spend at Least Half a Day at Friday Harbor

While technically not off the beaten path, nor seldom visited, Friday Harbor must be listed. If you only have time for one choice, make it a visit to Friday Harbor, even if just for a few hours. Arrive around noon when marina slips are being vacated from the day before. Walk up the stairs and go to the whale museum. Circle Spring Street and the core area on foot, and visit the many boutiques, bistros, and souvenir shops. If you stop by on a Saturday, there is a Saturday Market at the Brickyard. Shop at Kings Market for all you need for a special meal on board or choose from one of the many restaurants all within a short walk. Walk to the end of Spring Street landing pier and look at the local sea creatures in the huge saltwater aquarium.

While out on the wharf, watch seaplanes land and take off. Stay long enough to watch a 460-foot, 5,000-ton ferry expertly pull into the terminal next to you. Check your watch; you don't want to miss the sunset bus tour to Lime Kiln Point State Park. San Juan Transit van/bus loads alongside the ferry terminal parking lanes and leaves promptly each evening one hour before sunset, delivering passengers to Lime Kiln Park parking lot in time to watch the sun set over Vancouver Island and Haro Strait. Be sure to bring your camera; you may be fortunate and catch an Orca breaching in the evening sun. San Juan Transit will have you back to Friday Harbor in time for your late dinner.

Spring street Friday Harbor
Spring Street (main st) Friday Harbor

Lime Kiln Lighthouse
Lime Kiln Park Lighthouse

The next morning, if you have an inkling to go for a free ferry ride, check the schedules and go as a foot passenger. Simply walk on, using the foot passenger lane, while cars are being loaded. Eat breakfast onboard, ride to Orcas Landing, do some shopping, and then ride the opposite direction ferry back to Friday Harbor.

If you are more adventurous, bring your bicycle and spend the day riding around Orcas, Lopez, or Shaw Island; your boat will be waiting in your slip when you return. Ferry rides for foot and bicycle riders are free in the inner islands. There is a fee only when departing from Anacortes.


First Time Trip to the San Juans Suggested Itinerary for a Nine Day Trip

San Juan Islands for First Timers

Suggested Itineraries for  San Juan Island boating trips

(Updated (2014) alternate itinerary with Echo Bay at Sucia Island as 1st stop)
click here  Sucia Trip Intinerary

(For a  shorter itinerary on your first cruise and with different island stopovers (click here) 

      This article is designed to get you going on that first boating/sailing trip to the San Juan Islands in Washington State.

Below is a snapshot map of your dreamed about vacation land (or water) 

map of San Juan Island area

The map above identifies many  (not all) common names and places

Take a moment to familiarize yourself with some locations you may have read about.

You may want to follow this link and take a quick look at the detailed marine parks list and then come back to the suggested itinerary below, "MARINE PARK LIST AND MAPS" click here 

for your detailed itinerary click (read more) below  >>


Planning your San Juan Island's cruise is as easy as two things.


Many moons and several magnificent sunsets had passed when I finally embarked on the grand adventure of planning a summer trip to the enchanting San Juan Islands. However, fate had a different plan in store for me. Due to circumstances, we found ourselves without a vessel. We were at Yellowstone National Park, gazing at the late spring snows. Time was slipping away, and our planned departure date to the San Juan’s was fast approaching, yet we were still boatless. A thousand miles away from home in a campground full of bears, I resorted to browsing Craigslist on my laptop while clutching my cell phone in hand. It was then that I stumbled upon a boat for sale posting that caught my attention.

To my surprise, the boat in question was of the type I had previously owned. The price was right, and a surge of confidence swept over me. I made a daring decision to promise to buy it sight unseen upon our return in two weeks. However, there was a hitch. The seller had just embarked on their own vacation and would not be back for another three weeks. Oh, dear! That meant they would only be back a week before our planned departure for the San Juans. Time seemed to be playing a cruel game with our hopes.

Fast forward three weeks later, and I found myself standing at the seller's doorstep, armed with cash and eager to drive away with our trusted vessel for the San Juan Islands. Back at home with our new boat and trailer, time was short, and I could only manage a few essential tasks. I diligently checked and greased the bearings, stepped and un-stepped the mast, and on the eve of our departure, I hurriedly took her for a test run in the river to gauge the motor's performance. As fate would have it, the 7.5 Honda motor ran smoothly for ten minutes before suddenly quitting. I drifted back towards the ramp in semi-darkness. Moments before hauling her out, I tried the motor once more, and lo and behold, it roared back to life. Quite perplexing, indeed.

Undeterred by this glitch, we embarked on our journey to Anacortes the following day. Upon launching at Twin Bridges on the Swinomish Channel, the motor graced us with its smooth-running presence just long enough to steer us away from the dock and set a course for Padilla Bay before surrendering once more. Still undeterred, we continued our voyage under sail, finally anchoring at Pelican Beach on Cypress Island. There, we reveled in the joys of a magnificent beach fire before retiring for the night. Throughout the evening, my mind couldn't help but wonder if the motor would start the next morning and if the capricious currents and winds would carry us to our next destination at Matia or Sucia.

But enough of my ramblings. We spent a glorious week in the San Juan Islands, and to our relief, the motor never faltered again. It proved to be a reliable workhorse that faithfully served us on several more boating expeditions in the years to come. The initial mystery of its temporary failure remained unresolved. As soon as we returned home, with plenty of summer still ahead, I wasted no time in placing a Craigslist ad to sell the boat. I recouped my entire investment, and as a bonus, I held onto the now trusty Honda outboard for many years afterward.

Reflecting upon this adventure, it became evident to me that setting a firm departure date was the catalyst that made the trip possible. Of course, we took a gamble with an unknown boat, motor, and rigging. However, I had the foresight to equip ourselves with basic essential gear: PFD’s, a bucket, a portable GPS, a handheld radio, a cell phone, and a paper chart. I had done my homework and discovered that the boat ramp offered long-term parking for a modest fee of $8 per day. With all the pieces falling into place, we made our dream of a San Juan vacation cruise a reality.

So, my advice to all you dreamers longing for a San Juan vacation cruise is simple yet crucial: Mark your calendar this instant. Purchase a paper chart or just a map and proudly display it on a wall where it will catch your eye everyday. Trust me, with these two actions as your guiding stars, everything else will naturally fall into place. You'll see your dream materialize before your very eyes.

Easy Itinerary for spur of the moment cruise >Fast track to the San Juans


Friday Harbor Marina
Friday Harbor Marina

What is the Best Dinghy for Cruisers in the San Juan Islands? The Dinghy Dilemma!

       We all know asking "What's the best dinghy" is a loaded question; boaters can be passionate when it comes to  equipment choices.  Based on my own frugal, sailing/boating should be affordable philosophy "The best dinghy is the one you already own."  Whoa now, lets start listing exceptions.  I don't mean too small, too big, leaky, unsafe, etc. etc.   I mean a basic dinghy, that only has to float you and your stuff to shore.

    In keeping with this blogs purpose to help first timers get to the San Juans, lets talk reality.

     Here are ten or more irrefutable truths about dinghies.
  • You must have a dinghy to go ashore at most parks, because you can't count on there being room at the dock. Many docks have room for only four boats. Many parks have no dock.
  • You don't need a dinghy if you only go to resorts and marinas.
  • You will probably tow your dinghy everywhere you go.
  • You may not use it at all (makes you wish you left it home).
  • If you need it you will be thankful you brought it with you.
  • There is no place you will go that you can't drag your dinghy along.
  • Dinghies may be major status symbols among some groups.
  • Towing a dinghy slows you down and uses fuel
  • You may run over your tow line and foul your prop or rudder (use a floating tow line).
  • Certain people have a hard time climbing into or out of a dinghy alongside their boat.
  • Children need a dinghy.
     Okay, that list is far from complete but highlights some points. Yes you need a dinghy, even if you can beach your boat, there are simply too many limitations and problems with beaching your water borne camper.  Lets say for example you rush to shore to use the bathroom at one of the great State Parks.  In the ten minutes you're ashore, a falling tide could leave you high and dry.  With a dinghy you simply pick it up and carry it back to the water. You need a two or three person dinghy, a one person craft can't ferry others to shore. When using dinghies, a multi hull catamaran style such as a Livingston is very stable, rows  well, beaches easy, and can carry big cargoes, however when towed they track to one side, hunt back and forth, forcing you to keep them on a very short leash. A conventional V hull dinghy is  tipsy crawling over the bow on the beach, carry's less cargo, but rows very nice and will tow directly behind you on a long or short leash.  Inflatables can carry enormous loads, some (not all) row poorly and some create so much drag they are impossible to tow. Just about all dinghies can be outfitted with an outboard motor, but you really don't need one for simple cruising in the San Juan Islands unless you plan on doing miles of shoreline exploring.

        In the summer season you probably wont see any big dinghy capsizing waves, but storms and adverse winds can churn up anywhere anytime, my dinghy floats when swamped, but not with the outboard, with the outboard bolted to the transom it's straight to the bottom or at least as far down as my tow line is long. Inflatables may be swamped without damage or sinking, which is something to think about if  your main boat is not up to the challenge, and could itself be sunk somehow.
Livingston Dinghy, one of five best shore boats
Our Livingston dinghy is nine feet long and a tad bit overloaded
Two man inflatable kayak for cheap shore boat in the San Juan Islands
This inflatable was $69 and holds two people
This inflatable stows on deck, or deflated stows below and carries three people. 
      How about two dinghy's?
If you have children that take off with the dinghy, they are effectively leaving you stranded on the boat or ashore.  Well that's not going to happen you may say.  I say, "what if they get hurt ashore and call you on the phone or radio for help? What do you do? What if they take off in the dinghy and it gets dark, what do you do? (swim)"
Several years past I sent my bored and restless son (in the dinghy) to shore at dusk, telling him to invite himself to one of the many campfires we could see from the boat.  He met some other boaters with kids and before you know it it was after 10:00 pm and very dark.  His mother and I started to wonder what to do as we were stranded, and had no way to communicate with him. After a few minutes I took a strong flash light and blinked it into the darkness in the direction we thought he was last seen.  A short while later he appeared at our transom asking if we wanted him or something.  This little non event made me realize how handy a second dinghy would be, so we bought an inflatable kayak to stow below, just in case.

10/13/13 update worth noting
I'm selling the new sailing dinghy

4/17/17 update on converting the 9'  Livingston dinghy to sailing
 >> go to the do-it-yourself page and scroll way way way down to see the finished conversion << The dinghy conversion section is before the Bimini top on the cheap instructions and after the Boat acronyms if that helps you find it.
Livingston dinghy sailing conversion

9/13/20 another dinghy update. Last winter I plunked down about a grand in boat bucks and bought a new inflatable. My criteria was as follows. First, it must be light enough for me to muscle it around onto and off of the cabin roof by myself. It must have two seats. I must be able to inflate and deflate it on the boat. I bought a 9.5 foot boat with aluminum seats, plywood transom and high pressure inflatable floor.  Without seats, oars or pump, the rolled up package is about 4 feet long, 1.5 feet in diameter and weighs in at 73 pounds.

Standing on the cabin roof, I was able to fully inflate the new boat and slide it into the water.  Dragging it back up was much more work, even with two of us.  Then we drove around for three days with the inflated boat on the roof. All in all I like the new boat and am happy with my choice.

Testing complete, we deflated our new dinghy, rolled it up and headed for the San Juans.  At the last minute before heading up the freeway, I put the Livingston back on it's  swim step snap davits.  I know my plan was to replace the Livingston with something more seaworthy but I decided to bring the new and the old anyway.

In the San Juans we never inflated the new dinghy, and used the Livingston as usual.  Now the new inflatable is sitting collecting dust in my boat shed. I used it once for one hour. I still have high hopes to somehow justify my purchase. I hope mice and squirrels don't chew on it in the meantime.

How to Plan an Unforgettable San Juan Islands Vacation Boat Trip


Embarking on an adventure begins with making a firm decision and setting a date. If you're considering a San Juan Islands vacation boat trip, we offer sound advice based on our many visits to these beautiful islands and villages.

Washington Park launch ramp
Washington Park ramp

1.      Setting the Perfect Date: Choosing the right time for your trip requires careful consideration. We have traveled throughout the San Juans from early spring to late fall, and each month offers a unique experience. July and August offer the best weather and blooming flowers but also attract the most visitors. May and June may bring cooler and wetter days, but they also offer excellent sailing winds and the chance to see newborn fawns. September and October may bring foggy days, especially near Deception Pass and the Strait of Juan De Fuca, but you might be rewarded with fewer crowds and wonderful weather. Keep in mind that early spring and late fall may find some businesses and parks closed or partially operational. It's essential to make inquiries to ensure it doesn't affect your plans.

2.      Where to Start: The answer to this question varies for each boater, but there are a few common options. If you're coming by boat from Seattle or the Puget Sound area, you'll need to go around Whidbey Island through either Admiralty Inlet and Port Townsend or Deception Pass. Many skippers prefer Deception Pass due to calmer waters and no commercial shipping. The Deception Pass route also allows for a visit to Cornet Bay or a detour through Swinomish Channel to explore La Conner and Anacortes. Although Port Townsend is an option, personally, I recommend choosing La Conner and Cornet Bay.

3.      Trailering Boat Arrival Options: Most boaters arrive with their boats on trailers. To find suitable ramps for launching, you can refer to this comprehensive list: ( However, only three ramps are typically preferred: Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham, Cornet Bay at Deception Pass Park, and Washington Park in Anacortes. Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes offers a travel lift hoist but no ramp. Washington Park is the closest to the San Juans and allows for a quick start, but parking may be limited during peak times. Parking at Cornet Bay and Squalicum Harbor is always readily available. We have utilized all three ramps multiple times, and our choice depends on our destination and who accompanies us. Sometimes, dropping off children at Washington Park is convenient if they need to return home early. Personally, I enjoy the Deception Pass area, so if our agenda is clear, Cornet Bay is our preferred choice. Note: I do not recommend taking a ferry to the islands with plans to launch at any of the county ramps. The ramps are inferior, and most don't allow overnight parking. An exception may be small skiffs or kayakers.

4.      Rest After Travel: If you've traveled a long distance and then rigged and splashed the boat, chances are you are exhausted, and it is getting late. It's advisable to spend the first night at a nearby dock or location. Both Cornet Bay and Squalicum Harbor offer transient docks next to the launch ramps. Note that Washington Park only offers a launch dock and is not suitable for overnight stays. Anchoring out front in exposed Guemes Channel, while very doable, will not be much fun due to the many wakes. Nearby welcoming places like James's Island, Cypress Head, or Saddlebag Island, located about four miles away, offer great options depending on your route. Keep in mind that anchoring requires a dinghy to reach the shore. Alternatively, last summer, we tried inflatable paddleboards instead of a dinghy, but their usefulness as a full-time dinghy substitute is still uncertain.

5.      Planning Your Itinerary: Your itinerary doesn't have to be rigid, with specific stops for each minute or day. It's more enjoyable to have a rough idea and a list of preferred stops. For example, you might want to have a late lunch and buy ice and groceries at Friday Harbor, but you can do the same at Lopez Village, Roche Harbor, or Eastsound. Consider visiting stores when your ice melts on day two or three and take the opportunity to enjoy a hot shower. Most villages and marinas offer groceries, fuel, and shower facilities. Don't worry about being turned away as ample anchorage is available throughout the islands. Consider saving fuel and time by following a great circle route and avoiding backtracking. Visit the outer points early while you still have ice and snacks, and then recharge in the villages. Allowing seven days for your trip is ideal, as anything less might feel rushed, while more time will be well spent.

6.      Additional Excursions: Don't miss out on Butchart Gardens and Victoria; both can be day-only or overnight additions to your San Juan Islands trip. While reservations aren't necessary, make sure to carry your passports for re-entry into the US.

7.      Easy Quick Itinerary:

  • Day 1: Launch at Cornet Bay in Deception Pass Park, spend the night at the transient dock.
  • Day 2: Run to Jones Island, spend the night at anchor or dock.
  • Day 3: Run to English Camp, hike up Young Hill, have lunch at Roche Harbor, and return to Jones.
  • Day 4: Run to Friday Harbor, have lunch and showers, buy groceries, and return to Jones.
  • Day 5: Run to Stuart, hike to the lighthouse, and dock or anchor for the night.
  • Day 6: Run to Sucia, anchor or dock for the night in Fossil Bay, hike to China caves and Ewing Cove.
  • Day 7: Stop by Saddlebag Park for a short hike, run through Swinomish Channel, have lunch at La Conner, and arrive late back at Cornet Bay to spend the last night at the dock.

By following these guidelines, you'll be well-prepared to embark on an unforgettable boat trip through the stunning San Juan Islands. Enjoy the breathtaking beauty and create lasting memories. Most of all, you will have fun.

If you really want to take advantage of tides and currents, consider this guide

San Juan Islands area current atlas


I signed up with ChatGPT

Not sure, but I think this is artificial intelligence.

I had and still have high hopes and expectations.

At first, I thought, oh-boy, ChatGPT can write articles about the San Juan’s for me so I jumped in without any idea what to do or how to do it.

I randomly chose James Island for my experiment and entered into the chat box, “create essay about James Island State Park, WA”

I have pasted below the exact response created. Please take note, there are a bunch of errors and inaccurate reporting’s. Those of us familiar with James will spot the egregious miss-information right away. At the end of the essay, I noted some mistakes.

My Instructions for ChatGPT: “create essay about James Island State Park, WA”


James Island State Park is a breathtaking destination located in the state of Washington. The park, which spans 554 acres, is situated on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, offering visitors stunning views of the Olympic Mountains and the surrounding islands. In this essay, we will explore the history, features, and attractions of James Island State Park.

The History of James Island State Park

James Island State Park has a rich history that dates back to the early 1900s. The island was initially used as a quarantine station for people with communicable diseases, such as smallpox and tuberculosis. In 1918, the United States Public Health Service took control of the island and built a hospital to treat patients with these diseases.

The island's ownership changed hands several times over the years, with the state of Washington acquiring it in 1978. The state then designated it as a state park in 1993, opening it up to the public.

Features of James Island State Park

James Island State Park is a unique destination that offers visitors a wide range of features and amenities. The park is home to a vast network of trails that wind through old-growth forests, meadows, and along the shoreline. Visitors can explore the park's natural beauty by hiking, biking, or horseback riding.

The park's shoreline is also a popular attraction, with a long sandy beach perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing. Visitors can also enjoy boating and fishing in the surrounding waters, which are abundant with marine life.

The park has several picnic areas, complete with picnic tables and barbeque pits, making it a great spot for a family outing or a gathering with friends. The park also has a playground and a basketball court, providing visitors with even more recreational opportunities.

Attractions at James Island State Park

One of the main attractions at James Island State Park is the historic lighthouse, which was built in 1918 to guide ships through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The lighthouse is not open to the public, but visitors can view it from the shore or from the water.

Another popular attraction at the park is the James Island Marine State Park Campground. The campground has 12 campsites, all of which are located on the water's edge, offering stunning views of the surrounding islands and mountains. The campsites are equipped with picnic tables, fire pits, and vault toilets, providing visitors with a comfortable camping experience.


In conclusion, James Island State Park is a beautiful destination that offers visitors a wide range of features and attractions. From its historic lighthouse to its sandy beaches, the park has something for everyone. Whether you're looking for a relaxing day on the beach or an adventurous hike through the forest, James Island State Park is sure to provide you with an unforgettable experience.

Okay, where do I start? After quickly reading the disappointing results I re-did (re-submitted) my instructions with no changes and got a different but also error prone yet nicely written essay that challenged my recent memory of James Island.

I’ll list some mistakes.

1. No lighthouse, nada, none, major goof

2. Water’s edge campsites ??? maybe water view is a better choice.

3. Breathtaking stunning views of Olympic Mountains, not sure but doubtful there is any view . I'll take a look next time I'm there.

4. Situated on Strait of Juan de Fuca, no, Rosario Strait.

5. Hospital for quarantine, this was way before I was born but where is the old foundation or pilings.

6. Vast trail network, no, there are some trails but vast is a huge stretch.

7. Biking is not going to happen, neither is horseback riding.

8. Playground and basketball court, again, no such thing on James.

Okay, that’s enough. When I re-submitted, I got some more goofy information. But, after much more submission tweaking and some obvious subtractions, I got a reasonable essay or article suitable for reading.

I did similar test submissions for other favorite San Juan locations and got pretty much the same poor results. Since ChatGPT searches the internet for its information, I must assume that this bad error prone text is out there potentially misleading all of us. The scary part is that the ChatGPT writing is actually very good, making the misinformation very believable.

I am sure I will rewrite this short-sighted impulse driven post, but I think for the time being we should be very very careful what we believe lest we go looking for a lighthouse that is not there.

Meanwhile you can search James Island in this sites home page search box and get some actual real first hand information you can use right now. Most likely this post will come up first in the results - oops!


Quick distance chart from where you are to where you want to be in the San Juan Islands

First published 7/30/2016      
Every skipper needs to know how far it is from A to B.

      Here's a handy chart with the work already done, the distances are via the shortest route.

Chart showing distance in miles between the san Juan's popular stops
Note: The shortest route may not be the fastest or best route when currents and other issues are taken into account!
These numbers are approximate, and were derived by simply clicking "measure route" on a chart. Since making this chart I have come across several u-tube videos with distances that don't agree with  mine. Be sure to not rely on others and do your own calculations. 

When you are rushing from place to place, be very careful around unfamiliar surroundings so that you don't get a surprise.  The best advice is to slow down and keep watch.  Follow this link to learn of some shockers.  > Eight nasty surprises


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

Map of the San Juan Islands showing launching ramps, parks and docks

 •  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 in Bellingham)