|Spring Street (main st) Friday Harbor|
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(Updated (2014) alternate itinerary with Echo Bay at Sucia Island as 1st stop)
click here Sucia Trip Intinerary
This article is designed to get you going on that first boating/sailing trip to the San Juan Islands in Washington State.
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.
|Turn point museum at the lighthouse|
|Windrose, aka "Rosey" has made it to the San Juans|
|In good company anchored at Jones Island|
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
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.
Here's a link to the marine parks locating map marine parks maps etc. click here
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.
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
|Image Courtesy the Port of Friday Harbor|
Enough with Valentines, by the time you read this, you're either in the dog house, living on your boat, or should be making summer cruise plans. In any case its probably not too late to get that reservation at a campground or marina.
When planning a San Juan cruise you don't need any reservations to have a great vacation, but some people feel better knowing there is an open slip or warm bed waiting their arrival. As a suggestion you might consider making a reservation at a popular stopover for just one or two nights in the middle of your cruise, leaving the rest of your time free to go where the wind blows you, simply staying where you happen to dock or anchor. With a speedy power boat all the San Juan islands and parks are within an easy run no matter where you start or plan to end up. A more sedate pokey sailing type vessel may be somewhat limited how far it can run before the sun sets.
Even if you don't reserve some fancy resort for a stopover visit you can still make a day time visit to Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor, Deer Harbor or many others, park that yacht for free, or anchor and dinghy to the dinghy dock, then armed with a fistful of quarters enjoy a wonderful, blissful, rejuvenating, hot shower. You will get back to the boat refreshed and ready to continue your vacation anew.
Hot showers are still free at Lopez Village.
Check it out here >>> Lopez Village Free Hot showers
This is a short accounting of what we watched evolve on a balmy calm peaceful Sunday afternoon. The gentleman side tied behind us cast off, he said he was going to swing by the pumpout on the other dock and then head for home. I waved from our cockpit and dove back into my magazine. Suddenly my concentration is interrupted by a revving engine. "Somethings wrong," I said to Linda, "look over there." The boater that had just left had entered the next fairway, the current was dragging him towards the two foot high aluminum footbridge that connects the walkways. "He's in trouble," I said, "the currents too much and he can't complete the turn." Next, to my surprise he guns the engine of his thirty footer, full throttle, attempting to make a 180 degree turn before he strikes the walkway. His boat does indeed miss the footbridge and almost completes the turn but instead, he hits the dock next to the pumpout and with engines screaming, he drives the as yet undamaged boat three quarters of the way onto the dock. Not quite out of the water and at a steep angle he slams it into reverse. The boat instantly pulls off the dock, sliding back into the water. Now mostly turned around, the boat powers backwards towards the footbridge. The unmistakable sound of crunching fiberglass is heard a split second afterwards as the driver finally throttles back and then kills the engines.
The whole sad episode is over as fast as the engines could rev up. By the time I and some other onlookers get over there with our boat hooks the boat is back in the water floating peacefully next to the pumpout. What can you say to someone that has just trashed their boat in a frenzied show of dumb mistakes compounded by more dumb mistakes.
Speaking for myself and probably a few other skippers that have misjudged currents and our boats handling or lack of handling. I will say, I too have gunned the motor in a last ditch effort to clear an obstacle. I may even have bumped a few times. Luckily I have never done any real damage or I have suppressed the memory.
Experience teaches us lessons, sometimes expensive lessons. In this instance, one lesson learned is to not try to turn around upstream of anything you don't want to hit. In lieu of that, don't hit it at full throttle.
In this situation two alternative actions come to mind. #1 the driver could have turned his boat around outside the fairway and backed down to the pumpout, although he would still run the risk of crashing if he lost power or control in the strong current. #2 and a better choice, would be to choose another location or wait for a tide change. Sometimes it is best to not push your luck.
Things to do - Get off the boat -There are places to go - Bring Bicycles on your next Cruise to the San Juan Islands
|At Friday Harbor with three bicycles, and yes the jib sheets caught on the handlebars on every tack.|
Last January I posted a short blog laying out a possible bike/hike/cruise scenario/itinerary that you could use as a planning building block for your own cruise. Bikes in the San Juans Below is a quick summation of what we actually ended up doing.
Our San Juan Island trip started at Shelter Bay LaConner on the Swinomish Channel. We had just returned from a week long cruise into Hood Canal and after one night in our slip we cast off again at 5:30 am trying to beat the falling tide which would leave us trapped at the dock. With just inches or less to spare we sneaked across our shallow entrance shoal and slid into Swinomish Channel, and rode the remaining outgoing current all the way into Padilla Bay. After a day of on and off winds and then really great afternoon sailing winds we arrived at 5pm and hailed the Friday Harbor Harbor Master staking claim to a slip for the next two nights. A casual stroll around town, and live local music drifting down from the city's seawall gathering esplanade contributed to a very relaxing evening on board. Not having tides or currents dictating our bicycling schedule allowed us to sleep in the next morning. Finally with hot coffee in hand, (okay, in the cup) I wandered up to Kings Market and purchased hash browns, eggs and some yummy impulse items to bring back to the boat for a late breakfast.
Definitely before noon, (but not much) we walked our bikes off the floats and headed uphill, of course it's always going to be uphill when you start at sea level. We used a folded and wadded up, photocopied not to scale scrap of map for guidance and headed for Cattle Point. The roads were without bike lanes, but drivers were respectful and we had an easy ride to American Camp and then on to Cattle Point Lighthouse. Fortunately the weather was clear and with no fog we had views all the way to Vancouver Island and across the strait of Juan De Fuca. The Olympic mountains hung in the distance completing our postcard views. Viewing Cattle Pass from up high was a thrill and brought into perspective what was previously a cockpit level chart image. It was easy to see why the Americans chose this location to set up their cannons. From our vantage point we could scan the water route all the way back to Turn Island where our boat lay just around the corner.
We brought cookies and water for lunch, and learned next time to bring lots more water and less cookies.
There is no road right along the coast so we rode part way back to Friday Harbor before turning towards Lime Kiln Park. We encountered a few long steep grades which required walking for some of us. The cliff side views are stunning and it is somewhat difficult to ride safely while scanning the waters for Killer Whales. I learned right away to stop if I wanted to really take in the sights. We followed a circle route taking us by the Lavender Gardens and back to town on a different road.
I forgot and left my camera on the boat so no pictures, sorry. The next day we were fortunate to not have any soreness brought on by being out of shape and suddenly biking like we were still children. On the way back to La Conner we stopped by Spencer Spit for an afternoon hike, and then anchored at James Island. We hung around in the morning waiting for the rising tide which we rode almost all the way to Shelter Bay.
This cruise, in spite of motor problems (our diesel quit and forced us to use our 7.5 kicker for the entire trip) turned out to be one of our best, longest and most enjoyable. I highly recommend planning a bicycle/cruise to any of the San Juan Islands.
|Guest slip at Friday Harbor|
I can proclaim Rosey has made it to the San Juans, but the story is far from told.
As you know we started in La Conner and made a 160 mile detour into Hood canal.
At our farthest turn around point Roseys old engine chose to quit and we were forced to return to LaConner using our 7.5 hp Honda dinghy motor. After some discussion and a good nights sleep in our rented slip we decided to push on to San Juan Island at a maximum 4 mph and hope the wind would help out. The trip to Friday Harbor took about eleven hours overall. We had some following wind boost in Lopez sound, but when we turned the corner into Upright Channel things came to life and we had fantastic sailing right to the marina breakwater, at times our gps showed us 7.1 mph. Every tack required un-hooking jib sheets from handle bars, next time I load bikes I will try to improve the system.
Yesterday we rode our bicycles to Cattle Pass Point Lighthouse and then over to Lime Kiln Park, a distance of about 35 miles. We had to walk up some of the hills and several jerks honked at us. None us of were really in shape, but today we feel good with no soreness so it worked out fine
Today we plan to head back with a stop at Spencer Spit and then spend the night at James Island while we wait for flood tide tommorrow morning, hopefully the current will whisk us all the way to LaConner because our 4 mph speed is stopped dead by an opposing wind and current.
|Anchored at James Island|
So the answer to the "how many horsepower" question is 7.5 hp, but were not back to La Conner yet.
(for anyone that is curious - I switched to a 15 hp Honda and gained one mph in top speed and one mph in cruising speed - imho 15 hp is the correct outboard auxiliary power for a boat like Windrose (seven ton +-)
one week later from home:
OK, update time, first off, the four boat dock at James Island was full so we had to anchor out and dinghy to shore at the kayak campground for our campfire to cook hot dog and s'mores. Anchoring was a real chore, we tried setting the hook three times in two locations before I felt good enough to sleep through a tide change. We ended up with a Bahamian set using our grapple anchor for number two. Plus at Linda's urging I set Roseys antique sounder alarm at two fathoms, I slept like a rock until daylight. We waited for the current change and upped anchor around noon, as soon as we came around the end of James the kicker quit. For a moment I considered raising sail but decided trying to claw off a lee shore was a bad move. We had about a thousand feet before we would be in trouble, and knowing we could quickly drop three hooks I concentrated on fixing the kicker problem asap. Turned out the primer bulb was sucking air because the hose barb was broken halfway through, with a little realigning of the hose it started up and never quit again, but the problem obviously needs attention before we depend on it again. Once clear of James with the wind still on our beam we loosened both sails and made quick work of Rosario Strait. The wind held steady and the helping current up Guemes channel boosted us along at over 5mph right into Swinomish channel where the wind quit, but the current and kicker carried us up to LaConner in short order. With only one half mile left to reach Shelter Bay the current did an about face. Under Rainbow bridge I let the motor idle in neutral so I could measure the current with the gps, astonishingly we were already being swept back at 2 mph and losing fast. We quickly spun around and ran at wot to regain our lost ground and make it into the protected channel leading to our moorage. Luckily we gave our selves just enough time to make it, an hour or so later would have been a nightmare current possibly forcing us to anchor in the channel somewhere waiting for the current change.
|Sunrise from shore from Langley on Whidbey Island in Saratoga Passage|
|All systems running before engine gave up|
see the old spinning flashing light depth sounder? (very nostalgic)
|Stopped by Navy for submarine while crossing to Port Ludlow|
|Lonely Rosey is only guest at Pleasant Harbor on Hood Canal, btw hot showers, wifi come with slip fee|
|Camp Parson Boy Scout Camp at Jackson Cove on Dabob Bay (Hood Canal)|
Our first trip with Rosey is behind us now, we spent twelve days, covered over two hundred sea miles, 35+ bicycle miles, got held up by a nuclear sub, what a great time.
Here is a follow up about Roseys not starting that morning. It turned out the shut down lever was still pulled out due to a weak spring or whatever, and after an aggravating but sorta adventurous ordeal I discovered the issue, pushed the lever, and she started up and has ran fine ever since. So operator error or something like that hits again.
|Deception Pass bridge is really two bridges meeting on Pass Island, this view is looking westward towards the San Juans.|
|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.|
|Four boat float at James|
|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|
|Wing on wing all the way to Jones, this is what its all about.|
|The next day I get some good pics|
|This lady was right next to me and I didn't notice, she never got up, its about two feet|