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This site has oodles of information about boating and the San Juans, it helps to use the search box BELOW to find what interests you.
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5/16/2012

Best Dinghy Beaches (and worst) in the San Juan Islands

     What makes a good dinghy beach? Scroll to the bottom for my number one and number two choices when sailing the San Juan Islands

        At first I was just going to list some features good dinghy beaches share, then I realized San Juan newcomers  may need or want a warning to help in trip planning. So lets be clear, just because a beach is considered a good dinghy beach does not mean it is worthy of a visit and conversely, if someone says the beach is no good for dinghy's does not mean you should not plan a stop over. Forewarned is forearmed or something like that.

       In my opinion a good dinghy beach allows you to get to shore and back to the boat with a minimum of fuss and bother.
In no particular order, lets make a list of likes and dislikes.

  • not getting feet wet getting into and out of dinghy is really nice.
  • ditto for all tide levels, so the angle (slope) of the beach is crucial
  • gravel versus mud is a no brain-er 
  • sand is better than mud, but both track into dinghy and back to the boat (gravel doesn't track)
  • something nearby to tie the painter to, like a massive old log
  • a cool view of my boat when I turn around
  • a nearby restroom is handy
  • not smelling like dead seaweed is a plus
  • fires permitted and driftwood is always nice for evenings
  • nearby tide pools for exploring
  • security is something some spots lack (theft of dinghy or contents)
  • free roaming dogs! or other wildlife
  • how about a lack of bugs and bird droppings
  • what about western view of the setting sun
  • protection from weather driven waves
click on -read more- to find my two best dinghy beach choices

4/09/2012

Mooring Buoys in Parks are for you to use but watch out!

Not much needed here, except a few comments.

Of course  buoys  are first come first served and you are not allowed to tie your dinghy to one as a way to reserve or save it. But what are you going to do if you find one with a dinghy tied to it? Set it free! No of course not.

Which brings up road rage or should we coin a new term? how about -water rage- or -cruiser rage- boat rage- island rage-   For the most part, boaters seem to leave their rage on shore, but if you pay much attention to the vhf you may think otherwise.

Back to buoys, mooring buoys are supposed to have a blue stripe, and most of the parks are close enough, putting a stripe on an old tire is a little tough.
mooring buoy's in the San Juan Island's

Around the populated areas you may find lots of buoys, most are likely to be private, none are OK to use without permission.


A word to the wise, don't trust buoys any further than you can tow them.
Some are not maintained and break loose when you are asleep or ashore.
Some may be in shallow water, or even be on the ground at low tide (check your depth) or have lots of rope, and flotsam dangling from them.  (yes, park buoys)


I think when you hook onto a buoy where you plan to leave valuable property tied up,  you should back down as if you were setting your anchor, but that's just me.  >> read this post  Anchor Buoy breaks free at Jones Island
Some other time we can talk about cleats and rotten old floats.

Navigation Aids (buoys and markers) red/green lights

    In keeping with this sites mission, I thought just a few (all I know) bits of information are in order.
If you're an old salt, skip right past this post, but first timers or part-time first mates may find something useful.

      Aids to navigation are the road signs of  our waterways, and just like driving a car down the highway you wouldn't think of not knowing or understanding some basic safety rules. Consider a three year old driving toward you on the road,  he can't reach the brakes, he can't read the stop sign, he doesn't know which side of the road to drive on.  Now picture yourself driving your shiny new boat in a busy waterway or dangerous channel.  No brakes, check!, confusing striped buoys, check!, parallel park a boat, oops, check!.  You owe it to other boaters to understand a few rules,or at the very least have lots of liability insurance. Speaking of insurance, does your insurance cover damage to your boat and passengers and the mega monster and passengers that you hit?


     The three R's (3 aaarrr's) rrr. is a  nautical mnemonic you should memorize  "Red, Right, Returning" That's it, everyone knows it, everyone uses it, so should you.
Another cool nautical mnemonic for you is, "a good red wine is port" which will remind you that all boats running lights will have a red on the port side bow, which leaves green for the starboard side bow

    3R's "red, right, returning" means to me, keep the red buoys on my right when returning from sea. So this means keep the green ones on your left. Returning from sea would also be heading up river.  As a practical usage, one would approach and enter a strange marina keeping the red markers on his right. See, already you're keeping off the rocks.  Of course there are a few places where local conditions dictate other rules.  For example, Swinomish Channel has red buoys on the right at both ends of the passage.

    What good is knowing which side of a boat (or big ship) the red and green lights are on?  I'll tell you why but first you need to turn off the sun and go boating at night, next when you see a red light coming at you adjust your course so you don't collide. OK, now what if its a green light is coming towards you? OK, now what if the green light changes to red and then back to green? What if the light is both green and red? I'm just a little confused and so are others. Out on the water these are the signals that boaters use to tell others what their intentions are, and there is no confusion if you remember a few rules.
Remember this  "a good red wine is port"   It means the red light is on the left side (port) of the boat.  Following normal rules of the road you would meet other boats keeping to the right, just like on the highway, so you pass each other red to red (port to port).  OK when you see a red, then green, then red changing again, and again, it means they are turning back and forth. A steady red/green at the same time means the other vessel is more or less pointed at you. OK, now when you wander back and forth steering your boat like a drunken... you can imagine what message your lights are sending out over the dark waters. 

      Some wisdom learned the hard way:
 When navigating in darkness and the lights you are watching go out (as in you can't see them suddenly) it may mean something is in the water between you and the lights, let's see what could be blocking the view. A headland, another boat, a reef or rock, a piling, your crews head. What it means is you better stop or slow down and figure out immediately why the lights are blinking.

Just for fun I looked up some other sayings:

When all three lights I see ahead,
I turn to Starboard and show my Red:
Green to Green, Red to Red,
Perfect Safety -- Go Ahead.

Red over Red The Captain Is Dead
Vessel not under command



Danger Signal: Blast quick five To stay alive
This is the danger signal, to be given if you think there is confusion or imminent danger of a collision.
It's also the signal the ferry boat will blast at you if you're being stupid.

"I wonder if there's any red port wine left," OK, I got it now, red on left and port means left.


Below are  a few buoys that need to be understood
navigation buoys aids and what they mean


The top band marks the preferred channel



navigation buoys aids and what they mean

Safe water, the above buoys  may be passed on either side

navigation buoys aids and what they mean
Stay away, these buoy mark rocks and bad things.
(check your chart)


The below buoys are your sign posts,
 odd numbers on green, even on red, 
the same numbers are on your chart.
Red Right Returning  3rrr's
navigation buoys aids and what they mean in the san juan's
The above striped marker demands your attention, slow down or stop
 until you figure out where you are.

Many times individuals will make a buoy/marker out of a jug or old fender.
Do yourself a favor and use caution, there is a reason for the marker, and watch out for a trailing line if its floating free, you don't need something wrapped around your propeller.


If you had a chart, you would be able to spot nav. aids on chart
 and figure out where you are and what to do.
I use NOAA chart number 18421, it has an 80,000 scale. I prefer this chart because it shows most of the area I like to cruise on one chart. You may wish to have a larger scale and more charts
here is the url for noaa chart 18421  http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/18421.shtml
here is the noaa index for other charts in the Pacific Coast area http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/PacificCoastViewerTable.shtml


By the way, if you're using your chart for trip planning purposes you may like non navigation charts/maps better.  We find a fish-n-map chart inexpensive and very useful.
Our favorite for planning is a full color waterproof laminated tourist map with topo lines, but does not show depth or rocks.


A warning some boaters don't heed,

Please don't take off anywhere with just your chart plotter or portable gps, iphone, or whatever gadget is popular today. You really need to have a hard copy chart or map. (and a compass too)  If it just sits rolled up in the corner that's fine. You probably don't use your whistle, flares, pfd's, or any number of emergency items either, but you still carry them.







4/07/2012

"HELP" I need some comments (empathetic criticizer)

Sometimes you can loose track of the little picture when you see only what you want.

This web site may run into a whirlpool and begin spinning in circles if I am left to my own devices, so I'm asking readers to make comments, and tell me whats working.


  • should I begin including info that's not from or relating to the San Juan area
  • How about non boating stuff
  • more or less pictures
  • more or less text
  • does anyone care about personal projects or ?
At the bottom of every page or post is a comment box, that's where you say your two cents.
Thanks
 BTW you can e-mail me if you connect some links

3/25/2012

Trailer Hauling Tips for Newcomers


 Someone told me they thought this article had some merit, 
so I re-posted it here,     you decide.   


Trailer hauling tricks and no no's
Just because it's on a trailer, doesn't mean you should haul it down the highway

Windrose, New Bombay pilothouse 31 tsunami rescue on trailer
See the Bombay Project for a blow by blow description of this tsunami rescue

I tried to find a suitable article written by someone with firsthand experience pulling trailers.  All the ones I found were pretty worthless so I wrote an article myself.  I have many years hauling around construction equipment, boats and camp trailers.  Rather than try to put together something sensible, I will just do a Q&A thing. This article may entertain you old timers and help a few newbie’s.  If you disagree with something, feel free to post comments.

  • First frequently asked question is “how much can my car/truck haul?  The answer requires more  questions. Do you mean safely? Without voiding warranty? How far? Any big long hills? Auto or clutch? Make model and condition?  As you can see it’s a complicated question, so let’s cut to the chase.  On the door jamb of your car is a tag with the factory approved weights your vehicle is designed to carry and tow.  If you are trying to limit your liability in an accident you should heed the numbers.  You can easily exceed load limits without being aware, if you do you may shorten the life of your automatic transmission, you may overheat, you may not have the experience to stay out of trouble.

  • Next; “ how much tongue weight should I have”One rule of thumb is    click on "read more"  

2/14/2012

Cruisers Packing List - don't forget the ?

      If your a beginner to the San Juans as well as a beginner to cruising (boat camping) you may find some useful advice here.  But some people don't like being told what to bring or what not to bring, or ask for directions when they are hopelessly lost.  So stop right here if you recognize yourself, and move on.

boating packing list


        Okay, now that the captain and skipper have quit reading lets see if we can ease the pain somewhat.  I'm not going to try to be all inclusive here, but just some little reminders to get you thinking about your cruise.  Obviously you have a spotless well equipped boat and many things are already on board.
  • I'll bet you don't have an underwater flashlight, they are great for teasing sea creatures after dark, and will add hours of entertainment time to answer your children's "I'm bored" comments. (hint, stick a cheap flashlight in a ziplock bag) Now tie it to the end of your boat hook and poke it under water
  • How about heavy duty zip lock bags, or the ones they sell at the outdoor outfitter stores for river running, you know for your cell phone, ipod, camera, wallet, etc, etc, etc.....
  • speaking of waterproof have you got any good wood matches in a waterproof container?
  • here's one you really miss and then its too late  - chap-stick with spf 99 (how high do the #'s go?)
  • remember that hat that blew off into the water?  ditto for glasses!  you need a chin strap or leash.
  • OK, this is a good one, get a second or third corkscrew, uh huh! (try em at home to make sure they work well)
  • Dramamine in all forms for everyone
  • cheap little led flashlights, lots of em, they're cheap
  • plastic kites for beach fun, don't forget the string
  • multi-function tool that you carry in your pocket all the time
  • boat cleaning supplies, wax, polish, paint thinner to remove tars you track on board with your shoes. We seem to do our heavy cleaning while on a cruise, I see others doing the same.
  • misc. boat repair supplies and tools. (sail tape) get a bottle of soft scrub it's my best friend (paint thinner too)

These are just some starter ideas, feel free to add your favorites.
Since some folks really benefit from in depth detailed instructions and are lost without to-do lists, I have added below a list created for a general travel article.
Click here and read more >>>>>

1/22/2012

why you should use "Active Captain"

This may seem like a blatant promotion for a web site, well duh! but before you go cruising, you should check out www.activecaptain.com  You owe it to yourself and crew to be informed. A picture is worth a thousand words, or maybe much more in this case. These snapshots only capture a small amount so I snapped three to really show how much is available, and I left off the local knowledge label so you could go look it up yourself.

All the pictures include the area from Victoria to Bellingham to Anacortes, which means you may have to scroll to view entire picture. Remember, these are snapshots, you need to go to web site for functions to work (try clicking on pics for a bigger view)
  Red markers show marinas and docks

Yellow markers show navigation warnings

Green markers show comments and reviews from cruisers like me and you
Nothing works because these are snapshots, you need to go to the real web site

1/21/2012

How to Bicycle Between San Juan Island, Lopez Island, Shaw and Orcas Island Without a Car

Bicycling the San Juan Islands
       
  For most people, bicycling the San Juan's means arriving with your bike and gear in a car on a Ferry.


But it doesn't have to be this way. Savvy cyclists leave their cars in Anacortes and ride the ferry to the San Juan Islands.  Once in the islands bicycle travel is the way to go.



First let's explore a likely scenario for those without a boat, bear with me, this will get a little wordy:




      You drive to Anacortes and find a place to park for free for a week, maybe more. Or park at the ferry terminal long term parking lot for about $40 per week. Next, jump on the ferry paying a small nominal fee for one passenger and bicycle for a lift to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, or Orcas, or Lopez, or Shaw.  FYI: foot passengers and bicyclists never need reservations or need to wait in line like car travelers.
So far so good!



      The day is still early, start touring (ride your bike). At the end of the day you will end up in a motel, B&B, campground, or any number of resorts.  You probably will be well advised to have some reservations lined up in advance. Oh, and bring a pocket full of cash because restaurants and beds aren't free. The next day tour around some more then jump on the free for foot passengers Ferry to other Islands and repeat. Eventually you will end up back in Anacortes where your car is waiting for the drive home.



      This is a great plan if you are into minimalist and don't have a boat, but there are a few weaknesses; number one, where is all my extra gear that I take when I travel, oh yeah its back in the car parked in Anacortes while I'm gallivanting around on an island with nothing but my pocket full of cash and what fits in my bike bags. (not good for some of us) Excellent plan if your a hard core bicyclist. Number two doesn't matter, I'm still back on number one.


Ok, here's the boating/bicycling scenario:  

1/16/2012

WHY own A BOAT? and for me "Why a Sailboat" when what I really want is to go camping somewhere in the San Juan Islands


      Why a boat? is a fair question, and one usual quick answer is, "why not a boat"
Aha! got me again, remember if you don't like the answer, ask a better question.  Okay, how about this question,  "why take a boat for a cruise instead of taking a car and camping?" Now were getting somewhere;
WHY A BOAT?
Spending most of our lives on land, a boat, at least for me, offers wide open spaces, freedom, and much more. The journey is my desire, my wish, my goal, the destination is simply a mark on the chart, a mere way point in life. The boat is at once a complicated machine I must master, or at least control, and yet a simplistic drifting raft,or racing hydro-foil will also fill the bill. While journeying by water my mind is filled with the pressing matters at hand, what course is safe, what hazards lay ahead, are we drifting toward that menacing lee shore,  will we clear the point, should we tack now or risk thin water, what is that new sound? motion? vibration? Looking ahead I see a rock, a quick glance at the gauge hints at the waters depth, the rock is gone, now it appears to one side, as we glide closer I see it has eyes and a nose. I feel a mariner's connection, and an urge to wave, but no response is forthcoming. Anxiously checking the depth again, I'm ready to start the motor; The wind shifts, the sails fill, a little gust, and the lines pull taut. Looking up the mast to the top, I see the wind-vane has changed direction and is  pointing 90 degrees to starboard. The sails hanging like billowy white clouds floating above the boat are spilling wind, I let out the main sheet, and slack the jib.  click on read more...

1/02/2012

Step by Step guide and Itinerary for making that Dream Boat Trip to the San Juan Islands

     This cruise itinerary is for the first timer with the boat on a trailer. The novice skipper with family for crew will find this article contains just what's needed to get going on that long talked about trip to the San Juans. While this is a step by step action plan to follow, some skippers do not need all the steps and prodding and so they should skip ahead to      Day #1.  for the daily itinerary  

For the rest of us, these steps are important, so I've numbered them.
  Before you go

  1. Right now, go put two marks on the calendar. Mark the day of departure from home and one week or so later mark the day your returning. Do it now or forever hold your peace and admit your not really going boat camping in the San Juans.
  2. Go to your local chandlery or go online and purchase a big color map or chart of the San Juans. I'm not telling you which one, it doesn't matter, just big and one you like to look at.
  3. Got the map? Good now nail it to the wall where you can see it all the time. Do it now!  OK, the hardest part is over, you have now made a commitment to yourself and crew. Your really going.  Kick back a little, relax, do some day dreaming.  Your trip (cruise, vacation, what ever you want to call it) is already well underway. By now you should be  getting into the  excitement that comes with planning and preparations.    Note:   Don't let worry and stress build up, your really going to enjoy this outing and it will be easy, trust me  (heh, heh, heh)  Relaxing good times should be part of the  process that started when you made the X on the calendar. Remember, on this cruise there are no deadlines to meet, no times to beat, no "sorry no vacancy's" to worry about. You are on your own schedule to do as you please. What could be better besides a gourmet chef and staff.  Study the map with your crew, locate Friday Harbor, Jones Island, and Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham. Do some internet searches, read peoples reviews.
  4. Start compiling a list of supply's and provisions that you think you need. Click here for help with that list >>  Cruisers Packing List this list may be a little too much, so pick and choose.
  5. Start making a list of boat and trailer, must do's (like greasing the wheel bearings) I mention wheel bearings because there are a few "must do's" that will potentially ruin your plans, having a bearing go out from your neglect is avoidable, so are boat motor issues. We once went with an untested, worrisome diesel motor, and sure enough it quit, but because of suspected problems I had mounted an outboard bracket and brought my trusty 7.5 hp Honda along which not only saved the trip, but allowed us to extend it a few days.  Another time with a different boat I towed a dinghy which sole purpose was to carry a spare outboard just in case.   Another mistake not to make is inadequate packing for inclement weather, (hope for warm sunny days, but plan for cold windy rain).  Don't forget seasickness pills (Dramamine)  or other medication, one persons needs could ruin the trip. There must some other must do's that are particular to your family??? Spare tire for trailer! Hmm!
  6.  #5 was a downer, lets lighten up.  You need to bring an ice chest if your boat has none, maybe two, plan on ice lasting 3-4 days and then resupply time.  For a food menu, you should plan to eat well, especially if you have bad weather when hot food hits the spot and improves spirits. Sandwiches are easy to prepare and bring lots of trail mix and snacks.  You will need lots of water, don't plan on any being available once you shove off. We bring our water in 5 gallon jugs and pour it into smaller bottles
  7. You will need a propane cook stove and fuel bottles to last entire trip (propane is $7+ in the islands)
  8. Garbage:  I need to mention it now after suggesting you bring all the junk food.  Your little boat will quickly become overrun with trash, bring bags, the outside islands have no garbage service. Think about all that convenience food packaging material I just told you to bring.  Some of the packaging may be left at home. Prepare things in advance and freeze meals ready to go as they thaw (2-4 days in ice chest)
  9. Under boat equipment, the list is very subjective so lets just list a few must haves.  PFD's all around and all coastie required equipment (whistle, type 4, fire ext., registration, lights, etc) Plus I think you need a minimum of two anchors and extra rode, extra fuel if your tank is small.  Your boat should have a range of 75 miles. The rule is 1/3 outbound, 1/3 to get back, 1/3 for reserve. It could be 25 miles between fuel stops, so a 75 mile range gives a good cushion. Many boaters simply tie 5 gallon jugs on deck.  If your boat is open and it really rains hard, bring a tarp and ropes to lash it down. You may sleep on shore so a tent is needed. You need a hand bilge pump and a bucket (they look like a big suction tube and flex hose.
  10. Bring a GPS,  You can get by without one but they are fun and really are useful. Some phones have apps available. Bring your cell phone (they work good almost everywhere) Bring the map or chart nailed on the wall or better yet go buy a real navigation chart with depths and rocks all located.  Bring a compass (hand held is OK) Bring a vhf marine radio (you can buy a portable battery one for about $100.   
  11. The boats loaded your ready to go. Don't forget to tell someone where your going, and when to call for help if you don't check in as planned. That person could be a friend or relative that doesn't panic over  icky weather reports.  They should call the San Juan County Sheriff or Coast Guard if needed, or someone you have prearranged to call, 911 works too. Remember, your plans may change as the week progresses, but you can check in with a cell phone call most of the time.
Time to go 
San Juan Island trip itinerary
The blue line indicates general route, red dots are overnight stops. 80 miles

Squalicum Harbor map
Squalicum Harbor Marina - red dots = boat ramp, restaurant, showers, parking, guest docks
  1.   Day #1  Your destination is Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham. (not Anacortes) Squalicum has the best boat ramp around, and free long term parking for your trailer and tow rig. Cap Sante in Anacortes has a sling and pay to park.  You can arrive and take right off but I would plan to spend the first night at the guest dock or in your parked rig. Do not cast off unless you are sure you will have enough light to make it to your anchorage or marina. Navigating in the dark is risky business and requires more of you than you bargain for, and may easily become a really stressed vacation.  Its still daylight until around 9pm, so if you arrive around  6pm there is plenty of time to get the boat launched, go shopping, eat in a restaurant, hang out.  The marina has bathrooms, showers, lots and lots of parking.  If your the worrier on this trip and need to talk to people, you can call them during regular business hours.  The launch fee and guest dock payments are made at a self serve kiosk, you could arrive at midnight, its a 24 hour deal.  No stress, just show with your boat.
  2.   Day #2   In the morning, you can eat at the restaurant overlooking the marina next to the bathrooms, (the food is good and priced right) jump in the car and run to Walmart or just cast off at sun up. I like to walk around and talk to other boaters coffee cup in hand.
  3. Your destination is Echo Bay at Sucia Island, its about 20 miles so you will have plenty of time even if you hang around Squalacum until early afternoon.   If you get there a little earlier you will have time to hike and explore, or maybe first go to Fossil bay where you may get a spot at the dock.  Of course tying up to an anchor buoy or the dock requires a fee whereas                                                                                   anchoring is free.
  4. Sucia Island Chart
    Sucia Island with Echo Bay and Fossil Bay marked with red dots
  5.   Day #3   On this day you may want to stick around Sucia for some exploring, fishing, or kayaking if it suits you. You could easily spend several days just hiking.  
  6. Lets up anchor at noon, our destination is Jones Island, a distance of only 12 miles.  On the way to Jones you may want or need to stop at West Beach resort/marina on Orcas.  West beach is right on the way and wont add much time or distance to this leg.  At West Beach you can get fuel, waffle ice cream cones, ice and groceries. West Beach is just past Point Doughty on Orcas (check your chart/map and find pt Doughty) Did you bring binoculars, they will be helpful in spotting some far off places across the water and West Beach is one of those places? Once again, like Sucia, if you get to Jones early you may get a space at the dock, but you can always snag a buoy or anchor for free. Jones is pretty small but about perfect, you can beach comb, explore, kayak or hike trails, circling the island in about an hour.
  7. Jones Island
    Jones Island chart
    Jones Island
  8. Plan to stay a day or two at Jones it could easily be your favorite stop, it is mine.
  9.   Day #4   But it could be day 5 or 6 if your getting into the boat traveling thing.
  10. Once again there is no need to take off early, but by now you may have noticed that currents play a big roll in passage times, and fuel used. I check my current charts and then ignore them mostly, but at least I know what to expect. Leave Jones Island in your wake and set course for Friday Harbor, no need to rush, its only 5 miles and they never turn boaters away. You can make a reservation for a slip in advance but there really is no need and its nice to not have a rigid schedule.  You can also just stop by for a few hours for free and walk around town, buy souvenirs and provisions and then move on.  I recommend on your first trip that you spend the night at Friday Harbor, visit the Whale Museum, hang around town and waterfront goings on, eat at the many places, and above all by now you will be wanting a shower, which is available right on the docks.  When you arrive near the breakwater, you can call the Harbormaster on the radio or use your cell phone, or simply tie up at the outer dock, sometimes they have a little harbormaster shed office out on the end and you can talk across the water.  It's all very simple and low key, even after hours  when the security people will take care of you. One visit we rented a slip for two nights while we bicycled around San Juan Island.
  11. Friday harbor 
    Friday Harbor chart
    Friday Harbor 
  12.   Day #5    Check out time is after lunch sometime so again, no rush. Set course for Rosario in East Sound on Orcas Island.  The distance is about 11 miles and you may end up with a modest current either for or against your plans, you may want to arrange your transit according to favorable currents.  See current guide info right here  >> Current Atlas  <<    Around Friday Harbor is a lot of boat traffic and you will see more than one ferry for sure, don't worry, just use your common sense.  On your way to Rosario you may want to take a little side trip over to Olga for a short stop over at the public dock, (Olga is also on Orcas just south of Rosario) when you get to Rosario you will be able rent a slip, hang on a buoy or anchor out. Rosario resort has some nice grounds, restaurants, provision store, fuel, and tours of the Mansion turned museum. Because you will probably have time to kill I would seriously consider showing up later in the day or making your visit a two hour stop over and then move on to another stop for the night.
  13. Rosario picture 
    Rosario resort picture
    Rosario (Mansion/Museum is in lower left, marina restaurant at top
  14. An alternate stop would be past Rosario at East Sound where they have a public dock.
  15. Another alternate stop just a little further, but heading more toward your car at Squalicum would be Pelican Beach on Cypress Island.  Pictorial  >> Pelican Beach pictorial  << Pelican Beach has about 4 or 5 buoys and we have always been able to squeeze in and anchor.  In a pinch you can run half a mile down to Eagle Harbor where they have 18 or so buoys. BTW Cypress is DNR land so everything is free (no buoy or camping fees) If your into hiking this is probably the best around. The beach is a favorite for kayakers from Bellingham and Anacortes, expect to enjoy good conversation around the many campfires lining the beach.
  16. Pelican Beach map here  
    Pelican Beach chart
    Pelican Beach on northeast end of Cypress Island

  17.   Day #6   Today's destination is Squalicum Harbor and head for home. Its about 15 miles so it will take a some time.  By now you should have a pretty good idea of your boats ability to get around and deal with wind and currents. Bellingham Bay seems to go on forever, especially when the elements are lined up against you. 
  18. If you have time for a quick lunch stop on the way, you should really consider dropping hook in Inati Bay on Lummi Island
  19. Inati bay map 
    Lummi Island, Inati Bay chart
    Inati Bay on southeast side of Lummi Island
  20.   Plan your departure from Cypress so you arrive back at Squalicum with time to load up and head for home, or I recommend you plan one more night on the boat at the visitor/guest docks at Squalicum Harbor.  This way you will be showered, fed and refreshed in the morning and have the whole day to load up and drive towards home. In my opinion driving home in the dark after a long last day of boating is no way to wind up a relaxing vacation.
That's it
  • I hope I was able to give you the incentive, motivation and pertinent information to get going on that first trip to the San Juan Islands.  My recommendations are by no means all that there is to see and do. Please do some research and modify my suggestions to suit your situation, for instance it is entirely possible to stay at resorts and eat in restaurants every night. The more budget minded may choose to anchor out everywhere.  (yes you can anchor next to the docks at Friday Harbor and then paddle over to their dinghy dock, no charge) You may also start and end at Cap Sante, La Conner, Deception Pass, or even start out far far south in Olympia like we did once.


12/26/2011

Christmas has come and gone, so where is my new boat?

I actually had hopes that somehow, in some unbelievable fashion, I would get my long wanted pilothouse sailboat for a present. Maybe under the tree would be a little card in a plain manila envelope, and inside would be a photo of her at a dock somewhere. There would be a big red bow on the cabin roof or around the main boom. "Pop" goes the bubble of my dream world, Christmas has come and gone, and I'm still waiting for my new boat (new to me) to magically appear. If you see my new boat out there somewhere, please let me know, I really need to start outfitting her for next summer's cruises.
BTW my birthday is in April.

See my belated Christmas present >> New Bombay Pilothouse Project

12/20/2011

Why go to Cypress Island? Just go somewhere else - Please

        I hesitate to write about Cypress Island, my impulse is to keep the secret.

     For some, Cypress Island is a destination. For others it's just a stop on the way to somewhere else.
For me, it's a dependable refuge that I return to again and again.

        This selection of images is from Pelican Beach on Cypress Island.  The beach is very dinghy friendly. Pelican Beach should be visited for one hour or overnight, or you are missing out on something truly special.

cypress island eagle cliff hike




Pelican beach campsites





Cypress island, Pelican beach

Find your own trail on Cypress

Please use this link for all the other parks and keep Cypress secret.

11/24/2011

Using Current Charts Will Get You a Free Ride in the San Juan Islands - Riding the Current North in Burrows Bay

      Who ever said there's no free ride has never been to Burrows Bay. If you are a kayaker and your kayak paddle is  getting heavy, or your in a putt-a-putt puttster boat and need another knot of speed, you should know that the current pretty much  always flows north in Burrows Bay.
        Don't believe me, check your current atlas and find a day of the year or time of day that the current is forecast to flow south.

        Burrows Island and Allan Island are strategically located to create a whirlpool counter current within the bay, so along the shore is a dependable northward current at all times.

      What this means is that when you are cruising from Deception Pass north to Anacortes, or anywhere north, in Rosario Strait, it will pay you to come in close to the eastern shore and get a little boost. Of course if you're heading south you should stay out in Rosario Strait.
        Hugging the shore in Burrows Bay  will get you about 4 miles of free current to ride. Wouldn't it be great if all the channels and passages were this helpful, this back and forth tidal thing is nice, but doesn't always  keep to my schedule.

11/05/2011

How Small of a Boat is Too Small, for the San Juan Islands?

Using common sense and smart practices, just about anything that floats has a time and place. Hobie 16's - 14's - inflatable kayaks, canoes and hundred foot palaces, all work for cruising and boat camping in the San Juan Islands.





If you look in the background of these three pictures, you see calm tranquil waters
While its true much of the summer you can expect these conditions, you should still be prepared for some nastiness.

Being prepared sometimes means simply changing your schedule so as to not get caught in the middle of Haro strait during a blow. Or worse, accepting your fate and being  forced to spend an extra night at Jones Island, or Rosario while the weather gods sort out the big plan.

If you travel light and are flexible, sensible and not too foolhardy just about any boat is suitable for travel in the San Juans.

We once passed a couple of young men paddling their becalmed  little 16' sloop part way between  San Juan Island and Stuart Island.  The current was helping them along at about 1 mph and they had six or more hours of daylight left. Later that afternoon we noticed they had tied to the dock a few boat lengths down from us, apparently none the worse. That night one slept on the dock and one in the boat.  The next morning they were comparing who had the most uncomfortable sleep. 

Sometimes we see groups in open long boats from local camps, they will come ashore to unload gear and then using an anchor and  long rope loop, pull their boat out to deep water for the night.

I have seen ski boats so overloaded with camping gear and people that they have no reserve buoyancy, essentially they are waiting for a rouge wave or wake to sink them. Small boat cruising is perfectly acceptable, but you still must follow basic boating seamanship and safety rules.

A sailing partner of mine in Portland wants to bring his Hobie 16 to the San Juans. My first thought was --your going to freeze to death-- but then I remembered he uses a wet suit.  He asked if I thought a 1 hp outboard could be rigged up for an auxiliary (about 25 lbs I think) I said why not, as long as you don't weigh yourself down with camping gear, all you need is 1 hp,  a gallon of extra fuel, wet suit, booties, gloves, hand held waterproof VHF radio, and a dry bag  (or two).
But if he flips the boat and needs help, he could be in trouble and all Hobie Cat sailors like to fly a hull.  I suggested he travel in company with other boats, so they could carry his camping gear and cruise nearby for emergency's, just in case.

We came across a family with a dog in a canoe halfway to Patos Island,  gutsy or foolish, maybe just ignorant, but they were a long way from land.

I have never seen a paddle-board being used to cruise, but I'm sure I will.







10/16/2011

Seven important rules to be aware of when boating back and forth between the US and Canada

Dealing with customs;
      About the most important point I can make is that you should not let customs check-ins impact your plans.  Except for the obvious route planning details, its not a big deal. Some places in Canada you can check in after hours using a special phone on the dock.
You will need to check in with Canada customs when you enter Canada; you will need to check in with US customs when you come back to the US.  When you depart either country you don't do anything except leave.

     There are some rules that you or your crew may stumble over, and they apply going into both country's.

  1. When you enter Canada and come back to the US, you must not stop anywhere (no parks, gas docks, bathrooms, nothing) until you have checked in, even if it means traveling hundreds of miles out of your way.
  2. You may pass through without checking in if you don't stop anywhere.  This means you can sail over the international property line, circle around and come back, and no one cares. It also means you may sail all the way to Bellingham (skipping Roche) to check in, but you may not stop anywhere, (even to get fuel at Orcas) You may run all the way to Alaska, just don't stop without checking in.
  3. "Checking in" means to go to a port of entry where they have a customs facility and tell them.
  4. When you arrive at the red painted customs dock  everyone must stay on the boat, only one person goes to check in. (no, your crew may not run down to the bathroom until after you're checked in)
  5. Bring with you to check in; birth certificates, visas, passports, name of boat, names and ages of all on board, name and registration number of boat.
  6. They will ask you questions; where you live,where you been, where you going, purpose of visit, how long, etc.
  7. You can't stay at the red painted customs dock, after checking in you will need to move on, sometimes at Roche Harbor for instance the boats will be stacked up circling, waiting for a spot at the check-in dock.
That's it, real simple, fast, and very inconvenient if you now have to back track miles and miles to your favorite island, but that is why we plan our route.

Rules and requirements probably are changing as you read this, so you should probably make some phone calls or search online for new info.
  • Not checking in at all, may have severe consequences. In today's heightened alert, they take things seriously, but it is not difficult to check in.

10/05/2011

Does Paying It Forward Work? (like money in the bank) How to get yours!


Paying it Forward - Fact or Fiction.   
           Have you ever noticed someone parked beside the road, most likely broke down?  Is everyone flying by, rushing to their next piece of life?  Sometimes you will see a Good Samaritan pulled over offering help.  There’s a certain concept floating around, that if you help someone out of the goodness of your heart, it’s like putting money in the bank so to speak, money you will draw upon in the future in your own time of need. Often called, “paying forward” Sound about right, right.  Well not really, if you’re just banking goodwill, then it’s not really out of the goodness of your heart.

          Enough philosophy, “paying it forward” is alive and well in the boating world, and especially among cruisers.  If you are a newbie to cruising or boating you may be hesitant to offer a helping hand, don’t be. The people in distress will appreciate the offer and may well be hoping someone would help them out. Help can be as simple as handling a dock line when they arrive to helping rebuild a balky pump, or giving a tow.
Turn Point lighthouse on Stuart Island
          Where I day-sail in Portland on the Columbia River, I have gotten into the habit of soft grounding my boat off to one side near the entrance to my marina.( I sail alone) I then take the sails down (no furlers for me) and get everything ready to dock at my own slow pace without worrying about traffic or drifting away, because I'm stuck in the sand.  When everything is ship shape I lift the swing keel a bit and motor off the sand and proceed to my slip.  Sometimes when I do this maneuver, boaters knowing I’m obviously aground stop and ask if I need help. Were they paying it forward? was I receiving payment for my past good deeds? 
           Last summer at the  Matia Island dock in the San Juan's, a cruising couple appeared at our boat early in the morning while I was having coffee in the cockpit.  They gave us a large chunk of warm carrot cake. It was delicious, hitting the spot perfect. Possibly I was receiving some interest on my account, what do you think?

9/18/2011

10 things Experts say you need for Sailboat Cruising


1. Sailing Knife and Marlinspike
Carry a
knife and marlinspike on your belt at all times (not in your pocket, and
not down below in your bag). You need it ready to use in an instant. A
knife will cut through sailing rope or free a Genoa sheet wrapped around
your leg. The marlinspike helps pry open strands of rope for splicing.
Folding knives with a 3" blade and marlinspike are fine, but require two
hands to open and close. A better choice would be a straight blade,
rigging knife with a 3" blade and a separate marlinspike in a sheath.
Always,
always secure a knife with a lanyard to your belt. This keeps it
attached to you even if it slips out of your hands. This can be critical
if you have to go aloft or slip over the side with a rope wrapped
around your leg (this has happened more than once to sailing crews offshore!)
2. Personal Flotation Device (pfd) and Sailing Harness

Pack your own pfd and sailing harness. Do not rely on sailboat you
crew aboard to have a spare. Try on several inflatables and find one
that's easy to adjust and comfortable. Simulate sailing motions when you
put it on. Squat down, lean over, raise your arms above your head, and
pretend you are grinding on a sailing winch. It must hug your body and
give you comfort at all times; otherwise you will not wear it!
Purchase
a separate sailing safety harness. Better, find an inflatable pfd with
an integrated harness. Make sure it has oversize D-rings rated to a
breaking strength of at least 4,000 pounds. A separate harness should
mold to your body like a glove. Again, do not rely on the sailboat you
will board to provide you with a safety harness that fits your body.
Ask
the sailing skipper if there are tethers already onboard. The tether
attaches to your harness D-ring and then clips on to a jackline ( a long
piece of line or webbing that runs from bow to stern). If you need to
make your own, use webbing or three strand sailing rope. Make one tether
4' long and the other 6' long. Attach strong one-handed clips with a
breaking strength of at least 4,000 pounds to the end. Attach the other
end to the harness D-rings with an oversized snap-shackle. Attach a
lanyard to the snap shackle for quick-release, in case your tethers get
hung up and you need to shed them fast.
3. Caps and Hats
You
need protection from the sun, the cold, and rain. Double everything you
pack for cats and hats. You can expect to lose at least one hat over
the side on each trip. Pack two peaked caps, a good brim hat, like those
made by Tilley, and two or more knit watch caps. A good brim hat
provides more protection in the Tropics than slathering sunscreen on
your face and neck.
At nighttime, even in summer, the sea weather
will cool more than you ever thought possible. A good watch cap will
keep you warm. Those made by a company like Under Armour are microfibers
that breathe and provide comfort without sweating (which will cause
your body to cool!).
4. Foul Weather Gear
Pack a full
set of foul weather jacket and bib-pants. Match the jacket and pants to
the type of sailing. Use lighter gear for tropics and heavy gear for
cold weather passages. Go for the "breathable" type fabrics that protect
you, but allow air to circulate next to the skin to help lower
perspiration.Ask the sailing skipper if you should bring sea-boots.
5. Under Garments
Pack
thick, heavy socks to wear with sea boots. These protect your heels to
ward off blisters. Under layers should be considered part of any foul
weather gear offshore equipment. You need garments that wick the sweat
from the skin to keep you dryer and prevent cooling. In warm or cold
weather, go with the modern microfiber synthetics for superior comfort
beneath your foulies.
6. Sailing Gloves
Unless you
sail all the time, your hands will not be used to handling the sailing
ropes of synthetic material common on sailing yachts. These can cause
blisters or "rope burn", where the line runs out fast between your
hands, peeling away the skin.
Purchase full length sailing
gloves--also called "3/4 length"--that cover all except the tips of your
fingers. These offer the best protection when working sailing sheets,
halyards, and boat anchoring rode.
7.Oversized Plastic Freezer Bags
Crazy
as it sounds, zip-lock type bags are worth their weight in gold. Pack
10-20 of these. Use them to segregate clothes so you don't have to dig
in a bag (i.e. one for socks, one for underpants, one for t-shirts) Use
them for dirty clothes to cut down on odors. Seal wet clothes inside
until you have a chance to dry them. Fill them with valuables like your
wallet and cellphone. Zip up snacks inside for late night watches or
quick meals when it gets rough.
Make any zip-lock type bag more compact or keep foods fresh longer with these three easy steps:
1. Seal all except one half inch of the bag. Press as much air out of the bag as possible
2. Insert the straw into the opening. Seal the bag next to the straw with your fingers.
3. Suck on the straw to remove the rest of the air. Seal the bag as you withdraw the straw.
8.Personal Grab-Bag
If
you need to leave the boat in an emergency, you need one bag that you
can grab-and-go. Use one of your zip-lock bags for storage. Include your
wallet, keys, passport, visa, cellphone, a separate notepad with a list
of emergency contact names and phone numbers (this should include your
insurance policy # and phone numbers, doctors name and numbers, pharmacy
numbers), cash, travelers checks, and at least 10 days of medications.
9.Seasick Medications
Pack
some form of seasick prevention for any offshore trip. More than 66% of
all sailors experience some form of seasickness (mild to severe) in
rough weather. You must be able to stand watches, help with sail changes
or reefing, and work with the sailing crew, even when you aren't
feeling your best.
Use the mildest type of seasick remedy that
gives the maximum effect. Start with natural, non-medication forms of
seasick prevention (ginger, emotional freedom technique (EFT),
wrist-pressure bands). Next, consider over-the-counter types of
medication. If necessary, use prescription medications.
Check with
your doctor before taking any type of seasick medication--even the
natural forms. Each individual has a different body chemistry, and you
want to be on the safe side. Start your medication at least 24 hours
before you set sail so that it will be in your bloodstream before you
leave the pier. Keep hydrated at all times to lessen the onset of
seasickness.
10.Hand and Head-band Lights
Carry your
own flashlight. Buy one of the small high-intensity lights that come in a
sheath. Look for those with pop-on, pop-off red filters. You need red
filters to keep your night vision in tact. In addition, purchase a
head-band type light with the same features--high intensity white light
with a toggle for red filtered light.
Use the head-band light for
hands free chart navigation, engine space maintenance, and to check sail
trim at night. Pack at least three changes of batteries for each type
of light. Buy a plastic soap dish, place the batteries inside, and strap
them shut with heavy-duty rubber bands.
Use these ten sailing
tips to know the absolute essentials you need to pack for any offshore
sailing trip. You will be able to enjoy your time underway worry-free,
with the knowledge that you are ready for whatever comes you way!
================
Courtesy of:  Captain John teaches sailing skippers the
skills they need to learn to sail like a pro! Get his popular free
report "Ten Top Boat Safety Checks for Cruising Boat Skippers" at Learn to Sail at Skippertips.com.
John
offers a free weekly sailing tips newsletter. Join his site to learn
hundreds of little-known sailing tips and techniques with articles,
videos, and live sailing forums at Learn to Sail at Skippertips.com.

8/18/2011

Dragging Anchor on the 4th of July Minutes Before the Fireworks at Roche Harbor Was a Near Disaster




You Don't Want to Miss Fourth of July at Roche Harbor This was going to be the best boat trip ever. We are headed to Roche Harbor in the San Juan’s where we will join in the fun celebrating with 1,000’s of boaters from all over the Northwest and beyond. And it really was a great trip, just not the one expected. Roche Harbor (yes, pronounced “Roach”) is a destination resort for boaters and non boaters alike, nestled on a fairly large protected bay on the northwest corner of San Juan Island in Washington State.

Our trip starts in Portland, OR where we live. But our boat, a 28 foot sailboat, is moored for the summer in Anacortes WA. Having done this 275 mile drive many times, we had developed a system and are not in a hurry, after all we are on vacation. We left Portland late in the morning, breezed through Seattle traffic and arrived at Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes ready for dinner. The first thing we do is make sure “Windsong” is still floating in our leased slip and that the batteries are fully charged. After checking out the boat and stowing all our "must have" gear and toys we head for one of the many restaurants we have become familiar with. When we first started exploring Anacortes some locals had recommended the bowling alley as the best place to get a good and sizable meal, and I can’t disagree, but we thankfully found that other places deserve our business as well, especially if some sort of ambience is on your menu. It usually takes all day on the road and a meal in a strange city before the kids start realizing we are off on another boat ride and start offering advice about what to stock up on for provisions. Don’t forget coke and chips and trail mix and cookies and hot dogs and everything else. So it’s decided once again, everyone will help with the shopping. After dinner we park in the parking lot at the top of the ramp leading to the boat, and we split up. I haul another load to the boat while the rest of my crew walks across the street to “Safeway.” Having a major grocery store nearby is a great benefit. By the time I get to the store they have filled a cart with a week’s worth of really wonderful great stuff. Where’s the fruit, wine, cheese and M&M’s I want to know. It’s getting dark as we haul our loot across the street and down the long floating walkway to the boat. It’s never boring at a moorage, there is always someone to talk to, some weird strange floating craft to look over, something in the water to check out. We finally get everything packed away, “Windsong” is sitting much lower in the water, the children have staked out their over lapping territories, the moorage has become quiet, and we can hear muted conversation drifting across the calm water. It’s time to open a bottle of wine and relax in the cockpit, “no I say” you can’t have a coke, as I pull out the cork.

Morning comes early for me. As I wake up I think once again of a quote I read that went, “All boats under fifty feet are designed for just two people” and I think to add “and only if the two people are a couple.” I slide the hatch open to see, not sunshine, but fog, which means grab a coat, everything is wet and cold. Hopefully this is the last time I walk up the ramp today. Inside the Safeway is a Starbucks, where I purchase two steaming cups off strong black coffee. I really, really, don’t like Starbucks coffee. A baker’s dozen donuts to go, and I’m back at the boat with breakfast. A quick final check of boat systems and I cast off, Linda is up, Jaiden and Kailey are still asleep; or at least they pretend to be asleep, the idling diesel motor is noisy, bangs, shakes and rattles everything within its reach. Windsong moves effortlessly through the still water leaving no wake, at 1450 rpm the motor is smooth and without vibration, time for coffee and donuts. Roche Harbor is about 26 miles, six or seven hours motoring, even longer, or not even possible if we sail. Today is the 3rd of July and we plan to spend the night at Jones Island Marine Park. Normally sailboat travel in the San Juan’s involves planning your trip around constantly changing tides and currents, which make a big difference in the time it takes to get somewhere and the fuel you use. But for us, this is the second day of our vacation and we’re heading out regardless of current. Almost immediately we are swept into the outgoing tidal current and are whisked along at twice our normal speed. Ah, good planning skipper. The fog is limiting our visibility as we cut across Rosario Strait heading for Thatcher Pass. We don’t have radar and I don’t want to be near any ferries so I take a somewhat northerly course. Of course now the current is pulling us sideways right into where I don’t want to be. More good planning skipper. We have a reliable GPS that will help keep us off the rocks. The fog is pea soup now, visibility is only a hundred feet or less. Just three or four times the length of the boat. We are essentially running blind. As we approach Thatcher Pass I maneuver very close to the invisible shore. Everything is white and I am dripping wet from condensing fog. What a great trip. We are constantly monitoring the depth sounder and GPS, staying in shallow water we work our way further into the pass. The boat is moving slow as we feel our way along. I’m glad the current is against us now or we would be pushed along faster than we could stop or turn should we need to. Our senses are acutely tuned to the situation at hand, I know the ferries can’t come this close to shore, my worry is other nuts like us groping blindly along. If we encounter a boat moving fast we will collide before we can take action. Suddenly the fog begins turning more white and bright, it is hurting our eyes. In a matter of a few feet we slip into a bright sunny day. Visibility is unlimited, we are a few hundred feet offshore. (too close)

The rest of the way to Jones Island is pretty routine. We pass by Friday Harbor, steer clear of several ferries, and lots of boats. All of Jones Island is a Washington State Park, and my favorite place to visit.


The cove is protected, the dock is long enough for six or so boats, and there’s plenty of room to anchor. On shore the deer are friendly and some will let you pet them. There are campsites and fire pits, running water, toilets, trails. Roche Harbor is just a short ways further, we will leave around noon tomorrow, I want to get there in time to claim a good spot to anchor, and then dinghy to shore to visit the sculpture garden. The flag ceremony will be at sundown, for several years I have wanted to be at the flag lowering and watch the color guard. I know they fire a cannon as part of the ceremony. We are in luck, a boat is pulling away from the dock as we enter the cove at Jones, Minutes later, “Windsong” ghosts up to the only spot available and we toss our lines to willing helpers on the dock. We are set for the night. Jaiden and Kailey head for some tide pools still exposed from low water.






Linda and I take off on the trail across the island, we see several deer in the woods. The campground on the other side of the island is used mostly by kayakers because it has no dock and the cove is not very big or protected. Sometimes we see groups huddled behind tarps trying to get out of the wind. We wonder if they know that they can paddle around to the other side where there is no wind at all and lots of great campsites. We pick a hand full of apples from the small orchard and walk back into the woods planning to feed the deer. The apples are not ripe, they are small and very hard. I’m not so sure they like them this early. As we walk back towards the cove we try to hand feed a deer but it shies away. I leave some cut up apple pieces on a log. The next day I see the apple pieces are still untouched, the raccoons must not be fond of tart fruit either. Sorry guys, All I have on the boat are M&M’s and chips. Jaiden and Kailey are busy on shore with some new friends, this is a good time to do some reading. Tonight we have a campfire in one of the empty campsites and then sleep comes easy for everyone, it has been really exhausting doing nothing all day. In the morning I want to sleep in but the desire for our own coffee gets me up and soon we have our drip coffee maker happily sitting on the burner. It seems to take forever for the 12 cups to drip into the pot. At home we have a timer and the coffee is ready when I get up. This camping is cruel. Finally cup in hand I walk down the dock, other boaters are up and about, some are leaving for parts unknown. Some boat campers are on shore in tents. The dock has a spot designated for dinghies, used by boaters that are anchored. Dinghy docks never have enough room so boaters just tie their dinghies as best they can. Windsong is tied up in a 30 minute parking/loading zone between the hours of 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. It’s getting close to 8:30 and one of my crew is nagging me to do something. Luckily the boat in front of us soon prepares to leave and as he pulls away from the dock I simply pull Windsong forward to the newly vacant space. “Happy?” I say to the crew. Now we can park for 14 days.

Today is the fourth of July, Roche Harbor is just a short distance from Jones Island. I’m sure that boats are already arriving at Roche by the hundreds, some will have reservations at the dock made a year in advance. The overnight fee is $1.50 per foot. Windsong would cost $45 per day but there’s not a chance in the world that space is available. Our plan is to anchor as close as possible so rowing the dinghy is not too hard or far. It’s time to go I decide, everyone that needs to go ashore better get going, we need to leave. Suddenly I’m in a rush, the anxiety of not knowing our accommodations at Roche has got me tensed up. This is not why I go boating. I’ve checked my current charts and tide predictions, but once again it doesn’t matter which way the water flows, were on a mission, a quest. Hurry up, lets go. We must get to Roche Harbor and stake out our place to watch the fireworks, then go ashore for the flag ceremony. Soon enough Windsong floats across the shallow short cut on the east side of Pearl Island and we get a full view of the bay at Roche. Wow, what a sight, boats are everywhere. There must be a billion dollars worth of RV’s floating around us. I spot some Ocean Alexander yachts that I think sell for a million. (Years later I find out $15-20 million is more like it)



We see a motorized barge anchored with some warning buoys around it. That must be where the fireworks will be launched after dark tonight. We slowly motor around taking stock of what is before us. I see to the left of the massive rows of docks several lines of boats rafting. There is a raft of about fifteen power boats lashed tight together, several rafts of three or four sailboats. Power boats and sail boats aren’t rafting together, it’s almost as if they don’t like each other. Dinghies are going to and fro, some fast some slow, many are overloaded to the point of ridiculous At the end of one long raft is a gap about one hundred feet wide and then lots of individual boats anchored. It’s perfect for us. All the boats in this tight area are anchored fore and aft to keep them in line and from swinging into each other. We lower our plow anchor about seventy five feet in front of where we want to be and slowly back up in our spot paying out the anchor line as we go.






At the right point I cleat the line hard and keep powering back setting the anchor by forcing the plow point into the bottom. When Windsong shudders to a stop I give the throttle a little boost to make sure were dug in well. While I hold the boat in reverse keeping her in place, Kailey pushes off in the dinghy with a folding grapple anchor and a floating yellow line. I instruct her to paddle to shore and wedge the anchor between some large boulders. We now have secure lines out the front and out the back.
After turning off the motor it’s a simple matter to pull the boat forward with the anchor line until we are in line with all the other boats. And then taking up the slack at the rear to make sure we don’t move sideways. This is how all the boats in the line are anchored, there are so many yellow lines going to shore it would be impossible to paddle a dinghy behind the boats without losing your head. In front of the line of boats is a clear unobstructed passageway with a steady stream of dinghies and yachts moving back and forth from the resort. We have about fifty feet on each side of us to the next boats. I motion a hello gesture to one group and get a resounding “Having a great party, do you need a drink” response. The response from the guy in the stinkpot on the other side isn’t friendly, he acts like we invaded his space and thinks sailboats should be sunk. Kailey ties the dinghy to our swim platform and we are set for another night, or so I think.

On shore at Roche Harbor are restaurants, a well stocked grocery, half a dozen sidewalk booths selling local artist creations, snacks and ice cream. There are hiking trails, a swimming pool, and flower gardens that wedding groups use. A short hike up the hill takes you to the grass airplane landing strip and a forty acre sculpture garden. We all pile into the dinghy and paddle off. The dinghy dock at the main moorage is full so we head for the little dock by the swimming pool. On shore we are just in time to watch the blind dinghy race. I wish we would have been earlier to join in, it looks like a lot of fun. The “Blind Dinghy Race” has two people in each dinghy, the one paddling is blindfolded the other one yells directions. All the racers start at a open stretch of dock and paddle away when the start gun fires. They paddle under an overhead walkway lined with spectators. The racers try to avoid the pilings and then turn around and come back to the start dock. Oars are flying, people are screaming, "left, left no the other left, now right, right" dinghies are colliding. Someone eventually claims the prize. A little later in the afternoon is a children’s only, balloon capture. All the participants and their dinghies are in a small area surrounded by docks and cheering parents. At the start a large quantity of big balloons is dumped into the open water and the children try to collect as many as possible into their boats. The one with the most is the winner, but all the children receive prizes. Pandemonium ensues and the balloon capture quickly deteriorates into a free for all with several kids going over the side trying to get balloons. Even in July only the most hearty and fearless swim in the cold San Juan waters.



Eventually we stock up at the grocery store, buy some ice and head for the boat to have dinner. As daylight begins to slip away we are entertained by three Bald Eagles perched in the trees on shore behind our boats. The Eagles noiselessly glide down and snatch fish from the water and then with a few powerful wing beats are back in the trees. Repeatedly these majestic birds dodge dozens of taut yellow lines to grab a quick bite. Not once did I see an Eagle tangle with a line.

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, finally the stars have aligned for me, and on the fourth of July at that. This is a great trip. The kids will stay on the boat while Linda and I paddle ashore, I’m in the cockpit anxiously waiting to leave. When I look over at the unfriendly boat I sense that it looks different, it is about thirty five feet long and fifteen feet tall at the flying bridge, I’m sure it gives the owner a sense of power looking down on our puny boat. The wind has been steadily increasing for the past hour and I suspect this boat is catching the wind and straining at the anchor lines which would move him 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. 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 and 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’m banging on his hull with my fist trying to get their attention, but Linda tells me she saw them all leave earlier.
This is not good. Our ground tackle can’t hold a twenty thousand plus pound boat caught sideways in a rising wind. His surface area alone is probably greater than all our sails. I know our 5/8” nylon anchor line will hold, but our 35 pound plow could break out at any second. Then I glance at our braided yellow stern line, oh boy, it is stretched to the breaking point. It is so tight it is only half the diameter it’s supposed to be. The line was never intended to take this kind of load. I had bought an inexpensive floating line for dinghy work, not this. The wind is picking up, if our line parts or anchor breaks free were going to have two boats crashing into the line of rafted boats on the other side of us. I yell over to the rafting good time party people and tell them "I have a serious problem, soon to become their problem too." They immediately jump into a couple inflatable dinghies with outboards and begin pushing against the wayward captainless yacht relieving the tension on Windsong. Kailey gets in our dinghy while I untie our yellow stern line and hand it to her with instructions to paddle towards shore making sure to keep herself and the line out of the way.

I start the motor and weigh anchor when I hear "ka-boom" as the cannon roars and the color guard completes the flag ceremony on shore, Rats, I missed it again.

Meanwhile, the boys in the inflatable dinghies have boarded the runaway wind blown boat and found the ignition keys. They start the engine, raise the useless weed and mud coated anchor and motor away with the dinghies following. Once they clear out, I circle Windsong around and anchor back in the same spot, only this time there is lots more room without the big boat. Kailey rows the stern line over and we are back in business.


The party boys return in their inflatable dinghies minus the big boat. Curious, I ask them, “What did you do with the boat?” They said, "We took it to the customs dock and tied it to the red painted area marked customs only”

We never saw the boat or the less than friendly skipper again. Pretty soon a sailboat anchors in the now vacant space beside us and rows a stern line back to shore. Life has returned to normal, Linda and I decide not to go ashore since we had missed the flag ceremony once again. The fireworks would be starting soon and we didn’t want to miss them, after all we have a front row seat.

FYI, a year or so later, but not on the fourth, I finally was able to watch a flag ceremony, the cannon firing took me by surprise. Later that evening a couple got married and then jumped off the high dock in their wedding clothes. What a great trip again.
John