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16 public floats and docks you should know about in the San Juan's

          Obstruction Pass           Blakely's                   Deer Harbor          Roche Harbor                 
          Friday Harbor               Jackson Beach           Hunter Bay           Prevost Harbor
          Washington Park           La Conner                 Eastsound             Odlin Park
          West Sound                   English Camp           Orcas Landing      Olga

     When visiting the San Juan's many of us  head for the great marine state parks and for good reason, that's where the floats, campgrounds and amenities are located that vacationers desire.
    However,  if you want to get off the boat and see something other than campers and boat people you have two choices. #1 dinghy ashore somewhere or #2 find a public dock and head out.  This list and description of San Juan area docks excludes the state parks because most marine state parks are landlocked or waterlocked leaving visitors with no opportunity to explore beyond the park.

Sixteen  public docks organized and listed in no particular order.

     Obstruction Pass, this county float and boat ramp is located just inside Obstruction Pass on the southern tip of Orcas Island.  Nearby pass traffic wakes make this a punishing place to tie up even for just the two hours allowed, however rendezvousing with friends on shore or heading out on bicycles for a strenuous ride to the top of mount Constitution may be just what's needed to round out a perfect cruise. Tip: For longer visits, anchor nearby after dropping off passengers and bikes, then drag dinghy up onto float or shore. Your boat will thank you when you return.

Obstruction Pass county dock Blakelys fuel dock
Obstruction Pass county dock in red circle at top
Blakely's at bottom

     Blakely's is a conveniently located fuel dock about halfway between everywhere we go in the San Juan's. They are just inside Peavine Pass on Blake Island. On shore is a small store and deli bar famous for ice cream cones to savor on the lush waterfront lawns. Grazing deer share the lawn so watch your step. The dock is rather long with plenty of room on both sides to tie up big and little yachts and still not interfere with those getting fuel. They offer overnight marina slips in a very protected tiny cove. The island and roads are private so boaters may not leave the resort property.
Fuel and store dock at Blakelys is long and you may tie up on either side to avoid wind or current issues.

     Deer Harbor,  on the west end of Orcas Island at the end of the road is diminutive Deer Harbor community and  marina.  You may purchase fuel and snacks, get ice and rent a slip. The county dock is actually the same dock as the fuel float. Simply tie up out of the way just past the fuel dispenser.  The county section is painted yellow and accommodates several runabouts or one large yacht. This is an excellent jump off point for kayakers heading for Jones Island or dropping off people catching the San Juan Transit mini bus. The bay out front is calm and rogue wakes are few, anchoring room is abundant, restrooms, showers and laundry are on wharf.

Deer Harbor on Orcas Island
If you squint, looking under the main wharf at Deer Harbor, you can see the yellow painted county dock.


When is a bumper a fender?

       Sometimes I run out of useful boating and San Juan stuff to write, this is one of those times.
I have always thought when I heard someone say bumpers when they meant fenders, that they simply aren't as nautical as they could be.

       I came across a statement that I have no idea if it is valid, but sounds good, so I'm going to repeat it here. Here goes. "A fender is loose and may be moved around where as a bumper is permanently attached."

       So, those horizontal fenders I see lashed, nailed or knotted permanently on the sides of some slips, floats and even a few swim platforms and dinghies too, are actually bumpers.

And those funny looking hanging steps are neither.

Just something to ponder.


Bicycle Camping in the San Juan Island's Area

      Yes yes yes, you can bicycle camp in the islands.  However campsites are limited.  Basically there are two choices. #1 spend some real money and go to a resort that has set up a campground which will likely be a lawn area behind some rental cabins or #2 go to a county or state  park that has set aside walk in sites. Most walk in are group sites where you will share with others but you can reserve private sites at all the parks.

       Here are the parks that are bicycle friendly.  Many of the posts on this site refer to combining bike camping with boat camping.  Marine parks for boat camping are a click away. marine parks

      Hiker/biker/vehicle parks:
  1. Washington Park in Anacortes. This city park is a five minute ride to the ferry terminal.  Tip. Consider reserving a campsite and leaving  your land cruiser here in a campsite while biking the islands.
  2. Odlin County Park on Lopez Island
  3. Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island
  4. San Juan County Park on San Juan Island
  5. Moran State Park on Orcas Island
  6. Shaw Island County Park
  7. Obstruction Pass State Park on Orcas Island
  8. Deception Pass State Park on the mainland
     Our family has enjoyed many multi generational, multi interest outings where we combine boating, biking, kayaking, hiking and car camping all in a week or two in the San Juan's. Think outside the box.  Often, we meet up with our children coming by bike or car and transport them and their gear to the marine parks. Days later we drop them off at a ferry landing or back to Washington Park. Remember,  inter-island ferry service is free for foot passengers and bikers. Kayaks on transport wheels may be charged a minimal fee if at all.


Farmers Markets on San Juan Island - Saturday Markets on Lopez Island, Orcas Island Saturday Market

Saturday Markets in the San Juans

If your running out of things to do and places to go when cruising the San Juans, try Saturday Markets, Farmers Markets and Craft Fairs.  Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Island, all have regular scheduled markets in the summer months.

 At Friday Harbor on San Juan Island you will find every Saturday morning, April through September the "San Juan Island Farmers Market" at the Brickworks Plaza. Bring your appetite for breakfast or lunch and feast on the island cuisine, then bring home locally made arts and crafts.
Friday Harbor San Juan Island

Tie up in a slip, or anchor out and use the dinghy dock, its a very short walk.

In Lopez Village on Lopez Island look for the "Lopez Farmers Market" next door to the community center. Open 10am to 2pm mid May into September every Saturday. Plan on having lunch and picking up some local produce and seafood. Local crafts people and artists will be  displaying their work.

Lopez Village Lopez Island in the San Juan's

Berth at a slip in Fisherman Bay and walk about a half mile to Lopez Village.
OR go by dinghy and land right in town -  here's how >>> Lopez Village by dinghy

Don't miss the "Orcas Island Farmers Market" in Eastsound on the Village Green, Open every Saturday from 10am to 3pm  May through October.  Crafts, arts, food, gardeners, museum and history booths, you will find just what you need. 
Eastsound county dock on Orcas Island
Eastsound county dock

Village Green in Eastsound on Orcas Island
Music festivals on the green

Use the county dock at Madrona Point or anchor out, and dinghy to the dock, its just a block or two to Eastsound.

Anacortes, Bellingham, and LaConner should be on your short list of things to do & places to go!

At Anacortes the Farmers market is at 611 R Ave in Anacortes, just a few steps from Cap Sante Boat Haven, and runs 9am until closing every Saturday beginning in May.
Don't miss the "Waterfront Festival," normally held in June

Bellingham boasts a Farmers Market that is just a one mile walk from Squalicum Harbor at Depot Market Square, Railroad and Chestnut streets, open 10am to 3pm April thru Christmas.

Lastly, LaConner on Swinomish Channel has several public docks downtown where moorage is on a first come basis. As of this writing there is no established close by Saturday Market, but they have an extensive menu of shops jus steps away on main street. Visit the chamber website calendar of events right here.


Where can you rent a boat for cruising the San Juan Islands

    Renting a yacht is a very viable option.  
We have rented and recommend you consider renting too, why? see below.

San Juan Island boat rentals
Ahoy savings

Lets see why you would rent:

  • you may not have a boat
  • your boat is not trailerable from Kansas or Kentucky
  • your drift boat is trailer ready but it sucks for camping
  • renting is a chance to try something different, like a bigger boat
  • because it doesn't make sense to own a boat and only use it once a year  (unless your afflicted with  boaters syndrome where you may own many boats you don't use)
  • switch from power to sail or sail to power
  • because you can't afford to throw your money into a hole in the sea
  • to find out if sailing/boating is ok with your family pet, wife, kids, self
Now lets dispel some myths that are true some of the time: 
  • renting is cheaper than owning  - yes, with some exceptions
  • you must have a competency certificate to rent - absolutely not but you must have your state issued boaters card anytime you operate any boat.
  • is it safe to do this as a novice that has good sense - yes
  • is it safe to do this as a novice if some relatives that know you well caution you not to - no!
    (listen to friends and relatives) they know if your an idiot and a menace to all around you - just kidding but bring a level headed 1st mate to help with tough choices like - red on the right! or red on left! or red on bottom?
  • can a power boater but non sailor rent a sailboat and have a great vacation and learn to sail - absolutely, but the competency thing may come up for bigger boats so bring a sailor friend
  • can you rent power and sailboats in the San Juans - yes
  • how much will it cost - small boat $100 - $200 a day (power or Sail)
  • how much for a bigger rig - $500 and up, up and away
  • should I get the added insurance offered - probably talk to your agent
  • how many days should I plan for  -  5 / 7 days is very nice but two weeks would be awesome
  • only go in mid June to mid Sept. - yes, unless you can save big and don't mind a little snotty weather tossed your way, then go anytime but be prepared for unpleasant things.

The 38 foot boat we rented for about $3000 a week, slept eight and handled bad weather very nice, but as you can see, the weather was not bad. Rental boats should be fully equipped with safety gear and navigation supplies for your travel area but don't assume anything. The boat above came with a 12 foot sailing tender, economical single diesel, thruster, chart plotter and radar.

Rent boats in Anacortes or Bellingham, but do some online research and find private rentals too.


San Juan Islands Travel Guide

Stuart Island lighthouse and Turn Point
Turn Point on Stuart Island

   Planning your vacation should be as enjoyable as actually implementing your plan. Therefore you need information to glean through so that you can make some educated choices. What is less helpful are  glitzy ads and one sided sponsored reviews.  Ask a friend for ideas and if they have visited or traveled to the same area, you may save yourself some time and possible mistakes. We offer our friendship and as a friend, our experience.

     Our first visit by car was over forty years ago and by boat was over twenty years ago and we have come back every year since which should attest to the allure of the Islands.  During visits our family has explored, hiked, biked, and created wonderful memories. Of course some experiences are best not repeated and to be avoided if possible.

    In 2014, we published the "San Juan Islands Cruise Guide," specifically for sharing our knowledge of resources and what works, what doesn't work and how to make the most of visiting the area.  In 2017 we came out with "San Juan Islands Travel Guide," a by land and by sea guide and in 2019 updated the original cruiser's guidebook.

     In writing the guidebooks we strived for providing the basic information that new visitors needed to create their own special visit to the San Juan's that we love and adopted long ago.

     For planning your next great adventure to the San Juan's, I suggest you dig into this website using the search box feature, mark a departure date on your calendar, and order our guidebooks. E-mail us your questions.

Our best,
John and Linda

 click here for the  San Juan Islands Cruise Guide

click here for the  Land and Sea Travel Guide

Main Street in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island

Eastsound public dock on Orcas Island


San Juan Island Ferry shedule

     When making your plans to visit places in or near the San Juan Islands you will invariably end up dealing with the Washington ferry system in one way or another.  Boaters sometimes need to send someone home or meet an arrival. Simply avoiding a  Friday Harbor traffic jam out on the water or on land is avoidable if you know when and where ferry's hang out.

    If you think about it you realize that commuters and vacationers share the same system. People are heading to work and coming home mixed in with tourists. According to WSDOT the busiest ferry travel times are Thursday and Friday evenings westbound and Sunday afternoons eastbound. In the San Juan's, peak travel times from Anacortes are Thursday and Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Peak travel times from the islands are all day Sunday and Monday mornings. 

     Armed with a little ferry knowledge it is easy to work out a vacation schedule that minimizes or complements just about all visitor plans.

    Follow this link to the WSDOT ferry schedule page.


Five Easy Steps To Anchor Any Boat

     Anchoring your boat is easy but if you don't follow basic rules, 
your pride and joy will float away.

      Take a look below at # 1, when you lower your anchor it will  just be sitting there on the bottom, and that's not good enough for anything but the calmest most temporary of visits. To be secure, the anchor must be set by pulling it (blue arrow) sideways,  # 2 with a  little tugging by your boat, the points will dig in creating a strong temporary home for your boat, # 3 & 4.


       There can be an endless discussion about anchor types and anchoring techniques but for now, lets just help first timers get hooked.  Notice in the drawing below, the anchor line (rode) is laying on the bottom.  When this vessel pulls on the rode it will dig the points in and stay put.  If the rode were shorter, say almost straight up, any pulling would lift the anchor right out and you would be set free to drag somewhere bad. (rocks, or into another boat) So it is obvious that the longer the rode is, the better your anchor will set and stay set.
anchoring in the San Juans
Drawing courtesy of West Marine
Okay, you have the basics, lets talk through what you do to anchor that monster. 


Anchoring at Friday Harbor

     If you have been to Friday Harbor, you have probably noticed this medium sized bay immediately north of the boat basin (few hundred feet).  Chances are there was a dozen or so boats anchored.  This bay is reasonably deep from thirty feet in the front to six feet in the back and with good holding.  It is close enough that you can easily paddle, row or motor over to the dinghy dock under the main gangway.  If you happen to be in town for the fourth of July you will have a front row seat for the fireworks display launched from a barge directly in front of you.

     New comers will be glad to know they have a free anchoring option other than paying for a slip.
BTW,  when you arrive at Friday Harbor you may tie up at the breakwater for free for a short time while you run to the store or grab a shower. There is no need to request permission, simply squeeze in where you can. Try to get on the inside, the outside takes a real beating from wakes.  (so will your boat) If you spend the night at the breakwater the harbormaster staff will come and collect payment eventually. There is no discomfort discount so you may as well get  a slip (call on 66) for peace and quiet and water and electricity, none of which you will find out on the breakwater float.

Where to anchor in Friday Harbor
Where to anchor in Friday Harbor


Seven important actions your Marine Radio performs, but do you need really need one?

     Pleasure boats are not required to have a vhf radio, but if they do have a radio, it is supposed to be turned on and monitoring channel 16

If you have a radio you can:    

  1. Call the harbormaster from the breakwater and proceed straight to your slip.
  2. Call the Coast Guard when you're sinking.
  3. Call other boats and arrange drinks at sundown.
  4. Listen to others and be entertained for hours, days, even weeks on end.
  5. Get weather forecasts in several languages for areas you've never heard of.
  6.  Tell your mate not to worry, help will always be just a radio call away.   
  7. Call vessel assist and have them bring you some very expensive fuel.

          Seriously, in my humble opinion, I think a radio is a good idea. It is cheap insurance that help is on the way. It is your lifeline from a distant shore when you really need help.  If you  want to save boat dollars, buy a handheld model for about a hundred dollars. They will do just fine, plus have the added benefit of fitting in your pocket for off boat excursions. (I would pay a little extra and get one that scans) We have our children take the hand held radio so they can stay in touch when they are off exploring in the dinghy.

Radio etiquette:
     A license is not required but the FCC has some rules you should familiarize yourself with.
     Some people are sticklers and follow all the rules, others just get the job done. For the most part, make sure you are transmitting on low power (1 watt) for most situations;  if you use high power (25 watt) you will talk over, drown out and annoy boaters in the next county.  Start your call on channel 16 (everyone, including the Coast Guard monitors 16), unless you have a prearranged channel like 66 used for some marinas. First listen to make sure no one is talking, then depress the button and say the name you are  calling three times ie. “Bad Boy, Bad Boy, Bad Boy. This is Good Girl” now let go of the button and wait for Bad Boy to answer. They will answer by saying “this is Bad Boy” and you respond by saying lets go to channel 68 or 69, 71 or 72, the channels used for boating chit chat. That’s it, once you hook up, talk all you want, but remember you're supposed to be talking boating operation topics, and all the rest of us are listening.  So just remember, channel 16 is for hailing not for talking. Oh, and don’t yell into the microphone, it will come out distorted.  Some people will say “over” at appropriate times but usually you can tell when its your turn to talk. .  You should avoid swearing (FCC rule), and only chickens will make anonymous comments on 16 about others, unless of course someone's wake swamps your boat or spills your wine; then the proper yet ill advised way to announce to the world that a boater is being inconsiderate is to say their boat name three times nice and clear so everyone can hear, followed by your snarky message, over.

     BTW, I think it would be a really good idea, if you haven't named your boat yet, to consider what a prospective name will sound like broadcast across the water. Unless of course you want to entertain the rest of us.

     Just my opinion. 


What is the best time of year to visit the San Juans

   The answer is simple if you are coming by boat, it is July and August. If by car, RV or bicycle, the same, July and August.

     Okay, by the time August gets really warmed up, the spring flowers are gone so if flowers are your goal, then early July is better and Butchart Gardens should be on your short list. What about natures crop of young birds, orcas, seal pups and spotted fawns, early July again, even June.  

     Lopez Village, Eastsound and Friday Harbor all have farmers and craft markets open from about May through September.  farmers markets

     Coming for great sailing and empty parks, consider June first. July and August are known for little wind, full docks, and crowded ferries. The fourth of July will be standing room only and reservations required, however the Friday Harbor parade and fireworks are worth the effort. Fourth of July celebrations across the San Juan's

     Foggy drippy weather out in the straits and particularly the Strait of Juan De Fuca may be expected anytime but August and later into fall is more of a sure thing. Late summer may be your best bet for crowd free balmy soft breezes one day and crispy rail down double reefed reaches the next.

best weather in the San Juan's at Roche Harbor 4th of July
4th of July at Roche Harbor


When a boat comes in to the float, should you offer your assistance?

Dinghy and small child
This is a re-post I have moved to 2019

would you offer this guy a hand?

Heck yes!
That's just basic thoughtfulness, if a boat was sinking you would offer aid, (that's the law) give them a lift or pull them from the drink. Right! I certainly hope so.  This would be a good time and place to check out a post called "Paying it Forward" click to rush away and read it!>>
Welcome back, you can now read the rest after the jump >>


San Juan area campgrounds with boat ramps

      If camping is your primary activity and your boat is for day use such as exploring, fishing and crabbing, 
you will find these parks of interest.

On the mainland:

  • Washington Park in Anacortes - located one mile past the ferry landing.
Washington Park boat ramp
Washington Park boat ramp in Anacortes
Excerpt from their website: In the campground there are 68 campsites, 46 have water and electrical hook-ups. These rent for $27 a night. There are 22 non-utility sites that rent for $21 per night. There are 25 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Please note that reservations must be made 14 days in advance. A sewer dump station is located near the park exit. Camping check-in and check-out time is 1 p.m. The campground is open year round. Please note: Maximum stay limit is 14 days. Visit the reservation website.  click here >> Washington Park The boat launch at Washington Park was developed and is maintained for the specific use of recreational boaters. Boat launch parking is $9/day and boaters may stay a maximum of 14 days. The two lane launch ramp is suitable for all trailer-able boats, power or sail.  You may not overnight at dock, but may anchor nearby. Ramp is a short walk to campground.

  • Deception Pass State Park - roughly ten miles south of Anacortes.  It is important to note some of the differences between Washington Park and Deception Pass Park.  While Deception Pass camp sites exceed three hundred in three different campgrounds, none are walking distance to the four lane boat ramp at Cornet Bay. However the modern well designed boat ramp claims to have two thousand feet of side tie moorage and overnight at the dock for up to three nights is allowed. Anchoring close by is simple and free. The ramp parking lot is massive and long term is allowed for a fee.
Deception Pass boat ramp at Cornet Bay
Four lane all tide - Cornet Bay ramp at Deception Pass Park is open 24/7

Lastly, Those putting in at Washington Park will be much closer to the inner island area after simply crossing Rosario Strait, but those putting in at Cornet Bay will have to deal with the pass and a longer run up Rosario or an even longer run through Swinomish Channel.  These are not insignificant differences and should be well considered according to your overall plan before making your decision.

On the Islands:
  • Odlin County Park on Lopez Island
Odlin park has thirty one campsites and reservations are a good idea.  The boat ramp is sub parr at best and is not suitable for anything but a small skiff and a four wheel drive. There is no ramp dock and best used at high tide only. The ramp is a short walk to the campground.
  • San Juan County Park on San Juan Island
San Juan park is very similar to Odlin park with twenty six sites, they also take reservations.
The boat ramp is also sub parr and should only be considered for skiffs being hauled with four wheel drives, again the ramp is in the park and there is no float.
  • Moran State Park on Orcas Island is a State Park as is Deception Pass. They boast over one hundred campsites, some suitable for RV's.  Moran park is not ocean front and does not have a salt water ramp, however it is only five miles to the county boat ramp at Obstruction Pass.
          A private park alternative on Orcas Island is West Beach Resort in Eastsound, they have         camping, docks and a boat ramp, suitable for skiffs and four wheel drives.

  • San Juan Island:  If you take your skiff to San Juan Island and stay at a private residence, rental or hotel you can put the boat in at Jackson Beach day use park. The ramp is well designed, has parking and a dock. Jackson Beach is about two miles from Friday Harbor.

Ferry's and trailers:
        Don't forget to check the ferry schedules and fares, hauling trailers on the ferry can get expensive and frustrating - very few do it!

My recommendation for mainland camping is that you get a reservation and camp at Washington Park, 
the run time to Friday Harbor is under an hour, the entire San Juan area will be at your door.


First Timers Guide to the San Juan's

Matia Island
Matia Island

  From time to time I refresh my thinking and remember our first visit more than twenty years ago. Specifically what a pain it was not knowing the simplest answers to questions many of us take for granted today. This post is written to help new cruisers headed to the San Juan's needing the same simple answers we needed.

     I define the San Juan cruising area not by county or even country, but rather by places we want to visit and spend some time. But that also means, places we have the capability to get to without too much effort or time.  So that being stated, I think of Port Townsend and Deception Pass Park (Cornet Bay), and Swinomish Channel as our loosely defined southern boundary.  I think of Vancouver BC and Nanaimo as our northern most point, and everything in between Vancouver Island and the mainland completing the east west box. Keep in mind, with a day or two extra, you can run down to Olympia or up to Princess Louisa Inlet, but for this discussion, we are sticking to the core San Juan Island area and what you need to get there.


  • You need a boat, but you can rent a sail or powerboat in Anacortes or Bellingham if you prefer, and it doesn't take much experience to qualify.
  • Size matters, bigger is more comfy, costly and feels imminently safer in a storm. As size goes up, so do your skill requirements. Once past about thirty five feet you will find you don't fit at some docks and fuel burns at over twenty five gallons an hour. Smaller is  better at times. Eighteen foot ski and fishing boats or day sailors are very easy to get in and out at virtually all places but with all your food and gear, you will be crowded on board.  Above all - don't let your lack of a perfect boat cause you not to go. Take what you have, you can make it work.
  • Bring a dinghy, even a two person inflatable kayak is okay.  You need a way to get to shore where there are no docks. You don't have to carry the dinghy on board, you can tow it everywhere you go. Yes you can beach your runabout and let the tide leave you dry but bringing a dinghy is so much easier.
  • Sleep on board, at anchor, at the dock, or in the many park campgrounds. (there are about twenty marine campgrounds, you can camp at a different park every night) If preferred, you can spend every night at a marina or resort and sleep on shore.
  • The best weather will be in July and August, but the shoulder seasons have less people and okay weather too.
  • I suggest you plan a week, but you can make a weekend work.  If you have a comfortable all weather boat, spend the summer.
  • If you rent, don't forget you have to park your car(s) If you trailer, plan on a daily parking fee of around $12.  (Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham is free, even long term)
  • See this posting for launch ramps. ---launch ramps with long term parking  This is probably the only real planning decision you need to make before you go, but we have changed our planned take off point as we drove up the highway.  Do not start your San Juan cruise down south in Olympia, Seattle or Everett or Port Townsend or Port Angeles. If you do you will spend much of your time motoring long distances (both ways) My advice is to start in Bellingham or Anacortes using one of the ramps from the list above.
  • You need with you on the boat, a chart, or you will get lost, count on it. You should have a list of parks, marinas and resources preferably marked on your navigation chart. Get this chart. Noaa # 18421  -  We use noaa chart # 18421 you can see it by clicking here or anywhere charts are sold.  Navigation charts do not show what's on shore, (roads, city's, marinas, parks, etc) so we carry a highway map as well.
  • Don't run out and buy an expensive chart plotter. At minimum, you need a paper chart, a  portable GPS and a compass, your smart phone will probably do.  All boats need a depth sounder or you are risking an expensive grounding.

  • Sample itinerary:  #1. Begin at Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham (open 24/7).  2. Head for Friday Harbor and get a slip for your first night or every night (they take reservations).  3. Use Friday Harbor as your base, returning every night to your own slip with power, water, restrooms, on shore restaurants and entertainment. This plan will work for virtually all boaters regardless of  gear, experience or creature comfort requirements. None of the Marine State Parks have reserve-able docks or anchor buoys, everything is first come first gets it. This means you should plan on anchoring and using your dinghy,  it also means when someone pulls out you may grab the spot at the dock. Rafting is the term  used when several boats tie together at anchor or the dock.
  • Sample itinerary:  #2. Begin at Squalicum again but this time head for Matia or Sucia. Next, Jump over to Stuart and then Roche Harbor or Jones, then to Friday Harbor, then Fisherman Bay. This itinerary will make sure you have a shower and food store available (Roche and Friday) when you really need and want both.  
  • Fuel is readily available but you should try to have a minimum range of seventy five miles just to be sure should you encounter adverse conditions.
  • How many days you spend at each park is up to you, your car and trailer will be waiting in the free parking lot when you circle back to Bellingham.

  • Get my San Juan Islands Cruise Guide, it  has all the parks, marinas, fuel, resources, phone numbers, etc. and is written specifically for visitors coming by boat. My companion book, the San Juan Islands Travel Guide is written for visitors coming by car or boat.
              San Juan Islands Cruise Guide     -----   San Juan Islands Travel Guide
         Don't be cheap, the books cost less than a meal and will pay for themselves in saved frustration,  making your cruise a real success.
  • Lastly, I can't address everything you may want to know in a single post, so I suggest you search this site and read some more articles. There are several with detailed day by day itineraries. Next, after becoming more knowledgeable about what and where you want to go and do, set aside a week and go. It really is that easy. The central cruising area is small enough that you can completely change your plans on the fly. You don't need reservations, you don't need a plan, you don't even need to bring food, just grab your gear and boat and hit the road. OH - bring some cash for, fuel and park fees and that food I just said you don't need.
If you happen to see us on Kraken somewhere, please say hello. We hope to be anchored in Fisherman Bay for the Lopez Island 2019 4th of July show.

John and Linda
              feel free to use the e-mail contact form with your questions


Here's how to get to the Alpaca Ranch and gift shop on San Juan Island

    Traveling by boat around the San Juan's will get very boring if you don't go ashore once in a while.

     Here is an excellent suggestion for a half day outing.  This is what we did.  We swung into Garrison Bay, off Mosquito Pass (we were headed for Roche Harbor) and motored right to the little dinghy dock at English Camp.  We squeezed in just long enough to unload our bicycles and then moved over fifty feet and anchored, paddling back in the dinghy.  So far so good.

     Next we peddled to the interpretation center for a two minute look around, but there was nothing new, so we pushed our bikes up the trail and through the parking lot and back onto the trail, until we got to West Valley road and the trail-head to Young Hill.  Don't quit on me now, you have only walked 1,900 feet so far.

    We padlocked our bikes to the gate and hiked to the top of Young Hill.  This is a killer hike and you can do it in under an hour, but bring lots of water. Search this site for Young Hill to see pictures and the hike.  You can skip the hike if you want or skip the bike part.

    When we got back down from Young Hill we unlocked the bikes and coasted down West Valley road all the way to Krystal Acres Alpaca Ranch and gift shop.  Thankfully we coasted the entire way because our legs needed a break.

     All total, the distance to Krystal Acres from the dinghy dock is about one mile, so this is not a difficult or long bike ride, in fact, you could make it an easy two mile round trip walk if you don't bicycle.

    I know some of you are thinking, but what about the ride back up all the road you just coasted down.  It wasn't that steep, we were able to peddle the entire way back. There are no bike lanes or even much of a shoulder but there also isn't much traffic.

    That's it, an easy relaxing way to spend the afternoon on shore and when you get back to the boat, you can stay anchored right where you are, or run the 3 1/2 miles over to Roche and get a slip for the night.

Alpacas San Juan Island Krystal Acres  -  (360) 378-6125 - The folks there gave me this great picture to show. Visit the gift shop,  get some yarn.


San Juan & Gulf Islands Current Atlas - Strait of Georgia - Haro - Rosario - Juan De Fuca

   Re-posted  because currents in the San Juan's are part of every day.

If your serious about working the San Juan currents to your advantage you will want to purchase this current atlas, produced by the Canadian Hydrographic Service.  The Atlas is available at West Marine as well as many retailers for about $30

Straight of Georgia - Juan de Fuca  current atlas
To use the Atlas without doing any math, you will also want to purchase an annual page index such as Washburne's Tables for about $7 
Some genius's have posted their own index tables online that you may copy for free.
(try this one

 Below is a scan of part of one page from the current atlas.
  This is confusing so read the next section twice or more.
The Current Atlas consists of about 80 pages, each page is identical, except for the direction and size of the arrows.    Each page represents current direction and velocity forecast for one hour of that day. All days and all hours are forecast, some conditions repeat repeat repeat, that's why there are 80 pages and not 8,760, and why you need a page index to locate the correct page.  You will only need one Current Atlas (used or new) but you will need a page index for the date of your cruise.  An old index table such as the "2009" pictured above is of no use unless your yacht is a time machine.

The page below, was the forecast for July 13, 2011 at 6:00 pm.  If you wanted to see the forecast for 5pm, 7pm, or another day, you would look at a different page. (this is similar to tide tables, except with drawings)

San Juan Islands current chart
 The biggest arrows represent current velocity over 2.5 mph, the smallest, under .25 mph. 
The arrows point the direction of flow.
Notice the whirlpool (eddy) south of Victoria and off San Juan Island. Notice the current flowing south on east side of Orcas and north on west side of Whidbey.
When cruising, having this information handy can save you time and fuel and make the difference whether you get to your planned destination. For instance a boat heading north up Haro Strait near San Juan Island will get a big boost, however by checking the next several hours one would see that the free ride is going to end soon and the train will come roaring back.  As a rule of thumb the currents flow north on a flood tide and south on ebb tides but as you can see, rules have exceptions.  This forecast is just before the flood tide reverses and becomes ebb, an apt description would be "confused" The confusion will soon end, get your ticket to ride, its free.
San Juan Islands current chart
This is what the currents looked like on July 13th at 7:49 am, also July 14th at 8:39 am and July15th at  9:26 am.  As you can see, your vessel will get a free ride south just about everywhere, but each day at a slightly different time. When planning your passages and your cruise it would be very helpful to consult the Current Atlas first, a simple free ride one week will be the wrong direction the next week. You may want to choose a different departure date.

While were on subject of currents, picture in your mind these big arrows meeting opposing winds and you should then visualize big, steep (dangerous) waves slamming your boat.  Then after a few hours the current changes, and all is well in Camelot once again.

 this post should be read if big waves bother you  >>>wind-versus-current-and-predicting waves

Lately, I have made it part of my cruising to use as little fuel as possible, one cruise we covered about 120 miles over 8 days and used 6 gallons of gas, and most of the fuel was used battling an opposing current between Jones Island and James Island. Unfortunately my schedule dictated the time.


Lessons of a lee shore

    We all know that hapless sailors get blown onto lee shores and that driftwood collects on lee shores warning us of the danger.  So it goes without saying that we avoid or at least pay respect to lee shores.  Not true sometimes.

    Last weekend   (labor day) we were tied up at an unnamed location and watched skipper after skipper bang into a float they were rounding as the wind and current dragged them sideways into it.  There was lots of room and many embarrassed drivers.

     Later that day we watched a thirty two foot Bayliner try to turn around close to a foot bridge between floats. His mistake was not respecting the current making the foot bridge a defacto lee shore.  He had plenty of room to begin with but as the lee shore got closer he ran out of time and then he compounded his problem.  He gunned the engine wide open hoping to complete his turn in time. The gleaming white hull hit the dock under full power, he drove a third of the way out of the water  and then he slammed it into reverse and drove backwards off the float into the float bridge. Interestingly his bow and hull that climbed the wood float showed no real damage but he cornered his transom crunching fiberglass over two feet doing thousands if not tens of thousands worth of damage.

    There is no moral or surprise ending here, it was a bad end of a great weekend. Some hours later with the tide change, the current reversed and the lee shore moved over to the other side.


Get your Camping, Resort, and Marina Reservations in the San Juans -NOW- before it's too late

       Okay,  here it is, the day before Valentines Day, and you are stuck on  finding the perfect Valentine.  How about a reservation at a B&B in the San Juans for some time in July or August. Or a cozy romantic restaurant dinner date in a  Friday Harbor eatery.

      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


How to Secure Your Yacht Like You Want To Keep It Forever

Set the brake, turn towards the curb, leave it in reverse and tie the reins with a quick release knot.  

These familiar sounding hints may work for some things, and horses, but not boats.  

Dock lines are important, seems like an obvious observation, but I’m astounded at how many times I see boaters tying up as if they didn’t care about what may be their 1st or 2nd  most valuable possession, spouses and children excluded of course (for some).  Some skippers treat their vessels as if it were a horse, just throw the line around the hitching rail and she be there, arrr, when I come back must be their logic. In their defense, some of these  boobs cowboys (boobs removed to be pc) have never been anywhere but on their trailer, so dock lines aren’t used. But still, If they can’t tie up their boat, how can the rest of us trust being around them.

Enough with the rants, every boat needs four or more lines going from the boat to the float.  I know, people make exceptions sooner or later, such as, “It was just a five minute stop over to get ice, or the water was so smooth,” that’s fine, you’re the skipper and it’s your call.

Four or more huh?  Let's see, one bow line, one stern line, one spring line to stop forward surges, one spring line to stop backward surges. More lines are needed for nasty conditions, such as big swells hitting you all night and day, passing boat wakes, high winds. The condition of your vessel or the docks puny cleats and deteriorating condition are all clear signs that you may need more lines.

Learn from others or suffer the expense of learning yourself is a good piece of advice.  I have on one occasion experienced a brand new line chafe through and part in only one night while tied to an exposed outside float. A new line that rubs on a smooth rounded fiberglass gel coat will lose the battle in one night if it is snapped taught constantly by your boats surging.  Plus the gelcoat will suffer in case anyone cares. The answer is loose lines, shock absorbing snubbers, chafe protection padding or hoses, more lines for when the first one breaks, or park somewhere else. Of course for short time periods you can order your crew to stand there and hold the boat off while you buy the beer and ice. 

Don't forget to have oversize fenders, but even that wont save your boat if you park somewhere you shouldn't.



Deception Island

Deception Island
Deception Island seems to float between haze and still water.

I assumed that the island under the two bridges at Deception Pass was named for the pass.
Not so, your chart lists it as Pass Island.
Deception Island is actually over a mile out into the strait. Now we know.


Two Perfect, Almost Secret Coves

     Throughout our cruising area are literally thousands of places one can poke a boat into, drop the hook and go ashore - WRONG. Most places are private property and you will be trespassing on shore.  We as boaters are limited to parks, preserves, resorts, etc.

     The problem is that our charts do not show all there is to know.  

     Lummi Island Campground:
This is a small five site  waterfront campground within the 650 plus acre Lummi Island Conservation Area. It is a very hard to find place, the picture posted and my description will be your best resource for finding your way.

   For those of you new to the area, Lummi Island is that big land mass blocking your way to just about everywhere when you put in at  Squalicum Harbor  in Bellingham. 

     The campground is near the south end of Lummi on the east side.  Your NOAA based chart will show Smugglers Cove, Inati Bay, Reil Harbor in that order, just south of the small Reil inlet is an even smaller cove.  There is no name but your chart should have a little boat symbol which is the icon for a mooring area but don't get your hopes up, this is a dinky little cove that will require a stern tie or anchor to keep you from swinging onto the rocks. You can pull off a 2 to 1 rode lunch stop if your lucky. It is unlikely two boats can coexist unless they raft.

     By now you should have figured out this place is perfect for kayakers, but you can squeeze in.  The dinghy beach is gravel. Use the campfire rings and composter outhouse.  There is even a loop trail to hike.

Look for this sign as you coast along the shore, it is high up on the bluff on the right side of the cove facing somewhat southward.
Lummi Island Campground
The pic looks big but from the water the sign is small and easy to miss.
Kraken at Lummi Island Campground
For spending any time here you will want to tie to shore or drop a stern anchor


Excellent Eight Day Cruise Over Labor Day Weekend 2018

       In an earlier post I made a wish list for my summer travels, this is a follow up. But first a link to my earlier post so readers may see what I wanted to do and compare that with what we really did.   Ideas for this summers cruises posted in January 2018

      Because of a hectic summer with two weddings and a Boston trip we almost stayed home, but just before Labor Day I said lets go or forever wish we had. On the morning of our departure we were battening down and about to hit I-5 north when a neighbor came walking by.  He is also a San Juan traveler so we ended up talking for two hours.

     Finally heading out, we immediately stopped to fill the trucks 33 gallon tank, next stop besides the usual rest areas was Seattle where we picked up another 29 gallons.  It is always a shock to find out we only have a few gallons left when I am hauling 10,000 lbs.  Next stop was Winco in Tulalip where we purchased our entire food and beverage supply. No shopping list for us, we just walked the aisles and filled the cart with everything we liked, except we forgot to get a sack of ice for our drinks even though we talked about it in the check out line.

     We arrived in Bellingham about two hours before sundown, took the port of Bellingham exit and went straight to Fred Meyers for the forgotten ice.  I am thinking, I hope this 30-40 minute delay doesn't bite us, especially after losing 2 hours gabbing at home. (see, no stress for me!)

      Splashing the boat and parking in the free lot was a breeze as it always is, but hosing down my salty trailer got me all wet because the water hose is full of holes. ( zero kudos to Squalicum Harbor staff in charge of  wash down hoses.)

       Staying at the transient dock and paying the tourist per foot fee just didn't interest me this trip, I wanted to get underway.  I said to Linda, we have one solid hour of daylight and I can anchor in the dark at Inati Bay  if I have to, so off we went.  We arrived at Inati Bay on Lummi Island almost exactly at sunset. I set the anchor in fifteen feet, thirty feet from shore, opened the first box of wine and broke out the barbecue as darkness settled around us.  I remember looking at the ink black water and the nearby shore cliffs blending together and thinking how anchoring in the dark would have meant dropping the hook a lot further out.

       Day 2. Got the coffee dripping first thing. Last night was great, stars were out. Actually slept in a little.  We listened to the weather radio for conditions expected if we head for Victoria. Sounds like a go but I'm not sure. With deteriorating conditions expected that evening we might be headed into a gale if the front blows in early, but at this point I am set for going to Victoria.

       We up anchor and head south around Lummi so I can get a better picture of the Lummi Island Campground sign (takes two minutes), when we clear the south end and head northwest, I'm staring right at Clark Island, Clark is another on my bucket list of places I need new pictures for my planned updated Cruising Guide.  We grab a buoy at Clark and dinghy ashore.  I haven't changed my negative opinion of Clark but I did get the pics I wanted. Linda thinks I'm unfairly maligning Clark but I am more convinced than ever that putting a state park in the middle of Rosario Strait is a dumb, bordering on dangerous idea.

Clark Island campground
This is the view of the trail leading off the beach at Clark to the well hidden six site campground. To find this trail, anchor or use a buoy in the cove  on the east side of  Clark.  Now walk all the way to the very far south end (left end) until you are blocked by boulders and cliffs. There it is, you can't miss it. All the other dozen or so camp sites are waterfront along the beach.