Skip to main content

Charter in the San Juans Page 2

"It really was warmer last week (last month/yesterday).”We heard that refrain throughout our brief week’s cruise. Wherever the warmth was, we missed it. Chartering in mid-August in the San Juan Islands, the storied archipelago of the Pacific Northwest, we weren’t prepared to don multiple layers, burrow in sleeping bags, and crank up our in-cabin heater every morning.

Our last two nights were a festive end to the trip. At the Rosario Resort we treated ourselves to an all-the-trimmings feast that included trout, salmon, crab (not to mention Ron’s down-home meatloaf), plus desserts made with local berries. The next night, after returning the boat to AYC, we shoehorned into the very popular Adrift. Funky, collaborative, and relaxed, the place is unlike restaurants at home. Its mix-and-match recipes, high-quality local ingredients, and pioneering culinary flair are not only fun—for us they captured the feel of the islands we had just visited.

Other than Friday Harbor, we called at just three island towns. All very different, they illustrate the variety of places found on the three central (San Juan, Lopez, and Orcas) and over 80 secondary islands. Roche Harbor, on the northwest corner of San Juan Island, faces Canada and is the clearance port for customs and immigration. Above the maritime bustle on its docks, the town is stately, ornamental, and dignified. After developing the spot as a lime mining and smelting site, largest in the Northwest, in 1886 John S. McMillin conceived of the original Hudson’s Bay Trading Post as a resort. He built the ramblingly magnificent Hotel de Haro, a wooden ark that still houses guests and dominates the waterfront. Walks, gardens, restaurants, and shops sprung up around it. Roche Harbor became a garden spot of the Golden Age, and it retains the aura and appeal of that bygone time today.

Deer Harbor, a modest hamlet off West Sound on Orcas Island, is something else. The town, a cluster of houses around a marina dock, is hardly noticeable. A snack bar at the pier serves excellent chowder and good hot dogs, and the restaurant up the road looked promising but closed. The folks we met there were either, like us, sailors looking for a holding-tank pumpout (which, like the restaurant, was not working) or customers hoping to take a whale watch cruise.



Olga is almost as small as Deer Harbor. The sign on its rickety wooden pier says “Welcome to Olga,” and the place made us feel welcome from the moment we stepped ashore. From friendly service and delicious scones at the general store to expansive talks with a local gardener to a visit to a local sculptor who showed us his work while pushing his kids on a front-yard swing, the place embraced us.

Rosario Resort was our most memorable stop. “Unquestionably the most historic landmark of the San Juans, it melds the quiet grandeur of a turn-of-the-century estate with the posh of a modern resort,” said one of our guidebooks. Watching guests come and go via seaplane added to the resort’s luster, and hearing the story of its builder (who arrived in Seattle with just a dime in his pocket and rose to become a millionaire shipbuilder and mayor) deepened its history. What we took away with us (besides the sumptuous meal) was our tour of the Moran mansion. We learned that it took six years just to lay the teak parquet floors, and that when the entire 54-room house was completed in 1904, it cost $1.5 million. One of Moran’s ship-building coups was to secure the contract for the U.S.S. Nebraska, one of the Great White Fleet of battleships President Theodore Roosevelt sent around the world. Building and launching her on the West Coast was a civic triumph, and her 12-foot model stood out as one of the special attractions of our trip.

Good anchorages make for good cruising. We appreciate the step-ashore convenience and umbilical resources of marinas, but getting away from it all means getting the hook down in a safe and somewhat solitary spot. The San Juans offer a multitude of excellent anchorages.

Reid Harbor on Stuart Island was a must-visit recommendation from friends. Feathering our way down its winding entrance channel in a dying southerly and then rounding hard to port into its near-landlocked basin, we could see why. Slanting light from the setting sun put the near shore in shadow and coated the down-to-the-water trees on the far side with gold. Zephyrs on the beam wisped us across glassy water. Despite the 30 cruisers who had arrived before us, we were more than happy to find swinging room (in 15-foot depths) and settle in for an idyllic night. Spots like this are everywhere.

Rumor has it that the beach at Sucia, one of the northern “outer islands,” is where you can pick up oysters right off the sand. No doubt it was that vision that lured me into what became a desperate and pressing search for a good anchorage. As we powered the 15 miles from Deer Harbor, the wind doubled, tripled, and then some. Not only that, it was out of the east. Sucia Bay opens east. Suddenly our oyster feast had all the potential of a rough and rocky night in an exposed cove. Way out at the top of the archipelago, I could see no good alternative. Too shallow, too distant, upstream, equally exposed—the choices for places to spend the night were all bad. Then Carol picked out microscopic Fox Cove, a tiny opening between Sucia and Little Sucia. Big enough for three other boats on park-provided moorings, it gave us not only a secure and restful sleep but a postcard-perfect display of limestone cliffs illuminated in the morning sun. Phew!

One day we got word that a cold front would come through that evening. A slip in Roche Harbor Marina might have been wise, but there was none to be had. We chose Garrison Bay, notable in history as the site of the Anglo-American standoff over the border, as a place to ride it out; the hill-encircled basin was the closest thing to a hurricane hole we could find. Fifty-knot gusts confirmed the wisdom of surrounding ourselves with wooded heights, though the roar of the wind in the trees was unnerving. Fin-keeled with a shallow canoe body, our modern Beneteau did a lot of sailing on her anchor, and we were far from relaxed. Good shelter, good holding, and good ground tackle prevailed, however, and what might have been trouble left us simply sleepless near Seattle.

When someone asks “How was your cruise?”, I must admit my first response is still “cold.” But, as you can see, there was much more to it than that.

Robby Robinson, a former SAIL editor, is a lifelong sailor and writer. He is the author of the recently published International Marine Book of Sailing.

Contact: Anacortes Yacht Charters, www.ayc.com; 800-233-3004

Related

00-LEAD-JB13-RT1169

What's it Like to Sail a Legend?

At 110 years old, the storied pilot cutter Jolie Brise powers off the wind. In 1851, the New York pilot schooner America sailed to England, beat the Brits at their own prestigious yacht race (which came to be known as the America’s Cup), and launched an evolution of the East ...read more

Alexforbes Archangel1-1 (14)

Cape2Rio Draws to a Close

With just four boats still on their way, it has been a long road to Rio for the fleet competing in this year’s Cape2Rio. Larry Folsom’s American-flagged Balance 526 Nohri took line honors and a win in the MORCA fleet, finishing with a corrected time of 18 days, 20 hours, and 42 ...read more

_01-Steve-and-Irene-1

Close Encounters: A Star to Steer By

I first met Steve and Irene Macek in the proper way—in an anchorage full of bluewater cruising boats. This was in St. Georges, Bermuda, in the spring of 2019. Theirs, without doubt, was the most distinctive boat there—an immaculate, three-masted, double-ended Marco Polo schooner ...read more

14_01_230123_TOR_JOF_0414-2048x

The Ocean Race Leg 2 Kicks Off

After a trial by fire start to the race and only a brief stop for limited fixes, the five IMOCA 60 crews in The Ocean Race set off for Cape Town, South Africa, early on January 25. Despite arriving somewhat battered in Cabo Verde, an African island nation west of Senegal, the ...read more

Lead

Cruising: Smitten with a Wooden Boat

I was sailing down the inner channel of Marina del Rey under a beautiful red sunset when Nills, one of the crew members on my boat, pointed out an unusual and unique-looking 40-foot gaff-rigged wooden cutter tied to the end of a dock. Its classic appearance was a stark contrast ...read more

Screen-Shot-2023-01-23-at-12.03.19-PM

Racing Recap: Leg One of The Ocean Race

New to spectating The Ocean Race? Managing Editor Lydia Mullan breaks down everything you need to know to get started. ...read more

image00001

From the Editor: Keeping the Hands in Hands-On

SAIL Editor-in-Chief Wendy Mitman Clarke enjoys a sunny autumn cruise in her Peterson 34 on the Chesapeake Bay. It was late afternoon just after the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis when I climbed aboard the last boat on the schedule. I and others who review and sail boats for ...read more

P1580711

B&G Announces New Zeus S Chartplotter

B&G has long been putting out top-of-the-line electronics, but the new Zeus S Chartplotter is a new take on the best way to give sailors the exact information they need, when they need it. “So many more people sail shorthanded these days, whether as a couple or when they’re ...read more