Although two-thirds of the U.S. boating population lives along the Eastern Seaboard, there are many hardy and enthusiastic cruising sailors on the “left coast” as well. Better still, if you’re looking to charter on the Pacific side, there’s plenty of great sailing and many clubs and charter outfits to check out. Some companies are purely for members. Others, though, also welcome nonmembers.
Although the San Juan Islands seem to have been built for powerboats with their light winds, there are many charter companies in the area that offer sailboats. As the name suggests, Anacortes Yacht Charters is based in Anacortes, Washington, and has a large fleet of nicely maintained boats, including those with sails. You can ghost along with killer whales in the Haro Strait, enjoy the great seafood restaurants in Friday Harbor or (when the pandemic is under control) cross the border to Canada’s iconic city of Victoria.
Farther north, you’ll find San Juan Sailing & Yachting, which offers discounts on multi-week charters, allowing you to explore all the way up to Nanaimo, British Columbia, and Vancouver Island.
California is a big state, so sailing conditions vary. San Francisco serves up high winds, but relatively mild seas inside the Bay. For bareboat chartering, try Spinnaker Sailing near Oracle Park on the Embarcadero. Granted, there can be plenty of fog in spring and summer. But you can still always see sailboats exploring the waters around Angel Island or testing the currents under the Golden Gate Bridge. Only seasoned sailors should venture out to places like the Point Reyes National Seashore or the Farallon Islands.
The winds around Southern California are often lighter, and the area has many charter options, including Marina Sailing, which has six locations between Channel Islands Harbor (gateway to some rugged sailing among the mostly uninhabited Channel Islands) and San Diego Bay. Another great charter option for multihull sailors is San Diego-based West Coast Multihulls. There’s also Blue Pacific Yachting in Marina Del Rey, which offers sailboats up to 56ft.
In Southern California, in addition to whale watching in March or harbor hopping year-round, you can head to the area’s favorite destination—Santa Catalina Island—about 30 miles offshore. Summertime on the island can get pretty busy, but April and October are sublime. The only town there is historic Avalon, but many sailors favor Two Harbors near the West End on the lee side. Anchoring off Catalina can be tricky, as the water is deep and the currents capable of moving yachts around like matchsticks. Most sailors opt for the paid moorings, which are plentiful in all but the busiest summer months.
Bear in mind that pretty much anywhere you go in California, you’ll need to be comfortable sailing offshore. As soon as you leave the harbor you’ll be out on the open Pacific, where the next stop west of Catalina is Japan.
If you’re a traveler and want to join a club that allows reciprocals in a variety sailing areas, check out SailTime. West Coast locations include Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, the Channel Islands, Marina Del Rey/Long Beach, Orange County and San Diego. Sailing in, say, San Diego Bay is vastly different from sailing around Seattle, which is in turn different from San Francisco. By sampling a variety of locales, you’ll inevitably become a better sailor.
Finally, let’s not forget Mexico, another big part of West Coast sailing. For the adventurous, Dream Yacht Charters now has bareboat charter bases in Cancun and La Paz on the Sea of Cortez, where a morning sail, will take you to Esperitu Santo, an island sanctuary teeming with whales, rays, dolphins and whale sharks. Another great Sea of Cortez option is West Coast Multihulls, which has bases in La Paz and Loreto/Puerto Escondidio.
Bottom line: the East Coast may be the place where the blue-blazer crowd gathers, but West Coast sailors know they can sail year-round and hone their skills at everything from deep-water anchoring to surfing. The sea life is abundant, and the sunsets over the Pacific are unmatched. Come on over, the water’s fine!