While Pacific Northwesteners are a laid-back lot, some things are sacrosanct. Take seafood. Sure, we might roll into the marina in an aging Subaru wearing worn-out Birkenstocks, battle-scarred jeans and an old regatta T-shirt, but you can bet your last roll of duct tape we don’t tolerate inferior seafood. Why should we? With the open Pacific and the bounty of Alaska and the Straits of Juan de Fuca so close by, there’s no reason to eat anything but the best. And when the conversation turns to oysters and mussels, our proximity to Whidbey Island’s world-renowned Penn Cove—home to some of the planet’s tastiest bivalves just 30 miles north of Seattle—makes us, rightfully, very proud.
Some history: the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842, led by Lt. Charles Wilkes, was the U.S. Government’s first serious attempt at charting and exploring the Pacific Northwest. When Wilkes and his men arrived in Penn Cove in 1841, they found a huge Native American settlement, believed to be the largest on Puget Sound. Evidence of the community’s reliance on the cove’s rich resources can be found in the piles of discarded shells that dot the landscape to this day.
Whidbey Island itself is some 35 miles long and between 1.5 and 12 miles wide, with numerous harbors and towns in addition to Penn Cove, which is situated near the town of Coupeville, on the island’s eastern shore.
Entering Penn Cove, sailors enjoy a fine panorama of protected waters, muddy banks and sparsely populated hillsides. Protected shellfish farms are marked with buoys, and there’s plenty of dockage available at the Coupeville Wharf.
Penn Cove’s muddy bottom also provides excellent holding for cruisers looking to drop the hook (check your charts/books for Penn Cove’s anchor-friendly areas). The island’s annual Penn Cove Mussel Festival is held every March, but visitors can expect decadent seafood meals year-round.
For sailors headed for the San Juan Islands, Penn Cove is a perfect stopover, especially if you don’t mind navigating Deception Pass. Sure, it’s a detour from the Straits of Juan de Fuca, but you can safely wager that last roll of duct tape that you’ll hear zero complaints from your crew.