Tranquility in the San Juans - Sail Magazine

Tranquility in the San Juans

Misty clouds clung to the evergreen-clad hillsides of San Juan Island, the largest and westernmost island in its namesake archipelago in the Pacific Northwest. Whip-like strands of kelp were shepherded by the currents of Haro Strait...
Author:
Publish date:
San%20Juans_top

Misty clouds clung to the evergreen-clad hillsides of San Juan Island, the largest and westernmost island in its namesake archipelago in the Pacific Northwest. Whip-like strands of kelp were shepherded by the currents of Haro Strait and by the southerly breeze we were riding toward Roche Harbor. Orca whales regularly patrol these waters, and a close examination of the shore revealed sporadic white tufts—the telltale sign of a bald eagle perched on the lofty branches of a deceased evergreen, known colloquially as “deadheads.” Seabirds, too, rode the steady 10-15 knot sea breeze, oblivious to the sputtering mid-November rain.

Approaching Roche Harbor from the south—the traditional approach from Seattle—we lowered our sails off Kellet Bluff, Henry Island’s southeasternmost point, and motored into notorious Mosquito Pass, a long channel that guards Roche Harbor. Multiple rocks, shoal water and a strong current require heads-up piloting, but once inside you’ll find yourself in a well-protected amphitheater of islands. Roche Harbor has two entrances (the other is from the north) and is one of the safest harbors in the San Juans. Here, boats are shielded by Pearl Island to the north and Henry Island to the west, as well as the hulking mass of San Juan Island to the east and the south. Our dock lines were soon made fast to a slip at the full-service Roche Harbor Marina. A floatplane dock allows for aerial access, and there’s a U.S. Customs office next to the harbormaster’s office, which is convenient given Canada’s proximity.

The Hotel de Haro commands center stage in town. Its empty flowerbeds and perfectly sculpted landscape gave us a hint of summer splendor. Though we were visiting during the rainy season, the sense of peace was magnified by the absence of powerboats and the dearth of tourists. A handful of restaurants were still open, including the Madrona Grill and Bar, whose roaring fireplace lured us in for steaming mugs of tea. The Company Store, located just down the dock, is another true Pacific Northwest gem, and harks back to the days when the town was a center of lime production. Today the historic shop sells everything from provisions and local wines to fishing licenses and marine accessories.

Back aboard, we boiled up a feast of Dungeness crabs, which we savored in the cockpit. Soon a freshening breeze arrived, registering first only as a slapping halyard, but eventually growing strong enough that we needed to seek shelter. Sitting belowdecks, a glass of soul-warming rum in hand, I smiled at how well protected we were on ugly storm-tossed night.

The blow abated the next morning, replaced by an azure sky dotted with small clouds. The cabin smelled of steaming coffee and scrambled eggs, but outside the air was pine-and-sea scented, punctuated with a hint of isolation. Canada’s Gulf Islands are only a few miles north, and Vancouver Island is the only serious landmass guarding the San Juans from the open Pacific.

We motored out of Roche Harbor’s northern entrance and hoisted sail abeam of Pearl Island while admiring Speiden, Johns and Stuart Islands to the north. Snow-capped mountains glinted in the distance, their paint jobs refreshed by the storm. The San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands make up some of the world’s finest cruising grounds, and even in the off-season the cruising here can be enchanting. You certainly can’t go wrong visiting in mid-August, when the weather is perfect. But for me, the rewards of experiencing Roche Harbor off-season are always worth the risk of the Pacific Northwest’s famous liquid sunshine.

Related

SouthernOcean

The 50th Anniversary of the Golden Globe

Here we go! The 50th anniversary of the Golden Globe, the first singlehanded nonstop round-the-world race, is upon us. On July 1 one tribute event, the Golden Globe Race 2018, will start out of Les Sables d’Olonne, France, with a fleet of 19 amateur skippers setting out in ...read more

180621-X01-Landing-Page

Volvo Ocean Race Cliffhanger

After racing over 44,000 miles round the world and battling their way past the world’s great capes, including the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, it’s all come down to the final 700-mile leg from Gothenburg, Sweden, to the Hague. Brunel, Mapfre, Dongfeng: going into the ...read more

Stearns Photo

Racing the Solo Mac for a Cause

There are plenty of reasons to do a Chicago-Mac race, and Rich Stearns, who has done literally dozens of ‘em should know. This year, though, he’s doing the Solo-Mac for an especially important reason: to help those with prostate cancer.“Two years ago, I was diagnosed with ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comRafting dangerOne unseen danger when sailing yachts lie alongside one another for a convivial night is that if they happen roll to a wash or begin to move in an unexpected sea, the spreaders can clash ...read more

180615-01 Lead

A Dramatic Comeback in the Volvo

After winning three of the last four legs in the Volvo Ocean Race (and coming in second in the fourth), Dutch-flagged Brunel is now tied for first overall with Spanish-flagged Mapfre and Chinese-flagged Dongfeng following the completion of Leg 10 from Cardiff, Wales, to ...read more

MFS-5-2018-Propan-SP02

Tohatsu LPG-powered 5hp Propane Motor

Gassing it UpTired of ethanol-induced fuel issues? Say goodbye to gasoline. Japanese outboard maker Tohatsu has introduced an LPG-powered 5hp kicker that hooks up to a propane tank for hours of stress-free running. Available in short-, long- or ultra-long-shaft versions, the ...read more