Laura's Vacation Blog

Monday, June 12, 2006

San Juan and Gulf Islands Vacation

The date has finally arrived! After a long stretch of workdays from January through Memorial Day, our long-awaited vacation is upon us.

We drove north to Bellingham on Friday night and the stars must have been aligned. What would normally be an arduous stop-and-go commute, we sped through downtown, North Seattle and Everett at the speed limit! Amazing! Arriving in Bellingham before dusk, we loaded up the boat with our gear and food and tucked in for a good night’s sleep.

Saturday: Bellingham – Sucia Island
On Saturday morning, Justin checked in the charter company for the skipper’s meeting. He spent the better part of the morning learning about all of the systems on our charter, BeJa II. And, he picked up a few tips on sailing routes and seamanship. Around 11am, we cast off and headed northwest for Sucia Island, the northernmost island in the San Juan archipelago. We sailed in light air through Bellingham Bay and out through Hale Passage. We sailed and motor-sailed for the entire afternoon with several boats who had given up on the wind passing us. They were all headed toward Sucia. When we finally arrived, Echo Bay was full but there was plenty of room in the party bay: Fossil Bay. A group of motor boaters had staked out a dock in Fossil Bay and rafted maybe four abreast. They had a big barbecue and we even heard them announce a raffle. We tied up to a mooring buoy and took the dinghy for a spin out to Mud Bay, a bay well deserving of its name. We hiked around the beach coating our shoes with mud and spotting plenty of little critters—mice, snakes, birds and even a crab or two. With our muddy shoes, we rowed back to the boat for a barbecue of our own. We sat in the cockpit and enjoyed a steak and potato dinner with a salad from our own garden. Life is good.

Gravel Pit on Lummi Island taken in Hale Passage

On the edge of Mud Bay on Sucia Island

Mother Goose out for a swim with her goslings in Fossil Bay on Sucia Island

Dusk in Fossil Bay on Sucia Island

Sunday: Sucia Island – Bedwell Harbor, South Pender Island
Sunday morning we awoke to rain showers and no wind. June weather is not as predictable as the late summer September weather that we have sailed in previously. Bummed out, we fixed breakfast and suited up in our foulies. The rain let up a bit and lighted to a mist. We motored out around Sucia spotting several seals out trolling for breakfast. We crossed Haro Straight under motor but then put up our sails and made awesome time to South Pender Island with a 1-knot favorable current. Bedwell Harbor on South Pender Island was on our itinerary because we needed to clear Canadian customs for our favored destination, Salt Spring Island. We docked the boat at the Poet’s Cove marina for a couple of hours while Justin and I ate lunch and took showers. The weather was starting to clear up and we decided to press our luck and have an ice cream on the deck of the resort. There were mooring buoys just north of the marina, adjacent to the Beaumont Beach Park. We looked for the coveted mooring buoy described in the Dreamspeaker book but it has been converted to a Park Department anchorage since the book was published. We tied up instead on the buoys north of the marina and rowed ashore. What a neat shore it was! Geologic activity created rocks with striations unlike anything I have seen before. And, there is a fair amount of shallows so we rowed for a while down the shoreline just to have a peek at what was five feet under. We dropped our $10 CDN mooring fee in an envelope on shore for the park ranger and headed back to the boat. The ranger stopped by a little later in a dinghy with her big dog, Karma, offering to collect our fee if we hadn’t already paid. Nice service!

The Poet's Cove resort and customs dock in Bedwell Harbor.

BeJa II on her mooring in Bedwell Harbor

Monday: Bedwell Harbor, South Pender Island – Ganges Harbor, Salt Spring Island
On Monday, we motored off our mooring and out of Bedwell Harbor. Once out of the harbor, we set sail on a reach to Salt Spring Island. Our wishful thinking with the ice cream on Sunday paid off with a lovely sunny day. We sailed in 12 knots of wind to Swanson Channel where the current took over carrying us at 2-knots in the right direction! The wind pooped out and we dropped our sails as we passed the Channel Islands and motored into Ganges Harbor to tied up to the public dock. On our way in we caught a little seal show with a mom and her pup goofing around. We showered and put on shorts as the weather had warmed right up—maybe as hot as 80 degrees. The downtown area of Ganges has several little shops and galleries and some lovely gardens. After a stop at the local grocery for some produce and my Canadian favorite, Naniamo Bars, we camped out with our novels in BeJa’s cockpit. For dinner, we headed ashore and dined at the Oystercatcher above the marina. We were a little disappointed in the entrees but the appetizer, wine, bread and dessert filled us up so we left in good cheer.

A cheerful welcome at the top of the dock in Ganges

A nice little park right on the water in Ganges

Justin, checking out the Ganges Harbor

Tuesday: Ganges Harbor, Salt Spring Island – Roche Harbor, San Juan Island – Reid Harbor, Stuart Island
The Tuesday itinerary kept changing. First we weren’t sure we had enough time to sail to Roche Harbor where we needed to go for U.S. customs clearance so we were checking out Canadian Inner Islands as a possible port of call. But then, we had excellent wind and made it into Roche by early afternoon. We’ve stayed in Roche before so we were considering spending the night elsewhere. With a brisk breeze, we decided on Reid Harbor, just a short distance across on Stuart Island. In Roche, we cleared back into the US, showered and enjoyed an ice cream in the beautiful gardens before heading over to Stuart Island. Reid Harbor is an excellent storm hole so there were plenty of balls and even a dock to tie up to. We chose the dock since we had a park pass so it was the same price either way—free! There is a nice little loop trail around the island with nice views of both Reid Harbor and Prevost Harbor on the other side of Stuart.

We spotted pirates on our way to Roche Harbor

The beautiful gardens in Roche Harbor

A view from the trail above Reid Harbor

Wednesday: Reid Harbor, Stuart Island – Deer Harbor, Orcas Island – Cascade Bay, Orcas Island
Another sunny day! We were nearly out of water aboard and feeling like a shower so we decided to tie up for lunch in Deer Harbor. Bucking a current upwind in Spring Passage by Jones Island, we tacked several times before clearing Steep Point on Orcas Island. The wind picked up as we arrived so we wasted no time on our errands and cast off for East Sound. Sailing to East Sound we had the boat nearly at hull speed! We dodged the Orcas-Shaw ferry and were around the point and headed downwind into East Sound. The initial plan was to go to the town of Eastsound but as we came up on the Rosario resort, I was getting antsy and intrigued so we tied up for the night on a Rosario buoy in Cascade Bay. With the moorage fee, we had access to the resort facilities but we had forgotten our swimsuits. Instead we opted for a beer on the pool deck and watched the boats and sea planes come in. It was a beautiful night. We meandered back to our dinghy and Justin rowed us back. We decided to test out BeJa’s oven and baked a quiche for dinner. It was just the right thing for the chilly evening.

The famous Rosario Mansion

Thursday: Cascade Harbor, Orcas Island – Inati Bay, Lummi Island
We woke up to a cloudy, breezy day on Thursday morning. The wind was just right to sail off our mooring with a 10- knot southerly. We measured wind gusts to 15 knots in East Sound. As we left Rosario, the rain moved in. We continued sailing up to Obstruction Island where the wind died so we fired up the motor and boogied on through Obstruction Pass. One of the other charter boats from Bellingham, O’Benannas, who we had spotted on our outbound leg to Sucia showed up on the same route to Inati Bay. I guess we weren’t the only folks that read the material that the charter company provided about good anchorages. As we hit Rosario Strait, the wind picked up again and we rolled out the sails again, headed “SoS” (South of Sinclair). We were warned that this was the safest passage because the north side of Sinclair Island has a rocky shallow shoal on which you don’t want to run aground. Across Rosario Straight on the red can buoy off Buckeye Shoal we got a close up look at a bald eagle probably thinking about fishing his next meal. By this time the rain was steady and poor Justin was at the helm, soaking it all up. As the rain picked up, the wind died down and we decided the weather was too miserable to dilly-dally so we fired up the engine and headed toward Inati Bay. On the way, we picked up a mayday call on the VHF. A fellow had put his boat, Kahuna, up on the rocks at what sounded like Eliza Island. We were right by Eliza Island but we couldn’t spot the boat through the binoculars. We radioed the Coast Guard to request the boater’s position and learned that he was actually by Sinclair—the north of Sinclair—exactly where we were warned not to go. The boater knew his exact coordinates but thought he was near Eliza Island. Whoops. Anyway, we weren’t nearby to help with the rescue but we listened to the radio and heard that the Coast Guard had sent a boat out to rescue the guy. The mayday saga was just wrapping up as we approached Inati Bay. The bay is a cozy little spot and when we arrived we were the second boat. The first boat had dropped his anchor in the middle. A log raft was monopolizing about a quarter of the south end of the bay so we anchored and stern tied in the north part of the bay. It wasn’t our first choice of locations but it seemed that the anchorage was tight so we made the best of it. However, it wasn’t long before another six boats showed up, each finding a spot somehow. The rain didn’t let up so from about 3pm on, we sat in BeJa’s cabin playing cards. Of course, I won most of the hands. Our dinner plan was to make this easy Indian dish that is basically spinach and beans with a lot of spices. But, the box of frozen spinach had thawed several days earlier and it seemed that it didn’t keep well or at least it didn’t smell palatable. We mixed together a hodgepodge of entrees with what we had left which was just fine because we had plenty of food. The weird thing that happened this night of all nights is that we ran our battery out of juice. The heater that we had been running to dry us out and take off the chill must have drawn more than we expected because as dusk hit, we noticed our instruments had shut off. We ran the engine for a bit to charge up the battery but ultimately that battery pooped out and we just resorted to the flashlights and using the other battery for the anchor light and instruments. Justin was up every two hours checking our depth and checking our anchor.

Friday: Inati Bay – Bellingham
The rain finally stopped when we woke up on Friday morning. Several of the boats in the bay had departed so we had a little breathing room for hoisting our anchor and retrieving our stern line. The wind was strong outside of the bay! We had gusts up to 20 knots. We sailed on a reach to Bellingham Bay, almost due east of Inati Bay with really no obstructions. The boat was hauling! Just short of putting in a reef on the main sail, we furled the jib halfway and depowered enough to feel comfortable. Crossing the bay in about an hour, we pulled into the marina for a fuel and pump out stop. Another bald eagle was circling the marina, being chastised by a flock of sea gulls! It was the oddest sight. Safely back in BeJa’s slip, we disembarked from the boat, cleaned her off and checked out a-okay with San Juan Sailing. By now the sun was out and our heads were full of fond memories of our 2006 sailing vacation.