Second Trip to the San Juan Islands

Second Trip to the San Juan Islands

July 27th, 2010  |  by Marilyn  |  Published in Ship's Log  |  1 Comment

This summer got off to a slow start. Anyone from the PNW can tell you the weather was rotten till early July. And I made the mistake of having a joint fusion surgery done on my arthritis-damaged pinkie in mid-June. It was supposed to be an easy couple weeks of healing, but the surgery didn’t go well, and I’ve had a protective splint over the pin protruding from my finger for almost 6 weeks now. I thought sailing was out until August.

But things started looking up mid-July. Summer weather finally came around July 7th. My finger gradually became less tender. So Van and I planned another trip north to the lovely San Juans. Here’s how it went:

Thursday July 15th: We spent the night on the boat in our marina so we could say we started the trip on Thursday – it’s bad luck to start a journey on Friday.

Friday (16th): Left Coon Bay around 8:30 AM under light southerly winds and very helpful currents. We tried the Gennaker for the first time, but the wind was even too light to keep the sail out of the water. We ended up motoring way too long, but we arrived at Hunter Bay around 7:30PM. There were about 60 other boats already there. Wow. When we were here just before Memorial Day weekend, we were the only boat in the bay.

Saturday (17th). Cold morning – we used the heater to warm the boat in the AM. We stayed at Hunter Bay all day while Van constructed the boarding ladder that allows me to climb into/out of the dinghy. By late afternoon, for the first time, we took the dinghy out for a short row and got some nice shots of Rainshadow at anchor. We also decided our newly repaired fresh water tank had way too much bleach in it – added 3 Tbsp for 100 gallons, but it was too strong for drinking.

Sunday (18th). Another cool morning requiring a heater. Motored (no wind) up to Blakeley Marina in hopes of finding drinking water. At $4/gallon, we decided we’d better head to Friday Harbor and its real grocery store. We motored (no wind) down Upright Channel, and finally found some wind at the south end of Shaw so we set off sailing – drinking water can wait! It was even warm enough that we raised all the canvas on the enclosed cockpit for the first time – it made a big difference to the open water experience. We did tuck into Fisherman’s Bay to dump 1/2 the water tank and refill from the tap to try to dilute the chlorine taste. That made it better, but still not pleasant to drink. We sailed down to anchor in Griffin Bay, and at dusk a fresh breeze came up and howled through our shrouds most the night. Fortunately, we were not on a lee shore and the anchor held well.

Monday (19th): Motored (no wind) towards Friday Harbor, but found a free mooring buoy at Turn Island, so we spent the day lounging in the sun. Nice.

Tuesday (20th) It’s finally getting warmer, and so we didn’t need the heater this morning. First thing we did was duck into Friday Harbor for domestic duties – we used the port’s great new laundry facilities, had yummy lunch at Cannery House, and did lots of shopping at Kings market. Motored (no wind) to Jones island and picked up a mooring buoy on the south side. Not satisfied with the ~10 mile fetch up SJ channel,  we motored (no wind) to the north side, found it choked with boats, so we motored back around and picked up the same buoy on the south side. We left up the mizzen sail overnight to keep us directed into the light wind and small waves, so we had a good night. Lots of kayakers on the island, who probably enjoying the lack of wind during their journey that day.

Wednesday (21st) Motored (no wind) towards Waldron island as we headed towards the outer islands, and finally found a light wind that allowed us to try sailing, again with the Gennaker.  When the wind died, I decided it would be prudent to motor to keep us off the point of Waldron – problem was, the batteries we nearly dead! What?!?!?  We discovered that the stupid maintenance bilge pump was running without pumping and drawing too much electric current. So we shut if off, thought about stuff for a while as the tidal current kept pushing us ashore, and then tried the motor again. Hurrah- it started right up! Something definitely is up with the batteries – made a note to troubleshoot. From there we did a combo of sailing when there was any wind, motoring when not, around Patos and arrived at Matia to find open mooring buoys. We picked up the outer one, decided it was too exposed, so headed to the available inner one. This was better, but when dock came free, we motored over to it and stepped on land. I fell in love with the forest right then and there. Gorgeous.

Thursday (22nd) – Stayed on Matia to enjoy the forest – it really is gorgeous! But first, in the morning, Van dug into the battery problem and discovered – gulp – that we had been using them backwards. That is, high cranking starter battery for running the house, and the golf cart batteries for starting the engine. Bad bad bad. That’s the problem with having meaningless labels like “Fwd” and “Aft” on the 2 battery switches. We’ve been confused about this since boat purchase last November. Maybe all the battery oddities we’ve experienced will now go away. After that lesson, we spent the afternoon walking on the island. There was real wind today, >20 knots, but we stayed on shore, in part because we feared tearing our old, old sails to shreds in strong winds.

Friday (23rd) Motored (no wind) CW around Matia, and finally found light wind on the south side. Then our Netbook-cum-chart plotter power supply failed, so we sailed by charts alone. It’s odd how dependent I’ve become on that GPS/chart plotter combo – we sailed without it for years and I never missed it – but being in strong currents and light wind with reefs nearby left me nervous without being able to know exactly where I was heading at a glance. At any rate, we sailed out around Patos, and ended at Sucia, just a few miles away from where we started the morning, but we did have a little light air sailing during our circuitous route, which included making it through the tide rip at the north side of the Patos/Sucia channel. We anchored in Echo Bay at Sucia with probably 100 other boats, but there is always more room there.

Saturday (24th) We actually sailed up President’s Channel back towards Jones Island, but since it was downwind sailing in light air against an opposing current, progress was very slow. En route, we listened to the weather report saying that Sunday would have nice winds, and Monday would have none. We decided to head for home on Sunday, rather than the planned Monday, so we might actually be able to sail. But that meant we had to motor from Jones Island, through North Pass, Pole Pass, Harney Channel, between Frost Island and Spencer Spit (min depth ~ 35’) and finally into Brigantine Bay on the south side of Decatur Island. We carved out a little anchorage for ourselves, and had our last night in the islands under a nearly full moon. Very pretty, and calm.

Sunday (25th) We hauled anchor at 7:30AM, motored through Lopez Pass and right away found a nice wind in Rosario strait. Sailing doesn’t get much better than what we experienced that morning – steady wind and strong currents pushing us towards home. We made the 44 NM trip in less than 9 hours, averaging 5 knots according the (resurrected) Netbook-cum-chart plotter. We had the motor running less than 2 hours that day, including hauling anchor at the start and returning to our marina that evening. It was a gorgeous day, and a fun sail. A very very nice way to end another enjoyable trip to the San Juans. We’re looking forward to more.


  1. JC says:

    July 28th, 2010at 1:44 am(#)

    Wow ! Those photo’s look absolutely brilliant – though the log tells a tale of the underlying technical demands that go with it. The English press-gang has been busy, and I can promise you four keen new deck hands for August – though what we’ll do for boat shoes I’m not sure (school gym pumps ? Plimsoll lines seem appropriate…) Cheers – JONATHAN

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