Sail Away With Me

We live in the PNW and it is the middle of February.  This is the time of year when I am ready to travel to sunnier weather and get some natural Vitamin D.  However, I am still trying to behave and let my body heal after a recent surgery.  So, the only traveling I am doing is in my mind.  Please join me as I “travel” back to the last couple summers when we sailed through the San Juan Islands. 

I love, love, love to be out on the water, so when my husband’s best friend offered for us to join him on his sailboat for a week, I jumped at the opportunity.   A week out on a sailboat in the San Juan Islands…hell yes!  Captain S. was Mr. U’s college roommate and the best man in our wedding.  Their friendship has withstood the test of time and distance. 

The San Juan Islands are an archipelago between Washington State and Canada.  They are located in the top northwest corner of the United States.  Basically, you cannot get much further northwest and still be in the continental US.  The area is made up of over 743 islands (only 428 at high tide) and only 60 of the islands are inhabited.  The main water thoroughfares through the islands are the Straight of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia.  

Our first instruction from the captain was to pack light, as there is not a lot of storage space on a sailboat.  For me, the trick to packing light is not taking a lot of shoes since they take up so much space.  I finally learned where the term “deck shoes” originated.  You keep a clean, scuff proof pair of shoes on the boat and they are ONLY worn on the boat.  That way you do not track mud, sand and seaweed onto the deck of the boat.  Who knew???  But I like it.  I might have to designate deck shoes for anyone that enters our home.  Or…are those already called slippers?   

Like any decent boat over 24 feet long, Captain S’s boat has a name.  She is Salaria.  Isn’t that a beautiful, calming name?   She is moored at a dock in Anacortes, Washington.  Anacortes is a charming town on the north end of the Puget Sound.  We arrived at Anacortes the day prior to setting sail.  That gives everyone a chance to move their personal items in and learn the details of the boat.  That evening we gathered the “crew” at the Rockfish Grill for a casual dinner and to plan our itinerary.  The Rockfish Grill is a popular local restaurant, and they have a great selection of beer from the Anacortes Brewery which is right next door.  I had the “original IPA” which was a perfect combination with their fresh, meaty fish & chips.   

Each person is responsible for a couple meals while at sea, so we made a collective list and did our grocery shopping just before dinner.  Planning is key because there are not any grocery stores on the island stops.  There are a few marinas that have groceries, but they have limited items and are very expensive.  So, you need to plan well and stock up ahead of time. 

We spent the first night on the boat at the dock at Anacortes.  I awoke the next morning to the sun glistening off the water and the sound of sea gulls and the occasional seal barking.  After breakfast we untied the ropes and got the boat hooks out.  It is a little tricky motoring a large sailboat out of the marina.  The “first mate” and “crew” stand on the bow and stern of the boat and use the boat hooks to push off from the dock and other boats so that you don’t bump into them.  (That is really not O.K. and the sign of a rooky crew.) Once out of the marina we motored along, skimming over the water and enjoying the magnificent views. 

We did one sail trip the end of September and the other the end of July the following year. We were fortunate to have beautiful weather for both trips, but not a lot of wind.  This makes it a little difficult to sail.  So, it was a treat on the afternoons when we were able to let up the sails, cut the engine and just glide across the water.  We observed a variety of birds and frequent dolphins playing in the water near our boat.  When you are out on the water for several days without TV, internet or sometimes cell service, you begin to unwind and live in the moment.  You begin to truly relax.  It is pure pleasure to wake up and enjoy a hot cup of coffee out on the deck while the sea world comes to life. 

Morning coffee watching the fog lift.

The days were spent sailing and stopping to explore the islands.  The island beaches, hiking trails, docks, restrooms and tie up buoys are well maintained by the San Juan County Parks & Recreation Dept.  Most of the islands are not serviced by the ferry so the only way to get to them is by private boat.  A few have long docks that you can tie up at, and several have deep bays with buoys that you moor to.  This is another tricky process, as the novice first mate (also known as Mr. U.) stands at the bow of the boat and directs the captain to the buoy.  Then the first mate threads the mooring rope through the hook on an extended pole and leans over the rail to try to catch the ring of the buoy, without falling in the water. Once you catch it, you pull the rope through and tie the boat up to it.  After the boat is tied to the buoy you can take the dingy or kayaks to shore.

One afternoon we motored up to Roche Harbor on the far northeast end of San Juan Island.  This is a gorgeous historic harbor with a couple restaurants, unique shops, quaint cottages, lush gardens and an old lime kiln that is no longer in use.  We moored at the dock there for a night and the next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the restaurant patio overlooking the marina.  This was also a great stop to get a long, hot shower, as they have several private showers for a very small fee. 

By late afternoon it is time to find a protected bay and moor up to a buoy or dock for the night.  When we went in July it was busy and you had to get to the bay early in order to get a dock spot or buoy.  One afternoon we were unable to find an available buoy so we had to throw out an anchor. This is another tricky process, as you have to “set the anchor” and then pull it with the boat to ensure that it is secure.  You don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night and find you have drifted out to sea or worse yet, crashed up on shore.  When anchoring you have to be at the right depth of water and keep a good distance from other boats so that, when both boats turn through the night, they do not bump into each other.  You also have to consider the tide change so that you don’t end up aground during low tide.  Whew…a lot to think about. 

Probably my favorite experience of the entire trip was being out on the boat in the evenings moored to a buoy, BBQing dinner and eating out on the deck while you watch the sunset.  The quiet night engulfs you with just the light from the moon, island and other boats shining on the water.  Once you turn into your berth for the night your body gently rocks with the waves and lulls you to sleep.

On our final day we reluctantly motored back to the dock at Anacortes.  And just so you don’t think it is all fun and games, it takes several hours to unpack the boat, clean it, and the dingy, inside and out.  However, a small price to pay for the experience of a lifetime.  

Other ways to see the San Juan Islands

If you do not have a friend that happens to own a sailboat, I would recommend that you see the Islands via ferry.  The Washington State Ferries service four of the Islands:  San Juan, Orcas, Lopez and Shaw Islands. We have been to a few of the Islands via ferry and it is definitely a worthwhile experience. 

While sailing we planned to stop one afternoon at Orcas Island and dine at the majestic Rosario Resort, which is perched on a rock bluff overlooking the water.  Unfortunately, there were not any buoys available that day to tie up to.  But I think it would be fun to take the ferry over and spend a couple nights at the resort.  I would also recommend taking the ferry to San Juan Island.  You can explore Friday Harbor and if you take your car over, be sure to drive to beautiful Roche Harbor on the other side of the Island. 

Lopez Island is well known for its rolling farmland and quiet beaches.  It is the least hilly of the Islands, so it is a popular island to bike.  A few years ago we left our car on the mainland and just took our bikes and back packs on the ferry over to Lopez.  We stayed for three nights at a charming, private cabin with a hot tub nestled in the trees.  While it is the least hilly of the islands, it is by no means flat.  We biked 30 miles one day and were sore and exhausted by the time we got back to our cabin.  A hot tub never felt so good. 

Thanks for joining me down memory lane to nice sunny weather.  Now I think it is time for me to go plan for a trip to a sunnier climate in six weeks when I am free to travel again.  Cabo anyone? 

10 comments on “Sail Away With Me

  1. What a wonderful experience. Great photos too. Your ability to tell a story made me feel like I was there. Love that you two are enjoying retirement.

    Thanks for sharing. ❤️

    1. Hi Connie –
      Glad you were able to “get away” with me for some sunshine. I don’t know about you, but am I ever ready for spring. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I love the San Juan! We’ve visited them using ferries and have considered chartering a sailboat there some day (we’ve chartered twice in the Virgin Islands – it’s a great vacation!). Glad you were able to visit the splendid San Juans on a friend’s boat (and, a bit envious…). Nice read.

    1. Hi Fritz –
      Chartering a sailboat would be an awesome way to go through the San Juans. Bonus that you would not have to cook any meals, do the dishes or clean the boat afterwards. Chartering a sailboat through the Virgin Islands sounds fabulous! Another item to add to my growing bucket list. Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Hi Janis –
      It was definitely a memorable experience and fun to relive it by writing this post during the dead of winter. I love taking the ferry there as well. However, if I lived where you do, I am not sure I would ever feel a need to leave! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. What a wonderful story and pictures. I love the San Juan Islands. Steve and I just spent a week in San Diego, a much needed break from the cold. The sunshine was great! I’m glad we aren’t there this week, however. I hope you are healing well!

    1. Hi Karen –
      It is such a welcome break to get away to warmer weather this time of year. I love San Diego too. I am grateful we are retired and can get away during the week to go to sunnier climates! Thaks for stopping by.

  4. Your pictures and story sent me to the San Juan islands and I had a wonderful time. I even felt a certain sense of peace and relaxation that you were talking about just by reading it.

    1. Hi Janie –
      I am so glad you were able to run away with me for a little relaxation and sunshine this winter, even if it is just in our minds. Looking forward to when we can enjoy warmer weather and sunshine for real!

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