27 September - 4 October 2014
Last time I was on Bainbridge Island I went sailing 5-6 times with Sandy on her friend Mark's boat. On my way back to Seattle from Alaska I received an invitation to join the Boyz Cruise 2014 - a 9 days sailing trip to San Juan Islands on the border to Canada. And since I love sailing and the timing was perfect I gladly accepted the offer. Besides Mark and his boat Split Arrow we would have company by Rumbera with skipper Scott and Terry - both veteran sailors and many times visiting the San Juan Islands.
Instead of commenting everything on the trip in timely order I have written some relevant topics – the pictures shown are in line with the trip timeline.
After biking down from Vancouver I had a couple of days for practicalities before we were heading out Saturday morning at 5am from home base Eagle Harbour. Finding it more convenient to sleep on the boat than getting there very early morning, Mark and I met at the boat at 10pm the evening before. Below is our overall itinerary depicted day by day:
1) Eagle Harbour on Bainbridge Island via Port Townsend to Bowman Bay by Deception Pass on Whidbey Island
2) Bowman Bay to Patos Island
3) Patos Island via Bedwell Harbour (Canadian immigration and customs) to Port Browning on South Pender Island
4) Port Browning via Saturna Island (hike to peak) to Cabbage Island going west of Saturna Island
5) Cabbage Island back to Bedwell Harbour going east of Saturna Island
6) Bedwell Harbour via to Friday Harbour on San Juan Island (US immigration and customs) to Spencer Spit on Lopez Island
7) Spencer Spit via Watmough Bay to Port Townsend
8) Port Townsend to Eagle Harbour on Bainbridge Island
All-in-all about 400k (250 miles). The preliminary itinerary had looked somewhat different but one of the things I learned was how much things change along the way (especially because of the weather) and how important it is to always keep several options open.
The first couple of days we had dense fog most of the days. Very interesting sailing with a visibility down to only 30-50 metres (100-150 feet) where anything can pop out of the fog any minute (and you can't hear it because of the motor). Fortunately we didn't encounter big container ships or the like but once a speed boat passed close in front of Rumbera creating a bit of anxiety. One of the few upsides with the fog was a number of fogbows - a phenomenon I had never experienced before… Both days the weather improved late afternoon. Most of the remaining days we had good weather meaning a 50/50 split between sun and overcast and never rain during the day (only one night). When overcast it was around 10-15C (50-60F) and when sunny around pleasant 10C (18F) more….
I didn't have high expectations but still the lack of wind came as a surprise. During the 8 days we only sailed around 2 hours accumulated - incredible that a great body of water can be so calm for so many days.
Nature and wildlife
The San Juan Islands is allegedly the best area for sailing in the US because of the many islands. The islands looked much alike but I liked the area for the mix of open water and narrow channels. Obviously we spent most of the time on the boats but the trip was nicely planned to visit small islands where we would go ashore to explore a little and if there were picnic tables have dinner. We also went ashore on Saturna Island doing a short hike up to Mt. Warburton Pike which at 397 metres (1,303 feet) is the highest point in San Juan Islands. The others insisted it was a mountain though at that height it seemed more like a hill to me. Afterwards I took a refreshing swim from the boat - I assess the temperature was around 5-10C (40-50F).
The lack of wind made it fairly easy to spot wildlife on the surface. Along the way we encountered a couple of spraying humpback whale, sea lions and countless seals and dolphins. We also saw a lot of birds amongst other turkey vultures, ospreys, herons and cormorants. When having dinner on Cabbage Island we saw a deer and several raccoons being very interested in our food.
Learnings and people
As a kid I sailed a number of times with some neighbours but if was always so cold that I lost interest. Later - while traveling especially the Caribbean and South Pacific islands - I've gained an interest in sailing often going to the marinas to hang out with sailors. It seems to be a community of easy-going and interesting people and the opportunity of going where few people (can) go fascinates me. Consequently, I've long been toying with the idea of sailing around the world at some point. Of course it's very different being close to shore and even going ashore daily but still this trip was a good chance to get a feeling of life on a sailboat.
Besides the experience of being on a boat I got a feeling of the dynamics of sailing; what to bring and how to store it, what to consider when there is a destinations (contrary to a day trip out of the harbour) and especially all the ongoing planning based on tides, wind, etc.
For a trip like this I could not have asked for better company. As expected I had a great time with skipper Mark and despite the many hours we never ran out of topics to talk about. I didn't know Scott and Terry before but they turned out to be equally interesting both with a great sense of humour. What surprised me a little was the limited interaction with other sailors when we docked for the night in a harbour - not that there were many other people at this time of year but most interaction were greetings and pleasantries. I guess one reason was arriving late and leaving early but more importantly it was rare opportunity for the 3 friends to hang out together. For me it was great because it meant time to get to know Scott and Terry and for everybody to get to know me.
Food and sleeping
Mark had provisioned for what he thought was for both of us for the whole trip, so he was shocked when I showed up with a big food box - most of it leftovers from my bike trip. He started questioning me about the individual items but quickly gave up so we brought everything. It turned out to be a good decision as little was left when we returned 8 days later - and we had even stocked up a little along the way.
The others preferred staying in harbours whenever possible with the opportunity of taking a shower, eating in a restaurant, etc. I settled for camping showers (washing by the sink) and a few restaurant meals to be social. However, most of the meals were cooked on the boat or ashore because I had brought my camping stove. There are many beds on Split Arrow but none of them allowed my almost 2 meters ("6'6") so I slept on my air mattress on the floor.