Wednesday, August 31, 2016

San Juan Islands

As a follow up to the last post...

I see the San Juan Islands from my house windows. And yet, just because this little corner of Washington state is my backyard, doesn't mean that I should neglect writing about it.

On anchor at Spencer Spit, Lopez Island

Image result for map of the san juan islandsThe Salish sea - that's the body of water that surrounds the San Juan Islands - is an incredibly unique bioregion. The islands are known for their 'high amenity' meaning that there is a lot of recreational activities that draw tourists; its a great location to live and work; there is abundant wildlife, and the natural setting is awe inspiring.

At this point in the summer, the ferries are filled to capacity with visitors from around the world. I've been volunteering over in Friday Harbor and I've talked with so many people who are coming out to the islands for the first time.  Whether they are walking on with rolling suitcases or have a car packed to the rafters with camping gear - everyone is coming out for some island time - and maybe a little adventure.

Link to tourist info for the San Juan Islands

I first started coming out to the San Juan islands by boat. My arrival points were not ferry docks but harbor docks. There are about 172 islands (and named reefs)in the archipelago but only four have ferry service. Some islands are private, others you need an inter-island taxi or seaplane to get to. Many of the smaller islands are accessible by pleasure boat or kayak. Out of the four main islands, San Juan, Lopez, and Orcas tend to offer the visitor the most activities. Shaw island seems to happily get on without trying to entice tourists.

Early morning ferry coming into Friday Harbor, San Juan Island
I'm going to keep coming back to these islands here at Going Out Your Door - there's just too much to say that can't be condensed down into one post. The islands are beautiful and, sure, there's lots of things to do here; however, there is also a very unique ecosystem here that seems so abundant - and actually very fragile. There is history to be found on these islands - wars that almost started, rum runners and lighthouse keepers; pioneers and first nation tribes. You can see the handiwork of the glaciers on all the mountain tops while catching glimpses of orcas moving through the deep waters.

For more information on this incredibly rich bio-region, check out the blog Ecotones of the Salish Sea

Ferry Schedule: Anacortes to Friday Harbor

On a Boat

sister ship Spellbound on anchor at Spencer Spit

I’ve owned a couple boats, I've been on many boats and chartered one.
Until this week.
This is charter number two and it’s pretty fantastic.

Finding the right boat to charter is a heck of a lot easier when you’ve been a boat owner. This current charter, Change of Latitude, is a 42 foot grand banks out of Bellingham from an outfit called NW Explorations. Their diligence in providing their customers with a top notch, completely outfitted boat is exceptional. The amount of time they spend going over every last detail is mind-numbingly complete – and I mean that in the very best way. Taking a boat out onto the water means that the newly minted captain needs to know how to handle all the strange and wonderful situations that come up. When you are new to boating, its probably a good thing you haven't a clue just what kind of weird stuff can happen - but it is good to be as prepared as possible. Having years of boating behind us, we had dealt with a lot of those weird situations and could make sure they wouldn't happen again.

The first time we chartered a boat – and had very little experience – the boat was 39 feet and well used. It was a lightweight planing hull with straightforward controls. The charter company at that time made us spend an afternoon out on the water with their captain to make sure we had the basics down. How to set an anchor; how to dock – and leave the dock; how to check the oil; watch for logs, and basically stay safe. With little more than that, we headed out on our first adventure on the water as a family. Okay, Andy and I had spent time on sail boats and yes, Andy had taken the Coast Guard Auxiliary course for recreational boaters. Thinking back, that trip was a grand adventure. We were inexperienced and naive; however, we were also traveling with experienced boater friends who helped us at every turn. Their smiles, experience and encouragement kept us afloat.

We came home and promptly bought our own boat. However, we were also very aware of what we didn’t know. It’s easy it is to be complacent and think you know enough when you are out on the water – so we hired a captain for a two-day training. That wonderful man put us through our paces. He set up emergency drills in busy channels; he made sure we both could dock and check the engines for problems. Captain Bob, as he was called, helped us feel a little more competent. We also had a deeper appreciation for all the things that could and do go wrong out on the water.

Jessara on anchor in Tenados Bay, B.C.
We were boat owners for fifteen years. We traveled to some beautiful locations on our coast that only a boat can get you to. Selling our last boat, Jessara, wasn’t easy. She was an exquisitely crafted vessel that saw us through so many adventures. And – we were not using her as much as we ‘should’. Owning a boat is like having a vacation home – you feel guilty if you head anywhere else to vacation.

As our kids headed off into the world, other opportunities started whispering in our ears.

But we knew we could always charter. Knowing now that we can charter a beautiful boat like Change of Latitude makes it even easier. Sure, its pricey. But when you’ve owned a boat, paid the insurance and dock fees – and all the maintenance that goes into a boat – the fees feel minimal. There are certainly perks to cruising on one’s own boat – that innate knowledge of how all the systems work is often key when problem solving a weird noise in the engine room. And yes, roaming around the San Juan Islands is well traveled territory for us. We are rarely out of cell phone range. If we hear a weird noise, it’s easy to head into a marina and check it out.

Chartering a boat in our own backyard, so to speak, has been a great test run for chartering boats in other locations. Knowing what to look for and what to pay extra attention to when we go through that initial check list is going to be very helpful. For instance – next time I take note that the holding tank is not reading empty I’ll insist that the charter company makes that happen before I leave the dock. If the water tanks don’t read full – I’ll ask that the charter company make sure it’s not just a fluke of the display panel. These are little things but they can become important pretty quickly. 

The truth is that boating - regardless of how many years you've been out there on the water or whether its your first time out behind the controls - is all about paying attention. Slowing down, taking your time, making sure you've gone through your check lists, and thinking things through. Even in dire circumstances its better to take the time to run through your options and actions than to act impulsively. 

Chartering a boat - or owning one - means you are going to go places that most people don't. Paying attention, following the rules of the road, so to speak (because there are a lot of regulations that boaters need to be aware of), and being aware of your surroundings are all small responsibilities when compared with the rewards.

The rewards are amazing.
Princess Cove, Gulf Islands, B.C.