Planning my first SJI cruise

Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
Hi folks,

I'm planning my first long cruise over 4th of July week (I know, it's going to be busy). I'm consulting my IRL friends as well, but y'all are as experienced and salty as anyone I know in "real life", so I value your inputs as well :) I've only ever done bicycle tours of the San Juans before, so my experience is limited to San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez islands, and only via land. I've also not sailed farther north than Everett yet, so passagemaking through the Whidbey Island area is unfamiliar to me.

My current loose itinerary, just winging it looking at Navionics, is like this:

6/30 - Elliot Bay to Everett
7/1 - Everett to....Anacortes via the Swinomish passage? Alternately I could go the long way around Whidbey and end up at the south end of Lopez.
-----Question: what is sailing through Deception Pass like? I've only heard that it's crazy currents and such, but not from many actual sailors.
7/2 - 7/4- San Juans noodling around. Could use recommendations on route and places to see here. I'd like to hit Friday Harbor earlier in the week for provisioning, and make it to Sucia Island. Heard good things about that one.
-----Question: What are the other good islands besides SJI/Orcas/Lopez that would be worth checking out?
-----Question: Am I already too late to make reservations at the marinas?
7/5 - SJI's to Everett
7/6 - Everett to Elliot Bay

Besides just recommendations on how to cruise / what to cruise in the SJI's, I could also use any general guidance you have for longer cruises. I'm thinking of inviting 5-6 people, so 6-7 would come along in total. I've not practiced anchoring yet, but will do so this spring and summer in preparation. Ideally we get to sail a bunch, but summer in Puget Sound is famously unreliable for winds (at least down by Seattle) so I'll expect to motor a fair amount.

What tips/advice would you give you a new sailor about to undertake his first week-long cruise?
 

Frank Langer

1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
Hi Geoff,

Local folks will have more up to date and better information about cruising the San Juans. But we sailed those islands several times in recent years, so have a bit of experience there. We transited Deception Pass, and yes, it can be strong currents of about 9 knots or more with eddies as well, but if you time it so you transit at slack, it's no big deal at all. So don't let that stop you. The Swinomish Channel is shallow, at times only a foot below our 6 foot keel, and the sand shifts so one never knows what the actual depth is. They do dredge it at times, but it's an area to be careful. As well, it's narrow, so no sailing is likely along that stretch and it's a long way by motor. But La Conner, the town along the way, is a pretty, quaint little place and worth spending a few hours at.

Although Friday Harbour is large and busy, the town is also kind of fun, so worth staying there for that. Deer Harbour has been renovated in the last years and is also a quaint, pleasant marina. Rosario is an impressive marina with beautiful grounds, a swimming pool, large mansion, etc. and is worth a visit, though it's a bit more expensive than most for moorage. Roche Harbour was too ostentatious for our liking, though they have a nice pub and some shops near the marina.

Just a few extra thoughts: ensure you have good charts, and check currents so you are going with them, not fighting them all the way. You mention having 6 - 7 people aboard, and while your boat is a bit larger than our E30+, that's a lot of people to have aboard. We have had 5 adults on our boat for up to a week, but they were family so we didn't mind squeezing past each other or working around each other. We had 7 adults aboard for a day sail, and it felt crowded, though was manageable with some sitting up on the cabin roof, others in the cockpit, some below. For me, a max of four adults, two couples, is comfortable and works well. As well, I find that while I value the companionship of others aboard, I also get a little more tense because of the additional responsibility of ensuring everyone is safe and comfortable. So you may want to think about who/how many people you have aboard.

It will be interesting to see what others advise....
Frank
 
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footrope

Contributing Partner
Blogs Author
Check the cruising guidebooks for Puget Sound. Lots of good info.

Kingston usually has the cheapest fuel.

Deception Pass is no problem as long as you go through at close to slack current. No depth problems even at low tide. People kayak through there in good weather at slack. We've done it with no problems, but time your arrival if you can. Otherwise plan to loiter until close to slack. Long day from Everett, but Mud Bay, Hunter Bay and Watmough Bay are good anchoring stops on Lopez when you get through.

Swinomish Channel - good choice if winds are high in Straits. Shallow in places, but well marked, with some current as you'd expect. Long day from Everett to Anacortes but July has plenty of daylight. We've done this several times.

At Everett use the North Docks guest dock. It gets you out of the river current, which is quite fast inside the jetty. In the Central and South guest docks, the current is very tough when going into the slips. The North Dock is next to the big boat launch and has a couple restaurants and a large chandlery. The Port Of Everett website has a great map.

In addition to the Sucia Islands which is great, Stuart Island is well worth a visit. Reid Harbor is largest anchorage and has the most uniform, comfortable anchoring depths. Hike to Turn Point light is fun, a couple miles or so with some hills. Tours of the Keepers house are available in summer. The two Treasure Chests along the trail sell Stuart Island shirts, hats, etc. Honor system payment by mail and the only way to get them.

Not too late for reservations at Friday Harbor, which is where it is easiest to find room. First-come-first-serve along the breakwater. Arrive around check out time, which I think was 11 am. For holiday slip reservations, I'd call soon and find out how far ahead they schedule. Fun place, very busy, lots to see.

Agree with Frank on crew size. We prefer 4 people total for overnights. We've had 11+ aboard the 38 for daysails. Still crowded, but doable.
 

Christian Williams

E381 - Los Angeles
Moderator
Blogs Author
Yeah, four. Five max unless these are little kids.

It all depends, of course....but people bring stuff, and there's no room for that, either.
 

Teranodon

Member III
Going through Deception Pass at slack water is safe, but not as much fun as racing in/out with the tide. If you have some experience, I recommend it. Quite a ride!

Our currents are strong, and summer winds can be fickle. Make sure your engine is reliable.

If you see orcas, please turn off your depth sounder. Apparently, they hate it.

Beware of logs. They are everywhere.

Watch out for the ferries. They move at around 20 knots. I love sailing through the Wasp Passage, but I always get into a ferry situation there. It's unavoidable.

If you venture into the Haro Strait, or anywhere near Turn Point on Stuart, keep a very sharp eye out for freighters.

You have already received good advice concerning anchorages (including for consulting some of the great cruising guides). Alas, anchorages will all be very crowded in mid-summer. Even though it's tedious, try to arrive when others are leaving.

Here's a bit more anchoring advice, from me:

Both anchorages on Stuart are wonderful. Take your pick.

Sucia, of course. There are a couple of moorings at Patos, but they will be taken. The spot is stunning, and you can't beat the walk to the lighthouse. I spent a night on the hook there once, and it was not safe.

I like Blind Bay on Shaw. Lots of room. Also Indian Cove, but it isn't very sheltered (I've done it, no problem).

Don't even think about docking on Waldron. The natives are not friendly. No safe anchoring in Cowlitz Bay, either. Unless you are absolutely sure that there will be no wind.

Parks Bay (Shaw) is nice, but you can't go on shore.

There are moorings (and a dock) on both sides of Jones. Wonderful hiking.

Mackay Harbor on Lopez, kind of a "secret spot". Roomy and sheltered, but watch the chart/depth (and the giant patch of kelp) when going in. One of my favorites. I always go through Cattle Pass at max current if I can. There are usually sea lions on the rocks just south of it. Watch that chart, of course. Zoom!

You really have to do Fisherman Bay on Lopez. It's big, and you can walk to the charming village, which has a supermarket and some of the best ice cream anywhere. But read all about the tricky nerve-wracking entrance and, of course, watch your depth. The whole place is very shallow. Every year, they have the most amazing July 4 fireworks, right at the edge of the water.

Swank Roche Harbor, and mellow Garrison Bay nearby (dinghy in to the famous English Camp)

Friday Harbor has everything, including space to anchor.


I know you will love our beautiful islands.
 
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Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
This is all absolutely fantastic, thanks so much. I plan to consult the cruising guides for passage and marina info, but sometimes everything being rated 4-5 stars doesn't help much for planning :)

I'll take the advice to limit attendance. Me and three others are confirmed with one other couple pending. If they can't go, I might invite someone willing to be a 5th wheel... Else the Q-berth is good storage :)

I guess once you've been on some 33 foot boats carrying 20+ people at Duck Dodge on Tuesdays, your sense of boat capacity gets skewed.
 

Teranodon

Member III
I forgot: there are a couple of moorings off Turn Island (SJI). It's only a mile or so from my slip, so I never tried them, but it's a great spot.

Holding is pretty good just about everywhere, in mud. But don't skip setting the anchor. It's surprising how often it needs to be repeated, usually because of stuff growing on the bottom (I have a claw).
 
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Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
Bumping the thread again as I've gotten advice from some folks saying if you time the tide right, you could reasonably make Seattle to Lopez in a day. Anyone done that and can confirm? Looks like slack starts on 6/30/19 at 2AM and low tide is around 10AM, so that's probably not super favorable timing, but who knows.

Also confirmed I have 4 people going, including me. I'm an SYC member so can ostensibly use the outstations at Friday Harbor / Henry Island but I think they're going to be powerboat crazy times that week. Kind of unavoidable.
 

Schoolboyheart

Member II
Hey Geoff,

Currents are your friend and I’ve made it from Pender Harbor (Gulf Islands) to Bainbridge in a day...a very long day though! Unless it’s going to be blowing like mad I always favor the straight shot across the Juan de Fuca. Here’s a tip if fireworks are your thing. Go to Pender harbor on the 1st which is Canada Day. Then sail back to Roche for the fourth. You can spend a day or two in The Gulf Islands which are amazing then be back for the 4th or come back on the second and cruise the SJI’s.

if staying in the SJIs I would say Friday Harbor, Deer Harbor, Sucia are a must. There used to be a restaurant in Deer Harbor that would pick you up in an old stretch limo at no cost which was pretty cool. I bet it’s still around but I haven’t been there in 3 years!

you really just need to look at the current atlas and plan it out based on the days. If you try to do too much you’ll end up motoring a ton so keep the days short if you want to sail.

cheers,

Rob
 

bgary

Advanced Beginner
Blogs Author
...reasonably make Seattle to Lopez in a day.
Doable? Sure

Reasonable? Hmmm. Depends on the definition, I think.

Eagle Harbor to Fisherman's on Lopez is something like 65nm. If you average 5 knots over the ground, that's a 13-hour day.

Unless there's a compelling reason to get there in one shot, I'd say... plan an interim stop, one that allows you to play the currents and smell the roses. A pleasant evening in Port Townsend could be nice, it's pretty much the mid-point and there are things to do/see/eat (I personally love the seafood place at the end of the Pt. Hudson Marina. Just sayin').... and then head across the Strait the next morning on whatever schedule makes it the fastest/most comfortable trip for your guests.

$.02
Bruce
 

Schoolboyheart

Member II
Hey Geoff, I forgot to add if you don’t have a current atlas check out deepzoom.com which is free and shows the main currents. I’d still plan on picking one up though as there are a lot of odd currents in the islands that can’t be captured in the software.
 

Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
Cool, I reserved Pt. Townshend moorage for the nights of 6/30 and 7/5. I will be the only one with significant sailing experience and wouldn't want to put myself or my guests through long days like that. I appreciate the advice.

Rob, that software is awesome. Super fun to make the arrows wobble around. I think I have a tide atlas but am lacking the "key card", or second component - I should probably verify.
 

bgary

Advanced Beginner
Blogs Author
...the "key card", or second component - I should probably verify.
Yup, you need two parts.

This book is the "current atlas".

current.JPG

It contains dozens of numbered pages showing the currents (strength and direction) at various times. Costs about 30 bucks and is good forever.

This book is "the tables", it tells you which page of the atlas to use on a given date/time

tables.JPG

It costs about 7 bucks and covers every hour of every day for a given year.

https://www.waggonerguidebooks.com/waggonertidesandcurrents.html

Put together, you end up with the whole answer. You'd look up June 30th in the tables, for example, the tables will tell you that at 10am, you should use page 18 in the current atlas... at noon, you should use page 38. Or whatever.

18.JPG 38.JPG

You can use this to see what kind of currents you'll be facing on your schedule. You can also use it to SET your schedule in order to make your passage with as little fuss as possible. In the two snips, above, I'd say going through Cattle Pass at 10am wouldn't be bad, but by noon it starts looking pretty adverse, so I'd use that to plan the time I need to leave Port Townsend in order to be through the pass well before noon. Etc.

Note that this is a canadian publication, and it only covers the area NORTH of Port Townsend. There is similar a book of Puget Sound currents, which is okay if you want to spend the 20 bucks, but there's a NOAA publication of puget sound current charts you can download for free that I've found every bit as useful

Bruce
 

bgary

Advanced Beginner
Blogs Author
...just for the sake of completeness, here's a snip from that NOAA publication

f plus 2.jpg

This doc is different and, arguably, easier to use. Rather than a different page for each hour of each day, it is keyed on the state of the current at Bush Point, on the western side of Whidbey.

The attached snip shows what the currents in the Sound look like 2 hours after "max flood at Bush Point". It shows that the flood has weakened and is starting to turn in the area of Seattle. I'd use that info to plan my schedule, as in... "if I get off the dock in Seattle around (2 hours after whatever time my tide tables indicate max-flood-at-Bush-Point happens on the 30th). then I'll have basically slack current at the start, and favorable current on the way to Port Townsend for at least 6 hours".

6 or 7 hours later (2 hours after max ebb at Bush Point), after enjoying a favorable current for the ~40 mile jaunt, the currents would look like this for your approach into Port Townsend

e plus 2.jpg

Bruce
 
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Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
Navigation is so cool. I love how all-encompassing boating is for almost every area of nerd-ery.

Thanks Bruce - I'm gonna find the NOAA publication and check that out. The Waggoner ones seem nice for the minute level of detail, but I'm probably more at the level of "water go up or down now?"
 

fool

Member III
Two cents worth on anchoring, I'm happy you're intending to practice.


  • Communication is very important and difficult to accomplish from 30 feet away, especially when on the bow and facing away from the helm, or at the helm and trying to peer over the dodger.
  • To assist with communication post a helper at the bow with the anchor handler. Their role is to face the helm and telegraph messages back and forth from helm to anchor, and vice versa, and if necessary point along the rode toward where the anchor lays.
  • If you have an available crew, also post one at the mast or stays. Their role is to repeat all calls from posts more distant than their own, or helm to anchor and vice versa.
  • Communicate what you need to know to work well as a team. (When the anchor hits the bottom, when chain is out, how much rode is out, if the rode is secured to set the anchor for backing down, how fast to back down or move forward while line is fed out or pulled in, when the chain is up, when the anchor is free from the bottom, when the anchor is up, when all is secured aboard.)
  • Have those conversations in advance so everyone knows their role, and what needs to be communicated.

More than that and I'll have to charge two-bits and give change.

Bon voyage,

Max

P.S. Take us with you!
 

Kevin A Wright

Member III
People have covered a lot already, but here's a few more thoughts. If you have a week to jump around in the SJI, no need to plan gruelingly long days of sailing to get to the next spot. Also it's popular in July and mooring buoys, anchoring spots etc start filling up by about 2pm in a lot of the more popular spots so keep that in mind.

Since this is your first trip, you might also consider a circle route. Say head north up through Deception Pass or the Swinomish Slough an return back through Admiralty Inlet/Port Townsend. See more new territory that way. If you are heading up through Saratoga Pass I'd probably stop at Langley or Coupville rather than Everett - smaller and more quaint. Langley to Lopez is not a bad day and Coupville to Lopez is easy (both with the tide of course).

Going through Deception pass is quite the spectacle and doing it on the slack is easy. But going with tide just after slack is just as easy and more fun. Just keep an eye on the water so you don't end up spinning like a top for the amusement of all the tourists looking down from the bridge.

And as Bruce suggested, get the current charts. Worth their weight in gold crossing the Straights.

Kevin Wright
E35 Hydro Therapy
 

Second Star

Member II
The Canadian Current Book can be interpreted using the Tide Tables but that is a bit laborious. Waggoner's is one way to shorten this. Another way is a free download at [FONT=Verdana,Arial,Tahoma,Calibri,Geneva,sans-serif]www.epiphyte.ca/proj/currents that, like Waggoner's predicts what page (hour of the tide) of the current book to use at what time. If you run from Port Townsend to say Friday Harbor currents in the areas along the route can have very adverse (or positive) effect in the shallows and the book is a great guide to avoid the worst areas.
I flag the book pages for each hour of the day I'll be sailing for quick reference. Deep Zoom does a similar thing but coverage is limited as you move into the Gulf Islands. Enjoy it is a lovely area!
[/FONT]
 

bgary

Advanced Beginner
Blogs Author
Interesting (?) article on the Point Wilson Rip.

https://www.nwyachting.com/2019/04/riding-the-rip-pnw-currents/

On my trip up to the Rendezvous last year, I used Kevin Wright's guidance in the 2018 Rendezvous thread ("Its all about timing your departure to get the best out of the currents. You want leave to catch the last 2 hours of the outgoing tide to get past point Wilson. That means you will hit slack up near Smith Is., then the current will turn and start pushing you up past San Juan Is. ")

http://www.ericsonyachts.org/infoexchange/showthread.php?15232-NW-Rendezvous-in-B-C-2018&p=115010&viewfull=1#post115010

Really useful. The first couple of miles past Pt. Wilson were pretty bumpy, square waves coming from a variety of directions, but that last two hours of ebb gave me a couple of extra knots over the bottom, in the right direction, and I was able to squirt through and into the early-morning millpond conditions a few miles out into the Strait.

$.02
Bruce
 

footrope

Contributing Partner
Blogs Author
Interesting (?) article on the Point Wilson Rip.

https://www.nwyachting.com/2019/04/riding-the-rip-pnw-currents/

On my trip up to the Rendezvous last year, I used Kevin Wright's guidance in the 2018 Rendezvous thread ("Its all about timing your departure to get the best out of the currents. You want leave to catch the last 2 hours of the outgoing tide to get past point Wilson. That means you will hit slack up near Smith Is., then the current will turn and start pushing you up past San Juan Is. ")

http://www.ericsonyachts.org/infoexchange/showthread.php?15232-NW-Rendezvous-in-B-C-2018&p=115010&viewfull=1#post115010

Really useful. The first couple of miles past Pt. Wilson were pretty bumpy, square waves coming from a variety of directions, but that last two hours of ebb gave me a couple of extra knots over the bottom, in the right direction, and I was able to squirt through and into the early-morning millpond conditions a few miles out into the Strait.

$.02
Bruce
Great advice if you can stand the first hour or so. We've done this trick, motoring out of Point Hudson Marina at Port Townsend during an outgoing tide. Very lumpy for an hour or so after Point Wilson. There was some left over swell from the night time westerlies, too. 8-9 knots over the ground. We briefly thought about turning around, but that would have been 3-4 knots back through the slop. We stuck it out and had the fastest crossing to Cattle Pass we've ever had. Smoothed out before the bank and the boat handled it well.

Have a great trip.
 
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