Locals Cruise The Northwest - April 2019

Friends And Boats

The plan was hatched during a road trip to the Pacific North West (PNW). In July of 2017, my husband, Vince and I, were celebrating our retirement with friends, Margaret and Mike, on a drive north from California to Washington. We had 10 days to explore the PNW by car before catching a cruise ship to Alaska. In casual conversation while admiring the Salish Sea from various shore-based vantage points, the genesis for the plan arose. It was a simple question posed by Mike that went something like this: “Exploring the PNW by car is fun, but wouldn′t it be even more fun to spend a summer boating here?”

Well, we have boats and have boated the Sacramento Delta and San Francisco Bay area for many years. To boot, Margaret and Mike had spent some time boating in the PNW previously. While we realized cruising the PNW for an entire 3 months was in a different league and would require quite a bit of planning, it was an idea that was too intriguing not to consider. As we so often hear and so often repeat: “Life isn′t a dress rehearsal.” With that in mind, the decision was made! Margaret and Mike, Pam and Vince, and their 32-foot Nordic Tugs would head north for the summer of 2018.

So, after we returned to California from our July 2017 trip, serious discussions about our summer 2018 adventure began. We gathered around the patio table at G shed in the Delta Marina Yacht Harbor where we berth our boats. Over the course of the patio table gatherings, we piqued the interest of two other couples, Denise and Tom, and Joy and Ted, who also berth their boats at G shed. Our PNW group expanded from 2 couples/2 boats to 4 couples/4 boats. Oh, and throw one feline into the mix! Vince and I would be bringing our cat, Junior, along for the cruise. The logistics, we knew, would be more complex with a group of this size; but, hey, the more the merrier, safety in numbers, etc.


The first planning decision was whether to cruise up the coast from San Francisco or have our boats hauled up via I-5. We determined it was in our best interest to use a hauler to move the boats to Anacortes, WA, and to start our PNW adventure from there. Now, this is a personal decision and we definitely do not wish to deter anyone from cruising up the Pacific coastline from California to the PNW. We made our decision based upon our conviction that we have relatively small boats, that the Pacific Ocean is VERY big, and that we wanted to arrive at our starting point in Anacortes safe, sane, and eager to spend 3 months exploring the waters of the PNW.

Choosing a hauler was a more difficult decision. After gathering about 15 different quotes (ranging from $2,500 to $10K (what?!) one way/per boat) and having spoken with several haulers, the decision was made to go with an independent hauler whose price quote was not the lowest, but nor was it anywhere near the highest. Their contract was fair and basic, and their reviews were good. Having made the decision on a hauler, we got to work on planning our cruising route.

Fortunately, we have friends who have cruised the PNW in their boats multiple times over the years; some on a regular basis. We eagerly tapped into this knowledge and experience for this phase of our planning. We were given lists of places to go, things to see, things to do and books to peruse. For this wealth of information, we say thank you to all our boating friends who helped with our preparation to make the dream come true.

With so much information and so many incredible destinations to choose from, it was difficult to know where to start in the route-planning process. Vince took the lead, doing his best to keep each member of the group informed and involved. He spent hours on the computer checking out marinas, state parks, and anchorages. Ultimately, after several iterations of the plan and many conversations with the group, it was decided that the trip would be done in 3 distinct sections: 1) We would depart Anacortes marina to explore the San Juan Island area first, then 2) head to British Columbia cruising as far north as Desolation Sound, coming back through the Gulf Islands to Anacortes to regroup before 3) going as far south as Tacoma. Key to these plans, was everyone′s understanding that scheduling was not written in stone. Everything was subject to change depending upon the weather, other unexpected delays and mutual agreement.

Case in point was departure date from Rio Vista to Anacortes! Transport dates changed a few times due to coordination delays with the hauling company; but plans were adjusted for the date changes and, eventually, 3 Nordic Tugs were safely delivered to Anacortes from Rio Vista with the final Nordic arriving June 28th. The 4th boat in our group, a Ranger Tug, was trailered to Anacortes by its owners and arrived June 27th. As each boat arrived, Captain and First Mate readied their vessels.


Launch Time

By July 1, our fleet of 4 was in good shape to cast off the lines from our slips in Anacortes and head to Blakely Island, the first of 35 summer destinations! From that point on, it was non-stop action and exploration for 3 months.

Typically, we stayed at each port of call for at least 2 nights so that we could arrive, settle, and spend the entire next day enjoying whatever the port had to offer.

For Victoria we allowed 4 days and for Port Townsend, due to weather considerations, we ended up staying 5 days. The extended time in Port Townsend was wonderful. There is so much to see and do there that we were all happy to stay longer. The Starlight Room in the Rose Theatre is a must do!

We anchored only once in Fisherman Bay for 4th of July Fireworks where we met up with friends from the Bay Area who graciously allowed all 4 of our boats to raft to the bulk of their 58-foo Kadey-Krogen named Water Dog. Yes, we cheated; we didn′t actually anchor, but it was a blast to see our friends and to be ticks on the hound as Vince jokingly referred to us or the hound′s pups as our hosts more graciously phrased it.

The decision to dock versus anchor at our many destinations came down to having shore power and ready access to land. While we all had dinghies and used them quite often, it was simply easier to tie up to a dock and walk off our boats to access marina facilities, towns, and other shore-based opportunities.

The weather gods were with us throughout the adventure. We had only a few rainy days, much sunshine and very little windy weather or rough waters. We had heard horror stories about crossing The Strait of Georgia and The Strait of San Juan de Fuca. Fortunately, both straits were kind to us.

But it wasn′t all about luck. There is a lot to be said for good planning. I attribute much of the lack of travel drama to the care each captain took in monitoring winds, waves, tides, currents, and weather conditions in advance of expected travel days. Also, captains′ meetings were held each evening prior to travel. With combined input, wise decisions were made, plans tweaked, and safe travels ensured.

Favorite Spots?

Honestly, there were so many it would almost be easier to list spots that weren′t favorites! And, even then, it typically wasn′t the area that wasn′t a favorite, it was the marina. There were a very few of the marinas that were in poor repair or, in one case, staffed by less-than-friendly folk. In general, while the marina may have been undermaintained, the surroundings were usually, if not spectacular, at least interesting and fun to explore and the staff were usually helpful and friendly.

That being said, if you force us to list favorites, we might say for Washington: Port Townsend, Anacortes, Friday Harbor, Gig Harbor, Stuart Island, Poulsbo, LaConner and Langley; for British Columbia: Chatterbox Falls/Princess Louisa Inlet (I believe this was the #1 “stand out” for all of us), Victoria, Butchart Gardens, Madeira Park on Pender Island and Ganges on Salt Spring Island. But even some stops that aren′t listed here, had unforgettable highlights and amazing people who made sure that all our needs were met and who greeted us like friends.

Memories For A Lifetime

With the first boat departing Anacortes on September 17 for its return trip to Rio Vista and the others to follow shortly thereafter, we all had memories to cherish and share for a lifetime. These include, but are not limited to: the crazy bus ride to the pub at Montague Harbor, the discovery of the Skookumchuck Bakery in the woods at Egmont, choosing T-shirts from the honor-system treasure chest on Stuart Island, hiking the Willingdon Beach Trail in Powell River that was lined with artifacts from the town′s logging hey days and crossing into the historic Townsite district. Not to mention the many shared meals, potlucks at the docks as well as dining at the fine pubs and restaurants at the marinas and in the towns, the eyepopping scenery, the laughter at our mistakes (fortunately, there were none with any catastrophic outcomes), meeting up with old friends in Fisherman Bay and in Victoria, making new friends along the way, hearing “oh, you′re the group from California” as we worked our way from marina to marina, and, perhaps best of all, the sense of accomplishment that “the group from California” managed to come together and pull off an amazing adventure of a lifetime.

Where Our Travels Took Us

A-H in the map key identifies the first section of our travels which took us throughout the San Juan Islands. I-Z identifies the second phase and was the Canadian portion of our adventure. Finally, 1-9 identifies our Puget Sound stops. H

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