Over Memorial Day weekend we took Belle Starr for a circumnavigation of Lopez Island, the southern most island of the San Juan Island group in northwestern Washington State. Catching the last of the ebb, mid-day on Thursday before the weekend, we sailed east from Port Townsend and tacked in fair to light winds, north along the coast of Whidbey Island.
The plan was to sail to the northeast end of Lopez Island, but having spent most of the day coaxing Belle Starr on light airs, we optioned to cross Rosario Strait and enter the San Juans through Lopez Pass, at the southeast end of Lopez.
The San Juan Islands are notorious for contrary currents with migrating standing waves that challenge a sailor's skill. Standing waves resemble the water in a washing machine with no particular direction or design. This condition can occur whenever two tidal currents collide and/or a wind pattern opposes the tidal flow. It's curious to watch a tide rip move over a body of water and suddenly engulf you in what sounds like rapids on a river.
As we approached Lopez Pass, we negotiated a tide rip two miles wide and four miles long. With the worthy Stone Horse bucking hither and yon, the pass was difficult to separate from false openings in the islands. Once inside however, the rocky entrance opened into the beautiful and inviting Lopez Sound. Our chart showed there might be good anchorage to the southwest in either Mud Bay or Hunter Bay. As we approached, it became obvious that Hunter Bay was the best choice. We set anchor among several other boats and settled in for a comfortable night, as a full gale developed overhead. A high bluff offered ample protection from the prevailing westerlies.
Since we expected to catch the rising tide to push us north sometime around noon, late morning coffee found us absolutely alone in a bay lovely enough to entice a mariner to stay for a while.
Belle Starr is a thoroughbred however and as the tide turned and a breeze came up from the south, she chaffed at her anchor, ready to run. Under mainsail alone she made an easy four knots toward Spencer Spit, on the northeast side of Lopez Island. Washington State maintains a park at Spencer Spit with several buoys and a low sandy beach for access. Bounded to the east by Frost Island, this anchorage is pretty but the spit doesn't offer much for protection from prevailing winds. The boats we saw anchored there were pulling hard on their moorings so we crept around a headland to Swifts Bay. The tiny community of Port Stanley offered no public shore access, but Swifts Bay was a peaceful spot to spend our second night.
The next day we sailed around Upright Head and southwest through Upright Channel to Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island. The wind shifted from south to west which afforded a comfortable broad reach all day. Friday Harbor is a busy place, offering US customs, food, fuel and entertainment. You can imagine what it was like on a holiday. Tied up at the transient dock seemed threatening as boaters who take their craft out for one weekend a year floundered all around, jockeying for the highest profile. We picked up necessary stores and escaped to an anchorage out of the hustle and bustle. There we found our first wood boats of the trip.
Next morning found us sailing tight tacks into a rising southerly in San Juan Channel. It's a heavily used thoroughfare, so a small boat must be wary. The biggest threat to a gunkholer in the San Juan Islands is not the rocks or the weather, but large private motor boats who apparently determine right-of-way according to tonnage.
An ebb tide in the San Juan Channel flows mightily through Cattle Pass directly into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. With the wind on our nose and the current at our back, we battled our way through mostly submerged rocks and a high chop for two nautical miles before finding a steady breeze on the forward quarter which was to carry us all day, back to Port Townsend.
As a footnote, isn't that Junk interesting? Her skipper was busy, concentrating hard, so I didn't interrupt. But I'd like more information about her. If anyone recognizes this craft, please let me know.
I didn't even catch her name...