Paradise in Washington State:

We are just closing the second chapter of our retirement journey. Chapter one was the tent camping trip to Illinois. Chapter two was six weeks in the San Juan Islands in our small “Pocket Cruiser” a 23 foot Aquarius Sailboat. This last week we spent with our daughter, Renee, and her husband, Neil, and our good friends, Phil and Sue Owen. This was a new experience for Neil, but all of the rest of us have done this type of cruising many times before. Neil adapted very well, and we had several days of glorious sailing before he and Renee had to return to the “work-a-day” world. Judy and Gary with Phil and Sue continued on for three more days, before we too returned to Anacortes and pulled our boats from the water, and returned to Oregon. We will be here for about two weeks, while we change over to a 34 foot motor home. We will visit around while we are here, you can always contact us at 503-803-6698.

Paradise in Washington State:

Our first trip to the San Juan Islands was in August of 1974. We have repeated that experience in some fashion for 30 years. Sometimes we work our way up into the Canadian Gulf Islands, other years we towed our boat all the way to Desolation Sound or Barkley Sound. Somehow you would think it would all get boring. I am going to attempt to give you a glimpse of what it is that draws us back like a magnet.

First, of course, is the spectacular scenery. The islands are forested with dense groves of Cedar, Douglas Fir and Madrona. Many of the islands we visit are protected as State Parks. There are walking paths on many of the islands. You are able to stroll through ancient forests and meet deer that are so tame, they do not take flight at your presence. You step around an array of black, green and tan slugs. You can explore tidal pools with crabs, starfish, shrimp and a variety of kelp. You see towering cliffs carved into grotesque shapes by the winter storms. These islands have been folded, scraped by glaciers and up-tilted in their formation. Some of the formations are aggregates of sand and round gravel cemented together, other places limestone and basalt are the basic building blocks for the islands. Soils are always very thin and water is never plentiful.

The waterways are a challenge too. This is an area of the world with ten foot tides and currents that sweep through treacherous channels at five or six knots. It is best if you plan your route carefully with charts and tidal current tables. That is particularly true if you boat has a top speed of six knots. There are many protected harbors where you can moor to a dock, hang on a mooring buoy or just hang on your own anchor. Each of these has its own challenges. To get a dock or buoy, you must be early and lucky. To anchor out you need to study the lore of the sea and understand the fine art of staying put where you want to stay. When you learn these skills, you join generations of seafaring people who have learned to meet the challenges that the sea presents.

The people are wonderful too. The people of the San Juan Islands speak of “Island Time.” There are times when you need to be punctual, like when you want to catch a favorable current. Mostly, however, the people who live and visit on the islands are able to take life as it comes. You can walk down a dock and visit with people from many different ports. This trip, for example, we talked to some folks that came here from England to purchase a schooner (about 40 ft long) and sail it back to England. Another couple had a 44 foot power cruiser from Canada. They also have a motor home that they spend their winters in the Southwest of the USA. The local people can be quite interesting also. Some have older boats that they live aboard in the islands year round. They get along on casual work, just enough to meet their needs, and they move from anchorage to anchorage as the spirit moves them.

We always get a big thrill seeing the sea life. Seals are abundant and spend a lot of time people watching. Occasionally we spot a pod of porpoises cruising along. This was one of the lucky years, we caught a glimpse of a small pod of Orca whales in the distance as we approached Sucia Island. The large red jellyfish were everywhere even washed up on the beaches. The children run around with dip nets each evening in the marinas catching shrimp and decorator crabs. It is fun to watch them staring into a bucket as they marvel at the creatures they have caught. Occasionally a fisherman is tied up at the docks in one of the marinas and sell fresh caught salmon, crab or shrimp. We dined in royal fashion several times with seafood as fresh as it gets.

Even now as we write this treatise we know in our hearts that we will return again next year. Yes, it will again be in a small sail boat. There is just something about bounding from wave to wave in a stiff, fifteen mile per hour breeze that makes you feel alive. The boat is tuned to the winds with the mainsail reefed down; and it gives us the feeling of the wind’s power surging through the sails and heeling the boat as it drives us through the waves toward a quiet secluded anchorage.

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