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john s 211 05-23-2013 10:17 PM

first time cruising the San Juan Islands

New guy here on the site. We're planning our first cruise in the PNW in early July. We're chartering a 47 GB Classic from NW Explorations out of Bellingham. Current plan has us out for about a week, cruising to Sucia, Poet's Cove (Pender Isl), Victoria, Roche Harbor, Friday Harbor, Jones Island, and Eagle Harbor. Would appreciate any suggestions / advice re our itinerary, things to see and things to avoid, etc. I've enjoyed reading many of your posts...please toss any ideas you might have...thanks! ~ john

Nsail 05-23-2013 10:39 PM

I'm sitting in Friday Harbor now. You'll love everything on your list. But, you have one major problem with your plans - way too many stops in that amount of time. You'll need to cut it at least in half in order to enjoy this wonderful area! Save some for next time!

Rusty 05-23-2013 11:26 PM

If you are going to Victoria, make reservations for the Causeway docks well in advance. Summer is popular. Greater Victoria Harbour Authority

Nsail is right. Relax and enjoy. Don't try to do it all in a week. Extend your stay or come back again.

I was in Roche Harbor two weeks ago for the Grand Banks rendezvous. We ahd a great time.

Pau Hana 05-23-2013 11:54 PM

Excellent advice. If I may add- reservations at Roche and Friday are also a good idea. You may want to bypass Friday and anchor overnight at Spencer Spot or Garrison Bay. Don't miss the colors ceremony at Roche!

Make sure you study your charts and tide tables- these waters have plenty of underwater surprises just waiting to ruin your vacation.

Another vote for limiting your stops- Vic is a great place to visit, but I recommend places like Otter Bay, Rosario, Reid Harbor, etc.

SomeSailor 05-24-2013 09:25 AM

I agree with limiting a bit (scratch Victoria), but I would leave Friday Harbor in. Great place to stretch your legs and finish provisioning. I used to cram together trips like that on my 28 footer, but cruised at 30 kts. In a GB you'll wanna taylor to your speed a bit.

Codger2 05-24-2013 10:17 AM

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Originally Posted by Pau Hana (Post 158562)
Another vote for limiting your stops- Vic is a great place to visit, but I recommend places like Otter Bay, Rosario, Reid Harbor, etc.

Too many stops scheduled for the length of time you have, however, Victoria is not one of them. I love the place!

Phil Fill 05-24-2013 10:37 AM

Our favorite is Deer Harbor which is in a quiet bay, has swimming pool and general store. There is a small passenger boat to Friday Harbor. Friday is too crowed and touristy, but nice for a day. Then we go to Sydney which is nice tourist marina. There are daily buses to Victoria and Butchard Gardens. If you try to go to Victoria make sure you watch the weather and tides. In the middle of the strait we decided we need a bigger boat. Crossing early in the morning before the thermals come up, before 10, is best. Then on the way back we might hit Roche which to us was is pricey, not much to do and stuffy.

OFB 05-24-2013 12:27 PM

Weather will probably have your destinations pulled back a bit. Sidney BC is a nice spot to stop and see the Victoria end of Vancouver island. Yet close to some of your other destinations. Just a thought.

windmist 05-24-2013 02:20 PM

This is my take on a couple of stops you have listed.

Poet's Cove is an overpriced marina with very few shore side amenities. Good place to clear Canadian customs if going further north but that's it, in my opinion.

Jones Island - A great stop but in the middle of July very hard to find an empty buoy in the small bay or space on the dock. I suggest that you have an alternative in mind if the bay is full. Reid Harbor on Stuart Island would be a good choice but Jones is wonderful if you can get in. It has a great trail and tame deer's that will eat out of your hand.

Sucia Island is a must stop. You can grab a buoy or anchor in Echo Bay or go to Fossil Bay which has lots of buoys and dock space. The island has lots of great trails as does Stuart Island.

Maybe go this route:

Bellingham to Sucia

Sucia to Jones or Stuart

Jones or Stuart to Sidney to clear customs and spend the night

Sidney to Victoria. Long trip so you won't have much time to spend in town

Victoria to Roche Harbor

Roche Harbor to Friday Harbor

Friday Harbor to Bellingham On your way back poke into Jones to see if there is an empty buoy. Is so, spend a few hours walking around. That will be enough to see it.

I left out Eagle Harbor as I think it is out of the way. A pretty bay but there are lots of pretty bays in this area.


JohnWms 05-24-2013 03:14 PM

Here are some of the high points in rough order from "big city" to "secluded anchorage". Since I travel with women and children, who generally want to be entertained with pools, restaurants, and stores, we usually pick one place from the upper part of the list and stay there two nights. This gives us a full day in "civilization". Then we stay one night in a spot from the lower end of the list. Then repeat.

When I go by myself, which is rare these days, I usually reverse the choices.

The challenge is to arrange the stops so travel time is about two or three hours on days you are changing ports. You also have to factor in provisioning, fuel, garbage disposal, and any necessary customs stops. Busy weekends and most weekdays of late summer call ahead to marinas to see if there is moorage available.

Friday Harbor
Roche Harbor
Deer Harbor
Fisherman Bay
Garrison Bay
Reid Harbor
Turn Island

Rusty 05-24-2013 03:41 PM

I would encourage you to consult the folks at Northwest Explorations. Brian and his folks can steer you to the best places based on what you want out of your experience there and the time available to you.

There are many great places to go and fun things to do. Too many things to see and do in one week. You may want something completely different out of your trip than we do when we are there.

john s 211 05-25-2013 08:48 PM

All --- thanks for your feedback. I really appreciate the input -- never having cruised up in this area, it's good to lean on some local knowledge. I've just started cracking a number of cruising guides (Waggoner, Douglass, Scherer) and am starting to pore over NOAA charts for the area. I like to know where I'm boating, and find that the research in advance is part of the adventure. My wife and I have a place on the Jersey Shore, and unfortunately expect the summer there post-Sandy to be pretty challenging on the water. We lived in Seattle (and loved it) for a brief period back in 2000, and figured this year might be a particularly good time to return.

Our plan is to mix it up a bit between a few days in quiet and secluded anchorages and a few in some of more developed islands. Your pretty universal feedback regarding how many stops to make over the course of the week is clearly important. Assuming we'll be running "Trawler speed" (~8-10 knots) between stops, I'll need to determine typical travel time. JohnWms --- your point re 2-3 hours per travel day is dead-on. Post 3 hours, the risk of a mutiny on board grows exponentially. Rusty -- I dropped a note to the guys at NWE as suggested to get their recommendations as well. Good idea.

Thanks again for your feedback. It was incredible to see how many different posts filled the thread so quickly. Obviously some passion out there for these cruising grounds...

markpierce 05-25-2013 09:11 PM

Virtually every cruise ship venturing Alaskan waters stops at Victoria, but don't let that stop you.

Alaskan Sea-Duction 05-26-2013 01:35 AM

This is a MUST have for you.

Home | Waggoner Cruising Guide

bobc 05-26-2013 10:02 AM

Skip Canada
As others have said, it would be best to simplify your trip. I would suggest that you drop Canada altogether. It's a great place to visit, but for one week, I think you'd be better to choose one, or the other.

Here's an example of what you could do for a float plan

1) Sucia for a night. I would probably skip this for a first night and stay a couple of nights on the way back, but with a new boat, and being new to the area, this makes an easy day out of B'ham. If you're up to it, head over to Stuart for the first couple of nights.

2) After a couple of nights on the hook, Friday Harbor is a nice place to take a slip. Given the size of your boat, a reservation is probably a must. They have a good grocery store (hardware store, West marine,), so you can stock up on all the things you forgot to bring. The also have a movie theater. You can rent mopeds as a fun way to explore this rather large island.

If you do want to go into Canada, you can go North from Stuart into Bedwell Harbor to clear customs for Gulf Island stops. If you have your heart set on Victoria, you could head down from Roach Harbor or Garrison Bay.

3) Make the short hop to Fisherman's bay on Lopez and anchor in the bay for a couple of nights. If you're in the area on the 4th of July, they have a great fireworks show. That's the good news. The bad news is that you could practically walk across the bay given the number of boats that will be anchored in there. You might still be able to reserve a slip, but they require a three-day minimum for the 4th. If you do go, be sure to check out the fish tacos at Bucky's Island Grill in the village. It's about a 1 mile walk. Lopez is the island for riding bikes. You can rent them near the dock. Getting in and out of of the bay is tricky. I'd suggest that you do it on a rising tide. Study the charts, including the one in Waggner's.

4) Make a reservation and spend a night or two at Rosario resort. You have a choice of a small marina, or a mooring buoy. I think they have a shuttle that can take you into the town of East Sound, which is more than 5 miles away. If you stay a couple of nights, you'd have time to rent a car and drive up Mt. Constitution. Great views, and plenty of hiking -- if you like to hike. Bring sturdy shoes for hiking. The resort has swimming pools and hot tubs, so bring a swimming suit.

5) Head back to Sucia for a couple of nights.

Tonic 05-26-2013 02:31 PM

I don't know about Rosario's buoys, but just a quick thought on the State park mooring buoys and the OP's chartered 47 footer. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe most, if not all, of the San Juan area park buoys have something like this posted on them...

Up to 24’ = 3 boats may raft
25’-36’ = 2 boats may raft
37’-45’ = 1 boat only
over 45’ = no boats
(my bold)

It would probably depend on the individual park ranger, the conditions, and whether the boat has "47" clearly marked on it, but he could get kicked off a buoy.

john s 211 06-04-2013 10:10 PM


Thanks again for your advice. Working up first blush plans here and wanted to see if I can get some additional feedback. Looks like we will be somewhat limited time-wise --- only out for six/seven nights. Sailing out of Bellingham, we thought we might run first day to Rosario, then Friday Harbor, to Roche, then two nights on the hook at Reid Harbor, and finish up with another two nights on Succia. As you can see, we eliminated the Canada run --- recognizing there just wasn't enough time to get it in. So --- here are my questions:

- still too ambitious, or can we make this work without being too jammed?
- assuming this general route, and assuming typical cruising speed 8-12 knots, am I staying within ~ 3 hour passage each day?
- final question a bit more detailed: we spent some time in the San Juan's back in 2000 and had the chance to visit Roche, Friday, and Rosario. While they are obviously beautiful places, if we decided to skip those in favor of places we haven't been, any suggested alternatives that fit our general cruising envelope?

Again -- any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks for your past posts and any additional information you have to offer.



john s 211 06-05-2013 06:52 AM

Tonic -- thanks for the heads up regarding size limits on the state park mooring balls. Question -- are most/all of the mooring fields in the San Juan's operated by the state parks dept? Should I assume that those size restrictions will be the general rule pretty much every where we cruise there?

JohnWms 06-05-2013 01:53 PM

Roche used to have mooring balls and a launch service but I don't think they do that any more. I never used it so have no first-hand knowledge. Other than that I don't know of any other mooring buoys you could use that aren't managed by the state.

I wouldn't be comfortable using a state park mooring buoy with a larger boat anyway. Your own anchor is going to be better.

Four consecutive nights at anchor, two at Reid Harbor and two at Sucia, are going to require a good bit of supplies. Roche is probably not the best spot to do the provisioning but it's not too bad. The store is small. Also will need to make sure you have plenty of water and holding tank capacity for four nights. That would be my only concern with that schedule but it's probably very minor. Not clear how many on board for this trip.

Phil Fill 06-05-2013 04:09 PM

I would like to throw in Deer Harbor which you can also anchor in the bay and its well protected. They have a general store, swimming pool, hot tub and restaurant. We make Deer our home port when in the San Juan’s. Everything is with in a couple of hour cruise, and the best thing is a daily passenger ferry/taxi to Friday. Friday is way to busy and crowded.

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