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Old 07-26-2015, 02:28 PM   #1
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I am looking to do my first ever charter next Fall

The plan is to charter a boat to cruise the San Juans and Gulf Islands during the first two weeks of October next year. Although I grew up in Washington, I haven't been back in the early Fall for 35 years. My question is, "What sort of weather would be typical at that time of year?" A secondary question is how much boat will I need. I will be alone except for maybe a day or two when friends will join me. I am used to boating here in Maine until the end of October, so can deal with cool weather and a bit of wind and chop.
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Old 07-27-2015, 12:18 AM   #2
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Mr. Dunn,
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Old 07-27-2015, 12:27 AM   #3
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Mr. Dunn,


Sorry about the post above. I dunno what happened but it didn't happen the way I wanted it to.


At that time of year you're going to be running into a variety of weather patterns. The warmth of summer will have faded and you're likely to run into more chilly and damp days. There also will probably be more fog and the winds will likely kick up more than they would in the earlier months. It likely will be much like what you would find in Maine.


I wouldn't let that keep me from chartering then, because I don't mind that kind of weather. Just be aware of it, dress for it (rain gear suggested) and have fun.


I don't know how much boating experience you have but if you're boating alone much of that time I'd definitely be looking for something with twin engines and in a 30'-36' range at the most. I suggest twin engines because of the increased maneuverability that comes with twins. Something smaller might be better too if your boating experience is limited.


The San Juans are pretty sheltered so you won't need a large boat because of winds and waves. A good friend of mine boats in the SJ's a LOT and has a 28' Bayliner 2859. They're a good design for the PNW, handle well and will take nearly anything the SJ's can throw at you.


I'd also look for something that has easy access from the helm to the exterior of the boat for handling lines, adjusting fenders, etc.
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Old 07-27-2015, 12:55 AM   #4
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I have pretty decent boating experience (45 years) on boats up to 50 feet. Basically I was wondering if a bigger boat was warranted by Fall conditions. I normally run a36 footer and have never run twin engines.
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Old 07-27-2015, 02:37 AM   #5
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I have pretty decent boating experience (45 years) on boats up to 50 feet. Basically I was wondering if a bigger boat was warranted by Fall conditions. I normally run a36 footer and have never run twin engines.
We chartered a 42 footer - sail though, not power, in late September last year to do the San Juans. We brought serious foul weather gear, rain gear, the works, just to be well prepared. Never used it once. Freakishly beautiful weather every day - although we did wear heavy sweaters a few times, and heavy coats one day.
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Old 07-27-2015, 02:56 AM   #6
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I have pretty decent boating experience (45 years) on boats up to 50 feet. Basically I was wondering if a bigger boat was warranted by Fall conditions. I normally run a36 footer and have never run twin engines.
If your charter comes with twins, the transition should be easy.
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Old 07-27-2015, 03:27 AM   #7
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October is starting to get iffy out here. There can be very nice weather but it's starting to turn. September is a much better month. All the rug rats and yard apes are back in school so most family vacations are over, but the weather is generaly still great. Far fewer boats out and about than in the July/August "boating season."

We do not cruise in June through August. We take the boat out but anymore we only go to an anchorage in the islands the public doesn't use because they can't go ashore as the surrounding islands are all private with no public access. It's far too crowded and touristy in the San Juans during the summer for our taste.

We cruise from September through May. But starting in October our cruising is more and more dictated by the weather and wind. In the past some Octobers have been as nice as Septembers. Other Octobers, particularly more recently it seems, have been seeing stronger and more frequent periods of wind.

Fog in the islands is pretty common in the fall as the weather starts cooling off and getting more damp, although it generally burns off by mid-day. If it's foggy we boat in the fog but some people are uncomfortable doing this. The attached photo shows a very typical situation with heavy fog "bands" lying right down onto the water in the channels and passes between the islands. So if you don't want to be limited in your travel by fog you'll want to charter a boat with a decent radar and know how to use it.

If one lives here and keeps their boat here the tempermental fall, winter and spring weather is no big deal; you simply put off a run into the islands until the weather is better. If one is chartering and so has to commit to set dates, October can be a bit more of a craps shoot than September.
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Old 07-27-2015, 09:48 AM   #8
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Marin, I know that October is more iffy than September. What I wanted to know is how much more iffy. How bad does the weather get. I can deal with a little fog as it does get just the tiniest bit foggy here on the Maine coast now and then (i.e., if you can't handle fog, you never leave the dock in July and August). Just how much wind and chop would be normal for early October. I won't be coming out in the summer because I have to stay here in Maine and run my boats. The plan is to haul out at the end of September and then go west for a couple of weeks.

I have been out in poor weather (full gales off shore, etc.) and really don't have any great need to do it again.

By the way, your picture is what I would call a completely clear day. I do see the haze in the distance. The picture below is Southwest Harbor, ME last Tuesday. My boats are in the marina on the left side of the picture. Moderate fog like my pic shows would not keep me in port.
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Old 07-27-2015, 10:10 AM   #9
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I'm from new england too, and now cruising in the PNW. Compared to your Maine Cruising, I think you will find the PNW to be a piece of cake. Other than the really big straights, it's pretty much a pond all the time. The big difference here is that it can be very wet, so just dress accordingly. You already understand fog, so big issue there.
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Old 07-27-2015, 10:24 AM   #10
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Thanks Twistedtree. That gives me some confidence. I figured the San Juans would be fairly benign compared to Maine since you are pretty far inland there and my marina slip is three miles from open ocean here. I was looking for local input since my PNW Fall experience is pretty dated. I also know the weather out there has changed quite a bit since I left in the early 70s.
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Old 07-27-2015, 10:29 AM   #11
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Is the boat you're chartering have heat? The average daily lows for Friday Harbor are between 40 and 45 and the highs about 55 to 63 or so. That and the water temperature, goes asking for heat of some sort.
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Old 07-27-2015, 10:38 AM   #12
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Hi Larry, I haven't chosen a boat yet. Heat is definitely something I will require, but not if it is a toasty 63
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Old 07-27-2015, 11:40 AM   #13
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Winds in the so-called northern inland waters, which include the San Juans in the fall are typically SW 5 to 25 knots. When fronts come through the winds can get up to 30-35. Wind waves in the northern waters run from 1 to 3 feet typically with 4 or 5 during the front passages.

As others have said, once one is in the islands while it can be very windy, most of the fetches are not very long so the waves don't get very big. However the currents can run very fast in the passes and channels and when the wind is going the opposite direction of the current it makes conditions very sloppy and the waves can get very steep and close together. Our 30,000 pound cruiser can get bounced and rolled around pretty significantly when this happens.

The fog bank in my photo was not haze. It was a solid band of fog which, when you're in it can reduce visibility to a couple of boat lengths. Last year we transited in the fog a multiple dogleg passage between a couple of islands which at its widest point is perhaps a hundred yards. Outside the band of fog it was as clear as a bell. But in transiting the passage, which has rocks and stuff in it, we never saw either shore. We made the passage solely on instruments. As this fog often forms in straits and passes that carry shipping it's pretty essential to have radar.

The attached photo was taken from the same spot the first photo was taken but about two hours earlier.
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Old 07-27-2015, 03:40 PM   #14
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Thanks Marin,

The conditions you describe sound pretty benign for October. 1-3 feet is pretty flat water. We actually have wind against current situations here in Maine so I know how to deal with that sort of condition. I can also deal with fog. I lived on the water in Olympia as a kid so I know what real fog is like. A couple of boat lengths visibility isn't bad. What I hate is when you can't see the bow For me fog is more of an annoyance than anything else. I don't enjoy it, but it isn't really a problem either, particularly not with modern navigation systems. By the way, we have rocks here on the coast of Maine too. Actually, except for the southern tip of the state, the entire coast is rocky .

I imagine boat traffic in the San Juans is greatly diminished in early October. The ferries aren't much of a problem since they tend to be pretty much on schedule. Here the biggest problems are lobster boats, which often run faster than conditions merit and sometimes don't pay much attention to traffic, and lobster gear. You have to keep very alert to miss the lobster gear which is about 100 times more common that crab traps in the PNW. If you head toward Bar Harbor, you also have to deal with cruise ships and whale watcher boats. The cruise ships aren't much of a problem because the Coast Guard will let you know if you are too close. Whale watchers are more of a risk because they run quite fast (20+) and aren't that loud if you are up wind.

I was asking mostly to see how much boat I might need for conditions. The conditions you describe won't be a problem in pretty much anything I might charter.
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Old 07-27-2015, 06:27 PM   #15
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I was asking mostly to see how much boat I might need for conditions. The conditions you describe won't be a problem in pretty much anything I might charter.
You are correct. Before we bought the diesel cabin cruiser we ran around the San Juans in our first boat, which we still have: a 17' Arima sport fisher. (photo). We'd launch at Skyline in Anacortes and run across Rosario Strait to our property in the islands and then spend a couple of days on the boat. We did this year round. We'd watch the weather, of course, and we wouldn't go out when it was real rough. But most of the time we had no problems at all, even in February.

I don't know how many people you're going to have with you, but popular boats in the islands are Nordic Tugs (26,34, 37 feet), GB32, 36 and 42, all sorts of Tollycrafts in the 26 through 40-something feet, Bayliners in every size imaginable, particularly the ones in the 30 to 40 foot range, and the sport fishing boats like C-Dorys, SeaSports, Grady-Whites, Trophys, Arimas and so on .

You can run around in the island in just about any weatherand be fine. The only bodies of water that can get pretty nasty are the ones around the outside of the island cluster: Rosario Strait, Haro Strait, Boundary Pass, the east end of the Juan de Fuca Strait and the bottom end of the Strait of Georgia. You have to cross at least one of them to get into the islands themselves. But most of the time they're in a pretty good mood so no problems.
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Old 07-27-2015, 08:45 PM   #16
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TDunn,

I think most of what should be said has been said. I would not be afraid of the weather in October at all here. October can shape up to be some of our driest weather. Yes, there will be the rain possibility and wind is also possible. However, I think you will enjoy it! We are in the middle of a month in the south sound and am finishing our trip in Lake Washington. By far the roughest water we have encountered has been on the lake. It is ironic. I would suggest something with an enclosed command bridge. If you can get inside and stay dry the weather outside matters less! There is nothing better than a cool fall day in the PNW!

Safe travels!
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Old 07-27-2015, 09:38 PM   #17
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Thanks guys. It looks like I will be OK with whatever I decide to charter.

Marin, as I said, I will be alone for most of the trip, but may have non-boater guests for a couple of days. I am thinking in terms of a smaller Nordic Tug or smaller Grand Banks, but that will depend on what is available next Fall. I have cruised the San Juans before, but that was back in 74/75. I was solo on a Venture 21 sailboat then.
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Old 07-27-2015, 10:27 PM   #18
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I have cruised the San Juans before, but that was back in 74/75. I was solo on a Venture 21 sailboat then.
Well, the islands and rocks and reefs haven't moved around much since then so I suspect the only thing you'll find that's changed is the huge growth in the numbers of expensive homes along the shorelines and the number of boaters cluttering up the place. But in September/October the number of boaters on the water drops dramatically so it's very pleasant.

Personally I would not spend a cruising vacation in the San Juans but would head for the Gulf Islands across the border. Better scenery, less people ashore and afloat, and, in our opinions, much more unique and interesting destinations, both harbors and anchorages. We find it much more enjoyable cruising than the San Juans, which we have come to feel are a bit of a yawn.

Fortunately everyone has their own preferences. Otherwise we'd all be in the same place at the same time in the same kind of boat.

PS-- If you decide to charter a GB I can recommend Northwest Explorations in Bellingham. To my knowledge they don't have a GB32 in their charter fleet, but they have everything else from 36 feet to 52 feet. There are other charter outfits in Belllingham and there are good ones in Anacortes, too. Most of them have a large variety of boats in their fleets as you probably know.
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