San Juan Islands Trip
Updated: Jan 23, 2022
On Sept 11, 2020 we left Edmonds for our first annual 4 day San Juan Islands trip. The weather was calm but a bit hazy from the wildfire smoke. We went up the East side of Whidbey Island, up through Skagit bay, through Deception then Lopez Pass and on North to Rosario Resort. This route guaranteed us smooth water and calm winds. This leg took us about 6 hours averaging around 9-10 knots - a relatively easy day trip on Clifford.
The tide was going out and the currents swirling through Deception Pass but Clifford's autopilot handled the current with no problems. I could feel a few of the eddies pushing the bow strongly to the side and altering our course slightly before the autopilot corrected the heading. Without the autopilot, it would have been a struggle to keep a steady heading. Pass Island in Deception Pass is in the foreground in the picture below.
The Rosario Resort Marina is well maintained and equipped with everything you need. We recommend eating at the Cascade Bay Grill that also has a small grocery store and coffee bar available. The food was excellent and there's no better place to eat than at the marina overlooking the yachts and sailboats. There is a restaurant in the Moran Mansion but it was closed due to the Coronavirus.
The Resort complex is next door to the marina. Walk the short distance up the small hill to the South and check in first at the main lobby in the Moran Mansion. Then retrieve your bags from the boat since the rooms will be in various buildings between the marina and the mansion. We stayed in a Bayside room which is conveniently located halfway between the mansion and the marina. The hotel requires a minimum two night stay so we used it as a base for the next day's trip to Roche Harbor. From Sept 30-Mar31, the hotel is running a special of two paid nights with the third night free. We highly recommend doing this since you can easily take day trips to anyplace in the San Juans and return here for the night.
The cell phone coverage at the marina is spotty to non-existent. You can put your phone in the cell phone signal booster cradle at the helm to improve the reception. If that doesn't work, walk past the mansion to Rosario Point shown above. You'll get reception and be rewarded with a great view of the inlet to the harbor.
The second day we set out for Roche Harbor. The day trip to Roche Harbor has beautiful scenery, however we were encased in a marine layer and smoke. We activated the radar and made our way at 9-10 knots. Without the radar I would not have felt comfortable cruising that fast. In the picture below you can barely make out a sailboat crossing in front of our bow. The visibility was under one nautical mile. We saw him on radar long before we spotted him. Without radar you would be fatigued with eye strain in conditions like this.
The trip took about 2 hours accounting for carefully passing through the Wasp Islands West of Crane Island. According to Boat US, the number one area for groundings is in this area. There are some places where the rocks are just beneath the surface at low tide. Check your tide chart and the NOAA map on the table in the salon and carefully choose your route before starting out.
We traveled along the South side of Spieden Island on the way to Roche Harbor. The marina at Roche Harbor allows you to dock free of charge at guest moorage for short stays. Guest moorage is at the outer dock on the North side of the marina which is easily accessible.
The town itself was built around the lime mining business and has many historical buildings to observe and visit. We ate at the Madrona bar and grill on the patio overlooking the marina and the food and view was excellent. After lunch we made our way partially around Stuart Island hoping to spot some Orcas. The reduced visibility in the fog made this futile and we headed back to Rosario.
The third day we headed to Port Townsend, stopping at Spencer Spit for lunch. Below is a picture looking North showing the narrow spit with the log cabin at the end.
This is a great place to anchor on the South side of the spit and take the dinghy in for a hike and lunch. The trip to Port Townsend takes about 4 hours without stops. Plenty of time for Uncle Luke and Sterling to negotiate who would eat the other half of the captains candy bar.
We stayed at the Palace Hotel in Port Townsend. Be prepared for a bit of a hike, the hotels are not close to the marina like Rosario, Roche and Friday Harbor.
We ended our trip by cruising the relatively short 2.5 hours to Edmonds. If you're in a hurry, stay to the East side of Morrowstone island. If you stay to the West and go South through the Port Townsend Canal, you have a long no wake zone to slow you down.
All in all it was a good trip even though it was very foggy and smoky. We enjoyed our time together and the time we could spend visiting on the flybridge. Sterling really enjoyed being with everyone and piloting Clifford. He spent hours with both hands on the wheel and keeping a lookout for boats, buoys and ducks on the water, pointing out each one with excitement.