01 Dec

1 Comment

Small Boat Paradise


Next issue of Small Craft Advisor (Jan/Feb #103) includes a feature article on Small Boat Paradise—thirteen of the best places in North America to cruise a small boat. As much as we love these thirteen spots, we know there are loads of interesting cruising grounds we didn’t cover. With that in mind we’ve decided to keep the feature going as a single-regular column in future issues. If your favorite lake, bay, river or region isn’t featured, please feel free to submit your own Small Boat Paradise article for consideration.

How? It’s simple. Just follow the example template below—write an introduction (approximately 200 words) highlighting the location’s attraction, and then fill in the specific categories: Access Points, Best Time to Visit, Boats You Might See, Why a Small Boat?, Notable Events, Potential Hazards, and A Perfect Itinerary.

Please send your article submission as a Word file or as text pasted in an e-mail to: smallcraftadvisor@earthlink.net

Photos are welcomed but not absolutely necessary. Relevant photo choices (high resolution) can be sent via the same e-mail address. Contributors whose articles are published will receive a one-year print subscription or renewal extension.




Sprinkled across the northern reaches of Puget Sound, flanked by the cities of Anacortes and Bellingham on the east and British Columbia’s Vancouver Island on the west, are the San Juan Islands…a crown jewel among cruising destinations in the Northwest.

Mostly rocky, with reef-studded bays that often feature welcoming sandy beaches at the shallow end, the San Juans are made up of 400 islands and rocks—128 named and worth mentioning—and 478 miles of shoreline. This is truly a small-boat cruising paradise, especially in late spring and early fall, when there are fewer large powerboats churning up the islands’ narrow channels and back bays. (We’ve camp-cruised the San Juans in April, since the islands are in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, enjoying warm afternoons and rarely seeing other boats. The scene in mid-summer is very different!)

The San Juans boast the largest concentration of bald eagles in the continental U.S., along with resident pods of orcas and abundant populations of harbor seals, Dall’s porpoise, black oystercatchers, great blue herons, pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets and other wildlife.

Some of the most popular cruising destinations are on the best-known islands in the San Juans—Sucia, San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, Stuart, Shaw, Blakely, Matia and Jones. Towns and villages include Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor (San Juan Island), Deer Harbor, Rosario and Eastsound (Orcas Island), and Lopez Village (Lopez Island).

Access Points – Small boats usually launch in Anacortes, Bellingham, Sandy Point Shores Marina (northwest of Bellingham) or Port Townsend. While the run into the islands is relatively protected, boaters starting in Port Townsend face a 21-mile open-water crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, mandating a close look at weather conditions.

Best Time to Visit – April or May (before Memorial Day) and September into October (after Labor Day), when there are fewer big, monster-wake powerboats.

Boats You Might See – Whalewatching tourboats, classic schooners like the 133’ Adventuress, SCAMPs, Bartenders, lots of cruising sailboats and recreational fishing boats, along with the aforementioned powerboats.

Why a Small Boat? — The islands are loaded with small back-bay gunkholing spots accessible only by small boat. Plus, trailer boats and car-toppers can get into the middle of the San Juans by boarding Washington State Ferries that depart from Anacortes, with stops at the following islands: Orcas, Shaw, Lopez and San Juan.

Notable Events – Deer Harbor Wooden Boat Rendezvous, first weekend of September.

Potential Hazards – Rocky reefs, fast tidal currents, occasional strong winds, shipping traffic in Haro Strait, Boundary Pass and Rosario Strait, Washington State Ferries and big, scary powerboats on autopilot (forget theoretical rules of the road–just imagine that none of their skippers see you, and steer clear).

A Perfect Itinerary – Loop through the San Juans by sailing west from Anacortes, with possible overnight stops at Fisherman Bay (Lopez Island); Turn Island State Park (adjoining San Juan Island); Jones Island State Park; Prevost Harbor (Stuart Island), or the adjoining cove inside Satellite Island; maybe Roche Harbor (San Juan Island) for groceries and a shower; the inner reaches of Fossil Cove (Sucia Island), and/or the small cove at the southeast tip of Matia Island before returning to Anacortes. The same general route could be followed in reverse if launching at Sandy Point Shores Marina, northwest of Bellingham.

Filed Under: Blog, Uncategorized

31 Oct


An Unlikely Voyage : 2000 Miles Alone in a Small Wooden Boat (Excerpt)


by John Almberg

“What have I gotten myself into this time?”

We were fifteen miles offshore. It was dark—really dark. The west coast of Florida was off to the left, far over the horizon, so I couldn’t even see shore lights. All I could see was the black night all round us, and the occasional ghostly-white crest of a wave.

And stars—a million stars.

I was wedged into a corner of the cockpit. I was comfortable, but not too comfortable. It had been a long time since I’d slept properly, but now wasn’t the time to nod off, tempted though I was.

The wind was still blowing hard enough to need a reef in the main and, with fifteen miles between us and the coast, there was plenty of room for the wind to blow up four-foot seas. They rolled in from the port quarter (left rear corner of the boat), but the Blue Moon didn’t seem bothered by them. She rose lightly and let them slip under her keel without fuss. The sheet-to-tiller steering gear held us on a steady course. I was as relaxed as I’d been so far on the voyage. The Blue Moon was taking care of me for now–perhaps just paying me back for all the loving care Helena and I had lavished on her.

I cast a wary glance towards our only company: a large container ship several miles off the starboard beam, also heading south. I wasn’t worried about her. We were roughly following the three fathom line on the chart. The big ship and her sisters stayed in the shipping lanes and wouldn’t venture into shallow water just to run us down. As long as we stayed out of their way, we’d be fine.

Someone once said that there are only two wildernesses left on earth: the tops of mountains, and the sea. That night, as we rolled along under reefed main and staysail, watching the tip of the mast draw figure eight’s in the star-filled sky, I understood what he meant. The sea hadn’t changed since the pirate Jean Laffitte roamed these waters in his schooner La Diligent in the early 1800s, and the Blue Moon wasn’t all that different from Laffitte’s ship. We had the same amount of electrical power, for instance. That is to say, none, except for the small amount I managed to generate by solar power. Just like Laffitte, most of the lights we had on board were oil lamps. And like the furtive pirate, we weren’t showing any running lights, except for a kerosene light hanging from the mizzen mast.

The Coast Guard, I knew, would take a very dim view of this arrangement. I hadn’t seen a Coast Guard boat since arriving in Florida, but I wouldn’t let us get caught offshore at night again until I had a full set of running lights installed.

Wind, waves, stars, the gentle rolling of a good sea boat… what more could one ask for?

A cup of tea, of course. Must drink something to stay awake.

I soon had my gimbaled stove roaring. It was a delight to be out of the wind, down below, in my snug little cabin, while the Blue Moon steered us towards Tarpon Springs. Why were we the only boat out here on this beautiful spring night? Why didn’t everyone want to do this? At that moment, I couldn’t imagine…


Filed Under: Uncategorized

23 Sep

1 Comment

Finding Pax: The Unexpected Journey of a Little Wooden Boat (Excerpt)



An excerpt from Chapter 2: The Best and Worst of Days, pages 30 and 31

From FINDING PAX: the unexpected journey of a little wooden boat
by Kaci Cronkhite, for readers of Small Craft Advisor


DURING THE HOUR’S DRIVE to Port Angeles and the hour-and-a-half Black Ball Ferry crossing to Victoria, Adam answered questions, offered advice, and quelled my nerves. Outside the ferry terminal, in welcome contrast to the horde of tourists, stood a young man with a fuzzy beard, a fisherman’s cap, and glasses. It had to be the owner, Derk Wolmuth. When he raised a hand, I waved, and within seconds we were on our way to see Pax.

His car smelled like wood smoke and was cluttered in a familiar sailor’s way with tools, rope, books, and bags. I crawled into the backseat, giving Adam the extra leg room as Derk passed around a bag of fresh-steamed salmon buns. His thoughtfulness and the warm local food put us all at ease.

As we made the half-hour trip across the peninsula together, the guys talked wooden boats while I listened, contemplating my decision and watching the British stone formality and urban buzz of Victoria’s inner harbor give way to the open, arty, tree-lined streets of Oak Bay.

Through a clearing in the trees, I spotted sailboat masts and the rocky headlands of Cadboro Bay. The sun was hot on my face when we got out of the car at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club where Derk had Pax moored.

The bay was warmer than Port Townsend, protected from winds in three directions. Only a slight current of tide and whisper of wind nudged the mooring buoys. Otherwise, all was peaceful. Still as a picture.

As we waited for the club’s security gate to open, conversation stopped. I scanned the docks, expecting to see Pax. Derk pointed out into the center of the bay.

Of course. She was unmistakable. The reflection of her tall wooden mast extended toward us like a ribbon on the water.

We followed him to an empty slip marked “RVYC Guest” and waited while he went to get the boat.

As he rowed away, I took a wide-angle picture of the bay with my phone, then zoomed in for a second shot. As I framed him in the foreground and Pax beyond, his face was hidden in shadow, and something else, maybe his posture, made it feel too private a moment. I lowered my camera and instead watched the perfect line of the wake of his rowboat and the even pattern of his strokes on the water.

From what I heard on the drive and could see in his easy manner, he had been rowing and sailing boats his whole life. Now, when he got to Pax, he shipped an oar and put one hand on her cap rail to stop, then crossed the oars and stepped aboard her with the fluidity of a lifelong mariner.

With him in view onboard her, I finally had perspective. She was larger than I thought.

To order the book click here.

28 Jul


Handheld GPS vs Smart Phone Navigation


The boat was leaking. I guess that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, she was half full of water when we arrived at the dock. But a few hours later, even with our hastily-installed automatic bilge pump chugging along and one of us on the hand-pump we were only breaking even. And it didn’t help when the white-capped seas being blown down from the northwest would hammer into the old catboat’s starboard bow and send buckets of water back on everything.

We were planning to deliver the little boat some 20 miles to windward, but the wave action was hard on the hull and her rotten timbers, and we had some concern she might really open up in these conditions. It was time to consider a nearer destination or bail out point in case things went south.

I went to my PFD for my handheld GPS only to discover I’d left it at home. Fortunately I remembered my iPhone, pulled it out and opened the Navionics app. Within seconds I had our location, speed, and detailed chart I could zoom instantly in and out with my fingers. As I was picking our new route I was able to see the real-time weather forecast and tidal currents—and since it was a phone, I was able to call ahead to ask the marina a question.

I’d played around with Navionics on my phone before, but had always viewed it as a secondary or tertiary navigation method after GPS and paper charts. But using my smart phone (in its waterproof case) this time convinced me it had made my handheld GPS more or less obsolete.

In a coming issue we’ll take a closer look at the smart phone vs. handheld GPS question and the pros and cons, and I’ll include comments and strategies from some experienced small-boat cruisers. We’d love to hear from you on the topic. Do you still carry a handheld GPS? Is your smart phone part of your typical navigation strategy? Is the handheld GPS obsolete or on its way to being obsolete?

—Joshua Colvin

Filed Under: Uncategorized