Small Boat Paradise

by · December 1, 2016

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:

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.

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Discussion1 Comment

  1. Yes…I will be sending along an article! Love this column…exploring and cruising in small craft is the best!!

    from Coastal North Carolina, southern outer banks~

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