Clark & Barnes – Islands at the Edge

Sailing to the outer San Juan Islands can be a delightful experience. Destination islands that are often passed over by those who ride the Washington State ferries or boaters who prefer the amenities of mooring at marinas where there are docks to access restaurants, shopping, and a place to walk the family dog. Not to mention chatting with other boaters about their vessels, adventures at sea, and new harbors they plan to visit. Clark Island and Barnes Island are separated by a narrow channel and are located northeast of Orcas Island. Barnes is the smaller of the two islands in this photo.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


Clark Island is a 55-acre Washington State Marine Park offering two primitive campsites and nine mooring buoys for visiting boaters. Sandy beaches on the west side and smooth pea gravel beaches on the east side await visitors year-round. With its proximity to Anacortes and Bellingham, the island is a popular kayaking site and a perfect waypoint for paddlers traveling through the northern islands. Closer access, after a ferry ride, can be found on Orcas Island at North Beach and Obstruction Pass. Use caution when approaching the islands, because strong currents can ebb and flow between the islands and large waves from passing commercial traffic can wash ashore from Rosario Strait.


Clark Island – Photo credit: Washington State Dept. of Ecology

Besides birdwatching, camping, and fishing, Clark Island’s undersea walls attract scuba divers who see starfish, sea urchins, anemones, and sea squirts. Those exploring the shore can view a large variety of marine life in tide pools.

My husband and our neighbor dove on a shipwreck out of Port Hardy, Vancouver Island, Canada. While on the dive, a Wolf eel wriggled from his hiding place, giving them a big face-to-face surprise. Eels are normally shy and don’t approach divers. Back aboard the charter boat, the captain told them that some divers will feed them sea urchins to entice them out of their dens. Not an activity we’d recommend, because they’ve been known to bite fingers. Below is a photo of a sea urchin, a favorite food of eels and sea otters. Crabs also like to eat them.


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Barnes Island is a private island that is off-limits to visitors. However, not all visitors. On October 22, 1978, federal agents arrived and interrupted a smuggling operation being conducted out of a cabin on its eastern shore, seizing two tons of marijuana and arresting six men. I was astonished to learn that this event occurred not many years before we began sailing in the San Juan Islands and visited Clark Island for the first time. If you’d like to know more about this case, you may read about it here.


Barnes Island – Photo credit: Washington State Dept. of Ecology

The two islands were first named Islas de Aquays in 1792, by the Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza, in honor of his patron the Viceroy of Mexico, Juan Vicente de Guemes, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo. But like many of the San Juan Islands, some of them were renamed by Charles Wilkes during the Wilkes Expedition of 1838-1842. He named Clark Island to honor John Clark, a midshipman, and Barnes Island to honor a sailor. Both men were killed during the Battle of Lake Erie of the War of 1812.

Captain Charles Wilkes is famous for exploring the west coast of North America, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, the Columbia River, San Francisco Bay, and the Sacramento River in 1841. He also held the first American Independence Day celebration west of the Mississippi River in Dupont, Washington, on July 5, 1841. Today, Captain Charles Wilkes Elementary school on Bainbridge Island, Washington, bears his name.


Charles Wilkes – Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare His praise in the coastlands.” (Isaiah 42:12 – NKJV)

Thank you for exploring the San Juan Islands with me!




Photo Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
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