James Island – Sentinel of the San Juan Islands

Standing guard at the entrance to the San Juan Islands, south of Thatcher Pass, is James Island. For several years, we confused James Island with Jones Island, another marine state park near Deer Harbor on Orcas Island unless we consulted a chart. Then an elementary school idea occurred to me as we sailed west from Anacortes and the mainland, passing James Island before Jones Island. Mentally filing their names in alphabetical order solved our problem!


Photo courtesy of Washington State Dept. of Ecology

Our top speed is usually five and a half knots sailing under ideal conditions, a steady wind and a smooth sea. Slow! Speed may be partially to blame, but distance is not. James Island is one of the closest islands to Anacortes, so why has it taken us thirty-one years to stop and visit? Because we’re always on our way to a far flung destination, leaving us no time to stop. That is, until two summers ago.


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

We rendezvoused with a family from church who decided to sail to James Island, introducing their five children to the San Juan Islands for the first time aboard the sailboat they’d built and sailed to Hawaii before they’d become parents. Some of their many activities included fishing, snorkeling in wet suits, crabbing, and hiking the trails on the 113-acre island.

Because of the island’s close proximity to Anacortes, there can be competition for the limited number of campsites, the handful of mooring buoys in the east cove, and space on the seasonal (April to September) dock for four medium-sized boats in the west cove. Anchoring is difficult and not recommended, so arrive with enough time to relocate to another island. In good weather, it’s possible to anchor along the shore of Decatur Head across from James Island. See my chart below.


James Island, looking south from Thatcher Pass toward Admiralty Inlet and the Olympic Mountains.

Shaped like an hourglass, James Island lies on the west side of Rosario Strait, a channel known for its strong north-south flowing currents, sometimes up to two knots when the tides are extreme. To reach the island from Anacortes, whether sailing or motoring,  we often must steer at a 45-degree angle across Rosario Strait to avoid being swept off course.

This same current can sweep past James Island like a river, so use care when entering its east and west coves. And watch for raccoons. They are known to ransack boats at the dock and camping gear searching for food. It’s best to close hatches when the boat is left unattended at the dock and hang food bags at night from a tree like backpackers do in bear country. And far enough from the trunk and limbs, because these animals are great tree climbers!


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Like us, maybe you’ve missed visiting places closer to home or spending time with friends in interesting spots. It’s a new year to make new discoveries. Which ones do you plan to make? I’d enjoy hearing about them!

“The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 – NASB)

Thank you for reading!




This entry was posted in James Island, San Juan Islands & Vicinity, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to James Island – Sentinel of the San Juan Islands

  1. Fred Sandow says:

    Nice summary. Thinking of checking out James Island this weekend! Thanks for posting your thoughts and observations!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.