Double Island – Exploring the Central San Juan Islands (Part 4)

Many people visit Orcas Island’s popular destinations of East Sound and Deer Harbor in the San Juan Islands, often overlooking the tranquility found in West Sound. One of the benefits we’ve experienced anchoring in the cove northwest of Double Island is the dryer and warmer weather compared to Shaw Island’s Blind Bay located a short distance south across Harney Channel. This is especially noticeable when the fog rolls northward through Cattle Pass from the Strait of Juan de Fuca in August—nicknamed ‘Fogust’ in the Pacific Northwest.

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Double Island – Exploring the Central San Juan Islands (Part 3)

One morning we stepped into our sailboat’s cockpit to explore West Sound itself when we noticed smoke billowing from a small powerboat’s inboard engine. Thankfully, by the time we jumped into our inflatable, the two men had doused the fire. When we asked if they needed a tow to West Sound Marina in the northeast corner of the bay, they eagerly accepted our offer. There, they would have access to a chandlery, fuel dock, and a small boatyard.

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West Sound Marina is protected by Picnic Island
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Double Island – Exploring the Central San Juan Islands (Part 2)

Slipping through Pole Pass on the way to Deer Harbor from Double Island in a sea kayak or an inflatable dinghy with a small outboard is easy, but it requires planning. The tight bottleneck channel can become a virtual boat parade route in the summer. The safest approach is to proceed single file, taking turns and watching for the wakes of larger boats. Use a nautical chart and pay close attention to the direction and strength of the current–especially during spring tides when it can race up to two knots and create occasional standing waves. Even larger vessels avoid these and wait for calmer water.


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Double Island – Exploring the Central San Juan Islands (Part 1)

Word of mouth is a good thing, right? A fellow sailor told us of a pretty anchorage between Double Island and Orcas Island, so we planned our first visit. The nautical chart aboard our sailboat shows two adjacent islands connecting at low tide. Locals refer to them as Big Double Island and Little Double Island (aka Alegria Island). Sailing north into West Sound at the eastern end of Wasp Passage, we skirted the west shore and dropped anchor south of the shallow pass between the Double Island group and Orcas Island. Pretty anchorage, yes, but scant protection if a strong south wind should blow and shove us onto a lee shore. Soon wakes from ferry and boat traffic transiting Wasp Passage rolled us from side to side, confirming our suspicions why we had the anchorage almost to ourselves.


S/V Kelpie – Double Island (left) and Orcas Island (right)

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Doe Island – A Gem for Sea Kayakers

My father introduced my husband and I to sea kayaking while we were living aboard our sailboat in Everett Marina. We met at nearby Silver Lake to try out his Easy Rider kayak, bringing our sailing dinghy along for fun. A few years earlier, I’d taken a two-week canoe trip through the Bowron Lakes in British Columbia for college PE (physical education) credit. What a spectacular summer! My younger brother worked for a few years at Eddyline kayaks about the same time, so two members of my family owned these unique boats. Soon after our first paddle in a kayak, I began taking classes at a local university for my master’s degree in teaching. There I met a gal who led kayak tours with her husband in the San Juan Islands. It turned out they were leading the very group my father invited us to join that summer—a circumnavigation around Lopez Island.

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Satellite Island – Camp Orkila’s Outpost

Stuart Island is a favorite destination of ours with its marine state park, one room schoolhouse, and Turn Point Light Station where visitors often see pods of Orca whales. Two sheltered harbors give boaters safe anchorage, but we prefer Reid Harbor because we like to zip across Spieden Channel to Roche Harbor in our 10-ft. inflatable when the weather and current are favorable. Other boaters prefer picturesque Prevost Harbor, home to fun-filled Satellite Island.

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Mt. Baker and Satellite Island

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Sentinel Island – The Last Island Homestead

We motored our sailboat northwest toward the narrow channel between Sentinel and Spieden islands, hoping to spot a few of the exotic animals grazing on the golden grass of the latter island before sunset. Suddenly, we realized we were losing power and our forward momentum dropped to nil. Drifting backward like a cork in the current toward Green Point’s strong riptides off the southeastern tip of Spieden Island, we scrambled to launch the inflatable dinghy with its 15-hp. outboard engine from the stern davits.


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Turn Island – A Washington State Marine Park

Boat camping in the San Juan Islands is a lot of fun! Toss a tent, sleeping bag, and cooking gear ashore and sleep under the stars beside the sea. Sound idyllic? It is—especially after sailing, paddling, or kayaking to your destination with family and friends. One summer, good sailing friends took pity on us when we had to leave our sailboat in a dusty boatyard to have its hull resealed. They invited us to sail to the islands aboard their twenty-foot Flicka. Without room for all four of us to sleep aboard, my husband and I pitched our backpacking tent on the beach. We experienced the best of both worlds and so can you!

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Sailing by Washington State’s Cactus Islands

Moisture sweeps in from the Pacific Ocean, tumbling down as rain or snow on the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Heavy clouds spill 12 to 14 feet of rain each year in the Hoh Rain Forest as they drift northeast before wringing another 18 to 20 inches over the San Juan Islands. Combining this weather pattern with the unique topography of the archipelago and a perfect climate exists for the Brittle Prickly Pear cactus to inhabit San Juan Island, Yellow Island, and the Cactus Islands.


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Watching the World Float by–or Not–on Crane Island

A column titled “No Grief on a Reef” caught my eye. Two articles explained how to navigate a boat through Wasp Passage, the narrow channel separating the western tips of Orcas and Shaw islands, and Pole Pass. Both waterways skirt Crane Island, the largest of the Wasp Islands, and are heavily used by marine traffic. Several times each day Washington State ferries, an occasional tug with a log tow, and a myriad of pleasure boats transit Wasp Passage. Only smaller vessels thread their way through Pole Pass.


Washington State ferry

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