2023 / #12 Gulf Islands to Shilshole

by | Aug 12, 2023 | 2023 Posts

Monday, August 7. The day started calmly enough. Gabriola Passage was just around the corner from our anchorage and slack was a bit after 9:00 so everything was set for a leisurely start. Once we were through the passage we headed south. There were lots of boats, more in sight at one time than we saw over the space of a month on the north coast. Between dodging boats and avoiding floating logs we were kept busy. And we had to decide where to go for the night.

We wanted to avoid some place that was too busy but we wanted a marina where we could get showers. So we chose Port Browning and made a reservation. We arrived shortly after 2:00 and that’s when the chaos began. First, we were the last of five boats to arrive at almost the same time. By the time they got to us they appeared to have lost our reservation, or at least never communicated it to the man on the dock. After finally sorting it all out we were assigned a slip and managed to dock in a gusty cross wind. We had been hovering among a field of boats on mooring buoys for an hour trying to avoid hitting any of them. We were pretty frustrated at that point. But the coup de gras came on checking in to find out that there were no showers because of a severe water shortage on the island.

We decided to go for a short hike but our luck for the day continued. The trail shown on my hiking app turned out to be a road on private land, now marked “No Trespassing”. So we turned around and headed to the grocery store to score a pint of ice cream. At least that worked as expected. In the end we had to choose between hot sponge baths and cold cockpit showers, I chose some of each, but at least we are clean. Karen’s wasp bites are almost gone so we are both happy campers, ready to go somewhere else tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 8. When we left Port Browning and headed out towards Haro Strait it was windy and choppy. It felt kind of like the forecast. But as we got out into the strait the wind died, as did the waves and it was very smooth and calm.

Our next order of business was to clear US Customs using their CBP ROAM app. In the past this has meant going someplace with good cell coverage but with our Starlink system we have excellent wifi anywhere so we decided to head to Sucia Island, where cell coverage is usually poor (one bar, 3G, Canadian carrier). We arrived in Shallow Bay and picked up a mooring buoy, since it was handy, and fired up the Starlink and the app. We submitted our data (we listed our arrival city as Sucia Island, WA) and had to wait about 10 minutes before a person set up a video link. We chatted for a minute and answered some simple questions; he sounded quite surprised when we told him we had entered Canada on May 25th. He approved our entry and we got a confirmation email with the clearance number. It took all of 15 minutes, including the wait, and worked seamlessly. Thank you Starlink.

We love Sucia for all the great trails so now we had to take a hike. After lunch we rowed ashore and hiked a little used trail to Fossil Bay and back. It didn’t seem far but my tracker said we went 5.2 miles. It wasn’t hot but it was pretty muggy so we had to take sponge baths again when we got back to the boat, more abbreviated this time. By now there were 20 boats in Shallow Bay. Gone are the days when we had every anchorage all to ourselves. It’s a definite culture shock we aren’t quite used to yet.

Wednesday, August 9. The best feature of Shallow Bay is the sunsets, unfortunately it was cloudy. The wind died after dinner and we drifted around our mooring buoy until it was right next to the hull and the tap, tap, tap started. The only thing we could do was shorten up the mooring line so the buoy was right under the bow of the boat. That seemed to minimize, though not eliminate, the tapping and we had no difficulty sleeping.

There were a few showers overnight and in the morning so we slept as late as we could and delayed our start as much as possible. We decided to go to Blind Bay as it’s fairly well protected from the southerly winds we are having these days and there is lots of room to anchor. The latter is important because there are so many boats cruising the San Juans every place is crowded. It was an uneventful trip except for the waves putting salt spray on the windows and when we reached Blind Bay we had no difficulty finding a spot away from other boats. The south wind increased all afternoon and changed direction between southeast and southwest. This sent the boat moving around on the end of its rode, but other than the sound of our flags flapping it was quiet and comfortable. So we got some chores done and Karen made chocolate chip cookie dough for eating later with the last of our ice cream from Port Browning. We truly live a life of decadence.

Thursday, August 10. We didn’t have any plan for a destination when we weighed anchor and got underway, except in the direction of home. We headed for Rosario Strait to look at conditions in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If they were rough our timing was such we could head over to Deception Pass and go through at slack. If conditions in the Strait were favorable we could head across. And if neither of those possibilities worked out we could stay the night in either Hunter Bay or Watmough Bay. It seems we often decide on a destination at the last minute depending on conditions at the time.

This time conditions in the Strait were pretty good, a mild breeze from the south and a low swell from the west added interest to what would might have been flat water. We headed across for a trip that averages three hours, if we don’t have any current. Today we had a flood current of almost two knots against us and it seemed a perfect time to clean out the diesel engine by running it near maximum RPMs for a while. We do this every once in awhile and find it adds three knots to our boat speed, burns up some of our excess fuel and makes one heck of a racket, which we counter by wearing ear plugs. It was good for the engine, according to my mechanic, and the trip took slightly less time than average. And for a special treat, as we neared Point Wilson to enter Puget Sound a submarine passed us heading out.

Our destination for the night was to be Mystery Bay, a state park just off Kilisut Harbor on Marrowstone Island. We like to go there at the end of our cruises for two reasons. The first is the walk to the Nordland Country Store for an ice cream bar. Unfortunately, the store was still closed from a fire but we looked in the window and the interior looks ready for fixtures to get the store back in operation. The second reason is the excellent blackberry picking along the road between the state park and the store. This year they were just starting to get ripe so we only picked two bags. Yum!

Mystery Bay is becoming a difficult place to visit. There is a small dock and mooring buoys but proper anchoring space is a long way away because of a no-anchor zone near the state park and all the resident boats on permanent buoys filling the bay. This is tough on those, like us, who don’t have a powered dinghy. And now the pier leading to the dock has been closed due to structural issues so even if you tie to the dock you have to dinghy ashore. But the blackberries are worth it. And there are nice sunsets, too.

Friday, August 11. The sunset was nice and the breeze died about then so it was wonderfully peaceful all night long; the stars were bright in the middle of the night. In the morning we headed for home, and for the first time ever we had current going with us for the whole journey, The speed varied depending on where we were but so long as we were careful about staying away from back eddies the current just kept pushing us along.

There were plenty of boats traveling in Puget Sound, but we only saw one large cargo ship and we had no difficulty avoiding all of them. Karen brought us into our home slip a bit after 2:00 and we could officially say our 2023 cruise to the North Coast of British Columbia was over. We had been gone for 11 weeks and 2 days. We were so at home on Mischief that we had a hard time remembering where things were in our house, especially things we also had on the boat; just where do we keep the paper towels, anyway? But we definitely like being back in the land of unlimited hot showers and heated towels, even though the room moves if you close you eyes. Next will be catching up with all our friends and settling back into life at home until our next cruise.

To summarize our cruise, we anchored on all but 10 days of our 79 day cruise, 87% of our days away. Of those 10, nine were spent at marinas and 1 tied to a buoy. On those 69 days we anchored, 31 were in bays where we were the only boat. Our strategy of exploring places few other people go seems to be working. On 14 days there was only one other boat and on 9 days there were two other boats. The remaining 15 days we had three or more boats for company, mostly in the more popular areas of Desolation Sound, the Gulf Islands and the San Juans. We drove the boat a total of 1682 nautical miles and consumed 667 gallons of diesel fuel. We had days when travel was uncomfortable but we were rarely frightened. We never hit any logs and we never ran aground, despite numerous opportunities. We had our share of boat problems, some brought on by ourselves, but we managed to fix or work around most of them. I think that counts as success in the world of cruising by boat.

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