Jill and Henry Warner departed Bainbridge Island on Friday, August 15 about 7:30 AM under foggy, misty skies. Visibility as we rowed out to the boat was about a mile, but once underway rounding Pt. White on Bainbridge, visibility diminished sharply. We turned on our radar and for the next two hours or so, relied heavily on the radar, as visibility had dropped to perhaps around 100 yards. The forecast had been for generally improving conditions throughout the weekend, but Friday was off to a less than optimal start.
Our first stop was the marina at La Conner, WA, which is located on the Swinomish Channel. Approaching the Channel, we passed some houses on Whidbey Island which appeared to be perched at the edge of a steep cliff with beach access via multi-flight stairs. Hopefully no major earthquakes anytime soon! The Swinomish Channel is an 11 mile saltwater channel that separates Fidalgo Island from the Skagit County mainland. I had traveled the length of the Channel once about 30 years ago, but had never stopped at the marina.
Jill and Henry Warner arrived at the La Conner marina about 4:00 PM facing a strong north wind and likewise a strong tidal current through the Channel, also flowing from the north. Both of these factors proved to be a bad combination for us. As we maneuvered towards a slip, I turned the boat around to secure a backed-in orientation. The turning action caused me to get broadside to the strong wind and strong current, which was flowing at about 5 knots. Very quickly we were swept into the bowsprit of an already moored 1998, 45 foot Bayliner. The other boat’s anchor, which was suspended from their bowsprit, caught our dinghy and canvas as we entered the mooring spot.
The result was the worst docking of my boating career, which has spanned over thirty years. The end result was that we ripped one of the zippers on our canvas and sustained a small gash on our dinghy. The other boat had very minor damage in that we added a few more chips to his already chipped bowsprit. Nevertheless, as I had been at fault, we gave him our contact information and filed a claim with our insurance company. This became the first boating collision claim we have ever filed, but that did not make me feel any better.
After settling into the picturesque marina and calming down over happy hour drinks, we heard that another incoming boat had gotten caught by the same combination of wind and current and had also hit the same boat we had brushed earlier! We found out that the second incident did no damage to the moored boat, as their rubber dinghy had acted as a collision bumper, but I did feel ever so slightly vindicated to know that it was not just me who had been challenged by the conditions. Two hours after our incident, though, the winds were calm and the tidal current had stopped flowing at minimum low tide. I remarked to Jill that this case was like stories we hear about occasionally on the news where an early morning car driver slides on a patch of dry ice and is killed when the car runs off the road and slams into a tree. Then two hours later, the sun is shining, the black ice is gone and life goes on for all the rest of the world. As the saying goes – timing is everything.
La Conner is a very picturesque little town with a large selection of restaurants and plenty enough shops to keep Jill happy. We decided that we will come back in the Fall and spend a few days here, but without the boat. Saturday evening we ate at a restaurant whose name pretty much described their menu: Seafood and Prime Rib. Jill had the prime rib and I had the seafood cioppino. We both enjoyed our meals and would go back there again without hesitation.
On Sunday morning, Jill and Henry Warner departed La Conner about 8:00 AM to take advantage of the tidal current that was flowing northward, which was the direction we were heading. It took us about an hour to traverse the remainder of the Swinomish Channel, We had called around for fuel prices and decided that the best refueling options were in Anacortes. One might think that with the numerous oil refineries present in Anacortes that gasoline would be markedly cheaper. However, this was not the case. Gasoline was about two cents cheaper than at La Conner, and only a few cents cheaper than Friday Harbor. Nevertheless, it was cheaper than anywhere else, albeit not by much.
Jill and Henry Warner arrived at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island around 2:00 PM and were assigned slip G-14. All the even numbered slips on G-Dock are on the west side of the floating pier. This means that a bow-in mooring has the stern of the boat facing the setting sun. Since the bow-in orientation gives the most sleeping privacy for our boat, we elected that placement, even though we were worried that it might be too warm on our stern deck during the late afternoon. Turns out that was not a problem. I wanted to get in a little exercise before our company was coming over, so after securing the boat and walking the dogs, I went for about an hour-long jog out Beavertown Valley Road. Roger and Dizela Moore came to our boat to visit us for happy hour. Roger is a long-time friend of Jill’s from IBM and he and Dizela own a vacation home on the southeast side of San Juan Island. We caught up with them over a few beers on the boat, then we all went out for a Mexican dinner in Friday Harbor.
Tuesday morning we caught the free inter-island ferry to Orcas Island to visit another friend of Jill’s from her IBM days, Carol Murray. Carol also retired this year and has been living an interesting lifestyle. She lives in California, but flew to Maine to take a two week wooden boat building course. For the past several weeks she has been camping on Orcas Island, attending musical events and generally communing with nature. She wants to relocate to Orcas Island at some future time, so she has been scouting out what the island has to offer.
We stopped for lunch in a delightful little restaurant in Eastsound and we all three coincidentally ordered the portobello mushroom burger. Delicious! We then drove to the top of Mt. Constitution, at 2400 feet. The views were panoramic and spectacular, with vistas from the Washington State mainland to Canada including numerous inter-country islands. Highly recommended! After leaving the mountain, we went for a hike in the woods that mostly bordered an island lake. It was a relatively short hike, but did get our heart rate elevated at a few spots, so hopefully we met our minimum daily exercise quota.
As the inter-island ferry only runs every few hours, we were aiming to catch the 7:05 PM ferry back to Friday Harbor, so Carol took us to her campsite and treated us to a tasty meal of homemade, or perhaps more accurately outdoors-made, chilli accompanied by some nice Cabernet Sauvignon. I won’t keep repeating the word “delicious”, but I will admit that I had three servings! We made the ferry on time and enjoyed the sunset cruise back to San Juan Island weaving amongst the fiord-like islands en route.
Tuesday morning we walked around Friday Harbor with the dogs. We stopped at the General Store to get my Mac and Jack’s growler refilled. Mack and Jack’s is brewed in Redmond, WA and is by far my favorite micro-brewery beer. Luckily the pub next to our house serves it. I had filled one of my two growlers with Mac and Jack’s before we departed on the trip, but the growler was pretty much finished after two sessions on Friday and Saturday evenings. I was happy to learn that my favorite brew was also available in Friday Harbor! Note to self: next year bring both growlers!
Tuesday afternoon was sunny and delightful, so we decided to ride our bicycles from the marina to the San Juan Vineyards on Roche Harbor Road. The winery is only about three miles from the marina, but is moderately hilly. Jill doesn’t ride very often, so I was glad to see that she wanted to get out on the bicycle. We actually rode a ways past the winery up one long hill before doubling back to the winery, so we got in a bit more exercise.
As we were on our bicycles we didn’t want to overdo the wine tasting, so we tried just the whites. We lingered at the counter for quite some time talking with the wine server lady, mostly about the fact that the winery was up for sale. We learned that the winery was being offered at $1.55 million and produces about 3,600 cases per year. The site consisted of 32 acres (6.5 of which were planted with vines), several buildings (but no house) and wine making equipment. Additionally, it is a venue for weddings, as there is a small chapel on the premises and for other events. I did a top-of-the-head estimate that 3,600 cases at $150 per case is slightly over $500,000 per year. Hmmmm. As I am always looking for an opportunity, the wheels in my head started cranking and my imagination took flight. Fairly quickly, though, my fantasies were dashed when we learned that a sale is currently pending to a well-heeled local buyer. Back at Friday Harbor we stopped at the shop of San Juan Canvas, located right next to US Customs. The mishap we experienced at La Conner had left our main canvas section with a broken zipper and a small tear along the zipper seam. We knew we had to depart Friday Harbor the next day by 1:00 PM, but we thought it would be worthwhile to get an estimate for the needed repairs. We set up an appointment with Derrick to come and look at our boat at 9:00 AM the next day.
The next morning Derrick showed up, took a quick look at our canvas, and stated that he could have it repaired with no problem by the time we had to depart. Not only that, but he said it would be just $20 plus the price of the zipper. Wow! We had been expecting that the repair would cost us several hundred dollars, as nothing related to boating is ever cheap, so we told him to go for it. While the canvas was being repaired, I patched the gash in our dinghy with a fiberglass repair kit. The canvas was ready in about an hour, the dinghy repair had set-up and were back in business. With the mishap in La Conner just a fading memory, we departed Friday Harbor about noon for Roche Harbor.
We approached the Roche Harbor marina from the west side of Pearl Island, per our guidebook, even though we saw quite a few boats using the east side approach. We had the VHF tuned to 78 for Roche Harbor and we picked up quite a bit of chatter, mostly related to slip assignment requests. We made our own request as we rounded Pearl Island and we were given slip number 22. As the wind was blowing stiffly, we made a docking assistance request on the radio and two attendants were there to help us in for an uneventful docking. The best kind! Slip 22 was on the land side of the guest dock, which was fine, except we were at the far end of the dock. Next year we will try to aim for a slip closer to shore, as it was quite a hike to walk the dogs.
The Roche Harbor Resort is a beautiful setting with an ambiance and boat population that says “money”. There were lots of mega-yachts moored in the harbor and trendy jet-setter types wandering the premises. But there were also a lot of us ordinary folks, too. After hooking into shore power and walking the dogs, Jill and Henry Warner walked the various docks looking at the boats and we strolled through the dockside vendor stands. Roche Harbor has a nice assortment of gift shops, a general store that sells groceries, plus the restaurants and hotel. The setting is historic, by Pacific Northwest standards, in the there was a thriving lime production company operating out of the harbor in the late 1800′s.
The next day I did a one hour jog by heading west out of the resort past the condominiums on the hill, then along White Point Road, which looped me along the splendid waterside views of Westcott Bay. The route was quite hilly and very peaceful. I think only two vehicles passed me the entire time. It was a warm, sunny day and it felt good to glide along the shoulder of the road communing with nature. Later in the afternoon we met Roger and Dizela again for a late lunch/early dinner at 4:00 PM. We sat outside at the restaurant enjoying the food, drinks, company and views.
Friday morning Jill and Henry Warner were scheduled to depart Roche Harbor for Poets Cove on Pender Island in British Columbia. About 10:00 AM a 38′ Bayliner pulled into the slip next to us and we struck up a conversation. The couple was from Maple Valley, WA, but had just departed Poets Cove earlier that morning, so we had lots to talk about. The skipper of the boat told us to avoid a bow-in port side tie up at all costs. He said the marina had lengthened many of the slips and we would find huge bolt heads sticking out of the joining plats which would wreak havoc with our boat hull. He was quite adamant that we should demand a starboard side tie up, even if we had to be aggressive about it. He was also quite critical of the help offered by the marina staff there, as he said they had docked under high wind conditions and had had a difficult time with no help from the marina staff. We took all this in and departed Roche Harbor about 11:30 AM under fair skies and calm winds.
Poets Cove, Pender Island, British Columbia
Jill and Henry Warner made the trip from Roche in about the forecasted hour and half. Per our usual good fortune with the wind gods, though, just as we entered Bedwell Harbor, a fierce wind spring up from the west. As our first stop had to be at the Canadian Customs dock and as we had never been here before, we hung back until a rather large boat cleared space at the dock. Plus a float plane had also just landed and was heading towards the same dock – lots of excitement. As we got close to the dock, though, it became clear that space was not an issue, as there were multiple branches to the Customs dock, capable of accommodating quite a few boats. As the wind was still blowing fiercely, I approached the dock under high engine power to ensure that I could maneuver against the wind as needed. As there would be no assistance from anyone on the Customs dock, it was essential that Jill and I could handle the docking ourselves. As I am getting a lot of experience with high wind docking, I aligned the boat so that the wind would push us into the dock and we had a flawless landing.
After securing the boat, I went to the Canadian Customs office. Jill, per regulations, had to stay on the boat until we had been cleared. A very pleasant uniformed agent asked me the usual questions. I replied that I was retired when he asked me what I did for work. His response was that I was too young to be retired. Ha! He then directed me to exit the office building and pick up one of the three phones housed in little stalls outside the office. This was a bit different than my experience in Victoria last year, but so far, so good.
The phone rang when I lifted it off the hook and I heard a message that all agents were busy and to please stand by. After about a minute, another agent came on the line and asked me all the questions the first agent had asked, plus some more. At the alcohol question I truthfully admitted that we were “a little over” the duty-free limit. We are only allowed to bring one of the following amounts per person into Canada: two bottles of wine, or one large standard bottle of hard liquor, or up to 24 bottles of beer. As we had seven unopened bottles of wine we were clearly over the limit in just that category. We also had about 12 bottles of beer and three nearly full bottles of hard liquor. I have learned, though, that if you state the bottles of liquor are opened and partially full, which was the absolute truth, the quantity tends to be ignored. The agent homed in on just the wine quantity and asked me what the value of the wine bottles was. I told him that the average price was probably about $12 per bottle, so he said that ordinarily we would owe $36 in duty. But then he said that he would let it go this time, but next time we could not count on getting such a nice guy to process us in to the country. I joked back with him that since he was such a nice guy, I would be sure to ask for him by name on my next trip.
We then proceeded to our assigned moorage slip, which we had insisted be a starboard, bow-in tie. As the wind was still blowing fiercely, we requested docking assistance over the VHF radio. They had us assigned to a slip next to an already moored sailboat, so there was not a lot of room for error. Nevertheless, with the dockside help from the attendant, it was a flawless and uneventful landing. Once we had secured the boat and looked around, we concluded that the advice we had received from our Roche Harbor friends had been vastly overdone. We did see the bolt heads protruding from the plates as he described, but they were rounded heads nearly flush with the metal plate. These were absolutely no issue for any boat with fenders, so we were baffled by his warning. Likewise we had been pleased with the ready assistance of the dock staff, so no complaints there either. Just goes to show how one must take any single review with a grain of salt.
Poets Cove is a resort à la Roche Harbor and the setting is likewise gorgeous. It is not as large as Roche Harbor, but the scenery is more unspoiled, with little visible in the way of habitation other than the resort proper. Once again, per our luck with the wind gods, the wind had totally disappeared. So Jill and I lounged on the beach for a while, soaking up some of the warmth and enjoying the ambiance. In the late afternoon, we went for a walk along the road leading out of the resort. We did a fast-paced walk up and down some sizable hills for an hour, which was enough exercise to make us feel righteous about the two gin and tonics we enjoyed afterwards.
Saturday we spent another lazy-hazy day at the resort knitting (Jill) and reading (both). Jill has started her knitted elephant project, so two legs were slowly taking form. We took a ride around the harbor in our motorized dinghy which validated that my repair job was seaworthy. I then worked out and Jill went to investigate a couple of studios up the hill from the resort. She reported that the art studio was closed for vacation and the woodworking studio, which was situated deep in the woods down a long driveway, showed no signs of being open, so she gave up. After a pre-dinner class of wine on the boat, we ate dinner at the resort. On the way to dinner we passed a boat with a clever name; the Sea Vous Play. We’ll have to show that one to François.
Sidney, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Jill and Henry Warner departed Poets Cove about 11:00 AM on Sunday for Sidney on Vancouver Island. It was another flawless day of blue skies, light winds, calm waters and warm sunshine. As we approached the Port of Sidney Marina around 1:00 PM, a small traffic jam of boats developed at the breakwater entrance waiting for slip assignments on VHF66. We were boat number three and we ended up bobbing at the entrance for about 15 minutes until the marina staff was ready for us to enter.
One of the Port’s staff was waiting for us at D-27. Even though the wind was not a factor, there was a large sailboat moored next to us, so the docking was delicate and the help was welcome. The Port of Sidney has a done a great job making the marina attractive. Everything looked upscale and each docking slip had a hanging basket of flowers that were on an automatic drip irrigation system. The restroom and laundry facilities were first rate. Our only disappointment, as we found out in short order, was that the Wifi was weak and could only be picked up outside the marina office.
The town of Sidney was hosting an old car show the Sunday afternoon of our arrival and the downtown core was blocked off to vehicle traffic. There was also a free open air concert hosted at the waterfront park that we attended for a while. We spent a couple of hours wandering through the town taking in the sights and trying to pick up Wifi. Sidney has several hotspot locations for free public Wifi, but once again we found the signal to be weak and unusable to make a VOIP call using Skype or Viber. I finally broke down and bought a foreign minutes package from AT&T. I have noticed that peculiarly, we have no problem spending $50 or $60 for dinner and drinks, but we are loathe to pay $30 for cellular capability.
Even though we had ambled about for a couple of hours, I felt like I had not gotten enough of a workout. Jill had no such feelings. After returning to the boat, I decided to explore the area by jogging south along the waterside trail that stretched all the way to Victoria, per the map we had picked up. Jill stayed on the boat. As I jogged along, I was impressed with how clean and well kept everything appeared. I saw no trash, graffiti or other blemishes. While not every house was new and modern, the yards all looked well groomed and there was a basically a non-existent junkiness factor. I jogged for a half hour out, then a half hour back. By the time I got back to the boat, I felt like I had gotten plenty enough exercise.
Monday morning broke bright and clear and we decided to go out for breakfast for a change. We also wanted to catch up on our internet and email, so we picked a place with Wifi. Fortunately the Wifi worked great and the breakfast was even better. The one shop Jill had to visit was the local yarn store, so that’s where we headed next. Lucky for Jill I tagged along, as it took the two of us a half an hour to untangle a long ball of yarn she bought.
After the yarn store, we hopped on our bikes for a roughly ten mile ride to the Church and State Vineyards. Most of the ride was relatively flat along the shoreline, but the last few miles were noted as “scenic” on our map. That is, of course, just another word for hilly.
We arrived at the winery about 2:00 PM eagerly anticipating a nice relaxing lunch and wine after our hard, hot bike ride. Alas, we learned that the winery restaurant is only open Wednesday through Sunday, so we were out of luck for getting any food. But what the hey – we were at a winery so we had to sample the wine. As we had had nothing to eat and we still had to ride our bicycles back to the marina, we shared a couple of white wine samplers. Naturally we bought two bottles of wine to add some weight to my backpack for the ride back. I have to admit that I could definitely tell a difference riding with two full wine bottles on my back. That narrow bicycle seat felt a lot more uncomfortable. I considered putting the wine bottles in my water bottle cages, but dismissed that idea as I didn’t want them popping out along the way.
Tuesday morning, August 26, we had to depart the marina by 11:00 AM in order to avoid getting charged for another day. At breakfast, though, we decided to call the US Customs agent at Port Townsend to coordinate our return to the USA. We had read on the Customs website that Port Townsend is only staffed 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday, at Port Townsend. As we did not want to have to report at a more out of the way location, such as Port Angeles or Roche Harbor, we had decided to move our return to the US up from Sunday to Friday. As I was talking to Jeff, the Customs agent, I told him that we had really preferred returning on Sunday, but we were adjusting to return two days early on Friday in order to catch him during working hours. Jeff volunteered that since it was Labor Day weekend, he was working special duty and could actually accommodate us on a Sunday return. Hallelujah! This meant we could now keep our full three scheduled days at Victoria and we would not have to scramble to line up alternative moorage. With Customs now taken care of, we slid out of the Sidney marina about 10:45 AM headed for Brentwood Bay on a magnificent August day.
Brentwood Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
After refueling at Van Isle marina in North Sidney, we arrived at Brentwood Bay about 2:00 PM. As usual, the wind was blowing fiercely. The marina staff had us hold off for a few minutes outside the marina while they helped dock a couple of boats before us. I could tell that docking was going to be exciting just by the challenge that I had trying to keep the boat aligned in the wind while waiting. Sure enough, they had us assigned to D-8, which required two sharp, back-to-back ninety degree turns to enter. Not only that, but there were already other boats moored in every other slip, so there was even less space to maneuver. Luckily there were two marina attendants to lend a hand and the docking was without incident. Not without high stress, but without incident!
To say that that the Brentwood Resort and Marina is picturesque and cute is to overuse those adjectives. It is almost unbelievable how we just keep ending up in marina after marina that is seemingly more charming than the last. But that’s the way it has been. This resort is upscale, private and peaceful. As opposed to Poets Cove, there were no children in the swimming pool shouting and splashing, so Jill and I were able to sit poolside in the shade and enjoy the beautiful, sunny afternoon. In addition to the resort, there is an attractive community of homes and shops nearby. Jill and I had actually passed through this area on our honeymoon in 2007, as we caught the little ferry adjacent to the marina. So it was a bit of a homecoming for us to come back here by boat.
For dinner, rather than eating out, we grilled two fresh salmon fillets accompanied by salad, pearl couscous and sauteed-in-garlic brussel sprouts. Plus a nice bottle of Flanagan Chardonnay. Mmm, mmm, good! And lo and behold – the Wifi actually works from our moorage slip! So after dinner we were able to catch up on emails and blogging from the comfort of our boat salon. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Tomorrow we are going to ride our bicycles again. This time to Butchart Gardens, which are only about six miles from the marina.
Wednesday was another hot, gorgeous day. We decided to go to Butchart Gardens about 2:00 PM, rather than early in the day. This was because we learned that there was to be an open air concert at the Gardens starting at 7:30 PM, so we thought we’d do the late shift to take advantage of the music. We rode our bikes up a rather formidable hill, then back down to sea level to reach Butchart. At $31 per person, the entrance fee seemed a bit pricey, but worked out to about $5.00 an hour, as we were there about 6 hours. However, the Gardens are well worth the admission, in my opinion. as all the gardens were magnificent this time of the year. I had been to Butchart once before as a teenager and I am sure I did not appreciate the place back then.
Today was a perfect day to wander slowly through the gardens and savor the beauty and artistry of the plantings. I was definitely impressed and would highly recommend a visit to Butchart Gardens to anyone who is visiting the Victoria area. After touring the grounds, we stopped in the Seed and Plant shop and bought about 15 packets of flower seeds so that we can transform our little yard into the Butchart of Bainbridge Island. We definitely did get some good planting ideas, so we’ll see how well we can capitalize on what we learned.
After dinner at the Gardens, we enjoyed the concert until a little after 8:00 PM, then rode our bikes back in the fading daylight to the marina. What a great day! Tomorrow we depart for three nights at the downtown Victoria marina.
We departed Brentwood Bay under partly cloudy skies and a slight southerly wind about 8:00 AM Thursday morning. This was our 14th day on the boat. By the time we had rounded the peninsula and were off the town of Sidney about two hours later, the wind had increased significantly and the wind waves were easily one to three feet. We slogged the remainder of the way to Victoria through heavy seas that only got worse as we entered the Straight of Juan de Fuca approaching the Victoria harbor. We settled into our assigned moorage spot about 1:00 PM, fighting a stiff breeze. All told, it was a rough, five hour journey.
There was a wooden boat show in the Victoria harbor for the Labor Day weekend, so we were placed in the Wharf Street docks. Last year we had been at the Causeway slips closer to the Empress Hotel. By the end of Thursday, the slips around us had filled up and some boats were even rafted together. I started thinking about how we were going to get out on Sunday morning, as there was no room to maneuver between the jammed-together boats. We spent some time cleaning the boat dockside, ordered a take-out pizza for dinner, then watched the Seahawks lose to the Oakland Raiders in their last pre-season game of the season.
Friday was the first gray, overcast day of the trip since the day we departed two Fridays ago. The temperature had also dropped considerably from the past few days, as a weather system was moving in just in time for the three-day weekend. Reminds me of the old joke: what do you call the day after two days of rain in Seattle? Monday. But the weather, although blustery and not summer-like, actually wasn’t that bad and it did not interfere with our walk around Victoria. Victoria is an attractive city with a lot going on. It is quite enjoyable to walk around the city streets and shop the great variety of boutiques and people watch. There is a quite healthy supply of local, non-big chain stores which I always find more interesting. Victoria is a vibrant city with plenty of street musicians and young people walking around.
It is hard to go hungry in Victoria also, as the city claims the second highest per capita number of restaurants on the Pacific west coast outside San Francisco. We stopped at The Oyster Bar on Humboldt owned by Pescatores that was serving happy hour oysters for $1.50 each, marked down from their normal $2.75 price. We ordered a dozen. I had the local Dark Matter ale and Jill had a glass of Merlot. The Dark Matter lived up to its name and gets my full endorsement! These were easily the best oysters we have tasted in a long time.
We have been monitoring the marine forecast for tomorrow’s planed crossing of the Straight of Juan de Fuca. The crossing to Port Townsend will take us about five hours at our normal cruising speed and can be a very rough trip. Small Craft Advisories are issued by the national Weather Service are common for this stretch of water and apply to any boat under 65 feet in length. There is an advisory in effect for Saturday, but the winds are forecasted to abate by Sunday morning, which is when we plan to depart Victoria. In the event that this blog is not updated again, check the news for a missing boat!
Yay! We made it back safely and without incident! We stopped first in Port Townsend to check in with US Customs, then over-nighted in Port Ludlow, then home to Bainbridge Island. What a trip!