Destinations: The invisible harbor

Here’s our latest installment from friend and guest columnist Jim Burgoyne of SalishSeaPilot.com… 

Monument at Iceberg Point, south of Mackaye Harbor, overlooks Juan de Fuca Strait. (Photo by glackley)

Monument at Iceberg Point, south of Mackaye Harbor, overlooks Juan de Fuca Strait. (Photo by glackley.)

Once a vigorous commercial fishing center, Mackaye Harbor is today a sleepy community at the south end of Lopez Island with holiday homes and small farms.

The wide harbor has lots of room for secure anchorage, with convenient depths and good holding in mud. In unsettled conditions, better protection is found at the southeast end of the harbor, off Barlow Bay.

Chartlet from Salish Sea Pilot’s Cruising Guide to the San Juan Islands. Not to be used for navigation.

Chartlet from Salish Sea Pilot’s Cruising Guide to the San Juan Islands. Not to be used for navigation.

Cruisers with an adventurous spirit can dinghy ashore, tying up at the county dock or pulling up on the public beach and walking south on Mackaye Harbor Road to lovely Agate Beach County Park.

This day park has smooth, wind-polished rock, with gorgeous views of the southern San Juan Islands and up the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Several picnic tables are perched on the steep banks above the beach. It is renowned for spectacular sunsets.

Barlow Bay is cluttered with docks but offers secure anchorage at its entrance from Mackaye Harbor. (Photo by longbachnguyen)

Barlow Bay is cluttered with docks but offers secure anchorage at its entrance from Mackaye Harbor. (Photo by longbachnguyen.)

Near the south end of the beach, Mackaye Harbor Road becomes Flint Road, and about 700 feet farther along a trail leads west through the forest to enchanting Iceberg Point, where trails follow the shoreline, with glacially molded rock that wears a crewcut of grasses that change color with the season. The views are magical.

The harbor was once home to a fishing fleet, and was populated by fish processors, fish merchants and their employees. Canneries lined the shoreline.

Early Richardson with canneries, fuel tanks and fishing boats in the bay. A cannery dormitory (top right) sits in front of fishermen’s tents. (Photo from Washington State Library.)

Early Richardson with canneries, fuel tanks and fishing boats in the bay. A cannery dormitory (top right) sits in front of fishermen’s tents. (Photo from Washington State Library.)

The major community was Richardson, along the north shore of Mackaye Harbor. The town thrived after a boundary dispute with Britain was settled in 1872 and the San Juan Islands officially became U.S. territory.

Richardson was the closest port to the mainland and became an important hub, shipping island produce, fish and other goods, and receiving mainland supplies.

From Agate Beach, looking west toward Vancouver Island across Haro Strait and up the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (Photo by Aaron Ostrovsky)

From Agate Beach, looking west toward Vancouver Island across Haro Strait and up the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (Photo by Aaron Ostrovsky.)

Today there are few traces of the past. The few businesses that remain include several small inns and the Southend General Store & Restaurant.

The general store, a half-mile from the county dock, is open year-round and is generally well-stocked with groceries, fresh produce, beer and wine, gifts and WiFi. The restaurant, serving wraps, sandwiches, burgers, soup and salads, is also open year-round, but hours are limited. Call 360-468-2315 for more information.

To find the general store, tie at the county dock and walk up Norman Road to Mackaye Harbor Road. Turn left, then right at Mud Bay Road and you are there.

Mackaye Harbor is a peaceful, pleasant anchorage, with provisions for those running short after cruising the east shore of Lopez Island, and natural wonders for those who want to stretch their legs.

(Mackaye Harbor is covered in Salish Sea Pilot’s Cruising Guide to the San Juan Islands.)

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