Destinations: Southern trepidation

To implore our readers from British Columbia to venture south of the border, here’s our latest installment from Three Sheets Northwest guest columnist Jim Burgoyne of SalishSeaPilot.com

An idyllic view down East Sound on Orcas Island in the San Juans. (Photo by John Fitzwater)

When chatting with Canadian boaters, we are often surprised how many have never cruised across the border to visit the San Juan Islands, even when those lovely islands might be quivering haze on their morning horizon or closer still, to starboard when steaming up Haro Strait.

And a trip to explore Puget Sound? For many, that is an exotic voyage, indeed.

Neither area offers cruising that is wild and remote, but both have many beautiful, uncrowded anchorages with both natural and urban adventures ashore.

Conversations with cruisers who visited our table at the Vancouver Boat Show earlier this year gave us insights into the mindset of Canadian boaters who had not yet made the hop south across the border. Many seemed less than eager to consider it in the future even though those same boaters would not think twice about crossing the border by road to shop or holiday.

To some Canadian boaters we met, US customs formalities and procedures just seem too daunting. There are licenses required, travel documents, docks you have to visit, authorities you have to call, foods that are restricted. What about Rover and Tigger? Perhaps it is a quagmire best avoided.

In reality, though, crossing into the US by boat is easy peasy as long as you keep within the law. The good folks at slowboat.com have created the excellent video guide below for both Canadians and Americans crossing into the US. It provides just about anything you need to know.

Some boaters told us they really didn’t know what they would find in the San Juans, though they heard it was nice. And many had an even vaguer image about what to expect when cruising in Puget Sound because, well, not many of their friends had cruised there.

And that’s a shame. Both the San Juans and Puget Sound offer so much. There are scores of serene anchorages, pristine marine parks, with enchanting forests and spectacular hiking trails ashore.

The San Juan Islands are popular with those who love to cruise the Gulf Islands, with a similar geology and vibe, while Puget Sound has a different feel, changing the farther south you venture. The waters south of Tacoma Narrows remind us of the waters near where Lynne and I grew up — the lakes of Northwestern Ontario — with winding channels and sand beaches.

If you are near Seattle and have the time, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks offer a fun detour — exciting if you have never done locks before — into the freshwater of Lake Washington, with anchorages remarkably peaceful so near the city’s downtown.

The lighthouse at Dofflemyer Point near Boston Harbor, north of Olympia. (Photo by Evan Davis)

Likewise, the urban moorage at both Olympia and Tacoma provide sedate introductions to those cities, with lots of transient moorage for visitors which is convenient to downtown attractions.

The shore of Puget Sound is often lined with residential homes, generally of a lovely sort. Most popular island anchorages are state parks with perhaps a few mooring buoys, an outhouse ashore and, typically, privacy and lovely views. The mainland parks are just as peaceful, but with roads in for campers. They fill up during the summer, but rarely is that a concern or bother for boaters.

A key advantage of both the San Juans and Puget Sound is that they are never far from help or ice cream, making them perfect for your first few voyages, especially if there are younger folk along for the ride.

Give the San Juans and Puget Sound a try. You are unlikely to be disappointed.

(Both the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound are covered in Salish Sea Pilot’s Cruising Guides.)

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