Voyage to the Columbia River: Cruising out the Strait of Juan de Fuca

One of many stunning views we were treated to while cruising the Strait of Juan de Fuca
One of many stunning views we were treated to while cruising the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This one was from the beach at Pillar Point.

Back in the fall when we made the decision to try for a run down to the Columbia River in the early spring, we thought it would be wise to talk with our insurance agent about the idea and realized that our current policy didn’t allow for us to be off the coast of Washington until later in the season. So we asked what would be the earliest they’d allow and after a little back-and-forth we all agreed on April 1 — which was good enough for us.

We are well versed in the weather window song and dance and were hoping to get a good one in the last few days of March and first few of April to get us out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, around Cape Flattery and south to the Columbia River. Well, I guess we did a successful weather dance, because we’ve been rewarded with some incredibly beautiful days of cruising on the Strait.

Our first stop out of the San Juan Islands was Tuesday night in Port Angeles, and the stunningly gorgeous backdrop provided by the Olympic Mountains shined in the morning sun as we strolled into town together. I went to a locally owned coffee shop to get some work done while Jill and the boys went to check out town, drop some stuff off at a thrift store and then grab some final provisions.

Port Angeles: A lovably gritty town that is the gateway to Olympic National Park
Port Angeles: A lovably gritty town that is the gateway to Olympic National Park

With bare feet on the deck and dock, Porter and I casted off Yahtzee’s docklines after mid-day and we all ate lunch in the cockpit while motoring out and around Port Angeles’ long, hook-shaped spit. There was a slight easterly breeze developing and we hoisted the main, turned to port and motor-sailed westward toward a destination that we hadn’t determined yet.

As the miles and mountains ticked by we watched porpoises play in the green water at the mouth of the Elwah River and finally got a little help from the wind as it picked up. By late afternoon we were thinking about a destination and toyed between anchoring at Pillar Point, Clallam Bay or Neah Bay. We had plenty of time until our April 1 insurance opening to round Cape Flattery, and were glad to use it for exploration. While contemplating the stop and feeding Magnus in the cockpit, I spotted the unmistakable orange hull of a U.S. Coast Guard boat coming up fast from behind us. We know this drill.

Goodbye Coast Guard! Thanks for all you do!
Goodbye Coast Guard! Thanks for all you do!

Jill was down below and soon after I told her we were about to get boarded, they pulled up to ask if they could do a safety inspection. Sure! A Coast Guard Officer and an Officer from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police hopped aboard and the Coastie went below with Jill to check our safety gear while the Mountie went over things with me in the cockpit. They were both very nice and we went through all the typical quesitons and checks with them. Magnus sat by with little idea as to who these men were, and Porter continued his nap down below without waking — it was that uneventful.

Unmistakable Pillar Point
Unmistakable Pillar Point

After bidding them farewell, we could see the large column of rock that is Pillar Point and decided to make it there for our night’s stop. The water shallows fairly quickly toward the point, but we tucked in nicely in about 15 feet of water and set the hook. Pillar Point provided a perfect breakwater from the wind and swell coming off the Strait and I got the kayak off the deck so we could get a quick shore excursion in before dinner.

Jill, Magnus (being carried) and Porter wade through the warm water
Jill, Magnus (being carried) and Porter wade through the warm water
IMGP6029
Porter strolls through the sand

Ashore we found a sand beach warmed to perfection by the sun and tide pools that begged to be waded through. Our night spent at anchor was calm with just a slight westerly swell making it around the corner that provided a gentle rock to sleep.

Yahtzee anchored in the lee of Pillar Point
Yahtzee anchored in the lee of Pillar Point

Still needing another stop before April 1, we weren’t in a hurry the next morning and made for the rocky beach near Pillar Point. Different than the fine sand of the one we’d visited the night before, the rocky point was perfect for throwing stones, climbing on driftwood, picking up crabs and sticking our toes in shallow pools. If you’re a boater planning a trip in or out of the Strait, Pillar Point is definitely worth a stop.

Magnus walks proud after climbing over one of those logs
Magnus walks proudly after climbing over one of those big logs
It was such a warm morning Porter decided this fully enclosed tide pool would make a good bath (it was too cold).
It was such a warm morning Porter decided this fully enclosed tide pool would make a good bath (it was too cold).

Lunch at anchor was quick and we were soon underway motoring west toward Neah Bay over a lazy swell. About halfway there a westerly wind kicked in, patches of fog followed and after about 20 miles we dropped anchor west of the marina in the bay. Since we’d topped up on fuel and provisions in Port Angeles, we had no need to go to shore and instead used the last of the sunshine to rig our jacklines, put the vane and rudder on our Hydrovane, complete a passage plan and prep the interior for an early rise and run offshore around Cape Flattery.

Porter helping me setup the Hydrovane self-steering gear
Porter helped me setup the Hydrovane self-steering gear…
...and do a passage plan.
…and do a passage plan.

We awoke in the dark, small hours of the morning and, along with a few fishing boats, made our way out into the Pacific. From there it was a turn south toward Astoria, Oregon…

4 thoughts on “Voyage to the Columbia River: Cruising out the Strait of Juan de Fuca

  1. Grandmommy and Granddaddy are loving the pictures. We are looking and reading this evening as we gathered for supper. Have a great trip!!

  2. Photos were really nice and your descriptions of the anchorages and family activities were very complimentary.
    I have one question as to where was the first photo taken from? Were in the Strait?

Leave a Reply to Edward Davis Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *