The protected waters of Puget Sound have long been a boater's paradise. More than 170 islands comprise Washington State’s San Juan County alone, and literally hundreds more are just over the border in Canada. Fidalgo Island with its historic town of Anacortes is a key destination for Pacific Northwest yachting vacations. In fact, it’s known as the Gateway to the San Juan Islands, lying 90 miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia, and 90 miles north of Seattle. Sheltered anchorages, abundant wildlife, pristine waters, beautiful islands, and quaint towns give the region a unique northern character. The glacially sculpted terrain and rugged ambiance impart a sense of a place time has forgotten.
A Pacific Northwest yacht charter is an idyllic experience, with straightforward navigation and winds averaging between 5 and 15 knots from southwest through southeast. Northerly winds are more frequent in early spring and fall. Seattle is famous for its annual rainfall of about 35 inches, but the San Juan and the Gulf Islands in Canada are situated in the rain shadow of the Olympic Peninsula and receive much less rain; it’s sunny about 250 days per year. The season runs April through October. High temperatures in the summer months range between 66°F and 75°F (19°C to 24°C). The area is known for big tides from 10 to 12 feet, which get progressively more impressive farther north. Swift currents at maximum flood and ebb, particularly in narrow channels between islands, are to be expected, making it prudent to time passages to coincide with a favorable tide.
A Pacific Northwest vacation amid pine-studded islands, glacially carved headlands, and a proliferation of wildlife and sea life in constant evidence is pure delight for avid boaters and for those with a profound love of Nature. Open-water passages and shorter hops between the islands ensure a mix of pleasures, ranging from a quiet night anchored off a deserted isle to an evening spent dining and dancing ashore at a resort or in one of the small towns scattered throughout the area.
San Juan Island’s historic Friday Harbor is the largest town in the San Juans and a major yachting epicenter in all of Puget Sound. Picturesque streets lined with an eclectic mix of shops, art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants, the Whale Museum, a golf club, a performing arts center, and a ferry terminal with service to Seattle draw tourists to the harbor to enjoy the many pleasures of the island, especially during the summer. For boaters, a visit to Friday Harbor promises all the comforts of a full-service marina and plenty to do ashore.
Puget Sound is steeped in history. Discovered in 1792 during a British expedition to the Pacific Northwest, Captain George Vancouver named the sound for his aide, Second-Lieutenant Peter Puget, who explored some of the islands now renowned for exceptional sailing. The British played a major role in the Pacific Northwest of the United States prior to the establishment of the present-day U.S. and Canadian border. In 1859, the two nations agreed to post troops on San Juan Island until the border was formally adopted, and the British chose the site now known as Garrison Bay. The English Camp, San Juan Island National Historic Park, is open to visitors.
Heralded as one of the best boating destinations in the area, a Pacific Northwest yacht charter wouldn’t be complete without stopping at Sucia Island. This rocky, forested, horseshoe-shaped island is actually the largest of a cluster of ten smaller neighbors. Bays and coves indent the hilly shores, and hiking paths connect some of the anchorages. It’s a great place for bird watching, hiking, kayaking, and enjoying the scenery from the cockpit, a steak sizzling on the barbecue.
Step back in time to the days before income taxes when the nation’s rich built palatial mansions they called summer cottages. The San Juan Islands drew their share of the wealthy, including Robert Moran, who, in 1906, built a five-story home as a retreat from the stress of business. At the time, he was only 46 and his physicians told him he had just a couple years to live. He spent lavishly to make his final days as comfortable as possible. Evidently, the climate of the San Juan Islands was good for him; he lived to be 86! Today, his home is part of Rosario Resort, a port of call that offers a dash of history (touring the mansion is a must) along with a full-service marina and dining ashore.
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