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Sucia Island: A land of fossils and rocky dreams

Sitting in middle of the Strait of Georgia, Sucia Island is furthest north island in the San Juan Islands.

The flood brought us to Sucia Island, pushing our speed over ground to 9 kts for most of our trip north.

Our goal was to grab a mooring buoy in Fox Cove. It’s a smaller and slightly more exposed anchorage near Sucia Island, but the forecast for the next few days was sunny and very light wind.

At high tide, Little Sucia—the tiny rocky island just a few hundred feet away from Sucia—works with its sister island to create a south entrance to Fox Cove. It’s a deceptive welcome that hides the abundance of rocks lurking just under the surface. We opted to round Little Sucia instead and entered from the west side of the cove.

Two mooring buoys were empty, including one well-protected from the current pushing through the south site. But our depth sounder measured little more than 15 feet at that mooring buoy at high tide, so we turned for the other one, in deeper waters, but more exposed to wind, wakes and currents.

And finally, we had arrived to Sucia, the jewel of the San Juan Islands.

Sucia Island stands out in the San Juans for its location—the furthest north, sitting in the Strait of Georgia, and easily within sight of Canada’s Gulf Islands—for its 6 miles of hiking trails, aquamarine water, multiple anchorages and sandstone formations. About 8 years ago, researchers for the Burke Museum in Seattle found a dinosaur bone here.

The landscape makes it easy to feel like you are at the beginning of something here, or perhaps the edge of something else. The beginning of time, maybe? It certainly feels like the edge of the U.S.

Wild and untamed, if it weren’t for all the people

Echo Bay is the largest anchorage near Sucia Island and often fills up with boats by mid-summer.

Sucia’s remote location and boat-only access is no obstacle for the hundreds of sailors and boaters who come here every summer. There are two ways to look at this, I think: Either lament that those beautiful, wild places are found, or be grateful that others can find these beautiful, wild places, and share in the wonder with you.

All the same, other sailors familiar with Sucia warned us that Sucia’s biggest anchorage, Echo Bay, would be packed. That’s why we chose the less-protected Fox Cove.

Yes, we did roll a bit due to the current, but also enjoyed how the tide rips outside the south entrance sounded like a babbling creek. When the tide was out, we scrambled over large rocky outcrops thickly frosted with barnacles and sandstone formations as molded and pockmarked with holes as those I’ve seen in the Canyonlands in Utah.

The sandstone formations all over Sucia Island give it a pre-historic feel, which seems appropriate because researchers found a dinosaur bone here in 2012.

From here, we hopped on the Ev Henry Trail, which climbs the hilly edge of Fossil Bay to a climax overlooking the northern side of Orcas Island. The top drops steeply to a lovely, but forbidding rocky shoreline below. (I would advise those with young kids to cut the hike a little short to avoid that area.)

We also hiked over to the other side of Sucia Island to check out Echo Bay and Shallow Bay, where we enjoyed watching a trio of otters devour a fish lunch.

There were plenty of people on the beaches and trails, but honestly, I liked the moments of real-time connection with others enjoying the same things we do—something harder to do right now in a world held hostage by a pandemic.

We met kayakers who had set up camp on Sucia for a few days before continuing their cruise of the San Juans, and commiserated with a few other boaters who had also planned (like us) to journey to Canada this summer until the border closed due to coronavirus.

Easy to explore, just mind your charts

Most of the rocks seen in this picture are only visible during low tide.

All of Sucia Island is a Washington State Marine Park with no services other than composting toilets placed around the island, campsites and 48 mooring buoys in six locations around the island and two docks. Anchoring is very doable in most of the coves.

That said, getting into Sucia’s nooks and crannies takes care. The word Sucia means “foul” in Spanish, and true to its name, many boats have run aground or have sunk trying to navigate around the island or into one of its anchorages. In fact, while beachcombing in Fox Cove we found a rusted transmission resting on the rocks, no doubt an artifact from a shipwreck not so long ago.

It seems that even though Sucia has been “found” there is still plenty to discover.

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