Finding culture and crowds at Roche Harbor

About a week before we got to Roche Harbor, I found an announcement on San Juan’s paper of record that the resort was curtailing its Fourth of July festivities this year.

There would be no games or parades. No bar entertainment, and attendance was being limited in a variety of ways to reduce the crowd size for the normally packed July 4th weekend. The tone of the announcement was full of regret and apology, blaming the party-pooping on COVID, of course.

Honestly, the idea of smaller crowds at Roche Harbor for the 4th was just fine with me.

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James Island stays quiet when the San Juans are busy

We didn’t plan to stop by the very first Washington state marine park we saw after crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But when you come across an empty mooring in the San Juan Islands less than a week before the Fourth of July, you don’t hesitate to slow the boat down and pick up a mooring ball.

That’s how we ended up making James Island our first stop in the San Juan’s this summer. At first, we were lured by the lack of crowds here, but now I’d say James Island is worth a stop, no matter how many boats are in the moorage park.

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Summer 2020: First stop, Port Blakely Harbor

On late afternoon of Tuesday, June 23, with a lingering list of boat projects, crap still piled up on the settee looking for a permanent home, we shoved out of our home marina in Elliot Bay and pointed for Bainbridge Island’s Port Blakely Harbor.

Seattle was warm and blustery, a rarity on a Seattle summer day. After I took us out of our slip and motored us out of the marina, C and our 12-year-old daughter, A, raised the mainsail. With the wind coming out of the north, we enjoyed a lovely beam- to broad-reach sail with A at the helm for most of the time.

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Sailing South Puget Sound

It’s quiet, teeming with marine life and has epic mountain views. It’s home to about a dozen state-managed marine parks that make it easy to bop around from place to place and explore by kayak or on foot. And it gets little to none of the commercial shipping traffic seen between Tacoma and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

After spending two lovely, quiet, very socially distanced weeks in South Puget Sound recently, the only question we could ask ourselves was: How soon can we head back?

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Puget Sound’s awesome marine mammals

I wake early and achy in the back, a common occurrence nowadays. Not sure if my age is to blame. Maybe its the permanent skeletal tweaks two pregnancies have left with my body.

I curl my knees up to my chest and spin around out of my spot between my sleeping husband and the side of our berth, tucking my chin so I don’t hit my head on the low ceiling. With my feet facing out, I climb out of bed.

Once off the boat, the cool Seattle morning air douses me fully awake. The packed marina is quiet, the water still. I begin to walk toward the marina showers up on shore when hear a snort.

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Provisioning a sailboat for three months off the grid

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who will find this blog post interesting, thought-provoking and maybe even useful. The rest of you will find it boring AF.

For those of you in the first group, I would appreciate you reading this and commenting with suggestions and even criticisms. See, aside from the freedom, adventure and beautiful scenery that cruising by sailboat provides, it also provides me with three other things I really enjoy: 1) Planning, 2) problem-solving and 3) organizing.

And provisioning on a sailboat for an extended amount of time requires all three.

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Mystery Bay Marine State Park: A bird-watcher’s paradise

Mystery Bay Marine State Park is a little bay outside Marrowstone Island, just east of Port Townsend. The park and the greater Killisut Harbor between Marrowstone and Indian islands are gems. Mariners willing to navigate the tricky, yet well-marked, shallow entrance to the harbor are rewarded with a protected bay teeming with birds and aquatic life easily explored by dingy or kayak.

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Our plans, they are a-changing

Well, that didn’t take long. 

Our plan to spend the summer cruising the Salish Sea up to Canada may have to be modified now, thanks to the ever-growing threat of coronavirus. 

This pandemic is changing all of our lives. As I write this, the Oregon governor has issued an executive order that all Oregonians need to stay at home unless conducting essential activities, more than 100 people have died in Washington state, more than 1,000 in Italy and chances are high that our kids extended spring break from school will turn into the beginning of a very early summer vacation. 

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Why we got the boat we did

Our Nauticat 39. Finding a pilothouse sailboat became a priority for us because we wanted to be able to sail year-round in the Pacific Northwest even though I have Raynaud’s.

C and I decided three years ago to make our dream of sailing the world a real-world goal. At the time, we had the Aequus Aer, a 28-foot Pearson sloop that we used for family trips to other marinas in Puget Sound.

But to sail beyond the Sound, we needed a bluewater-ready boat. And the Aequus Aer just wasn’t set up to do that. So we started our search focusing primarily on boats over 35 feet to fit our family of growing kids, built to endure rough seas and with enough storage, water-carrying capacity and battery bank to allow us to spend at least a week or more away from shore power.

It was during this time that my lifelong struggle with cold feet and hands started to get tremendously worse. I developed Raynaud’s Phenomenon, a condition where the blood vessels constrict in my fingers and toes in response to cold.

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Our Summer 2020 cruising plan

In June, we got rid of 85% of our stuff and moved out of our house in Southwest Portland to move full-time onto our boat for the summer. We will spend three months sailing the Salish Sea with our kids. Our tentative plan is to explore:

I left my full-time job in April and am transitioning to freelance writing and editing in the fall. My husband will continue his current job, which he can do remote almost 100% of the time.

A view of the Coal Harbour Marina in downtown Vancouver, B.C.
A view of the Coal Harbour Marina in downtown Vancouver, B.C.

Downsizing for the future

My kids are from my first marriage, and they spend 50% of their time with their dad (big thanks to him for agreeing to let us take the kids for the summer!) He is based in Portland, so we aren’t leaving Portland completely. But once we return from our trip in the fall, we plan to split our time between Portland and Seattle. We’ll be in Portland when the kids are with us and in the Puget Sound area on our boat when they are with their dad.

I’m going to miss that kitchen. Thankfully, the cook is coming with me!

Part-time cruising the Salish Sea

Since getting our first boat four years ago, and our current boat, Polaris, just in the past year, we’ve only been able to take it out for a week at a time. Still, we’ve seen so much: Orcas, gray whales, sea lions, otters.

We’re so excited to dedicate the summer to exploring this beautiful and rich body of water. I thought that cruising was something I wouldn’t be able to do until I was much older, certainly without kids in the house anymore, and probably closer to retirement.

This is the beginning of something new. Something, for now, that is only part-time. But something big, indeed.

Thank you so much for following our journey!