Islands in the Straits
Our next destination was a return to America at Roche Harbor, on San Juan Island. All day, Mount Baker hovered over our port beam as we sailed south in a light breeze. We kept our eyes peeled for whales but saw only eagles and seals as temperatures climbed once again into the 90s F. By midafternoon, the water around Illuminé turned glassy, and we eventually sparked up the engine so that we could clear in at customs before the office closed. Our return to America was, unfortunately, the sole squally patch we ran into during our weeklong adventure. At the customs dock, I took the crews' papers and encountered Officer Wentworth, who, since I had a Massachusetts driver's license, felt compelled to lecture me on the evils of the Kennedys, the curse of illegal aliens, and the shortsightedness of liberals who tinkered with law-enforcement budgets. And though passports were not then required for returning U.S. citizens, he took the opportunity to visit the boat and dress down members of the crew who had only photo IDs. It was distressing to see our tax dollars put so poorly to work.
Officer Wentworth aside, Roche Harbor quickly had us in a better mood as we wandered through its many shops and stopped at the Hotel De Haro to visit the gardens and sit down for a beer. The busiest boat in the harbor appeared to belong to the pumpout crew, whose sign proclaimed: "We take crap from anyone." Dinner that night was ashore at the Madrona Bar & Grill. We sat on the porch and ordered lamb burgers. As the sun set, we were treated with the nightly striking of colors-American, British, and Canadian-and the cannon salute and anthems that accompany the ceremony at the Roche Harbor Marina next door.
With just a day and a half left, we set out early in the morning to sail around the southern tip of San Juan Island in search of whales. This was our first gray day of the trip. As we headed south into a brisk southwest wind, drizzle fell, and the girls chose to enjoy the scenery along Haro Strait from below, through the large deck-saloon windows. We eventually were able to crack off as our course took us more to the east. As we crossed Kanaka Bay, near the southern end of San Juan Island, we spied the brightly colored whale-watching boats off in the distance, too far away to chase. Closer at hand, the wind abruptly dropped from 20 knots to less than 10, and we were surrounded by steep, current-driven waves. From below in the galley where I was making sandwiches, I felt the boat being pushed and pulled by whirlpools, and I watched all sorts of deadheads and debris swirl past.
We were soon at Cattle Pass and motorsailing between San Juan and Lopez islands at better than 12 knots over the ground. At the wheel now, I paid close attention to the current pulling us to either side of the channel and held on in amazement when we suddenly hit a foot-tall wall of water and our speed dropped to 2 knots. I guess we'd crossed the line between flood and ebb.
Progress was slow as we pushed north, leaving Friday Harbor behind for another visit and regretting that there wouldn't be enough time to ply East Sound, which cuts deep into Orcas Island. Instead, we motored through Peavine Pass and past lovely homes along the shore, our destination for the night the few moorings available on the northeast tip of vacant Cypress Island. The cruising guide promised trails there would lead us to the top of Eagle Cliff and a spectacular view of the San Juans, but we'd arrived at the wrong time of the year; the area was closed for wildlife breeding. Instead, we spent our last late afternoon watching the weather clear, walking the stone beach ashore, and motoring our inflatable around the mirrorlike water in the mooring field in one last attempt at cornering an unsuspecting crab. Our dinner that night of spaghetti and leftovers couldn't have tasted better as we liberally toasted the spirits that inhabit the mountains and sounds we'd sailed through.
With a noon deadline to be back in Bellingham, we left early and motored down the coast of Cypress Island to explore one last anchorage before we turned Illuminé's bow northeast a final time. With Mount Baker as our guide, we crossed our outbound path at the southern end of Lummi Island and all too soon were tied up, tidying up, and tallying up the list of the things we'd visited in a week's time and what we'd missed. It was then-when I realized how much, but how little, we'd seen-that it became all too clear why Roger Van Dyken's flock keeps coming back for more.
Mark Pillsbury is CW's senior editor.