As discussed in previous posts (primarily the route plan), this past weekend I took nine of my friends with me on a sailing charter trip in the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle. I’d lived on Orcas Island from 1990-1992 as a child while my dad was the pastor of Orcas Island Community Church, and hadn’t been back since. But let’s back up a bit to the beginning of the trip and talk about the yacht.
The yacht we’d chartered was the s/v Christelle, a 2001 Beneteau Oceanis 50 (yes, a 50 footer!) out of Anacortes, WA. She was clean and fairly well equipped, with four cabins (two doubles and two twins) as well as a two-bunk crew cabin in the bow (with the windlass controls inside). While not a very good layout for a live-aboard cruiser (too many cabins, too little non-cabin space), she was ideal for a short charter, and was very easy to sail and motor around the islands.
Friday, September 4th – Checkout and sailing to Cypress Island
Friday morning we all met at the Skyline Harbor Marina at 9am. I’d told my crew that they were unfortunately going to be in for a several hour wait while I and my first mate (as well as one other of the crew) went over the yacht and went out for a trial run, so they settled in to wait (while a few ran a quick errand to get jugs of drinking water and bags of ice).
The yacht familiarization went quickly, as did the trial run. We didn’t even leave the marina, even though the information from the charter company had indicated otherwise, but I’m going to chalk this up to them knowing I actively sail as well as the skipper showing me the boat seeing my handling and confidence aboard (as well as the extra questions I’d been asking while he was giving us the tour). It was pretty easy: motor around the marina and demonstrate handling. However coming back in to dock there was some wind pushing us away from the dock and in the extremely tight quarters of the corner of the marina we were in, the charter company skipper took over and even he managed to give another boat (or was it the dock?) a love-tap. No biggie though, and certainly no damage.
My crew and I loaded all of our gear and provisions onto the boat at that point, and we were off before 1pm.
After getting out of the marina and out into the main channel we had enough wind to raise our sails, and we were off toward our destination for the evening: Eagle Harbor, a nice little cove on the east coast of Cypress Island. It wasn’t far away, and we had some fun sailing in the light winds, though we had to fight our way through a headwind and a current in the channel between Cypress and Guemes Islands to the east of Deepwater Bay by tacking back and forth.
Almost a half hour of progress was lost when one of the crew lost a boat shoe overboard, but it was a good time for a person overboard drill and we were able to retrieve the lost shoe. (to be fair, we were motorsailing at the time due to the angle of the wind being exactly wrong, so it wasn’t a pure sailing person overboard drill and was quite easy… even if it took two passes to snag the shoe with a boat hook and lift it out of the water!)
This was worth a good laugh and we’d been making great time, so no harm done.
Not long later we arrived at Eagle Harbor. As I’d feared, there were already quite a few boats anchored there, and the bottom is a bit of a hodgepodge of various depths. After about ten minutes or so of weaving my way between other boats attempting to find a spot both shallow enough to anchor in and far enough from the other boats to not worry about swinging into each other I decided to abort the attempt and head to my backup anchorage, the next cove north of Eagle Harbor.
Turns out, this was a great decision. With only one other boat in sight (a fishing boat with a very shallow draft anchored in water far too shallow for us to worry about) we were able to take the one really good spot in about 25-30 feet of water, not far from the beach, with a rock wall and a large rock in the water on our other two sides.
Once we were sure the anchor held, we settled in for the evening to a dinner of fresh Coho salmon (that I slightly undercooked, oops!), asparagus spears, and mashed sweet potatoes. We were treated to a beautiful sunset (as well as a rainbow far to the south where it was raining) before the skies cleared up and we could see an beautiful star field, with almost no light pollution in sight.
Saturday, September 5th – Cypress to Orcas on a beam reach
After a relaxed morning of scrambled eggs, bacon, toasted English muffins, and coffee, we weighed anchor and started working our way north toward the marina we’d be docking at for the afternoon. Threading between Cypress and Sinclair Islands we headed north in the direction of Lummi Island alongside the east side shipping channel in the Rosario Strait before crossing the shipping channel over to Orcas Island just north of Lawrence Point.
Here the wind was favorable and we wouldn’t need to dodge shipping traffic, so we raise the sails and enjoyed good winds on a beam reach all the way up the northeast coast of Orcas Island, hitting a maximum speed of around 7.6knots, and then a slower broad reach as we turned west around the northern edge of Orcas.
The marina we were headed to is a small private one called Brandt’s Landing. I’d made reservations for the slip over a month prior knowing it was the only slip they offered that could handle a boat of Christelle‘s size, and later found out that it was also the only slip that wasn’t in permanent use. I’d been warned beforehand that at a 0-foot low tide the entrance to the marina was a mere 4 feet deep; our keel drew 6’3″, so the problem here is obvious! Luckily I’d planned extensively in advance and knew that we’d be looking at a high tide right around when we’d be arriving in the marina (and knew how long we’d have to wait the next day before we could safely leave).
We made it inside smoothly, seeing a minimum depth on our way in of just over 10 feet (yikes!) but then deepening back to a bit over 18 once inside the marina.
Once again with the bit of wind we had docking was a slight challenge, but we ended up turning the boat around and pulling in stern-first to the slip instead of bow-first, which was much easier, and docked without incident.
Saturday, September 5th – Exploring Eastsound, WA
Once we were all checked into the marina and had everything secured, we locked the boat and headed as a group into Eastsound. It’s just a fifteen minute walk into town, and as it was getting toward 1:30pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch, we decided to all stop at a cafe and get some burgers. We ended up at Island Skillet for beer and burgers. The burgers were fine and did the job. The side of chili, on the other hand, was great.
At this point we split up into groups, with me running off on my own to explore and see what I could remember from living there as a kid. I had some good luck, even running into a few people that remembered both me and my family. It feels good being remembered!
After heading back to the boat in scattered groups (stopping to pick up some growlers of the excellent locally-brewed beer from Island Hoppin’ Brewery), two of our friends arrived via two-seater Cessna to the airport next door to the marina. We passed the evening with drinks and dinner; grilled t-bone steak and brussels sprouts sauteed with bacon, then once it got dark enjoyed the stars from the beach.
Sunday, September 6th – Orcas to Sucia, in a roundabout fashion
It rained hard all night, and I was out of bed just after 6:15am. The rain didn’t stop until about 7:30am, nor was anyone else up and about, so I spent the time watching some of the wildlife visible from the back of the boat. A kingfisher was active in the marina, as was a nutria, but I was happiest to see a great blue heron land nearby and proceed to (successfully) hunt small fish so close I could see one of them wriggling as it went down the heron’s slender throat!
We couldn’t even leave the marina until past noon because we had to wait for the tide to come in, so enjoyed a lazy breakfast of pancakes and sausage.
Our friends who’d flown in the previous day said goodbye to us at 12:30pm, we untied from the dock, and were off. Our destination by the end of the day was Sucia Island, actually quite close, but there was a complication: the black water storage tanks on Christelle aren’t particularly large, and we needed to pump out. So we headed to the nearest pump-out station, Deer Harbor, Orcas Island, which meant motoring down the west coast of Orcas Island. Yes, I did say motoring: after the previous night’s rain storm the wind was nowhere to be found, so we motored comfortably along glassy waters for the day.
It only took an hour and a half to make it down to Deer Harbor, and pumping out hardly took any time at all. In fact, the majority of our time was taken up by topping all of our water tanks off! It wasn’t too long until we were motoring back the way we’d came. I took us up past the west side of Sucia and circled around from the north before entering Echo Bay.
Echo Bay is a very easy anchorage; even with quite a few other boats, I didn’t have to look around much at all before locating a good spot in just under 30 feet of water to drop anchor in. The anchor set on the muddy bottom first try, and without wind or much current to move the boat around, we settled down lined up with the other sailing yachts around us, nearly above our anchor. That’s the nice thing about your anchor rode being entirely chain: the weight of the chain helps keep a solid anchorage and minimal swing distance from the anchor.
Three people went ashore for a bit while we still had warm sunshine, while the rest of us chilled on the boat, set up the hammock I’d brought, and drank some beers. Dinner that night was lamb burgers with a salad, and we polished off most of the remaining wine with dinner before setting in for an early night. I’d be waking up early (6:15am!) along with my first mate, Tim, so we could pull anchor and be on our way back to Anacortes by 6:30am the next morning. (we had to leave so early to make it back by the time the charter company had set for us)
Monday, September 7th – Sucia to Anacortes, with some fog
As planned, we were motoring our way out of Echo Bay by 6:30am. I kept the engine RPMs below 2300 to keep it a bit quieter inside the yacht to allow people to sleep. They did so, with folks poking their heads out gradually as they smelled coffee brewing. The water was so calm (no wind, still!) that aside from the gentle thrum of the engine there wasn’t anything to wake anybody up by.
We motored along at between 7 and 8 knots all the way down the east coast of Orcas, down the Rosario Strait, until we got to the south-western tip of Cypress Island. There’s a shipping channel between there and our destination, and looking across we realized we couldn’t see Anacortes on the other side due to a heavy fog bank.
The charter company had given us instructions that if fog or heavy weather were what delayed us coming back in on the last day it wouldn’t be an issue, so I set us up circling the channel marker buoy, called the charter company to let them know where we were and what we were doing, and we spent the next two hours circling the channel market buoy until the fog lifted.
Once the fog lifted, it was a short trip across the channel and into the Skyline Marina. After topping off the diesel tanks, we unloaded the yacht and checked out. The charter company rep seemed rather happy with how well we’d taken care of Christelle, and also appreciated the list of minor problems with the yacht I’d compiled.
And thus ended my second charter trip as a skipper! I had a wonderful time, as did all my friends aboard, and it’s really valuable to me to continue gaining experience on these larger, world-cruising-size sailing yachts.