Monday, September 28, 2009
Smaller Island Exploration
In an effort to take full advantage of living in the San Juans, I've explored a few smaller neighboring islands recently. Here is a recap of my summer island-hoping.
JONES: Jones is a small island near Deer Harbor, just off the southwest side of Orcas. It makes for a great afternoon sail, quick overnight getaway, or stop-over en route to other islands. There are two harbors on the north and south sides, so you can pick the more protected anchorage depending on the direction the wind is blowing from. The whole island is a state park, and trails ring around and across the island. Kevin and I have sailed over there several times together. Most recently we went on Labor Day weekend to spend the night and get an earlier start sailing to islands north of Orcas. Here's a view from the southside.
PATOS: From Jones we woke up horrifically early to catch the current up President's Channel and make it to Patos, the most northern island, so small and outlying that it's not even on the map above. It's north of Waldron, west of Sucia. By the time we were drinking coffee, it was a beautiful calm sunny morning. I saw more porpoises than I have ever seen in the San Juans, or anywhere for that matter, their curved black backs sliding out of the water all around us continually, probably about about 30 of them. As we approached Patos, the historic lighthouse loomed over the water. Right across from Patos in Canada is Saturna, and an almost identical lighthouse sits on a point there too, making the islands look like reflections of each other. Spots like that that have such similar geography and architecture remind me just how arbitrary the national boundaries can be. I peeked in the lighthouse window and saw, among other things, a line-up of rubber duckies in all sorts of village-people work attire- fireman, nurse, police officer, etc. Random, I thought. Then I realized that although the island is pronounced PAY-tos, it comes from the Spanish PAH-tos, meaning duck. Apparently there is a duck-theme going on. Anyway, Patos is fairly small, but a beautiful trail around the outside hugs the shore next to a wide expanse of rocks and tide pools.
SUCIA: I've always wanted to go to Sucia because of the name meaning "dirty" in Spanish and that intrigue me. It's pronounced SOO-sha locally, but in espanol would be SOO-see-ah. And it just looks cool on the map, all long and sinewy with arms and harbors. Like Jones and Patos, it is entirely state park with many trails and bays. It is really close to Orcas, and all summer I just wanted to kayak from the north side of Orcas, but for various reasons with various friends it never worked out. So instead it was a sail from Patos, probably more fun anyway.
We anchored in Shallow Bay, which definitely lives up to its namesake. We were checking the tide chart to make sure that the low low tide wouldn't be, well, too low. Luckily at the lowest it would be a +2.1 foot tide, so we estimated that at the worst we'd be in 9 feet of water, and since the hull draws almost 6 feet, it gave us just over 3 feet to spare. I had a dream that I woke up to the boat sitting on the bottom, and I got out and walked to shore because it was so shallow. Fortunately when I woke up we were still floating.
Sucia is cool geologically because it is all sandstone, so there are sweet caves and cliffs and rock formations that you don't see in many of the other islands.
WALDRON: I've been fascinated with getting to Waldron ever since I heard that it was completely private and the only way to go was through an invite. I bided my time, plotted my strategy, and finally went in August as a chaperone for the FEAST (Farm Education and Sustainability for Teens) Program. My roomate is the coordinator for this awesome accredited high school summer program, and I have volunteered with them on local farms and events since last year. Most of the education is based on Orcas, but this was the students' opportunity to visit a neighboring island at the invitation of a Waldrom resident who is a renowned botanist, especially for wild edibles, and especially for seaweed. We spent two days going on plant walks, learning about marine and forest ecology, and eating wild food, discovering just how much is actually edible. I don't think I have ever put so many new foods in my mouth in one day. At night we all camped out at the public school.
Once the students left, we adults had some time to ourselves. It was the annual community caberet fundraiser that night, so we hitched a ride across the island to check it out. Waldron is probably the most culturally isolated island in the archipelago, to the point of having a reputation for hostility to outsiders. I'm glad I got to go on a weekend where there was a large event, and overall I found people extremely friendly. It was on an absolutely stunning piece of property, a working farm set atop a cliff overlooking President's channel. It's not too often in this area you see agricultural land with a waterfront view. The vegetables are sold at the San Juan farmer's market, and the flowers at the market here on Orcas. For a reasonable entry fee, they provided delicious food, mostly fresh from the farm, an assortment of homemade desserts, and beverages. There was a live auction, musical acts, skits, and in the end an impromptu dance party before heading home.
STUART: It's not really new to explore Stuart because I have been going there my whole life, but it is still a smaller island that I would like to write about. It is mostly private, but has a substantial state park on it that bring a lot of tourists to an otherwise remote island. There is no grid electricity, no paved roads, no stores, and mail is only delivered 3 times a week. There is a one-room K-8 school that is still in use and a historic lighthouse. It is the very most northwestern island before Canada, earning the nickname "the last outpost", and has a history of independent, wild folks living there, as seems to be the case for these islands in general.
I took this picture from the air, and you can really see the anchor-shape of the island.
The Turn Point Lighthouse with Suicide Bluff in the background, one of my favorite places on the planet to watch the sunset.