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No Grief on a Reef (in your Selene Trawler): Wasp Islands

Boat AgroundRelatively narrow passages between the small islands immediately NW of Shaw Island and some well documented rocks not shown on official charts render Wasp Passage, and the Wasp Islands in general, one of those areas where a “no-go” decision is often the best. It’s entirely possible to navigate Wasp Passage without slamming into a rock, and the majority of boaters attempting to do so succeed. Washington State Ferries use Wasp Passage, with expert captains in command. At the same time, commercial tow operators and salvage companies do a lot of business in and around Wasp Passage every summer. A number of charter agreements specifically prohibit attempting to navigate in Wasp Passage.

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No Grief on a Reef (in your Selene Trawler): Stuart Island

02 John's Pass, between John's and Stuart Island (image not to be used for navigation)

* John’s Pass, between John’s and Stuart Island (image not to be used for navigation)

Two of the most popular San Juan Island anchorages are at Stuart Island, separated by a narrow peninsula. Prevost Harbor, to the north, is a convenient first or last stop before crossing Boundary Pass into Canadian waters. Reid Harbor, to the south, is only a short cruise from Roche Harbor, Garrison Bay, and other significant destinations on San Juan Island itself. There are a handful of hazards in the area, but most are easily avoided.

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No Grief on a Reef (in your Selene Trawler): Entrance to Fisherman Bay

*Entrance to Fisherman Bay, Lopez Island (image not to be used for navigation)

*Entrance to Fisherman Bay, Lopez Island (image not to be used for navigation)

Fisherman Bay, on Lopez Island, is among the premiere destinations in the San Juan Islands. It is also one of the few locations where there is no alternative to running a tricky entrance. There are boaters who never venture into Fisherman Bay due to any number of horror stories. Such tales are related, almost entirely, by others who didn’t properly research and prepare for the entrance or who made glaring navigational errors when running the channel.

There is no reason to fear the entrance to Fisherman Bay, but a few considerations deserve respect.

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No Grief on a Reef (in your Selene Trawler)

INordhavn Agroundn the first two installments of this series, we examined some of the most common routes between central Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. We addressed the various passes through which a boater will enter the heart of the San Juan archipelago. Now that we have figuratively arrived at our general destination, all that remains is dealing with a handful of perennial problem spots.

Go, or no go? There’s a terrible old joke in which a man goes to his doctor and says, “Doc, every time I raise my elbow as high as my shoulder it really hurts a lot. What can I do about the pain?” The physician answers, “Stop raising your elbow that high.”

The poor humor highlights an important consideration when planning to avoid going around or colliding with rocks in the San Juan Islands. Many of the places where people routinely run into problems could be just as easily avoided. There are only a few cases where there is only one direction from which to approach or depart an anchorage. A well-considered cruising plan will help a boater avoid some (but not all) the potentially difficult areas.

Next Post:  Entrance to Fisherman Bay

Don’t Go Aground in the Sound Or Come to Grief on a Reef (in your Selene Trawler): Mosquito Pass

06 Mosquito Pass, between Henry and San Juan Islands, offers access to Roche Harbor as well as Garrison and Wescott Bays (image not for use in navigation)

06 Mosquito Pass, between Henry and San Juan Islands, offers access to Roche Harbor as well as Garrison and Wescott Bays (image not for use in navigation)

Near the “9 o’clock” portion of the San Juan circle, and less frequently navigated for initial entrance to the San Juans from central Puget Sound, is Mosquito Pass. Navigation though Mosquito Pass is not inherently dangerous, but must be both deliberate and well planned to avoid coming to grief on a reef.

Currents are a consideration, especially in the more northern sections of the pass. Unfortunately, the northern portion of the pass requires some agile maneuvering to avoid the shoals and kelp beds near Pole Island. Boaters unfamiliar with Mosquito Pass may be well advised to enter somewhere near high slack. An extra few feet of water under the keel can make a critical difference here, and avoiding periods of peak current will also add an extra margin of safety.

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Don’t Go Aground in the Sound Or Come to Grief on a Reef (in your Selene Trawler): Peavine and Obstruction Passes

05 Obstruction Pass is north of Obstruction Island, and Peavine Pass is south of Obstruction Island (image not for use in navigation)

05 Obstruction Pass is north of Obstruction Island, and Peavine Pass is south of Obstruction Island (image not for use in navigation)

Most boaters bound for the San Juans from central Puget Sound will have entered the archipelago prior to reaching Peavine or Obstruction Pass. The two passes run on either side of Obstruction Island, between Orcas Island to the north and Blakely Island to the south. Peavine Pass, immediately north of Blakely Island, is the more popular passage. Navigation is reasonably obvious, although a deliberate and well charted course will be required.

Currents are more significant in Peavine and Obstruction Passes than in Lopez or Thatcher. On several days each year, the ebb current in Rosario Strait is 3 knots or better. Ebb at the west entrance to Peavine Pass will be 2.2 times as rapid, or between 6.5 and 7 knots. During those extreme tide changes and Peavine or Obstruction Passes should be approached with caution or avoided.

Next Post coming tomorrow: Mosquito Pass

Don’t Go Aground in the Sound Or Come to Grief on a Reef (in your Selene Trawler): Thatcher Pass

04 Thatcher Pass, between Blakely and Decatur Islands, affords good access from Rosario Strait (image not for use in navigation)

04 Thatcher Pass, between Blakely and Decatur Islands, affords good access from Rosario Strait (image not for use in navigation)

Arguably the busiest access into the San Juan Islands, Thatcher Pass is almost due west from the last buoys in Guemes Channel. Thatcher Pass is a busy route for Washington State Ferries. As with other commercial vessels, pleasure boaters are expected to stay well clear of ferry traffic. Keep a constant watch. Simply because there wasn’t a ferry boat coming up astern a few minutes ago doesn’t guarantee that a fresh look aft won’t reveal an approaching ferry. Especially in an era where many boats capable of running much faster are running on a slow bell to save fuel, a ferry turning 20-knots or more can overtake with surprising rapidity.

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Don’t Go Aground in the Sound Or Come to Grief on a Reef (in your Selene Trawler): Lopez Pass

03 Lopez Pass, near the SE corner of Lopez Island, affords good access to Mud and Hunter Bays (image not for use in navigation)

03 Lopez Pass, near the SE corner of Lopez Island, affords good access to Mud and Hunter Bays (image not for use in navigation)

In the southeast corner of the San Juan circle, Lopez Pass is the first opportunity available to boaters transiting Deception Pass to exit Rosario Strait. Vessels crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca and electing not to use Cattle Pass may likewise choose Lopez Pass as an alternative to continuing north of Rosario Strait.

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Don’t Go Aground in the Sound Or Come to Grief on a Reef (in your Selene Trawler): Cattle Pass

02 Cattle pass, upper left, is a popular entrance from the Strait of Juan de Fuca (image not for use in navigation)

02 Cattle pass, upper left, is a popular entrance from the Strait of Juan de Fuca (image not for use in navigation)

Many boaters crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca will opt to enter the San Juans through Cattle Pass. Some boaters using Deception Pass may elect to use Cattle Pass as well, although boaters transiting between Deception Pass and Cattle Pass should avoid getting too close to the southeast shore of Lopez Island. Reefs, rocks, and other opportunities for unhappy encounters abound. Remaining an adequate distance offshore and turning directly into Cattle Pass will be preferable to bumping (perhaps literally) along the Lopez shoreline.

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Don’t Go Aground in the Sound Or Come to Grief on a Reef (in your Selene Trawler): Entering the San Juan Archipelago

01 The San Juan archipelago resembles a circular formation. (image not for use in navigation)

01 The San Juan archipelago resembles a circular formation. (image not for use in navigation)

Last month, we examined a variety of routes and considerations of concern to boaters planning a cruise from central Puget Sound to the San Juan Islands. Once across Rosario Strait, or the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the islands are arranged in a nearly circular configuration. The largest islands form the major portions of the ring, with smaller islands plugged into the gaps. More of the interesting cruising destinations and popular ports are found within the natural circle than on the edges. A good cruising plan will account for entrance through one of the many passes and into the heart of the San Juan Islands.

Next Post coming tomorrow:  Cattle Pass