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

05 Safe passage through Skagit Bay is close to the eastern shoreline of Whidbey Island (image not be used for navigation)

05 Safe passage through Skagit Bay is close to the eastern shoreline of Whidbey Island (image not be used for navigation)

Under the right conditions. San Juan bound boaters choosing the Inside Passage can continue along the eastern shoreline of Whidbey Island and turn toward the islands by transiting Deception Pass. Deception Pass is both dramatic and scenic, but knowledgeable mariners avoid the pass if the current is running more than a very few knots. Tide and current tables will list the times of predicted “slack” in Deception Pass, and experienced boaters will time (or delay) arrival at the pass to coincide as closely as possible with slack current. Some boaters feel comfortable using the pass 30 minutes either side of slack, and still others will venture through an hour before or after predicted slack. Much depends on the amount of tide change, (small changes result in less current), as well as the power and design of the boat itself. The best and safest advice is to transit the pass exactly at slack.

06 Deception Pass, between Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, should only be attempted at or near slack (image not for use in navigation)

06 Deception Pass, between Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, should only be attempted at or near slack (image not for use in navigation)

There’s a commonly encountered fallacy about Deception Pass. “Why would I care about 6 or 7 knots of current? My boat goes 15 knots, so I can make 8 or 9 knots in Deception Pass!” The challenge with Deception Pass is that the pass itself is quite narrow and bordered by rocks. When the current is in full flood or full ebb some enormous whirlpools form. Steerage is as much a consideration as is the ability to make way through the current. There is little room, and sometime less ability to dodge obstacles. Even if a skipper can make a net 6 or 7 knots in the pass, who does anybody imagine is steering that 12-foot log rushing through the pass and closing in on the boat at an effective 14 or 15 knots?

Deception Pass offers stunning scenery, and for boaters originating in central Puget Sound the second shortest distance to the San Juans. If the current tables do not forecast a slack or near slack transit of Deception Pass, most boaters opt for the second “inside option” and turn up the Swinomish Channel prior to exiting Skagit Bay.

Next Post coming tomorrow:  Swinomish Channel

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