Tens of thousands of times each summer, owners of recreational cruising boats depart from central Puget Sound ports en route to the San Juan Islands. Protected waterways, an extensive network of marine state parks, waterfront villages, resort marinas, and other attractions create one of the finest boating areas on the planet. All that sunny weather and often tranquil waterways can create a sense of complacency, especially among new boaters. After all, these are the San Juan Islands, not the high seas, right? What could possibly go wrong so close to home? Plenty.
First consideration; getting there
The majority of recreational boats vacationing in the San Juans originate in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Bremerton, Edmonds, or some other location in Puget Sound. (Many other, and most charter boats, depart from Anacortes or Bellingham). In most cases, boaters from central Puget Sound can choose between three practical routes to the San Juans. Each route has unique advantages, as well as some specific disadvantages and known hazards.
Virtually all routes to the San Juan Islands from central Puget Sound will expose a recreational boat to the shipping lanes. Keep a regular, 360-degree watch. A 25-knot container ship can overtake an 8-knot trawler faster than would seem likely to an inexperienced skipper. Navigation rules prohibit impeding a vessel following the shipping lanes, (even if you’re under sail). It’s commonly understood that “tonnage wins” so as a practical matter recreational boats must always maneuver to avoid commercial shipping.
There are also six ferry routes that require additional diligence. South of Elliott Bay, keep a weather eye for Point Defiance to Vashon Island, Southworth to the north end of Vashon and West Seattle, as well as the Seattle to Bremerton ferry off the south end of Bainbridge Island.
Other ferries include Seattle to Bainbridge, Edmonds to Kingston, Mukilteo to Whidbey Island, and Whidbey Island to Port Townsend. Give the ferries a wide berth, and respect their surprising turn of speed.
Originally Published in Nor’west Boating.
Next Post coming tomorrow: Crossing the Strait of Juan De Fuca