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Hope and Squaxin Island

Blue skies, sunshine and no wind were in the marine forecast after months of nothing but rain, so we grabbed a bag of groceries and headed out for the peaceful waters of Puget Sound. We were not disappointed, even arriving at the outstation late Friday evening, just before the sun set.

The dog quickly got back into the swing of life aboard the boat. He hadn’t been aboard much this year, but as soon as the dingy was in the water (actually it wasn’t quite in the water), he jumped aboard and was all wiggles, wanting to head out exploring.

Lots of room, despite the three day weekend.

Lights out was late Friday night (about midnight), but I had my best night’s sleep in years. Why is it that we can relax, let go of life’s stress and sleep like babies when we are out on the boat?

As usual, we ate like kings, discovering that pre-cooked sausage makes for a great breakfast (without the mess) and that searing a couple of Prime Ribeyes for dinner is guaranteed to make everyone on the boat happy. Especially the dog.

Olympia Yacht Club outstation.

Sunday, we cruised slowly back to Olympia and to the mountain of chores that we had left behind. Although after two nights of peace and quiet on the boat, that mountain seems like a much smaller hill.

Tired guests lulled to sleep by purring engines on Yes Please.

Spring finally decided to show up in the Pacific Northwest, which meant we decided to drop whatever chores we were supposed to be doing and head out in Yes Please. The Kirk’s parents were visiting from California, so we loaded up the boat with lots of picnic goodies and the entire family to head north in search of some sunshine.

We cruised up around Harstine Island, which rewarded us with stunning views of Mount Rainier to the east and the snow covered Olympic Mountains to the West. Bumpa and G-Mo were very impressed with the untouched shores of Squaxin Island and the reflection of the snow covered peaks on the calm waters of Peale and Squaxin Passages.

Stopping for lunch at Island Home proved to be a wise choice. We had the island all to ourselves, which allowed CeCe and Isaac to run free and play while the adults enjoyed a picnic table in the sun. We all walked out to the point to admire the natural beauty of Pickering Passage and laughed as we swung on the Rope Swing.

CeCe on the rope swing

When it was time to cruise back, we putzed around Hope Island and headed home just as the sun was setting on another perfect day. Our California guests were tuckered out, but very happy and could not believe the natural beauty we are so fortunate to live in every day.

Yes Please, alone at the Island Home docks.

One of my favorite seasons for cruising in the Pacific Northwest is Winter. Anchorages are deserted, marinas are empty and the short days encourage enjoying the infrequent sunshine while it lasts, then snuggling up during the dark, cold nights. The barbecue still works extremely well for sizzling steaks and the snow flakes drifting down from the gray skies are mesmerizing.

Island Home, Olympia Yacht Club, Winter Cruising.

Our “go to” spot for a winter weekend getaway is the Olympia Yacht Club’s Island Home, located on Pickering Passage, just south of the Harstine Island Bridge (47° 14.13′ North, 122° 56.10′ West). Whenever we see a break in the weather that coincides with a weekend, we slip out of town on Friday night, just as the sun is setting and cruise north to Island Home. We almost always find that we have the place all to ourselves for the entire weekend and it really recharges your mental batteries to spend two nights of blissful peace and quiet aboard the boat before heading back to the rush and bustle of modern civilization.

Three Generations enjoying the serenity of Island Home.

We’ve had a fair amount of snow this winter, but Yes Please is equipped with both Diesel and Electric Heat that keeps us cozy and warm, even when the temperatures dip well below freezing at night. Our very wet snow does have a tendency to freeze our lines solidly to the docks, so we have learned to bring the tail end of the lines back to the boat, which will allow us to depart on frozen mornings without struggling to chip the lines away from the dock!

Yes Please tied up at the Gig Harbor Public Dock

With a New Year on the horizon, we headed up to Gig Harbor to celebrate, despite the freezing temperatures and High Wind warnings. We stopped by Boston Harbor Marina for some fuel and as seems to be the case 3 out of every 4 times, fuel was not available and the fuel dock was blocked by derelict boats. The fuel gauge said we might have just enough fuel to make it to Tacoma, but I had not idea how accurate it was.

The currents were in our favor, so caution was thrown to the wind and we spooled up the big engines and headed for the Tacoma Fuel Docks. We arrived safely about 2 hours later, with the fuel tank reading fumes, and filled up with fuel that was $100 cheaper than what Boston Harbor Marina would have charged. I will be SO glad when Swantown gets their new fuel dock operational this spring.

After filling up with diesel, we headed over to Gig Harbor, just in time to snag the prime spot on the very end of the Public Dock. I was very surprised to find that power was now available on the dock (which is no longer free, but quite reasonable at $0.50/foot/night). We registered at the Kiosk and had some issues with the GFCI tripping on the pedestal, but eventually made it work and settled in for a weekend of fun.

There are lots of good restaurants in the area, so we ate well and were very happy with the many changes to the waterfront that had happened since our last visit a couple of years ago. I also had to chuckle at one of the captains that came by to congratulate me on my docking skills. He said he’d watched while I docked and was very impressed that I had pulled off parking in a tight space without the use of any thrusters. He said he was giving me a 9.9, which made me smile and chuckle when Sherri reminded me, “not to let it get to my head”. 😉

It snowed overnight on our second night, which was beautiful and we headed home through light snow flurries and and made it back to the boathouse before the gale force winds hit. What a great way to start the New Year!

Yes Please heading out for the Christmas Parade.

Yes Please heading out for the Christmas Parade.

The wind was howling out of the Southwest and the freezing rain was biting, but Yes Please and 27 other boats from the Olympia Yacht Club braved the elements to venture out onto Budd Inlet for the 45th annual Lighted Ships Parade.

This was the first time we had participated in this event, the first time we had decorated the boat and the first time we had been out at night in the new boat. It was also the first time we had the Kirk’s aboard as guests with their Baby and Three year old daughter. What a way to be introduced to boating, night time operations in the winter during a storm!

The Christmas Snow Bear on top of Yes Please

The Christmas Snow Bear on top of Yes Please

We had a blast, kept warm and managed to navigate out to Boston Harbor without incident. We had the wind at our back, which made our eight foot tall mascot stand tall and proud. When we made the turn to Cooper Point, we suddenly had the strong winds and waves on our beam, and things got interesting. Our mascot blew over, so I asked Sherri to unplug it. When she pulled the plug, all the decorations died. Can you say, “blackout?”

All of the Christmas lights on the boat made night vision nearly impossible, but I was managing. The complete blackness was pretty eerie, but after a couple of attempts to figure out what had gone wrong (GFCI had tripped due to salt water hitting an extension cord), we got the lights back on and carried on with the rest of the parade.

After about 3.5 hours, we put the boat back, snug into her boat house and decided that next year, we will secure the inflatable much better. And, there will definitely be a next year, the parade was a lot of crazy fun.

Captain Boyd negotiating the shallow entrance to Fisherman Bay, Lopez Island.

Captain Boyd negotiating the shallow entrance to Fisherman Bay, Lopez Island.

I had always avoided entering Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island. Many of my friends described the bay and marinas as “meh” and with less than five feet of water at a zero tide, it was just too shallow for the six foot draft of my previous boat. Added to that were the many horror stories of boaters running aground in the maze-like entrance, then spending days waiting for a higher tide to re-float the boat. Yikes.

With a firm date approaching to pick up Lauryn at Friday Harbor, I noticed a couple of days with very mild tides, so headed to Lopez Island to try my luck at the entrance to Fisherman Bay. Approaching from the NorthWest, rounding the red day marker and the sand spit is pretty easy, even when maneuvering around a departing sailboat. Where most boaters run into trouble is just past the green markers, where a sharp turn to port is required. The entrance opens up to a wide and calm Fisherman Bay, but there is a long, shallow, sand bar blocking the entrance. It extends almost all the way east to the Islands Marine Center dock, so do not turn south until you pass the #8 Red Buoy. This is well charted, but looks confusing when entering for the first time because there are so many boats and mooring buoys covering the entire bay.

The entrance to Fisherman Bay, Lopez Island.

The entrance to Fisherman Bay, Lopez Island.

Once clear of the sand bar, we putzed over to the Lopez Islander Resort and Marina and tied Yes Please up in a slip. The marina has a lot of deferred maintenance and is in need of some TLC. I was surprised by the cost (very high) and lack of services for visiting boaters.

Venturing ashore, we found Lopez Village to be charming and enjoyed bicycling around the island (which is relatively flat). The dog was captivated by the overabundance of bunnies (aka rabbits) that are everywhere and spent most of his time testing my arm strength (and the leash) trying to chase running bunnies. He reports that bunny poop is very tasty and wants to know when we are returning to Lopez.

The Lopez Islander Resort itself is well past its prime. The onsite restaurant, Islander Bar and Grill, advertises itself as “fine dining since 1952”. Our experience is exactly the opposite. Service is glacial (about 45 minutes to get a menu and another hour or so to get served, even on a slow day) and the food was the worst I have ever been served in the San Juan Islands in the 40 years that I have been visiting. The “medium rare” rib-eye steak I was given was pretty much shoe leather, that was nearly impossible to cut with a steak knife, much less chew, with zero seasoning.

We spent two days at the marina, visiting the restaurant several times for breakfast, lunch and dinner and found the food to be universally, very bad. We will be back to Lopez Island, but will skip the Lopez Islander.


The approach to Eastsound's fishing bay.

The approach to Eastsound’s fishing bay.

Eastsound is the largest population center on Orcas Island, making it popular with tourists arriving by vehicle ferry, but is not really set up well for visiting boaters. Located at the northern tip of East Sound’s Fishing Bay, the prevailing Southerly winds and long fetch means it is usually much to rough and windy to safely anchor. We lucked out after being rousted out of West Sound at first light to a forecast of brisk north winds, so made a breakfast stop at the Rosario resort, then headed north.

Anchoring in Fishing Bay is a little challenging. The shallow part of the bay is marked as a “no anchor” zone to protect eel grass, which means you have to anchor in deeper water on a very steep slope. I dropped the hook close to Indian Island and ran out 150′ of chain before attaching the chain snubber and checking the anchor’s set. It was good, so we dropped the dinghy in the water and ran the puppy over to the public dock and made the long hike to town.

Panoramic View of East Sound while anchored at Eastsound

Panoramic View of East Sound while anchored at Eastsound

Eastsound is pretty touristy, with a few hotels, numerous restaurants, too many gift stores, and a very large grocery store. It would be a great place to provision if you didn’t have to hike so far to get back to the public dock. Speaking of the public dock, it is very small, very shallow and pretty busy. Watch the tides and your draft when tying up as the inside of the dock can shoal at minus tides. We picked up some fresh food and replenished the wine supply before returning to Yes Please to enjoy the magnificent view.

Grand Banks Eastbay 39, Yes Please, anchored in East Sound, Orcas Island.

Grand Banks Eastbay 39, Yes Please, anchored in East Sound, Orcas Island.

A beautiful, new, Back Cove arrived with a boat load of kids and attempted to anchor near us. While admiring the new boat (which looks very similar to ours), we watched more than two dozen failed attempts to set the anchor. I was just getting into the dinghy to go over and offer some assistance when they gave up and headed for Judd Bay. It was quite obvious to me that the boat’s operator was backing up much too fast while lowering the anchor (both 500 HP motors were in reverse) and was pulling it off the steep slope and into water deeper than he had chain out. I’m never quite sure if an offer of assistance would be welcome and did not want to embarrass the boat’s crew.

We headed to the White Horse Pub for dinner, which was meh, and saw lots of interesting sites around the Eastsound Public Dock, including some naked bathing off the beach, lots of drug deals along Haven Road and made the obligatory stops to buy some trinkets in several gift shops. I was glad that we stopped to visit, but doubt that we will be coming back.

Yes Please rafted up at the Orcas Island Yacht Club reciprocal moorage.

Yes Please rafted up at the Orcas Island Yacht Club reciprocal moorage.

As we cruised along the Southern shores of Orcas Island and squirted through the always entertaining Pole Pass, we saw the entrance to West Sound and were intrigued. With names like Massacre Bay, Skull Rock and Victim Island, we had to see what was really there. We bypassed the West Sound Marina and headed for the small T-dock at the Orcas Island Yacht Club. Another Grand Banks just tied up to the last spot as we arrived, but kindly offered to let us raft up to them.

Sherri and Scott with Yes Please in the background.

Sherri and Scott with Yes Please in the background.

We secured Yes Please along side a beautiful GB Trawler and dropped the dinghy in the water and positioned it so the dog could easily get ashore via the swim platforms. We then checked out the Marina, Skull Rock, Massacre Bay and Victim Island. All turned out to be far less interesting than their names. Oh well, you don’t know if you don’t go.

The small West Sound Cafe was just up the street and had excellent reviews from several sources (Active Captain, Yelp, etc.) so we sauntered up the road for dinner and were amazed. The menu was very unique, featuring locally grown/harvested foods. When dinner arrived, it was cooked perfectly, melted in your mouth and tasted so good, that we stayed for two desserts!! Shhhhh, don’t tell anyone!

The sign in front of the West Sound Cafe.  It's worth investing the time to visit.

The sign in front of the West Sound Cafe. It’s worth investing the time to visit.

Forty Five Yachts rafted up at Island Home for the Olympia Yacht Club Foofaraw event.

Forty Five Yachts rafted up at Island Home for the Olympia Yacht Club Foofaraw event.

Foofaraw is an event (established in 1962) put on by the Olympia Yacht Club to honor and appreciate members of our great nation’s military. This year, forty five yachts carried 300+ service men and women along with Chamber of Commerce hosts to a private island for a day of fun. Yes Please joined the armada this year and had members of the Army, Navy and Air Force on board for the celebration.

We departed a little after 0800, into pea soup fog, with all 45 boats lined up, single file to parade past the Olympia Waterfront. The boats and their guests were treated to an amazing display by the local police and fire departments, which lined the Port of Olympia wharves with hundreds of police cars and fire trucks, lights flashing in the fog, horns blaring.

The fog broke as we approached Hope Island and the Dockmaster’s at Island Home did a masterful job of queuing up the arriving yachts and getting all 45 boats secured to or rafted up at the two small docks. Great food was cooking on the firepits, including traditional salmon by the Chehalis Tribe and there were an abundance of games and entertainment available.

Everyone had a great adventure and a beautiful, sunny day of fun and relaxation at Island Home. The Yes Please crew felt very honored to be able to participate and give back to our service men and women that give so much to each and every one of us.

Double Rainbow as we tie up Yes Please at Deer Harbor Marina.

Double Rainbow as we tie up Yes Please at Deer Harbor Marina.

Deer Harbor Marina is a delightful destination located in the smallest and western-most bay on Orcas Island. I had often seen boats coming in and out of Deer Harbor, but had never stopped to see what was there. Boy, was I missing out.

Heading South from Patos Island on a rather stormy day, we decided to poke our head in at Deer Harbor and see if they had room. The Marina Staff went out of their way to find a spot for us and met us at the slip as we backed in to help with the lines. Deer Harbor is an older Marina, but is maintained beautifully and offers outstanding amenities for visiting boaters.

Deer Harbor Marina

Deer Harbor Marina

The Hotel across the street is no longer associated with the Marina (so no pool any more) and the Restaurant has been closed and turned over to the Marina for remodeling. I suspect it will be a great place to eat once finished as the little cafe out on the dock makes some of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted. Mmmmm!

The weekend-only restaurant at Deer Harbor Cottages is worth the hike down the road, offering excellent food in a very historic old building.

We spent a great couple of days at Deer Harbor and I was continually impressed by the Marina Staff. They will take great care of you, take pride in their work and we will definitely be back again.