Seven-Day NE Sound Sampler Cruise
Waters along the eastern shoreline of Puget Sound, between Possession Point at the south end of Whidbey Island and the City of Blaine, may be considered NE Puget Sound. Whidbey, Fidalgo, Guemes, and Lummi Island afford some protection from W or SW winds. Waters in the NE sound are often calmer than those W or Whidbey, so a run up the “inside passage” from central sound ports is a popular options for vessels en route to the San Juans or cruising areas father north.
Small towns, wooded shorelines, and spectacular views typify cruising in the NE portions of the Sound.
Northbound boaters intending to go much farther than Oak Harbor will confront a choice. A course up the Swinomish Channel will allow an overnight stop at LaConner, (always considered a highlight among NW cruising destinations). Rounding the north end of Whidbey through Deception Pass might cut some time off a cruise to the San Juans- or not, depending on how long a boater will be required to wait for slack current.
We’ll consider this Seven Day Sampler from a northbound perspective, and touch on the respective challenges of Deception Pass and the Swinomish Channel following an overnight visit to Oak Harbor.
Day 1: Langley, near 48.02.36 N, 122.24.05 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
The vintage farm and market village of Langley is on the southern shoreline of Saratoga Passage, just west of Sandy Point. The Langley Boat Harbor (360-221-1120) appears to fill up quickly, but a full time harbormaster makes a heroic attempt to fit everybody in. (Be prepared to raft out from the dock at Langley). It is possible to anchor south of the marina, being mindful of the nearby boat ramp. Cruisers will find the two-block walk to the top of the bluff and into downtown Langley absolutely worth the effort.
The historic business district is only a few square blocks, but it is packed with art galleries, antique shops, a medium-sized grocery, an old-time movie theater, some good restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, and more. Visitors will enjoy walk along the beach, immediately below the town shops. From the beach, or from the boat, keep an eye peeled for grey whales and orcas in Saratoga Passage. Like NW cruisers, many of the whales seem to prefer the “inside passage” along Whidbey Island.
Day 2 : Coupeville, near 48.13.48 N, 122.24.05 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
Coupeville, situated in idyllic Penn Cove is the second oldest town on Puget Sound. Much of the area is part of Ebey’s Landing National Historic Preserve. Shellfish raised and harvested in Penn Cove are famous throughout the world. If approaching Penn Cove from the south, watch for Snatelum Point on the chart and stay outside of the marker. The town dock is on the south side of the cove. During the summer months, additional mooring buoys are available to supplement the space available on the visitors’ float. Deep draft vessels should consult a tide table before settling in on the float; waters alongside can get thin at lower tides.
The Island County Museum is conveniently located near the head of the landing pier. An original blockhouse and a variety of Native American canoes are displayed, as well as a series of constantly renewing indoor exhibits.
Day 3: Oak Harbor entrance channel near 48.15.85 N, 122.38.39 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
Oak Harbor is the largest city on Whidbey Island, and home to an active Naval Air Station. Navigators with a good chart should have no problems following the doglegged entrance channel, but shoals and rocks are plentiful here and cruisers must not “cut” any marks.
A well-managed marina (360-279-4500) offers guest moorage in slips behind the floating breakwater. Additional moorage is available along the north side float, but the approach is problematic and deep draft vessels may ground there at low tides. Moor on the north side with extreme caution, following the guide and warning signs posted by the marina. Fuel dock and boatyard services are available here.
It’s a leisurely, mostly flat walk of about a mile to the heart of the downtown business district. It’s possible to dinghy over to downtown during moderate and higher tides. Shops are an interesting mix of local businesses, many of them targeting the young service members living nearby. A pawnshop may be immediately next door to a bridal boutique. Several decent restaurants are available, along with a major supermarket and a multi screen theater. The waterfront park is a pleasurable stroll.
North of Oak Harbor: Decisions, Decisions
Continuing north from Oak Harbor, cruisers can elect to use either Deception Pass or the Swinomish Channel. Our Seven-Day Sampler Cruise will continue up the Swinomish, but many boaters will run Deception Pass and emerge in Rosario Strait only a few miles from the San Juan Islands
Deception Pass: center of the pass is near 48.24.36 N, 122.38.56 W (coordinates not for use in navigation) Experienced boaters will wait until some time near slack before transiting Deception Pass. Currents here can be strong enough to stop a 9-knot boat dead in its tracks, and the wild rush of water through the narrow and rocky pass creates whirlpools and back currents that can wreck boaters fantasizing “My boat is fast enough to make progress against the flow!” There is little room to dodge oncoming logs or other drift rampaging along in swift currents. Safe passage is often available for 30 minutes either side of slack water. Consult a tide and current table. Don’t attempt the pass without a chart.
Swinomish Channel: southern entrance near 48.21.59 N, 122.33.40 W (coordinates not for use in navigation) Boaters adhering to some basic precautions will have little difficulty in the Swinomish. The southern entrance requires an exact and deliberate approach. Don’t cut the final entrance buoy; the safe turn into the Swinomish incorporates almost a 90-degree course change. Range markers in Dugwalla Bay, (astern of a boar entering the Swinomish) will line up when a boater is in the middle of the channel. Don’t wander far from the center of the channel, (but allow oncoming vessels room for safe passage). Watch for the blind corner at the “hole in the wall” cliff. There are some shallow soundings near mid channel when coming upon the Shelter Bay housing district. At the north end of the channel, stay within the marks until past the final marker east of the Anacortes refineries.
Day 4: Port of LaConner guest moorages near 48.23.69 N, 122.29.79 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
Currents can run several knots in the Swinomish, and when there is any appreciable current boaters have the best luck landing “upstream” at the LaConner guest docks.
(You may need to go beyond the open slip, turn around, and approach from the opposite direction). Currents are often less troublesome on the inside of the floats. LaConner Marina
Most of the commercial buildings in downtown LaConner are listed on the National Historic Register. Placards enable a contemporary visitor to visualize just where the saloons, tobacco shops, meat markets, livery stables, and hotels were located in the 1800′s. Most storefronts maintain their vintage charm, and are packed with art galleries, wine shops, bookstores, craft shops, and specialty retailers. A small grocery is not far from the guest docks. Restaurants offering a variety of fare in all price ranges (many with tables overlooking the channel) are available as well.
A Skagit Valley museum and a quilt museum are located on the bluff above the main street. Both are worthy of a visit. The quilt museum is located in the vintage “Gaches Mansion”, so even a visitor not particularly interested in the quilts will enjoy touring the venue itself.
Day 5: Anacortes near 48.30.72 N 122.36.218 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
Anacortes is a port commonly used by cruisers heading into or returning from the San Juan Islands. Repair yards, marine supplies, and supermarkets are within a short walk of Cap Sante Marina (360-293-0694)
A stroll through the quiet residential districts around the marina is enjoyable, as well as a climb to the top of nearby Cap Sante Head for a spectacular view of a summer sunset. Downtown Anacortes will take a visitor 50 or 60 years back in time, with some remarkable shops and a modern movie theater among available diversions. Restaurants offer everything from pizza and burgers to gourmet dining. Causland Memorial Park, a few blocks west of the downtown business district, honors service members who served in wars from WWI through Viet Nam. Abstract structures make imaginative use of lava mosaics.
Day 6: Fairhaven near 48.43.42 N, 122.30.83 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
At the southern edge of Bellingham, the community of Fairhaven is one of the more unusual ports of call around Puget Sound. Visiting boaters will find a linear moorage system east of the Alaska Ferry terminal, with a dinghy dock ashore. The moorage is managed by a boating club (360-714-8891) and is not available from October- April. The buildings on shore consist primarily of structures built during the “boom years” here, in the late 1800′s.
Artists, intellectuals, students, independent business people, retirees, and a sprinkling of “hippies” create a bustling and dynamic district that will be a highlight of any cruise into NE Puget Sound. Bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants, crafts vendors, and similar businesses create a colorful, year ‘round carnival atmosphere in Fairhaven.
Day 7: Semiahmoo Marina or Port of Bellingham Blaine Marina both near 48.59.55 N, 122.46.16 W (coordinates not for use in navigation)
Boaters approaching Drayton Harbor should of course examine a chart. Shoals along Semiahmoo Spit extend well offshore and a more clearance than instinct might suggest will be required. Both the Port of Bellingham Marina at Blaine and Semiahmoo Resort have excellent moorage facilities here. Blaine is a very small town with a spunky spirit. Several community revitalization projects have created interesting public art in this charming and walkable community.
Cruisers visiting Semiahmoo Resort will find a host of first-class hotel amenities including pools, restaurants, and an Arnold Palmer designed championship caliber golf course. It’s a very short dinghy ride between the two facilities at Blaine.