Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Destination: Sucia Island, San Juan Islands

If you arrived here by searching for a chart, please see this page.

The second Northernmost (after Patos Island) of the San Juan Islands is Sucia Island. The word "sucia" is a Spanish word - it means "dirty", or in the marine sense, "foul". It doesn't seem a particularly tricky anchorage to us, but then we are not managing a large engine-less 18th century ship, and we have charts.

There are a lot of Spanish names attached to marine features in the Pacific Northwest, because the Spanish got here first, and therefore got to name things first. Later the British arrived in the person of George Vancouver in 1792 with his sloop-of-war Discovery. Vancouver, in the way of all explorers, went ahead and applied his own names to things, renaming many which already had earlier Spanish names. Not all of the names overlapped, and not all of them "took". Thus the area is a melange of English and Spanish. Of those features with Spanish names, some have retained their original Spanish pronunciation (Sucia, pronounced "soo-see-ah"), some have been horribly Anglicized (Texada Island, currently pronounced "teks-ay-dah", but which would be said "tay-hah-dah" in Spanish), and some which appear to be indeterminate (Matia Island, pronounced both as "mah-tee-ah" - correct Spanish, or "may-shah", an Anglicization). But I digress.

In what must have been a huge campaign at the time, Sucia was purchased by a large consortium of yacht clubs in 1960, and then donated to the State of Washington to be a Marine Park. It is in many ways the crown jewel of Washington's Marine Park system.

This Marine Park covers the entire island - it is laced with trails, some thru deep quiet forest and tall trees, some near the shore with water views. Hiking the length of the Island is excellent exercise for legs which have been confined aboard for too long. Sucia is the prototypical San Juan Island - hard rock (as opposed to the caliche of which the more southern islands in Puget Sound are comprised), covered with pines, firs, cedars and madrona. It is essentially located in the open waters of the Strait of Georgia, so the voyage there can be exciting, whether you are approaching from East or from West of Orcas Island. Or it can be surprisingly dead calm (as this picture from our 2007 visit shows, looking right into Echo Bay from the Southeast).

There are three major anchorages in the Sucia archipelago. The largest, and the one we use with Eolian, is Echo Bay. Like Reid Harbor on Stuart Island, it is long and can accommodate a large number of boats. There are plenty of State Park buoys, but their usage is dwarfed by the usual count of boats at anchor. However it is our understanding that the anchorage has been recently constrained by the demarcation of an eel grass conservation area since last we visited. Echo Bay faces Southeast, which would make it not a good choice in a Southerly blow.

Next to the West is Fossil Bay - a much smaller harbor. There is a dock at the head of Fossil Bay, which means that the smaller boats congregate here and compete for space at the dock. It has a much more protected feel because of the close quarters, but I suspect it would not be much of an improvement over Echo Bay in a Southerly. The low sandspit at the head end of the harbor barely divides it from Fox Cove, and is a unique and popular camping spot.

Shallow Bay on the West shore is aptly named. We have anchored there with smaller boats, but have not yet chanced it with Eolian. The deeper water is on the Northern side of the harbor; the entrance is narrow, but clearly marked. This would be a great gunkhole to sit out that Southerly we have been talking about, if there were not a negative tide in the offing. The "dinosaur rock" in Shallow Bay has been the delight of children for years (centuries?), including ours.

The much smaller harbors of Fox Cove and Ewing Cove will hold a couple of boats each. The last time we were anchored in Echo Bay, we were out in the dinghy and watched a sailboat negotiating the entrance to Ewing cove... Then we actually heard him hit a rock. This is a very sobering sound.

Wherever you are in the San Juans, Mount Baker dominates the Eastern skyline. But in Echo Bay, at sunset, it is absolutely spectacular. It is hard to imagine a better way to end the day than to savor this panorama with a glass of red wine.
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