Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gunkholing in the San Juan Islands

Gunkholing - (noun) The fine art of cruising from one small cove or anchorage to another, arising late and arriving early.

If you ever plan to cruise the San Juan Islands, you need to get a copy of this cruising guide.  It is the definitive reference (at least as far as I am concerned) for cruising the San Juans.  Jo Bailey and Carl Nyberg have spent their entire lives cruising in the Islands - even if you start now, you have no hope of accumulating the equal to their experience.

This book (ISBN 0-944257-04-6) should be on your boat in the summer, and if you are not a liveaboard, it should be on your coffee table in the winter.  It can guide your dreams and plans in the winter, and then guide you in the summer.

Here's a typical description, of Parks Bay, one of our favorite gunkholes.  See if you like their description better than mine:

Parks Bay is about 0.5 mile long and 0.2 mile wide, a secluded spot, the waters reflecting the deep green of surrounding trees.  This is a place where yours might be the only boat at anchor.  Mariners in Parks Bay tend to be quiet, picking up the tranquil mood of the bay.  Several tiny, shallow coves filled with submerged piles and old deadheads are fun to explore by small boat. 
This is a favorite anchorage among local boaters, who prefer a small quiet bay to a crowded harbor.  The best anchorage is the south end of the bay in 3-8 fathoms.  There's good protection here with a mostly mud bottom.  Although North westerlies may blow in, most of the time it's pretty calm.  There's room for perhaps a dozen boats, but we've never seen that many.

It is a delightful gunkhole.  Herons stand for hours on long stick legs on the rocky shores of Parks Bay, waiting for snacks to swim past, darting their long beaks into the water for an instant meal.  Eagles soar on huge outstretched wings high above.

There are no public tidelands in the bay, and the entire shore is posted "Scientific Research Area.  Positively no trespassing on tidelands or uplands, and no dogs."  This is a University of Washington Biological Preserve on about 1,000 acres.  The land was donated by the Ellis family: brothers Henry and Bob, both deceased, and Fred, who lives on Shaw Island.  A pier near the head of the bay on the east side belongs to the UW, Friday Harbor Labs.  It has a shed and an occasional small boat tied alongside.

The north end of the bay has a notch in the corner, east of a small penninsula, where we've also anchored in about 6 fathoms.  It's more exposed to wind and waves from San Juan Channel, and there's room for just one boat in here.  Sunsets and moonrises from this little cove are stupendous.
From long experience, I can attest to the accuracy of that description. Of course, they have pictures and charts to go along with the descriptions.  We really like the background and local color that they give - it brings the places to life and fits them into history.  With the descriptions, rather than locations, they become places.  They come alive for us.

We've worn out our original copy of this guide and are now on our second copy.  That ought to say something to you.


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