Monday, October 12, 2009

S/V AQUILA '09 Sept. Cruise; Sucia to Patos - Part 3

This is the 3rd installment of our month long sail cruise in the San Juan & Gulf Islands

*Note: If you're just starting to read about this cruise I suggest you go to the navigation list on the right of this page & select the post IT TAKES A LOT OF WORK TO HAVE THIS MUCH FUN. That will get you to the start of things.

The last installment left the crew of AQUILA traveling the short distance between Sucia & Patos islands. See the map above.

Our approach to Patos was toward the small, shallow opening south of Little Patos where the waters flush out of Active Cove. Catherine had glassed the island and spotted a large land camp of what appeared to be pirates. Our guess told us we had discovered the camp of the Orcas Island firefighters flying the Jolly Roger. And then my cell phone rang. It was our good friend Max standing ashore waving and hailing us via the phone. "There's a sail boat just leaving the buoy," she told us. This was good news indeed. Active Cove is aptly named and other than the two mooring buoys maintained by Washington State Parks Department
there is little options for anchoring in the small cove. Tis good news to have such timing as to be in the vicinity of Active Cove when a boat is leaving a mooring buoy (see map below). We motored around Little Patos ready to pick-up an overnight mooring buoy. Imagine our surprise when rounding the small island and finding that another sailboat had been incoming from the east, around Alden Point, initially unseen by us and was already picking up 'our' buoy. I grumbled a bit and told Cathy it was a ten minute shortfall on our part.
We worked AQUILA into Active Cove with a bit of optimism that we would find a way to anchor her therein. But it was not to be. After sounding the depths, consulting the tide tables and checking out the big powerboat on the inner buoy, and the newly arrived sailing vessel on the other, we readied our deck for anchoring. Almost immediately our anchor fouled in the eel grass and would not set. As we were hauling chain over the bow the gentleman on the buoyed sailboat called to me. "Raft up?" he offered. It was a tentative offer and I know at that moment we both would have preferred for my anchoring attempt to have succeeded. Catherine and I considered our options and called back, accepting the invitation to tie our vessel along side his. Pretty intimate accommodations for strangers but it is a common tactic in the boating community where buoy, moorage or dock space is limited. Image #2 above with the sailing vessel departing around the Patos lighthouse off Alden Point is by Catherine Brown.
It takes a bit to get two sailing vessels tied rail-to-rail off one mooring buoy. This is especially true when you are meeting your neighboring crew for the first time. But fate smiled on us that day. Our new & gracious neighbors were Slavek & Alicja Michalowski on a beautiful, older Baba sailing vessel (unnamed). While we didn't know it at the time Slavek & Alicja were to play a part in a later stage of our journey. In the meantime we enjoyed their company in Active Cove off Patos Island.
Photograph #4 has Clementine & Catherine Brown hiking happily along toward the norwestern tip of Alden Point. The image below is the Patos lighthouse with part of the Canadian Gulf Islands in the background. For more info on the lighthouse go to:

Patos Island is roughly 210 acres running northwest to southeast. It is the northern most of the San Juan islands and mostly a Marine State Park. A lighthouse occupies two acres on Alden Point, the western tip. Mooring and camping facilities are available for visiting boaters at designated sites. Patos is the setting for Helene Glidden’s book, THE LIGHT ON THE ISLAND. Mrs. Glidden lived on Patos as a child in the early 1900's and vividly recalls the accounts of smugglers, native tribes, visits by Col. Teddy Roosevelt as well as general life on the island. Catherine found a copy & read this book during the rest of our cruise often laughing out loud, occasionally with a tear, usually with a smile. It was a book she enjoyed.

Catherine, Clementine & I on Patos for the first time. Photo by Max Jones. Our early sallie ashore was to greet friends, scope out the lighthouse (see above) and stretch our legs. Our arrival ashore was greeted by the baleful bleating of several kelp horns the firefighters had made. They had harvested some fresh kelp, cut the bulb off the root end and cut the remaining kelp tubes of varying lengths. Blowing a kelp horn is a bit like blowing a wrapping paper tube. If your good at it you might get a sound somewhere between a moose call and a melodic whale. The firefighters were good at their aquatic greeting of our crew.

I'd oft sailed by Patos and once poked the bow of my boat into the cove but had never made landfall on the island. I can now attest it is a fine but not easy location to visit.

Image #8 illustrates the unique & fascinating sandstone sculpting in the rocks found on Patos & throughout much of the northern San Juan Islands. This geologic feature is part of the much larger Nanimo Formation. The website of Anacortes Kayak Tours has a comprehensive look at the geology of the San Juan Islands at:
After a late morning on Patos Island AQUILA'S crew retired to our boat for a light lunch and to get ready for the evening pirate party ashore. Twas during this time we shared a good visit with our neighbors Slavek & Alicja. They gave us a tour of their beautiful boat and we shared a conversation of islands, boats and life aboard. It was near the end of that hospitable visit I heard the kelp horns of the firefighters blowing their eerie call from the shore side camp. As we came on deck the 'music' of the multitude of kelp horns continued. "There! There! Look there!" someone cried from the powerboat astern of us, pointing to the open water beyond the entrance to Active Cove. "Orcas!" the shout went out. And indeed there were orca whales. Lots of orca whales swimming by the cove entrance. The photos I'm using here I found on-line, representing our orca sighting. The orcas were about a quarter mile off our bow, and no photos did we get. Still the sighting was amazing as the number of killer whales was more than any of us had ever seen. Line after line, group after group the orcas continued to pass the cove entrance. Some of the whales were displaying full dorsal fins, complete with saddle markings, others were swimming in tight clusters. We noted some calves and a few large males patrolling solo off the group. The procession lasted nearly ten minutes and all the while the kelp horns of the firefighters continued their strange and mournful baying. When I looked to the shore I could tell the firefighters were watching the orcas passing on the other side of Little Patos, a point we couldn't see from the moorage. Catherine and I loaded into the dinghy and headed to shore. We joined our friends standing atop a rock formation with over a mile long line of orca whales stretched out in the late afternoon sun. It was amazing! The guess was several pods had come together for fishing, hunting and mating. Conservatively we guessed at 40 plus orca whales in this group. Weeks later Catherine & I spoke with a Canadian based whale counting group who had heard of the large cluster of orca whales and flew down the day after we saw them off Patos and counted over 60 in the combined pod. For more info in ocra whales go to: If you do check out this site on Wikipedia scroll down to the vocalizations and play them. There are similarities to the kelp horn sounds.
Post orca whale sighting - here is a photo of Catherine decked out in her finest pirate regalia and ready to conduct a raid on the shore side camp of our firefighting friends (photo by Max Jones). Orcas Fire Department is partners with the WA Parks Department & Bureau of Land Management in an effort to clean-up Patos Island and eradicate some of the invasive species of plants introduced to the island years ago. More on Orcas Island Fire Department go to:

The pirate camp. Twice a year the Orcas Island firefighters come to Patos Island with large work parties conducting operations under the guidance of WA Parks Department. This partnership is of great benefit to the well being of the island and the park visitors. Actually it appears Patos Island is the beneficiary of several cooperative arrangements not only with the firefighters but with local Boy Scout groups, the Friends of the Lighthouse and probably more I'm not yet aware of.

Our good friends and firefighters Jeff (the orca caller) & Max Jones in the sunset off Patos Island.

In that same sunset, the Patos Island lighthouse. If ever you get the chance to visit this unique island of the San Juan group bring your camera, a good pair of binoculars, a copy of THE LIGHT ON THE ISLAND and the time to enjoy it all...

A BIG "Thank You!" to our friends with the Orcas Island Fire Department. Appreciate you hosting us on this great part of our September 2009 Cruise. I look forward to the Patos Island Fire Department sweatshirt!

I'll close this third installment of the 09' Cruise with a photograph of Slavek & Alicja's Baba sailing vessel leaving Patos. Little did we know it but our paths were soon to cross again in another chance encounter

So off we sailed, this time souwesterly weaving our way through the islands and toward another rendezvous with another old friend. The adventure continues in the upcoming fourth installment...

1 comment:

Map Metrics said...

I can hardly wait for the 4th installment. Meanwhile I had better catch up with my own blog at for some news about the Barter Fair.