Tuesday, October 6, 2009

S/V AQUILA '09 September Cruise: PART 2

The 1st installment of this series ended with the sailing vessel AQUILA close-hauled, sailing to windward in Rosario under reefed main and a sliver of a headsail.

*NOTE: If your just starting to read about this cruise I suggest you go to the navigation listing on the right of this page and select the post "IT TAKES A LOT OF WORK TO HAVE THIS MUCH FUN. That will get you to the start of things.

Well, as oft happens in the San Juan Islands in the late summer, the morning breeze abated, the reef was shook out of the main and our furling genoa headsail fully extended as the afternoon settled into a clear, sunny day. No complaints of sailing in the sunshine from our boat. A cell phone call to S/V GRACE and Marjean tells us she is anchored in Echo Bay off the eastern side of Sucia Island, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sucia_Island or http://bellinghamster.com/sucia-island.htm

By 1400:hours (2:pm) AQUILA was rafted along side GRACE, a 1965 vintage, Islander 33. Twas great to catch up with our friend Marjean in such a delightful anchorage. The Sucia island group is composed of eleven islands and various drying rocklets. Very unique is this landmass with the shape of a crab (see map). Some of the islands are private but most of this small archipelago is a Washington State Marine Park. Accessible only by boat or seaplane it is still a very popular destination. According to Ranger Ted Schlund, who is in charge of this area, Sucia Marine Park at peak season may provide anchorage to 600 boats a night. Please see the link provided for more detailed information.

After rafting the vessels together, setting more scope on the anchor and assuring the boats were secure there was still enough early September sun in the late summer sky to entice our party of sailors ashore to enjoy the excellent hiking trails offered by this fine destination. In image #4 we see the dinghies hauled up a fine gravel beach, with Clementine sitting on a rock shelf extending into Echo Bay. Mount Baker is in the background. Mount Baker, Koma Kulshan in part of the indigenous tongue, is a prominent part of the experience of cruising the San Juan & Gulf Island group in fair weather. The native name means “White Sentinel” and indeed Koma Kulshan looks over a vast track of the southern Inside Passage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Baker

A little time spent lounging in the sunshine on a comfortable driftwood bench, a bit of a hike through a mixture of deep forest and grand island vistas, some messing about in boats exploring the craggy shoreline or rock islets and it all adds up to a good time when in a great location such as Sucia. Actually there’s over six miles of hiking trails, some good cliff climbing and boulder scrambling, especially at China Caves. And if you happen to be a scuba diver there’s an underwater park offering some of the clearest waters in the San Juan Islands.

Wondering about the history of this area? Here’s a brief glimpse of post European explorers: When Captain Eliza named Sucia in 1791 it wasn't because it was actually “dirty” which is the Spanish translation of “sucia”, it was due to the many submerged reefs in the bays and surrounding islands making it unsuitable for ships to explore or make landfall. Records indicate that Eliza the captain of the SAN CARLOS grew frustrated with the lack of wind & strong currents that carried the ship off course. There is indication that Captain Eliza may have run the SAN CAROLS ground – more than once! So boaters beware. I did note in a recent 48* North sailing magazine that a new unmarked rock was found in the southern portion of Echo Bay. While the rock knob in question doesn't 'dry' at low tide, word is there are some notable fiberglass markings on it's highest point http://www.48north.com/

In photograph #6 we have a portion of the Cluster Islands, within the Sucia group. Photograph #7 offers a shore side glimpse into Shallow Bay, another very popular anchorage, on the western side of the marine park. Illustrating the point made above regarding the translation of Sucia, in photo seven, on the right hand side of the image you can see a rocky reef which at high tide submerges. This is very typical of the Sucia island group. Near the center of this picture a good navigator can see the dark shapes of two ‘can’ buoys (remember you can double click an image to make it bigger). To safely enter the Shallow Bay anchorage a skipper must pass between these markers, a luxury Captain Eliza didn’t have

It is said that “in the smallest stone there is an image of a mountain”. In photo number nine, above, I see a portion of a sandstone island with the distinct appearance of a cresting wave. It caught the imagination enough to warrant a dozen photographs edited down to this one.

In the wake of a calm night in the anchorage of Echo Bay we awoke to a grand sunrise over Koma Kulshan. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful view from this island anchorage. Catherine and I bundled up and sat in the chill of a late summer’s morning sipping steaming hot coffee and watching the mountain announce the coming of the sun.

As well as our rendezvous with Marjean on GRACE there had been more gravity pulling the sailing vessel AQUILA and her crew north. As a fire chief I am fortunate to have some friendships and many acquaintances all across our great state. One of those very special relationships is with a group of firefighters from Orcas Island. A finer lot you will not find. Now it works out that Orcas Island Fire Department is in partnership with Washington State Parks and the Bureau of Land Management in efforts to restore a portion of Patos Island, which is the next island featured in this journal of our 2009 cruise.

Off to Patos…
But you’ll have to heave-to matey whilst I spin that portion of the yarn.

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