Why We Love Winter Cruising in the San Juan Islands

Winter in the San Juan Islands is our favorite time for cruising up here, and this is why:

This is Fossil Bay on Sucia Island, and there’s no one else here. No one on the dock. No one on the mooring balls. In the summer, this place is absolutely packed (so we hear–we’ve managed to be in Alaska every summer since we bought Airship).

Today, the sun is shining, the sky is clear, and the winds and water were calm for our cruise over from Anacortes this morning. There’s one sailboat moored over in Snoring Bay, but I think that’s it for other boats here today. Kevin and I got in a nice hike before the sun fell behind the trees. The temperature was in the low 50s when left Airship, but the it drops fast once the direct sunlight is lost.

Empty dock in Fossil Bay
Airship on the dock
Welcome to Sucia Island
Fossil Bay, empty. The main dock is up for the winter, and we’re on the far dock. (Airship is the tiny white dot in the distance, on the left.)
Sandstone texture
Sandstone texture
Rocky beach, Sucia Island

This might the longest stretch that we’ve been off the water since we bought Airship back in September 2014. We were aboard for a week mid-October (after returning from Alaska/British Columbia at the end of September) but the weather was uncooperative and we never left the marina. The forecast for this entire week looks great, so we plan to take advantage of it and get in some quality on-the-water time! Not too bad for December!

10 thoughts on “Why We Love Winter Cruising in the San Juan Islands”

  1. Congratulations on hitting a nice weather window…

    Sucia is such a great place.

    We share your love for the lonelier winter cruising grounds. Usually we are left wondering why there aren’t more boaters out there when it’s so beautiful.

    I wasn’t so lucky a few days ago though.

    I decided to go to a conference in Seattle transitting South in my Nordic Tug 37 from Sidney to Seattle Thursday & Friday. I was by myself… I thought I would be just fine with no warnings and the forecast for SE winds of only 10-20 Knots.

    The reality though on Thursday was Southerly Winds of 30-45 Knots with significant wave heights in Haro Strait & the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I got to Mats Mats Bay for my overnight anchorage feeling like I’d been more than a little beaten up. I thought maybe the worst was behind me though as Friday had a benign forecast of 10-20 Knots.

    Well, Friday was like Thursday, with winds in Puget Sound running 30-45+ Knots out of the South. (I saw winds of 50-65 Knots with brief gusts to 70 off the north mouth of Hood Canal. )

    I discovered that the boat can take these conditions with aplomb but I felt a little worn out at the end of the two days. Thank goodness the wind & wave action were right on the nose. A beam sea would have been intolerable.

    The trip home was a piece of cake but I certainly learned to take the forecasts with a grain of salt.

    Winter boating is wonderful but maybe a little challenging at times. Part of the challenge may be in knowing when to stay home or stay put…

    Have a great time.

    Wish we were there to join you.

    • Wow! Those are not conditions I would ever want to endure willingly! Congratulations on your passage!

      • Thanks Kevin.

        I was perhaps foolish to have continued on but I didn’t feel unsafe, just uncomfortable. I learned a lot about the boat’s character under adverse conditions. ( I don’t have a flybridge. When it’s windy & lumpy, it seems very good to not have that extra windage or weight up top.) the boat handled this without much of a problem.

        I also learned that one must take extra care to have all loose objects properly stowed as the worst part of the experience was dealing with the odd bits of stuff crashing about.

        All good experience… thanks for sharing all your fine adventures. I’ve learned lots from you and Laura.

        – evan

        • Thanks for your reply, but I think you have mistaken me for Kevin Morris! I am a blog subscriber who happens to comment frequently. But I can definitely relate to being taken unaware by weather and sea conditions!

    • That sounds a little like our trip up to Princess Louisa last December/January!! Definitely an adventure…glad you made it okay! (And yes, wish you could join us too!) Do you ever look at the Windy app? I find it to be more accurate where wind is concerned (esp. for the “now” and “two hours from now” windows) than the forecasts. Plus, it’s got pretty charts!! (www.windy.com).

      There are two other boats in here with us now. We’d better find a new place! 🙂

      • Ha! Time to move on eh? … 😉

        Thanks for that link. That looks like very good resource with much more dynamic information than the usual Govt marine forecast sites. I will be sure to use that in the future.

        Enjoy your cruise & thanks for the vicarious outing.


  2. Enjoy the week! Glad you’re back on board — have missed your travels. Our weather (in E. NC) is headed in the opposite direction, so we’re just looking at the water from the heated comfort of the living room.
    — Anne

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