My wife and I recently purchased your 2008 cruising guide. It is an excellent source of information. I know you are a very busy person, but we just wanted to ask your advice on an upcoming trip we are planning in our 2007 Campion. I have gone from Anacortes to Friday Harbor before. We are just trying to avoid Tacoma to Seattle area traffic by launching from Kingston, Wash.

I am a little intimidated by the Point Wilson rip and the large amount of open water if we choose to go straight across. I’m also a little intimidated by Deception Pass and its associated currents you describe in your book. Just wanted to know if our best course might be the east side of Whidbey Island and then through the Swinomish Channel and on to Friday Harbor.

We really appreciate any advice that you could give.

Thank you very much!

Russell McCabe


Response

Hi, Russ,

We’re faced with the same choices whenever we leave Seattle for the San Juan Islands and points north, and when we return. There is no single, fixed answer. Each passage is a separate problem to be solved.

Our approach is to consider all the elements that might affect our decision. We find the times of slack water and maximum current at Deception Pass, to estimate if Deception Pass should even be considered. If, for example, slack doesn’t align with our ability to be there, then Deception Pass might not be an option. But if it’s around the time of neap tides (half-moon) and the tide is small with not much current, we might not need slack water.

We also find the times of slack water and maximum current for Bush Point (Admiralty Inlet), San Juan Channel (Cattle Pass), and Rosario Strait.

The Point Wilson rip is real, but if the tide will be flooding by the time we get to the mouth of Admiralty Inlet, the rip won’t be there. On the other hand, if the wind is forecast to be 15 knots increasing to 25 knots, we won’t be going out Admiralty Inlet and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca anyway.

If we decide to go through Deception Pass or through Swinomish Channel (LaConner), we check the currents for Rosario Strait. We have learned the hard way to avoid an ebb in Rosario Strait. The rips at the south end can be awful, as can the rips between Anacortes and Thatcher Pass.

I’ve listed many concerns, which might be overwhelming. Please don’t be overwhelmed. They simply are parts of the decision-making process.

EXAMPLES

Let’s go through the decisions for our trips north and south this year.

Northbound, everything was against us. The Strait of Juan de Fuca was forecast to have fresh westerlies, and a big ebb was flowing. The Point Wilson Rip probably would have been roaring, and the ebb flowing against the westerly would have made the Strait of Juan de Fuca a nightmare. Our timing would have been wrong for Deception Pass. Even if we could have gone through Deception Pass, Rosario Strait probably would have been too rough to cross. That left Swinomish Channel. By the time we would have exited the channel through Padilla Bay, north of LaConner, it would have been growing late. We called ahead to reserve a slip at the Port of Anacortes’s Cap Sante Marina, where we overnighted.

Slack, turn to ebb in Rosario Strait would be at 0733 the next morning. We got up early and went out Guemes Channel and across Rosario Strait to Thatcher Pass on the last of the flood, just before the turn. There was no wind. It was an easy crossing.

In sharp contrast to the trip north, southbound absolutely everything was in our favor. We anchored for the night in Blind Bay, on the north side of Shaw Island. The next day’s weather forecast was for light winds. A nice, long flood would begin around 0700 and last into the afternoon, followed by a very weak ebb. Slack, turn to ebb at Deception Pass was 1035. From Blind Bay we could run south through Upright Channel into San Juan Channel and out Cattle Pass to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This, however, would have locked us into crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Since the winds don’t always follow predictions, we chose an alternative that preserved all our options. We got up early and left Blind Bay while most other boats were sleeping, and ran south through Lopez Sound to Lopez Pass. This kept us out of Rosario Strait, which always seems like a good idea to us. Once through Lopez Pass (remember, the tide was flooding, so we had no risk of a rip at the south end of Rosario Strait), we could either cross to Deception Pass and ride through on the last of the flood, or head south around Partridge Point and down Admiralty Inlet. We would have to fight the flood at the south end of Rosario Strait, but by the time we reached Partridge Point the direction of the current would change to help us.

For several reasons, we chose Partridge Point and Admiralty Inlet. One, the wind was basically calm. Two, Admiralty Inlet on the west side of Whidbey Island is a shorter route south than Saratoga Passage on the east side of Whidbey Island. Three, the flood flows south in Admiralty Inlet, but north in Saratoga Passage. If we had gone though Deception Pass we would have a greater distance to travel, and much of the time we would have the current opposing us.

Note that we didn’t make our final decision southbound until we had exited Lopez Pass and could look at the conditions as they were, not as they were forecast.

I’ve given two examples that go through the decision-making process, but as I re-read them I realize a person could get lost, what with all the place names, tide changes, tide directions and all. Perhaps the lesson to be taken is that many elements enter into a decision, and from trip to trip the decisions can differ. Sometimes you may make the same decision as a previous time, but for different reasons.

VHF channel WX4 is the mind-numbing weather channel for Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. For tide and current information, we rely exclusively on Captn. Jack’s Almanac, which gives us everything we need to know in a page-a-day format.

I hope this has been helpful. Be sure you have complete charts, a VHF radio, and Captn. Jack’s Almanac. If your compass hasn’t been adjusted by a professional compass adjuster, get it adjusted. Have a good trip.

Bob Hale

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