For January and February, Sam Landsman, the Waggoner’s Managing Editor, and I take our boats down to Seattle’s Elliott Bay Marina, one of the best managed marinas in the Northwest. The marina is especially convenient while we are exhibiting and giving seminars at the Seattle Boat Show. Why rent a hotel room when you can stay on your boat with a spectacular view of the Seattle skyline? After the boat show we head out separately to begin our marina checks for early-season reports for our readers.

This year, January and February were excellent months for winter cruising. If you have not been cruising in the winter, you really should try it. The weather has been fantastic, the seas calm, and the small harbor towns of Puget Sound welcome their winter visitors.

The Winter Rendezvous in Poulsbo in early February drew some 60 boats and about 150 people for a full weekend of activities, despite some windy days. In mid-February, Friday Harbor hosted 65 boats on a warm weekend. The warm weather is bringing out the early blossoms and our fellow boaters.

Blake Island was a natural destination for a day trip from Elliot Bay Marina. A 20-minute stay does not require a Washington State Parks Discover Pass. The annual fee is $4 per foot with a $60 minimum. While the rates went up this year, this is still a good value if you plan to do a lot of local cruising. A crowd showed up on the weekend I was there – many were just anxious to do a little cruising in the warm weather. The trails were as nice as ever with fewer people than in the summer.

Poulsbo was our next stop. The restaurants were all open and uncrowded. The selection at Sluys’ Bakery was as enticing as ever. The Norwegian town’s shops are always entertaining. Highly recommended is the Marina Market, just up from the marina on Front Street. They have an entertaining assortment of general merchandise and unique items like a selection of various pickled herring, Norwegian delicacies, clogs, and even marine parts and accessories. Select from 500-plus craft beers, 350-plus licorices. Or how about a selection of more than 350 high-quality chocolates? There is a lot packed into this little store.

A late start from Poulsbo got us into Port Townsend by sunset, just in time for a walk down Water Street from the Point Hudson Marina to see the shops. It was getting late but Joe Euro, Wine Seller, still had their doors open. It is always fun to have Joe select a wine and talk about his new-to-him classic wooden boat. Sirens Pub was pleasant for drinks, then back to the boat for dinner. The next day included a visit to the Northwest Maritime Center, busy with boatbuilding classes, marine skills training and other programs.

Classic Destinations

Next, we cruised up and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca through Cattle Pass to Friday Harbor. The water was like glass. Friday Harbor is another classic Northwest cruising destination with great shops, pubs and restaurants. Kings Market has everything: groceries and a great selection of marine and fishing supplies. Friday Harbor Marina has a special: stay four individual nights any time and you can stay for a fifth night free (though not redeemable in July or August). This is another good reason to visit this San Juan Islands favorite.

Our last stop was Rosario Resort before we brought Sea Raven back to her home port in Anacortes. Sitting in front of the wood-fired hearth in the bar lounge takes you back to another time, almost 100 years ago. The setting is elegant and the mansion is a must-see if you have never been there before, and it’s always worth going back. The menus in the bar or restaurant offer a good selection at surprisingly reasonable prices. Resort Manager Christopher Peacock and owner Jerry Bartow are to be commended for keeping this iconic destination in such great shape. As it turned out, Jerry arrived at the same time we did for the weekend and helped us tie up our boat. Great service from the owner of this venerable resort! It was nice to be welcomed by the owner himself.

While winter is jumping into spring a little early this year, try off-season cruising in March or April. Keep an eye on the weather and we think you will be surprised at how pleasant boating in the off-season really is.

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