San Juan Islands

Run Aground and the Hermit of Matia Island

With several pieces of ceramic art safely aboard we cast off our mooring and began leaving Orcas Island in our wake. Earlier in the day, we had heard there may be strong winds that night so we were headed to Patos Island Marine State Park (the northernmost of the San Juans) for a safe anchorage for the night. My father handed the helm to Tawny as he went below to listen to the weather report. Wendy and I were already below preparing lunch. It wasn’t but seconds later when Pangaea lurched to a decisive and grinding halt. Below deck, we went sprawling about the cabin. Somehow the three of us simultaneously filled the companionway as we quickly made our way to the cockpit. “What happened? What did we hit”? There was widespread panic and confusion. The feeling of being on a sailboat when you’ve run aground isn’t one you soon forget.

A trip to the bow revealed we had run aground and hit a rock off Point Kimple.


These were unfamiliar waters and in hindsight, we should have consulted a chart before leaving the harbor. We were stuck, unable to reverse our position. Wendy went to check the bilge and make sure we weren’t taking on water. We weren’t. We were lucky. It was also a flood tide and a rising tide floats all boats, even those on rocks.

Tawny was understandably upset. My father reassured her with a San Juan mariner’s adage: “If you sail in the San Juans you’ve hit a rock. And if you haven’t yet, you will.”

It was about 10 or 15 minutes of rising tide, rocking the boat, and revving the engine in reverse before we were able to set ourselves free. Undoubtedly, the nearly 8,000lb lead keel would have some battle scars, but she’d live to sail another day.

We continued on our way to Patos Island passing a small school of blackfish along the way. I had never been to Patos Island and was looking forward to exploring the trails around the historic lighthouse. Unfortunately, the only decent anchorage on Patos was small and crowded. It was too risky to try and anchor in such a narrow bay with a strong current.

We headed on to nearby Sucia Island, the prized center jewel of the marine state park system. Sucia is the main island and a collection of finger islands and other nearby islands make up the varied anchorages and miles of fossil-laden shoreline to explore. We found a safe haven in Fox Cove for the evening.

Instead of exploring again the familiar shores of Sucia we decided to head to nearby Matia Island, another member of the Washington State Marine Parks and a nature preserve I had yet to explore.

Matia has an interesting history with the story of the Hermit of Matia Island wherein 1892 Elvin Smith squatted on the island hoping he could lay a homesteading claim. He was a sole resident there for some 30 years before he was presumably lost at sea. However, his boat and his body were never found. Some say his ghost still haunts the waters and woods on an around Matia.

Having recently run aground we didn’t want to risk tying to the dock in what looked like shallow waters. Instead, we grabbed a buoy and rowed ashore to explore the old growth cedar forest and pristine coves around the small island.

After our day hike, we departed Matia and flooded with the tide toward Eagle Harbor on Cypress Island for the night. It was a noisy and bouncy anchorage given the boat traffic and banging of the mooring buoy on our hull. But the dinner, drink, and dominoes were fine. We awoke to clouds Wednesday morning as we headed back to the Port of Anacortes where my San Juan Sabbatical came to an end.


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Ceramics in the Forest and Forest Ceramics

Monday we ebbed our way towards West Beach Resort to find Orcas Island Pottery. My father Mac and his wife Wendy, although local to the San Juans had never heard of West Beach Resort. So, finding the resort and the location of Orcas Island Pottery was the adventure of the day. We had the tide against us, so we hugged the deep, rugged and remote northwestern shoreline of Orcas to try and catch a back-eddy to compel ourselves forward.

The dock at West Beach Resort was too shallow to accommodate Pangaea, so we moored at a nearby buoy and rowed ourselves ashore. The resort (dating from 1938) was cute and quaint, with little rustic beachfront cabins, boats, and fishing gear for rent, a small store that sold hand-scooped ice cream and beers on tap.

We considered a frosty beverage on a sunny day, but we were on a mission. Instead of a beer, we asked for directions to Orcas Island Pottery. They pointed us in the right direction and we started up the hill out of the small resort in search of Old Pottery Road.

We had been told it was only 1/4 mile, and perhaps it was to the turnoff to Old Pottery Road. But the gravel road was from there was long, winding and grew cool and dark and cloaked us in foreboding shadows, some of which had wings. An unkindness of ravens followed us into the forest. A dozen or more flit and hopped from branch to stump and branch again. Many remaining unseen. Their distinctive caws taunting us in an attempt to drive us from their forest.

Deeper still into the forest, perhaps 3/4 of a mile from where we began, a sign finally read, “Faint Not, The Pottery is Near”. And it was. We stepped through a small gate leaving the conspiracy of ravens behind and into a bright and sunny garden of flowers and pottery displayed outdoors on tables and benches and within outbuilding across the grounds. It was awe inspiring. Magical.

Further still was the magic of an incredible treehouse built on the property that captured the imagination of my inner child. I can only imagine the fun of the children lucky enough to grow up with this in their backyard.

We searched around, and there amongst the picnic tables and studio buildings displaying varied artist, was the work of our daughter’s favorite, Sean Forest Roberts.

We bought several pieces of ceramics by several artists. As we were having them wrapped up we mentioned our daughter’s interest Sean Roberts to the person working in the store and she said, “You know, his studio is just down the road, right next to West Beach Resort.” Given we had bought so many pieces, and considering distance back to the resort, she graciously offered to give us a ride back to the resort.

We walked along the beach past the rustic cabins to the turnoff on Enchanted Forest Road. As we approached the studios of Forest Ceramics on we were greeted by two frisky blurs of black toy poodle puppies and their owners chasing after them. We introduced ourselves to Sean Forrest Roberts and Valeri Aleksandrov who were gracious enough to invite us into their enchanting studio where they shared their processes and techniques and showed us many of their experiments and completed series of art. We were lucky enough to have them sell us several pieces on the spot.

What started as a quest to find a simple pottery store turned into a spontaneous day of collecting art and meeting some of the artists behind them.

We returned to the resort for that cold beer and then rowed ourselves back to Pangaea with many fragile packages in hand.


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San Juan Sabbatical

Five years ago, at the start of my third (15-year) sabbatical, I started this blog with a sailing trip in the Sporades Islands of Greece. At the outset of my fourth (20-year) sabbatical is seemed appropriate I update Sabbatikos with another sailing adventure.

We left Cap Sante Marina in the late afternoon of Saturday, July 28th on the good ship Pangaea (in her 40th year) and timed our departure with the 5pm start of the Around Guemes Island sailing race.


Around Guemes Island Race start


We never intended to finish, but the direction of the race down Guemes Channel was the direction we were going and the only planned agenda we had. Pangaea needed simply to start the race so she’d continue to earn points for the Anacortes Yacht Club summer series, of which this race was included. We left the race as the fleet rounded Guemes and kept our heading straight on across Rosario Strait towards Lopez Island. While it was a sunny day, the Strait brought a biting cold wind off the ocean, but we found shelter from it in our night’s anchorage in Swifts Bay.

Sunday morning we pulled anchor and ferried ourselves on towards Orcas Island‘s West Sound. We had no clear itinerary but thought it would be a good place to explore for a few hours. We took advantage of the Orcas Island Yacht Club‘s dock and went ashore for a walk.


In West Sound, we noticed a sign for Orcas Island Pottery pointing North, but no indication of how far it was. We thought that might be the gallery associated with an artist our daughter (an accomplished ceramicist herself) really likes. A few months ago we had been in Fairhaven near Bellingham and had happened upon Good Earth Pottery. Upon entering the gallery our daughter exclaimed, “OMG! That’s Sean Roberts work. I follow him on Instagram! He’s my favorite artist! He lives in the San Juan Islands”. We thought perhaps we could go there and find a piece as a gift for her. But how far was it? Tawny did a little sleuthing. She called Good Earth Pottery, confirmed the artist was named Sean Roberts, and then called Orcas Island Pottery to confirm they had his work and their location. They did! Unfortunately, they were a good 5 miles walk from West Sound. They told us if we were traveling by boat we could dock at West Beach Resort and we’d find them within an easy 1/4-mile walk.

While West Beach Resort was only a short 5 miles by road, it was several hours by sailboat and more than we could take on that late in the day that was growing hotter. We decided to spend the steamy afternoon at nearby Massacre Bay and find anchorage behind Skull Island for the night. Yes, you read that right. In 1858 a group of northern Coast Salish tribes wiped out a seasonal Lummi camp at the head of West Sound. The resulting namesakes for the bay and several small islands (including Victim Island) entomb in our memories the bloody event. We escaped the heat by exploring the shoreline by kayak and resting ourselves under the shade of the “African Queen” canopy.


As the sun set, we enjoyed dinner, drink, and the warmth of a late July San Juan evening. It was a perfect night and perfectly still. I spent a long hour late in the night sitting on deck wrapped in a warmth of eerie stillness and bathed in the light of a nearly full moon pondering the ghosts of Massacre Bay. Tomorrow would be a new day and a new adventure as we now had a destination and a quest to find the work of Sean Roberts at Orcas Island Pottery.



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San Juan 4th of July Getaway

We set sail from Anacortes and left Fidalgo Island in our wake as we sliced through calm cold waters of the San Juan Islands upon the good ship Pangaea.  We adjusted our sailes and pointed our compass towards Deer Harbor on Orcas Island. It was July 3rd, 2017 and we had heard fireworks would come early to Deer Harbor. Since it was our anniversary we thought it a fun way to celebrate the occasion.

By midafternoon we had dropped anchor in Deer Harbor on a beautifully sunny and unexpectedly warm Pacific Northwest day and with ample time to row ashore and explore the small marina, parks, and businesses nearby.

The evening sun ushered in dinner aboard, with ample wine, and evening games played as we awaited darkness enough to enjoy the fireworks. Sure enough, that evening produced a good old-fashioned small town fireworks display from a barge in the harbor that didn’t disappoint.

Having celebrated ‘Merican Independence a day early, we considered perhaps the best way to celebrate our independence on the 4th would be to head to the decidedly independent (and quiet) Stuart Island. Stuart Island sits at the footsteps of Canada, just across Boundary Pass and the Haro Strait and has a long tradition of independently minded characters who have populated it.

We sailed into Prevost Harbor and were lucky enough to find a space at the Stuart Island Marine State Park dock. This gave us the convenience of being able to easily disembark to explore Prevost Harbor by kayak before exploring Stuart Island by foot. In doing so, we quickly discovered the treasure chests of Stuart Island where for a small contribution we secured ourselves some pirate’s booty.

Near the first chest and atop the hill at the end of Reid Harbor Road is the original one-room schoolhouse (now the Teacherage Museum) and the current schoolhouse which still functions as the only school for the few young residents of Stuart Island.

Follow the signs as you continue upon Reid Harbor Road another half mile or so and you’ll come to Turn Point Road where yet another half mile will bring you to Turn Point Lighthouse.

We brought a picnic lunch with us and ate at a small table outside the historic 1893 home of lighthouse keeper Edward Durgan before touring the building. After the tour, we visited the small museum in the lighthouse itself whereupon we learned the history of nearby Suicide Bluff before spotting a majestic pod of Orcas rippling by.

We hiked back to our boat and upon the way had a random chance encounter with a colleague from California who just happened to be kayaking the San Juans for holiday. Drinks and dinner ensued. It was a perfect moment of synchronicity to punctuate an otherwise already perfect day.

The next day we sailed to Lopez Island and Spencer’s Spit State Park where we knew some friends would be camping for the holiday weekend. We hoped to catch up with them. We were lucky to see several seals and seals as well as favorable winds enough to set a spinnaker on our way.

We dropped anchor just north of the spit between Frost Island and Lopez. As we rowed ashore we saw our friends camped along the beach. They sent hoards of teens out to greet us and we sent libations and snacks ashore with them. The result was a fun-filled evening of a campfire, camaraderie, Jiffy Pop and so much S’more.


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Uncharted Islands – Chuckanet Island

Sunday morning we crossed to the south of Chuckanut Bay to explore Chuckanut Island. Chuckanut Island is the Nature Conservancy’s Cyrus Gates Memorial Preserve. We landed on the southern shore at low tide when a isthmus forms between Chuckanet Island and a protected bird sanctuary to the south. A perfect place to land the “dink”.

We walked the sandstone beach admiring Nature’s carvings the result of years of wind, rain, and waves which have shaped surreal designs into the cliffs. 

 As we walked around the island we found a easy way up the cliffs to a trail across the island. As we ascended the rocks we found a rather unkept trail which we used to meander around the island, from the northern beaches and tidepools to the southern cliffs. 

We explored the tide pools on the island before headed back to the boat for lunch.  

The local harbor seals of Chuckanut Bay and the looming slopes of Mt. Baker bid us farewell before we headed back to Anacortes and our workaday world. An adventuresome weekend of discovery in the San Juan Islands. 


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 Uncharted Islands – Inati Bay and Teddy Bear Cove

We motored north from Clark Island towards Cherry Point to round the north tip of Lummi Island. The bar towards the north end, coupled with a strong wind, and an ebbing tide created a considerable swell. We unfurled the headsail to push our way through and steady the rock of the boat. Rounding Lummi we were greeted by postcard views of Mt. Baker and a pod a seals sunning themselves and their pups in the heat of the first rays of August.   

Mt. Baker


Pod of Seals, North Lummi


We were headed to Inati Bay on Lummi Island. Inati is a small cove across from Bellingham Bay on the East side of Lummi. Anybody is welcome to anchor there, but to go ashore you need to be a member of the Bellingham Yacht Club or havea reciprocal as we did from Anacortes Yacht Club. Upon arrival we were greeted by a bald eagle and a great blue heron as we disturbed their peace. We dropped anchor and made a B.L.A.T.s for lunch before heading ashore for a little exploration. 

Eagle in Inati Bay


Exploring Inati Bay


Inati Bay


There wasn’t a lot to see or do on shore so we followed a logging road up into the hills. It was a steep climb that ultimately offered no views and lots of bugs but was littered with interesting old heavy equipment of logging efforts past. Exploring them made for eerie post apocalyptic conversation (mostly zombies). 

Along the old logging road


Old logging equipment


Inati Bay pose walking the log boom

Back to Pangaea for a sail across Bellingham Bay to Chuckanut Bay where we dropped anchor near Teddy Bear Cove. My father, who did his undergraduate studies at Western Washington University, mentioned “I helped haul many a keg to that beach over 50 years ago”. As we anchored nearby the beach the wee hours of night would prove that many a keg was still being hauled to Teddy Bear Cove on a hot summer night, and that college student  reveries and midnight swims hadn’t changed much in half a century. Although, Western Washington students on summer break wasn’t the only thing that kept us up at night. We had dropped anchor near the railroad tracks on the East side of the bay in order to optimize our 270. “I wonder how many trains use this track?”. We certainly found out, with half a dozen passing by before dusk and at least another half dozen through the night. 

But before we were kept up much of the night we first we decided the cold waters of the Salish Sea looked inviting enough for a swim as we headed into the dog days of summer on August 1st. My daughter was the first to inspire us to take the punge.  

First to commit!


Jumping into Chuckanut Bay


Cooling off in Chuckanut Bay


“Its not that cold!”


Mother/Daughter Polar Bear Plunge


“It really isn’t that cold”


I join in…”Its cold but it feels good!”


 As the shadows grew longer we treasured our perfect positioning across the bay to optimize our 270. We decided we had won the best anchorage because the last rays of summer sun fell across our bow as we ate our dinner in the cockpit.


Sunset across Chuckanut Bay


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Uncharted Islands – Clark

From Vendovi Island we headed north through the Salish Sea leaving Sinclair Island to port and Lummi Island luming off our starboard bow. 

Pushing near 90 degrees it was one of the hotter days in the San Juan Islands that I can remember. With swirling tides around Lone Tree Island and The Sisters rocks we maneuvered ourselves between the rocks (home to many sunbathing seals and their newborn pups) to secure a mooring buoy in the small bay on the eastern side. 

Clark Island is a Washington State Park with sandy beaches on the west side and a gravel beach with stunning views of Mt. Baker on the eastern shore. But for some reason we had never been to this park before. 


Mt. Baker and seals sunbathing


Mt. Baker


The good ship Pangaea


Clark Island State Park

 We headed ashore to walk and exlpore the trails on the island. We found beautiful forests of Pacific Madrona, interesting rock formations and geology, and perflectly framed views after views of Mt. Baker melting away in the late July heat.  

Mt. Baker and the Sisters (peaks to right)


Mt. Baker


Exploring Clark Island


Mt. Baker


Pacific Madrona forest.

Clark Island has several nice camping sites and composting toilet facilities on it. It is ideal for kayaker campers (and there were plenty there) although the currents between Clark and Barnes and around the rocks can be very swift and swirling during peak ebbs and floods.  Be careful. 

Nicest composting toilet ever!


Taking “the dink” around Clark Island


Moorage on East side of Clark Island


Sunset and high tide w/Lone Tree Island in background

 We returned to Pangaea for happy hour and dinner to watch the sun set and the moon rise over Lummi Island. It was a perfect summer day in the San Juan Islands and a new discovery for us to see Clark Island. Only once in a blue moon do you get a day and a evening like this. We’ll be sure to return here, perhaps to camp, at some point in the near future.

Mt. Baker at sunset


Blue Moon rising over Lummi Island


Blue Moon rising over Lummi Island


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Uncharted Islands – Vendovi

I grew up in the San Juan Islands, an archipelago of around 300 islands near the Canadian border. The San Juans are about 90 miles North of Seattle in an area known as the Salish Sea. I’ve been sailing and exploring the San Juans since I was a child and every summer we make a point of returning to the islands for a few days of cruising familar and favorite places. However, this year we decided to explore islands and inlets in the San Juans hitherto unknown to myself and my family.

To beat the weekend crouds we pushed off from the dock at Cap Sante Marina and headed out at by the light of a full blue moon for a quick trip to Saddlebag (aka Scallywag Island) to drop anchor for the night. This island is well known to us, especially my daughter who spent weeks at a time each summer at Pirate Camp in Anacortes. She learned to sail to this island and spent countless hours exploring it with her campmates looking for rumoured pirate treasure. It was also the location of a hosted team building event for my work group who came from around the world to feast on a classic Pacific Northwest seafood dinner of salmon, crab, prawns, and oysters. 

Blue Moon Sail

Speaking of crab, it had just been the opening of crabbing season the weekend prior and as we discovered in the morning we had anchored ourselves in a minefield of bouys marking baited pots far below. The gentle swing of the overnight breeze and the changing of a blue mood tide found us with a bouy and line wrapped around our rudder. We struggled to get it off before the owner of the pot happened along to help us and to bark salty dog advice to us about dropping anchor at night without proper flood lights on our bow. We bit our tongues straining to not give him advice about placing his crab pot in a state park designated anchorage. His consolation prize was a single “keeper”.

Waking up at Saddlebag Island


Tangled and crabby


A keeper

We headed to Vendovi Island, a recent aquisition by the San Juan Preservation Trust, a non profit organization committed to preserving and limiting development in parts of the San Juan Islands. Its a rather small island of just over 200 acres and once belonged to the Fluke Family (of Fluke Corporation)  and was originally developed by John Fluke who until recently was buried on the island. His cemetary remains as a memorial. 

The island caretakers (Shawn and Heather) welcomed us at the small dock which is open to the public from 10am – 6pm May through September. The island features the caretakers self sufficient compound, the Fluke cemetary, and a few miles of trails to various beaches and overlooks with beautiful views of the San Juan Islands and surounding Cascade Mountains.  

The visitation hours are strcitly enforced.


Donations can be made at


Caretaker’s garden


Old saw mill on the island


The Fluke Family exhumed and relocated his remains. It is now a memorial


Vendovi Island North Cove (island access)


Rocks at Sunrise Beach


Low tide at Sunrise Beach



Vendovi hiking trail


Soft bed of lichens


Paintbrush Point Overlooks


Paintbrush Point Overlook


Jack’s Back Overlook


Exploring tidepools


Exploring Sunset Beach

 We headed back to the dock and had lunch at Vendovi before heading north to Clark Island State Park for our next uncharted isle. 

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