As I neared the dock's end, my eyes were drawn to the distinctive navy-blue lobster-style hull, the davit-mounted Walker Bay dinghy on the transom, and the bright-red kayaks racked on the upper deck. The package was visually appealing and simultaneously beckoned adventure. Washington's San Juan Islands had been on my "bucket list" for years, and I immediately knew that this experience would hold a special place in my growing logbook of cruising memories.
Nick Ouilette, co-owner of Bellingham Yacht Sales and Charters, and Herve Burnel, charter manager, demonstrated the kind and relaxed demeanors that I have come to associate with denizens of the Pacific North West. Their professionalism and thoroughness in describing the various details of bareboat chartering set my husband and I at ease and helped dissolve any concerns we had about operating our charter vessel.
As a dealer for both Sabre and Back Cove Yachts (which are sister companies), Bellingham Yacht Sales offers its boat-buying clients, as well as those who already own boats, the opportunity to offset their expenses or simply earn some extra cash by chartering their boat in the Bellingham Yachts fleet. With 10 boats in charter and more to come soon, the company offers a variety of boating options to fit the desires of their charter clients. Bellingham Yacht Charters is currently seeking charter vessels in the 45-foot range.
The boat we chose for our charter excursion, the Back Cove 33, has a total length of 37 feet and a beam of 12 feet, and she draws 3 feet 1 inch. A roomy 33, below deck she boasts an impressive 6 feet 5 inches of headroom and features a giant V-berth, almost 7 feet long and 7 feet wide at the widest end. The V-berth alone is capable of comfortably accommodating a small family. A telescoping table in the main saloon on the helm deck lowers to create a sizable berth; a settee below to port makes her capable of sleeping a total of five people. We found her to be perfectly suited for two, but on a tight budget, two couples sharing the boat would make the cost hard to beat. The total cost per week (without fuel and provisions) during peak season: $3,195. It would be a challenge to find a more cost-effective vacation that offers as much natural beauty and adventure.
Powered by a 425hp Cummins diesel, the Back Cove 33 tops out at 27 knots. While faster than your typical cruising vessel, I found her to be surprisingly well suited to these waters. At a comfortable cruising speed of 16 knots, she consumes a relatively miserly 8.5gph. Unlike slower cruisers, her speed deems the sometimes worrisome and laborious planning for currents and tide rips a non-issue.
Our time was limited, so we opted for an abbreviated four-day, three-night cruise instead of an entire week. The short distances between the San Juan Islands allowed us to easily hop from one island to the next, witnessing a wide variety of locations, topography, and scenery. In just four days, we were amazed by how much natural splendor we were able to experience, and we were awed by the abundance of wildlife - seals, sea otters, whales, dolphins, and various birds of prey. Bald eagles were so common that one would wonder how they ever made the list of endangered species. Although spring is not considered the peak cruising season in the Pacific Northwest, the temperatures were mild during the day and crisp after sunset, making for perfect sleeping. We welcomed each morning's chill with a dose of warmth from the combined efforts of the Espar heater and French pressed coffee.
Returning to the Squalicum Harbor Marina docks at the foot of downtown Bellingham at the end of our cruise, I calculated our total time under power as just over 12 hours. We had traveled 105 miles, with a total fuel consumption of 68 gallons. As I checked off this excursion from my lifelong list of goals, I knew that our return to this spectacular neck of the woods was inevitable. Whether you're interested in purchasing a Downeast-style boat or bareboat chartering in the San Juan Islands, the offerings at Bellingham Yacht Sales and Charters are sure to please.
Sucia Island, Fossil Bay
Mooring ball; cost: $10 (honor-system drop box)
Features: State park, hiking trails, unique rock outcroppings, beachcombing, kayaking
Stuart Island, Reid Harbor
Mooring ball; cost: $10 (honor-system drop box)
Features: State park, kayaking, hiking trails, old schoolhouse
San Juan Island, Friday Harbor
Dock; cost: about $1 per foot, with electricity
Features: Great hillside town with lots of restaurants, boutiques, and coffee shops
Side trip: Taxi to historic Roche Harbor; tour of old hotel and property, plus waterfront breakfast
Dock; Bellingham Yacht Sales and Charters slip (no fee)
Features: Metropolitan area with lots of sightseeing and plenty of restaurants, boutiques, and coffee shops
*Special thanks to Mark Bunzel at Fine Edge Publications (fineedge.com) for his expert guidance and recommendations, which afforded us some breathtaking views and exceptional daily explorations.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bellingham Yacht Sales and Charters
1801 Roeder Ave.
Suite 174, Squalicum Harbor Center
Bellingham, WA 98225