My side of the family likes to think our Norwegian blood is of the Viking variety. Almost every nautically inclined family member has been to the Pacific Northwest for the legendary cruising. Last summer, my dad, husband and I got the chance aboard our recently purchased 40-foot DeFever Caliente.
“Hey Dad, where are we going to go?” I asked as we sat on board in Anacortes, Washington, the day before we were scheduled to get underway.
He handed me the Waggoner Cruising Guide and a spiral-bound book of charts and said, “You tell me.”
The next morning, after a meander through the 107-year-old Marine Supply and Hardware—ye olde curiosity shoppe of hardware stores—we headed for Sucia Island on some of the glassiest, calmest seas I have ever seen. Sucia is horseshoe-shaped, with Echo Bay in the deep U. It’s home to small islets that are barely more than outcroppings, with a couple of trees and a tiny cabin or two. One of these places would be the perfect retreat to write the next great American novel.
On the north side of the island is Shallow Bay, where we picked up a mooring. “Mother Nature must have really had boaters in mind when she made this place,” Dad said, looking out at the beauty of the rock formations and the calm seas. We explored ashore the next day, hiking and strolling on the beach, and then I headed to the galley to start dinner.
“Honey, come up here and bring the binoculars!” my husband called out. “You’ve got to see this!”
Along the tree line, an osprey had a big fish in its talons. A bald eagle swooped down from above, and the osprey took a hard right and dove. They rolled, dove, stalled, climbed and dropped in a five-minute dogfight. Finally, the osprey tired and dropped the fish. The eagle swooped in and grabbed it in midair.
Apparently, Mother Nature had birds in mind when she made this place, too.
That night, I awoke to the jangling of lines against the mast of the sailboat anchored next to us. The wind was up—and boy can it get up around here. It really started blowing around 2 a.m. and was still at it come morning.
We hung in at Sucia Island for two more nights, and then headed for Westcott Bay on San Juan Island. The wind followed us; we stuck it out on the flybridge for maybe 45 minutes getting drenched in spray, and then Dad went down into the wheelhouse to navigate from there. We sensibly followed his lead.
At San Juan Island, Roche Harbor was packed like a sardine tin with fancy yachts. We made our way around White Point and cruised through Garrison Bay before arriving at Westcott Bay, where we liked the looks of the anchorage between Bell Point and the peninsula housing Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. We were just in time for lunch: a feast of oysters with lemon slices, hot sauce and chardonnay at a picnic table. That night, it was paella with fresh clams and mussels back on the boat. We ate in the golden glow of the long sunset in a truly happy moment.
Whidbey Island, where we have family, was our next stop and a great place to stretch our legs near Fort Casey Historical State Park. We explored the old military buildings and climbed the stairs of the picture-perfect lighthouse to take in sweeping views of the Strait of Juan De Fuca and Marrowstone Island.
Dinner was at Orchard Kitchen in Langley, where the restaurant is on a small farm, grows its own fruits and vegetables, and has laying hens and honeybees. We secured seats at the counter, looking into the open kitchen, and got to observe the construction of the beautiful courses of food. I loved that they offered a cheese course in lieu of dessert (or both if you thought you could handle it). Everything was so local that one of the cheeses sourced from the mainland of Washington was labeled imported cheese.
The next day brought a picnic near Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, on a miles-long beach strewn with driftwood, close to grassy bluffs above early settlers’ cabins and outbuildings. We skipped the hiking trails and saved our energy for an evening in the quaint waterfront village of Langley.
Prima Bistro, whose menu is heavily French, offered steak tartare, escargot and local Penn Cove mussels with waterfront views. The mussels were the plumpest, most delicious ever.
We decided that we could almost move here just for them.