Here, in the Pacific Northwest, the boating season is short. We don’t want to miss a single moment of the sunshine, especially in the San Juan Islands. It’s our local playground, but more than that, it is a place to reflect on nature and our place in the universe. Sucia Island is our favorite San Juan Island, located to the far north of the San Juans, nearly touching the Canadian border. The entire island was bought in 1960 by dozens of yacht clubs who pooled their money to preserve the island for recreational boaters. It can only be reached by boat (or seaplane). Thank you to all of those with the foresight to preserve the island! It is now formally named Sucia Island State Park.
The scenery on Sucia is gorgeous. Beautiful sandy coves welcome kayakers and campers who arrive by whatever means they can. Hiking trails abound, as do picnic tables, shelters, and grills. In Sea Bear, our Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 39i, we like to pick up a mooring buoy or anchor in Fox Cove. The small and cozy cove only holds a few boats and has fantastic sunset views. It reminds me of a scene from Tahiti, except instead of palm trees, graceful red-barked madrones and Northwest conifers hang off the cliffs at different angles. The water is azure blue and waves lap at the shoreline which features unusual rock formations and sculpted walls leftover from the glacial ice sheets that once covered the area.
But, for us, as nature lovers, the best surprise of all was the family of river otters who emerged from a small cave in the rocks right next to our sailboat bright and early the first morning. We had just managed to pump up our new inflatable kayaks the day before, so our friend, Geoff, headed out with his telephoto to capture the momma and her three pups fishing, diving, and slipping and sliding into the water from nearby grassy rocks. The otters kept us entertained most of the morning. Wildlife abounds in Fox Cove. A great blue heron came home to roost at night, a young seal kept sticking his nose up in the air, curious as to what we were up to, a pigeon guillemot caught a young wolf eel which he carried in his beak all day, dunking it into the water. And a little further offshore, seals slapped salmon and threw great walls of water into the air.
With guests onboard, we had lots of entertainment – great food and wine, our dinghy for heading to shore to walk the trails high above Sea Bear where we could look out over the Gulf Islands of Canada, to Victoria on Vancouver Island and to Vancouver to the north, our two new inflatable kayaks for exploring, and just simply taking in the beauty of the setting sun and the rising moon.
Sucia has many coves to choose from: Fossil Bay (known for its ancient seabed fossils, like chambered nautilis) is where boaters like to catch crab and boil large pots of them on the docks. It is a livelier crowd, with families and people rafting up, meeting their friends again from last season. Echo Bay on the east side of the island has ample room. We counted 50 boats anchored there last time. And that left plenty of room to spare. You’ll always find a spot. The views of Mt. Baker there are drop-dead gorgeous on that side of the island. Shallow Bay is quiet, too, with access to beaches and trails.
Originally a refuge for indigenous seal hunters and, later, smugglers of illegal workers and rum, Sucia holds many wonders. But, the only thing we smuggled out were fabulous photos of the endearing creatures and memories that will hold us until next boating season.