Sailing the San Juan Islands

Once we finished with all the formalities and cleared customs at Roche Harbor (see our previous post), we took Blue Tale out into the harbour and anchored for the next couple of nights enjoying the little resort and town. As it is was still early spring, the harbour was not busy and we were only one of two other boats anchored there.

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Roche Harbor is a quaint little town that began its origins as a Hudson’s Bay Company post in 1845. A twelve-year dispute started in 1859 between British and American settlers after a ‘Hudson Bay Company’ pig was shot when caught eating ‘American’ potatoes. The matter was eventually turned over to Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, who ruled in favour of the United States because in his opinion Haro Strait, greater in depth compared to Rosario Strait, would make a more logical boundary. On a personal note, Canada got screwed on that deal; the San Juan’s are beautiful!!

Lime deposits were soon found after the dispute was settled and a company town grew around the factory. Roche Harbor has changed hands a few times and following several restoration projects has become a lovely resort and a summer destination for many boaters.


Over the next few days, we visited some of the historical sites around the little town including the Hotel de Haro, the Yellow Brick Road, the Catholic Chapel (used to be a Methodist Church) and the Mausoleum known as the ‘Afterglow Vista’. The Mausoleum is a circular monument of pillars that rises above a stone table surrounded by seven stone chairs, all based on the Masons and the Masonic temple (very cool!).

The Westcott Bay Reserve Sculpture Park is another interesting place to visit right on the edge of Roche Harbor property. The park display outdoor sculpture set in a large grassy field with more than 100 sculptures.

We also came across two Westsail 32’s while walking around the marina but could not find the owners to ask questions about their boats and what and if any changes they have made; it’s a Westsail owner thing.

In the evenings, we would motor over to the dinghy dock from our boat and enjoyed a pint or two at McMillin’s Dining Room. We also were able to enjoy some Irish music on some of the nights as there was an Irish music retreat in town.

Roche Harbor at night

Roche Harbor at night

On the morning of March 4th, we pulled the anchor and travelled the short distance south from Roche Harbor to Garrison Bay and visited the English Camp that was part of the British garrison during the joint military occupation of the San Juan Islands – the American Camp was/is on the opposite end of the island.  We walked around the camp which only had three buildings left and tried to imagine how it would have been like in the 1860’s.  From the camp, there is a trail that leads to the top of the mountain and pass the Royal Marine cemetery where 7 marines and one civilian were buried.

After a restful night at anchor, we left for Friday Harbor and motored the short distance to the harbour.  There was no wind as this seems to be the norm for us! Once there, we found a cozy spot in the harbour near the ferry terminal to anchor in keeping an eye on a ‘supposed’ buoy marker that marked a sunken boat.  We could not find the marker and crossed our fingers that we did not drop the anchor right on top of it.  We also could not imagine trying to anchor here in the summer time with all the boats anchored in the harbour and the traffic!

Friday Harbor is another customs checkpoint but much larger compared to Roche Harbor. We spent a couple of days in the harbour cleaning the boat and getting supplies, many from West Marine of course.

Friday Harbor Marina

Friday Harbor Marina

On March 7th, we headed to Griffin Bay to visit the American Camp. The camp area was much larger compared the English Camp and faces Haro Strait with numerous trails.  One could spent days hiking around the area but we only spent the afternoon walking one of the trails along the shore to the camp.  We also had the anchorage all to ourselves until late in the evening when we were joined by a motor boat.  Except for the occasional bird flying by and the motorboat coming into the harbour, it was a very, quiet night.  The next morning we pulled the anchor early just as dawn was appearing over the horizon so that we could catch the currents in our favour and for the right time going into Haro Strait and we made our way back towards Canada and into Victoria for a couple of days. ~Sophia & Rob