Too few people seize the opportunity to inhale the aura surrounding the San Juan Islands from the deck of a classic wooden schooner. Known for lush Pacific Northwest landscapes and plentiful sealife, the San Juans offer a breathtaking experience for anyone willing to get on board.
Not only will you see the many splendid isles, dotted with vibrant seaside towns, but you will also marvel at a rich population of marine life. Such indulgences, however, are best experienced when you are equipped with some knowledge about sailing and the islands.
What Type of Guidebook Will Serve You Best?
If you’re chartering the San Juans for the first time, do some homework on the environment of these jewels on the Salish Sea. Just a bit of knowledge will enrich what you are seeing and heighten what to expect as you wend through this archipelago. Learning the history of the islands and their towns will let nothing escape your appreciation.
Look for guidebooks detailing the area’s wildlife. Know which ones especially draw your interest so that the skipper and crew can be on the lookout for you. There is a huge variety of local wildlife from which to choose: orcas, seals, gray whales, dolphins, porpoises, salmon, and myriad sea birds native to the Pacific Northwest.
Time Your Trip
The weather greatly influences the type of sailing adventure you experience. Try to time your trip when temperatures and moisture are moderate. Bone up on Northwest weather patterns; watch the weather forecasts, but also know that particular marine life is seen only during particular times of the year. Summer days are often afford calm sailing. But, for truly exhilarating sailing, nothing beats the Fall. The weather is still mild, but the winds pick up fill the sails with adventure.
The timing of your trip also greatly influences your chances of seeing the majestic orcas (aka killer whales). Generally, the best time to spot these creatures is late May through mid-October. The weather is temperate during this period but can be wet May-June and in early October.
The warmest temperatures of the year usually occur in late summer. Scheduling a trip from mid-July to mid-August, temperatures on land can reach into the 90’s. But, on the water the ocean breezes are delightful.
Believe it or not, if you pay close attention to forecasts, you can find a day in mid-January when the mercury reaches 60-65 Fahrenheit. If you are free to be spontaneous, during winter the Northwest can experience two or three days in a row of this type of sweet and mild weather. If you act quickly before it returns to the wet, gray, chilly weather so often associated to the greater Seattle region, you are in for an amazing winter treat. Keep the number of your favorite sailboat charter service handy posted on your winter calendar.
Though summer presents a period in which you can minimize baggage weight in terms of clothing, still remember to bring a rain-repelling windbreaker, hat, and a layer or two for beneath your jacket. Also, non-slip shoes for a moist deck will serve you well.
Gain Knowledge from Friendly Staff
Get to know the staff that represents the charter service. Frequently, you will be talking to an active member of the crew. After all, you will be seeing these people throughout your sail.
So, talk to the charter service team before hand. It won’t take long before you separate the truly helpful crews that focus on making your trip the best.
While on your sail, a crew dedicated to service is there to help and inform in any way they can to make your sail a real adventure. Think of it as a safari in the Pacific Northwest. You may not know much about the whale species you’re viewing, for example. The staff can fill you in on the species, their habits, and their significance. You therefore gain a full appreciation for what you are viewing only a few hundred feet from deckside.
Too much class time, however, can be a bit monotonous, so the staff stands ready at all times to treat you to your favorite foods or beverages and a sailing adventure to fill your imagination.
Sailing for hours is a delight for first-timers. But, for those who are ready for a real nautical safari, they can book a charter for days or more. On trips like that, your crew is often transformed into culinary experts who can make freshly caught seafood into a gourmet experience. .
The crew can also recommend places nearby to rest and eat, either before the charter sets sail, during, or after it has completed its final leg. You’ll be surprised by the amount of energy required to focus on the best photographic opportunities, let alone shuttling from one end of the deck to the other or standing by the gunwale in awe of your surroundings.
There’s nothing stopping you from sailing the San Juan Islands on a chartered sailboat. Enjoy it solo, with a partner, family, or a few friends. Talk to a charter company to see what is in store. Regardless, you will gain a better understanding of what draws people and sea life to the beautiful waters of the San Juans.
Five great places to see killer whales in the wild, latimes.com
How to See Orcas, traveltips.usatoday.com