Shakedown – Part 1


Esmeralde’s shakedown started with our maiden voyage from LaConner to Anacortes, where we spent three nights at Cap Sante Marina.

A stormy day in Anacortes.

The first day in Anacortes we sat out gale to storm force winds which blew a solid 40 knots and gusted to 60 much of the afternoon.  It was a hang-on-tight day.  The boat show, scheduled to start in Anacortes that day at the marina, was pretty much shut down.

We also took advantage of being dockside to get a Northern Lights tech out to look at our generator, which was smoking badly and knocking on startup.  He tested the unit, ordered three replacement injectors, and came back the second day to install them.  Everything appeared much happier. More on that later.

After the obligatory countless trips to conveniently-nearby West Marine, a provisioning bonanza at the local farmers’ market, several stops at the various grocery stores, and some good food at Adrift and Anthony’s, on Sunday we were ready to shove off.

But we needed to fuel up first.  Coming alongside the fuel dock was a challenging learning experience.  Fortunately there was a lot of room.  The stiff breeze blowing us directly off the float tested our very novice skill set.  Furthermore, since our largest previous marine fuel purchase was less than 50 gallons, this particular event was stressful, but we better get used to it.

Sucia Island and Fossil Bay

Heading North up Lopez Sound.

Finally, off we went, headed for Fossil Bay on Sucia Island.  We retraced our steps through Guemes Channel and crossed Rosario Straight.  As we approached Thatcher Pass (we elected to take the scenic route up Lopez Sound west of Blakely Island), things got a little feisty so we powered up, got a bit salty, and scooted into protected waters.  The sun was out, the water flattened, and we had a gorgeous run up to Peavine Pass.

From Peavine we ran along the northeast shore of Orcas Island and straight into Fossil Bay on Sucia.  This beautiful marine state park, over 500 acres of woodlands, hiking trails, camp sites, two floating docks, and moorings, is apparently one of the most popular and most crowded destinations during the summer season in the San Juans.  It was saved from development in the late 1950s through a fundraising effort of yacht clubs and “regular people”, with help from Washington State Parks and the National Park Service.  We had almost hoped to have it to ourselves this time of year, but we shared it with two other boats. It was a pleasant and special evening, as it was our first night on the boat away from civilization.

Fossil Bay on Sucia Island.

One of the reasons we went to Fossil Bay is that we needed to be dockside.  The aging dinghy we had shipped out from the east coast was supposed to make it just through this cruise before being retired.  Unfortunately, it inflated once when we took it out of its shipping box, then it steadfastly refused to retain any pressure at all.  It was done.  While in Anacortes we researched and selected a new dinghy, but it, and all the associated bits and pieces, would not be ready for delivery until Thursday.  With two dogs who needed to go ashore at least twice a day, we needed a dock.

IMG_2758Sucia was lovely.  In the morning we took the pups for a leisurely walk along shady trails beneath tall evergreens across the island to the beach at Shallow Bay.  There we saw the Nordic Tug Airship moored across the cove.  Her crew, Laura Domela and Kevin Morris, had recommended Sucia to us originally, and had hiked across the island the evening before to visit is.  They have been really helpful as we make cruising plans.

When we returned to Esmeralde, the dogs needed a MAJOR bath.  Mud filled the cockpit.  They weren’t very happy about the whole thing, but a clean ship is a happy ship so they had no choice in the matter.

Before pulling in our lines and fenders, we had a visit from the Russel, captain of Sea Fever, a DeFever 49, and his wife, who we knew of the whole Esmeralde project from the Trawler Forum online.

Roche Harbor

Spieden Channel

Our plan for the day was a relatively short run to Roche Harbor, along the northwest shore of Orcas Island down President Channel, then around Spieden Island, up Spieden Channel, and into Roche.  It was generally calm and pleasant, although feisty enough as we turned up into Spieden Channel to warrant some extra throttle.  As we have discovered, she really settles down into it at 12 to 13 knots.

Roche Harbor, which is actually “Roche Harbor Resort and Marina”, is an interesting mix of history, commercial development and natural beauty.  The hotel was built in the late 1800’s on the remains of a Hudson Bay Trading Post.

Formal gardens at the Roche Harbor Resort.

There are beautiful formal gardens, and immaculate landscaping throughout the property.  The Afterglow Vista Mausoleum is an odd and unique feature that we failed to visit, but which is apparently a remarkably bizarre affair.  Next time.

We pulled into the large, modern marina, visited the well-stocked store, walked up the hill among the quaint but sprawling residential condo developments, and along the waterfront.  It was nice enough in April but I’m not certain I would want to be there on the Fourth of July.

Dinner with a view at McMillins.

Airship followed us in, and we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset and fun dinner at McMillins with Laura and Kevin.

Roche Chapel and the full moon.

Later, while walking the dogs, the full moon rose over the small church on the hillside, and the bells began to ring. Another special moment in the San Juans.

Haro Strait to Cattle Pass and Friday Harbor

Mattie begs for donuts.

Tuesday promised a light northerly and a fair morning ebb current down Haro Strait, so we decided it was a perfect day to try to find some whales and Orcas off the west coast of San Juan Island.  First, we fueled up on some homemade donuts on the marina docks at the Lime Kiln Cafe, then headed out.  Kevin and Laura had come up with the same plan, and we found ourselves following them out through Mosquito Pass and into the sound.

The flybridge on a sunny day.

The day proved that even in the San Juans in April, a flybridge is a beautiful thing.  We zipped up our coats and made ourselves comfy in the rare sunshine up top, where we could see the views uninhibited, and better our visibility for spotting whales.

Although we never saw any whales, we almost ran over a sea lion having a large fish for lunch, and it was a beautiful day on the water.  Towards the end of the run down Haro Strait, just alongside Cattle Point, we caught up with Airship.  As we passed by, Laura took this stunning picture of Esmeralde with Mount Baker in the background.  Timing is everything.  Thank you Laura Domela!

Photo by Laura Domela of and
I wish I knew who took this great photo!

By strange coincidence, this photo of Esmeralde and Airship, which must have been taken at the same time as Laura’s, popped up on our thread on the Trawler Forum, taken by a Forum member who just happened to be sitting in his truck at Cattle Point as we passed by.  The world is a small place indeed.

From Cattle Point, Esmeralde went north up through Cattle Pass and San Juan Channel to Friday Harbor (remember we needed a dock), while Airship continued on to Anacortes.  Another perfect day of shakedown in the San Juans.

Stand by for the next post for Fish Stories in Friday Harbor!

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