Let the Wind Be Your Guide: The Top Charter Sailing Vacations

The Pacific Northwest: Gunkholer's Paradise

To many people, the Pacific Northwest is a land of gray skies, fir trees, and driving rain. True, it does rain more often here than in other parts of North America, but the summers can bring weeks of predictable winds, calm seas, and brilliant blue skies. This is a cruising ground for people who like rugged unspoiled scenery, superb fishing, and sailing among a myriad of small islands.
Most U.S. charterers take a boat out of Anacortes, Washington, while Canadian fleets operate from Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Distances can be large here, so many people prefer to rent a diesel trawler rather than a sailing yacht in these waters, particularly if they are departing from Washington, bound for British Columbia.

Anacortes is a superb base for exploring the San Juan Islands, only ten miles away across the Rosario Strait. The tides run strongly through the strait, which should only be crossed in clear weather. Once among the islands you will find a good anchorage every few miles. Friday Harbor is the main town, a small and crowded tourist community where you can buy supplies and clear customs if inbound from the Canadian-owned Gulf Islands to the north.
Roche Harbor, on the northwest coast of San Juan Island, is a popular destination with local sailors, famous for its resort hotel and many sheltered coves. There are no less than 11 state parks in the San Juans, all of them accessible from your yacht. One of the best is Spencer Spit, just over ten miles from Anacortes.
You can explore the San Juans in a week, but a longer charter will tempt you to sail north across the border into the Gulf Islands. Clear customs on South Pender Island, then head north into a paradise of islands. The Gulfs are more sparsely populated than the San Juans, and you should be prepared to motor during the calm summer months. However, the lovely anchorages are worth it, places like Glenthorne Passage or Conover Cove on Saltspring Island. Some people spend but a day or two in the Gulf Islands, then head west for Victoria, at the southern end of Vancouver Island.
Many charterers plan more ambitious cruises north from Anacortes and Vancouver along the mainland Sunshine Coast. If you have the time, you can also cross the Strait of Georgia—but watch the tides and the weather. One favorite cruise takes you up the narrow Agamemnon Channel to Egmont, then 40 miles inland up spectacular Jervis Inlet, through the narrow Malibu Rapids at slack water, and into Princess Louisa Inlet, with its gorgeous 120-foot waterfall. For a longer trip, make your way back down Jervis Inlet and head north again, this time into Desolation Sound, where there are so many scenic anchorages that you need months to explore them all.
Practically Speaking
For sailing, the best winds are in spring and fall, before and after the high season between Memorial and Labor Days. Summer winds are lighter and tend to blow from the southwest through northwest, with calms and light land breezes in evening, night, and early morning hours, and a pleasant sea breeze that comes up about noon.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 31 Jan 2001 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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