The sun shined through Yahtzee’s windows, illuminating the cabin and gleaming off our brass oil lamp swaying near the mast. The boat bobbed on a mooring ball next to Turn Island Marine State Park and thin, fog-like clouds whizzed by on a southerly breeze.
A day later and in a different anchorage, a storm raged outside and the wind howled — gusting in upwards of 30-knots. It started at about 3 a.m.; it always seems to start at 3 a.m. Rain showers occasionally strafed the decks and Yahtzee tugged persistently at the mooring. Soon, blue sky emerged and the sun made a grand appearance.
Such is life on a boat in the San Juan Islands in the fall and winter. It feels like home.
But it takes being away from it to truly value what we have up here. After a month-long cruising adventure that took us the full length of the Puget Sound, along with time well spent in Olympia and Seattle, it was with a sense of excitement and relief to be heading north again. Not a relief necessarily of getting away, but of getting back to life on the hook and moving with the weather and tides rather than with traffic, schedules and excess.
Deciding to do the 60 plus mile trip from Seattle to Friday Harbor in two days, we did the first hop to Fort Worden State Park near Port Townsend and then got underway early the following day to use the current to our advantage in crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
When I poked my head out of the companionway, the sun was rising over the Cascade Mountains to the east in a beautiful display of oranges and reds while to the south an ominous line of showers moved north towards us. With the engine warming in idle I hoisted the mainsail and then dropped the mooring ball before pointing the bow northward across the Strait towards the San Juan Islands.
We’d been talking to Porter about going back to the San Juans for about a week and when I told him we were heading there that day he perked up and excitedly said with one finger pointed in the air, “Beaches, hiking, playing!” He knew exactly where we were going.
Just a few miles out into the Strait, the wind turned from a gentle southeasterly to a strong easterly. I rolled out our big genoa and Yahtzee leapt forward in a surge of energy. Soon after, droplets of rain pattered on deck as the shower I’d seen before leaving finally overran us. Fortunately, it did little to change the wind speed or direction and we continued to bound along at 7.5 to 8 knots towards the islands.
Jill, the autopilot and I traded off at the helm as we rocketed across the rest of the Strait with help from the current. When we made it to the pass between San Juan and Lopez islands, I calculated that we’d averaged just shy of 7.5 knots over the distance — which is quite fast and was certainly a record for us in the many times we’d crossed that stretch of water.
While finishing the last few miles to Friday Harbor the sun came out and a rainbow over San Juan Island welcomed us home to the islands. Yes, it was great to be back, but only because we know and appreciate the other side.
Our cruising lifestyle largely hinges on balance. For all the wonders and adventures that we find in the solitude of the unique natural world around us in the Pacific Northwest, we also need to offset that with brief trips to places like Seattle to visit friends, work and experience a faster pace of life. Living the two — city life and cruising life — creates an equilibrium that allows us to thoroughly enjoy and cherish both.