We’re still firmly entrenched in winter, but signs of spring have recently been popping up ever so slightly around the Salish Sea. The new season isn’t here yet, of course, and strong southerlies and brisk northerlies are still bound to sweep in over the next couple months.
As boaters, we obviously need to keep a keen eye out for these potentially hazardous winds and to protect our boats appropriately. And if you’re out cruising this time of year — which we highly recommend — you’ll want to have some places in mind to duck in and wait out weather from nearly all directions.
In our years spent cruising Puget Sound and the San Juan and Gulf islands throughout the short, cooler days of winter, we always had a lot of anchorages or docks in mind to escape and hide in the event of a big blow. That being the case, I’ll share a few of those for boaters who are out taking advantage of the amazing winter cruising in the Pacific Northwest.
In the late fall and early winter of 2014, we cruised the San Juan Islands and Anacortes/Bellingham area in anticipation of the arrival of a new crewmember. With Jill quite pregnant at this point, and with our midwife located in Bellingham, we needed to stop in town for appointments every two weeks until Magnus joined our family on December 27th. During that time there was A LOT of wind out of the north and south, with one storm bringing southerlies in the upper 60s.
Always safe and undeterred, our routine was to head out in the islands for about a week to 10 days and then sail back for Bellingham. In doing so we found a number of great anchorages to hideout near Bellingham Bay, and Chuckanut Bay was perfect because it has spots that are protected from the north and south.
Mariners from Bellingham are well aware of these beautiful anchorages that sit below Chuckanut Mountain, but I’m not sure that many other folks are. After all, the nearby San Juan Islands seem to collect most cruisers that are on a schedule, which leaves other off-the-beaten-path locales a bit more open. No matter what time of year it is, Chuckanut Bay is a lovely spot to stop for a night or two and you’ve got several options when deciding where to drop the hook.
South Chuckanut Bay
If you’re looking to take cover from a big southerly, the southwest corner of the bay is absolutely perfect. Here, pint-sized Pleasant Bay is flanked by a nearly shear shoreline with private homes nestled amongst the trees. Depths are moderate and we anchored here numerous times in about 30 feet. Prevailing winds are typically out of the southwest and we sat through a blow of about 35 to 40 knots one night without noticing it much. One thing to note is that all shoreline is private. But even though you can’t stretch your legs ashore, we had fun paddling around the perimeter of the coves. To go ashore, head north…
North Chuckanut Bay
At the north end of Chuckanut Bay you won’t find perfect protection from strong winds, but it’s still pretty good. You can drop your hook up in the northerly corners in about 25 to 40 feet and the nearby train trestle will greatly reduce fetch. (The sound of the train isn’t much of an annoyance.) Also, I’ve been told that if you want to anchor here in a moderate southerly you can tuck all the way up to the western shoreline north of the charted rock to gain some relief.
In this section of Chuckanut Bay there are two spots to go ashore. Take your dinghy or kayak under the bridge at high tide and head towards the northeast corner of the bay. There is a public park here to land your craft and from there you can walk up the road to Chuckanut Drive. Just be sure to head back out before the tide drops or you’re stuck — and that is some sticky mud!
The other place to go ashore is at Teddy Bear Cove park, where you can land your tender on the small beach near a set of wooden stairs. The point that juts out into the bay is covered in twisted Madrona trees and the rocks are fun to poke around in. From here you can hike to your heart’s content. A maintained trail leads across the railroad tracks and then towards Bellingham or up Chuckanut Mountain, which affords sweeping views of the San Juan Islands.