The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders


by Greg Stoll
Part 1

I spent months looking forward to my first big trip in my MacGregor/Venture 21 “Windisfree”.  I planned to head up the San Juan Islands to attend the annual Sucia Island Small Boats Rendezvous organized by Jamie Orr

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Sucia Island State Park is just north of Orcas Island, map courtesy of Yahoo Maps

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Fox Cove is inside the red circle, map courtesy of Jamie Orr’s Sucia Website

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Sucia Island is situated a few miles north of Orcas Island in Washington’s beautiful San Juan Islands. It’s a state park, complete with moorings, docks, campsites, toilets and running water. We planned on meeting in Fox Cove on the southwest corner of the island for a weekend of merriment and comraderie centered around the small boats we build, work on and sail.

Like any great trip, I started planning early. Lots of e-mailing and asking questions, checking with others who were attending, and working on the boats to get them ready. I bought three shiny new NOAA charts of the region, and planned my route. I would launch from Bellingham’s Squalicum Harbor, sail across Bellingham Bay, turn north at Portage Island for a run up Hale Passage east of Lummi Island, and then head west across the Strait of Georgia for the 11+ mile sail to Sucia. Somewhere during the planning, my friend and fellow Puddle-Ducker Andrew Linn decided he would go along with me in his Newport 16 Aurors.

My boat preparations involved some work on my Mac/Ven 21, which I purchased last winter off E-Bay. The main problem with the boat was that it lacked a foresail and engine and some of the interior wood was rotten. I remedied the sail and engine problems early, and replaced the v-berth just a few days before leaving for Sucia. We also took our Puddle Duck Racer Red Racer for us as a tender. My wife made up a menu, I did the shopping, and we both checked, rechecked and packed all our camping gear away in the boat.

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Traffic was horrible going through Seattle, photo courtesy Andrew Linn

The drive up was roughly 340 miles, and we ran into heavy traffic in downtown Seattle. It took us quite a while to get through; Andrew lead in his Subaru, and I followed in my old Toyota pickup. We arrived in Bellingham around 1:00 and met up with Bill Childs of Bartender Boats fame for the local tour. He said that the weather had been horrible that morning, with 5 foot seas and winds around 30 knots. This was way too much for us, but it had died down by the time we arrived. Bill drove us out to the launch ramp next to the Lummi Island Ferry Terminal to check the seas in Hale’s Passage. Everything looked great, so we went back to the harbor and got set up.

It bears mentioning that at about this time, Frank Mabrey called and said that he and John Kohnen were going to “heed the small craft advisory” and stay on the mainland tonight. My response was, “what small craft advisory?”. I walked over to Coast Guard Station Bellingham Bay to check. Seeing no advisory flags flying, we set about our preparations.

The Windisfree (L) and the Aurors (R) rigged up and ready to launch, photo courtesy Andrew Linn

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By the time the boats were loaded, rigged and launched, it was 3:40 in the afternoon. We motored out into Bellingham Bay and raised our sails as soon as we caught a gust of wind. It didn’t take long before we were making 4.5-5.0 knots under sail. We knew it was a little late to be leaving on a 20+ mile trip, but we really wanted to get there. The sky was gray and overcast, and the clouds would occasionally let loose with some rain. After a reach across Bellingham Bay, we turned north up Hale Passage, sailing wing-in-wing with a following wind and current pushing us to a speed of 6.5-7.0 knots over ground. In no time at all, we were rounding the red and green bouy at the north end of Lummi and headed west to Sucia.

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Making 6.7 knots up Hale Passage

The sail across the Strait of Georgia was a little slower than we would have liked, so we started our engines and motorsailed part of the way. Slowly we got near Sucia, but then the tide changed and slowed our pace to 2.5 knots over ground. We were so close, but going so slow. After what seemed like an eternity, we sailed into Fox Cove on the southwest corner of Sucia Island.

The Aurors off our starboard side motorsailing with us

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Windisfree and Red Racer entering Fox Cove, photo courtesy Andrew Linn

After an afternoon of overcast and intermittent rain, we were presented with this beautiful eden-like image of Sucia Island

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As we sailed in, we were greeted by the most gorgeous scenery imaginable. There were a few sailboats nested at anchor or on moorings, among them Jamie Orr’s Chebacco Wayward Lass, Ryan Shellborn’s ketch Makoolis, and a Bolger Micro owned by Jay Kammerzell of Everett. Jim Ballou had made it over the day before in his CLC kayak. We beached the boats on the steep high-tide beach (my 21 draws 18” with the keel up, so the beaching was an unexpected blessing) and unloaded our camping gear. We had quite a bit, but Andrew unloaded only the minimums, as he was planning on sleeping on his boat.

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Windisfree (with Red Racer in tow) and Aurors beached after a long trip to paradise

After setting up camp we roasted hot dogs on Jim Ballou’s campfire. It had been an incredibly long day, but we were finally there. And it was worth it.

on to Part 2...