Sucia Island Reverie

The sun is moving south and the seasons are turning. The mornings are grey more often than not and cloudy days outnumber blue. I can feel the chill sinking into my bones as another long Pacific NorthWest winter approaches. It’s time to go sailing before the cloud blanket hides the sun until June. Planning for a quick trimaran cruise dispels my gloomy visions of coming misty grey winter weather.

More and more I look forward to my time spent sailing. The light, quick response of the trimaran, her speed and agility, her shallow draft, the chuckle of her wake, her simplicity pull me away from the abstract distractions and cares of the work-a-day world and into a magical sensory world of sails, wind, tide, and sea. When the sails are full and drawing, and the wind is right, and the sun is shining, and we are creaming along without a care…the universe rejoices.

My F-27 trimaran Maravilla was fueled, watered, provisioned and ready to go. My best girl and crew, Dawn, was ready to go too. The tides were right, the sun was shining and so with no more excuses, we cast our lines and left for the islands.

We planned to make our way across the top of the San Juan archipelago to the horseshoe crab-shaped group of islets known as Sucia. An easy sail the first day brought us to Eagle Harbor on Cypress Island. It was late afternoon when we arrived and we decided a quick hike to Eagle Cliff to view the sunset was in order. We only got lost twice on our way to the cliff and caught the sun dropping over Rosario Strait. The hike home in the dark and gloomy forest was full of hallucinations, shadows and nervous laughter. In the dark, I am a primitive who will gladly sacrifice a pig or goat or chicken…anything…to coax the sun-king to rise again.

The next morning, we woke to a hilarious tribe of otters as they munched, slurped and played with their breakfast catch across the small bay. Nine of them cavorted past the boat blowing bubbles, gobbling fish, wrestling, tumbling and generally mis-behaving. As for us, we had an easy leg motoring and sailing on a middling flood tide in light breeze. We puttered into Echo Bay on Sucia Island by early afternoon. About 20 boats were scattered around the big bay with a surprising number anchored out leaving plenty of mooring buoys. We took the buoy closest to the beach, secured Maravilla, launched the kayaks off the nets and set about our explorations.

Sucia is unique in that when commercial development threatened in the fifties, a group of Pacific North West boaters drummed up a donation campaign to purchase the island first. It says a great deal about this part of the country that they were successful and donated it to Washington State to be used as a State Park. It is a flat-ish scoured sandstone island rather than the towering igneous rock of the rest of the San Juans. It is shaped like a baseball glove and oriented roughly North West to South East and reminds me of the forested, rocky coast of Maine or the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. It lies about three miles north of big, tall Orcas Island and faces the Straits of Georgia unprotected from northern wintry blasts. It was the haunt of seal hunters, smugglers and hermits for decades before our more genteel times turned it to a boaters paradise.

We hiked around the island and explored the coves and nooks and cranny’s along the northern shore of Echo Bay, climbed to and sat in the China caves – named, it is said, for the smuggled Chinese workers forced to shelter in them until a fast, stealthy passage could be arranged to the sweat houses of Seattle and Tacoma and Bainbridge.

It is a beautiful, magical place is Sucia – with stunning vistas around every bend in the trail. Mt Baker looms to the east and Orcas to the south, the open blue water of the Straits of Georgia to the north. Listen close and you can hear the bark and growl of sea lions just off the north shore. Justice Island, Fossil Bay, Shallow Bay, Ewing Island, Ewing cove (with its sunken fishing boat), Mud Bay, Wiggins Head, Fox Cove elicit visions of NeverLand or Treasure Island. Surely the pirate Hook is floating somewhere off Wiggins Head and Long John Silver is plotting his revenge in a camp near China caves.

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