Pacific Northwest yacht charters offer beautiful scenery and mostly protected waters. The best time of year for yacht charter in this area is from May to September.
The most popular chartering area in North America is this cross-border region featuring the state of Washington and the province of British Columbia. Winds are rarely strong in the summer, although tidal currents can be, so it’s an ideal area for power or sail yacht charters. Often flanked by mountain peaks to the east and west, yacht charterers can enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the San Juan Islands, the waterfronts of Victoria and Sidney on Vancouver Island, and the mountainous splendours of Desolation Sound to the north. The rugged coastline of 290-mile-long Vancouver Island could keep a cruiser occupied for an entire summer season.
In Oregon, limited charters can be found on the Columbia River which is navigable well inland.
Though not considered prime season, September and early October charters can be delightful as the crowds are gone and the weather is usually still amenable. Periods of rain are common in May and June and even into early July. Each year is different of course, but fall and spring storms around the British Columbia coast can get gnarly. Visitors tend to stick to the eight glorious weeks during the sunniest part of the year.
The islands off the coast of Washington are known as the ‘Banana Belt’ where the storm blocking effects of the surrounding mountain ranges make for a drier and milder climate. Average temperatures include highs of 60-70 degrees Farehnheit in the summer months with temps dropping into the 50s at night. In winter, you can expect about 20 degrees less for both highs and lows. Some areas of these sheltered waters (like Deception Pass) are prone to fog, so consider a charter boat that has radar.
Other destinations like Victoria, British Columbia are milder, but always expect the unexpected. We went from 43 degrees to 82 degrees on the same mid-August charter. Typical annual precipitation is about twenty inches, with a significant increase in rain in the winter months.
Winds are light and fluky so long, lazy days under sail can be elusive. On a recent week-long charter, we managed to sail about three hours in total with wind speeds from a frustrating five knots to a challenging 25 knots on the nose—all within the same afternoon. Unpredictable and mostly nonexistent sailing breezes make powerboats a good option, and there are many to choose from at most charter bases. If you’re looking at the shoulder season, ask for a boat with a cabin heater.
Weather affects just about everything you’ll bring on a charter: personal electronics, clothes, toys. Some items that will be helpful include a smartphone or tablet with marine apps on weather, AIS, tides and marina bookings. Most charter boats won’t have AIS enabled radar, but you can get that information on your iPhone with an inexpensive app. Although it’s not necessary to have this, it’s fun to track and identify the ships nearby.
Another consideration is toys. Depending on the time of year and on how hardy you are, you may or may not be spending time in the water. If you want to snorkel, swim, kayak or generally play in the water, consider bringing your own light wetsuit. Electronics or board games are also helpful to entertain all ages on rainy afternoons at anchor. However, don’t underestimate the sun factor; bring lots of sunscreen, hats and glasses.
For clothing, think layers. In August we managed to go from wearing three layers and foulies to swimsuits and flip flops. Bring lots of options, some rain gear, and even consider tossing in an umbrella for shoreside strolls through towns.
Photo courtesy Neil Rabinowitz
There are lots of destinations to explore in the islands of the Pacific Northwest. From the southern Sun Juan Islands to the northern end of Desolation Sound is about 160 miles, with countless islands and miles of coastline in between. These waters include the San Juans, the Canadian Gulf Islands, Victoria, Vancouver, and Princess Louisa Inlet. Strong currents and significant tidal ranges make tide and chart tables a must. And be sure to invest in a recent cruising guide to get the local flavor as well as some safety information.
There are many good chartering companies in these islands and boats book up fast. If you’re thinking of chartering here, you should start planning an August adventure by February of that year—even earlier if you want your choice of vessels.
If you have guests who come late or need to leave early, they can take advantage of the extensive ferry network that connects various towns. Or send them home via one of the many float planes, which will add the bonus of a thrilling aerial view.
One Week – San Juan Islands
Day 1: Anacortes to Lopez Island
Just 12 short miles from Anacortes is Spencer Spit State Park, with 130 acres of great hiking. Good anchoring nearby.
Day 2: Lopez to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island
A bustling little town with great restaurants and galleries, Friday Harbor has guest dockage for over 100 yachts.
Day 3: Friday to Roche Harbor, San Juan Island
Head down around the southern tip of San Juan Island and out into Haro Strait where you might spot a pod of orcas. You may even find some wind to set sail, before cutting through Mosquito Pass to picturesque Roche Harbor.
Day 4: Exploring Roche
Take an extra day to hike the area, visit the sculpture park or maybe even take in a little outdoor theater on a summer’s evening. Don’t miss the sunset flag ceremony.
Day 5: Roche to Rosario Resort, Orcas Island
Grab one of the moorings outside the mansion and take a tour. Make sure you call ahead to check times for the organ concert that is not to be missed. Afterward, stroll around the beautiful grounds where deer wander freely.
Day 6: Rosario to Deception Pass
Transit south to a narrow pass between Whidbey and Fidalgo islands. At times other than slack tide, this can be a wild ride with ripping currents like a river. Anchor or dock at Cornet Bay.
Day 7: Anacortes
After returning the boat in Anacortes, explore the many galleries, marine stores and restaurants that serve up good local seafood.
Two Weeks – San Juan & Gulf Islands to Desolation Sound
Day 1: Anacortes to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island
If you’re checked out near noon, you’ll be able to reach Friday Harbor for dinner. Call ahead to secure a spot at the dock.
Day 2: Friday to Victoria, B.C.
Cross Haro Strait into Canada. Make sure you secure a permit to take the charter boat out of the country and check into Canadian Customs. Secure a dock in front of the majestic Empress Hotel.
Day 3: Victoria, B.C.
The food, the museum, the bagpipers and the shopping – there’s so much to do. Take a day to explore this European style capital.
Day 4: Victoria to Sidney Island
Head north up the Haro Strait which will give you another chance to look for orcas and grab a mooring at Sidney Island Marine Park. A mile-long loop makes a nice walk through a dense forest.
Day 5: Sidney Island to Nanaimo
This will be a long day so plan ahead as you go north to Nanaimo, a busy town with all sorts of yacht provisioning and excellent restaurants.
Day 6: Nanaimo to Egmont
Plan on an early departure across the Straits of Georgia to Egmont. Dock at the government float or the marina and then hike to Sechelt rapids where the current can run 14 knots.
Day 7: Egmont to Chatterbox Falls
Head up Jervis Inlet to Chatterbox Falls where the hardy (or crazy) can take a bracing dip in one of the pools beneath the 120-foot falls.
Day 8: Transit to Cortes Bay
You’ll have nearly 70 miles to cover today to make good progress north, so get an early start. Good anchoring can be found east of the Seattle Yacht Club outstation.
Day 9: Cortes to Prideaux Haven
Explore this area that has lots of oysters on the warm beaches. It’s one of the prettiest spots in Desolation Sound.
Day 10: Prideaux to Pender Harbor
Pender is on the Sunshine Coast and has ample anchorage as well as a fuel dock. Enjoy the local pubs and shopping.
Day 11: Pender to Telegraph Harbor
Cross the Georgia Strait to Telegraph where resorts host pig-roast barbeques.
Day 12: Prevost
Ideal day at leisure with a short transit (16 miles) to Prevost and its beautiful sunsets.
Day 13: Prevost to Roche Harbor
Clear U.S. Customs at Roche and take a slip at the beautiful marina. Have a camera handy for the spectacular scenery and the sunset flag ceremony.
Day 14: Roche to Anacortes
Wind your way through Harney Channel and Obstruction Pass back to Anacortes.