Although the weather outside is frightful, it will soon be so delightful, and now is the time to dream of a summer sailing adventure in the Northwest. Bellingham, WA is the perfect place to board a small-ship cruise through the San Juan Islands. Many unique boats offer a range of possibilities from May through October. I was lucky enough to experience two this past year.
The largest of the Bellingham fleet is the majestic Schooner Zodiac, with the tallest working mainsail on the West Coast of America. One step aboard and the feel of nautical history surrounded me. I instantly admired the enormous wood masts, the spacious wood deck and the vintage helm. The view below deck is even more impressive. Originally built for the Johnson & Johnson family in 1924, the Zodiac has been meticulously restored with polished trim, fixtures, bookcases and tables. Sleeping berths and cabins can accommodate up to 20 passengers for overnight sails.
Trips on the Zodiac focus on a variety of themes throughout the summer, including wine tasting, brew pub hopping, lighthouses, photography, even a women only adventure. Passengers learn to raise and lower the massive sails, take the helm and man the charts. Of course everyone looks forward to the dinner bell, as hearty meals pour forth from the galley. For me, the ultimate moment of relaxation was sitting quietly with a steaming mug on deck at daybreak, watching the sun rise over Lopez Island with glassy water in the foreground and the glow of a lantern overhead, while the rest of the world was a million miles away.
Another meticulously restored wooden boat is the Motor Vessel David B, operated by Jeffrey and Christine Smith of Northwest Navigation. What the¬† Zodiac offers in spaciousness, the David B provides in adorable coziness. It is a 65-foot workboat, built in 1929, that has been converted to carry up to 6 overnight passengers for relaxed luxury cruises in 4 inviting cabins. Two key features endear passengers to the David B: her antique engine (Jeffrey’s baby) and her antique wood burning stove (Christine’s baby). The couple bought the boat in 1998 and lovingly restored it to begin offering trips in 2006. Each cruise emphasizes nature, local history and gourmet cooking.
“No pre-made bread is ever served on the David B,” says Christine. Each morning she wakes up at 5 a.m., to light the fire have coffee ready by 6:00 (for the early risers), homemade muffins at 8:00, and bread rising while Jeffrey takes passengers ashore at mid-morning. By lunchtime the cabin smells delectable, and the table is set with china for a feast.¬† Christine also takes special care to serve local Northwest ingredients, which are plentiful in the summer months. For us, she prepared Coho salmon from Vis Seafoods, Romano beans from Joe’s Gardens, potato salad with fresh Quark cheese from Appel Farms, and Apple Bubbly from BelleWood Acres – as well as Christine’s famous sourdough rolls! All the while we drifted past the 1600-foot, deep-green, forested cliffs of Lummi Island. Ahhhh.
My family and I have taken cruises on the giant ships to Alaska, and they have their merits, but small-ship cruising is a completely different experience. It is so personal, friendly and authentic.
Boats depart from two locations in Bellingham: either the Bellingham Cruise Terminal in Fairhaven, or Squalicum Harbor. Additional skippered charter vessels include Gato Verde, Shawmanee, Mystic Sea Charters and Sail the San Juans. If you’re traveling from a distance, you may want to spend a night on land before or after the cruise. Many hotels in Bellingham offer overnight parking, bag check and transportation to the boats. Waterfront hotels include the Fairhaven Village Inn, Chrysalis Inn & Spa, and Hotel Bellwether.