Lake Chelan Cruise Report

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Lake Chelan Cruise Report

Postby jeffd » Sat Sep 17, 2011 10:23 pm

I took a week long cruise on Lake Chelan, Sept 6-13, 2011. I got lucky - it was in the low 90's the whole week, and there was even some wind, here and there - kind of localized. I first got the idea to cruise Lake Chelan last summer, after spending a week on Ross Lake on a Boy Scout canoe trip. The wind blew like mad - even all night, and I was wishing for a sailboat. But the boat launch for Ross Lake is in Canada, so I decided to try Chelan this summer. I decided against cruising BC this summer (Desolation Sound or Barley Sound) because of the high ferry fees (over $400). The Lake Chelan Sailing Association web site gives a lot of really good information - many thanks to them. I decided to launch at 25 Mile Creek State Park, and head north, skipping the lower part of the lake, avoiding the resorts and powerboat traffic. I had a rough plan, and a general idea of some things I wanted to do, but this is cruising, and sometimes, I made decisions based on conditions or whatever I felt like. I am a cruiser – I have a Raymarine Autopilot to steer (especially when motoring), and I use two iPhone apps to navigate and record tracks: Navionics Mobile Marine&Lakes (too bad most of Chelan is not charted, but most of it is so deep, the depth sounder couldn't find the bottom) and Motion-X (can download topographical maps). And yes, I do have paper charts – actually, I used Green Trails and USGS Topographical maps.

Google Earth Map – showing tracks recorded during my Lake Chelan Cruise:
(My apologies. Some of the colored tracks overlap, making it a bit hard to follow. Hiking tracks are in brown)

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Day 1 – Tue Sept 6: Drive to 25 Mile Creek State Park, launch, Sail to Safety Harbor. (Dark Blue track)

After paying my fees at 25 mile creek ($50 to park 7 days, $7 to launch, and $40 for a Chelan Federal Dock permit), I launched the boat and headed north. I even got lucky – there was a bit of wind! For a while, I am making maybe 3-4 knots with the Genoa, on a broad reach. Then, it lightens up, and I’m down to 2-3 knots., and it was very hot. During one of the times when there was no wind, I decided it was time for a swim. I put the boarding ladder over the stern, and jump in. It was very refreshing, but quite cold, so I don’t stay in very long. I sailed by Deer Harbor, on the north side, but it is too early to stop, so I sail on by. The wind dies before I get to Safety Harbor, so I motor slowly to Safety Harbor – also on the north side. I come to discover there is a strategy on the lake. The north side gets the sun later in the day, and into the evening. The south side tends to be cooler, and shaded in the afternoon. I make it to Safety Harbor about 6pm – just as the sun is setting. I’m hot, so I decided to go for a swim at the mouth of the river, near the campground. It is cool and refreshing. I get out, and drip dry in the last bit of sun, before it goes behind the mountains. There are two other boats at the dock – both staying in tents at the campground. I talked with one gentleman, who was in a 10’ Livingston with 10hp outboard. He’s coming back from Stehekin, and gives me the eyewitness report – there’s no gas at the dock in Stehekin, because the Lady of the Lake (the Ferry) had a mechanical failure and overran the dock, and took out the gas dock. He was at Weaver Point – the campground across from Stehekin, and he heard the crunch! We chat and he also gives me some other good info on the lake – he’s been up here a couple of times before. I cook dinner, clean up a bit, read some, and go to sleep. It is fall in the mountains, so the sun sets early. According to the GPS, we covered 8 nautical miles today. Pretty good, considering the first 4 hours of the day consisted of trailering the boat to the launch site. The wind and waves picked up a bit in the night, so it was a bit of a bumpy night.

Day 2 – Wed Sept 7: Safety Harbor to Refrigerator Harbor (Yellow track)

I slept in – being on the north side of the lake, at the base of high mountains, the sun rises late here. I cook and eat breakfast. One of my objectives of this trip was to relax, take my time, and get caught up on some reading. It is starting to get hot in the sun, so I find a spot on the shady side of camp, and spend some time reading. Here is a view of Safety Harbor, looking up lake.

Safety Harbor – 9/7 AM – view from my reading spot – in the shade!

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Breakfast is served – My style of SJ21 cruising is kind of like boat camping. I use a single burner coleman white gas stove for cooking (my backup is a backpacking butane stove – A Snow Peak Giga Power stove). Breakfast consists of instant oatmeal, a piece of fruit (banana or apple), maybe a bagel, and coffee! Yes, I bring a coffee press and ground coffee. As you can see in the photo, I usually cook right in the cockpit, unless it is raining. Cruising in fresh water (as opposed to salt water) makes cleanup a lot easier – I don’t have to carry as much water. I am cruising by myself on this trip, so meals are pretty simple – lunch is bagels, salami, cheese, fruit, granola bars. Dinner is canned stew, soup, ravioli, spaghetti, or mac & cheese. When I cruse with others, I usually plan a more elaborate meal. Water: I brought 8 gallons of fresh water, and ended up drinking most of it during the week – it was hot!. I did have my MSR Water Filter along, but I didn’t use it.

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I left Safety Harbor about 12:30, sailing in very light winds. I didn’t get very far, before having to resort to using the “Iron Wind”. As a approached Point No Point, the wind was filling in from behind, so I decided to try putting up the spinnaker. I managed to get about 2.5 knots with the spinnaker up. Then the wind died, so back to motoring. Past Graham Harbor, the wind picks up again, so the sails go back up, and I’m making 2-3 knots. The wind dies again. I guess this is what they call canyon winds – where the wind is localized and can come from any direction, or not at all. I motored by Domke Falls, on the south side – this is the 2nd most photographed waterfall on Chelan. It is afternoon, so the falls are shaded. But they are still beautiful, I motor slowly by (the autopilot is steering) and take photos. I decide to continue on and return later in the week. While motoring on the south side to view Domke Falls, I figure out that it is a lot cooler motoring close to the south side, in the shade. Glad I figured this out early in the week! I slowly put put my way up to Refrigerator Harbor, and arrive about 5pm. Refrigerator Harbor is within walking distance of Lucerne, where the Lady of the Lake ferry stops to drop off and pick up passengers. I take a walk up to the Lucerne dock, and take in the breathtaking view toward Stehekin:

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From Lucerne, there is a bus that goes up to Holden Village, and a lot of good hiking trails. I stopped here because I plan to take the short hike (about 2.5 miles) up to Domke Lake tomorrow morning. Hmm, it seems the mosquitoes are pretty bad here! Luckily, I have equipped the SJ21 with netting, so I decide to cook dinner inside tonight.

Day 3 - Thu Sept 8: Hike to Domke Lake, then sail up to Stehekin. (Green track)

I get up a bit early (before it gets hot) since I am doing a hike that involves a bit of elevation gain. The trail is shaded most of the way, and has some great views, looking both up and down the lake.
Here is one of the views, looking up the lake towards Stehekin:

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There is a fishing resort on Domke Lake. Patrons come in by Float Plane. It is pretty remote here. I get lucky and get to watch the float plane come in, drop off a few passengers, and pick up one going back home, and take off over the mountains. Domke lake is very pretty with views of mountains and peaks all around:

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I hike the Domke Lake trail all the way to the end – it goes beyond the fishing resort and the Domke Lake campground, maybe another ½ mile to Stuart Camp. Stuart Camp is not in very good repair. But there is good access to the lake, and it is hot, so I decide to go for a swim. The water is definitely warmer than Lake Chelan, but still, I’m not in for very long.

After returning to the boat from Domke Lake, I take another dip – this time in Lake Chelan. It is a very quick one – just enough to get cooled off, before heading out. There is a bit of a down lake breeze (headwinds!) so I sail close hauled, tacking my way up lake. On the Green Trails map, there is waterfall on the south side – Bridal Veil falls. I decide to check it out. It is a bit disappointing (especially after seeing Domke falls) – not much vertical, and it is fairly hidden in the brush. I continue heading up lake. By now, the wind has died, so I end up motoring the rest of the way to Stehekin. I pass the resort, and head for the Purple Point campground. The dock is very large, and there is one other boat there. I arrive around 3:30pm. Stehekin has a lot of amenities: a resort, a public phone, showers, a store, a restaurant, a Forest Service Visitor’s Center, bike rentals, tours, a guest ranch, hiking trails, and a bus that can take you 11 miles up the road to the trailheads into the back country. I decide to take a shower – feels very good! I phone home (bring a phone card) to let them know I haven’t fallen overboard (at least not by accident) or got eaten by a bear yet. I check out the visitor’s center, then I decide to take the short hike up the hill behind Stehekin – the Imus Creek Trail, which has a few good views, and ends up at the Purple Point Campground. Back at the dock, I chat with the retired couple in the powerboat – they are headed for the restaurant at the resort. I decide to cook mac & cheese – I’m sure the food at the restaurant is top notch, but it’s beyond my price range, although considering its location, I can understand the prices. I take in the beautiful sunset and hues and tones:

Stehekin, Purple Point Campground Dock, at dusk:

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Day 4 - Friday Sept 9: Hike to Agnes Gorge, then motor down lake to Flick Creek (Light Violet track)

I get up extra early, cook and eat breakfast, clean up, and head for the resort. While waiting for the bus, I talk with a couple with a powerboat – they told me just a few weeks ago, it was blowing 20 knots with 5 foot swells, and they ended up having to spend another night to wait out the storm. Hmm, I haven’t encountered much wind so far, but I hope not to have to face 20 knots and 5’ swells! I catch the 8am bus, to ride to the High Bridge, where I plan to take the hike up to Agnes Gorge. This hike is reputed to be very scenic, shaded most of the way, and doesn’t have a whole lot of elevation gain. The bus stops at the bakery (I pass) to pick up passengers (a couple of younger hikers on their way to the trailhead, to hike over easy pass, and on to Highway 20), then it stops at the Stehekin Valley Ranch (offering cabins, horseback riding, river kayaking, hiking, etc.), to pick up a few more day hikers, like me. The bus gets to the end of its route, at the High Bridge, over the Stehekin River. I set out for the Agnes Gorge trail, and hike to the end, where the trail goes all the way down to the Agnes River, where the river bends, foams, and rushes – it was very impressive. The rock wall on the other side goes almost straight up – it was hard to get it all into the photo:

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I ate my lunch, and relaxed by the river. Before soon, it is time to start heading back. The Bus leaves the High Bridge at 12:15, so I hustle back. I make it back with time to spare, so I head down to the Stehekin River, to cool off a bit. I catch the bus back to down, but decide to have it drop me off at Rainbow falls. Just as the bus is loading up, a couple of youthful , athletic gals come running aboard – they were dropped off at 6am that morning at Rainy Pass on Highway 20, and hiked on the Pacific Crest Trail all the way to the High Bridge – something like 17 miles, with lots of ups and downs. They are looking forward to relaxing at the resort, after doing a pretty grueling, quick hike over the mountains. The bus drops me off at Rainbow falls. I enjoy the falls for a bit, before the tour bus arrives.

Rainbow Falls:

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After seeing the falls, I walk back to the boat. I see a doe and her fawn along the way. The walk along the lake up here is very scenic, but the marshy area at the head, where the Stehekin River empties into Lake Chelan is very mosquito infested. I put on some extra repellent and managed to make it back to the boat. I took another shower, and called home again (“I didn’t get eaten by a bear”). Time to move on. Originally, I was going to head over to Weaver point – on the other side of the lake, at the very head of the lake, where the Stehekin River empties into the Lake. I got to the dock, and went ashore into the shade. Very nice campground, but I was getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes! I decided it was still early enough in the day, so I left and slowly motored down lake. I remembered the trick of motoring down the shady side of the lake to stay cool. Looking at the Green Trails maps, I decided to stay at the Flick Creek Campground, on the North Shore. The Lakeshore trail follows the north shore of Lake Chelan, from Stehekin, all the down to Prince Creek. Flick Creek is on the trail, and just south, there are some good views at Hunt’s Bluff. There is one other boat at the dock – they are camping on shore in a tent. A couple of backpackers heading up lake arrive at dusk. The wind is picking up – might be a choppy night at the dock, but it turns out to be not too bad.

Flick Creek campground/dock– along the Lakeshore trail, looking down lake:

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Day 5 - Sat Sept 10: Hike on the Lakeshore Trail to Hunts Bluff, then sail down lake to Domke Falls. (Orange track)

Today, I take advantage of choosing a campsite/dock that is on the north shore, with access to the Lakeshore Trail. I hiked from Flick Creek to Hunts Bluff, where there are some great views of the lake – looking both up and down lake. Not too long a hike, about 2 ½ miles, with maybe 500 feet of elevation gain. But it was well worth it for the views. I met a few backpackers on their way to Stehekin.

View looking up lake, near Hunts Bluff, on the Lakeshore trail:

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After taking the hike, I return to the boat, cool off a bit, then continue south. Destination is Domke Falls, which is about 8 nautical miles down lake from Flick Creek. As I left, there was an up lake wind (e.g. a headwind, but at least there was wind!). I was able to sail 3-4 knots using the genoa – winds were light. The wind picked up around Moore point, so I change down to the jib. The wind is blowing maybe 15 knots, and I am sailing 4.5 to 5 knots – probably the best wind I’ve had so far. I’m actually taking some spray sometimes as I hit the waves – it feels good, and it is fresh water (sure beats salt water spray!). Two sailboats are heading up lake – at least someone is going downwind and taking advantage of the great wind, but neither is flying a chute. The breeze was really good all the way to Refrigerator Harbor/Lucerne. Then, the wind got really shifty, and kind of died, so back to motoring. I use the trick of motoring close to the south shore, in the shade, where its much cooler. I get to the Domke Falls dock/campground about 4:30pm. There’s one other boat at the dock, but several of the campsites have tents. The best views of Domke falls require a boat. I brought my inflatable kayak along – for this very purpose. So I pull it out, inflate it, and set out to see the falls. Sitting at the base of the falls in the kayak is very refreshing. There is a cool mist an breeze coming from the falls. I stay there for a while, enjoying the breeze. As I drift down lake, near some nearby cliffs and rocks, I feel the heat radiating from the rocks. After cooling off a bit more near the falls, I head back to the boat for dinner. I do notice that the boat’s waterline is a bit higher than normal – must be all of that extra cruising stuff I brought along! I chat with a few of the other campers. Tonight, there are four boats at the dock, but the other three parties are all camping on shore. It is nearly a full moon, rising above the opposite shore: Very peaceful:

Nearly a full moon at the Domke Falls Campground dock:

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Day 6 - Sun Sept 11: Sail from Domke Falls to Deer Point. (Yellow track)

I wake up, get breakfast, clean up, and set out in the kayak. Yesterday afternoon, when I arrived, the falls were in the shade, so I wanted to catch them in the morning, when there was more light on them. I am not disappointed – the sun comes up (and it starts to get hot!) and beautifully lights up Domke Falls:

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The kayak is the ideal way to see the falls. It is much easier to maneuver myself in a good place for photos, or just enjoying the falls. Side note: For my cruising style (usually anchoring out), the inflatable kayak is the best dinghy. I used to have one of those cheap 4 man PVC rafts. But it was kind of bulky, took quite a while to inflate, took up most of the cockpit when being inflated, was hard to row, and didn’t tow behind the SJ21 very well. The inflatable kayak blows up fairly quickly, takes up a lot less space, rows much smoother, and deflates fast, and takes up less space. But there are a few limitations, including they cost more, hold a lot less, and I had to buy two of them (for when I have someone along) since they only hold one person. I spent a while at the falls, enjoying the view and the cool breeze and mist. The other boats all left. I lingered a while longer – what a great place! I finally left, and got to sail a bit – into the wind again. The wind blew up lake pretty steadily, so I had a nice sail, all the way to Prince Creek. After Price Creek, the winds became flukey and light. Back to motoring. I approached Graham Harbor on the south shore. It looked like a nice place to stay, but it is still too early in the day, so I keep going. I discovered another trick – motoring with the main up, so I can use the main for shade! Finally, the wind fills in – and this time, it is a down lake breeze! The wind going my way! I put the chute up, and make my way down lake, maybe 2-3 knots:

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I sail all the way to Deer Point, which is on the north shore. It’s still a tail wind. My chute is a cruising chute, about 130% (about the same size as my Genoa), so it is quite a bit smaller than the standard SJ21 spinnaker. But it is certainly easier to handle shorthanded - e.g. by myself. I had to gybe a few times – the autopilot does a good job of steering while I go on the foredeck to gybe the pole. As I approach the Deer Point dock going downwind, there is one other boat at the dock, but it looks like he is leaving, and he is on the exposed side of the dock. So prepare to head for the other side – the sheltered side, nearer to the land. The wind is light, and the dock is pretty much pointing right into the wind, so I decide to sail in. I take the chute down, make my approach, then turn upwind and coast to the dock. I do OK – good practice to sail in, when conditions are good. The sun is just setting as I tie up. Looks like another great place to spend the night:

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Day 7 - Mon Sept 12: Sail from Deer point to Mitchell Creek (Red tracks)

I wake up before sunrise to see a fantastic dawn display of colors. After Breakfast and cleanup, the sun is coming up, so I head over the rocks on the point to the shady, up lake facing shore, to do some reading. There is a light a down lake breeze – good! Heading my way. I watched the Lady of the Lake ferry go by, heading up lake. After some good time reading, I head back to the boat. Two powerboats have arrived, and then in a bit, another powerboat arrives. I chat with them a bit. People have been quite friendly. Eventually, its time to head down lake. As I leave, the wind is very light. I manage to sail a bit, then have to motor, feel a bit of a breeze so I sail a bit more, maybe making 2 knots. Its getting hot, so during the no wind time, its time for a quick swim! I pick up a bit more of a tailwind near 25 mile creek (where I launched). I decide to continue down lake – I was kind of hoping to make it down to the Chelan Yacht Club, where they race, and the wind is supposed to be better. The down lake wind is dying out on me, and it is getting toward dusk as I get to Mitchell Creek, which is the last Federal Dock/Campsite on the lake. So I decide to take the sails down and pull in. Mitchell Creek is set up like a marina, with slips, and a breakwater. I’m the only one there. I cook my dinner. As I’m eating, I notice the wind picks up, and it is blowing quite hard, maybe 15 knots, down lake. I finish dinner, clean up, and decide to go for an evening sail – I head down lake, wing on wing (I’m too chicken to try to put up the spinnaker, with this much wind, and at dusk), making 4.5-5 knots. I sail about a mile down lake at a pretty good clip, but then the wind is getting shifty and lighter, and I’m having a hard time making 2-3 knots. I’m still about 2 miles from the Yacht Club and it is getting dark, so I decide to turn around and beat back to Mitchell Creek. I guess the wind here is quite localized, because as I head back up lake, I pick up the same steady 15 knot wind that blew me down earlier in the evening. I’m making 5 – 5.2 knots upwind. I figure the boat isn’t sailing as fast as it usually does because of all that extra cruising gear weight . I beat past Mitchell Creek a bit, then set up for a beam reach to sail just downwind of the breakwater. I manage 5.5 knots on a beam reach – now I’m getting my good sailing in! As I approach Mitchell Creek, I tuck into the more sheltered water, pull the sails down, and motor into the marina. I am still the only boat there. Now, its quite dark. But it was a great evening sail. The wind continues to blow down lake maybe 10-15 knots. It seemed to blow all night, but the marina is well protected by a breakwater.

Day 8 - Tue Sept 13: Sail from Mitchell Creek to 25 mile creek, pull boat out and head home. (Dark Violet track)

The wind did blow all night, and quite strong. And it was almost a full moon – no need for a flashlight! At about 4am, the wind calms down. I got up at 6:30, took some dawn photos – great colors! After breakfast and cleanup, I do some figuring. I’d still like to sail down to the Yacht club, but the wind isn’t very strong, and the Yacht club is down lake – I need to go up lake a few miles to get back to the launch site. So the trip to the Yacht club got shelved for another trip. I set sail back to 25 Mile Creek, and manage to get a bit of a breeze, making 2-3 knots, as I tack upwind. I make it back to 25 Mile Creek about noon, pull the boat out of the water, de-rig, clean up, and head back home. I'm home in time for dinner, but it was quite a shock to the body going from low 90's in Chelan to mid 60's in Renton.

What a great trip! Highly recommended.
Last edited by jeffd on Tue Nov 03, 2015 11:25 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Lake Chelan Cruise Report

Postby Capt. Woogy » Sun Sep 18, 2011 10:23 am

Jeff, awesome report on an awesome trip. That cruise has been on my bucket list for a while and now you've given me even more reason to make it happen.
Also, it was nice meeting at last weeks meeting.
Chris Popich
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Re: Lake Chelan Cruise Report

Postby DeGuzman » Sun Sep 18, 2011 11:27 am

Thanks for this wonderful write up, it is the most informative and fun one I have read in a long time! This was one of the trips I wished I took when I had my boat.
Fausto DeGuzman
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