Yellow Island Cruise Report

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Yellow Island Cruise Report

Postby jeffd » Wed Sep 28, 2011 11:30 pm

Yellow Island is known for its very colorful wildflowers, and is not far from Friday Harbor, in the San Juan Islands. Yellow Island is owned by the Nature Conservancy. They have a page on their web site that describes the island and what you need to know before visiting it: ... island.xml

I’ve heard good things about Yellow Island, and I had the time, so I planned a cruise there on May 9, 2011. I figured I’d better do it now, since the wildflowers are still in bloom, or I might have to wait until next year. I made it a day trip, although it would be a nicer overnight or weekend trip. Considerations included the tides, and currents in Rosario Strait. I decided to Launch at Anacortes’ Washington Park, and follow the ferry route through Thatcher Pass. Here is my route map:

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I left my home in Renton at 5am. 5am?! It sure helps to beat the traffic on I-405 Northbound, and I figure the total distance is over 30 nautical miles. I’m at Washington park by 7am, and I minimally rig the boat – the mast up, lines run, fenders/docklines out, and autopilot ready. Then I launch, and head out. It is overcast and cool, in the low 50’s. The water across Rosario Strait is fairly calm, with some mild swells, and no wind. I finish rigging on the go. I motored along at about 6 knots, about 2/3 throttle. A little wind picks up – a light wind from the north, but I keep on motoring. I need to take a call at 11:30am so I’d like to be anchored at Yellow Island before then. I guess I am on a schedule, at least part of the day. I motor on through Thatcher Pass. Ferry traffic! Beware. I’m still doing 5.6 knots, and it is cool, and calm and smooth. I pass Grindstone Harbor, and notice “Elwha Rock” on the chart, and I recall the story about the ferry Elwha that ran aground on that rock. I’m now going 5.8 knots. The water is still smooth, and it is still overcast, and cool. At about 10:30am, I enter Wasp passage, between Crane and Shaw Island. The Ferries use this narrow route so I hope to get through before I encounter any. I buck a bit of a current through Wasp Passage – I am down to 4.3 knots, then down to 4 knots, but then back up to 4.6 knots, then 5.3 knots. The chart says “strong currents” – OK, I believe them. Luckily, I did not meet any ferries. I arrived at Yellow Island, and found the cove the website mentions, but the caretaker’s boat on a mooring buoy is right smack in the middle of the cove.

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Approaching Yellow Island’s cove, where the caretaker’s cabin is located, from the southeast

I didn’t feel I had enough room to anchor in the cove, so I anchored just to the southeast. Then I discovered a problem – my phone was roaming on Telus, the Canadian carrier. This won’t do! Roaming charges are big bucks. Funny, I was watching the signal all the way through Wasp passage, and it looked good. Anyway, I have a bit of time before the call I had to take, so I pulled up the anchor and headed back toward Wasp Passage. I ended up just drifting off Cliff Island to take the call. After the call, I motored back to Yellow Island and anchored, just southeast of the cove. I ate my lunch, inflated my kayak, and went ashore. Note: To visit Yellow Island, you need some kind of way to get to shore – there is no dock.

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The landing beach and the cove

I reviewed the rules on the posted sign, and talked briefly with the caretaker. I hiked around the island, first, in the southeast corner, where the wildflowers were in full bloom:

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Looking towards Orcas, with the ferry on its way to Friday Harbor

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Looking southwest, toward the other Wasp Islands

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Views to the Southeast

Then, I hiked over to the northwest side – different flowers in bloom, and some good views too. It was very nice, and seemed much warmer.

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North facing: moss mixed with wildflowers

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Looking southwest, toward Friday Harbor

I saw sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks off to the west.

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There was good color on this side too – just different kinds of flowers. 1:35pm – it’s time to go. It was a very nice, but short visit. I Motored at about half throttle, making 5.5 -6 kts through Wasp Passage – looks like this time I’m going with the current. Might have to fill up the gas tank later. Through the narrowest part of Wasp passage, I was making 7.1 kts, according to the GPS. Wow! Yes, it was kind of swirling around. Luckily, I did not meet any ferries. I passed Orcas Landing about 2:30pm, doing 5.5-5.7 kts. Wind seems to be shifting from the east now. A tailwind – nice and warm, but I am in a hurry, so no sailing – yet. I reached Upright Head, off Lopez, and there is a southerly wind coming up between Lopez and Shaw. Maybe 10 kts of wind, so I decide to try to sail – it was great, for about 10 minutes. I got up to about 4.2 kts, before the wind died again. Oh well, back to motoring. And I didn’t have a chance to fill up the gas tank. I reached Frost Island, motoring at 5.5 kts, with the wind from the south again. When I reached the west end of Thatcher pass at about 3:50pm, I was motoring at 6 kts. About 3:55 pm I reached the edge of Rosario Strait – a decent South Wind! So I decided it was time to sail, and was making about 3.5 kts. As I cleared James Island, the wind increased, and was making 4 kts – but it was much colder. Time for a fuzzy hat and gloves. I sailed across Rosario Strait, back to Washington Park, making 4.5 to 5 kts, on a beam reach and close hauled. It was a good sail, but cold. I arrived back at Washington park about 5pm. The tide was very low – not much dock. I decided to crank the keel up and remove the rudder before reaching the dock. There was a bit of wind and waves at the dock. The tide was rising. I pulled the boat out – a bit of a struggle. I am still not used to the curved approach at the ramp. I unrigged the boat, and left Washington Park about 6pm. Gee, these trips to Anacortes always seem to take the whole day! Later, I check the boat gas, and noticed that there was still maybe 3/4 or 1 gallon of gas in the tank! Wow, that’s 5.8 hours of motoring on 2 or 2 1/4 gallons of gas. That works out to about 1/3 gallon per hour, at half throttle, doing about 5.5 kts – a whole lot better than my old 2 stroke 6hp outboard!

Yellow Island is a great spring cruise, when the wildflowers are in bloom. It takes a bit of effort to get there, but it is well worth it.
Last edited by jeffd on Wed Nov 04, 2015 11:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Yellow Island Cruise Report

Postby cklamp » Thu Sep 29, 2011 12:23 am

Jeff, once again, great writeup's that are valuable contributions.

What motor are you running now?

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Re: Yellow Island Cruise Report

Postby jeffd » Sat Oct 01, 2011 10:21 pm

I've got a 2006 Honda BF8A - an 8 hp 4 stroke long shaft, which includes a 5 amp generator. It is a cruiser's delight, pushing the boat beyond hull speed, and plenty of power for most currents. But the downside is it is heavy - 80 lbs! And that does not include the 3 gallon gas tank (another 18+ lbs). The long shaft is really nice - I can back the boat up in reverse very well, since the prop thrust is below the hull. My old 6hp short shaft used to just push its thrust up against the transom, yielding almost no effect, except a lot of noise and splash. I usually run it at 1/4 to 1/3 throttle, and get 4 to 5.5. knots. I opted for the 8 hp 2 cylinder, instead of the 5 hp 1 cylinder, because I figured the two cylinder would be smoother. The 8hp is smooth and quiet, but it costs more and weighs a lot more. But it is still an outboard, and it still makes noise - I still prefer sailing. The generator is nice for long cruises (over a week) but I guess it is kind of a luxury. Stephen's tips on motors is really good - if you're not a die hard cruiser like me, the smaller (2hp, 3.5hp) outboards are probably better.
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Re: Yellow Island Cruise Report

Postby Diarmuid » Mon Oct 03, 2011 8:31 am

These reports are great! Big adventures in our little boats. I believe the SJ 21 makes an excellent cruising boats if comfort isn't your priority and you respect its limitations. It does so well in light air, you can often make more miles than larger boats w/out the need to motor. We're thinking about a Sea of Cortez trip next Spring, which has tides & currents similar to yours. A little daunting.:)
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Re: Yellow Island Cruise Report

Postby jeffd » Mon Oct 03, 2011 10:10 pm

Wow, the Sea of Cortez! Warm salt water - that sounds good to me! I hope you have a great time. I agree the SJ21 is a great cruising boat - but you have to have the right frame of mind. OK, I cruise either by myself, or with one other person. I'm kind of a cheapskate and cruising in the SJ21 is perfect - it is a very low cost way to go cruising.
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