Anacortes area boat ramps
Once again, I find myself daydreaming. I remember looking for a boat ramp near Anacortes that we could use for a San Juan Island cruise. Sounds easy enough except not having any local knowledge and living 275 miles away in Portland makes it hard to plan a simple summer cruise. I had some specific requirements, #1 the ramp had to have a dock to get on and off the boat while we changed from a land based existence to a water based life. #2 the ramp had to be concrete so the car had traction plus it had to be steep enough to float the boat off the trailer without submerging the car. #3 we had to have long-term parking for the car and trailer without fear of vandalism or theft. #3.5 I didnt want to pay more than $10 a day to park. #4 I wanted access 24/7 just in case something came up. These are minimum requirements anyone would want. Once an acceptable ramp was located we could shove off from Portland and head up Interstate 5 with our good ship Sunshine in tow. There are many other issues that come into play, for instance having a bystander help me lift Lollipop (our dinghy) from the roof of the Excursion is a big plus. Having a level staging area that we can monopolize for 2 hours while the mast goes up is a bonus too. While were dreaming, how about a clean bathroom because most ramp kybos are totally gross. Lets switch gears for just a second and ask, "Why am I looking for a launch ramp"? Many people that go to Anacortes with a boat on a trailer will go straight to one of several marinas that provide a travel hoist service and will sling the boat into the water (no this doesnt mean throw it) the problem with slinging the boat is #1 the cost is about $175 in and $175 out. #2 you must schedule a time and date in advance or risk waiting all-day or overnight if you show up unannounced. Even if you have an appointment, you may still wait overnight if the marina has problems with other customers. They work 8 to 5 but you may show up after hours wanting to go home and on and on. On the plus side marinas have supplies, nice kybos, pretty safe parking lots, and answer the phone during business hours. In addition, keeping your trailer out of salt water is a huge benefit.
There are three ramps in the Anacortes area that I have used and know something about.
Washington Park, Twin Bridges, and Deception Pass. Washington Park is an Anacortes city park. Anacortes is the closest jump off point to the San Juans. Some would argue that if your ultimate destination is the northern San Juans (Petos Island, Sucia, or the Canadian Gulf Islands) then Bellingham is closer and they would be correct. However, in my opinion if Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor, the inner San Juans and the journey is your destination, then Anacortes is where you want to put in. Washington Park is west of town out on the point, just past the ferry landing. (This is the State ferry to the San Juan Islands and Sidney B.C.) This is a very nice park with a full time live in ranger and staff. The park includes a spacious wooded campground and day use areas plus a two-lane boat ramp. There is a small pre-launch area where you can step the mast or you can do all that in the main parking lot. The car and trailer parking area is of modest size and has signs warning to make sure you have a parking space before launching. This sounds easy enough but I still dont know how to occupy the parking space while simultaneously launching the boat. (Or you can put your dinghy there to hold your space) ok now I know why my dinghy has wheels. Overnight parking fees were $8.00/night in 2009 and I remember you could stay for up to 14 days.
The bathrooms are heated and have hot water and showers. There are two ramps with a float dock in between and like any tidal ramp, the higher the tide the more room at the inn. Our boat needs about three or four feet of water to float off the trailer and we have no problems with an eight foot tongue extension, I dont even get my feet wet. There will usually be a small current here, but you can put it to good use either pinning your boat or pulling it away from the dock depending on which side you decide to use. I try to use the down stream side that way my crew can position the boat by pulling on the lines rather than shoving with a pole. The concrete ramps can be covered with seaweed and sand so it can get a little slippery so four wheel drive may be of help. All of this area is directly exposed to Rosario straight and Guemes channel. Although conditions are usually pretty good in the summer, it could be down right nasty with a sizable swell and waves. Dont forget ocean going ships and tugs are not far off shore and the ever present ferries are right next door. This is as good a time as any to warn you if you havent been warned before. Dont cut in front of a ferry, they are moving faster than you think To wrap up Washington Park, I highly recommend it as your first choice for your San Juan adventure.
Twin Bridges boat launch
Im not positive of the name but I think its just called Twin Bridges. This is a Skagit County facility, and its on the road leading to Anacortes. Twin Bridges is west of Interstate 5 about 15-20 miles or so and on the main road where it crosses over the Swinomish channel just before you get to Anacortes. There are two bridges side by side (twins) and to get to Anacortes you must drive over them, but to get to the boat ramp you turn off and find the ramp directly under the bridges. There is also a marina with launch and boat storage, but they dont do sailboats (shame on them). The ramp at Twin Bridges is almost dry at low tide so the float is useless for a while. The one time we put in here, we arrived at a very low tide and waited for an hour or more before we launched, we needed about two feet to float next to the dock. Just a side note here, we were originally planning to go to Deception Pass but realized we would miss the outgoing tide window and would have to wait six hours or so. At Twin Bridges, there is a strong current, but not more than we could handle. If you check a map (chart) you will quickly see that you will be way up Padilla bay when you start out. This will add some hours for slow moving sailboats heading to the San Juans, but wont matter much to fast gas guzzling evil earth destroying stink pots. If your heading north to Bellingham and beyond, this launch point is probably as good as Washington Park although there are some mud flats to avoid. If your going to LaConner, or Seattle through Swinomish channel, then Twin Bridges or Deception Pass is the place to put in. The parking is long term and costs about $7/night, Theres not a lot of sailboats putting in here, but lots of fishing boats, so its a busy place in the daytime and the lot may be full, but at night they pull out and go away. Theres no camping, but if I arrived late, I wouldnt think twice about sleeping in the boat while on the trailer. The bathroom is typical county quality (great design but no maintenance, pu)
Cornet Bay (Deception Pass State Park)
This has to be one of the best boat ramps and facility you will ever use. Washington State Parks are unsurpassed. Theres a multilane ramp and lots of dock space. You can camp at the dock or take off for parts unknown and leave your car and trailer in the parking lot. A word about the pass. Cornet Bay is on the inside which means if your going to the San Juans, (and this is indeed a fine place to start) or returning through the pass, you will need to pay attention to the direction the water is flowing. Most sailboats do not have the speed needed to combat an 8+ mph current. The pass is only about mile from the dock so you will have a nice place to wait. On the outside of the pass is Bowman Bay, which is also part of Deception Pass Park. Bowman Bay has some docks and is a good place to wait for the tide change too, but the best plan is to know before you go. You can get tide predictions from NOAA for just about anywhere in the country, all you need is an Internet connection like the one youre using right now. (You can also print free navigation charts)
Imagine the current shooting you along at a speed (over ground) twice as fast as you have ever sailed and you cant possibly stop or even slow down, whirlpools and eddies tugging at you like a giant sea monster, and the rocks of certain doom only a few feet away. Got the picture? Seriously do not avoid Deception Pass, it may be the highlight of your trip. The scenery is spectacular, spend a day going ashore and learn some history. Plan your trip so that you travel the pass at slack water (high or low tide) and the transit will be so smooth and flat you could paddle a canoe around. The narrow part, where the water runs fastest is only a few hundred feet, once your past this point it doesnt matter and you can take all the time you want.
Some boaters think fog is no big deal with modern GPS to guide them, dont be one of them. Boaters need to respect the fog and learn how to safely deal with it just like darkness, both add to the danger and should be avoided. You really should consider waiting for the fog to clear or change your plans. Pea soup fog tends to hang around certain areas while other areas are clear. The southern end of Rosario straight, outside Deception Pass and over to Lopez Island, San Juan Island and out into Haro straight and all the way to Vancouver Island may have fog, while Anacortes and the inside San Juan area, may be clear and sunny. This is when you may want to be familiar with Swinomish Channel. The channel allows you to not only by-pass Deception Pass, but get around persistent fog also. This may add a few hours run time, but if your vacationing by boat, its the journey not the destination, right. Moreover, cutting through the channel allows you to stop for lunch or the night at LaConner, they have a nice public dock, and lots of shops.
Excerpts from www.triptalkusa.com