The Herald of Everett, Washington
Customer service  |  Subscribe   |   Log in or sign up   |   Advertising information   |   Contact us
HeraldNet on Facebook HeraldNet on Twitter HeraldNet RSS feeds HeraldNet Pinterest HeraldNet Google Plus HeraldNet Youtube
HeraldNet Newsletters  Newsletters: Sign up  Green editions icon Green editions

Calendar

Splash! Summer guide

Weekend to-do list
HeraldNet Newsletter Delivered to your inbox each week.


Published: Saturday, August 28, 2010, 12:01 a.m.

A place in the harbor

Houseboat offers an enjoyable base for exploring the San Juans

  • The sunset view over Friday Harbor from Otter Magic.

    Jackson Holtz / The Herald

    The sunset view over Friday Harbor from Otter Magic.

  • A ferry arrives at the landing in Friday Harbor.

    Jackson Holtz / The Herald

    A ferry arrives at the landing in Friday Harbor.

  • Kismet is the dock´s resident cat, one of several friendly locals.

    Kismet is the dock´s resident cat, one of several friendly locals.

  • A Washington state ferry arrives at the landing in Friday Harbor.

    A Washington state ferry arrives at the landing in Friday Harbor.

  • Otter Magic is a floating cottage with an upper and lower deck, docked in Friday Harbor.

    Jackson Holtz / The Herald

    Otter Magic is a floating cottage with an upper and lower deck, docked in Friday Harbor.

  • Otter Magic is a floating cottage with an upper and lower deck.

    Jackson Holtz / The Herald

    Otter Magic is a floating cottage with an upper and lower deck.

  • Another view of the houseboat Otter Magic and the dock.

    Jackson Holtz / The Herald

    Another view of the houseboat Otter Magic and the dock.

FRIDAY HARBOR — It doesn’t take long to learn how to tell “island time.”
Living aboard a rented houseboat in the heart of the San Juan Islands for a week, I stopped relying on the height of the sun and instead clocked the luxurious hours of a vacation watching the ferries.
The days were measured by the blast of a ferry’s horn and the gentle rock from its wake.
Every day about a dozen ferries arrive at the landing in Friday Harbor, the largest town in Washington’s famous archipelago. The view from my houseboat’s deck framed the hulking green-and-white ferry fleet.
Some boats link the islands to one another. Others connect to the mainland. One boat reaches across the border to Vancouver Island.
Watching the ferries slide in and out of the harbor served as evening entertainment too, enhanced by a fresh cocktail and a scarlet sky. By 10 p.m., when the Hyak pulled away carrying her last load east, the day drew to a close.
A short drive and an hour’s ferry ride away, the San Juan Islands are a favorite short vacation spot for many people in Snohomish County and around the region. This year, I decided to spend an extended amount of time on the islands and see what it was really like to slow my city pace to their rhythm.
A friend and I researched dozens of rental homes on the Internet before settling on Otter Magic, a floating cottage docked at a marina just a short walk from the shops, restaurants and the ferry landing in Friday Harbor.
Unlike many rentals that were big enough for large families and their guests, the little houseboat was fine for two, plus it had the charm of being on the water. Rentals cost less than a hotel per night and typically don’t offer daily maid service, but most come fully equipped with kitchens and laundry.
There is a lot to do on the islands, including athletic activities such as cycling, hiking and kayaking, and lower-key ways to pass the time strolling island shops, driving the coast or just reading a well-worn paperback.
My friend and I mixed it up with days full of activity and others spent lounging on the Otter Magic’s deck. We toured San Juan, Lopez and Orcas islands on our bikes, filling three days. One day, we signed up for a five-hour kayak tour with San Juan Outfitters in Roche Harbor. The guided trip took a small group of us all the way around Henry Island and gave us a close look at the area’s beauty and some of its wildlife.
Emily Danford, our guide, took care to point out bald eagles, purple sea stars, baby harbor seals and the abundant forests of sea kelp, some of which is edible.
What we didn’t see were whales. There are several resident pods of orcas that live and feed near the San Juan Islands. The day we went paddling, a pod of transient whales — orcas just passing through — had been seen earlier, but by the time we arrived the whales had moved miles away.
We also tried to spot whales from the shore at Lime Kiln Point State Park along Haro Strait. The water is so deep just feet from the shoreline that orcas regularly swim close enough to offer good views.
So they say. The few times I stopped to look, no one was shouting, “Thar she blows!”
For a surer bet, there are plenty of whale-watching excursions on powerboats that nearly guarantee sightings.
On another day, I set out to create a home-cooked meal using local, island-grown ingredients. An advantage to spending the week on the island was the ability to get to know neighbors, recognize waitresses and figure out how islanders live.
After talking to locals, I bypassed the grocery store and found San Juan Island’s small co-op. States Inn & Ranch sells pasta and bread, and Friday Harbor Seafood offers fresh fish right at the marina. (Look for the crowds watching Popeye, a resident harbor seal who’s often looking for handouts.)
I foraged for blackberries that were growing everywhere. The tastiest ones were picked from the western bluffs where the berries ripened with views of the passing whales.
The best food came from the waters right below the houseboat. Using chicken bones as bait and a borrowed trap, we didn’t take long to land several tasty rock crabs right from our deck.
We ate aboard Otter Magic most of the nights, saving money and enjoying our fabulous views. The little cottage was comfortable and maybe just a bit overrun with otter-shaped trinkets. There was even one made from a loaf of bread.
Still, after several days aboard the houseboat, the only otters I’d seen were the fake ones.
Then, washing dishes at the sink one night, I looked out the kitchen window and saw two otters swim by, playing in the late evening light. And sure enough, I’d found my own little piece of otter magic.
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; jholtz@heraldnet.com.

Rent your home away from home
Check these places to enjoy San Juan island life yourself:
Vacation Rental by Owner: www.vrbo.com.
San Juan Island Vacations: www.vacationsanjuanisland.com; 800-722-2939.
San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau: www.visitsanjuans.com; 888-468-3701.





Story tags » TourismTravelBikingSan Juan CountyAntiques

Share your comments: Log in using your HeraldNet account or your Facebook, Twitter or Disqus profile. Comments that violate the rules are subject to removal. Please see our terms of use. Please note that you must verify your email address for your comments to appear.

You are logged in using your HeraldNet ID. Click here to update your profile. | Log out.

Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.

comments powered by Disqus
digital subscription promo

Subscribe now

Unlimited digital access starting at 99 cents, or included with any print subscription.

loading...
HeraldNet Classifieds