Spring boaters answer the call of the islands

Boats sit in the mist at Roche Harbor, one of the most popular sites for spring boating in the San Juan Islands. Photo by Martin Waidelich, photosbymartinw.com.
Boats sit in the mist at Roche Harbor, one of the most popular sites for spring boating in the San Juan Islands. Photo by Martin Waidelich, photosbymartinw.com.

For serious boaters, spring means only one thing: it's time to get back on the water.

The "opening day" of boating season is usually celebrated the first Saturday in May. But we know many Whatcom County boaters will head to the islands much earlier. For those of you new to the Whatcom County boating scene or just looking for ideas on where to set sail this spring, here's a look at some top destinations in nearby marine areas that Whatcom County boaters tell us they love:

Sucia Island

Sucia Island is a "must-visit" every year, boaters tell us. National and international boating media have agreed, ranking it among the top boating locations in the world. What's to love? Well the entire island, and several of the smaller islands surrounding it, are part of Sucia Island State Park, which makes the islands a great place to camp and explore. The 564-acre state part includes 77,700 feet of shoreline.

The unique geology of the area has created several coves and bays around the island and boaters usually anchor in one of six spots - Echo Bay, Fossil Bay, Shallow Bay, Snoring Bay, Ewing Cove and Fox Cove. Once on shore there are trails to hike and places to rock climb and even picnic shelters. There is even a scuba diving park.

Friday Harbor

County seat for San Juan County, Friday Harbor sits on eastern side of San Juan Island.

The largest "city" in the islands has about 2,000 full-time residents. But it is also a haven for boaters and tourists from around the world, swelling the population and filling up the marina and the inns and bed and breakfasts around town.

The reputation of Friday Harbor has only grown in recent years as people from many other places have chosen the island life, bringing, among others, top-notch chefs opening trendy restaurants and renowned artists selling their wares in quaint shops. There is much to see and do. If you are a boater who likes to "go somewhere" then Friday Harbor has to be a first-choice destination.

Eagle Harbor on Cypress Island

The quiet Eagle Harbor is off the beaten path. Located at the northeast side of Cypress Island, perhaps the least-developed island in the San Juan group. Most of the island is managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which has protected 3,933 acres of the forests, wetlands and marine areas on and around the island.

The island remains heavily forested and there are no public utilities. But Cypress is cut with great hiking trails, making a excursion here a real Northwest outdoors trek. It's a great place for a hike up steep trails to magnificent views of the San Juans, Anacortes and the Skagit Valley.

Moorage in the harbor is through public mooring buoys, no docks here to ruin the natural state of things. But come early. It's a small bay on an isolated island. There aren't a lot of spots to moor and lots of people love the outdoor adventure nearby.

Roche Harbor

While some boaters look for the adventure of a state park, others want a more refined stay when they hit the shore. Many of those choose Roche Harbor, a resort built from a former company town located on the west side of San Juan Island.

The resort boasts hotels and cottages for rent and fine restaurants. A water taxi serves boats tied to mooring buoys.

Still, many boaters choose to stay on board, and the Roche Harbor marina has created a community for those folks too, with pump-out services, a barge to rent to hold get-togethers and even cable TV hookups on some docks.

If you want to be spoiled with elegance, Roche Harbor may be your stop.

Spencer Spit State Park, Lopez Island

Families love Spencer Spit State Park, located on the eastern shore of Lopez Island. When the kids are getting antsy on-board they can stop at the spit for beachcombing along a mile of the sand. The unique spit surrounds a lagoon and reaches out, nearly connecting to nearby Frost Island. The lagoon is home to all kinds of waterfowl, including great blue herons and kingfishers.

A trail leads up from the beach to the parklands above, which feature 37 tent camping sites and restrooms. There are also 15 picnic tables, a barbecue grill and a fire pit.

The 16 mooring buoys are always popular, especially when summer arrives.