A Portal in Time by Kregg P.J. Jorgenson

If you don’t believe in time travel, then perhaps a boat cruise through the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest may just persuade you that it’s possible. Here, the decades and centuries seem to disappear in the natural splendor where it’s actually possible to see what the Spanish Explorer, Francisco de Eliza and his crew, saw when they sailed into the cluster of previously undiscovered islands in 1791.
De Eliza named the islands in honor of the Spanish Viceroy of Mexico, Juan Vincente de Guemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguyao, 2nd Count of Revellagigedo. The Count would also have one of the larger islands in the archipelago named after him as well by de Eliza, although Isla de Horcasitas would later come to be better known as Orcas Island.
Both Spanish influence and even that of a Greek Sea Captain would come to play major roles in the European naming process of the some of the now recognizable places in the region. The Greek Sea Captain, Apostolos Valerianos, who while sailing for Spain in the 1500s, discovered a passage that he described as a ‘broad inlet of sea’ between the islands and the mainland.
To the Spanish, Valerianos was known as Juan de Fuca, so that ‘broad inlet of sea,’ a deep water passage and strait that would eventually separate the U.S. from Canada and would come to bear his name. Well, one of them anyway. Later European explorations would add the names of British sea Captain George Vancouver and 3rd Lieutenant Peter Puget to principle sites of lower British Columbia and Northwest Washington State.
Today, in glorious, sun blessed weather or even on the more likely overcast and cloudy days, tour and charter boats, Orca whale watching excursions, car and passenger ferries, kayakers, and pleasure boaters lay in their own courses in and around the dozens of San Juan Islands to enjoy the remarkably scenic and serene settings with its abundant marine and wildlife found there.
Here you’ll find Bald eagles, hawks, Osprey, Blue Herons, pods of Orca Killer Whales, Sea lions, Harbor seals, porpoises, and even River otters. And on any given weekend or time off from their hectic jobs in Seattle, you’ll also find Kevin and Alison Jeffries aboard their 54’ pleasure boat, the Island Dog, and loving every minute of it.
“It is my place to really relax,” explained Alison Jeffries, going into the very real reasons of why the drive from Seattle north to where the Island Dog is moored in Anacortes; the boat itself and the majestic setting has that effect. A few minutes outside of the harbor and slowly cruising with the Island Dog, it’s easy to see why, as the sun mirrors the series of tree and pasture covered islands on the water’s surface and gulls and other sea birds gracefully glide across the azure sky. The boat glides, passing quiet, remote coves, lively bays, and island fields and pastures while snow covered mountains watch on from the distant mainland. If that isn’t enough then a soothing sea breeze too adds to the overall ambiance as the everyday noises of the 21st century diminish in the boat’s wake. Scenic? You bet, and at times, even visually stunning with a calming effect that’s all its own.
As year around boaters who spend considerable time in the San Juan’s, the Jeffries have their preference though for when they like to cast off towards the islands.
“I think I love them best in the shoulder seasons,” Alison Jeffries said, adding that sitting peacefully in the boat’s pilothouse then and sipping on a warm cup of coffee on an early and warm Saturday morning, watching the birds and seals start their day is hard to beat. Toss in watching the fog and clouds settle into the hills of the small placid isles or exploring sanctuary-like Sucia Island and going through the thick ferns in the forests and then coming out to a sunlit cove surrounded by odd sandstone carvings made by the sea, which offers up a few more reasons why she finds it to be more to her liking. “It’s spectacular.”
Her husband, Kevin, is quick to nod and agree, adding that for him though, it’s not always about the destination as it is about the cruising journey. From the time they push off from the marina to begin their island hopping itinerary, he’s in another time and place: one far away from the day-to-day heavy work schedules and busy city life. While that factors into the reasoning, most, including the Seattle couple, will tell you that the San Juan Islands have a distinctive draw and charm. Steering out towards the strait and pointing out where he caught a 130 pound halibut or where they pulled in their limit of Dungeness crabs, he smiles. “There’s nothing quite like it,” he said.
An earlier visitor thought so as well. Hollywood legend, John Wayne spent so much time in the San Juan’s that it became one of his regular escapes from Tinsel Town. Lifting anchor in Sequim Bay across the strait on the Olympic Peninsula on his boat, The Wild Goose, he frequently took other movie celebrities, family and friends over to the San Juan’s to fish, crab, or just sit back in Roche Harbor on San Juan Island with a drink in their hands to enjoy the scenic solitude and sunsets.
Wayne wasn’t alone in that pursuit, and today, John Wayne Marina at the Port of Port Angeles finds other visiting boating enthusiasts, like the Jeffries, following the Duke’s lead and charting courses of their own with equal joy and enthusiasm.
Longtime boaters, Alison Jeffries is an East Coast sailing enthusiast, while Kevin Jeffries is a West Coast power boater, so when the couple decided it was time to explore the region by boat they also went for a 4788 Pilothouse Bayliner. That was several years ago and since then their voyages have taken them to most of the islands in the chain while settling into their favorites. They’re in no hurry and that too seems to come with the territory.
“It’s a special experience and we’re lucky to have it,” said Alison Jeffries. If you intend to visit the San Juan Islands keep in mind that the Ferry system out of Anacortes, Washington, gets busy in the summer months and services four of the main islands in the chain. Some, to the smaller islands, are passenger only ferries. Also, there is regular Ferry service through the islands to British Columbia, Canada, from Anacortes. For more information on Ferry sailing times and schedules, fares, restrictions, and amenities go to the Washington State Ferry System on-line.