The Sucia Small Boat Rendezvous
July 9th – 12th, 2004
by Jamie Orr

Last year, Chuck Gottfried in his catboat Tabby, and I in my Chebacco Wayward Lass, rendezvoused at Fox Cove at Sucia Island. Chuck’s brother-in-law Rollan and my son Alan were with us, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the sailing, and the island. Someone, I think it was Chuck, had the twin ideas of doing it again (a no-brainer) and asking other small boat owners to join us there (brilliant!).

And so was born the Sucia Small Boat Rendezvous. The original planning can be seen at There was a quick and positive response to the idea, from Oregon to Vancouver Island.

And here we were, finally about to leave for the 2004 Sucia Small Boat Rendezvous! There were three Vancouver Island boats going, and we had arranged to travel together. Maureen and I arrived at the Sidney BC boat ramp about nine o’clock on Friday morning, under a grey and somewhat threatening sky. John Ewing was waiting for us, with his Bolger Surf, Caer, all packed and ready to launch. We parked our Chebacco, Wayward Lass, beside Caer, and started rigging up. Because we were going to be rigged up for four days, and crossing into US waters as well, I took special care to get all the flag halyards in place. Unfortunately, in my excitement I didn’t put the sail halyards through all the right blocks, and had to lower the mast twice before I got them right! Once that was done, we loaded our food, drink, bedding, tent, bags and toys, and were ready to go.

Meanwhile, Kirk Coleman and his son Dan had arrived with their 17 foot Davidson, a large and sturdy sailing dinghy. The Davidson was rigged and ready just about the same time as Wayward Lass, so we launched all three boats and motored off into a now steady rain, towing Caer behind Wayward Lass.

(click picture to enlarge) Caer towing behind Wayward Lass, followed by Kirk and Dan in their Davidson. (click picture to enlarge)

Not an auspicious start, rain and no wind, but with four days ahead of us, there was plenty of time for improvement. We headed slightly north of east towards the beacon on the end of Sidney Spit, about 3 miles away.

Our immediate goal was Roche Harbor, on San Juan Island, where we could clear US Customs. As we motored along, the rain slackened and stopped – that was the last we saw of it all weekend! A light wind appeared from the north so we were able to raise our sails, although the motors were kept running as we had a long way to go. At Roche Harbor, we furled sails and motored in to the Customs dock, narrowly edging out a big cruiser who was also looking for space (honest, I didn’t cheat – he just got there too late!). Kirk and I, as Masters of our Vessels, headed into the Customs office, which is right on the outermost dock. The Customs officers were their usual professional but friendly selves, and didn’t keep us for long. Boat work must be less stressful than highway border crossings, the staff are always more cheerful. Maureen and I had forgotten the restriction on citrus fruits, but we were allowed to retain our oranges after we peeled them and surrendered the peel. Seemed strange, since they were California oranges anyway, but “our’s not to reason why”.

Leaving Roche Harbor we continued east, heading for President’s Channel and Sucia, now visible in the distance. Once in the Channel we had a light westerly, so raised sails and shut off the motors for a while.

Kirk was pulling away from us, so we pulled out all the stops!

Here’s our tiny jib, wing out on the boat hook, with Sucia appearing in the distance.

But Kirk was still faster.

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Unfortunately the wind stayed very light and the current was against us, so eventually we resumed motor-sailing. Ahead of us, silhouetted against the Orcas Island shore, we could see silhouettes of four identical sails. As we drew level, we saw they were four Lightnings, each one crewed by four youngsters. I for one felt pretty sheepish as we motored past these true-blue sailors!

It was mid-afternoon by now, but Sucia was looking very close. The wind strengthened again, this time from the south-east, so we shut down the motors again and beat towards the point concealing Fossil Bay.

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Kirk’s Davidson overtaking us again!

Sucia in the background.

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The rendezvous was meant to be in Fox Cove, just over a narrow neck of land from Fossil, but because our assigned campsite was beside Fossil and because it was more easily reached by the mainland participants, the destination had been changed only days before. But it was awkward for us with the tide was now flooding northwest, and we were losing ground on each tack. Since the wind obstinately refused to blow hard enough, we once again started our motors.

However, we didn’t really mind motoring, what with the excitement of arrival. We passed Chuck Gottfried’s brand-new, only-just-launched Chebacco, Full Gallop, at a mooring halfway up the bay, and as we drew near I gave him a chorus of the Sky Boat Song, on a very out-of-tune bagpipe. (Shouldn’t have been out of tune, must have been the sea air – however, as Maureen commented, most people can’t tell the difference!)

We exchanged greetings with Chuck, but didn’t stop. We carried on up to the head of the bay where we could see a line of boats hauled up on the shingle, along with one or two just off, held between shore lines and stern anchors. We copied these excellent examples, letting Wayward Lass’ bow rest on the beach for unloading.

My memory of the next few minutes is pretty confused. We were meeting and greeting old and new friends, checking out campsites and boats and just generally arriving. I knew the weekend was a success when I overheard two boaters already making plans to come again next year – and this only partway through day one of four!

Things seemed to slow down after a few minutes, and we got organized enough to carry up all the gear from the boats and pitch our tents. The rising tide meant that I didn’t have to haul Wayward Lass very far off the beach for the night. On this coast we have diurnal tides, with 2 highs and 2 lows each day, and the next low wasn’t going down very far, so once I’d tied off the lines I could still wade ashore. I did take the inflatable ashore with me and pumped it up later “just in case”.

On the beach at Sucia.

From left to right: a Whitehall; a dory; a skiff; a Chebacco; a Bolger Surf; a Davidson; and another Chebacco.

The tiny dinghy in the foreground is the famous Puffed Wheat Boat!

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About eight o’clock the Lightnings sailed into Fox Cove, showing us it could be done without motors. The crews consisted of three campers and one counselors in each boat, from Four Winds Camp, a private non-profit summer camp in the San Juans. A young and cheerful group, it was hard for us oldies to tell the kids from the counselors!

There were eight boats present (in our group) on Friday night, plus one on nearby Orcas Island. Terry Lesh and his wife Patricia didn’t fancy sleeping on the ground, so were commuting the 2 ½ miles from Bartwood Lodge on the north shore of Orcas. We just missed seeing them on Friday, Terry called on the VHF as we arrived to say he could see our sails, but was already on his way back to Bartwood. We met everyone else, though, and this is probably as good a place as any to make a note of who was there, including later arrivals. By the way, all photos were taken by me unless otherwise noted. (click the thumbnails for larger versions)

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Chuck Gottfried and Shay, with their Chebacco, Full Gallop (J. Kohnen photo) Dean Bishop and his son Cameron, with their Rhodes Bantam
(J. Kohnen photo)
John Kohnen with his Jordan Skiff, Pickle
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Frank Mabrey with his Gig Harbor Whitehall
(J. Kohnen photo)
Gary Powell and his daughter Katie, with their Gig Harbor Dory
(J. Kohnen photo)
John Ewing with his Bolger Surf, Caer
(J. Kohnen photo)
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Randy Wheating and Ryan Shellborn with Randy’s Chebacco, Bluster
(J. Kohnen photo)
Kirk Coleman and his son Dan with their Davidson 17 Terry Lesh and Patricia commuting in his Baymaster, Cayuga
(J. Kohnen photo)
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Jamie Orr (me) and Maureen with our Chebacco, Wayward Lass
(J. Kohnen photo)
Alan and Glen Woodbury with their Concordia Sloop Boat, Feather
(J. Kohnen photo)
Joe Morris and Margaret brought Joe’s Fibreform tri-hull, Beachcomber
(J. Morris photo)

There was pretty much constant visiting and chatting going on. At some point we agreed that sailing to Patos Island the following day would be a good idea. Patos is the most northerly island in the San Juan group, about two miles away from Sucia, but about four miles from our camp, adding in the distance down Fossil Bay and up the west side of Sucia. That’s about all I recall of Friday – I think some folks joined Dean and Cameron at their campsite at the other end of the beach, where they had a good fire burning, but it was pumpkin time for this sailor. I crawled into our tent, and that was all I knew until morning!

Saturday morning I woke up pretty early, so I dressed and went for a walk under an overcast sky. Frank Mabrey was already up and doing, but everyone else was still asleep. Most of the boats were high and dry on the beach but Wayward Lass was still just barely afloat – Kirk Coleman did some work with his tide table the night before and gave me an estimate of where the tide would reach, and was right on.

(click picture to enlarge) Another view of the beach, taken around six next morning.

After a while Frank and I carried his Whitehall down to the water, and he set off, “for a row”. My last sight of him was his sail rounding the point nearly a mile away, and before he came back he’d been all the way over to Orcas – some row!

Here’s Frank back from his early morning jaunt over to Orcas.

It’s only a coincidence that my boat managed to get in the picture too – honest!

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Once everyone else was up and breakfast was over, we turned to getting the boats back into their natural element. We carried one or two lighter ones down, but we weren’t looking forward to carrying the Davidson. However, Gary pulled out a pair of inflatable boat rollers and pumped them up. With these we had the Davidson in the water in no time – I’d heard of these but never seen them – a wonderful invention. I’m not sure how well they would work on a Chebacco with its shallow keel, but I think I’ll look into it.

(click picture to enlarge) Here’s Gary’s inflatable boat rollers in action, on launching his own Gig Harbor dory.

A total of eight boats set off for Patos, rowing, motoring and finally sailing. Frank stayed behind, and Terry motored in as we left but didn’t join us. There wasn’t much wind deep in the bay, but as we neared the mouth, there was a good breeze. Unfortunately it was blowing the wrong way and we had to work to get out. The last ones out were Maureen and I in Wayward Lass and Gary and Katie in their dory. Outside, the wind was from the west and we had an easy close reach to clear the northwest tip of Sucia. Once around that, we could see the rest of the fleet strung out ahead, and set off in pursuit. We were on a broad reach then, where Wayward Lass usually does well, so you can imagine how pleased I was as Gary and Katie gradually overtook, then passed us! Yes, well….

By now the sun was shining, the wind was dropping, and the lead boats were almost at Patos. Since there was no real hope of catching up, I made an executive decision to turn towards the other (western) end of Patos, perhaps to meet everyone coming around the other way. We had a very pleasant, if slow, sail over to the island, then followed the shore westward. We saw an otter running over the rocks, and later a mother seal with her pup, soaking up the sunshine. Eventually, however, we had to admit that we weren’t making much progress with almost no wind and a slight current now running against us, so we fired up Honda and motored slowly around the end of the island. The overcast had long gone by now, and we had a mostly sunny sky.

We met the two Johns coming the other way in Pickle, also motoring, and swapped photo-ops.

We saw Gary and Katie on shore, so we pulled in and gave them a lift. We also saw Chuck and Shay, but although they accepted a couple of beers, they carried on walking. We found the rest of the fleet pulled up in a little cove near the easternmost part of the island, so I dropped the others on the beach, then dropped the anchor just off the shore and rowed the inflatable in. We spent a very pleasant hour or so talking, quenching our thirst and admiring our boats.

The two Johns with mainland Washington behind them.

As usual, John K is seeing the world through Nikon coloured lenses!

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The beach at Patos Island.

Three Chebaccos in the background, then the Davidson, the dory and finally the Bantam.

I think those are Cameron’s feet.

Dean and Cameron left first, then the rest of us climbed aboard our various little ships. Gary’s dory had no motor, and there wasn’t any wind worth mentioning, so I offered a tow, which he accepted. He and Katie stayed aboard the dory, to steer, and to be on the safe side I didn’t go over about 3 knots. The other two Chebaccos tried to sail but eventually gave up and motored as well. However, as we went south down the east shore of Sucia, a brisk wind sprang up from the southwest, and a choppy sea came up. We followed Randy and Ryan in Bluster through the narrow, winding pass separating Ewing Island from Sucia, then across Echo Bay. The dory was towing well, but I was worried about rounding the point from Echo to Fossil Bay, where we’d be fully exposed to the wind, now blowing strongly. As we came around the point, I slowed the engine to try and keep the dory from plunging quite so much, but Wayward Lass’ bow was getting blown off course, so in the end I had to speed up again. However, the dory stood it all very well and once we were on the windward side of Fossil Bay, we let go the tow and they sailed the rest of the way.

As we approached the head of the bay, I saw a very traditional looking small boat at anchor. My first thought was that they should be part of our group, and my second that they were!

Feather at anchor – nice harbour furl there, guys!

The red Chebacco behind is Full Gallop. It’s amazing how these Chebaccos keep appearing in the pictures, isn’t it?

(J. Kohnen photo)

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Alan and Glen Woodbury had launched that morning from Bellingham, after finding the Lummi ramp didn’t have enough slope at low tide. Not having a motor, they had had to do some rowing, and had only arrived a short time before the rest of us. After a quick hello, I dropped Maureen on shore and anchored well out, as the next low tide was predicted to drop quite a bit.

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Wayward Lass at anchor, with the north wind showing her flags to advantage. The blue flag at the masthead is the burgee of the Western Oregon Messabout List.

(J. Kohnen photo)

What little remained of the afternoon was spent hanging out, chatting, and admiring the boats all over again. There should be a word for that – something like “messing about in boats” but without actually doing anything. Can we say “messabouting”? Is that a verb? It is now!

That evening, before dark, we shanghaied a passing couple and the Mrs. was good natured enough to take some (a lot of) group photographs with a variety of cameras. It’s surprisingly hard to get 17 people to look in the same direction and smile all at once!

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The three at the back on the left are John Kohnen, Chuck and Sharon (Shay) Gottfried, and the three at the back on the right are John Ewing, Alan Woodbury and Randy Wheating. In the middle, next to Shay, are Cameron Bishop, his dad Dean, (almost out of sight) then Frank Mabrey in the floppy white hat, Glen Woodbury in kilt and balmoral, Dan and Kirk Coleman and RyanShellborn. In front, from left to right are myself (Jamie Orr), Katie Powell, my wife Maureen, and Katie’s dad Gary.
(photo by the nice lady) - (click image for larger version)

Then we “messabouted” some more, finishing up at Dean and Cameron’s fire with a bag of marshmallows. And that was the end of another excellent day!

On Sunday the sky was clear and it promised to be a hot and sunny day. After two days with lots of time on the water, some people were looking forward to hiking the island’s trails and seeing the sights from dry land. However, as some boats were leaving for home at noon, including Bluster, we arranged to get the three Chebaccos out there for a photo-shoot. Randy and Ryan were on Bluster, Alan, Dan, Maureen and I were on Wayward Lass and Chuck, Shay, Glen and John Ewing were on Full Gallop. Leaving with Bluster were John Kohnen in Pickle and Gary and Katie in their Gig Harbor Dory.

Since John K. is well known for his skill behind the lens, he was the obvious choice for the unofficial post of official photographer, and he kindly delayed his departure for Lummi to capture three Chebaccos in company.

Here’s a sight not seen very often – three Chebaccos in a row! That’s Bluster in the lead, followed by Full Gallop, with Wayward Lass bringing up the rear.

(J. Kohnen photo)

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We sailed, briefly, more or less in formation, but a prevailing competitive spirit made it hard to keep station for long, and things got a little disorganized! Keeping everyone together was sort of like herding cats. We realized the photo-shoot was over when John gave up on us and turned for Lummi and home.

However, we sailed together long enough to find that there wasn’t a lot of difference between the boats. I will say that Chuck’s Full Gallop did extremely well considering they only launched a week earlier and were still making adjustments. Maybe we can arrange to get all three together again and do some serious, and slightly more organized, sailing!

As I mentioned, John had left for Lummi, following Gary and Katie Powell. Randy was last seen motor-sailing to catch them up as Chuck and I turned back to Fossil Bay.

I should mention that while we were still maneuvering around, Joe Morris had arrived in Beachcomber and snapped a few pictures as well, before heading into the bay. When the rest of us got back, he was pulled up on the beach, getting into the talking about boats thing. He’d had other commitments for the weekend, but he and Margaret found enough time to make a flying visit. They’d launched at Anacortes and only took an hour to cover the 20 odd miles to Sucia, so flying is the right word! Joe is building a modified Bolger Micro, so next time we see him he’ll be moving a lot slower. After an hour or so, Joe and Margaret climbed back in the tri-hull, fired up the big outboard and were on their way home.

We had one more departure that day. Frank left late in the afternoon for Orcas, travelling under oars in his Gig Harbor Whitehall. However, rowing a mere two miles and a bit would be nothing to a man who, the day before, had been there and back before breakfast!

It’s amazing how quickly habits form. After supper, everyone found themselves at Dean and Cameron’s fire, doing that messabout thing again. We talked about what the tide would be doing the next day, and when we should leave to take advantage of it. For some reason, I couldn’t get agreement on a 4:00 am start, but we did reach a consensus on 6:00.

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I don’t see any pictures of our fireside gathering by night, so here’s one by day, with Alan, Dean and Cameron in attendance.

(J. Kohnen photo)

I woke up at four anyway. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I got dressed and went for a walk, tiptoeing around the other tents so as not to wake everyone up. The bay was absolutely still, and it was very pleasant just to sit and watch as the sky brightened.

At five everyone else emerged from their tents, and we all got breakfast underway. By six that was over and the tents had disappeared. Loading was well in hand, but no one was getting too excited about deadlines. Our now diminished fleet got underway about 6:30, with the exception of Full Gallop, whose skipper and crew had decided to tarry a while. We couldn’t leave without saying goodbye though, so Wayward Lass motored around them while her skipper gave Chuck a friendly shout. A single finger appeared through the hatch and replied in the same spirit – but Chuck finally did haul himself erect and see us off.

Dean and Cameron, in their Bantam, were travelling with Alan and Glen in Feather. Both boats were heading southeast for Lummi. Maureen, John Ewing and myself were again in company with Kirk and Dan in their Davidson as we motored northwest. We wanted to pass north of Waldron in order to visit Stewart Island, so we were crossing the current as well as using it to help us along. A light wind appeared, followed closely by sails, but we kept motoring as well, as we wanted enough margin to avoid the islet between Waldron and Skipjack, surrounded by numerous rocks. There was a commercial boat with some gear I couldn’t identify between us and Skipjack. It had a line over the bows, that I thought at first was an anchor, but they may have been hauling in on it as the boat appeared to move forward, although that could have been an illusion caused by the tide sweeping us sideways. It also had lines out astern, but no floats for a net – a mystery. In any case, I went south of it, while Kirk passed to the north. He had the best of it, as I had to turn into the wind and motor hard to clear the obstacles between Waldron and Skipjack, while Kirk and Dan passed north of Skipjack altogether. But once clear, we both had the benefit of a good strong tide, and the GPS gave us a better than 8 knots over the ground.

The wind continued, gradually getting stronger. Not long after passing Waldron we were able to shut off the motors, but still made good progress with wind and tide moving us along. Even when the wind became light the current still kept up a good pace. Once we turned into Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island we lost the current and ghosted in to dock with a sweeping u-turn into the wind. We had to call off some well-intentioned power boaters who were sure we were going to crash, and came running to grab the boom as it swung out over the dock!

We didn’t stay long. Kirk and Dan were keen to get started on the drive home, and we agreed there was no need to travel together, with such good weather and only a short sail left. They left first, then we also powered out of the harbour, with a short detour to admire a big schooner that was making sail. We continued motoring as far as Turn Point at the northwest end of the island, then shut down and started sailing. Kirk and Dan were well ahead by this time, and drew further away as they motor-sailed across Haro Strait. A large freighter was coming up the strait, and there wasn’t enough wind to be sure of getting safely across its bows, so we turned south until we were sure of passing well behind it.

We had a quiet but enjoyable sail across the strait, passing south of Gooch Island on the other side. The wind strengthened from the north and the flood tide was making itself felt by this time, giving us a good boost up the east side of Sidney Island. We were able to clear the end of the spit and carry straight on to Sidney without tacking. We cleared Customs at the Port of Sidney Marina, then motored directly to the boat ramp, arriving there not long after one o’clock.

What a great weekend that was! Good sailing, good company, good everything. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who came out and made it such a good time.

And everyone who came has agreed we should do it again next year, so the 2005 Sucia Small Boat Rendezvous will take place next July 8th to 11th! See you there, everybody!

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Postcript: This may be the most written-up rendezvous in recent history! I’ve added some links to other sites where others have posted their experiences and/or photographs.

PS Terry Lesh:

John Kohnen:

Kirk Coleman:

Gary Powell :

Glen Woodbury: