Sucia Island, jewel of the northwest


By Linda Newland

In the northern San Juan Islands, the 564-acre Sucia Island State Park features incredible scenery, 77,700 feet of shoreline and solid holding ground, making it the area’s premier anchorage.

Named in 1791 by Spanish explorers, sucia means “dirty” or “foul,” referring to the reefs and hidden rocks surrounding the island. With this in mind, keep your charts current, pay particular attention to the reef on the north shore, keep a close eye on the depth finder and charts, and you should have little problem safely navigating the area.

The Washington State Park system acquired parts of this small archipelago in 1952. When developers wanted to turn some of the land into vacation property, the Puget Sound Interclub Association purchased the land and donated it to the state for protection as a marine park in 1960. The state acquired the rest of the land in 1972, making the entire area a marine park.

Although most boaters head for Echo Bay, Sucia Island has five other bays: Ewing Cove, Fossil Bay, Fox Cove, Snoring Bay and Shallow Bay. The island has 48 mooring buoys, two linear moorage systems and two docks, but the water can be shallow depending on the tide cycle. Use caution and a good chart to stay out of trouble.
[pullquote]Wildlife abounds both on the island and in the waters around it. Many birds nest on Sucia, including bald eagles, black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets.[/pullquote]
In Echo Bay, mooring buoys cost $12 a night after 1300. During the summer, be prepared to anchor out as the buoys fill up quickly. If you arrive midday, you have the best chance of grabbing one from a late departing vessel. You can also use the linear mooring cables, which accommodate quite a few boats and also require a moorage fee. The anchorage has good, clean holding ground, and we have held well in winds of 30-plus knots. Anchoring is free, but state park rangers patrol the area to ensure that boaters have paid the moorage fees.

Once you have moored or anchored, take your dinghy ashore and enjoy the island’s 10 miles of hiking trails and 25 picnic sites. The 60 campsites and compostable toilets on Sucia Island are especially popular with local kayakers. Access to drinking water is available from April until September.

Although the island has no real tide pools to explore, you’ll find an underwater scuba park marked by a buoy off the northwest corner. The island has an abundance of shellfish such as crab, butter clams, steamer and horse clams, and oysters, but you’ll need a state recreational license to fish or harvest shellfish.

Wildlife abounds both on the island and in the waters around it. Many birds nest on Sucia, including bald eagles, black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets, to name a few. Harbor seals will approach anchored boats to check them out. River otters and smaller rodents such as deer mice and mink also make the island their home.

Sucia can be magical during a full moon, but its open southeast exposure can make the holding ground poor during a storm. We anchored there on our way home from Desolation Sound and encountered a storm lasting several hours; fortunately, our anchor held, but with the building winds and choppy seas, some smaller vessels looked like they were running for cover and may have not had adequate ground tackle. The linear moorings saved the day when many boaters had to stay the night because of the storm’s ferocity and duration.

If you sail to Sucia Island, remember that the island has no garbage service. It’s a “pack-it-in and take-it-out” kind of place. Open year-round for camping, day use and moorage, the island is open for day use from 0630 to dusk in the summer and 0800 to dusk in the winter. With no commercial ferry service available, you’ll need a boat to get there.

P/C Linda Newland, JN, of Point Wilson Sail & Power Squadron/16 lives in Port Hadlock, Washington, and serves as squadron educational officer. An accomplished blue-water sailor, Linda teaches sailing and serves as president of the National Women’s Sailing Association, a program of the Women’s Sailing Foundation.

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