Jupiter is Not Alone
Cruising the San Juan Islands in August presents challenges to voyagers longing for remote, unoccupied anchorages. The seasonal surge of cruising craft is compounded by Covid closure of Canadian waters to U.S. vessels, creating congestion throughout the archipelago.
After five days of intense indolence disporting the appealing and bustling resort marina and environs at Roche Harbor, Jupiter’s mariners search for solitude.
In route to Sucia Island, a popular holding ground, we are impressed with the suddenly seen, brooding sandstone headlands of Waldron Island. We divert to explore.
Waldron Island, resembling a Swedish halberd on charts, is hidden in plain sight – bypassed by most boats for reasons known to them and unknown to us.
With its finely honed cliff edge cleaving the waters, little or nothing of this enigmatic island is reported or recommended in cruising guides.
Rounding the striated looming headland on approach to broad Cowlitz Bay, we see not one cruising yacht. Winds are light. Depths of thirty feet offer convenience, and the sandy bottom security.
Anchored some distance off shore, we launch our tender, IO, and putter to the public landing. A modest float, nearly aground at low tide, is attached by a steep gangway to a wharf.
It is comforting to know that Waldron is a Nuclear Weapon and Drone Free Zone
This arrangement for moving from boat to land does not encourage incidental visits.
A hooded and masked youth appears indifferent to our arrival, ratifying his mood with a grunt to our greeting. A fisherman next, rowing his skiff. Attempting amiability, we ask him about fishing.
“Look around, there are no birds here”, we are told, as if determined to deter uninvited ornithologists.
At first there does not appear to be much of anything here, and whatever exists on the island is hidden from casual view.
A magnificent ancient Madrona tree overshadows the landing. Planted beneath is an open structure, equal parts Post Office and Community Center with mailboxes, library shelves, maps, and wood stove waiting for winter.
Mugs instead of mugshots adorn the walls at Waldron Island Post Office.
Nearby rest remains of a doorless van, where well-aired packages are collected and left.
Dusty and rusting vehicles with out-of-date plates line the wharf end of a gravel lane leading in the only direction. The road is completely overcast by tall cedars and fir, tunneling through forests and past rustic homesteads and meadows, obscured by ferrel thickets.
A man appears, nodding towards us on a reciprocal course.
Another stops his vintage truck with an overstuffed causeuse in back and a blue-eyed elfin daughter in front. He predicts our visits to the farm-stand, the community noticeboard and the schoolhouse down the distant way as if prophetic. Soon discovered, these are the only landmarks.
The girl stares, assessing aliens in her midst.
We visit these community cornerstones in the dusty silence that blankets the inland, hearing our own footfalls on gravel. With no ferry service, few vehicles, no public electricity, water, or sewer service there is little to disturb Waldron.
An honor system governs island life.
Eighty residents are said to reside here, with the summer population exploding to two hundred. Vegetable farms sell produce off island, but this is undeniably commercial and tourist free territory.
Waldron Community Notice Board: Land of Goat’s Milk & Honey
Many Anchorages One Boat
A placid night, alone and well-hooked, breaks into day. A tight circumnavigation to find additional Waldron anchorages is completed aboard IO.
We relocate Jupiter around Sand Point to the island’s north side and find good holding at Severson Bay with a fine view of islands, mountains and the deep currents of heavy shipping routes to Canadian Ports.
A humpback whale rolls and blows abaft our boat in the early evening, close enough for a nodding acquaintance with Jupiter.
Kayaks carry us ashore for a morning’s caper of tidal beaches, cliffs and rocks. Despite warnings to the contrary, abundant birds are found at Waldron: gulls, kingfishers, bank swallows, geese, cormorants, guillemots, herons and eagles make the isle home.
It is said that the geology of Waldron is as different from the rest of the San Juans as the culture.
A vacant Coast Guard mooring was Jupiter’s only neighbor at Severson Bay.
Waldron Island seems to be a place of few factors for few people. Trespassing signs are unnecessary and no fences are built. Modesty and privacy are at home here, secrets kept close. Matters that normally involve human interaction are accomplished largely without it.
Social distancing has been convention on this island long before the term was broadcast, and relies heavily on individual moderation. Love of the land and of the sea unites lives of simple stillness.
Spicy Spot Prawns with Mango
A generous friend shared the bounty of his Spot Prawn trap with Jupiter. These beauties are inherently buttery and sweet, and want for nothing more than a thin glaze of spice.
In a small saucepan stir together equal parts tamari, honey and water. Add a teaspoon of sesame oil, and rice vinegar, gochujang paste, minced garlic, pepper and honey to taste. Stir occasionally and simmer gently to thicken. Let cool.
Meanwhile, shell prawns, and double skewer into short racks for the grill.
Dice ripe mango and red onion. Douse with fresh lime juice and stir in cilantro or micro-greens. Let flavors meld.
Paint the prawns with the sauce and grill over medium heat just until bronzing. Serve hot with mango salad.