NorthWest Side Story

In 1792 Captain George Vancouver failed to discover the Swinomish Channel because it was not constructed until 1937.

The Swinomish waterway was conceived to facilitate marine commerce by connecting the natural sloughs and marshes of the Skagit River estuary with engineered channels. The new canal joined Padilla Bay and Skagit Bay to provide an alternative, protected avenue from the Straits of Juan de Fuca into Puget Sound.

On paper charts the channel appears narrow and constricted indicating that Jupiter may need to diet before transit. Electronic charts, however, work navigational miracles; if more sea room is desired, just zoom in. Thus zoomed we are emboldened to traverse this curious waterway from south to north.

We anchor overnight and part of the next day south of Hope island in Skagit Bay where outré currents have us over-floating our anchor in puzzling ways, and the chop far exceeds that typically begat by the light winds.

The currents in the bay run swift, cold and confusing. Emerging from the Pacific at Deception Pass, and pouring up from Puget Sound, tides collide like amorphous street gangs from some NorthWest Side Story. Jets and Sharks circle and lunge in the dim glacial neighborhoods of muckle and slew.

Menacing F-16s, eager to join some rumble, thunder low overhead bristling with weaponry on final approach to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

Timing passage into the Swinomish requires study and patience, particularly if the destination is the port at La Conner, a few miles north of the channel entry from Skagit Bay.

We consult times of tides, customs of currents, and ambiguous advice in pilots and guides, staging our departure for best advantage.

Owing to the salty river coursing past the La Conner waterfront Jupiter must arrive there at or near slack water. And, in order to find 60′ of reserved space along the dock, we should arrive on the afternoon slack.

Bizarrely, at La Conner, slack water occurs sometime between 2½ and 4 hours after high or low tide there, leaving much to instinct or blind luck.

Much entertainment can be had on the waterfront observing skippers attempting to land vessels on the dock during periods of rapid flow.

Boats delineate the linear town of La Conner. Rainbow Bridge, now painted orange, spans the waterway.

Jupiter completes the hour-long passage to La Conner on a rising tide without experiencing shoaling or other dire hazards forecast in cruising guides. We make an uneventful landing at our assigned float and quietly tie up, disappointing everyone pretending not to watch.

La Conner, found its French definite article in the initials of Louisa Ann Conner, wife of an early settler. Once a minor 19th century trading post, after it was endowed by engineers with the Swinomish Channel in 1937, it became a minor 20th century trading post.

A good meal of mussels and clams ashore and a promenade in Old Town prepared us for a quiet night alongside the unquiet waters. Next morning Jupiter nudges her bow easily into the falling tidal stream, northbound.

During the 7 mile passage into Padilla Bay views of tidy waterside homes give way to sprawling tidal flats with gulls, bald eagles and vast numbers of blue heron, lined up shoreside while a fishy buffet moves past like sushi on a conveyor belt.

The immense oil refinery at Anacortes and its fleet of petroleum tankers soon dominate the view, and we are through. The Swinomish Channel washes out in our wake.


“To live fully, one must be free, but to be free, one must give up security. Therefore, to live one must be ready to die. How’s that for a paradox?”

Tom Robbins, resident of La Conner.
~ Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

NorthWest UpSide Apple Muffins

The apple is the official state fruit of Washington, and almost 70% of U.S. apples grown for fresh consumption originate here.

Heat the oven to 375°f.

Peel, core and slice three apples and combine in a skillet with 4oz each of butter and brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Simmer until apples begin to soften and are coated in a thick caramel. Distribute fruit and sauce evenly amongst muffin cups.

In a mixing bowl whisk together two cups flour, ¾ cup brown sugar, a tablespoon of baking powder, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. In another bowl mix until smooth a stick of melted butter with 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, and ¾ cup sour cream. Pour wet ingredients into dry and fold together into a thick batter. Mete out evenly into the muffin cups atop the caramelized apples.

Bake until the muffins are slightly puffed and firm, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool a bit before turning out upside down with the caramelized apples on top.


This handsome Bull Kelp found us at anchor in Skagit Bay where currents wrapped it onto Jupiter’s starboard rudder.



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