David B Crew: Heading to Orcas Island

The San Juan wildlife draws the crew of David B to Orcas Island.

San Juan whale watching
Christine Smith

Jeffrey and I will be heading to Orcas Island this weekend, but not for anything related to boating. We're entered to run the Orcas Island 25k. Since it's the middle of winter and we still have four months before we'll be cruising on the David B again, I'm feeling quite excited for my mid-winter San Juan Islands fix. If you are wondering where the San Juan Islands are, they are located about eighty miles to the northwest of Seattle, and are a fantastic destination if you enjoy small island towns, quirky history, and the opportunity to see some amazing wildlife. There are 172 total islands in the archipelago.

When we head over to Orcas this weekend, we'll make a stop in Eastsound for dinner and a drink before heading to Camp Moran for the evening. In the summer, we often anchor near the county dock in Eastsound so that our guests can spend time browsing the shops and galleries. Near the county dock, there's an interesting piece of land called Madrone Point that's not accessible to the public. It's owned by the Lummi Nation of Native Americans and is a burial site. I often marvel at how long these islands have been inhabited and wonder what it must have been like to live here before European settlers arrived.

For me, the biggest draw of the San Juan Islands is the wildlife. I find that I never tire of the prospect of seeing killer whales, bald eagles, seals, and sea lions. I know that this coming weekend when I get on the ferry, I’ll keep my eyes open for whatever might cross our path.

The first boat I worked on was a whale watching boat run by San Juan Cruises. Every day, we'd leave Bellingham to go whale watching and spend a couple of hours in Friday Harbor. It was exciting knowing that if the whales were out there, I'd get to see them. I remember one day in particular, when we witnessed something called a greeting ceremony. That day all the members of the three local killer whale pods met up on the west side of San Juan Island. There were about eighty whales. They divided into two groups and each group lined up fin-to-fin, with the two lines facing each other. The whales slowly started swimming to each other. We could hear their vocalizations above the water as they grew closer to one another. When they met nose-to-nose, all the whales dove, leaving us whale watchers on the surface wondering where we'd see them next. After a short while, the whales surfaced as a group, swimming quickly, as if they were in a race.

The sixty-ish year old woman standing next to me had earlier said that she had always been skunked when she went whale watching. She had never seen the whales before and this was her first time. When they reappeared, she grabbed on to my arm and jumped for joy shouting, "over there, over there!" It's still one of the most memorable days of my life and one that led to my determination to make sure that Jeffrey and I finished our restoration of the David B as a tour boat.

This will be the fourth year that Jeffrey has run the Orcas Island 25K and my second. It takes place at Moran State Park, which is one of the San Juan Islands best places to visit. The biggest reward of the race is the panoramic view from the top of Mount Constitution. Unlike other runners I don't race for time. I race for the experience of being outside and for all the interesting sights and sounds along the route. When I get to the top of Mount Constitution, I'll make a quick stop to take in the beauty of the islands. I'll have a sip of water and a banana, then briefly look forward to springtime when people standing at this viewpoint will look down and see the David B as she cruises to her next destination.