Pender, Saturna, and Tumbo Islands

Dockside View

The dockside view as I wrote this blog post.

It’s Saturday, the day-after the 4th of July. One of the heaviest tourist days in the San Juan Islands. Andy’s boat, Gladness, and my boat, Solace, are the only ones at the government dock on Saturna Island.

I woke up this morning to the squawk of a heron and water as placid as a pond. As I sipped my morning coffee, a pontoon plane landed and dropped off three people at the end of the dock. This seems to be the most popular form of transportation here. The ferry only arrives twice a day. This little taste of the Gulf Islands has only whetted my appetite for more. Having been boating around the San Juan Islands for four years now, I’m running out of new, undiscovered locations, the ensuing shenanigans, and rush of adrenaline that follows when discovering them.

Case in point: After checking in with Customs at Bedwell Harbor on Pender Island, Andy and I decided to push north to Plumper Sound. This required me to go under the Pender Island bridge which separates North Pender Island from South Pender Island. We checked all our charts and navigation books, carefully studied our tide books, and still couldn’t figure out if I’d fit. After our deliberated guestimation process, the only thing we knew for sure was that it would be close. Very, very close. We decided to give it a shot. The alternative would be to go around South Pender Island, about twice the distance.

Pender Island Bridge

The Pender Island Bridge that I *almost* made it under.

Andy went under the bridge first and idled into position to simultaneously block traffic in this tight waterway and to be close at hand to lend assistance. I approached the bridge slowly, shifting from idle to neutral 50 yards from the bridge. As I ever-so-slowly crept up on the bridge, it looked as though I would make it with only an inch or two to spare. To be safe, I put the engine into reverse-idle, in order to be at a near standstill going through the bridge. At the very instant I expected to pass under, a loud *clink* sounded and the boat gently rocked backwards. The stainless steel ring at the very top of the mast just barely kissed the bottom of the bridge!

Thankfully, already in reverse, I floored the engine, backing up as quickly as possible. I was also incredibly fortunate to not have anyone behind me, as I backed the 150 yards out of the channel. After a quick meeting, Andy continued under the bridge as I motored and sailed around the south tip of Pender Island.

About Pender, Saturna, and Tumbo Islands

Saturna Island Free Store

The Saturna Island ‘Free Store’ where people donate stuff for other people on the island to use, and the community comes together to recycle.

This trip explored Pender, Saturna, and Tumbo Islands. The Customs dock in Bedwell Harbor on Pender Island has good anchorage, mooring buoys, powered dock slips, and a restaurant. I’m not sure if there was a grocery store or not.

Pender Island is now two islands (North & South), separated by a bridge. The bridge is a little less than 30 feet above mean low tide. I was not able to make it under with my 27 foot long boat at a 1.5 foot low tide. Here is my sailboat specification if you want to dig into deeper data than that.

North of Pender Island, between it and Saturna Island, is Plumper Sound. This shallow body of water is full of good anchorages. The Saturna ferry terminal at the mouth of Lyall Harbor has a government dock that provides gas and unpowered moorage for about $20 per night. A 2 hour stay is free in order to get groceries at the marina store or a quick pop up to the Saturna General Store (about 1.5 miles) or lunch at the Wild Thyme Coffee House (just up the hill from the dock) which is housed in a big double-decker bus. While here, be sure to pick up a free map of Saturna!

Saturna Pub and Beer

Enjoying a Stout at the ferry-dock pub on Saturna.

Around the corner, to the south, between Elliot Bluff and Croker Pt is a public dock and park. The short half-mile walk up the road brings you to the Saturna Winery and Bistro. They offer free wine tasting and reasonable prices.

Around the corner, to the north, is Winter Cove. It’s a great anchorage with a shoreline park. Although I haven’t tried it, crabbing should be awesome anywhere in Plumper Sound. Fishing licenses can be purchased at the store above the Saturna ferry terminal.

East Point on the eastern most end of Saturna provides a scenic view and is one of the best places to see whales. If en-route to Tumbo Island, it’s good to be aware that Tumbo Channel appears to have a reverse flood. That is, a current flows south-east on a flood tide.

There is great anchorage and mooring buoys in-between Tumbo and Cabbage Islands. This is also a designated marine check-in area for CAN Pass and Nexus Pass boaters, like I plan to be soon. There are the remnants of a large homestead on Tumbo that remain largely in tact. Both Islands are public Canadian marine parks with hiking trails and bathrooms.

Sailing around the south tip of Pender Island.

Sailing around the south tip of Pender Island.

M/V Gladness under way.

M/V Gladness under way.

Indian Pipe. One of my favorite rare plants. Only blooms for a very short period, so I was stoked to get it on film.

Indian Pipe. One of my favorite rare plants. Only blooms for a very short period, so I was stoked to get it on film.

Andy was on baby transport for the entire weekend.

Andy was on baby transport for the entire weekend.

The homestead on Tumbo had several trees growing out of old boats. 60 year old landscaping?

The homestead on Tumbo had several trees growing out of old boats. 60 year old landscaping?

Hiking around Pender Island.

Hiking around Pender Island.

Andy's cooking. Rock on!

Andy’s cooking. Rock on!

Approaching the Saturna ferry dock.

Approaching the Saturna ferry dock.

Suvi fell in love with this stuffed animal at the Free Store.

Suvi fell in love with this stuffed animal at the Free Store.

Related posts:

A Hiking Trail Map of Cypress Head
Rosario Resort - A Honeymoon Destination!
Adventures at the Friday Harbor Film Festival
5 Responses to “Pender, Saturna, and Tumbo Islands”
  1. Mom says:

    WOW! Beautiful pictures and great detail in the description of each place you visited.
    What a great way to spend a long weekend. Did you apply for your CAN Pass? Should we be doing that now in order to have it by September?

    • Chris says:

      That probably wouldn’t be a bad idea. I think I saw something about ‘6 weeks to process’. I haven’t heard back from the Canadian government, but I think that’s a good thing.

      Coming back, there is also the NEXAS or I-84 pass. Both require fingerprints I believe, and many people consider that too invasive. I’m considering it.

  2. Al says:

    Hey, quit telling folks about one of our favorite spots! Last summer we had to pull anchor and get out of Lyall harbor as ‘The Bus’ was sucking down all our cash!!!

    Will abs by on our stop next time we head up north – Saturna Island is perhaps one of the most memorable spots in our Gulf Island hopping. (that and Lasqueti – using the broader definition of ‘Gulf Islands’). . .


  3. WILLIAM WELLS says:

    This is one of my favorite islands to visit. It has quit a history, most of witch has been relayed to me by the past caretaker of the island and lived there in that capacity for ten years. There was a couple of
    different businesses that took place on the island. There was a coal mine operation. There were
    three different attempts to extract the coal. The first one was on the south side about 1/4 of the
    way up the island in which there is a cavity and shaft. There is a trail running from there in a
    north west direction over and down the hill toward the slew. About half way down the hill there
    are a couple things of interest. About 100 ft. on the right of the trail is a cavity that the miners
    attempted to start carving out a mine but just left a fairly shallow hole. In the same area of the
    trail on the way down on the left hand side is the ruminates of fox pens where they would keep
    the female to attract the male into the trap. Reaching the bottom and the start of the slew the
    trail follows along the south side of the slew about 1/4 mile were you come upon a cadged off
    area protecting a mine shaft in the ground. It is now nearly full of water but when they were
    actively mining the shaft went down over 500 ft.. Apparently all mining stopped forever when
    the boiler blowup stopping the water pump and drowning three of the Chinese at the bottom
    of the shaft. Across the man made dike to the north from the shaft is the remains of the remains
    of the foundation of the old farm house and a couple of old dories with trees growing right out
    of the middle. When the family that farmed the island used these dories to row the children to
    Saturna island on the Monday and brought them back on the Friday. North from this point is
    what is left of the fruit trees and then the house of the last owner of the island. Mike Hurman,the
    owners caretaker, my friend, and caretaker of the island after it was bought by the gouvernent
    lived lived to the east of this point about 300 yds. and the north side of the slew. He live in one
    of the islands original log cabins. The cabin is in about a two acre clearing. Just off the east end
    of the clearing joins another clearing which the mining crew used to play baseball with the back
    stop and chicken wire still remains. Following back to the North dike, if you follow the trail north
    west on the inner shore line it take you about a 1/4 mile to the remains of the dock which the
    government chopped down after they bought the island. About 50 yds. north off the end of the
    dock remains is still the stone foundation of the house of the Chinese miners. North east following
    the trail, to the smaller point of the island at vary low tide you could walk across to Cabbage
    island a bed of millions of oysters and mussels. Up until of the time that Mike was still on the
    island there were about 20 deer that made the island there home but they are hard to find in
    the last four or five years.

    • Chris says:

      Wow William! Thank you for sharing all the knowledge of Tumbo Island. I’m heading there this summer so I’ll retrace your descriptions around the island.


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