Sailing in the San Juan Islands

We sent a contest winner and her family to the San Juan Islands, where she passed on her family's sailing tradition to her husband and son.

Lauren Denton
October 2, 2017
in Sail

Lauren Denton is an anthropologist and fundraiser who grew up sailing off the coast of California aboard Stormchaser, her family’s J36 sailboat. A summer never went by for Lauren where she wasn’t sailing aboard her family’s yacht – that is, until Stormchaser met its fate on one treacherous sail.

We first read about Lauren’s story when she entered our holiday contest last year (it was called “Give The Gift of Adventure”), and we were captivated by her account of how Stormchaser met its demise — by nature of its name — during a treacherous sail in the Channel Islands. Although Lauren was not on board for Stormchaser‘s final sail, she has long wondered if she may have chanced fate. Having become fearful of the mercy of a stormy sea, she’s stayed ashore for the past decade, but has hoped to return to the sea ever since.

Today, Stormchaser‘s saga lives on as one of survival and salvaging. After reading Lauren’s story, we sent her, her husband Will, and her son Grayson (who’ve both never sailed before) on a leisurely sail in the San Juan Islands, where they set out to reconnect with the sea and pass on the legacy of sailing.

Read about Lauren Denton’s return to sea in the story below.

Exploring the San Juan Islands

With a rough itinerary, our bag of Sperry apparel, and our new shoes, I was anxious and excited to reconnect with the sea, not knowing what to expect or how it would feel to set foot back on deck.

Our crew started off on Orcas Island, the largest of the 172 San Juan Island Archipelago. It’s no wonder it’s deemed the “gem of the San Juans.” We hoped we would get a glimpse of orca dorsal fins of the pods that inhabit these northern waters. On our first day we covered lots of ground trekking through the lush green forested trails. In the morning, we caught low-tide and explored secret coves and tide pools of Deer Harbor, finding seashells, oysters, crabs, and other creatures.

On our second day, we set out to Rosario to day sail Simplicity, a 43’ pinkie gaff rigged cutter. Captain Bruce came ashore in a dinghy to take us out to the moored Simplicity. Jumping off the dock into the dinghy I thought, “Well it’s now or never… time to put my fears aside and trust the waters.”

With all of us now comfortably aboard Simplicity, we left Rosario to sail the Eastsound Bay, whose fiord shape gave us constant wind to sail.

From the moment the wind rushed into the jib sail, it was smooth and swift navigating through the bay, and the water’s calming motion instantly captivated my soul. As the boat listed to the starboard side, Will and Grayson found their sea legs.

Around us was the world, and we took it all in.

The trip itself was packed with activity. We took the inter-island ferry over to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island to explore the 2nd largest island. We hiked Lime Kiln Lighthouse, visited English Camp, and explored Friday and Roche Harbor, a boating paradise. In the evenings, we unplugged from society all tucked away in Snug Harbor giving us amazing sunsets overlooking Vancouver, BC.

The day we went out to sail Iris, we encountered moody weather.  We powered the 42’ Alden cutter out of Friday Harbor past Brown Island, let out the sails, and charged the channel. There hadn’t been too many orca sightings this season, so Captain Morgan and her fistmate Abby set our journey out to find them. The pair kept the pirate jokes flowing as we made it around Cattle Point into the open waters of Haro Strait.

Following whale watchers on the radio below, the swells increased and we began to wonder if sailing this course would be worth the risk. Will’s excitement grew as he felt the ocean spray hitting us and the power of the sea, and Grayson made himself at home in the cabin below, peering out at the helm through one of the windows below deck.

We were unable to sight orcas on the day’s run, but seals and porpoises swam with us, and I knew the moment would become a memory I would never forget. Once we returned to port, the skies opened up and the sun shined down like it was a new day.

Visiting the San Juan Islands was an adventure that Stormchaser never got to make, but through this experience, the chase continues…

A special thanks to those that made this an adventure we’ll never forget:


Cole Columbus at Natural Retreats

Deer Harbor Charters

San Juan Classic Day Sailing

Lauren Denton

Lauren Denton is an anthropologist and fundraiser who grew up sailing with her family off the coast of California. A summer never went by without sailing on Stormchaser, a J36 that embodied the pursuit of adventure and wanderlust, connecting her family to nature and to each other.

In 2016, Lauren shared her story as an entry for our Give the Gift of Adventure holiday contest - and she won. We sent her on an adventure with her husband and son in the San Juan Islands, where they lived out their own version of her childhood sailing adventures.


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