Food-C and I are adventurers, though C is much more of a thrill-seeker than me (he has been skydiving, bungee jumping, and regularly eats Chinese food from a restaurant where the likelihood that you’re eating cat is greater than 50%). Although I was thrilled to ride in a seaplane, I was more than a little nervous.
The physics of the whole seaplane thing just doesn’t make sense to me. How does it get enough speed up while on the water to actually take off? How does it land without going underwater? Are my chances of survival better or worse than flying on a regular, non-seafaring aircraft? I don’t know what to say, but somehow, the plane DOES get off the water and fly. It DOES land (quite smoothly in fact), and luckily, I didn’t have to lest my survival skills because we got to and from Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands without incident.
We departed in the Kenmore Sea Plane from Kenmore airport (on the water, duh!) at 9:00am. The pilot told us the trip would be a bit longer because they had to “taxi” (drive the plane on water) to the other side of the lake due to the wind direction. Once we reached the other side of the lake, we got up speed and before I knew it, we were in the air! It was a bumpy ride, but the views were SPECTACULAR! We flew right by the Space Needle and got to watch the boats on the water in both the United States and Canada. Our total flight (including taxi) was about 40 minutes. We landed softly and the plane dropped us off on a dock at Friday Harbor where we met Captain Jim with Maya’s Westside Charters who drove us to his boat for the whale watching tour.
Jim gave us some great history of the San Juan Islands as we drove to the boat. The San Juan islands were originally inhabited by native americans, and for many years various pioneers, soldiers and smugglers lived in the islands (from both the UK and the US) but a war over a pig eventually made the San Juan Islands a US territory.
During the “Pig War of 1859”, conflicts between British and American citizens came to a head, resulting in a military occupation that lasted 12 years. The conflict began when an American settler in San Juan shot and killed a hog belonging to Bellevue Farm, which supported the Hudson’s Bay Co.’s fur trapping operations. The settler, Lyman Cutler, killed the hog because it persisted in invading his garden.
Since the language defining the boundary between Canada and the United States was unclear, and with both nations claimed jurisdiction, U.S. troops were sent to confront British authorities when they attempted to arrest the American settler. British warships appeared off the San Juan coast and a war appeared imminent. Eventually, the two governments agreed to a joint occupation of the San Juan’s until the boundary dispute could be settled. A tribunal settled the dispute in 1872 in favor of the United States. San Juan Island is actually the last American soil occupied by Great Britain.
When we boarded the boat, we were introduced to Jeannie, our “naturalist”. Jeannie was a real character, and was PASSIONATE about whales. She told us that she sleeps with two hydrophones (devices used to listen to whales’ calls) by her bed so that she can know their locations at all times. She also has a blog http://whale-of-a-porpoise.blogspot.com/ where she posts pictures of the whales and other animals she sees on whale watching tours. She knew every whale by name and description. She also helped us spot bald eagles, falcons, Harbor Seals and other birds.
I don’t think Food-C and I were nearly as impressed with the Falcon as Captain Jim and Jeannie would have liked. They relayed a story about a family that went on a tour looking for this specific falcon and the whole group wept when they laid eyes on it. We couldn’t quite work up any tears (perhaps we were dehydrated from drinking so much at Lark the night before…or perhaps we were preoccupied by our hunger and worried that our ration of peanut butter crackers was about to run out) but we really enjoyed watching the birds fly around for a few minutes.
Sadly, we did not see any whales. The whales that live in the San Juan Islands are Orca (killer whales!) and unlike the whales we have seen in Hawaii and Costa Rica, they are not migratory. These whales stick to the same general region and travel in pods: some are “resident” (stay in the same area) and others are “transient” (stay in the same region). Interestingly, each pod has a different “accent” in their calls. Different resident pods understand and communicate with each other, but resident and transient pods to not speak to each other. Anyway, enough whale talk (ha!).
After the whale watching tour we walked around Friday Harbor. The entire town is about 3 blocks long so we were there much longer than necessary. There was a REALLY cool hotel called the Friday Harbor House. We tried to eat at their restaurant, The Bluff, but they were only open for dinner. The menu looked amazing. The hotel was on a hill overlooking the harbor and the views were breathtaking. We took a few pictures and went searching for sustenance.
We ended up eating outside at Downriggers. It was a typical tourist spot, but our food was surprisingly delicious, especially the mussels and clams we ordered as an appetizer. They were in a buttery wine sauce that begged to be sopped up with the sourdough bread they brought alongside the shellfish. Yum! Food-C got the salmon burger (fresh caught that morning!) which he said was the best salmon he’d ever eaten! I got the crab salad sandwich (which I thought was heavy on the mayo, but Food-C said was cheesy/buttery and delicious.. We also got onion rings because they were the house specialty. They were exceptional–crispy and sweet with none of that fried sogginess you often find in onion rings.
After lunch, we made a few more loops around town looking for a souvenir for Foodie Baby and an Xmas ornament for our collection (I know, we are nerds), and then headed to Herbs, the local hangout for an IPA. Herbs was one of those places that has writing all over the wall and crude bumper stickers tacked up behind the bar. There was a pool table in the back and golden tee in the corner. It was the perfect place to drink a few cold ones and breathe in the local vibe.
Overall it was a great day, but we probably could have left Friday Harbor on the 3pm Sea Plane instead of the 5pm. If we head back out to Seattle, we will probably spend a few days in some of the other San Juan Islands, sailing, kayaking or hiking around. It looks to be a great place to “unplug” for a little isolation and relaxation–several of the islands are completely “off the grid” and operate entirely on solar power and generators. The San Juans are said to have some great B&Bs (not my thing, but for some reason Food-C seems really into them…probably the breakfast) and they have houses available to rent. I would really enjoy breaking up the city of Seattle with a few days on a sailboat reading and island hopping!
If you aren’t into the Sea Plane thing, they have a ferry that goes to the various islands from Seattle or Vancouver. On the other side of Friday Harbor is Roche Harbor, a place that used to be frequented regularly by the one and only John Wayne. He actually owned an entire island in the San Juans which is now owned by Oakley Sunglasses. According to Captain Jim, Roche Harbor is the fanciest area in the San Juan Islands.