By air and by sea: The San Juan Islands

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Eastsound, the largest town on Orcas, which is one of the larger of the San Juan islands, sits in the middle of the two bumps, and includes the Orcas Island Airport with a north-south oriented runway that is canted slightly (0.8 percent up on Runway 16). Coming in from the north, the long, relatively skinny runway slopes up, creating an enticing visual illusion. An upsloping runway can create the illusion that the aircraft is higher than it actually is, leading to a lower approach. So does a narrow runway. Because Eastsound has a little of both, pilots should heed this warning: Don’t get suckered off your glideslope. Coming in from the south? You get to run the gauntlet between the two mountains and deal with the downslope illusion. The good news is that the runway is long enough for most general aviation airplanes.

Weather in the summer consists of the occasional cool front (a summer cold front) bringing wind and rain, rarely lasting long. There is often fog in the mornings, followed by clear, hot afternoons, and warm, lingering twilights.

Other island runways have their own quirks, so take the time to research local knowledge before you arrive. You might also discover tips for better lodging or rental wheels. We learned that parking in the grass for airplane camping and paying the monthly rate at Eastsound saved us enough for a couple of excellent takeout dinners from the local Saturday market and a delicious bakery breakfast from Roses Bakery Cafe (all walkable from the airport). Sandwiches from the Orcas Food Co-op rounded out our camping diet; not fancy but delicious eaten sitting in a camp chair watching the daily traffic on the runway come and go.

We started our sojourn with airport camping (there is a shower room and public toilet, protected by a combo lock and cleaned and maintained by its users and their generous donations). We spent one night a few days later at the glamorous Rosario Resort and Spa and had a memorable meal at The Mansion restaurant while watching Kenmore Air seaplanes weave deftly between the maritime traffic in the marina. We then hired a sailboat out of Deer Harbor on the other side of the island. The 61-foot former racing ketch Winkapew became our home for five days and four nights, carrying us to the more remote islands.

Why a sailboat? A sail is but

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