Spoiler alert for the 48° North Cruising Rally feature article in this issue (page 36) — it was amazing! One element of this rally’s awesomeness was how unseasonably quiet the islands felt. The anchorages of the San Juan and Canadian Gulf islands were less-populated during the last week of July 2023 than I’ve seen them in the six years we’ve been running our cruising rally, or any of my other summer cruises in the last decade. While I’d wager that few folks are more enthusiastic about increasing sailing and cruising participation than I am, I admit it was awfully nice to experience a few places as less crowded than “normal.”

In past years, we have taken one look at Garrison Bay near English Camp on San Juan Island, and promptly kept on moving because it was so busy. This year, it couldn’t have been more different. We got a beautiful spot at the shallow head of the bay near Guss Island and had no problem finding swing room for all nine of our rally boats nearby. It’s a big bay, and nearly all anchorable, but it was pretty remarkable to get such prime spots with ease.

We had an even more deserted experience at another bay that can accommodate large numbers of boats — Winter Cove on the north end of British Columbia’s Saturna Island. When I’ve stayed there previously, I’d estimate we shared the bay with at least 40 other boats and still had a lovely time. In 2023, we rolled in to find four (four!) other boats anchored. Only one or two others joined by the end of the evening, so it really felt like we had the place to ourselves. And with its shores being mostly BC Marine Park, it truly felt more remote and pristine than before.

Our other rally anchorages followed suit. So, why are the islands so sparsely populated this year? We’d welcome your feedback if you’ve noticed similarly quiet bays (or not), or have theories about what’s behind this trend. It would be nice to have exhaustive scientific data about this but, in lieu of that, here are my unverified ideas.

My central thought is that many, many folks who enjoyed boat-based staycations during the past three years finally felt good about planning bigger, more distant summer vacations in 2023. Certainly, the San Juans have never teemed more than in the past couple of years when most or all American cruisers were not sailing to the Canadian cruising grounds (either due to border closures or the compliance challenges that followed). So, now that clearing into Canada is again a very simple process, it is possible that’s where all the boaters are.

Still, the emptiness of Winter Cove calls that into question. So, perhaps the cruising paradise even farther north is busier. Desolation Sound, the Broughton Archipelago, even Alaska… maybe they were jam-packed this summer, but we haven’t heard as much. I think it’s more likely that folks who vacationed afloat in local waters recently have elected for travel utilizing air foils that lift vertically, instead of horizontally; or traded diesel for jet fuel.

Whatever the cause, the islands cast their spell more strongly than ever with smaller crowds and the choicest anchoring locations. I hope your summer cruises in these extraordinary waters have been similarly wonderful.

And if, by chance, you’ve got some fall cruising planned, I expect you’ll find our water wilderness every bit as beautiful, enticing, and quiet as it is in your daydreams.

I’ll see you on the water,