Tucked in the furthest northwestern corner of the continental United States, Seattle, Washington is a city that is surrounded by spectacular natural scenery and great bodies of water. Protected from ocean swells, and with a kinder climate than often expected, it is the perfect place to explore the American northwest aboard a superyacht...
With Lake Union connecting the deep-water harbour of the Puget Sound to the west of the city, and the water of Lake Washington to the east, touring Seattle via its waterways provides a unique way to enjoy this corner of the state.
SYOG spoke to Skip Sethmann, captain of 46m M/Y Daedalus, and Peter Schrappen of the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) about the reasons why they love cruising the area, and some of the sights and sounds that can be seen on a seven-day tour.
Seattle has a lot to attract superyacht owners, charter guests and crew, but our favourite reason to visit would be the freshwater Lake Union; found at the very heart of the city, there’s a lot for visitors to see and experience here, plus, navigating the lake gives the boat a break from the saltwater and growth of the ocean, helping to flush out the systems.
It’s likely that you’ll have arrived in Seattle from cruising warmer climes throughout the winter months, or from a shipyard period. For this reason, you may wish to set first anchor in Lake Union, or neighbouring Elliott Bay, to take advantage of the ample dockside services available, and to allow passengers unhindered access to all that downtown Seattle has to offer.
Those heading ashore should start with a stroll through the 12-acre waterfront Lake Union Park where skyscrapers meet with nature. The park celebrates the maritime and industrial heritage of the region, offering watersports, festivals and cultural exhibitions. Just beyond the park is the infamous Seattle Space Needle, offering ticketholders an unrestricted 360-view of the Emerald City.
Day 1 – Elliott Bay to Gig Harbor
Starting out from your anchor, I recommend heading southwest through Colvos Passage to Gig Harbor, which has great shopping and a buzzing waterfront culture that is easily accessed from the water by kayak or tender.
Grab a prime spot and people watch over brunch before heading off to the Blue Willow Lavender Farm or the Olalla Valley Vineyard and Winery with its eight-acres of grapevines and berries. If you prefer a good beer, 7 Seas Brewing is an innovative craft brewery making technically well-executed beers in cans rather than bottles - tour the facility and then enjoy a beer in The Tap Room, overlooking the brewery.
Day 2 – Gig Harbor to Chambers Bay
After an overnight stay at Gig Harbor, cruise underneath the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to Chambers Bay Golf Club. Tender ashore to play a round on this famous 18-hole course, which has just hosted the 2015 U.S. Open - It’s a challenging course with some of the best scenery in Washington.
After a long day on the course, and post-round drinks and dining at the Chambers Bay Grill, you’ll want to get a good night’s rest nearby before heading to the state capital in the morning.
Day 3 – Chambers Bay to Olympia
Start day three with a sightseeing cruise through the South Sound Islands, heading toward the scenic waterfront of Olympia - Washington state capital. Once anchored, head ashore to soak up Seattle’s history, taking in the grand buildings, nature parks and markets. Tour the Governor’s mansion and the Washington State Capitol campus before heading back to the yacht.
Day 4 – Olympia to Tacoma
Return upstate to see the rest of the city, this time taking a slightly different cruise back through the Tacoma Narrows. Moor in downtown Tacoma where you can spend the day exploring the LeMay - America’s Car Museum with its impressive range of American muscle cars, classic British cars, motorsport legends, and the cars of the future.
Day 5 – Tacoma to Shilshole Bay
Continue your return north via the east side of Vashon Island and anchor in central Seattle again, this time at Shilshole Bay. En route, you should stop by Blake Island for the picturesque hike and to visit the Tillicum Village - a unique visitor attraction that allows guests to experience the northwest’s tribal culture.
Day 6 – Seattle to San Juan Island
Today, head north to San Juan Island with its deep green forests, country roads and scenic landscapes. Port Townsend makes for a quick stop off on the way for shopping and lunch. Then cruise toward Friday Harbor, which, at just one square mile in size, is a quaint town on the east side of San Juan Island.
Everything here is within walking distance, but you could rent mopeds from Susie’s to tour the Pelindaba Lavender Farm and American Camp Country Park, which is home to the island’s longest stretch of beach. During the afternoon, visit Roche Harbor for kayaking or live theatre in the woods, and end the day with a spot of Orca whale watching at Lime Kiln Point State Park – also known as ‘Whale Watch Park’. Ask the crew to pull the yacht around for you to board again for your overnight stay.
Day 7 – San Juan Island to La Conner
After a hectic few days, a day of fishing is in order. I like to fish on the west side of San Juan Island where you can expect to catch halibut, salmon, cod or shrimp. Those less interested in the pastime will be able to enjoy watersports here instead, using the yacht’s tenders and toys.
Once you’re done exploring, move the yacht to La Conner in the neighbouring Skagit County. La Conner is another quaint Washington town with great restaurants, bakeries and shopping. Pick up some fresh croissants or baked goods for the journey back to Elliott Bay via the Saratoga Pass. If a stop here isn’t favoured, your captain could use Deception Pass to return to Seattle as this is a particularly beautiful trip - alternatively, there are great routes for onward travel from this north side of Seattle.
Seattle is excellently placed for onward cruising to Alaska or Canada. Both Victoria and Vancouver are very superyacht-friendly cities, but crossing into Canada would involve customs and immigration, so an agent may be in order again.
Naniamo on Vancouver Island is a favourite place to stop heading North and clear into Canada, and Campbell River and Port McNeill are great provisioning stops, but be aware that this route can get very remote at times.
Cruising regulations and clearances
The standard cruising regulations of the States apply in all Washington cities. If coming straight from international waters, foreign-flagged recreational vessels exceeding 300 gross tons must file a Notice of Arrival with the National Vessel Movement Center (NVMC) prior to docking. This is a separate step than obtaining a Cruising License from Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
If in doubt, visiting vessels can contact the Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance, Foreign and Offshore Division, or enlist the services of a local yacht agent. When navigating U.S waters, non-U.S crew must have B1/B2 visas. Non-American guests on board must have the B1 visa for business, and the B2 visa for pleasure.
As a marine-centric city, happily, there aren’t many restrictions on where vessels can travel or anchor in Seattle, but one must really understand the tides and currents in the region as this is what makes it a very interesting destination to visit aboard a superyacht, and a nature lover’s paradise.
For those that prefer to dock in a marina with nearby amenities, there are a few good options to accommodate your large superyacht:
Central Seattle: With 1,200 slips, Elliott Bay Marina is one of the largest privately owned saltwater marinas in the United States, equipped to cater to superyachts up to 91m (300ft). Along with Shilshole Bay Marina (max. LOA 106m/350ft), and Bell Harbor Marina (max. LOA 46m/150ft), these are ideally located in downtown Seattle, giving great access to the most infamous sights of this beautiful Washington city.
With 18 new dock slips for superyachts from 30.5m to 73m (100ft/240ft), the Salmon Bay Marine Centre (SBMC) and neighbouring Nautical Landing Marina (max. LOA 107m/350ft) provide great freshwater options for superyachts on Lake Union.
Gig Harbor: Superyachts up to 53m (175ft) can find berthing at Arabella’s Landing marina in Gig Harbor, which is near to the surrounding amenities and retail outlets of this beautiful harbour town.
Tacoma: For your stop in Tacoma, Dock Street Marina easily accommodates superyachts up to 39.6m (130ft).
Friday Harbor: The Port of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island provides 500 slips, with 100 slips available for overnight visitors. Larger vessels are often able to tie alongside the concrete breakwaters, but reservations are recommended during the bustling summer season.
Roche Harbor: Superyachts up to 46m (150ft) can find berthing at Roche Harbor Marina, which holds a nightly Colors Ceremony just before sunset each evening during the summer. During this ceremony, the flags of Roche Harbor, Washington state, Great Britain, Canada and the United States are retired to music and a single cannon shot, before the resorts current weather and events are announced.
Climate and cruising conditions
Typically, the Pacific Northwest is known to have a wet climate, with it raining in Seattle around 152 days of the year. Traditionally, the peak cruising season in the city therefore spans from May to September when the weather is drier and temperature averages 21°C (69°F), but our favourite times to cruise are in the spring or fall as there is less traffic. The average annual high in Seattle reaches 15°C (59°F) with the annual low at around 7°C (45°F).
Winter isn’t usually on the Seattle cruising calendar, but it’s not as harsh as many often expect, and can be a nice time for cruising. The whole inside passage from Seattle to Alaska is protected from the ocean and its swells, and can almost always be cruised without a lot of concern for the weather. One never has to worry about hurricanes, tornadoes and such, but there may be some rain and the occasional cool temperature.
Storms along the Washington Coast can be a problem in winter and put some off, but personally we’ve never had any problems, and Peter has made the run down to Mexico several times in the dead of winter and to great results.
Originally written for MegaYacht News.