Lunch with a view
What: Deception Pass Lunch Cruise
Where: Channel Lodge, 205 N. First St., La Conner
WHEN: 11am-1:30pm daily through April 21
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
If you’re planning to see the La Conner tulips this spring, consider booking a cruise to Deception Pass with San Juan Cruises.
For two short weeks during tulip season—from 11am-1:30pm daily through April 21—the company will be taking daily lunch cruises through the Swinomish Channel, into the Saratoga Passage, and beneath the Deception Pass bridge. Superbly narrated and showcasing great scenery, this is a rare opportunity to experience Deception Pass from the comfort of a large vessel.
The day we embarked the sky was overcast but the water was calm and all ours, with barely another vessel in sight. We started through the Swinomish Channel, a dredged channel that separates Fidalgo Island from the artist community of La Conner.
“La Conner was once a contender for the county seat,” Captain James Dale said from the bridge. “It went to Mount Vernon instead because of that channel—they couldn’t get any large vessels through it.”
The channel offers great viewing opportunities of the waterfront dream homes that line the passage, some of them perched on impossibly sheer, rocky bluffs. Over a delicious Dungeness crab and Tuscan baked chicken lunch that included roasted potatoes, broccoli salad, fresh bread and dessert and was enhanced by the scenery surrounding us, we passed deserted, log-strewn beaches, low tide flats presided over by bald eagles, and logs atop which double-crested cormorants fanned their wings.
Birdwatchers will especially love the viewing opportunities aboard this cruise. In two short hours we passed pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, eagles and kingfishers. At a rocky outcropping we watched the expressive faces of harbor seals swimming close by.
Tons of history can be found in and around these waters. Goat Island, for example, was once the location of a gun installation designed to protect Saratoga Passage from the threat of invasion. The remnants of an old dock, used to bring equipment to the island, remain and the presence of airplanes overhead reminds passengers how close they are to the Whidbey Island Naval Air station—the military presence still a strong influence in the landscape to this day.
As we approached the Deception Pass bridge, Jensen cautioned us to look out for whirlpools caused by fast-moving currents. The current flowing beneath the bridge is one of the strongest in the state, running at as many as nine knots at peak tides. “At mass current, 3.5 million cubic feet of water per second is flowing beneath the bridge,” the captain explained.
The bridge is a landmark on the tour, a feat accomplished in one year by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1933. Fishermen cast for salmon off the quiet beaches of Deception Pass State Park, and we were just 80 miles north of where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the Pacific Ocean when we turned around and headed back.
The entrance to the strait, just 25 miles wide, was hard to find for early seafaring explorers. “In 1778, Captain Cook came close but he misssed it and landed at Nootka Sound instead,” Jensen told us.
From the 100-foot depths of Deception Pass, we made our way back through the Swinomish Channel, a waterway that is just 10 feet deep and still requires dredging so that vessels may move through it. The restaurants, art galleries, cafes and gift shops on La Conner’s sleepy main drag beckon with good food, handmade wares and unique treasures, while the fields are awash with budding flowers, a vibrant explosion of spring color that stimulates appetites and lifts spirits.
The gray clouds were almost behind us and Washington state was starting to unfurl after a long winter and reveal its best features as it does every spring and summer. The La Conner Cruise was a great kickoff to the season and the perfect complement to a day of tulip-viewing in Skagit County.
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