San Juan Islands & Victoria Part 1
When I think of doing a trip report I think of two things: a tribute to those who inspired me, and a hope that this report will inspire others. Many thanks to Scott Schmidt, Tim Olson, Tom & Bonnie, and others whose trip reports helped us imagine what we could not - life with an RV (It's all true). Hope it helps those who are flying and building. I also hope this will provide some useful and practical intel to those contemplating a trip to the area.
After reading Scott and Renae's trip report several years ago while I was still building, and Tom/Bonnies annual reports, this trip was on our list and we finally got the right combination of time and weather to make it happen...
We launched Thursday afternoon from Missoula on an IFR flight plan due to iffy weather in the islands with Orcas Island (Eastsound airport KORS) as our first stop.
Our first crossing of the northern Cascades was partially IFR (love that IFR ticket).
We popped out of the clouds while descending into the coast with the islands in the distance - breathtaking.
We initiated the RNAV approach into Eastsound on Orcas Island but cancelled IFR when we got below the clouds. A guy on the airport says that an RNAV LPV precision approach will be active soon (this pic is from another day, the approach was rainy and overcast about 2000' agl.):
We spent the most time on Orcas and decided it is our favorite, with Eastsound being the best on Orcas. We rented a car from a very efficient and delightful local agency (http://www.orcasislandshuttle.com/), but you can do without it if you like to walk or even use the courtesy vehicles at the ORS airport. We drove all over the island but there really isn't much else to see compared to Eastsound unless you know somebody.
ORS has a nice camping area - you can camp if you fly in with your plane, and the overnight fee is a hefty $6. There is a decent shower (think summer camp, plus a little better, and clean) a short walk from the camping area. None of the other airports allow camping, so if you are looking for an economy stay, you should headquarter out of ORS. If you want luxury accommodations, you can find rental houses on VRBO or several very nice hotels/B&Bs. We stayed our first night at the Outlook Inn (http://www.outlookinn.com/) because a room was available on short notice. It is a LOVELY Inn with fabulous views and a range of rooms from affordable to expensive. They also have a great restaurant and lounge.
It is a short (15 minute) walk on a nice path from the airport to town and the entire town is very walkable. It seems to us that there were more restaurants and shops in Eastsound than Friday Harbor and lots of places for the Missus to stick her head in and shop. There were great choices for eating (Madronas, Hogstone Pizza, New Leaf Cafe, Brown Bear Baking, Island Skillet) and we didn't get to all that we wanted to.
We spent Thursday night and all day Friday in Eastsound, walking around town, eating, and discovering. It must be a coincidence, but there is a nice little microbrewery within walking/stumbling distance from the airport. And they make a fine IPA.
We had coffee on the beach
and generally goofed off around Eastsound all day Friday....
San Juans & Victoria Part 2
ORS is a delightful little airport. They have daily flights with Kenmore Air that arrive exactly on time at 7 AM, as well as an assortment of other interesting aircraft that were flying all weekend due to the good weather. Everyone is very friendly and hospitable - you might meet Dwight Guss and his dog, who appears to be the airport ambassador. There is a biplane on the field offering rides and a neat little hangar/museum, as well as a nifty little amphib ultralight. You might even run into Richard Bach (author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull) who lives on the island and hangars at ORS - we didn't.
On Friday night, we had decided to camp - both because there was no room in the inn and as a test run for camping at Oshkosh. It was deathly quiet on the airport and we slept soundly after a good day of walking.
Waking up on Saturday morning, we left our tent set up, and packed up for a trip to San Juan Island, planning to land at both Roche Harbor and Friday Harbor. The Missus used the wing for a...dare I say it - VANity? (She's gonna kill me)
We launched early and did a brief flight around the islands (didn't see any Orcas). Everything is so close together you don't need RV speed to beat the ferries. An example of what we saw from the air...
Then we dropped in and landed at Roche Harbor. DO NOT MISS ROCHE HARBOR. It is small and there is a $10 landing fee, but it is beautiful and we had perhaps the best crab omelette in our lives at the Lime Kiln Cafe on the docks.
San Juans & Victoria Part 3
Roche Harbor is a private airport and it is kind of funky, with a big swell in the middle of the runway.
The strip is plenty long and has nice places to park in the grass. It's a short 5-10 minute walk from the strip to the resort. You don't need to spend a bunch of time there but it is beautiful, very neat and well kept and the cafe has great coffee and donuts as well as a full menu. We enjoyed breakfast and walked around the docks before launching for Friday Harbor.
Friday Harbor is bigger than either Eastsound or Roche and seems more commercial. We planned on spending the rest of the day but ended up walking around and seeing the town then flying back to Orcas for dinner and another night of camping.
Right base to final for Friday Harbor, a nice airport with good transient tie downs.
Pics of the waterfront and ferry terminal
Friday Harbor from the air on our departure back to ORS for another night of camping:
After another quiet and restful night at ORS we launched on Sunday morning to see Victoria, another destination on our list....
San Juans & Victoria Final
It was our first venture into international flight but after reviewing the AOPA and VAF resources, it went very well. A VAF source in Victoria recommended we tie up at the Victoria Flying Club and we did. I was impressed with the level of activity at this club. They must have 10-15 rental planes and seem to really be doing a lot of flight training, plus they have a nice restaurant and helpful staff.
I rented a car online but if I did it again I would call VFC and ask them to line up a rental for you and have it waiting.
The Canadian ATC was very helpful and the flight club had folks around who helped me with the local procedures, which are slightly different than the US.
Base to final into Victoria:
It's a short drive to Butchart Gardens, a bucket list item for the Missus. I gotta admit that I was even impressed with the incredible gardens, and I'm not your average flower guy.
Not only were the colors so incredible that they hurt my eyes, the smells of the flowers were so strong they hurt my nose. However, I couldn't help but notice that with all the growing things, I couldn't find a single plant that was....edible. Seems kind of a shame and my only criticism because I would really be in favor of a raspberry, blueberry garden at that place.
Apparently...I took a break to read the guide book and she thought I was actually taking a nap amidst all that beauty. This is her getting even with me for taking a picture of her putting her makeup on at the...VANity. If I was taking a nap, I'm sure it was just required crew rest.
We got a nice hotel in Victoria and spent the rest of the day walking around, eating, and sampling the local products of zymurgy. It was gorgeous and the weather was perfect, and we saw turbine Otters landing and taking off all day, which along with the beer took a little sting out of the walking and shopping for me.
After a nice evening in the hotel, we had breakfast at the Blue Crab on the water, with Otters landing and taking off in front of us.
Victoria was beautiful, but I could just have easily (and less expensively) flown in to CYYJ in the morning from ORS, gotten a ride to downtown and/or Butchart, spent the day, then returned to ORS via Bellingham (for customs). One thing about the San Juans and area, everything is so close that all these airports we saw were within 8-10 minutes flight, so you can do so much in a short period of time with an RV. When I called to file a flight plan to Bellingham, the Canadian briefer asked for my true airspeed. "Oooh," he said, "that's fast." Yup. It sure is.
This was an exploration trip for us and we learned a lot. We will definitely go back, hopefully with RV friends along...anybody interested? ORS has a fly in August 1-3 (http://dev.portoforcas.com/?page_id=251)
Evening from our front porch at the ORS airport campground. Stunning.
Perhaps the best part of the trip was on the flight home, when the Missus (who up until now has expressed a strong negative desire to learn to fly) asked me to quiz her about the instrument panel and see how many things she could get right. I also noticed that she was checking my work (my squawk code was wrong) and in general getting more interested in the aspects of flying rather than riding. She has also gotten MUCH more comfortable with the mild bumps and up/down drafts you get on a normal afternoon flight in the Rockies. It's probably just that I'm getting older and she has self preservation in mind, but I'd like to think that if I'm careful and don't rush her, she might be my right seater some day - or I might be hers.
Living the dream...keep pounding rivets!
Takes me back to a house swap we did with a couple in Oak Bay Vancouver Island.
One of our best ever vacations - flew a Beaver on floats, had a personal visit of the Martin Mars at Sproat Lake, skydived at Victoria and visited the Boeing factory.
I want to go back............:(
Great trip, and an inspiring write up!
I live in the area! Although I have never flown into BC, the San Juan Islands are a favorite for us. You covered it very well!
One of the best trip write-ups I've seen, thanks for sharing. I live on the downwind for 09 at CYYJ and I marvel in the views of the San Juan and Gulf Islands every time I fly.
I've never landed in the San Juan Islands, but this may change now. Last time I flew over San Juan Island, I was intercepted by an F/A-18 from Whidbey NAS. I was talking to Whidbey approach, who said nothing, so I assume that this was a practice intercept. Nevertheless, I outran the F/A-18 and headed into Canadian airspace, where I became an instant celebrity. True story, and I have a witness.
Bryan, thanks for sharing your travels with us.
My wife and did a trip to Roche a year ago, but did not fly into any of the other places you did-------nice to see a wider view of the area.
I'm officially envious! Sounds like a great trip. I think our BC brethren ought to organize an LOE up there. (I suppose weather might make it hard to plan an event?) I'd love to visit the region.
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