Ports of Call: Deer Harbor
Situated on the west end of Orcas Island, Deer Harbor, Washington, has all the services of more popular destinations but with a slower pace and none of the crowds. As a destination, Deer Harbor is overlooked by many San Juan cruisers. Its proximity to Friday and Roche Harbors and location tucked behind the navigational hazard of the Wasp Islands makes it easy to motor right past en route to other locales.
Deer Harbor’s obscure location makes it the perfect getaway. The town retains the feel of a smaller, out-of-the-way port of call. It is more in tune with remote ports in British Columbia’s Gulf Islands than the busy harbors of the San Juans. With a relatively easy approach, a large and easy to navigate marina, wide docks, and a friendly community surrounding the marina, there is no reason not to visit.
Deer Harbor sits near the site of an ancient Lummi Indian encampment that was used as a fishing outpost. The otherwise peaceful life at the encampment was often disrupted by raids from other tribes, and the native history of this place is replete with stories of violence and suffering.
White settlers began arriving in 1852, at the tail end of the Fraser River gold rush. The bay had everything needed for settlement: a protected harbor, ample fresh water, and multiple sources of food. Soon after, the Hudson Bay Company sent deer hunters here in search of meat and pelts, and that’s how Deer Harbor earned its name.
Arriving by boat today requires attention to your charts and GPS. While relatively straightforward by San Juan standards, navigation can be confusing and the Wasp Islands act as a sentinel maze when approaching from the southwest. From this direction, approach through North Pass between the Wasp Islands and Orcas. Pole Pass separates Orcas from Crane Island and is the preferred approach from the southeast. Observe the 6-knot speed limit here and keep your wake to a minimum. Navigate the rocks and shoals along the Orcas shore with caution and keep to the center of the channel.
Once you’re in the open mouth of Deer Harbor, maneuvering is trouble-free.Anchoring south of the Deer Harbor Marina is possible, but be aware of any southerly winds in the forecast, as they will blow right into the bay. On a typical summer westerly or northwesterly wind, this is a fine anchorage with a flat mud bottom.
The Deer Harbor marina lies on the east side of the bay, unprotected by any breakwater or sea wall. Cayou Quay Marin, on the west side of Deer Harbor is for permanent moorage only.