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Ports of Call: Roche Harbor

by Norris Comer

Roche Harbor is a familiar name to many Salish Sea travelers. Tucked in the Northwest corner of San Juan Island and sitting only a few nautical miles east of the Canadian border, the unincorporated territory is strategically placed for boaters venturing to or from the waters of British Columbia. A village of attractions beckons from the shore, the beating heart of which is the Roche Harbor Resort and accompanying marina. One only needs to stroll about the brick streets and forested trails of the area during the summer to understand why many yacht brokers hold their annual rendezvous here.

Roche Harbor Attractions

The Roche Harbor Resort hub is essentially a blend of an old-timey settlement and a San Juan-themed Disneyland. The area is steeped in fascinating history going back to the Salish Sea peoples. The Hotel de Haro, a mainstay of the Roche Harbor Resort, is built upon the site of a Hudson Bay Company log house that dated back to 1845-1850. The hotel was built around the original log structure by local tycoon John S. McMillin in 1886, and one can still see signs of the original building within. Overgrown, castle-like structures of old lime kilns still stand, built by British Lieutenant Richard Roche (for whom the harbor is named) to keep the Royal Marines occupied. The limestone business was later taken over by McMillin and turned into a thriving business until the 1930s.

All this history blends with the contemporary accommodations of the resort. Electronic golf carts whizz between catered events, and local artisans peddle their paintings to the flocks of tourists. It’s historic, yet it’s modern. It’s secluded, yet it’s bustling. It’s Roche Harbor.

For arriving boaters, Roche Harbor is best tackled by daylight. The east to west ferry lane that connects Sidney, B.C. to Anacortes, Washington, is always something for the skipper to keep his or her eye on, and the harbor’s excellent protection from the elements is partly due to a handful of islands that shelter it. One can approach from the north or south side of San Juan Island, but be familiar with the charts. The northern approach is cluttered with Barren Island and Posey Island (a state park), and one must go either east or west of Pearl Island to get into Roche Harbor. The southern approach involves navigating up Mosquito Pass between Henry Island to the west and San Juan Island to the east. Look out for little Pole Island that sits right in the middle of the pass. Once inside Roche Harbor, the boater has made it to one of the area’s great protected anchorages. A customs office operates from the marina and will be the gateway to the United States if need be.


Ports of Call - Roche Harbor

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