Sailing FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions About Our Sailing Vacations

Click on any question below to read its answer.

What do the trips include?

A Coast Guard licensed captain, chef, a double berth cabin with private head (bathroom) aboard the boat, use of all equipment and amenities while aboard the boat and all meals (except one dinner per week.) Meals start with dinner on the day of your arrival and end with breakfast on the day of your departure. Beds are made up prior to your arrival with sheets, blankets, and comforters. Towels, washcloths, soap and shampoo are also included. Trips do not include fishing & shellfish licenses, or alcohol.

What kind of people sail with you?

People of all ages and backgrounds have enjoyed our trips. Active, inquisitive, open minded, flexible, and those who appreciate the beauty of the outdoors are words that might best describe our typical guest.

Is there an established and set itinerary, or will we have input?

Our normal route through the islands highlights some of the finest anchorages and sights of the area. If your group is booking the entire boat, we can offer a custom itinerary to match your interests with your activities.  Each day we offer you choices of different anchorages and activities based on the weather and our local knowledge, giving you the absolute best experience!

Will we be able to see Orca (killer) whales?

Three pods of Orca Whales call the San Juan Islands their home. The pods may have more than 20 whales in each group! We can certainly plan your trip to cruise through areas where we know the whales are often found. They tend to roam in search of their favorite food: salmon. Throughout our season we seem to see Orca Whales on the average of about 50% of the time. We are often visited by schools of Harbor or Dahl’s porpoise who have great fun playing in our bow wake! We also encounter harbor seals, sea lions, otters, eagles, and other wildlife.

Is seasickness a problem for many people?

No. The San Juans are actually considered inland waters due to the protection of 250 mile long Vancouver Island — so there is no ocean swell. We have had many clients who have been extremely concerned and have brought all sorts of medications (patches, pills, wrist bands, etc.) which they never used.

What if we don’t have a group of six?

If you’re traveling as a couple or with two couples, we offer the ability to “Join a Cruise” at least one week of every month. You will have your own private cabin and private bathroom. (no having to share with other passengers or crew) We will take care of filling any remaining cabins on the boat and you can meet other interesting people to share your adventure. If you prefer a private charter just with your group of four, we will only charge for 1/2 of the remaining empty cabin. We still encourage you to make up your own group of six for the best discount. Call for more information.

Do you ever take single people?

Yes. The best option we have for people traveling alone is to have you “Join a Cruise” on at least one or two weeks each month. You will have your own private cabin and private bathroom. (no having to share with other passengers or crew) The cost for a single cabin is an additional 50% of the “Join a Cruise” rate. If we still have one cabin remaining about 30 days prior to departure we can sometimes discount the single person rate. Call or e-mail for details.

How many passengers can the boat handle?

Northwind is a roomy 55′ sloop rigged sailboat with four double berth staterooms, each with its own private bathroom. We can very comfortably accommodate six people, and two crew with room to spare! We will never take more than six people to avoid crowding.

Will you take families with young children? Can we get a discount for the kids?

Younger folks usually have a great time aboard the boat: hiking, crabbing, and exploring the islands. Although if your children are easily restless or need to be constantly entertained, then a boat vacation may be too confining for them. Families traveling with pre- adult children (under 21) will need to reserve the entire boat for their exclusive use. We have found that this is the only way to go for a family sailing trip. If you have a family of six you will receive our best discount which is reflected on the rate page.

We are experienced boaters and would prefer bareboating.

We ourselves would choose a crewed or skippered charter if sailing in unknown waters, to have the very best and relaxed vacation possible. With us all you have to do is show up with your toothbrush and away we go! No tedious boat check-out that can take hours, no having to go through every system on the boat hoping you don’t have to actually remember it, no having to do the menu planning and shopping, no cooking the meals and doing the dishes, no stress over being in unfamiliar waters with a large damage deposit hanging over your head. When the trip is over you pack your bags and walk away — no having to clean the boat and again go through a tedious check-in procedure. When it comes to the fun of sailing — you can do as much as you like with more time to relax and enjoy!

How much sailing will we do?

Typically the winds for sailing are best in the spring or fall (10-20 kts) and lighter in the Summer (5-15 kts). However we have had great sailing at all times of the year. The San Juans are also heavily affected by strong tidal currents which help to make this such a diverse area for marine life. If we are bucking a current we often have to use our engine to make headway. A typical week is a combination of sailing when we have wind and motoring the remaining time–we will always do as much sailing as possible given the prevailing conditions.

Can we crab or fish during the charter?

Yes and no. The crabbing season typically runs from Mid July to the end of September. A shellfish license is required to participate in the crabbing. At this time we are no longer recommending other types of fishing. The reason behind this is that in Washington State wild salmon and bottom fishing stocks are currently threatened and heavily restricted to the point that it is just not worth the effort.

Can we talk with someone who has been on a trip with you?

Yes! Just let us know and we will put you in touch with someone who preferably lives in your general area. We have had people come to sail with us from all over the country.

What do I need to bring?

We provide bedding and towels so just bring your personal items. If you want alcohol during the week, then you will need to bring your own supply. We will send you packing information and other details about the boat prior to your arrival, but in the meantime, please review “Packing for Your Charter”.

When do we need to be there?

All trips begin at 2:00 PM on Sunday of the first day of your charter. You should eat lunch before boarding as dinner is often late the first night. There will be a brief orientation to help familiarize you with the boat and your cabin before departure.

What is the best way to get to Bellingham?

There are so many options, many people fly to Seattle and then rent a car. Bellingham is about 2 hours (90 miles) north of Seattle. You can drop rentals at the Bellingham Airport and take a short cab ride to the marina, or just keep your car at the marina where there is ample free parking. Another option is to fly directly into the Bellingham International Airport on Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Airlines, or Southwest Airlines. You may also take the airporter shuttle bus from Seattle to Bellingham, or ride Amtrak to the Bellingham/Fairhaven train station. The marina is less than 15 minutes from the Bellingham airport. Taxi fare runs about $20.00-$25.00. Read more about “How to Get Here”.

When is the best time of year to come?

That depends on what kind of trip you’re looking for, read on…

Spring & Fall – (Our Favorite): Peace, solitude and nearly empty anchorages are some of the reasons we love sailing in the spring and fall. During spring the islands are fresh and green with renewed growth and wildflowers abound. Due to the rain shadow formed by the Olympic Mountains we are often rewarded with suprisingly good weather. We also have more eagle sightings in the spring then any other time of the year! June offers wonderfully long days with daylight lingering to 10:00 PM. September through early October is another favorite time for us to be in the islands because the weather is usually very nice and the trees are starting to change color. The spring and fall also offer excellent value as we discount our trips at these times of the year.

Summer – (Most Popular): Typically July, August and early September tend to be the warmest and driest months, (which means you need to book these times well in advance). Summer’s wonderfully warm days cool off to perfect sleeping temperatures at night. With daylight lingering in the early summer there is always time for plenty of activities or an afternoon nap. If you join us in August, the meteor showers put on a terrific show for stargazers from Northwind’s deck.

How far in advance should we book a charter?

Call us as soon as possible as we tend to book up early! We recommend you book a minimum of 3-4 months prior to your planned departure. Some people book a year in advance. But don’t give up, you never know until you call if the week you want is available. Check out our sailing schedule as it is updated constantly. Contact us to be put on a cancellation wait list.

How do we book our charter? What is your cancellation policy?

Check out our sailing calendar or call us toll free at 800-729-3207 to see if the week you want is available. Do have a backup time just in case! We will hold your reservation for 7 days awaiting your deposit. To secure your charter we need a $1000 deposit per person. We accept personal checks through the mail, or Visa/Mastercard over the phone, whatever works best for you. The balance is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. You may cancel up to 90 days in advance of your charter and still receive a full refund. Cancellation after 90 days but prior to 60 days in advance of departure will result in a forfeit of the deposit. Cancellation after 60 days prior to scheduled departure will result in no refund. Trip Cancellation insurance is highly recommended and available from many online companies. We recommend you purchase a “Cancel for any reason policy” which should cover you for up to 75% of your charter fees should you have to cancel more last minute. Cancellation from a credit card will incur a 4% fee to help cover our merchant processing cost.  Read our COVID-19 travel Q&A..

Can I smoke on board Northwind?

We have a strict nonsmoking policy during all operations of Northwind including the inflatable shore boat. This includes all forms of e-cigarettes.

How much experience do I need?

NONE! We have structured our trips for people at any level. Many of our guests are sailing for the first time while others own their own boats back home.

We don’t know anything about boating, can we learn?

You can always do as much or as little as you like! We are happy to teach and put you to work on the various aspects of sailing. We are not a “sailing school” — our routine is relaxed and learn as you go. While many of our guests are eager to learn about sailing there is an equal number of people who prefer to relax and let us do the work. It’s your vacation so we invite and encourage you to do as you like.

What kind of shape do we need to be in?

You should be in good health and able to move about easily without balance issues.  You need to be capable of negotiating a few stairs and be able to step in and out of the dinghy (zodiac) to go ashore on some islands.  No great strength is required.

Is sailing in the islands safe?

No one has ever had a serious injury aboard our boats as safety is our primary concern. Our captain monitors the marine weather forecast daily and in the unlikely event of a storm, the captain will move the boat to a secure location.

Will you be able to tell us about the local Flora and Fauna?

Both your captain and crew are familiar with most of the plants and animals that are found in the islands. They will be happy to answer your questions.

Will we have opportunities to get off the boat?

We generally stop at different islands each day and provide plenty of opportunity to get off and walk/hike and explore. There are many islands with wonderful trails with a variety of hiking difficulty. We have a sea kayak on board that you can use to explore the bays we visit. We also have equipment to crab or fish, when in season, from our Zodiac-style inflatable. We always stop mid-week at Friday Harbor to reprovision. This gives you an opportunity to browse, visit the Whale Museum, shops and art galleries. On some islands you may swim in mountain lakes or enjoy resort pools, mineral springs & hot tubs, rent bicycles, mopeds, or even go scuba diving.

Will I be uncomfortable, cold, or wet?

NO. We have designed our boat with your comfort in mind. A large dodger or bimini with side curtains protects the cockpit from wet weather, wind or spray. In cooler weather we have a heating system that warms the entire boat. Even the marine toilets are user friendly – just push a button!

Will we be able to shower?

Yes. Handheld showers are available in each private head area. There will be opportunities to use marina facilities ashore on some islands as well.

What size are the guest bathrooms/cabins?

The private bathrooms or “heads” have plenty of space for one adult to use at a time. (Regarding the space, think large airline bathroom, but with more standing headroom). Doorways into the cabins and heads are about half the width of normal doors at home or about 18” wide. There is adequate space to stand inside the guest cabins for two adults. If you are over 6’4” tall or if you are heavy set then you will have more limited space when sharing a berth. Bed size is 6’ 6” X 4’ 6” on the two forward cabins with a step up into the bed, and 6’ 8” X 5’ 3” on the one aft guest cabin. We use custom luxury sleeping mattresses and high thread count sheets for added comfort. For sailboats, these cabins are spacious and most people sleep really well. If you’re “joining a cruise” then staterooms are assigned by the crew at the time of boarding.

What can I hope to get out of this trip?

We hope part of the reason you are joining us is to experience life aboard a sailboat. You will see some beautiful scenery and wildlife and get to know some new friends (those being us, your crew). Being aboard the boat is like having a moving sanctuary that supports all your needs. You will become aware of the winds, tides, and the natural rhythm of the islands. We guarantee this is a relaxing trip.