Sailing, Seafood and Sightseeing through the San Juan Islands

Imagine yourself aboard an historic tall ship sailing through the awe-inspiring San Juan Islands in northwest Washington. The sky is blue, the sparkling waters are calm and a pleasant warm breeze caresses your face as the Schooner Zodiac departs the port of Bellingham at Fairhaven Village. All 24 passengers are on deck in anticipation of a fabulous first day of sailing, seafood and sightseeing.

This is the three-night, four-day annual Seafood and Wine cruise that takes place mid-summer and is one of the most popular excursions for the Schooner Zodiac. The 160-foot-long tall ship features four sails that can catch upwards of 7,000 square feet of wind, beautiful mahogany finishes, towering Douglas Fir beams and teak interior trim amid brass fixtures and instruments. The majestic and historic tall ship conveys a rustic yet luxurious feel throughout. It received a designation on the US National Historic Registry of Places in 1982.

Fresh oysters, unique recipes with tuna, salmon, shellfish, trout, and squid will be prepared over the course of the next four days. Paired with some of the finest vintage wines from the Pacific Northwest, the tall ship cruise provides an unrivaled culinary experience in food and travel through some of the most scenic landscapes in the country.

Caz Ludtke, who refers to herself as a “tall ship chef” and runs the food blog Seasoned at Sea, is already in the galley preparing for the voyage. Rob Newsom of Boudreaux Cellars, who’s providing the superb wine selection and owns the only “off-the-grid” winery in the country,has made introductions and outlines some the festive libations in store.

One of the big draws of the schooner cruises is the opportunity to participate in the raising and lowering of the sails, as well as alternating through the four main ship duties, which include helm, chart room, bow watch, and messenger. For sailing lovers, this is a unique opportunity, and many come for that reason in and of itself.

Cruising under wind power is a peaceful yet exhilarating way to enjoy an afternoon, and the panoramic scenery with clear blue skies enhances the experience. Expansive views of the Olympic Mountains, Mt. Baker, and the Cascade Mountains add to a 360-degree backdrop that simply inspires.

The first meal of the voyage is a fabulous seared tuna with a ponzu sauce accompanied by rice and a green salad with avocado. It immediately becomes clear that the seafood portion of the excursion is going to be nothing short of amazing.

The Lopez Island Vineyards Winery tour is next up as we drop anchor in a small bay at Lopez Island. The family owned five-acre farm is home to two unique gold medal winning grape varietals introduced to the island in 1987. Madeline Angevine, affectionately known as “Mad Angie,” is considered the white wine for red wine lovers. Siegerrebe, a German varietal from the Alsace region, rounds out the pair. Fruits from central and eastern Washington are used to produce additional vintages that include Malbec, Rose, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Merlot. A unique specialty also produced is a full-bodied Fireside Port, which is barrel aged and boasts tones of rich berries with a soft mocha note. It’s a blend Brandy from the San Juan Island Distillery, combined with Sangiovese, and Malbec.

As the day slips by we depart Lopez Island and find ourselves anchored in another cozy bay. Bald eagles nesting and hunting in the cove provide some wildlife action as we gorge on fresh oysters between sips of vintage Chardonnay and Riesling wine. As the oysters are slurped and corks popped, everyone aboard knows they are experiencing a bucket list level of food and travel.

Following the appetizers and libations, beer battered tilapia fish tacos with mango salsa and cilantro crème are served for dinner. The meal is capped off with a sweet and delightful Tres leche horchata cake.

Day two brings more astonishing landscapes and world class cuisine. After an exquisite cioppino lunch teeming with mussels, shrimp, crab legs, and squid, we anchor in Roche Harbor to experience an off-ship excursion to the San Juan Distillery. A short hike inland brings us to the operation where we enjoy samplings of some of the 14 different gins available, as well as some unique liqueurs and flavored brandies. One of which is a premium apple brandy that won gold and best in class from the American Craft Spirits Association and best in class from the American Distilling Institute in 2014.

We set a course for Stuart Island, where we drop anchor in a peaceful setting in Reid Harbor for the night. Awakened by the breakfast bell, everyone gathers in the gallery for the morning’s meal which features salmon quiche, shallots and spinach with cayenne bread and fresh fruit on the side.

As we leave Reid Harbor, the distant Olympic Mountains come back into view to the south, but the morning sun lighting up the snow-capped Mt. Baker dominates the panoramic view. Postcard perfect scenery for the start of what would prove to be an incredible sightseeing day in the San Juan with Orca Whale encounters. Whale watching is just another bonus with the Schooner Zodiac cruises.

Dungeness crab season opens today, and the crab pots are ready. Diners at Fog Harbor are getting excited to order off the crab menu, a favorite amongst many who dine there. Just two hours after dropping them into bay, they’re pulled with a catch of about a dozen fresh crabs. The tender, juicy, delicious white meat is extracted from the shell after cleaning and boiling the ocean delicacies. No butter required here. The Salish Sea produces the finest crab you’ll ever sink your teeth into. Tonight’s dinner of chorizo beef burgers with shrimp and paprika mayo is grilled on deck, with side dishes of poblano potato salad, asparagus, and a raspberry rosé sorbet dessert.

A unique Scandinavian inspired meal of whole wheat bread, pickled herring, lox, remoulade, boiled eggs, onions, cheese, chicken liver, and bacon pat? starts off the final morning. The remaining day of the cruise brings more sailing as we wind our way back up through the islands toward the Port of Bellingham. The last meal of the cruise stays in step with the seafood theme and features Squid, chili pasta with cherry tomatoes, green salad, and roasted garlic bread.  

As we round the corner out of the Bellingham Strait and into dock at Fairhaven Village, everyone is reveling and reminiscing about the memorable adventure over the last four days. The food, the scenery, new friends, sailing knowledge, and a fully accommodative staff all contribute to a fantastic adventure in a panoramic paradise. The Schooner Zodiac Seafood and Wine Cruise truly reflects a world class summer vacation destination to keep in mind when planning a visit to the Pacific Northwest.

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