Marking time in Garrison Bay
Perhaps is was not the splendid anchorage, the hiking or lovely setting that led the British to select Garrison Bay as its outpost during the Pig War with the US over who actually owned the San Juan archipelago, though those are fine motives.
Regardless, the pleasant surroundings on San Juan Island’s northwest corner likely made it a more bitter pill when the arbiter, Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, ruled in favor of the US.
With the ruling, the Royal Marines vacated the English Camp, which today, along with the American Camp at the other end of the island, is a sentinel of the San Juan Island National Historic Park.
We could go into the lead up to the so-called Pig War, sparked by the shooting of a neighbor’s sow as hostilities grew between American and British subjects over who owned the islands since the vaunted 1846 border agreement, the Treaty of Oregon, made a vague hash of it.
But we won’t. The murky facts have been elsewhere covered exhaustively and more scholarly than we can manage. Google “The Pig War” and the world is your oyster.
Garrison Bay is off Mosquito Pass, two miles south of Roche Harbor Resort with it’s excellent marina, well-stocked general store and other entertainments. Turning east off the pass, a channel still forks northeast into Westcott Bay and south into Garrison.
Both bays offer excellent shelter with lots of room for boats to happily swing on anchor, though Garrison’s advantage is easy access ashore to the English Camp and the surrounding park trails.
A dinghy dock west of the main camp provides excellent shore access for many cruisers. The camp today consists of remains of the British Garrison, for which the bay was named. There is an interpretive center, block house, officers’ quarters and cemetery.
As well, the neat military buildings revolve around a surprisingly lovely seaside garden, built to ease the homesickness of women who lived in the community with their husbands. Today it still colorfully blooms to welcome visitors.
There are two main trails, to the summit of Young Hill for views across Haro Strait to Vancouver Island and a loop trail along the shoreline to Bell Point.
From June to Labor Day there are daily activities in the park. The National Parks Service also offers a 16-page walking guide to the camp and surrounding park.
From nearby Westcott Bay, there is shore access on the north shore at the beach along White Point Road and from where you can walk east then north to Roche Harbor Resort.
And on the south shore is the renovated Westcott Bay Shellfish Company where you can buy their farmed oysters, mussels and clams from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
For takeout, bring a cooler. Or dine in, on one of their picnic table. They supply picnic tables, shucking knives and hot sauce. Bring your own beverages (no hard liquor, please), cups, plates, utensils, lemons and other sauces, and tuck in.
Beginners will surely be able to find someone there to provide a shucking lesson if required.
(Garrison Bay is covered in Salish Sea Pilot’s Cruising Guide to the San Juan Islands.)