Victim Island, West Sound, Orcas Island

Quiet and peaceful anchorage in the heart of the San Juans

After a week of cruising through the San Juan Islands, it was time to head for home, but neither Arlene nor I was ready to go back. After a short conversation, it was decided that we would stay on the water for one more night—but the question was where? After spending the past week at some of the more popular locations, we decided to head to the quaint, tranquil anchorages at Victim Island, a third of the way up the west side of Orcas Island’s West Sound.


West Sound is a scenic cruising ground, with an almost uninterrupted vista of forested hills surrounding it. The area is somewhat protected, except from strong southerlies. Names of islands and landmarks such as Massacre Bay, Skull Island and Victim Island commemorate some of the history behind this picturesque cruising area. Legend has it that the island names originated from the battles between the local peace loving Lummi tribe, which spent the warm months here fishing, crabbing and foraging the shore for shellfish, and invasions by warring tribes from the north. Lummis were captured and used as slave workers. According to the report of an early European settler known as “Old Deschau,” the worst encounter was in 1858 when 100 Lummis were massacred on the beach by the savage, slave-hunting Stickeen tribe. According to the account, men who resisted were killed and Lummi women and children were taken as prisoners.

On our arrival we found the area absent of other boats, which was a welcome sight after the previous week. A harbour seal curiously inspected us as we set the hook on the southwest side of the small, undeveloped Bureau of Land Management property in 25 feet of water over a sand and mud bottom. Despite the ominous name, we found very hospitable holding. Anchoring is also possible northwest of the island in 12 to 30 feet over a mud bottom. The northern location affords more swing room.


Looking north, up the three-mile-long sound, we had a scenic view of 1,510-foot Turtleback Mountain with the turtle’s head, called Orcas Knob.

During the height of the boating season visitors may experience some wakes from boats transiting West Sound or the occasional water skier, but by the time the wake arrives in the anchorage they have pretty well dissipated. In the offseason the serenity is rarely disturbed by passing boaters.

The afternoon was spent exploring Victim Island and the surrounding area by dinghy. Going ashore can be difficult as a result of the vertical rock shoreline, but boaters are welcome to explore the island if they can scramble ashore. Overnight camping and fires are not allowed.


The east side of the island’s rock shoreline reveals interesting evidence of the Paleozoic Era that formed the San Juan Islands. They are made of rock that remained after the area was deeply scoured by retreating glaciers. Scientists say the islands actually rose after the weight of the glaciers was removed, in a gradual process called elastic rebound.

Motoring up the western shoreline of West Sound, it was easy to visualize that the area would have been a preferred village site for the Lummi people. Continuing my dinghy exploration north into Massacre Bay, I came upon Skull Island, a three-acre BLM island. Landing the dinghy on a small sandy beach on the east side, I roamed the rock Island with its sparse growth of trees, open grass areas, and fields of dried flowers. On the west side was the remains of a drift wood shelter a previous visitor had built. Back in the dinghy I discovered that there was plenty of depth to circumnavigate the island with Easy Goin’, but we would need to be cautious of the rock just beyond the Island to the northwest. There are also a number of spots to anchor around Skull Island with a depth of 30 to 50 feet. Once back aboard Easy Goin’, notation was made in the log of the possible anchorages for future visits to the area.


The late afternoon was spent relaxing on the aft deck enjoying the last of the warm summer sun. It is rare to have an anchorage all to yourself in the San Juans, but to have an island also is extra special and just what we were in need of.


If You Go:


Location: 48.36’75 N, 122.58’59” W

Charts: NOAA 18434

Nearest Marina: West Sound Marina