Sleeping on The Wharfside, Floating Bed and Breakfast Docked on San Juan Island

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Friday Harbor at dusk. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Friday Harbor at dusk. Photo by Claudia Carbone

The most beautiful way to experience the port of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Washington state is to be right there as the sun sets or in the quiet early morning hours. We had that opportunity by sleeping on The Wharfside, the name of a unique bed and breakfast floating on the water. The boat’s name is Slow Season.

Waking up to the sound of seagulls was a different experience for this Colorado girl. And the sound of water gentling lapping the sides of the boat was a heavenly way to fall asleep. Slow Season is the only boat that’s a Bed and Breakfast floating in the islands. She’s docked alongside other vessels, many of them lived in full time by their owners.

Slow Season at The Wharfside. Photo courtesy of The Wharfside
Slow Season at The Wharfside. Photo courtesy of The Wharfside

History of The Wharfside

This 60-foot all-wood sailing vessel was built in the 1970s by a man who had a burning desire to fish and live on the ocean, traveling the world. He launched her in 1973 with his wife and three young boys aboard. The parents home-schooled the kids as they sailed up and down the west coast. After about eight years, they sold her to a couple who ran her as a bed and breakfast.

When Islanders Eric and Laura Concord overnighted on Slow Season to celebrate Eric’s birthday, they were hooked. “I fell in love with her, lock, stock and barrel,” said Laura. “I thought about how we could raise five kids on a two-bedroom boat.”

Fifteen years went by before serendipitous circumstances led them to buy her and take over as B&B hosts. “This is not a house on water or a houseboat,” Laura says proudly. “She’s a real sea-faring boat.” Lovingly restored by Eric, who does high-end finishes on expensive homes, The Wharfside was awarded Best B&B in the Pacific Northwest in a Best Northwest Escapes contest sponsored by a local TV station.

The Concords were overjoyed when one of the adult sons of the man who built the boat returned for a stay on The Wharfside. In the guestbook, he wrote about growing up on the boat and added: “To those who stay aboard in the future, I know that this vessel is the living embodiment of one man’s dream.”

Inside The Wharfside

This efficient galley on the main deck is where Laura prepares her guests’ hot breakfasts every morning.

The galley of The Wharfside. Photo by Claudia Carbone
The galley of The Wharfside. Photo by Claudia Carbone

One of the breakfasts she served us is a yummy baked peach pancake waiting to be drizzled with her grandma’s cream syrup recipe that tastes just like hot homemade ice cream! Scrambled eggs accompany the dish; and because I don’t eat meat, she substituted a couple slices of cheese for bacon and sausage.

The Wharfside breakfast. Photo by Claudia Carbone
The Wharfside breakfast. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Opposite the galley is the captain’s wheel with all kinds of navigation systems. To the left are the narrow stairs leading to the Forward Stateroom below deck.

Captain's wheel. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Captain’s wheel. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Sleeping on The Wharfside

Wow! We never expected to find this—our own little suite. It includes this living room with two sofas suitable for sleeping in case a family wants to stay (small extra charge). The Concords have filled it with homey touches like musical instruments, books and maps; they call it “the salon.” One can just imagine those boys doing their studies at the table.

Living Room of Forward Stateroom. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Living Room of Forward Stateroom. Photo by Claudia Carbone

A door opens to the bedroom with a queen bed, an electric “fireplace,” a video player, DVDs, more books and photos. Everything is neatly compact and, surprisingly, quite comfortable.

Queen bed in the Forward Stateroom. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Queen bed in the Forward Stateroom. Photo by Claudia Carbone

The Forward Stateroom includes this full bath with hand-held shower, toilet and sink. The toilet requires pushing two separate buttons to flush, which Laura will show you. Bring your own shampoo and conditioner; they do supply a bar of soap and towels. The bathroom is a little tight, but hey, it’s a sea-faring boat! And we are on an adventure!

Small bathroom in Forward Stateroom suite. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Small bathroom in Forward Stateroom suite. Photo by Claudia Carbone

The Aft Stateroom, called the Captain’s Cabin, is accessed via a ladder from a private entrance on the deck. The one-room stateroom has a queen bed, sink and toilet but no shower. You must walk up the dock to the pay showers in the Marina building. The Concords will give you towels. This room is a little less expensive than the suite.

Queen bed in the Aft Stateroom. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Queen bed in the Aft Stateroom. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Half bath in the Aft Stateroom. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Half bath in the Aft Stateroom. Photo by Claudia Carbone

The deck is a great place to hang out, watching the comings and goings in the marina. In the high season—July and August—the temps never go above 80 or below 40. San Juan Islands get much less rain than other areas in the Puget Sound Region and can be vulnerable to drought.

Slow Season Deck. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Slow Season Deck. Photo by Claudia Carbone

As the sun sets over the marina, there’s no better place to be than on the water, smooth as glass and colored with the orange-dappled sky. And then snuggling up to the sounds of the sea in Slow Season.

Sunset in Friday Harbor marina. Photo by Claudia Carbone
Sunset in Friday Harbor marina. Photo by Claudia Carbone

Things to do near The Wharfside

Friday Harbor is the name of the main town on San Juan Island, the second largest after Orcas Island in the archipelago. The town sits just above the marina and ferry landing. We arrived via the Inter-Island Washington State Ferry from Orcas Island where we spent the night in a treehouse!

A typical small resort town, Friday Harbor is fun to explore, popping into the various art galleries featuring local artists, unique shops, great bookstores (Serendipity for used books and Griffin Bay Bookstore), and a variety of very good eateries. The Whale Museum is a fascinating educational exhibit on marine mammals, and Lime Kiln Point State Park about nine miles from town is one of the best places in the world to whale watch from shore. There’s history here, too, at San Juan Historical Museum and San Juan Island National Historical Parks at American Camp and English Camp. The state’s oldest continuously run lodging is in Roche Harbor, about 25 minutes from Friday Harbor. Hotel de Haro is a lovely old hotel built in 1886. Here you’ll find a large bathtub built expressly for John Wayne. This harbor has a busy marina and a couple of great waterfront restaurants.

We drove around the island to discover a vineyard, an alpaca ranch, a lavender farm and lots of rich meadows and forests. In the summertime, weekly Farmers’ Markets sell meats, eggs, cheese, honey and produce, all raised on the island.

For more information on San Juan Island, visit www.visitsanjuans.com

The Wharfside Bed (Boat) and Breakfast, 204 Front St., Friday Harbor, Washington, 98250; 360-378-5661; http://thewharfside.com

Claudia Carbone is an award-winning travel writer based in Denver. Read about other hotels she’s visited in Sleepin’ Around.