From harbor seals to killer whales and bald eagles, wildlife is what most family charterers seek, and find, in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound. Encompassing hundreds of islands, the archipelago is easily accessible, and the navigation straightforward. Even with occasionally fickle winds, the water is rarely rough, which means the little ones can take the helm now and then.
After less than a half day's sail out of the area's largest charter base, Anacortes, you'll be snugly moored in Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island. After a night there, another half day's sail west puts you in touristy Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, where you can buy fresh Dungeness crab and stroll the narrow streets. To find privacy, sail up Rosario Strait and north to little Sucia Island. If you're lucky you can grab one of the few moorings in Snoring Bay, a narrow inlet surrounded by giant granite formations.
Always consult a tide chart; the winds are generally light and the average tidal exchange is about ten feet, creating strong two- to three-knot currents. ABC Yacht Charters in Anacortes charters boats from 26 to 72 feet for $1,200 to $10,000 per week. Call 360-293-9533.
As a cruising destination Tahoe is generally overlooked, and that's good news. With just a handful of charter companies operating here, you won't be competing for moorings-that's also good news considering that the average depth at Lake Tahoe is 1,000 feet.
Heading out from Tahoe Keys Marina on the south shore, it's about a two-hour sail to Emerald Bay in the southwestern corner, where a conifer carpet surrounds the lake's only bona fide cove. Granite-flecked Fannette Island rises 150 feet out of the water; it's a simple trek to the top to check out the crumbling stone ruins of a former tea house.
About 15 miles northeast on the Nevada side is Skunk Harbor, the remotest and wildest part of the lake. You can anchor close to shore here as it's well-protected from wind. Onshore, it's not uncommon to see marmots and bears and occasionally cougars. Boatworks Marina at Tahoe City on the northwest shore is your best bet for eating and shopping.
At 6,229 feet above sea level, Tahoe's weather is changeable; erratic breezes require constant vigilance. But if you stay well away from shore, there aren't any navigational hazards. Sailing Ventures charters boats from 22 to 30 feet for $150-$300 per 24 hours. Call 530-542-1691.
New York's Thousand Islands are linked by meandering passages speckled with inviting coves, historic villages, and even a storybook castle. Leave Kingston, Ontario, from Portsmouth Olympic Harbor in the morning, and you can get downriver to Leek Island by mid-afternoon. Another four hours downriver will deliver you to Boldt Castle, a turn-of-the-century castle complete with drawbridge, tunnels, and dovecotes, on Heart Island. You're on the U.S. side now, so if your party goes ashore, make a quick phone call to clear customs. Back upriver is historic Clayton, the de facto cultural center of the region that's home to the Antique Boat Museum.
Most hazards are well marked and there's no tidal variation, but watch for commercial traffic. Southwest winds ordinarily kick in around noon and die by 5:00 p.m., so plan your transit accordingly. Venture Yacht Charters rents 25-, 30-, and 35-footers for $595-$1,190 per week. Call 613-549-1007.