The Wanderer: Are you an Island Hopper?

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Special to Dorchester Banner/Malcolm McKnight
Friday Harbor, in the San Juan Islands. Far off? No­—this is just outside of Seattle, Washington.

The islands visited here require a pretty big hop, 3000+ miles to be exact. Each has its own unique topography and place in history. Both are worth a stopover if you are in the vicinity.

The San Juan Islands

No! Not Puerto Rico. This set of islands, located in the State of Washington and juxtaposed to Vancouver Island, BC, deserve a three-day visit. Airlines fly into Seattle and Vancouver, both good stepping off locations. As with Monhegan Island, the island is isolated, but easily reached by ferry boat.

Discovered around 1791 and settled by the Hudson Bay Company in 1850. During the period of 1859-1872 it was jointly occupied by the British Royal Marines and U.S. Army troops. The original encampments can be visited by those interested in the history of the area.

The major town is Friday Harbor, a quaint village sitting on Griffin Bay. There are no chain hotels or motels, but small motels and B&Bs are prevalent. Restaurants of all description welcome visitors and residents alike. The main menu items are seafood, as might be expected. The weather is moderated by the large bodies of water and temperatures range between 60-80 degrees.

To see all of the islands will require a number of ferry trips. In five days the Wanderer took seven different ferries. Rental cars and motor scooters are available. Beware, the only gas stations are located in Friday Harbor.

Orcas can be viewed in season on most of the islands. “Granny” is the oldest killer whale in the world, documented to have been born in 1911. Too old to have her own calves, she now serves as a nursemaid to others.

San Juan Island also serves as the U. of Washington’s oceanographic center, similar to Dorchester’s Horn Point.

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Monhegan Island, Maine

Monhegan Island

This small island, barely a square mile in area, lies about 12 miles off the Maine coast. The ferry from Boothbay Harbor takes one and a half hours. The permanent population is 50, according to the latest census. Summer visitors, including those on day excursions, may bring the total to 400, or more. Unusual and rare flowers and plants can be seen everywhere.

The island is unique in that it is mostly owned by the nonprofit organization Monhegan Associates. As such, it does not enjoy public services such as police or fire department protection. It is a village, not a theme park. There are more than 20 commercial businesses.

Monhegan is truly isolated in the winter. Local residents rely on lobster and oyster fishing for a living. The one-room schoolhouse holds classes from K-8. Usually there are no more than 10 students in a given year. High school students must live on the mainland during the week.
There are a number of inns for those who wish to enjoy extended stays as well as a few restaurants. Needless to say, there are no fast feeders.

Trails are a magnet to hikers from around the world. The 17 miles of walking are challenging. There are no paved roads and only a few pickup trucks to haul supplies uphill from the ferry dock to residents’ homes. Bicycles are not permitted. Homeowners get around on golf carts.

The island is a bit of an artist colony along with locally made crafts. A lighthouse dominates the highest point on the island and is the location of Monhegan’s historical museum.

For more complete information check the website www.monheganwelcome.com.

Editor’s note: Malcolm McKnight writes on places of travel interest from his home in Cambridge.

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