Vendovi Island is an excellent day trip for boaters who want peace and quiet in nature.
Located 7 miles north of our homeport of Anacortes, Wash., is Vendovi Island Preserve. In need of some quiet quality time, Arlene and I headed for Easy Goin’, tossed the lines and set a course for the 217-acre island situated between Guemes and Lummi islands. The island is a portion of the San Juan Island Trust, and to manage the delicate balance between protecting the ecological integrity and human enjoyment, the preserve is open to boaters only Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during May through September.
We were two and half miles out when we ran into a thick fog bank. We made the balance of the passage with the aid of the electronics and a heightened awareness. We eased our way to the north side of the island and the wide, stable 75-foot concrete dock behind a rock breakwater. It was at the bottom of a -0.7 tide and we only had seven feet of water depth. The moorage is on both sides of the dock on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no overnight moorage or camping, and the nearest moorage can be found 3.7 miles to the west at Eagle Harbor on Cypress Island.
The first thing we noticed was that the nesting boxes were occupied by purple martins, and their songs filled the harbor. A number of pigeon guillemots were feeding around the boat and taking their catch back to their chicks in the nest on the rocks of the breakwater.
The only inhabitants, other than the wildlife, are the caretakers who live in a home that overlooks the tiny harbor. In addition to greeting boats at the dock and answering questions, the caretakers conduct the maintenance and repairs of trails, buildings, systems and machinery. They also conduct guided tours and beach cleanups.
With Easy Goin’ secure, we donned our walking shoes to explore the island. At the head of the dock ramp is a kiosk with a sign-in sheet and island rules and information, including a map of the island and its better than 3 miles of well-groomed trails. The main loop trail is 2 miles in length and traverses the island through lush forest alive with singing birds. The highest point of the island is 330 feet, making for easy walking. At Sunrise and Sunset beaches there are tide pools to examine.
The history of Vendovi is quite intriguing. The earliest inhabitants were the Salish Native Americans who once used the island as a seasonal fishing camp. The camp’s location can still be seen today in the form of a midden on the west side of the island at Sunset Beach.
The name Vendovi came from the Wilkes Expedition in 1841. A Fijian chief named Ro Veidovi was believed to have ordered the killing of the crew of a whaling ship, with at least one of the crewmembers reportedly having been cannibalized. When the expedition passed through the South Pacific, the chief was captured and taken aboard to stand trial in the United States. During the exploration trip from the South Pacific to New York via the Pacific Northwest, to ease the chief’s sorrow after the death of the ship’s pilot, who had become the chief’s friend and translator, Wilkes named the island Vendovi, a variation of the Fijian pronunciation of Veidovi.
By the 1880s homesteading was bringing families to the island. By the 1900s the island had been logged, although small patches of old-growth trees still remain scattered on the island. In the 1920s the Vendovi Island Fur Farm raised foxes.
In the 1930s a small Christian group led by Father Devine, known as the Peace Mission, leased a portion of the island. Their compound, named “Peaceful Paradise of the Pacific,” was located near the caretaker’s house. The retreat faded away and was followed by a handful of local owners, including the more recent Fluke family, founder of the Fluke Corp., who purchased the island in 1965. A memorial site still remains on the island for John Fluke Sr., who died in 1984, with a granite memorial commemorating his life.
In 2010, the Fluke family put the island up for auction, where the private non-profit land conservancy, San Juan Island Preservation Trust and an anonymous benefactor, won the bidding.