Sailing into the Deep Blue on SUVA

By Lara Dunning

Even before I step onto SUVA—Coupeville’s 90-year-old heritage vessel—I know our 2-hour sail in Penn Cove is going to be amazing. The sky is Caribbean blue, there’s a breeze to fill the sails, and everyone on board is all smiles.

The crew maneuvers the 68-foot schooner away from the dock and with each passing wake land slips further and further away. Waves slap against the hull. Captain Mark Saia directs his crew to hoist the sails. The boat tacks. Now, the only thing between us and the worries of life on land is the deep blue waters of Penn Cove.

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“You can’t beat this day,” a woman with long, flowing red hair exclaims, “It’s like drinking up the water.” I couldn’t have said it better.

I walk to the stern and sit near Saia, SUVA’s Captain and the owner of Penn Cove Sailing & Leisure Yacht Charters. We chat while he calls out commands, like “Power in the main” and “Man the jib” with the ease of a seasoned sea captain.

“[SUVA’s] 27 tons of iron and teak. And built specifically for Pacific Northwest waters,” Saia said. “She’s only been in the Salish Sea.”

In 1925, Pratt, a well-respected Coupeville resident, commissioned the gaff-rigged schooner. She was built in Hong Kong and constructed with old-growth teak. Upon her completion she was shipped to Victoria, B.C. and sailed south to Whidbey Island. She had two other owners besides Pratt; one had her redrawn as a staysail schooner. The previous owner, Captain Lloyd Baldwin, sailed her out of Port Townsend as a charter vessel.

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Finding SUVA was a moment of serendipity for Saia. Not only was Coupeville her original homeport, but the town was founded by a sea captain, making SUVA a perfect fit. Her new owner—the Coupeville Maritime Heritage Foundation—is a proper fit too. “She’s now in the hands of the community,” Saia said.

This summer SUVA’s had a busy schedule with dockside tours, day and sunset sails. Cruises continue into October and at suggested $50 donation for a 2-hour sail it’s a heck of a deal. She also participated in Whidbey Island Race Week and Port Townsend’s Annual Wooden Boat Festival. And, there are plans for kids’ educational classes before she’s dry-docked for winter.


“Next spring,” Saia explains, “We want to have SUVA certified by the U.S. Coast Guard and offer themed cruises with 1930s crew uniforms and Cab Calloway.” One of my favorite eras, I’m sold.

We cruise past Penn Cove Shellfish, which is the largest and oldest mussel farm in the U.S. Minutes later, the tall red flags at the dock at the Captain Whidbey Inn radiate like a beacon to sailors in need of a meal and stiff drink. We sail around the cove and up on the top of the bluff is 3 Sisters Family Farm, a 600-acre and fifth generation family farm. And then, majestic Mt. Baker rises up out of the ocean like an orca fin.

We tack in the water, letting sun warm our cheeks and the wind and water guide us. A young girl points to another boat and announces Captain Hook is on the move.

I strike up a conversation with a fellow mate. “This area is definitely a sacred place,” he claims. “The sounds–the detaching from pressures–you’re body just goes ahh.”

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I too have the same sensation. Being out on the water in SUVA is like getting a mind and body massage. Deadlines, chores, all of life’s tensions sink into the sea. By the time we tie up at the dock my entire body is refreshed and ready for my next voyage.

To arrange a day, evening, or private sail, as well as, a dockside tour call 360.279.0855 or email Sails available April through October.