The “Outer Islands”

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Islanders who live on one of the ferry served islands (San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw) will refer to the “outer islands” as islands in the San Juans that have no ferry service. Of course The San Juan Islands consist of many private islands and many uninhabited islands. At mean high tide, there are over 400 islands and rocks in the archipelago, 128 of which are named. The main large outer islands that people live on year round are Blakely, Stuart, Decatur, Waldron, Henry, Brown, and Crane, and Center Islands. Each of these islands has their own history, lifestyle, and amenities. The obvious common denominator is the remoteness of an island that you need a boat or an airplane (if there is an air strip) to get to it. Other issues that people should know is that some of these islands have no source of power other than the sun and wind and a generator. Issues like winter storms or engines that won’t start can definitely be a nuisance, even in our modern day world of conveniences. Cell phone service to medical help has taken some of the danger out of inhabiting these remote locales. People may choose to live in such a beautiful and remote location or to have a second home there to escape from modern civilization. These inhabitants are modern day adventurers who exhibit a ‘do it yourself’ attitude out of necessity. They are the equivalent of pioneers in the old days. They live in places where there are no bakeries or Starbucks, no movie theatres, perhaps no automobiles, or even grocery stores. Does this sort of life or escape appeal to you?

Here is what Farrar Burns wrote about his feelings regarding living on a remote island:

“I guess we’ll be amateurs at everything until we die, (but) you know a man can’t have any more than this. The earth, this sea, a beach, food, companionship. This is all any man can get.” — Farrar Burn

Farrar and his wife June Burns actually homesteaded a San Juan Island and she wrote a classic book to tell about her families adventures which is a classic. They tell about Sentinel, Spieden, Johns, and Waldron in “Living High,” an autobiography which has maintained its popularity throughout the years. If you are an escapist like me, you may find this the perfect book to read when the winter weather comes.

Luckily, today’s outer island residents have more at their disposal, but they also have many things in common with the earlier pioneers. Even on a small, ferry served island like Shaw (population around 250), you will find a strong sense of community and people helping each other. Do not assume that the outer islanders ever want power or ferry service. They do not think of living on an outer island as purchasing a parcel that will one day have these things. Many of them would fight tooth and nail the idea of a bridge, a ferry, or electricity. Homes on the outer islands do have fewer customers and this creates prices that are less than the ferry served islands. Does this sort of living appeal to you? Today there are homes on these outer islands for sale for less than $350,000. Some of them are completely furnished. Do not hesitate to call our office to learn more.

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