An epic sea kayaking adventure down the west coast of Canada.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Trip Log Part 7: San Juan Islands and Puget Sound

Day 32 – Portland Island to James Island
Date: July 27
Distance: 32 nautical miles
Duration:   13  hours including a 5 hour stop at Roche Harbor
Actual conditions:

We stopped at Rum Island and then crossed Haro Strait and entered Roche Harbor at 9:30 am.  We tied up at the customs dock with all the enormous expensive boats.  We received passes saying that we had checked in to the USA.  We then paddled in and tied off close to the ramp.  We looked for charts for the Puget Sound, since we had decided to keep paddling down to Olympia, but didn’t find any.  We did buy Captain Jack’s tide/current book for the area.  We shopped for groceries to restock on a few things.  We took showers, did a load of laundry, bought lunch, filled up our water containers and repacked our boats that were tied off to the dock.  We left Roche Harbor at 3:30 pm and paddled across the San Juans to James Island in Rosario Strait .  We actually had currents with us and a gentle wind at our backs.  We paddled into beautiful evening light. We saw Rinocerous Aucklets coming up with 4+ fish in their bills.  The Spencer Spit Camp was busy with dozens of boats and people so we continued on to James Island.  This is the first Cascade Marine Trial camp that we have used.

A seal followed us in Haro Strait

Our kayaks at the dock in Roche Harbor

Parched grass on Spieden Island. It must have been sunny here!

Jonathan waits for a ferry near Lopez Island

Day 33 – James Island to Camano Island State Park
Date: July 28
Distance: 42 nautical miles
Duration:   12 ½   hours with two brief stops of only a couple minutes each
Actual conditions: Tide race in Rosario Strait at max ebb, calm early then 25 knot west winds

We started the day going through a tide race while crossing Rosario Strait at max ebb to take advantage of the current. Even though the wind was light, there was some residual energy in the sea from the previous day's gales through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  There were breaking waves and strong currents boiling around over a large area.  We navigated through fog and went through Deception Pass-Canoe Pass at the beginning of the flood.  We had good current assist going South past Hope Island and along the north east side of Whidbey Island.  Soon the wind picked up as gale force westerlies developed in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and pushed in over Whidbey Island. We crossed to Camano Island with a strong cross wind and white caps. Because of the conditions we decided to try to paddle the east side of Camano Island. Unfortunately, without a proper chart (we ran off our charts at Hope Island) we did not realize that there is not enough water to do so at the stage of tide we were at.  The small sketch of a map we had was totally inadequate, but we had been unable to find a place to buy charts. So we paddled toward the east side until we discovered that we were going to run out of water and could be trapped in a giant mud flat if the tide went out.  We had to turn back and paddle several miles directly into the strong wind in order to round Camano Island to the west. By the time we got out of the shallows  we were fighting a strong tide as well as the wind. We fought wind and tide most of the way to camp.  Jenny was exhausted and we searched for a place to get off the water, but the shore of Camano Island was a continuous barrier of private beach, private tidelands, no-tresspassing signs for miles and miles. We spend several exhausting hours in strong winds and rough seas with nowhere to land legally. We were disgusted.  Who are these people? We had to land on a private beach and phone Kirti to ask her to look for a place where we could land legally and camp. She pointed us to Camano Island State Park which was still almost 12 miles away. We eventually made it there, landed and had lunch at 5:00pm.   It was a long hard day, but the Cascade Marine Trail camp ended up being really nice. What a wonderful concept that is! No pictures were taken today.

Day 34 – Camano Island to Bain Bridge Island State Park
Date: July 29
Distance: 35 nautical miles
Duration:   10  hours with three stops including lunch
Actual conditions: North wind around 15 knots

We had wind at our back and current with us for most of the day.  We did 16 miles with an ebb current to Possession Point where we stopped for lunch.  We then timed it so that we could ride the flood down to camp.  The crossing after Possession Point was a long one and it was a very busy area for shipping traffic.  After landing at camp two fellow kayakers arrived at the same spot.  Mary and Steve had been out for a daytrip.  They brought us a cold beverage and then spent time chatting about kayaking - really nice folks!  This is a Cascade Marine Trail camp. It doesn't have any privacy like the others, but it was great to arrive late in the day on a Saturday and have a camp spot close to the beach when all the other sites were taken.

Mount Rainier from Bainbridge Island State Park

The Cascade Marine Trail site at Bainbridge Island State Park

A kayakers-only campsite! 

Day 35 – Bain Bridge Island to Tacoma Narrows Bridge
Date: July 30
Distance: 32 nautical miles
Duration:   8 ½   hours with one lunch stop
Actual conditions: Gentle tailwind, tidal currents mostly against us

We had a leisurely breakfast and packing waiting for the ebb to weaken.  The sun was shining.  Mary and Steve came over to chat a bit and inquire about our packing and gear.  They were very nice people.  They took pictures of us and sent us on our way.  We planned to eddy hop until the current changed.  We stopped at Blake Island State Park/Tillicum Village to have lunch and look around at the totems, salmon bake, gift shop, etc.  After Blake Island we got to the narrow channel west of Vashon Island only to find out that it was not flowing the way we expected.  I have later discovered that it flows perpetually north. So we didn't get the push we had expected from a flooding tide. Instead, we resorted to our, by now well practiced, eddy hopping and made good progress.  At the end of Vashon Island we crossed over and found a current running into the narrows but it was pouring in across the direction we wanted to go and then a stiff head wind picked up and whitecaps developed.  The waters around Gig Harbor became infested with crazed people in loud fast water vessels intent on making as much noise and commotion as possible. I think the goal was to burn as much gasoline as they could while being as obnoxious as possible. Yep, we were definitely back in the USA! Near the bridge the currents turned against us and Tacoma Narrows started ebbing an hour and a half early (at least according to Capt. Jack's).  We had to claw our way along shore the last mile to camp. Camp was a day use state park except for the Cascade Marine Trial camp, so when the park closed at dusk we had it all to ourselves.  We had a nice dinner and a quiet night except for the frequent train whistles.

Preparing to leave Bainbridge Island




Jenny passing Seattle

Mt Rainier was spectacular hovering literally miles above its highest foothills

Longhouse at Tillicum Village on Blake Island

Totem on Blake Island

Mt Rainier towering above Tacoma

The Cascade Marine Trail camp site at Tacoma Narrows Park

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Day 36 – Tacoma Narrows to Boston Harbor, Olympia
Date: July 31
Distance: 19 nautical miles
Duration:   5   hours
Actual conditions: West wind at 10 knots, sunny

We had smooth conditions for much of the last day of paddling and the sun was shining as well.  We saw lots of kayaks right around Boston Harbor, more in fact than on the entire rest of the trip combined.  Kirti pulled up in the car just as we arrived to land.  What perfect timing!  The adventurers are together again and the mission is complete.

Crippled (not really) at the end of the journey in Boston Harbor

Our only navigation aid for the last 150 miles! Don't try this at home!

Not a single blister or callus after almost 1000 miles of paddling
These hands don't look like they paddled from Alaska either

Trip Log Part 6: Strait of Georgia and Gulf Islands

Day 27– Copeland Islands to Favada Point on Texada Island
Date: July 22
Distance: 24 nautical miles
Duration:  6 ½ hours paddling without a land stop
Actual conditions: current against, light wind against
It was uphill all the way today.  We started off with current against us and a light wind against us as well.  We eddy hopped up to the point just North of Powell River.  We passed a lot of nice houses. We crossed to Harwood Island and then on to Blubber Bay on Texada Island.  On the crossing we passed a sailboat that we were racing yesterday.  They even threw up a second sail but we were too fast for them.  Again nice views of mountain peaks on Vancouver Island.  The South Easterly wind got stronger to about 15 knots by the time we reached the West coast of Texada. We had sun all day. The last couple of miles were tough because of the wind.  We passed several seals hauled out on rocks and looking South from camp we could see a rock piled high with seals.

Hooded Ladies' Tresses

Leaving the Copeland Islands

Jenny with the peaks of Vancouver Island in the background

A pretty sail boat we spotted from camp

Our kitchen at our camp north of Favada Point

Beam me up!

Day 28 – Favada Point on Texada to South Texada Island
Date: July 23
Distance: 32 nautical miles
Duration:  11 ½  hours paddling with a stop to get water
Actual conditions:

While packing up in the morning we heard the sound of whales spouting very close.  Their exhalations were quite loud and they came right past our rocky point of land.  Orcas!  A large pod of about 10 or so were cruising the coastline hunting seals.  I waited for the orcas to surface again but they didn’t immediately.  A large male and a young one crossed the bay surfacing regularly farther out.  The ones that had gone under stayed under all the way across the bay to the rock that had been covered with seals.  The orcas came up and the seals all tried to dive into the water.  There was chaos around the rock.  Several orcas circled around.  When it looked like they had left a couple orcas circled back around again underwater.  Later as we paddled South along the coastline we could see that the hunting orcas had traumatized the seals.  All of the seals we saw that day behaved very strangely.  Several found little shallow narrow slots to hide in underwater as we went by.  Several didn’t go into the water at all, even if we paddled really close.  We also saw a lot of eagles and some turkey vultures along the way.  We figured they were eating the left-overs from the seal kills.  Later we could see a pod of orcas near mid channel swimming and leaping powerfully toward the horizon.  We stopped at Gillis Bay to get a refill on our water.  Jenny picked up a few things from the store and was able to fill up the water containers at a house near the beach access path.  We paddled on and crossed over to Jedediah Island and found it to be very crowded with sailboats and motorboats all moaring in clusters.  Every camp area was occupied.  We circumnavigated the whole island without finding a camp so we crossed back over to Texada to a nice pebble beach.  

Orcas hunting seals early in the morning

A male orca off shore

One of many traumatized seals we saw that day

Jenny on the West coast of Texada Island

Eddy hopping down the west side of Texada Island

Day 29–South Texada to South Ballenas Island
Date: July 24
Distance: 11 nautical miles
Duration:  2 ½  hours paddling with a stop to get water
Actual conditions:

We were up at 6:00 am and the mosquitoes were thick hanging out in our vestibule buzzing for blood.  We crossed from Texada to Jedediah to Lasqueti.  We then struck out to cross the Straight of Georgia.   We averaged over 4 knots for the 6 mile crossing.  We had stunning views in all directions. It was a really spectacular crossing. People in motor boats were already camped in the main cove at South Ballenas Island.  We found a place to the North of the cove with a small pebble beach and space for a tent barely above the high tide line.  There were lots of mossies so we hung out on the rocky headland to let the wind blow the mossies away.  There is an eagle nest with a young eagle in the tall tree behind our tent.  We took time to rest and in the evening we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

Jenny crossing the Strait of Georgia

Jenny crossing the Strait of Georgia

Jenny completing the crossing to the lighthouse on North Ballenas Island

Looking back across the Strait to the coast range mountains on the mainland

A beautiful old fishing boat converted to haul kayaks

Looking toward the mainland from South Ballenas Island

Jenny with Vancouver Island mountains in the background

Our camp on the beach


Jonathan hiking south

Looking west late in the day

One of many beautiful sunset shots we got this evening

Jonathan playing a tune

Day 30–South Ballenas Island to Flat Top Island
Date: July 25
Distance: 25 nautical miles
Duration:   8  hours paddling with 2 stops
Actual conditions:  NE wind 15 knots in the morning, then SE wind 20-25 knots in the afternoon

Woke up to mosquitoes in the tent!  Several got us.  A tough day for Jenny. She was bleeding before she woke up and it just got tougher after that! We stopped at Neck Point.  We had a nice North wind leaving Ballinas and then it swung around and became an East wind.  We had a nice push behind when crossing Nanaimo shipping lanes that were busy with ferries leaving.   We had sprint repeats from rocky outcropping to rocky outcropping.  We averaged 6 knots on the crossing, aided by some surfs in our sprint.  We also saw a lot of military boats and airplanes that looked like they were doing some torpedo testing.  Right after the Nanaimo Bay crossing the wind changed to a fierce South Easterly and gradually increased in strength.  It became very choppy with the current against us as well.  It was tough going around headlands. Around the top of Gabriola Island near Entrance Island there was a significant tidal race running. A big power boat came through just as Jenny was in it and she had some waves breaking above head height. We were paddling without drytops and the waves crashed over Jenny’s shoulders soaking her down to the toes inside her bibs.  We stopped for lunch and looked for petroglyphs but didn’t find much.  After leaving lunch we paddled against a strong SE wind, chop and opposing currents all the way down the outside of Gabriola Island.  It was a tough day with a high "grunt factor".  The camp was a beautiful little island with very cool rock formations worn away.  There was a great place for our tent on top with some trees and bushes to protect it from the wind.  We had sunshine and sheltered places to cook and hang out even though the wind was blasting.  

Up before dawn

Spectacular skies on the crossing to the Winchelsea Islands

Spectacular skies early in the morning

Looking toward Vancouver Island

Heading for Nanaimo with following seas early in the morning

On the east coast of Gabriola with Entrance Island in the background

Struggling up the coast of Gabriola

One of many spectacular rock formations on Flat Top Islet

Flat Top Islet with rough seas in the background

A rock formation on Flat Top Islet

You've got to be strong to complete a journey like we just did!

Looking to the mainland from Flat Top Islet

Built in furniture at Flat Top

Our kayaks and camp at Flat Top

Notice our bibs flying in the wind!

A lovely tent spot

Enjoying the evening light at Flat Top


Never let your guard down!

Day 31–Flat Top Island to Portland Island
Date: July 26
Distance: 32 nautical miles
Duration:   9 ½  hours paddling with a half hour  lunch stop
Actual conditions: Cross winds and a strong current against us most of the day

This was another day that started out against the current and wind all the way to Nose Point.  Even the eddies weren’t cooperating today.  It was a long slog!  We passed a camp on Salt Springs and it was packed.  We paddled on hoping for a site on Portland Island and ended up having the place to ourselves.  Because of the busy ferry lanes going to Sidney we had a sprint finish crossing over.  We set up as the sun was going down.  It was a beautiful spot, but cool, wet and threatening to rain.  Nothing dried out.  We hung our paddling gear and clothes under our shelter for the night. It was a long hard paddle against the elements all day and it ended up being the only day of the trip where we didn't take any pictures.