Archive for the ‘San Juan Islands’ Category
Posted on May 25, 2012 - by Nadia
Friday, May 25, 2012
Bedwell Harbor, South Pender Is., British Columbia
I met a man of 10,000 stories and a generous impulse who fed me no less than eight eggs, eight sausages, three bagels and a bowl of clam chowder. Dennis Connor reminded me of one lesson the bull-headed Taurus in me sometimes forgets: If you don’t stop and listen you don’t get to hear the stories.
Dennis is a talker with a lot to talk about. His synopsis of events leading up to his final evacuation, on a stretcher, from Vietnam, was among the rawest account of the war I have ever heard. He said he spent the next 20 years “being mad at the world,” but it took him to Alaska as skipper of a crabbing boat, India as an engineer to install the nation’s first roller coaster and Africa, Zaire, I think, to install a major electrical transmission line. Lots of jobs that kept him away from his wife and kids but his stories of them were full of love. She died 20 years ago but he talked about her as though she’d just left. Somewhere in there is the explanation for why he loads up his custom-rigged inflatable Zodiak and takes to the San Juan Islands, living in deluxe camps for a couple of weeks here and there, taking gorgeous photos along the way, feeding strangers who pull up to the adjacent site, looking gaunt.
I left Anacortes on a windy Wednesday morning that forced me to turn a two mile crossing into four or five as I had gain some purchase on the wind in order to ferry across between three separate islands. After doing one three mile detour, I tried to shortcut another, thinking the wind at my back would counter the tidal current coming at me. That was not the case, or at least not enough, and I had to work hard to avoid being swept back into Rosario Straight and wherever the ebb tide would take me. Lesson: Shorter is often not easier and wind does not trump tide in a kayak. So I was pretty pooped when I reached my Strawberry Island (my third Strawberry Island of the trip.) I napped, ate, and watched the tidal currents collide into whirls and standing waves as I waited for the slack tide that would allow me to cross. Indian paintbrush, and lots of dainty pale pink bell flowers decorated the grassy bluff and made a perfect pillow even as a light rain fell. The mile or so crossing was uneventful and the obvious rip tide against my target shore gave me good lessons in how to find the calm in the nooks and crannies of the coast.
Odlin Park hosts one of the coolest Eagle Scout projects I have ever seen. A scout named Corwin Perren had installed a solar charging station capable of charging an iPhone or GPS using USB chord or auto charger. I didn’t have anything to charge, but if I had – in a week or two I will – I would have been singing Corwin’s praises, so I’ll sing them now.
Navigation became increasingly tricky as I jumped from Lopez to Shaw islands and into the chain known as the Wasp Islands. My maps lack much detail, many islands don’t appear at all, and my GPS is only marginally helpful in the San Juans. It will be more useful now that I’m in Canada as I have full topo maps loaded with my route.
An ebb tide slowed my progress and I hardly had time to wolf down the leftovers from last night’s quinoa and chili dinner before heading across Presidents Channel to Spieden Island. A sailor wandered by as I ate and warned me against counting on Spieden for much shelter from the currents. So many large passages come together at the series of long, skinny islands that they are filled with tidal rips and whirling currents. He suggested an alternative route, outside the stack of long skinny islands. So it was that after an hour of concerted crossing, passing through whirls and boils gentled by the slack tide, I reached the easternmost point of Johns Island just as the tides turned in earnest. I watched as a thin black line of water rose up and closed my route around the point with a line of standing waves and churning current. Cutting inside, I scared a half dozen young harbor seals into the water who appeared to be basking on the bank of a river. A river, because water poured over an invisible ledge, forming a waterfall, about two feet high, from the ocean to the ocean, creating an obvious stream that ran perpendicular to my path. I ferried across it, glad for every river I’ve ever boated. I continued river kayaking through a turbulent narrow and popped into a sea the color of an old Coke bottle and just as smooth. But I was done. The next two and a half hours were a crawl and I reached Prevost Harbor, Dennis and his smorgasbord, sore and tires, with a fresh batch of blisters to add to the ones I already had.
This morning, Dennis did me one more favor. By the time I was up and camp torn down, not only was breakfast on but he had this observation: A strong northwind was blowing straight into camp. As I needed to go due north to check into customs and continue on, I had two choices: stay put and gamble that the afternoon would improve for the 4.5 mile crossing of Boundary Passage, or let him ferry me across. We ate, the wind rose. We tied the kayak to the pontoon of his Zephyr and we crossed the steep chop of the channel. With every lunge and crash I thought my boat would fall apart. But it weathered it well.
So it is that I am now decamped in the sheltered bay of a nature preserve with a luxury hotel – Poet’s Cove — across the way. Fletcher and Kristy just arrived in a tiny skiff from Seattle and told me the hotel lets kayakers use the hot tub and showers for just $5. You bet I’m going to shower in the shirt I’ve paddled in every day. Plus, I can fill my dromedary with fresh water and maybe even charge my camera. Roughing it is getting easier all the time. But I know I can’t get used to that. Still, it’s nice to find a little prize mixed in with the peanuts and popcorn of life’s lessons.
I cannot quite figure out how to work blogging into a regular day of travel. I’m so tired after setting up camp, that I can barely make dinner and confirm the next day’s route. So, for now, my entries might be sporadic and a bit longer than I’d like. Nor have a figured out how to get photos of sea life, but I will.
Betsy, I have seen lots and lots of harbor seals. With their haunting black eyes, they clearly come from the distant past to speak for our ancestors. The harbor porpoises are our mothers. They watch, but keep their distance. We are old now. There are eagles everywhere, leading me along, sometimes reminding me to think twice, other times to redouble my efforts. The starfish are amazing. Mostly huge and purple. And I saw something attached to a rock that looked like a bright red, football-sized sow bug. My cursory critter identification card is no help. I’ll do a better job of describing the sights and sounds as my (if my, and oh, please let it,) adrenaline settles down and I can just paddle.
Thanks for reading.
Posted on May 22, 2012 - by Nadia
Day 3, Anacortes, Wash.,
In teams of six, women raced the impossibly slender native-style canoes around a course in Penn Cove. It was the annual Water Festival at Coupeville, Wash., and the activity felt auspicious. I love canoes and canoe racing and my heart soared to see these women, mostly coastal Native American and First Nation’s people, picking up a skill prized by their great grandparents. I would set out after my great grandmother from this very spot, the next morning.
The next day offered two lessons: Just because Costco sells oatmeal in 54-packet boxes does not mean it all has to make the journey. And always, always, close the tailgate and glass before moving the car. Thank you, Isuzu, for that craptastic design of your rear window. Thank you Michael and Mark for earning your shattered-glass scout badges without complaint. We crammed a substantial amount of oatmeal and other life essentials – two tents, mess kit, Jolly Ranchers – into the boat, held a hilarious photo shoot and waited for a tide that never came in.
Once launched, I warmed up on the relatively tame Penn Cove crossing, but the wind had risen as we had waited and the big leaps across Oak and Crescent Harbor were dotted with whitecaps. It was an excellent refresher on leaning into side waves. The boat handled absolutely great and when I rounded Strawberry Point in the lee of Comano Island the seas settled to glass and it was an easy cruise to Deception Pass State Park, where I camped for the night.
The tide seemed low when I pulled in, and it only got lower overnight. I don’t understand the tides at Deception Pass, but as my concern was the current there, I accepted my fate and loaded my boat across 50 yards of tidal mud, then dragged it using three wet logs in rotation the extra 10 yards into the water, which got further away every minute. Luckily, it was raining so the logs were nice and slick.
Deception Pass, at the north end of Whidbey Island, is a notorious tidal bottleneck. A huge body of water attempts to clear the narrow pass with each ebb tide, creating whirlpools and rapids that challenge even big power boats. Flood is just as bad. For kayaks, there is a 15-minute opportunity at slack tide to slip through the quarter-mile wide canyon. Slack was at 10:29, I had at most a 30-minute paddle to get to the harbor outside the pass and wait.
“Rocko! No!” The belated holler of Rocko’s owner announced the solution to my grizzly bait problem. I had had the brilliant notion that a two-foot long salami was the perfect sea faring food. This proved not to be the case. It had to be strapped to the back of the kayak and by the time I reached camp, the bungy had worn a groove in the meat. It was gross and wet and I hung it far from my tent. Now, Rocko had it in his teeth, solving the problem of how to get rid of a giant salami.
Introductions made, the owner of Rocko became invested in my launching. Her natural tendency being to walk the dog by letting him loose on the tidal flat while she stays in the car and smokes, she insisted that I not launch. It was windy and pushy, but I had looked and it calmed down around the corner 100 yards away. I was going. Then she insisted I had to be gone by 8:30 as the tide was shifting. That may have been, but I was concerned with current in the pass, not tide in the channel – though related, they are not, at this spot, strictly correlated. She stepped out of the car and screamed across the wind: IT IS 8:30 RIGHT NOW! YOU HAVE TO GO! Nevermind that she seemed to be one of those people who set their clocks 10 minutes fast, her intentions were good and certainly added a sense of urgency to my racing across the mud flats, dragging the boat over logs. I got launched and around the bend and all was calm. It was 8:45. I had over an hour to sit and watch big power boats idle as they, too, waited for the currents to ease so they could dash through Deception Pass.
Thanks to the wake of a tourist boat that blasted through the pass, I got to practice my rock gardening on the island at the mouth of the pass. I’m sorry to the barnacles that absorbed my frantic braces. Other than that and my racing heart, the actual paddle between the steep canyon walls was placid and beautiful.
On the other side, the wind was up and I thought about stopping for the night in several places but the presence of fighter jets screaming overhead from Whidbey AFB tipped the scale in the direction of moving on. By 2 p.m. or so, I was at Washington Park, a gorgeous boat ramp and campground about five miles shy of Anacortes.
I scrambled to set up both tents as it had rained all day but I landed in a lull. There had been small craft warnings since noon and the forecast called for the same with building winds the next day. I had come about 30 miles in my first two days and my elbow announced that was a bit hot of a start. I planned a layover day to let the weather pass and get my logistics in order.
I have not yet figured out how to eat on this trip. Or even how to protect my food. Yesterday, a raven knocked my peanut butter off a table, cracking its side, creating a mess. I bagged it, but to the nose of a midnight raider, that bag was a trifle. I awoke to raccoons fighting over my peanut butter outside the storage tent. So what there are no bears here. Three a.m. found me in my jammies in the rain, tossing a long line over a slim branch in the rain and hoisting two drybags worth of food out of critter reach at least. I’ll dial it in, but for now, I just finished a three egg hashbrowns, bacon, sausage, ham and pancake breakfast and am ready to blog.
As energy – both mine and the computer’s – is a concern, I won’t be posting as frequently as I did on the bike trip. I’ll add photos as I get the camera up and running (I forgot to bring it to town today.)
Thanks for following. As I get going, I’ll try to be more newsy and less me, but for now, every wrinkle has a new lesson I need to learn.
URL for seeing where I am at the end of each day: http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0r235Ba5xkaicrSzJ0TTEWSFVzrRIRc4A.