Screen Shot 2021-12-15 at 9.47.11 AM.png

Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - Burrows & Allan Islands

A great day paddling around Burrows and Allan islands in variable winter conditions

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Windy with 2-3ft waves just after launch.  Then less wind, sunny, and 1ft waves.  Then hail and SW winds.  But conditions on your trip will probably be completely different. 

Last Saturday a group of Sea Kayak leaders paddled around Burrows and Allen islands, which are just south of Anacortes.  The intention for this trip was to give Seattle Sea Kayak trip leaders an opportunity to paddle with each other.  Ultimately, we had a few leaders from other branches as well, but we were all leaders and all experienced paddlers.

Because the experience level was high, I was not concerned that the forecast called for 30kt winds.  That was within the conditions I specified for the trip and I knew the waters well enough to start in protected waters and then venture out into rougher condition.  By the day of our trip, forecast was calling for lower winds.  Possibly quite low around mid-day and then building again later.  So, we got some practice paddling in rough conditions and then enjoyed beautiful sunny mid-day with moderate waves to provide some interest around the rocks.  The day ended with dark overcast, hail, and a building wind pushing us back to our launch site.

Those up on the news will notice that this paddle was on the same day as the Deception Pass Dash race.  This year’s race made news because about 20 paddlers ended up in the water and the coast guard rescued some of them.  I’ve read a lot of reporting and opinions about this, most from non-kayakers who were not present.  Some criticized paddlers for going into rough conditions at all.  With out being there and talking to the decision makers it is hard to know what considerations they were balancing.  The DP Dash is a rough water race but that does not mean that every paddler has trained in the conditions that could come up.  We were 8 miles to the north and had a great day on the water.  But I don’t know how our conditions compare.  There can be quite a difference over just 8 miles.

There are a lot of reasons to go out in rough conditions.  Paddle enough, especially remote expeditions, and we are going to encounter rough conditions eventually.  Better to have trained in them.  Plus, rough weather paddling is fun.  It is our double diamond ski run or 5.12 sport lead or Grade IV alpine climb. 

It is more about not going out in conditions you are not prepared for.  As the coast guard suggests, we must check forecasts.  But in a race, the people making the go - no-go decision may not - almost certainly do not - know the abilities of all the paddlers.  The paddlers should individually make their own go - no-go decision but I can see how it is easy to get caught up the group momentum.  “The race is on, let’s go…”

Do we have similar situations on mountaineer trips?  Certainly we do.  Leaders make go - no-go decision with imperfect knowledge of participant’s capabilities.  I rely on participants telling me when they are nearing their limit and I try to make it safe for people to do so.  This requires me to be willing to turn around.  But I’m often on the trip because there is an goal I wish to achieve so I already start with conflicting motivation.  I do my best but have messed up at times.  Nothing such that I had to get rescued but if that day comes, I hope the analysis will be kind.