Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - McNeil Island Circumnavigation

This was a really nice gentle class III on a mild day with lots of wildlife activity. An eagle's aerial display made it special. Photo credit: Will Wade

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • TIDES: STEILACOOM:13.93 @1131 /4.98@1842

    CURRENTS: BALCH PASSAGE: +1.261@0703 / S@1104/-1.58@1241 PITT PASSAGE: +0.9@0654 / S@1001 / -1.0@1254, GIBSON PT: +2.2@0853 / S@1152 / -1.2@1508, NARROWS SOUTH: +3.8@0814, S@1128.




Except for one no show everybody arrived on time at the Steilacoom boat launch next to the ferry dock.  We parked in the upper lot that is now $8 but takes credit cards. Very nice and clean full bathroom in the ferry ticket office. We launched approx 0915 after a brief huddle. The channel was quiet and calm and we immediately saw porpoises popping in and out of the water straight ahead.  They moved on as we approached the north east corner of the island and continued on to Gertrude Island.  There was a brief equipment adjustment and bio break where we were silently watched by numerous seals before heading on up the quiet and pretty shoreline. With the limited activity on and around the island concentrated at the prison and its dock the mostly untouched shoreline  of McNeil gives a beautiful picture of what many of the islands of the Salish Sea once looked like. (Other good examples are Blake and Squaxin.) A sea lion appeared several times close by to our left, snorting and chuffing, going the same pace as we did and seemed to stare at us as much as we stared back. We rode the back eddy around the corner into Pitt Passage and headed towards tiny and off limits Pitt Island.  The current was stronger on the west side but we had no trouble gliding along past the private beach signs to find a nice spot under a huge tree that we threaded through the branches of to find logs underneath to park both our boats and ourselves to eat our lunch at noon. Maya’s sharp eyes spotted a woodpecker in a nearby tree and it was later briefly replaced by another. After a pleasant hour we packed up and headed across the quiet channel, around the corner and down the beautiful and empty sandy shoreline to arrive at Eagle Island an hour later.  The view was lovely with all but the top of Mt. Ranier beautifully reflecting the pale afternoon light across from us.  A few seals peeped as we took a brief break.  I found some cute little mink tracks along the water line but we didn’t get to see it. After approx 15 minutes we opted to make a straight line back to the Steilacoom rather than going closer along the shore in front of the prison.  It was a good call because as we reached the east end of Balch Passage directly ahead of us we saw a hunting eagle’s silhouette highlighted against the mountain as we approached.  Normally we see eagles sitting in trees or flying along with the occasional flap so this was a treat to watch its beautiful acrobatic moves as it banked and turned, stooping within inches of the water surface to abruptly turn with vigorous flaps of its wings to climb back up to a height and patiently start the cycle again and again.  Intent on its prey, it paid no attention as we paused to watch it.  Since it was still unsuccessful by the time we passed by we don’t know what it was after but it was quite a show.  The Anderson Island ferry passed close by us with shouting and waving passengers as we made our way across the quiet channel.  Dave and I spied what turned out to be a rather disgusting stained and wormy piece of styrofoam floating along.  We used my short deck tow line to wrap around it but after Dave started to tow it he found it was heavier than expected.  I then hooked up an in line tow to him which just slowed the both of us down so instead we balanced it on his back deck.  He looked like he was carrying a bizarre microwave. It fell off once and I put it back and we continued on to go underneath the ferry dock and find the water level just a little lower than when we left it under the rail road trestle about 1530.  Good teamwork was applied to get the boats up and I tossed an old rusted can of beer and the styrofoam in the handy dumpster next to the boat launch.  Once loaded up and changed we had a brief post paddle  huddle that yielded plenty of thanks and no complaints. My additional thanks to back up leaders Dave and Robin.  Maya, Will, Dave and I opted to go have some fries and a drink at the nearby pub afterwards.  This was a really nice gentle class III in good company on a mild day with lots of wildlife activity.  All paddlers performed well with excellent group dynamics.