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Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - San Juan Islands from Anacortes

All paddlers performed to the best of their abilities with excellent group dynamics.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Days 1-5 - Light and variable breeze if any, sea calm to 0-1' WW,  Sunny, temps 60-70s, visability excellent.  Day 6:  SSE 5-15 kts, WW 1-3', partly sunny, temps 60s, visability good. 



TIDES/CURRENTS: GREEN PT: -2.5 @ 0436 / S @ 0932 / 1.5 @ 1132 , FAUNTLEROY PT LIGHT -2.3 @ 0547 / S @ 0924 / +1.1 @ 1129 / S @1445, THATCHER PASS: -1.9 @ 0557 / S @ 1025 / .7 @ 1353, HARNEY CHANNEL: S @ 0825 / 1.0 @ 1158, SHIP HARBOR TIDE: 1.0 @ 0813 / 5.4 @1512, SHAW ISLAND TIDE: 1.0 @ 0840 / 5.2 @ 1525


 SUN RISE/SET: 5:13 AM/ 9:11 PM

 Terry and I carpooled as did Barb and Evan. We reached the Washington Park boat launch on time at 0800 to find Barb and Evan (who carpooled from Bellevue) already unloading.  We had the boats ready and the cars parked by our huddle time at 0900 where I went over the usual items and named Terry the secondary leader.  We launched at 0915 and did a radio check after I loaned my spare radio to Evan. With no wind and a dying flood we headed straight for Thatcher Pass. We saw some porpoises about half an hour after clearing Green Pt.

 Nobody needed to stop at James so we went straight into Thatcher.  There was quite a bit of boat traffic including an intersection of east and west bound ferries.  We eventually took a bio and snack break in a canoe ladder beach on Decatur Island before continuing on.  Other than the almost constant boat wakes the water was calm and we made steady progress to Lopez Island.  We paused briefly for a snack break on the water before reaching Shaw Island. The day was definitely warming up and we were glad to find tiny Blind Island deserted.  We pulled up on the only beach available on the west side at the marine campsite and quickly unloaded.  We grabbed the larger campsite #2 on the right side of the path with its double picnic tables.  Each of us will pay for one night of camping and Barb volunteered for the first swing.  We ate lunch and set up our tents.  The whole campsite was slanted downhill in some places worse than others but hopefully nobody will be uncomfortable.  Eventually we spread out for walking around the island which doesn’t take very long.  There are some pretty flowers and some delicate looking tiny succulent like plants on the rocks that look like they are made of porcelain.  


TIDES/CURRENT: HARNEY CHANNEL: S @ 0904 / +1.1 @ 1250 , SPRING PASSAGE: S @ 0845 / .7 @ 1113 / S @ 1346, PRESIDENT CHANNEL: -2.1 @ 0732 / S @ 1118 / + 1.4 @ 1409


 I didn’t hear my alarm go off but got up around 8:20.  The tide had gone out and the canoe ladder only allowed one boat at a time so we used the slings to get the loaded boats in the slot.  We launched about 1015.

 It was a beautiful sunny day, not a cloud in the sky.  The breeze whispered from the north.  We saw seals on the nearby rocks so gave them room as we headed out.  We were looking for a pink flamingo that marked the house of Terry’s friend.  We saw it eventually plainly on a point by a nice house to the right of a cove.  I held his boat when he climbed out to go up the rocky embankment to the house but nobody was home.

 We continued on up the busy channel.  Boats were constantly going by and from all directions, one of them the Tillicum ferry that tooted at us. I was glad as we approached Yellow Island.  Barb had requested to visit there and the others agreed to go the extra mile to do so.  We pulled up on a good sized beach on the south side beside a couple of beat up kayaks that were soon launched.  I stayed with the boats while the others took about 15 minutes or so to go explore the buildings and flowers.  They returned without looking too excited.

 We pushed on, heading towards the SW tip of Orcas Island. We started looking for a likely beach somewhere on the Orcas shoreline and had to pass house after house before finally finding a spot that was doable without feeling like we were being watched.  We took about 45 minutes to eat sitting on the warm rocks.  We continued on finally getting clear of Jones Island on the left.  The flood was slowly building behind us but didn’t seem to be much help.

 We passed over some rip areas and got a little spread out but there were no problems.  I had us pause a few times; I was concerned about a paddler's "complaining muscles". We finally pulled up at Pt. Doughty about 1600.  There were 3 kayaks with a few people scattered around on the beach left of the 21 step metal staircase on the right side of the beach.  There are remnants of the old wooden one lying sideways along an embankment.  The campsite is immediately south of the impressive rocks that make up Pt. Doughty.  We started unloading and Barb kindly carried one of my bags up. We moved our boats once empty to pull them up on some logs in the middle of the small beach.  There are multiple campsites that are cool and shaded by numerous trees. The hills rise immediately to the side and behind the campsite that we chose closest to the rocks to the left of the staircase.

 This has to be the most dangerous campsite in the San Juans.  While it seems to get a good supply of visitors it is boat only with no road access.  I could see why when I went for a walk to find the paths to and around the cliffs that go straight down to the water in places with no hand or guard rails anywhere.  This is the only place I can think of that is like this so dramatically in the San Juans.  But the view of the islands all the way up into Canada is wonderful and there was a trio of visitors who didn’t leave until after sunset.  I bet that happens a lot in the summer.


TIDES/CURRENT: PRESIDENT CHANNEL: -2.2 @ 0807 /S @ 1157 / @ +1.7 @ 1450, PARKER REEF LIGHT: S@ 1200 / +1.4 @ 1542, MATIA ISLAND: S @ 1201 / +1.6 @ 1500


 It was nice to wake up at 9:00 and know I didn’t have to get up out of the tent until I felt like it.  I could see the sunshine dappling the leaf shadows on the tent.  The night was warmer than the previous one.  I got up and had oatmeal and walked up the hill to see the pretty scene. It was turning warm fast. The people who had also camped were packing up long before we did.  They had a Corgi with a bright orange puffy PFD on.  It was hilarious watching them picking it up by a handle in the middle of the PFD and carrying the dog like a suitcase with its legs hanging down.  It hung there like it was used to it. They were in a double with a guy in back with the dog.

 We were still sitting around when an elderly couple came up to use the bathroom followed soon by their guide KC from Outer Island Excursions. They have several locations on different islands.  People pay $79 each for a 3 hour  paddle from North Island to Pt Doughty and back on Orcas.  It doesn’t even include a lunch. They only go out in calm weather. 

 Eventually we got everything moved down the stairs, the boats and packed, into the sea to cool off and burp our suits and launch right on time at 1300.  We hugged the rugged and interesting shoreline until we reached the end of the rock faces and then began a ferry angle to Matia Island. I had looked at Barb’s current atlas earlier and the currents go all over the place off Orcas Island’s north shore. It also showed them doubling back south of Matia as I suspected.  We were launching just after slack off the ebb so I took a southerly heading and we started across.  There were times I wondered if we were making much progress but the red Parker Reef marker that was hard to see at first looked as big as house by the time we reached it.  The rocks were covered with seals. We moved at a respectable distance past them and I could see form my ranges were making steady progress.  But we still seemed to be getting pushed more north towards Sucia than I liked.  It took 1 hour and 45 minutes before we were getting into the little tide rips off the point of Matia Island and into the cove.  I was kind of stunned to see only 3 power boats at the dock and no kayaks anywhere on the shore.

 We unloaded the boats and soon had them pulled up on the logs.  Unfortunately the bottom step(s) of the little staircase off the beach to the campgrounds was missing.  I found a large chunk of wood on the beach which Barb heaved up and carried by herself over the logs. We propped it up with wood and rocks and had to use a careful staging process to get our bags up to the usual campsite to the right up the path.

 There are two tents by the pay station and we had our pick of the others and naturally grabbed the open large one.  I enjoyed our stay on Doughty except I got tired of living on a slant in a hurry.  It is nice to be in a more or less level spot again.


CURRENTS:  MATIA ISLAND: -2.8 @ 0821 / S @ 1300 / +1.9 @ 1552; CLARK ISLAND: -1.6 @ 0846 / S @ 1248


 I had finished packing my boat and was eating my cereal bar and fruit when Evan came to me with a blown neck gasket.  I had to unpack the front end of my boat to get the repair bag.  He had to get out of the drysuit but it didn’t take long to patch it with the Nashua tape, repack the boat and get going at 1015.

 Only our water gifters were left on the dock as we pulled out.  The gentleman told us that a SSE wind was due to start later in the day heralding the break down of our nice dry system and back to the usual cloudy crap in June.  We went around the west side of the little island at the front of the cove to do a quick partial circumnavigation of it before heading down the east side of Matia.  There were lots of seals pulled out here and there along the rocky shoreline all the way to and a little beyond Puffin Island.  The current began picking up a bit and I kept my bow pointed to the south end of Lummi until we were almost on top of Clark.  Once past it we turned right and headed up the rocky shoreline.  There were rocks appearing below the surface ahead of us and clutches of little guillemots skirted around them.  We went as quietly as we could so not to disturb them although some still flew off.

 There was one boat in the cove and some kids playing on the beach and a woman in a camp chair but no campers when we arrived on the beach at 1130. We are still marveling that with such beautiful weather we have had the campsites pretty much to ourselves.  This time we had all of Clark which is the first time I have seen that. We opted for a center campsite again with a tree handy for food hanging and bushes that provided some shade.  The ball bearing beach was very warm and got warmer as the afternoon went on.

 The tents eventually all got moved up to the more protected area along the trail as high clouds began moving overhead in the evening. Terry and I went for a walk on the long stretch of sand on the west side.  The hills in the narrow center of the island are covered with a lovely madrona forest. The weather has definitely turned with a couple claps of thunder east of us late in the day. 


CURRENTS: CLARK ISLAND: -1.6 @ 0912 / S @ 1325 / +2.2 @ 1725, LAWRENCE POINT: -1.9 @ 0922 / S @ 1314 / +2.9 @ 1656, BELLINGHAM CHANNEL: -4.2 @ 0838 / S @ 1256 / +4.1 @ 1645, GUEMAS CHANNEL: -3.7 @ 0831 / S @ 1224 / +2.3 @ 1537


 This paddle had to be abandoned just over midway back to Anacortes.

 I was awakened at 2:15 AM with the noise penetrating my earplugs.  I couldn’t tell if it was water or wind.  I got up then and another hour later to check on the water that wasn’t far from the boats safely pulled up and tethered on the logs. But the waves didn’t look that rambunctious.  I went back to dozing and got up in the dawn’s light at 4:15 to step out of the tent and see the trees moving.  I walked down to the south end of the island and the leaves were blowing across the trail and the bushes moving before I stepped out to the outside of the tree line to find the wind blowing around 15 knots.  I walked back to each of the tents to tell everybody to not bother getting up early to launch.

 I went back to sleep in my tent to be jerked awake at 7:08, this time by how quiet the island had become.  Back on with the shoes to walk back to the south end to find that the trees and bushes were quiet and only a gentle breeze was blowing.  I hurried back to wake the others who cooperated wonderfully and we were on the water only an hour late at 0830 in time to catch the max ebb down Bellingham Channel. I had checked the weather to find that the SSE wind was predicted to be a doable 13-16 knots.

 After a radio check we headed southeast with our bows pointed towards Vendovi Island to set a ferry angle that put us perpendicular to the oncoming waves and the headwind that began to rise about 15 minutes or so after we had launched.  The opposing wind and current intensified the series of tide rips that flow through this area.  Normally we would have headed more southerly to take advantage of the current’s flow but two of the paddlers were having problems in the conditions.  Sea kayaks actually are more stable moving at higher speeds through these types of conditions but that wasn’t possible. I had to call to Terry intermittently to slow down and do so myself as we needed to stay close enough together to keep all members in each paddler’s line of vision. In spite of the extra mileage I had us continue to go perpendicular to the oncoming waves to improve stability while the current kept moving us south.  We were well east of the western red marker where the tide rips are stronger just off of Sinclair Island.  We were a short distance from shore before we turned west and went on around the corner into the calmer waters between it and the north end of Cypress Island. 

 In spite of the fast 4.2 current it had taken us about 2 hours to go about six miles and if anything the wind could intensify as we moved south down Bellingham Channel. We had about 2 hours before slack in Guemas and then again we would have an opposing wind and current but this time could be dealing with following seas across Guemas Channel to get to Washington Park. Terry and I briefly discussed it before I had all of us raft up to discuss it.  Between the reports of boat handling difficulties and now sore shoulders I knew continuing on to even Cypress Head was no longer an option so we headed to Pelican Beach. I wasn’t sure if loaded kayaks could be managed in the shallow or rocky coves at Cypress Head but I’ve seen water taxis at Pelican Beach in the past and I needed to keep that option open. 

 We landed and went to first go check out the bathroom and campsites along the boardwalk in the grassy area above the rough beach.  There were two ladies with one tent and no boat and they told us that they had arrived by a water taxi.  The boat was due to pick them up at 4:00.  Just as we were having this conversation we could see an aluminum boat rapidly approaching our beach.  It stopped at the water’s edge to dislodge some kayaks and a few adults.  We went down to talk to the crewman who gave Barb the 360.299.2875 phone number for Island Express Charters operating out of Skyway Marina in Anacortes. The boat left but eventually we were able to connect with the office staff and it was a fast and unanimous decision to catch the 2:00 boat at $43 (credit cards accepted) each person one way.  Prices vary with destination and they even move freight--you can transport a mule for $125!

 After saying hello to a couple hundred caterpillars—they seem to be sticking to me everywhere on this trip--we bundled up and sat down in the  wind at a picnic table to eat some snacks and chat a bit.  The boat returned a little early at 1:30 and the two crewmen helped us to load our boats and secure the gear in a storage unit while we sat inside on the numerous seats.  Soon we were underway but the boat had a passenger to pick up in Strawberry Bay so we were treated to a ride around the top of Cypress Island and down the west side with lots to see out of the salt streaked windows.  The spray really flew high above the boat as we bounced along 20+ knots.  It didn’t take much longer to get across Guemas Channel and easily through the confused rips between Fidalgo Head and Burrows Island to finally arrive at the dock on the northwestern side of the marina

 Once again the crew helped to get the boats and gear off the boat on to the dock and even up the gangplank with Terry’s.  Evan and I made the 15 minute walk to go get our cars while Terry and Barb kindly finished unloading and moving the boats and gear to the staging area above the dock. 

 The wind was still blowing and the rain definitely spitting by the time we had the cars loaded and the boats tied down.  We changed in the handy bathroom and the decision was made to go to The Farmhouse Restaurant where we arrived just after 4:00.  Only it is now transitioning to an Irish bar type of place but the food was still good.  They even have kept the same friendly staff and we all shared a piece of chocolate pie!  We had a post trip discussion and some suggestions of alternate routes and scheduling were offered. All paddlers seemed satisfied with the adventure.  We said goodbye in the rain and then Terry and I headed for his house in Lake Forest Park to unload before I proceeded on to South Tacoma, arriving around 8:30. All paddlers performed to the best of their abilities with excellent group dynamics.