Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - San Juan Islands from Anacortes

This trip reminds me of why I started sea kayaking. I can’t think of a nicer crew to have done it with and I am reminded of how blessed we are with our beautiful San Juan Islands paddling playground! Photo: Will Wade

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • TIDES/CURRENTS: Friday Harbor tide: -0.33 @ 1114 / 7.51 @ 1839 / Currents:  Green Point: -2.79 @ 0801/ Rosario Strait: -3.39@0941/ Colville Island: -3.48 @ 0920/ San Juan Channel South: -4.27 @ 0818 / S @ 1230 / +4.71 @ 1500 / Kings Pt: S @ 1244 / +2.65 @ 1433/ Pear Pt: S @ 1224 / +1.42 @ 1521. 



I haven’t done this paddle since 2018 and I have REALLY missed it!

Will G came to my house precisely on time at 0515 and we loaded my boat and gear and took off in his talking Tesla about 15 minutes later.  We had to make a brief stop to get a breakfast sandwich and a charge at the empty station in Northgate before continuing on to the Washington Park boat ramp around 0815. The smoke from recent fires in the North Cascades and neighboring states made the sunrise almost a blood orange and had me concerned about the air quality and visability but it didn’t get any worse all day.  


The others had already arrived and we quickly organized a shuttle. Six of us had carpooled in three cars so Will Wade  left his shuttle car at the ferry dock as the rest of us got ready.  We had our pre-trip huddle on time at 0900, launching about 15 minutes later.  After a radio check we took a slightly NW heading once clear of Green Point and headed across the calm water towards Bird Rocks.  Brian Stone made a call to Vessel Traffic (channel 5A in the San Juans) to advise them of our crossing. Besides an occasional porpoise we soon saw an approaching barge and tugboat. It took a few minutes to figure out which way we needed to go to avoid the tug which slowed us down a bit but we were able to slide in to the private cove at Watmough Head about 1030 for a quick bio and equipment check break. We had tried to make a courtesy call to VT but there was a lot of chatter about “Rosario” -- a missing boat and/or kayaker around Jack Island so we gave up on that.  After about 10 minutes or so we were back on the mostly quiet water gently slapping the multi colored rocks as we threaded through and past lots of seaweed between the rocks big and small past Pt Coville and the pretty beaches of McArdle, Hughes and Aleck Bays.  There were lots of seals big and small over the rocks and ledges and we did our best not to disturb them as we glided by against the dying current.  The ebb moves backwards (east) through this area but it was not a problem.  I counted four sea stars—two orange and two purple—where sadly there used to be dozens.  The mysterious ailment that wiped them out a few years ago seems to have disappeared but it is a slow comeback for them.


Nobody opted to stop for a break until we reached Iceberg Point for lunch about 1230.  We were the only ones there but soon were watching an otter on the hill above the water on the point on the left.  The screaming seagulls were just below them and at some point a whale appeared with a small dorsal fin.  Then a sailboat came around the corner and so we never got a chance to figure out what kind of whale it was. A couple of hikers had appeared on the hill to the right and it was a surprisingly short period of time when we saw them again in the same area that the otter had been.


Will G had taken over the paddle at this point and after about 45 minutes we got our helmets on, did a final zipper and hatch check and then were ready to continue on following Will Wade into the quiet water.  It didn’t stay that way very long though.  There wasn’t enough action yet to warrant going up between the Long and Charles Islands or head to the middle of the channel. After a very brief discussion the decision was made to head to Davis Point.  It wasn’t until we were approaching Mummy Rocks that we began encountering the chattering currents. It’s evident that it hasn’t rained in a long time; the rocks were covered with what looked like snow but certainly didn’t smell like it.  The seabirds continued to congregate in screaming groups as we went north. 


We paused at the rocks at Davis Point to do a bit of surfing and peel outs for some while others watched for a few minutes before all of us doing a final peel out to then follow Will G through the now churning water.  With little or none of the forecasted northerly breeze the conditions were about as gentle as you can get in the by then  3 knot  current.  Everybody did an impressive job of staying together in more or less single file as Will threaded us in and out of the chattering tide rips, frequently turning his boat and head to check that all was well.  I think he saw a lot of grinning faces as the conditions were well within the skill set of this experienced crew.  It didn’t seem very long before we were past Kings Point and the last of the boils. I felt very briefly a wam and slightly smoky gust of breeze just as we were coming into the smoother water out of the pass. Now it was just a fun and almost effortless paddle with about a six knot pace with the rising current while watching the jumping fish and porpoises along the way.  We reached Turn Island for our next break at about 1545.  A sketch book and old shoe were found but not packed out and after about 15 minutes we crossed the chattering eddy line and a disinterested deer to begin the slog around the corner and into Friday Harbor. We arrived at the kayak dock about 1615, too late to catch the 4:30 ferry.  Very good teamwork with lots of kind assistance was done to get all of us and our boats out of the water and wheeled up the steep ramps to the empty staging area to the grassy area left of the public bathrooms. There are picnic tables in a covered area where we could relax for a few minutes and make phone calls after changing our clothes and organizing our wet gear in the boats.  We then wheeled our boats along the busy street to the staging area at the ferry dock.  The next ferry wasn’t due to sail until 6:30 so it was a happily unanimous decision to go to Friday’s Crabhouse across the street.  We avoided the crowded top layer and as usual shuffled around some tables and chairs on the bottom level before walking into the kitchen area to order at the bar.  Service was slow but the food good and the meal for some wound up being the first course with additional burgers and fries ordered and shared.  After we ate some of us headed across the street to the walk up ice cream vendor (cash only) to get some really appreciated treats. 


The ferry was running late and the inner island 6:30 departed after 7:00 before our ferry pulled in.  I think we launched around 7:30 and the ferry was almost full with lots of kids running up and down.  I went to the back of the ferry to see the blood red sunset.  All day I kept feeling like it was going to rain under the hazy sky and the orange sun had turned what would have been glittering diamonds of light on the moving water into sparkling rubies instead!


It was dark when we arrived at Anacortes and the friendly and courteous ferry crew nicely had our kayaks go first before the stampede of about 20 bicycles and probably a hundred pedestrians.  We had to squiggle our boats through the fenced areas to reach the nice staging area in the corner of the parking lot.  Terry, Tom and I stayed with the boats while the others quickly performed the shuttle and it was only about 10 more minutes before we were all loaded up to go.  We had a short post trip huddle with lots of smiles, no complaints and thank yous exchanged.  Will and I headed out at 8:45 to stop for a longish wait at the now full Northgate station.  We hit considerable traffic getting through downtown Seattle, passing Brian along the way.  We arrived at my house in Tacoma about midnight where we quickly unloaded my stuff and Will was back on the road to his home in Winlock.


This trip reminds me of why I started sea kayaking.  I can’t think of a nicer crew to have done it with and I am reminded of how blessed we are with our beautiful San Juan Islands paddling playground!  All paddlers performed extremely well with exceptional group dynamics.