I leave home in a hurry to try to get to Deception Pass the first day on my mini vacation. Unfortunately, I have so much stuff to pack and get ready
that I won’t make it in time for the ebb. For one thing, I have to stop at my favorite little kayak shop in Seattle on Lake Union to fill a few holes in my gear inventory: a Gerber knife (to replace the one that’s hopelessly rusted out), a bilge sponge (since Moonlight Dancer is still so leaky), and a Northwater tow belt. Why do I need a tow belt when I’m paddling alone? Because Shawna and Leon say don’t leave home without one! Leon helped design the belt so I highly recommend it. It has an excellent quick release mechanism with an easy to grab fluorescent ball, and you can restuff the line in 20 seconds. I also stop at West Marine to pick up some 1/8th in foam gasket material. I do a last minute fix to Moonlight Dancer’s hatches while at my campsite at Anacortes: scraping off the old malpositioned gaskets and applying new ones by the light of the fire.
After consulting the tidal current tables and listening to the marine forecast, I decide on a route at the last minute: north from Washington Park in Anacortes to Pelican Beach on Cypress Island, then on to Doe Bay on Orcas Island. I had never been to Pelican Beach before. It’s a popular kayaking destination with campsites on the beach. The hike up to Eagle Cliff nearby is supposed to have a fantastic view of the islands to the west. Unfortunately, when I arrive at Pelican Beach it’s hopeless to attempt the hike – you can’t see anything. It’s raining and the islands are shrouded in mist. I eat a cold lunch sitting on the beach in the rain. I see another kayaker putting up a tarp at his campsite. When he is done he invites me over. I take the opportunity to put on another layer of fleece under my drysuit. There is no way I am going to camp here though – I have nothing to prove by camping out in this weather. The mist and rain make it all the more important for me to reach Doe Bay and check into a dry cabin. Otherwise I’ll just spend the rest of the day huddled in my sleeping bag listening to the rain fall on my tent.
I look across Rosario Strait and can barely make out the outline of Orcas Island 4 nm away in the mist. I can see far enough to know if any big oil tankers are coming through the shipping channel, so I figure it will be safe if I just set a course and go for it. The rain is relentless. A few porpoises pop up along the way. The flood current carries me a little too far north so I paddle back along the shore to get to the resort. I park the kayak on the beach and walk into the main office still in my drysuit, dripping wet. A kid is watching The Grinch on a portable DVD player. They have free internet in the lobby. What a relief to be dry and warm! Simple pleasures.
I get a bed in the hostel for $20. It has heat, electricity, a little kitchen with a toaster and microwave oven, and clean bathrooms. That's as much as I paid for my campsite in Anacortes -- $16 plus $4 for firewood. It has got to be the best deal in the San Juans! I dump all my gear on the floor to dry by my bed, and get changed. I turn up the heat and fall asleep lying on the sofa in the common room.
It turns out that they are having an open house that day – free use of the sauna and hot tubs for the community and hors doeuvres in the café. The resort has undergone some renovations, fresh sage green paint on all the buildings and a complete remodeling of the famous “clothing-optional” hot tubs. For 4 months the hot tubs have been closed for the project. Despite the management offering big discounts on cabins and campsites during that time people stopped coming to Doe Bay. It is simply not the same without the hot tubs.
I wake in time for dinner. The café is busy. I get a seat at the bar and order the angel hair pasta pomodoro with a house salad and a cabernet-merlot. Excellent.
In the morning one of my two roommates, Lucy, says she would like to see my kayak. She helps me carry my gear to the beach. She’s from Holland and has been traveling around the San Juans on a bicycle. Europeans are such adventurous travelers! She says last September when she was at Doe Bay she made a spectacle by swimming at the beach naked and everyone came out to see her. Her next stop is Port Townsend where she’ll stay with some friends. She sees me off. The rain is gone but it’s still misty, so on the paddle back to Anacortes there is not much to see, just the mist, green water, and rocky cliffs covered with purple starfish.
How did Moonlight Dancer do on her first big trip out? First of all, my legs get numb and my butt gets sore, so I have to replace the seat with something more comfortable. She’s feels good in chaotic water and following seas. And she feels fast. It's difficult to know how fast without a GPS. You also have to factor in the currents which are significant. In fact sometimes I feel like touring in the San Juans is like traveling according to a bus schedule and trying to make the right connections, always in a hurry and pushing to get somewhere right at slack, or to take advantage of a strong current. It’s not always very relaxing, really.