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March 2009
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May 2009

Big Flood Day


The current tables predicted another 7.0 knot flood current at Deception Pass for this weekend so I loaded up my Shooting Star baidarka on the car and drove up in the morning. I had never seen the water level at Bowman Bay so low before. It was actually a bit of a hike across the beach to get to the water. While paddling to the Pass I noticed a number of rocks along the shore had been uncovered where you normally would find tidal rips at higher tide.



When I made it to the Room of Doom I ran into Warren Williamson, National Greenland Kayaking Champion Maligiaq Padilla, Heather, Lucas, and Helen Wilson (in the blue helmet). Helen is an accomplished coastal paddler but hadn't played in tidal races before. She flew up from California for the weekend to get some experience in the Pass. If her name sounds familiar you may recall that she placed first in the woman's division in the rolling competition at the Greenland National Kayaking Championships in 2008.




I was quite pleased with my choice of kayak and gear for the day. The baidarka is faster than my skin-on-frame so paddling against the current was easier.  The round hull is also much smoother in rough water. I wore my tuilik over my drysuit which made for a more pleasant time rolling or just hanging out underwater (it keeps water out of my ears better than a surf hood). One disadvantage with wearing the tuilik is that my helmet doesn't fit over it. 


I had planned to bring my tow rope but forgot it. Wearing it just hasn't become a habit for me. I wanted to use it to tie my kayak to shore so I could leave it in the water at Canoe Pass while having lunch.  That way I would avoid having to drag it onto the barnacle-encrusted rocks. Fortunately, I was able to improvise by removing one end of my perimeter grab line and tying it to a rock. I used my PFD as a fender.


Later Helen and I tried to slog through Canoe Pass to head back to Bowman Bay but the current was still too strong. Maligiaq, Heather and Lucas has already gone back by way of a portage. Since they were in lightweight skin boats it was easy. Instead we tied a rope to our kayaks and pulled them upstream while scrambling along the shore. Warren happened to have a rope in his day hatch, but it was another situation where a real tow rope could have come in handy.




Afterwards we stopped by at the Skin Boat School and checked out one of the kayaks Maligiaq has been working on. Funny thing: Greenlanders build them just like we do! The the deck beams and gunwales are joined using square bamboo pegs (actually chopsticks). I noticed he used a little Gorilla Glue to hold the breasthooks in place.


Check it out: years of playing the Pass have seriously chewed up the stern of Warren's Anas Acuta! He said the tip of it actually broke off completely once. Fast-cure epoxy can fix anything!


Here's a pic of the gang after a dinner and a few beers at the Rock Fish Grill and Brewery in Anacortes -- a great way to end to another great day of paddling!

Lunch at Doe Bay

Cypress Island

Sunday I put in at Washington Park in Anacrotes and headed up to the Doe Bay Resort. This is a paddle I had planned to do for a long time as a day trip but had to wait until conditions were right. I wanted to get there in time to have lunch at the cafe. Fortunately, the water was flat calm. It was one of those days where you could have paddled forever in any direction. Except it was probably wiser to go along the direction of the weak flood current.


At Strawberry Island I met a group of women paddlers. They were up from Seattle and had been camping over the weekend. They had lined their kayaks up at the beach and were loading up for a trip to Pelican Beach on the northeastern tip of Cypress Island. Before they left they handed me a camera and asked me if I could take their group picture for them.

I watched the group leave before heading out again across Rosario Strait. I wasn't carrying a chart or compass with me (not very wise, I know) so I just pointed my bow at a peak on Orcas and then adjusted my course as I was able to recognize the buildings of the Doe Bay Resort. 

I continue to learn my lesson regarding electronics: my GPS was unusable for at least an hour after I turned it on. For the first few miles it kept trying to find satellite reception. Could it have something to do with me changing the batteries that morning? And my Greatland rescue laser flare stopped working too! I tried fresh batteries, with no luck. Electronics are bound to fail at the moment you need them the most. There -- I said it! Now I keep my GPS and Spot in dry electronics cases with a packet of silica gel. At least my iPod still worked (a good playlist is the secret to all day paddling!) 


Even though it was afternoon the cafe was still serving breakfast. They said they had a busy Saturday and apparently ran out of lunch. I ordered the curried tofu scramble with locally-grown organic veggies and a glass of organic orange juice. It came with local potatoes and homemade bread. I also ordered a locally-brewed chai with soy milk, which I sipped leisurely. They gave it to me gratis since they were a little slow with the bread. I was still wearing my drysuit on my bottom half with the sleeves tied around my waist. My booties leaked and left a little puddle under the table. Sorry about the mess, guys! 



Saratoga Passage

Saratoga Passage

Has anyone out there seen the Gray Whales in Saratoga a Passage this time of year? I paddled from Camano Island State Park southeast to Camano Head, across to Whidbey Island and then northwest to hoping to find some. I understand that Gray Whales migrate 10,000-12,000 miles from their calving lagoons in Baja, Mexico to the cold arctic seas and along the way some of them stop in Puget Sound and are known to frequent Saratoga Passage where they feed on ghost shrimp and tube worms. April through May is supposed to be a good time to see them but I've had no luck. That was a couple weekends ago, so they may be there now. I went at low tide and the Whidbey Island side of the passage was shallow, so I got a great view of all the crab hiding in the eelgrass beds. 

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Sea Kayaking in Bowman Bay and Beyond


I ran into National Greenland Kayaking Champion Maligiaq and Warren Williamson at Bowman Bay on Friday. The other paddler in the upside baidarka is Cullen who has been working with Corey Freedman at the Skinboat School.

Maligiaq is in the area working 17 hours a day building kayaks at the school, but also has been able to take some time to play around in the Pass. That afternoon they were at the Room of Doom in a 7.0 knot flood. Warren says it took him 7 years to figure out how to deal with this place, but it took Maligiaq "about 7 minutes." He was doing under-the-hull-sculling rolls in the middle of giant whirlpools.

Tom Sharp and Corey had staked out positions with HD cameras on the shore and on the bridge. The idea was to take pictures of Warren and Maligiaq in traditional skinboats. Hopefully we'll get to see the video of that soon!


I was hoping to join them but arrived late. Instead I paddled alone around Deception Island, into the Pass where I played around a little, then back to Deception Island, then north along the shore from Bowman Bay. You can find a number of sea caves just north of Bowman Bay. It's made up of tall cliffs and tiny pocket beaches -- one of the most scenic stretches of shoreline around in my opinion. With almost no kelp along there at this time of year, you enjoy an unobstructed path right along the rocks and feel more of the surge action.

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Just one more pic of Warren Williamson getting sucked into a whirlpool at the "Room of Doom"!


Sea Kayaking in Crescent Bay and the Salt Creek Recreation Area


Just some final pictures from Crescent Bay. After the tide went out later in the afternoon and the surf died down, Kayak Academy's George Gronseth led us on a trip east along the shore of the Salt Creek Recreation Area.  With a number of sea caves and arches, it’s probably one of the prettiest stretches along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It's also home to some of the most exceptional tidepools in the Northwest. A touch of surge made for some fun rock garden paddling. I wasn’t too worried about sharp barnacles putting a hole in my skin boat, although after looking at some of the scratches on the hull afterwards maybe I should have been.

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There were still some waves in Crescent Bay when we returned -- small but big enough to catch one last ride. From there we thanked George for a very enjoyable and instructive weekend and parted company. On the way home I stopped for dinner at the Port Townsend Public House. Can you see why I like this place? 


Ocean Surf Class with Kayak Academy: Part 2

Forks Coffee Shop. Looks like something right out of "Twin Peaks".
Forks Coffee Shop. Looks like something right out of "Twin Peaks".

Rain and winds up to 35 knots were forecast for the central Washington Coast for our second day of surf class. George Gronseth decided that instead of staying at Pacific Beach we should drive to Crescent Bay on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was a bit of a gamble because it meant that after leaving at 6:30 AM and driving two and a half hours to get there we might not find any waves at all. It wasn’t a mere guess though. George has a rule of thumb for determining whether there is going to be surf there: the swell in the coastal waters around Cape Flattery should be between 9 and 18 feet in a west to northwest direction, and the water level at Crescent Bay should be at least 5 ft, the higher the better.

Halfway to Crescent Bay we stopped for breakfast at the Forks Coffee Shop. Forks is a little logging town out in the far corner of the state recently made famous by the Twilight Saga, which was subsequently made into a hit movie. I heard that this diner (more likely a studio reproduction) was featured in the movie. Well, they don’t make them like this anymore! 

I don’t want to make it sound like the only places to eat on the Washington Coast are podunk taverns and cafes that look like they came right out of the David Lynch universe. The night before we had a fabulous dinner together at the Ocean Crest Resort in Moclips. This was a more upscale ocean−side restaurant that lighted the ocean from cliff at night to enhance the view of the waves from your table, and where the servers pronounced potatoes “po−TAH−toes”. Seriously! They had an extensive wine list.


Waiting for surf at Crescent Bay.
Waiting for surf at Crescent Bay.
Nice, regular lines of surf here.
Nice, regular lines of surf here.


I started to get a little discouraged driving along the shore to Crescent Bay. The water looked completely flat and I didn’t see any surf. But once we got within sight of the Bay you could see the waves come in −− long, clean lines. There were a few kayakers in surf−specific boats and board surfers already on the water. We didn’t waste any time getting on the water because we expected the waves to die down over the next few hours as the tide went out. Don’t be fooled: the pictures really don’t do justice to the size of the waves and the conditions there (I was too busy to take my hands off the paddle and use my camera when the waves rolled in).


My Greenland kayak is not the best surf boat but it sure looks cool!
My Greenland kayak is not the best surf boat but it sure looks cool!
Taken just before I got surfed backwards and pitchpoled.
Taken just before I got surfed backwards and pitchpoled.
Finally I got to try my skin−on−frame Greenland kayak in surf! I didn’t have great expectations for it, but I felt very comfortable sitting low in the water in its snug cockpit. The first thing I noticed is that the pointy bow really pierced through the green belly of the oncoming waves. This meant I took a lot of the wave in my chest.
The kayak did surprisingly well in the surf. It took a little more effort to catch a wave (because of drag from the skin?) and like any sea kayak tended to broach and turn up the wave face again, but there were a few times when I caught some long rides. While practicing surfing backwards I got pitchpoled. It’s strange to suddenly feel like you’re airborne, and then underwater upside down −− totally disorienting!