[My GPS track: start at the ferry terminal on the mainland, clockwise around the island, 18.4 nm]
I arrived at the mainland Lummi ferry terminal not having done a lot of research on the island. It's considered one of the San Juan Islands but isn't featured in the Afoot and Afloat guide to the San Juan Islands. Apparently it's home to a few sustainable fisheries, historic inns, organic farms, excellent restaurants and cafes, and many artists and artisans. You know--typical San Juan Island stuff!
The chart I had showed a public boat launch by the ferry terminal on the mainland. When I arrived I couldn't find a launch ramp but saw a small parking area on the beach surrounded by concrete barriers.
I waved down one of the locals who was paddling a long, narrow wooden canoe nearby. His friend had built it. He said it was a little difficult to handle in the wind, and was still trying to find out which end was the front. It looked like wood strip construction, very sleek. Put a deck and a rudder on it and it would be perfect!
There was 10 knot breeze blowing from the southwest and mild currents predicted for the day. I crossed Hale Passage to the island and paddled close to shore to stay in the lee.
The southern half of Lummi remains undeveloped. Very pretty, except for one big open wound made by an active gravel mine. See what you have to look forward to, Maury Island?
On the southern tip I saw some oyster catchers diving at an eagle that had probably invaded their nest and eaten their young. That was the first time I had ever heard oyster catchers cry out or seen them flying around. Usually they are just standing on shore... looking for oysters.
Lummi stands out among the San Juan Islands because of its tall cliffs. They are even more impressive up close. As I craned my neck to look up I saw more eagles soaring around the peaks.
The Lummi Rocks, just off the western shore, mark an approximate midway point for the circumnavigation and a convenient place to stop for lunch. I ate while sitting among the wildflowers and gazing at the cliffs on the island to the north and down Bellingham Channel and Rosario Strait to the south.
Sea stars and Dungeness crab cling to the rocky shore all around Lummi. All you have to do to get a crab is reach down into the shallow water and pick one up. Do you think crabs suffer and experience pain? I had to ponder this question as I plucked a crab out of the water and watched it struggle vigorously and foam at the mouth. I personally consider it an important scientific question with profound philosophical implications and of special interest because of my background in anesthesiology, but if you are like the vast majority of people and don’t care to think about how the animal on your dinner plate lived or died then just forget I said anything, you speciesist!
[My GPS track: Start at Jackson Beach, departure path in green, overnight at Roche Harbor, return path in red]
I happened to have a couple days off and decided that I would circumnavigate San Juan Island. The day before my trip the weather turned out to be much windier than previously forecast. A Small Craft Advisory had been issued with a southwest wind blowing at 15−25 knots, predicted to shift to the west in the afternoon. This would make for challenging conditions along the exposed rocky western shore of San Juan Island. The waves would reflect off the cliffs and I could get tossed about in the clapotis. So that night I decided against the circumnavigation and resigned myself to an alternative trip in more sheltered water. But in the morning the winds lightened up a little and the Small Craft Advisory had been lifted. I saw this as my window of opportunity and decided to go for it.
I put in at Jackson Beach just south of Friday Harbor around 9:00 AM. A group of kayak guides were unloading kayaks for Outdoor Odysseys as a busload of school kids arrived. Were they really planning on taking those kids out on the water on a day like this?
I paddled with a headwind into Cattle Pass. It would be at my back after I turned west and then north. That was the plan anyway. After I made it through Cattle Pass, the wind had turned westerly, and then northerly, so for the entire day I had it blowing in my face.
The water at Cattle Pass was completely flat. But (just as I was afraid of) along the western shore the waves were reflecting off the cliffs and I faced miles of clapotis. I paddled far from the shore to avoid the worst of it, paddling from point to point. I didn't really have the chance to do a lot of sightseeing here. My attention was focused entirely on the water directly in front of me and especially the waves blowing in from the west. I weaved around in the troughs between the waves, not really keeping track of the shore landmarks or knowing exactly where I was. Of course, my pictures don't do justice to the conditions, because when things were bad I was too busy trying to stay upright to attempt to use the camera! I think that what kept me going was the thought that just around the next point conditions were going to be better -- the water smoother, the wind calmer, and the current going in my direction.
For lunch I ducked behind a rock. There was an shallow sandy area with just enough space to walk on so I could get out and drag my kayak out of the water. I was somewhere south of False Bay.
Just to the north at Pile Point I ran into a tidal rip and a patch of nasty clapotis. The waves were 4 ft high, tall, pointed, and breaking. I paddled far away from shore to keep out of it but couldn’t avoid it completely. The unnerving thing about clapotis is the randomness of the waves. Somehow I passed through without being thrown up into the air on top of one. In the middle of it though I was quickly losing confidence in my ability to recover if I happened to capsize in this washing machine. The knowledge that I came prepared with the phone numbers of the two taxi services on the Island in case I needed to bail out gave me some comfort. But wait a minute, where did I put my cell phone?
My experience in that tidal rip put everything else in perspective. The rest of the trip was easy in comparison. The sun broke through the clouds and the wind finally died down when I arrived at Roche Harbor. I checked into a room at Quarryman Hall, enjoyed a long hot shower, put on some dry clothes and had a leisurely dinner at the McMillan dining room (locally harvested mushrooms and a vegetable au gratin). All−day paddling is so much more enjoyable when you have a wonderful meal, glass of wine, and big soft bed to look forward to at the end of the day!
Not much to tell about the return trip except that I enjoyed light winds, sunshine, smooth water and a gentle ebb current that carried me down San Juan Channel all the way back to Jackson Beach.
Since I happened to be in the neighborhood (on my way to take the ferry to Friday Harbor), I thought I would spend an afternoon paddling around Guemes Island. I launched at Kiwanis Waterfront Park right off the Guemes ferry terminal and traveled clockwise.
Guemes Channel was a little rough because of a strong breeze from the southeast opposing the flood current from the west. Once I made it into Bellingham Channel though it was smooth going in the lee of the island.
After I rounded the northern tip of the island I was headed straight into the wind. I stopped to eat lunch at Young’s Park, squatting on the beach with my back to the wind and rain. I took the opportunity to put my iPod away and put on a warmer neoprene hood. A Small Craft Advisory had been issued for the day and it was starting to feel like winter again.
I think the most scenic part of Guemes is the southeastern shore. On my next visit I’ll have to spend more time exploring the smaller islands in the area.
I've attempted to make it to the famous Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor with a sailboat a few times. Most of the time I didn't make it because the wind was too light. I was successful once when the wind was blowing 15 knots. Another time I made it by motoring through the Narrows but when I got to the tavern there was no room to tie up on the dock. It's a Gig Harbor landmark and very popular place!
Traveling by kayak is much more predictable than by sail. You can count on actually getting to your destination eventually. This time I left from Dash Point and paddled a straight course to Point Defiance. Conditions were calm and I had a little help from the flood current. The green path above is the departure and the red path is the return trip. You can clearly see how the growing ebb current (flowing north) affected my path right outside of Gig Harbor in the Narrows.
It must be getting warmer since I saw my first Jet Ski of the season. It won't belong before the South Sound will be overrun with Jet Skis and power boats and start looking and sounding like a suburban lake. Bastards! (I've been spoiled by having the water all to myself this winter.)
The entrance to Gig Harbor is remarkably narrow. If you didn't know where you were going you could miss it completely.
After unzipping my drysuit and tying the top half around my waist by the sleeves I walked into the tavern and treated myself to lunch: a roasted vegetable salad washed down with Coors Light, although after paddling all that way there I wish I had ordered something with more carbs. The Tides has a large and varied menu. It was actually much busier than the photo shows.
On the way home I came close to this tug towing a barge. A powerboater drifting next to me advised me over his loudspeaker that I should go ahead and cross in front of the tug. I could make it, he said, because he calculated that I was doing about 5 knots. I decided against taking his advice.