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Sea Kayaking Around Burrows and Allan Islands

Yesterday looked like a good day to do the long paddle to Friday Harbor from Anacortes. It was supposed to be sunny and 73 degrees. There was an ebb current in the morning that would provide a good ride down Rosario Strait to the south end of Lopez Island, and a strong flood current in the afternoon that would propel you north through Cattle Pass and up San Juan Channel. Unfortunately when I arrived in Anacortes the islands were completely enveloped in a thick fog. Although crossing through fog can certainly be done with a compass and chart, you run the risk of being run over by huge tankers, ferries, and other boats in Rosario Strait, so I wouldn't do it. Instead I switched to Plan B and pulled my car into the line for the ferry but was told I would be on the waiting list, even though I arrived over an hour early for the 10:25 AM sailing.

It was so crowded getting on the ferry that I realized that it could be nearly impossible to get a spot on the return ferry Sunday evening. So I quickly changed my mind, pulled out of line and got a refund. Now for Plan C: park my car and walk on the ferry with my kayak. Of course the parking lot was completely full so I couldn’t even do that! I just want to warn you that even if you want to walk on the ferry to go to the San Juan Islands during peak season you might have trouble. This just illustrates the two big problems traveling in the San Juans during the summer: 1) fog. 2) crowds.




The San Juan Islands on the east side of Rosario Straight are easily accessible by kayak from Anacortes, including Burrows and Allan Islands. These two islands are essentially uninhabited and their exposed rocky shores, kelp forests, and seal colonies give them that characteristic San Juan flavor.

Burrows Island is a favorite kayaking destination because of the lighthouse. It also has a Washington Water Trails campsite. As far as I can tell, Allan Island is still owned by Paul Allen and has been on the market for some time now. The price has come down quite a bit from $25 million to $13.5 million, which might interest any bargain hunters out there. It also comes with a 1200 square foot log cabin built in 1985, landing strip and dock. It would be a nice place for a evil villain’s secret lair, except that it is pretty close to the mainland. By the way, Allan Island was named after a Navy hero, not Paul Allen.




I shouldn’t need to remind you that Paul Allan is a very rich man. So keep that in mind if you feel the need to stop to pee on his island. I didn’t see any “No Trespassing” signs, roaming guard dogs or armed patrols. In fact, the log cabin looked vacant and there is no evidence at all that the island was occupied. Locals say that it has remained untouched since Allen bought the island in 1992. Apparently he much prefers Lopez. Who knows −− there could be a high tech hidden security system with perimeter cameras and laser−triggered booby traps all over. On the other hand, the super−rich in this country have little to worry about: working class stiffs do a good job of keeping themselves in line without their help, due to the sense of awe and deep respect we have for obscene wealth, and our own self−loathing. Evidence of this can be found by how the class war of 2009 failed miserably. My, aren't we all such pathetic slavish losers!





The Burrows Island Light Station is undergoing restoration. Built in 1906, the lighthouse is the oldest effectively intact wooden light station in Washington State. In April 2011 the Northwest Schooner Society became the custodians of the property and began work cleaning it up. Previously, the 2 storey wooden lighthouse keeper’s house was boarded up but now it is accessible. The warning posted outside the backdoor entrance reads, “Visitors are not permitted inside the buildings, but we know there is no way we can keep you out. If you must go in, be aware that there is lead based paint contamination, asbestos, bats, and falling hazards throughout.”



Another reason the Burrows and Allan Islands are a good destination is that you can usually find some exciting tidal rips along the way. I almost always run into one at the west entrance to Burrows Channel. This time I also found one in the channel between Allan Island and Burrows Island and just in front of the lighthouse. The flood current was at its maximum and was stirring up some waves. They are ephemeral though so spend the time to play if you run into them. They don't last long.

Wade Davis: The Story of the Inuit Shit Knife

In the early 1950s, the government of Canada adopted programs to assimilate the nomadic Inuit into southern Canadian culture. Although most of the Inuit were living self−sufficiently off the land, whalers and fur traders had affected Inuit survival and economic practices since the late 19th century, shifting the focus from subsistence hunting to commercial trapping. The stated goal of the forced resettlement was to provide employment alternatives to the fur trade, which had largely collapsed, and ensure that the Inuit had a reliable food supply and access to education and health care. The Canadian government also wanted to establish its sovereignty in the arctic during the Cold War, as well as expand programs for exploiting the mineral resources of the north, which required educated employees with sedentary housing.

Noted anthropologist Wade Davis recounts the story of one Inuit elder who refused to go to the settlements. Fearing for his life, his friends and family took away all his tools and weapons but he managed to escape into the wilderness using nothing but a knife fashioned from his own excrement.

I find this story incredibly fascinating. Although superficially it is yet more evidence of the remarkable ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Inuit, which has enabled them to survive in a harsh and barren arctic environment, I think it has a much broader meaning, which may explain why it resonates so deeply. It has to do with the concept of “anality” eloquently explained by anthropologist Ernest Becker in his book, The Denial of Death.

The tragedy of the human condition is that we are both physical creatures and symbolic ones. Humans live largely in an infinite and enduring world of symbols and ideas, yet we are each trapped in a finite, fallible animal body that has ascendancy over us by its demands and needs. As children, we learn that our main task in life is the denial of everything the anus represents. In fact, ALL culture and man’s creative life is a fabricated protest against natural reality, a denial of the truth of the human condition, and an attempt to forget what a pathetic creature man is.

What psychoanalists call “anality” or “anal” character traits are really forms of the universal protest against death. To say that a person is “anal” means that he is trying hard to use the symbols of culture as a means to protect himself from the accidents of life and danger of death, to triumph over Nature. Becker states that “The anus and its incomprehensible repulsive product represents not only physical determinism and boundness but the fate as well of all that is physical: decay and death.”

The Inuit elder accomplishes a complete reversal of this condition. He uses the locus of animal fallibility, the anus, as the source of transcendence. This is the quintessential meaning of anality, to prove that of all animals man alone leads a charmed life because of the splendor of all that he can imagine and fashion, what he can literally spin out of his anus.

I highly recommend watching Wade Davis’s complete presentation, titled “Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World”, here.

Drinking Wild Water


I’ve been working on packing smarter for camping trips. My recent experiences camping out of a whitewater boat forced me to buy a smaller one−person tent, a more compressible air mattress, and rethink my meals. My new Sterling Donalson Illusion sea kayak is also low volume but I can get a few days worth of gear in if I pack carefully. Since my trips are usually not very long, I avoid the high−sodium dehydrated meals and try to bring food I would normally eat at home, but repackaged for convenience. I’ll put each meal into a 1 quart Ziplok freezer bag, for instance. With couscous or oatmeal I’ll just add boiling water to the bag and let it sit for a few minutes, then eat it out of the bag with a long spoon. If you hold the bag under your clothes or put it in your pocket, it makes a great hand warmer. Just be sure the seal is tight otherwise you’ll be picking oatmeal out of the pockets of your fleece jacket the rest of the day. I know that from experience.

Packing water adds a lot of weight and space, so now I try to bring less and use natural sources. On our recent trip to the Broken Group, Ricardo and I planned our route around being able to replenish our water supply from natural sources along the way. Our guidebook mentioned a waterfall on Gibralter Island, which turned out to be a mossy wall with water dripping down its face into a tiny puddle. The water had a bit of greenish tinge to it, even after filtering. Another source we found was on Effingham Island. The chart showed a lake that emptied via a stream into the southern shore. The inlet was protected, but surrounded by a boulder beach. Fortunately, the stream was easy to find, and again I found a wet slimy cliff similar to the one on Gibralter Island.




I have been using the Lifesaver bottle, which filters down to 15 nanometers. It filters out all microorganisms including viruses. In comparison, the classic Katadyn filter, which I have also used in the past, filters down to 0.2 microns, or 200 nanometers, so organisms like hepatitis A, hepatitis E, enterovirus, rotovirus and Norwalk agent can still get through. I’ve been told that if you use the Katadyn, you should still treat or boil your water for a couple minutes if you want to be sure it’s safe. Other people have told me that they don’t and haven’t had any problems.

The Lifesaver is bulkier than the Katadyn but can be used as a storage container. The construction feels less durable. The nanotech filter is replaceable and should be changed every three years. The filters don’t come cheap. Katadyn is a trusted brand and their silver−ceramic filters have proven themselves in extreme conditions and even come with a 20−year warranty. If I wanted a filter to use in the post−apocalyptic world, after civilization has collapsed and we’ve been overrun by zombies, I would definitely choose a Katadyn for its durability. For occasional camping, international travel, and general preparedness for any Katrina−like events, I prefer the convenience and absolute safety of the Lifesaver.

There is also the option of not treating water at all. One physician says he regularly drinks untreated wild water while hiking, but is very careful about choosing the source. He basically only drinks very close to the source, where he can actually see a snow bank melting into a small, cold alpine stream, for instance. He looks carefully for any sign of mammal excrement around it. During his expedition along Vancouver Island’s northwest coast in a skin−on−frame kayak, primitive skills expert Kiliii Yu drank untreated water. He said since the area was remote, there was low likelihood of contamination. However, he had made it a practice to drink untreated water regularly, every couple months or so, to keep his gastrointestinal tract accustomed to it. Perhaps he developed immunity to waterborne pathogens over time?

Why risk drinking water untreated? Some people say there is a sense of spiritual connectedness to Nature you get from lying belly down on the ground and sipping it straight out of a stream. Back in the 1970s, I used to do it all the time while hiking with friends and we never got sick. It tasted smooth and sweet. I guess it’s like the thrill you get from walking in the forest barefoot or skinny dipping. We didn't know any better back then and I really don’t recommend drinking untreated water now except in emergencies. For one thing, it's possible to be infected with Giardia and become an asymptomatic carrier, which might not be a nice thing for your friends and family.


For a brief review of water−borne pathogens and methods of water treatment in the wilderness, see this article in Wilderness Medicine. The organism most likely to be the culprit is the parasite Giardia lamblia. Giardia is carried by mammals including beaver, muskrat, dogs, and cattle, and reaches the water via fecal contamination. Beaver were traditionally thought to be the source so any waterborne gastroenteritis used to be called “Beaver Fever” whether it was caused by Giardia or not.

Although we like to blame wild animals for waterborne illness, studies show that beavers were not infected until humans started living upstream from them, which suggests that humans were the original source of Giardia and beavers and other mammals were subsequently contaminated by human sewage. Giardiasis can be transmitted person-to-person via poor hygiene, food and sexual transmission as well. If you get Giardia, it could have just as easily have come from the dirty hands of the campmates who handled your food as well as of from than the water you drank. Giardia is endemic in developing countries, especially the tropics and subtropics, where 20−30% of the population will have it. The prevalence ranges from 2−7% in developed countries but can be as high as 20% among children in day care centers.

A friend of mine had a severe Giardia infection that had gone undiagnosed for weeks. She suffered from abdominal cramping, lethargy, anorexia, and had lost 20 pounds. She underwent a battery of tests, and even underwent an upper endoscopy looking for stomach cancer! She was bedridden and on intravenous fluids for a couple days before it was finally diagnosed. Diarrhea was only prominent in the beginning of her illness. She suspects she may have gotten it while tubing on a river in eastern Washington, possibly from the water that collected on the lip of a beer can that was immersed in the water to keep it cool. Who knows if that was really the source, but it is true that Giardia is highly infectious: ingesting as few as 10 cysts can make you ill. Makes you want to think twice about rolling on those rivers just for the fun of it, huh?

For a very inspirational talk and amazing demonstration of the Lifesaver bottle by inventor Michael Pritchard, see the video of the presentation he gave at TED in 2009 below.

The Savage Innocents

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The Savage Innocents is a film adapted from the novel Top of the World by Swiss writer Hans Rüesch. The movie was released in 1960 and stars Anthony Quinn as an Eskimo hunter, simply named "Inuk". I’m not sure exactly when the story takes place, but it involves indigenous arctic peoples who have not had contact with the "white man" or guns. A scene shot in a trading post suggests it is the late 1950s, because there is a jukebox playing rock and roll. Everyone speaks English so I’m guessing it is Canada.

If you’ve ever wondered what the inspiration for the song “The Mighty Quinn” was, it was this movie. By the way, the song was written and first recorded by Bob Dylan in 1967 after he saw The Savage Innocents, but was popularized by Manfred Mann.

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Inuk the Eskimo is lonely. He spends his days hunting and doesn’t have a woman to “laugh” with. According to the movie, “to laugh with” is the Eskimo way of saying “make love to”. Inuk’s hunter friend Anarvik offers him his own wife to “laugh with”. “You may laugh with my wife for awhile", he says. "You have permission. A little change does her good. Makes her eyes shine.”

Inuk replies, “This man is tired of asking for favors. He wishes to laugh with a woman of his own”.

Inuk’s friend Anarvik is greatly insulted because Inuk refused his offer, calling him rude and ungrateful, and they get into a fight which ends with Inuk bashing Anarvik’s head into the wall of his igloo, knocking him out cold. Inuk is a proud hunter and a very big man who doesn’t know his own strength.

The first part of the movie concerns Inuk’s quest for a wife. Later it follows his quest to obtain a gun from the trading post by killing 100 foxes in order to trade in their skins.

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After dancing to the jukebox and getting drunk on whiskey at the trading post, the night after seeing white men for the very first time, Inuk’s wife, Asiak, concludes that the white man is crazy. “Something is wrong with the white man”, she says. “If his gun is any good, why does he eat those evil smelling things out of a tin can? And why doesn’t he smile? And why doesn’t he laugh with the women of the men? And why doesn’t he know that the small igloo is quicker to build, and easier to keep warm than a house like this?” She convinces Inuk to leave the trading post that night so they can sleep more comfortably in an igloo outside. They don't even bother taking the new gun Inuk bought with them.

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The next morning, a priest comes to Inuk and Asiak’s igloo to introduce them to The Lord: “If you will listen to my words and believe in Him, the Lord will come with you and stay with you, in all your travels”.

“We don't not want another with us,'” Asiak whispers to Inuk.

“Maybe he good hunter,'” Inuk replies. Then the says to the priest, “We would be pleased if he came with us.”

Asiak adds, “He must bring own sled.”

When Inuk politely offers to have the priest laugh with his wife, the priest vehemently refuses: “No. No. NO! It’s a SIN! It’s EVIL! BAD!

Echoing the movie’s first scene with his friend Anarvik, Inuk gets extremely offended and tells the priest he is rude and has no manners. He pushes the priest against the ice wall, smashing the back of his skull in and accidentally killing him.

The custom of wife lending among the pre-Christian Inuit comes up repeatedly in the movie and is discussed in this article at The Straight Dope, which argues that it was not as common as previously perceived, and a limited practice primarily confined to religious rituals.

The rest of the movie follows Inuk and Asiak's flight from the trading post into the arctic wilderness, and Inuk's eventual arrest by the police for murder.

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The first time I attempted to watch The Savage Innocents I couldn’t get past the first few minutes. Anthony Quinn sometimes plays Inuk like a stupid goofball and I found that a little offensive. In the movie the term "Eskimo" is said to mean "eater of raw flesh". It is considered pejorative in Canada and Greenland. That interpretation of "Eskimo" has been disproved and the real meaning of the term is thought to be "snowshow netter". Real footage of the arctic wilderness and icebergs is cut with scenes shot in the studio with fake snow and stryofoam ice, and seals which look like they are right out of a Ringling Brother’s and Barnum and Bailey Circus act. Someone who grew up with today's slick and glossy cinematography and high budget production values might not have the patience for this movie. The other Inuit characters are played by Asian (Chinese and Japanese) actors. Occasionally Yoko Tami’s Japanese accent slips through. After a while though, I got used to the cheesy sets and got caught up in the story. Overall, I think the movie does a good job of portraying the clash between cultures: one open, simple, unsophisticated, violent and superstitious, and the other complex, rigid, controlling, and equally violent and superstitious.

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Despite its inaccuracies, at least the movie tried to be authentic with the character Inuk. I don't think it was intentionally making fun of racial stereotypes. I would view it in the context of Hollywood's generally racist track record. Take my two favorite most racially−offensive characters of all time, Mr. Yunioshi, played by Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and Long Duk Dong played by Gedde Watanabe in Sixteen Candles (1984) as examples. Mr. Yunioshi is an example of Japanese bashing plain and simple. After all, racism was literally an institution in the 60s! In contrast to Mr. Yunioshi, who is clearly Japanese, Long Duk Dong is some undefined oriental, referred to as a “Chinaman” in the movie, but has a Japanese accent and is introduced with the opening riff from The Vapor’s song “Turning Japanese”! You would think people would have known the difference in the 1980s. Whatever -- Hollywood knows that white people can't tell those slanty-eyed orientals apart anyway and don't really care to!

Then there is the enduring problem of non-white characters being played by white actors. Did you know that martial artist Bruce Lee was passed up for the lead role in the TV series Kung Fu, which was instead given to David Carradine? Bruce Lee apparently just looked too Chinese to play a Shaolin priest! Recently, in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender (2010), all of the key roles of Inuit and Asian characters were filled by white actors. Anthony Quinn by the way, was Mexican−American.

If you are up for watching a more recent and incredibly offensive depiction of indigenous arctic people, watch this clip from the Australian show, The Pitch -- Selling Ice to Eskimos. Wow, I didn’t realize people down under were just as racist as Americans are, but I guess it shouldn't surprise me!

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The part of The Savage Innocents relevant to this blog is, of course, the kayak scene. The kayaks look like authentic Greenland skin−on−frame qajaqs complete with the harpoon line stand (asaloq) and bladder float (avataq). Look how the kayakers paddle, occasionally crunching forward. I think these might be real hunters. The funny part is when Inuk and his friend come across a huge colony of walruses. Inuk harpoons one and just holds onto his line as the walrus struggles to get away! Damn, I was hoping to see footage of a real walrus pull!

Gas Works Park, July 4th 2011


Just wanted to share some of my pictures from the 4th of July fireworks on Lake Union. I originally planned to watch them the water but there were so many boats on the Lake that I thought it might get a little dangerous trying to make my way back to the Center for Wooden Boats after dark. The lake was covered with boats by midday. Despite the advice from a friend not to go and risk being run over by a power boater, I sailed around the perimeter with my friend Katya to check it out. The parties had already started and people had even settled onto the hill at Gas Works Park. The police were enforcing a strict no boating zone around the fireworks barge even early in the day.


Katya had planned to go to the top of the hill at Gas Works to take pictures so I decided to join her. We were able to wiggle through the crowd and find a tiny patch of grass to stand on and set up her tripod. She showed me how to take pictures of fireworks, and how to use the manual setting on my Canon EOS Rebel T1i DSLR. Number one rule you learn in photography class, she told me: “R.T.F.M. −− read the f*cking manual"!” Yeah, that has been on my list of things to do.




The energy of the crowd was amazing! You get a much better sense of the diversity of Seattle at Gas Works than you do hanging out with the predominantly white, well−to−do boating crowd. Sure there is the occasional obnoxious clown, like the young shirtless loser who ran around yelling, “I’M SO GLAD I’M FREE!” at the top of his lungs. OK, dude. If you’re not a wage slave, shat out by the failing public education system, working a dead end job to keep a crappy health insurance policy that can be cancelled by your insurer at any time, for a psychopathic employer who subjects you to random drug tests and who can fire you for smoking a little pot, inheriting an enormous debt incurred from paying for pointless wars and bank bailouts, then you must be unemployed and have nothing left to lose (i.e., truly free).

Do not doubt that I love America!




The picture above is my best one of the fireworks. It was taken handheld and I just guessed on the shutter speed. The young asian kid standing next to me had his tent set up and had been camping out on the hill all day to save his spot. He had his tripod out and was videotaping the fireworks. He had the radio directly wired into the mic input of his camcorder to capture the soundtrack. I asked him if it was going to be on YouTube and he said yeah, at TimkosTV, and he hoped to have it uploaded that night!

Camping With A Small Sailboat At Point Robinson



Point Robinson is located on the eastern tip of Maury Island on the East Passage and, along with Lisabeula and Blake Island, has one of the few Cascadia Marine Trail campsites I know of located between Seattle and Tacoma. I wanted to point it out because the campsite is actually very nice but difficult to find. I got there after sunset and hiked around trying to find it, and had to pull out the guidebook for reference. The trailhead leading from the beach to the campsite is hidden in the trees west of the point and is very easy to miss. You have to look for the wooden kayak rack. The kayak rack is hidden higher up in the trail is because at high tide the beach is completely waterlogged. The trail leads to steep steps that will take you into a large grassy space with boulders, picnic tables and an interesting concrete sculpture that at first I thought were the ruins of a house. It is close to the parking lot for the lighthouse park but still seemed very private. I don’t know if it ever gets busy −− I was the only one there that night. Camping there is free but there is no water. Chemical toilets are located on the point by the lighthouse. The beach by the lighthouse is a nice place to hang out and has a beautiful view of Mt Rainier across the passage. 





Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival 2011


Even though I arrived late, I got a great spot for by boat at the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival. When I arrived Sunday morning and called in on my VHF radio, they directed me to a spot behind the boathouse, right in front of a bench. Nestled between large powerboats, Annabel Lee looked tiny, like a toy. I left my  duffel bag, cooler and backpack inside −− evidence of my journey. I loved being able to tell people that I sailed her up from Tacoma. That seemed to impress them. Also that I built her by myself in my garage. Someone asked me if I kept to mostly sheltered waters. I said that as far as I was concerned, all of Puget Sound is sheltered water. It's really more or less equally hazardous everywhere, the main risks being wind, currents, and boat traffic.

This was the first time I was an exhibitor at any wooden boat festival. Since registration didn’t cost a dime, I figured I might as well sign up and try sailing to Seattle. I gave myself two days to get there, since with sailing you can’t really tell when or if you will actually get anywhere. If I couldn’t sail I thought I could at least row and make around 3 knots. And if I didn’t make it at all I didn’t lose anything.

After spending Friday night making last minute preparations, I launched around 8:30 AM on a sunny Saturday morning and made it to Blake Island by midafternoon. Blake Island was crowded and I thought I might not find a camping site. I took a nap on the lawn under the shadow of a tree by the Longhouse. There was still plenty of time left in the day to continue on and camp on Bainbridge Island at Faye Bainbridge State Park, or even maybe make it to Lake Union, so I sailed on.

I beat upwind but also struggled against a flood current. For about 45 minutes I was stuck at the South end of Bainbridge Island by Point Restoration. Then the wind picked up and the waves grew bigger. I remember looking around and realizing that, while there were quite a few boats out before, everyone seemed to have disappeared. I started to feel very alone out there. I abandoned the plan to go north, dropped my jib to reduce sail, pulled up the centerboard and fell off into a run back to Blake Island to find a campsite. Fortunately, I found a spot right on the beach on the sheltered west side. They charged $22 dollars for a campsite but they had running water and flush toilets and large garbage can−sized plastic containers to keep your food secure from animals. And on the other side of the Island they sell ice cream out of a window in the Longhouse. In the safety of camp I checked the Marine Forecast on my phone. It had turned out that a Small Craft Advisory had been posted for that afternoon.

A couple I met while camping on the island had taken the Argosy Cruise line to the island to camp. I discovered that if you are ever stuck on the island for whatever reason (because of injury, conditions, or losing your kayak for instance) you could call Argosy Cruise Lines and buy a one−way ticket back to Seattle for $20.50, depending on availability.

At night the wind blew harder and shifted. I lay awake listening to it blow through the trees. I woke up around 5:30 AM, packed and launched off the beach at 6:15 AM. I wanted to take advantage of the high tide for launching and the building ebb current. I was also concerned about the 20 knot winds that were predicted for later in the day. I wished I had a GPS to record my track and speed (my last unit corroded and died long ago), because it felt like I was just screaming across Elliot Bay, a couple times even surfing a bit down the larger waves in the middle of the channel. I pulled up into the shelter behind West Point in no time, feeling very happy to successfully make the crossing, and rowed my way through the Hiram Chittenden Locks, and occasionally sailing through the ship canal to Lake Union.



I’ve posted my pictures from the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival Gallery here. Please also check out my friend Katya Palladina’s wonderful photos (including the two above) in her galleries here, and here.



I was really impressed with the skin−on−frame surf kayak. The construction is fairly traditional (steam  bent ribs rather than plywood frames). I like the use of outwardly bent ribs and the external stringer to achieve the concave surface.

The other thing that impressed me was the Salish Canoe which was carved out of a cedar log. The canoe was partly filled with water and large rocks that had been heated in a fire were used to get it hot, then the whole thing was covered with a thick plastic tarp. The steam softened the sides of the canoe enough to get them to flare apart.



Wooden boat people in general tend to be a pretty good crowd and will talk your ear off about their boats if you let them. Once in a while you will run in to a genuine prick though, like the Captain of Industry type I was parked next to. People who own really expensive classic powerboats aren't like you and me, even the wooden boat owners. For one thing, they can't be bothered to make boats −− they just buy them. He was so paranoid I was going to scratch his sparkling white hull while I was trying to maneuver through the narrow space around his boat. “Don’t scratch my boat,” he said. “I just paid $30,000 for this paint job!” “Sorry," I said, and he replied with, “'SORRY' doesn’t cut it, buddy!” Well, if you want me to stay away from your boat why don’t you help me get passed you instead of waving that damn boat hook in my face, asshole!

Tips For Touring In A Small Sailboat

Annabel Lee July 2011 from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Why explore Puget Sound in a kayak when you could sail in a small open boat? You can take advantage of the wind or row when there isn’t any. Like a kayak, a 13 ft centerboard boat is small enough to land on a beach and tie up to shore. You have a lot more room for camping gear than in a kayak. That’s the idea anyway. I built Annabel Lee with camping in mind but didn’t try it until this week and it worked out beautifully. Here are few things I learned so far:


A 13 ft boat is going to be slower and will have much greater wetted surface area than a 17 ft sea kayak. It’s much harder to row against a 3.0 knot current. Early on my first day after I launched from the Point Defiance boathouse I rowed against a current for some distance in order to get to Colvos Passage, where the ebb current would take me north. I hugged the shore to take advantage of small eddies but eventually had to actually get out of the boat and tow her behind me, walking in knee deep water. Even in July the water is very cold. I recommend wearing waders.


Anyone who has spent time sailing in Puget Sound knows that you can waste a lot of time waiting for the wind to pick up. It takes some effort to put the sails up so that one is reluctant to take them down right away. This is why it will take longer to get anywhere in a little sailboat than in a sea kayak. That, along with having to beat upwind.


I usually keep the centerboard up to reduce the drag when rowing but dropping it down really improved tracking in a strong wind. I usually keep the rudder down too. It was fixed in the central position with rope but I would tap it one direction or the other to fine tune my tracking.



I bought my Electric Paddle motor last year and find it very useful. The Electric Paddle is a lightweight, portable motor optimized for small boats. “Portable motors for portable boats” is their slogan. The entire unit including the battery only weighs 16 pounds. I keep the motor locked onto my boat and take the battery pack home to recharge it. At full speed (about 3.5 knots, depending on the size of your boat) a fully−charged battery will last 2 hours. At half speed or about 2 knots it will last 4 hours. If you want to go faster you can row at the same time.

The Electric Paddle is manufactured locally. The founder of Electric Paddle, Joe Grez, is a physicist by training, the inventor of many US patents, and is passionate about well-designed marine products. When I ordered an Electric Paddle Joe even delivered it to me personally! There is something very satisfying about buying a well−made product from a local manufacturer, and also to have met the inventor face to face.

The situations in which it really helped me were when I was rowing against a tidal current, rowing against a strong headwind, maneuvering among other boats in the Ballard Locks, maneuvering among other boats trying to dock at the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival, and avoiding being run over by a large container ship while crossing traffic lanes in Commencement Bay.



My friend Ricardo likes to use a Bruce anchor with a 15 ft of chain rode for his small sailboat. Because his boat is skin−on−frame, he prefers to keep her in the water, and to drop anchor and walk on and off at low tide. So far I haven’t bothered with an anchor. I have been simply running my boat on the beach at high tide and tying her up to large driftwood logs. In order to launch I need to wait until high tide again, or gradually pull her out into the water as the water level decreases so she isn’t left high and dry. It would be nearly impossible to pull her across a rocky beach into the water by myself. At the very least that would really scratch up the bottom.




If you are lucky enough to have a strong breeze that will take you where you want to go, take advantage of it as long as possible. On my return trip from Seattle, I enjoyed a sustained 15 knot wind from the north and was able to run south for hours. I originally thought I would stay the night at Blake Island 7 nm away but instead pulled into the shelter of Point Robinson 18 nm away around sunset. Although I was eating dinner and setting up my tent in the dark, it turned out to be a good decision because the next day the wind died down to almost nothing.


I don’t always dress for immersion on a sailboat. Usually I just wear shorts and a t-shirt. Realistically though, the risk of capsize and prolonged immersion is probably greater for me when sailing than it is when kayaking. I sometimes wear my Kokatat Whirlpool bibs to keep the lower half of my body dry. While in a boat you could probably put on a drytop easily if you think things will get rough.

I also haven’t practiced a capsize recovery in my boat. I know I should do that sometime. There were times on this trip when capsize was definitely a risk, and under those conditions would have been a disaster, with unsecured bags of gear sinking or blowing away and prolonged cold−water immersion a possibility. Just as when kayaking, self-rescue should be reliable enough so that capsize will not be an event where you need to call 911.