Monday, August 21, 2017

3 Days and 2 Nights: Sea Kayaking in the San Juan Islands - July 2017

As part of a celebration of my 50th birthday my parents and I decided to take a return trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. When we went there 20 years ago we also visited Victoria Island. I think Mom and Dad recall more of what we did and saw in Vancouver than I do. However, that is grist for an upcoming blog post. In addition to the visit to Canada we also decided to go sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands which are just a couple hours drive from Vancouver. It has been more than 15 years since I did a professionally guided sea kayaking trip (I am not counting trips with Fortune Bay Expedition Team because those while certainly organized by people that know their stuff are certainly not commercial). Mom and Dad probably haven’t camped since before I was born. The closest they’ve come would be the lodge-to-lodge trek of the Milford Track which while definitely physically demanding had the massive plus of a proper bed, hot showers, and superb food every day. It is certainly true that on a kayaking trip you can cook far more extravagantly than you can on a typical backpacking trip it still pales in comparison to what we ate in the lodges. But we all were looking forward to the trip and it was just going to be 3 days and, more importantly perhaps, 2 nights. I think, and I hope you can tell from the upcoming photos and video,  that the trip went off splendidly.

The company that ran the trip was Sea Quest Kayaking Exeditions. Our guide was Adam Oken. The trip guests were me, Judy (Mom), Jonathan (Dad), and Rebecca Smith. Ada proved to be a very good guide. . He managed our trip quite well. He was attentive and certainly did a very good job of getting us where we needed to go and in our care and feeding. The gear Sea Quest provided was certainly adequate for the needs of the trip even though it makes me cringe from a technical point of view. However, being sturdy and able to stand up to use and abuse from people that may have little to no experience with camping gear is certainly an asset. My only real complaint is I think they should replace their tent stakes a bit more frequently. You shouldn’t send people out with bent stakes or ones missing their heads. But this is a minor quibble as they  did work to hold tents down just fine. Rebecca, our fourth trip participant, had never done any camping before. She is an avid runner and clearly enjoys being outdoors but this was going to be a wholly new experience for her. I think, overall, she also had a very good time. 

I will stop here and let the photos and especially the 16-minute video speak for themselves. I will just say that personally I would return to kayak more of the San Juan Islands. While we did not see everything we  could have wished to see we had plenty of experiences to enjoy.

You will also see interactive maps that show each day’s travels. The pin marks where we were that day. You will have to zoom in to see the actual track. Use the +/- buttons on the map or your mouse/trackpad to do this.

If you want to view the photos in albums you can view them here at Apple (no obviousmetadata) or here on Google (with metadata).

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Click this link to play the video.

July 28, 2017 - Day 1

We would leave Friday Harbor around 08:30. The morning was foggy and even a tad cool. We piled into a van towing all our kayaks and drove to South Beach. Once there we unpacked everything, shifted it all to the beach,  packed the kayaks with all the gear that we would need, had a cursory talk from Adam about paddling and safety, and then were off. We would paddle about 19.2km.  When we left, at 10:00, the fog had lifted  leaving a clear blue sky and pretty calm waters behind. That would remain the case throughout the day. We would reach our campsite around 18:00. We took two breaks and that certainly consumed over 2 hours and when on the water we were not paddling the entire time. It was relaxing. A good first day.


Eagle Point

We had to kill time before starting south and around San Juan Island waiting for the tides to change. So we paddled along the coast northward to Eagle Point. It was an easy paddle on calm waters. The morning which had started out rather foggy had cleared up completely by this time. Adam, our guide from Sea Question Kayak Expeditions, is paddling a single-person kayak. Today I am in the bow of a two-person kayak with Dad (Jonathan). Mom (Judy) is in the stern of the second two-person kayak with Rebecca.


Bald Eagle 1

We have had lunch, not far from South Beach, and are continuing south. I couldn’t see this bald eagle from where Dad and I floated but everyone else could. This was just the first bald eagle of the day.


Cattle Point Lighthouse and Adam

We tried to find a minke whale, paddling out a couple kilometers before heading back towards this lighthouse. Our quest did not succeed though we certainly saw and heard numerous birds and saw a few whale watching boats.


Eagle at the American Camp

This beach is part of the American Camp. However, I think it might be better to think of it is Eagle Beach. I did get to see this bald eagle. Fantastic. 


Homes on San Juan Island

We are about a mile from our eventual campsite: one more bay to cross. Homes like this one infrequently dot the rocky coastline.


Mom at Camp

At camp. Adam is cooking up a bunch of food for us to consume. Way more food than we can possibly eat. Our tents are set up and Mom is relaxing for a moment. We paddled just over 19km to get here. It’s a good spot for a camp with views of the sea and Mount Baker way off in the distant east. But it is also about as far from the privy.

as you can get: 280 yards.

July 29, 2017 - Day 2'

Most everyone slept well on our first night. Rebecca ended up being a bit cold because she didn’t quite inflate her sleeping pad.  But I think she must have slept well enough because she showed no signs of tiredness during the day that I saw. Mom and Dad were up at sunrise and though I could have gotten up earlier I resolved to not really get moving until 07:00. I almost made it. A lazy morning with a good hot breakfast put together by Adam (dinner had been pasta, mountains of it). We were in no hurry. The sun rose, warmed our camp, and it was obvious we were going to have another fine day to explore. Today we would paddle 19.3km with again two easily hour-long breaks on land. The break on the dismiss of Long Island for lunch wasn’t as comfortable as the rocky beach at american Point but maybe that’s just because the rocks hadn’t warmed up  under the sun. The sandy beach with its huge driftwood logs on Lopez Island was definitely more comfy.


Rebecca Jonathan and Adam at Sea 1

We have had a very good day so far. We paddled out towards Lopez Island’s rocky shore western shore. There we found harbor seals and substantial beds of bull kelp. We continued on to Long Island for lunch. While not the most comfortable rocky beach it was still a good spot. Now we are making our way out searching for whales. You see Adam, Jonathan and Rebecca. Later we return to Lopez Island and a sheltered sandy beach for the afternoon break before returning to camp. Like our first day we would paddle just over 19km.


Eagles of Lopez Island 1 & 2

Eagles of Lopez Island

I suppose these bald eagles, that makes 3 I have seen (though not nearly as well as the one yesterday), are either taking a rest or looking out to sea for schools of fish. Maybe they spot the fish by looking for seabirds gathered together. That’s a trick people use to find whales. Soon we will reach a sandy beach on Lopez Island where we take a long afternoon break. The tides figure into where, when and for how long a break will be.


Adam and Dad Make Fire

After another fine day on the way we returned to camp for a second tasty dinner. Yesterday was pasta; today burritos. I think the pasta dinner was better. We picked up driftwood this afternoon for a fire. We didn’t need it for warmth or to really keep bugs at bay but there is still something nice about a campfire. Adam and Dad got it going.


July 30, 2017 - Day 3 

Everyone slept well on our second night. Today people had to be up by 07:00. Mom and Dad were up again at sunrise and I wasn’t far behind. Rebecca managed to sleep in a little bit which she had told us she would do. I’m guessing she isn’t a morning person when she doesn’t have to be. A hot breakfast of eggs got us ready for our short paddling day. Today we would return toSOuth Beach which is about 9.5km from Griffin Bay. The morning was actually partly cloudy. Plenty of puffy cumulus (I think) clouds dotted the rich blue sky. The water was a bit choppier though that didn’t really become apparent until we rounded the tip of San Juan Island and eventually encountered consistent swells of 1-1.5 feet. That added a bit of spice to the paddling but certainly nothing to worry about. We had lunch at the American Camp again but this time instead of staying on the beach most of us took some time to climb to the top of the bluffs and see the old naval radio station up there. After the relaxing lunch break we paddled the last couple of miles to South Beach which we found swarming with people. On Friday when we left there was no one on the beach. On Sunday afternoon around 13:30 the parking lot had quite a few cars in it and several families spending time picnicking and playing on the beach. 



Leaving Camp

It’s time to leave. We have 9.5-10km to paddle on this final day. The plan is to stop for lunch at the American Camp, where I saw my first bald eagle on day 1, and then continue to the take-out point at South Beach. Since we have a bit of time pressure as Rebecca needs to catch the 3:40 ferry we got up and going a bit earlier on this partly cloudy morning.Adam_at_sea.jpg

Adam at sea


Adam Jonathan and Rebecca at Sea 2 

Adam on the left; Dad and Rebecca on the right. The waters are a tiny bit rougher than the day before and the swells would eventually grow to consistently 1-1.5 feet in height sometimes breaking over the bows of our kayaks.

Adam Judy and Rebecca at Sea 2Adam,_Judy_and_Rebecca_at_Sea_2.jpg

Adam Jonathan and Rebecca at Sea 2

Working our way through the 1 to 1.5 foot swells that now and then washed over the bows of our kayaks.


Adam Jonathan and Rebecca at Sea 3

After an hour-long break at Cattle Point which included a chance to climb up to the top of the bluffs and see the old naval radio station (couldn’t see the lighthouse) we got back in our boats for the final handful of kilometers. The clouds of earlier had pretty much all drifted away. The waters remained a bit rougher but nothing really bothersome. Dad and Rebecca are powering through them with ease and Adam is coming into view.


The Group Ken Jonathan Judy Adam guide and Rebecca


Track Day 3 Griffin Bay to South Beach (interactive map)

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