This trip was taken on June 30, 2001. It was my first real kayak adventure, and the first for "Annie", the kayak I built in the spring 2001.
We loaded my gear and Annie from my car to Ralph's Subaru, loaded Ralph's Max, his gear and were off at 7:55am, 5 minutes ahead of schedule. By the time we actually shoved off the beach at Washington Park, it was 9:58, 15 minutes past slack low. We encountered a clockwise current rotation, which simulated a continuing ebb on the first half of our first leg toward the east side of Cypress Island. (San Juan Islands, Washington State) We could see ourselves being pushed westward as we paddled north. Then, as we neared Cypress, we were suddenly caught in a swift current which swept us towards Cypress and northward up Bellingham Channel so rapidly, that we both just stopped paddling to enjoy the view and the ride.
The striking thing about Cypress Island is that you see no houses. The Island is mostly government owned, so it's preserved in its natural state. We passed some fish farms and I got my first experience paddling over thick kelp beds. This is a frightening experience to a sail boater, as such things I had always avoided before. Annie makes funny sounds as she glides over and my paddle got tangled several times until I got the hang of it. I had horrible thoughts of capsizing in heavy kelp and how it might complicate a recovery. All of the several little coves along the east side contained anchored sailboats. At Cypress head there were mooring buoys, one nice gaffer with a long bowsprit tied to one with its dinghy still on deck. There were three dinghies on the beach, no people in sight. I turned on the GPS, which showed we had traveled 3.7 miles in the first hour. Ralph decided he wanted to loop around the Cone Islands, which he had not done before, so we did. There were amazingly strong currents and eddies, even on a day where the maximum current indicated on the tables is 0.8 knots. I can't imagine doing this on days where they indicate 3.5 knots.
Our first stop was Pelican Beach, where, guess what? There were Pelican cruisers anointing the shore line, all pulled up well above the high tide line. We also saw our first other kayaks, which launched and quickly disappeared to the south. We had gone about 8 miles in 2 hours and 10 minutes, at this point. One of the Pelicans with a single occupant shoved off while we ate our lunch and we later saw him fishing. All of the Pelicans sported small outboard engines, one was a black painted Seagull. We were treated to a nice favorable current all the way around the north end of the Island and up to Tide point on the west side. I quickly learned that the kelp makes a great indicator of which way the current is moving.
From Tide point until Strawberry Island we had adverse current. I discovered that Ralph doesn't talk when he's bucking current, he puts all his energy into paddling and slowly left me behind. My wrist started hurting and I had to take breaks to allow it to recover. Ralph waited for me in rock eddies and explained to me how you could hone in on an eddy far downstream from a big rock and make good use of the reduced current. I again tried to follow Ralph, but found that his idea of what was a comfortable depth over rocks and mine were far different. It was clouding up and the wind started coming out of the south, so it was getting harder to see the rocks. I was still not comfortable with the idea of hitting a rock with Annie. I had horrible visions of her splitting open as a sharp rock sliced through the thin glass sheathing like a razor slicing cellophane. (Note: it would take a very unusual rock to cause any serious damage unless in heavier swells. With heavier swells the rocks are much easier to see and avoid.) So, I paddled outside the kelp in the current while Ralph took a shore break. Before reaching Strawberry Island, the current was getting too strong so I made a 90 degree turn and shot over the kelp to the inside, which had widened out a bit.
The kelp ends north of Strawberry and there is a half mile stretch of open water, which at this point had at least a 2 knot current. Ralph explained that paddling quickly as possible, angling across to intercept the eddy line, was the easiest way. Once in the eddy, one could take his time. This is certainly not anything I learned in sailing, but it worked beautifully. We worked our way up through the kelp along the east side of Strawberry Island and landed in a 10 foot wide slot of fine gravel near the south end. We took a short tour of the Island and Ralph showed me where he had camped when he stayed there. It has stunning beauty with its many short evergreen trees, none over 6" in diameter and many Madrone trees, their tops shaped by the winds. There is a rocky bluff on the south end were we ate the rest of our lunches, enjoying the view over Rosario Strait.
We could see the back eddy grow westward and southward as the flood current gradually turned to ebb. Although according to the current chart, we still had half an hour to go to slack, it was apparent that it was going to occur sooner. Ralph doesn't like to cross between Cypress and Washington Park on the ebb, so we quickly headed back. We were separated by nearly half a mile at one point but Ralph waited up for me in the slack at the point. Allowing for ebb current, we angled across the last leg towards the Anacortes ferry, but with half a mile to go, it was obvious that there was no current to deal with. Ralph again waited up for me and I told him to go ahead as I wanted to slow down because of my wrist. He had to retrieve the car from the parking lot so we both arrived back at the beach at the same time.
So, it was an exciting trip for me, my introduction to paddling in kelp, over rocks and working the eddies. About 16 miles. Wild life spotted included one deer, several bald eagles, harbor seals, sea gulls, Guillemots, and Kingfishers. We drove the loop around Washington Park after we loaded up. It reminds me of a small Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC. Quite nice.