Sucia Island, San Juan Islands, WA 24–25 July 2021

alexsidles

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Jan 10, 2009
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467
Location
Seattle WA
[Cross-posted on alexsidles.com]

My friend James and his daughter Chelsea joined Maya and me in the latest of our dad-daughter kayak-camping overnights. Sucia Island, a short two-mile crossing from Orcas Island, was the perfect destination for a trip with kids—not too close, not too far, and lots for little girls to see and do.

For the return trip, the Sunday morning ebb kicked up a fair tide race between Sucia and Orcas, enough that we didn't want to face it in open-cockpit kayaks with kids. We called in the water taxi, who whisked us back to Orcas in about fifteen minutes.

00 Route map.jpg

Route map. Fortuitously, the marina where the water taxi lands is a just a short walk from the launch beach where we left our cars.

We landed at Fossil Bay, my favorite of the many campgrounds on Sucia Island. The island was jam-packed with powerboaters, kayakers, and the latest invasive species to reach Washington's saltwater, paddleboarders. We got the last campsite on Fox Cove, unfortunately without shade.

From there, we took the girls on miniature hikes to the various attractions in this part of the island. Among the mud flats of Fox Cove, the girls discovered giant clam shows that squirted water, and mats of slippery sargassum upon which Chelsea taught herself to go "seaweed skating." Along the outer coast of Fossil Bay, the rising tide forced us to hug the cliff, sometimes resorting to balancing on driftwood. Chelsea showed Maya how to surmount the many beach obstacles.

01 Maya in kayak to Sucia Island.jpg

Maya riding in kayak to Sucia Island. She is accompanied in the boat by two mischievous mermaids.

02 James at Chelsea kayaking Sucia Island.jpg
James and Chelsea arriving at Sucia Island. From the water, it can be hard to identify the openings to the island’s various bays and coves.

03 Maya on Sucia Island beach.jpg

Maya on the beach, Sucia Island. At high tide, most of this rock shelf went underwater.

04 James and Chelsea on Sucia Island beach.jpg

Chelsea and James on the beach, Sucia Island. The outer arm of Fossil Bay is the best place to look for fossils.

05 Under the tarp.jpg

Chelsea and James under the tarp. Most campsites are shaded by trees, but we had to set up a tarp for shade at our campsite.

06 Alex and Maya in camp.jpg

Maya and Alex in camp. James brought astronaut ice cream for the girls, what a treat!

There was little wildlife abroad, neither on the water nor on land. Summer is always a bit of a wildlife desert in the Pacific Northwest, but we did see six of Washington's seven species of swallow, missing only the bank swallow, which is not common in the San Juans anyway. We heard but did not see olive-sided flycatchers, calling quick-three-beers.

Most unusually, a small army of Townsend's voles emerged shortly before dusk. These mouse-like creatures behaved fearlessly, even squatting under our picnic table to eat scraps. They were so well fed they resembled furry, black golf balls.

07 Yellow-rumped warbler.jpg

Yellow-rumped warbler, Sucia Island. Dozens of these juveniles were foraging for insects among the driftwood, especially in the morning.

08 Townsends vole Sucia Island.jpg

Townsend’s vole, Sucia Island. Have you ever seen such a large, plump vole?

Perhaps we just did not explore the beach far enough, but it seemed to me there were fewer fossils embedded in the cliffs of Fossil Bay than I remembered from my last fossil-hunting expedition in 2017. I hope no one has been taking fossils from the island, and if they have been, I hope it is scientists from the Burke Museum, not thieves.

Chelsea and Maya were very interested in fossils and, indeed, rocks of all sorts, including the flat sandstone shelves along the beach and the many lumps of quartz. On one of our walks, Chelsea picked up a very unusual rock: dark, smooth, shiny. It looked more biological than geological. James sent photos to a paleontologist at the Burke, who confirmed Chelsea had found a fossil, possibly an ammonite. Fossil collecting on Sucia Island requires a scientific permit, so we left the ammonite behind. James later applied for a scientific permit on Chelsea's behalf, which, if granted, will allow us to return to Sucia and collect the fossil for educational use in Chelsea's elementary school.

09 Chelsea holding up fossil.jpg

Chelsea with her fossil. I don’t ever have much luck finding fossils on the ground, but Chelsea’s keen eyes picked out this one.

10 Sucia Island fossil.jpg

Chelsea’s fossil, US five-dollar bill for size. At first, we thought it might be a fossil claw, but the Burke Museum says it is more likely a marine fossil.

Thanks to the water taxi, there was no hurry to pack up Sunday morning. We explored Fox Cove, wading all the way out to the famous mushroom rock, which the girls eagerly climbed.

When it was time to meet the boat, we simply loaded our gear into wheelbarrows and pushed it all to the dock.

11 Alex and Maya wading Fox Cove.jpg

Alex and Maya wading in Fox Cove. The bottom here is muddy but still firm enough for walking.

12 Maya and Chelsea wading Fox Cove.jpg

Chelsea and Maya exploring Mud Bay. There are plenty of crabs and jellyfish to capture the girls’ imaginations.

13 Chelsea and Maya on mushroom rock.jpg

Maya and Chelsea on the mushroom rock. The sandstone formations on Sucia Island are perfect for climbing.

14 Alex pushing Chelsea.jpg

Alex wheeling Chelsea. By Sunday afternoon, the island was three-quarters deserted.

15 Alex and Maya water taxi.jpg

Maya and Alex on water taxi. The water taxi has regular service to Sucia Island, but by special request, it can also pick up kayakers anywhere else there is a dock.

This was the second time I'd kayaked kids to Sucia Island only to be forced to take a water taxi back to Orcas. One of these days, I'll get to paddle both directions—perhaps this fall, when we return with a permit to find Chelsea's fossil again.

Alex

[Cross-posted on alexsidles.com]
 
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Joined
May 30, 2021
Messages
17
Location
Sammamish, WA
Great trip report, thanks for sharing. Good tip on water taxi option as backup if needed. Can you provide more details on the particular water taxi service you used?

BTW here is my playlist of kayak trips I have done this season. Just did Chuckanut Island which was great. Hope to add Sucia Island to this list soon.
 
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alexsidles

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Jan 10, 2009
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Seattle WA
Thanks for the kind words, David and Max, and welcome to the forum, David. Thanks for posting such a nice trip report from Chuckanut Bay.

The water taxi I used was Outer Island Excursions, who have a berth at the Brandt's Landing Marina right next to the public launch at North Beach.

Alex
 
Joined
May 30, 2021
Messages
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Location
Sammamish, WA
Thanks Alex, much appreciated. Great resource, also for those newer to kayaking that would really like to kayak to Sucia and other islands in that area including Patos, Matia, and Clark islands but the open water paddling can be daunting and weather and currents are constantly changing.
 

cougarmeat

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Sep 17, 2012
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Bend OR USA
PresenceVideography, the currents are “constantly changing” in that they are going from Ebb to Flood and back again at a predictable time and in a predictable direction; not “changing” in a random manner. By using the tide/current tables and weather reports, you'll would have few surprises. My experience is, it is rare that something will be radically different than forecast. Sure, they might suggest a 10 percent chance of rain and then it doesn’t rain. But I doubt, when going out on a predicted blue sky day, you'll endure and unexpected thunderstorm.

I’m not saying it could never happen.But ti probably wouldn’t be instantaneous. There would be time to make a decision. This is my gripe with reservation systems. There are times when it is best to just stay put for a day, or a few hours. And gone is the freedom to just explore if the whim grabs you. Not saying it isn’t possible, just more work to allow a level of arrival/departure flexibility.

If you go to the DeepZoom.com website, you can see, for any given day/time the probable direction and speed of currents in that area. Will they be exact - probably not. But they will be close enough. If I’m going to paddle north through Cattle Pass between the San Juan Island and Lopez Island, I not will try to do it around the time there is a 4 knt Ebb.

It’s sort of like crossing the street. You can just cross and maybe, maybe not, a car will be coming the other way. Or, you can stop and look both ways (even on a one way street because, you know, bicycles on the wrong side of the road).

I’m not saying it’s not daunting - that’s a bit of water to cross - but the weather/currents can actually help minimize the “daunt” if they are in your favor. And they are not in your favor randomly.
 
Joined
May 30, 2021
Messages
17
Location
Sammamish, WA
DeepZoom.com is a great resource, thanks for sharing. Agreed, planning essential wrt currents, weather, tides. Patience is also good when picking paddle times and routes that are favorable. One of the trips we have been contemplating is overnight camp on Sucia. We had an experience years ago on a kayak and overnight camp on an island trip (different island in Florida) where we had fantastic weather on the way out and strong wind came up unexpectedly overnight so paddling back next day was difficult and borderline risky. That's where a backup option such as a water taxi can also be handy.
 

PhotoMax

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Joined
Sep 5, 2019
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Location
Orcas Island, WA
Deep Zoom is a great resource for these waters. The moveable timeline feature is gold.

There are differences with crossing channels and hugging the coast though. You might expect a current speed from Deep Zoom but the depth of the water and proximity to the shoreline creates an ever changing zone. I watch the currents from Doe Bay all the time. Often (usually in the afternoon) you will get calm looking water adjacent to fast (4+ knt) churning water. I have seen kayakers and paddle boarders getting quite the surprise when moving into rapdilly changing water.
 

alexsidles

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Joined
Jan 10, 2009
Messages
467
Location
Seattle WA
Washington State Parks denied James’s application for a fossil collection permit on Sucia Island. Parks confirmed our suspicion that fossil raiding has reached epidemic proportions on Sucia. The agency will not countenance removal of fossils by amateurs, not even for James’s intended purpose of displaying the fossil to Chelsea’s elementary school class.

The agency staffer who called James said she “felt like a monster” for denying Chelsea the chance to take home the fossil she discovered on Sucia Island. In consolation, Parks will send a paleontologist to Chelsea’s class to give a presentation with a whole table of fossils.

Alex
 
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