Doe Island, San Juan Islands, WA 5–6 Oct. 2019

alexsidles

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Jan 10, 2009
Messages
531
Location
Seattle WA
Rosario Strait is the soul of the San Juan archipelago. All the elements that make the San Juans such a delight are concentrated and magnified here: the currents are faster, the wildlife more abundant, the islands more thickly wooded and majestic. Not just geographically but psychologically, the strait is what separates the islands from the mainland. Whenever I enter Rosario Strait, I feel like I’m leaving behind my ordinary life.

On a typical San Juans kayak trip, I begin at Washington Park, Anacortes and cross Rosario Strait en route to some other destination. This time, however, I decided Rosario Strait would be the destination. To explore its length and breadth, I launched from Bowman Bay, the strait’s southern terminus, and paddled up the middle of the strait to Doe Island, near the northern terminus.

00 Map.jpg

00 Route map. I camped at Cranberry Lake the night before to give myself an early start on Saturday.

Bowman Bay to Doe Island is 17 miles each way. I caught a boost northbound on the flood tide and made the journey in just three and a half hours.

I’d only launched from Bowman Bay a handful of times previous to this—usually, to explore Deception Pass, not Rosario Strait. It was good to finally spend time around Bowman Bay. Bowman Bay is the farthest-inland point that still receives ocean swells from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, though I found that by the time the swells reached all the way in here, they were reduced to six-inch babies.

Near Sares Head, I discovered a couple of small sea caves. The caves were just deep enough, and the swells just large enough, to emit the characteristic, shuddering boom that sea caves make when struck by ocean swells. I paddled inside and spent a few minutes listening to the reverberations.

Back on the strait, I observed that winter seabirds were returning to our waters. I saw great numbers of common murres, many of whom were feeding recently hatched juveniles. Marbled murrelets and pigeon guillemots were all in their winter plumage. Pacific loons were racing to and fro. I even spotted my first common goldeneyes of the season, a male and female who must just have come down from their breeding grounds in the boreal forests.

01 Sares Head.JPG

01 Sares Head, Burrows and Allan Islands in background. The flood was running about four mph here.

02 Sea cave at Sares Head.JPG

02 Inside a sea cave at Sares Head. There is a whole complex of sea caves along this coast.

03 Common murre.JPG

03 Common murre in Burrows Bay. All but one of the murres were in their winter plumage.

04 Rosario Strait.JPG

04 Looking north up Rosario Strait on a drizzly morning. This palette of grays—gray sky, gray water, gray landforms—is the classic look of the Pacific Northwest.

I had Doe Island all to myself the whole weekend. In fact, if it hadn't been for a ranger hassling me at Bowman Bay for launching a kayak in the darkness before the beach was open, I'd've gone all day Saturday without speaking to another person. As it was, I still saw far more harbor porpoises than people—always a sign of a great trip.

The forest birds on Doe Island had assembled into mixed-species feeding flocks, as is their practice in winter. I saw nuthatches, both species of chickadee, a brown creeper, and golden-crowned kinglets, all sharing the trees with one another.

When I first landed on Doe, I used the pier, ramp, and float structure on the island's north side. However, the float was so high above the water I could barely drag myself atop it, like the world's least athletic seal. When it came time to leave, I paddled the kayak empty around to a beach on the north side to make it easier to load my gear.

05 Campsite on Doe Island.JPG

05 Campsite on Doe Island. The views of Rosario Strait were unsurpassed; even better than those on nearby Strawberry Island.

06 Brown creeper.JPG

06 Brown creeper. It forages by flying to the base of a tree, then working its way up the trunk and branches to find insects, then flying off to the base of the next tree.

07 Chestnut-backed chickadee.JPG

07 Chestnut-backed chickadee on a Sitka spruce. This species in more common out in the woods, whereas the black-capped is more common in the city. However, either species can be seen in either habitat.

On Sunday, I departed Doe Island prior to the turn of the ebb tide. I was aware an early departure would pit me against the relentless current in Rosario Strait, but I was anxious to get back to my car before dusk, when the ranger would lock me in for the night and doubtless treat me to another lecture, if not a ticket.

In the face of the adverse current, the 17-mile passage took me seven hours—twice as long as when I'd been able to take advantage of a favorable current the entire way. I spent the first four hours crawling along at under one mile per hour, wearing myself out to little effect, until the current finally flipped and I got a huge push the rest of the way back to Bowman Bay.

08 Paddling down Rosario Strait.JPG

08 Paddling south down Rosario Strait. Cypress Island on the left, Blakely Island on the right, Fidalgo and Burrows in the distance ahead.

09 Juvenile murre and Mt Baker.JPG

09 Juvenile murre and Mt. Baker. This youngster was still dependent on its father for food. It swam around cheeping plaintively until the father came and gave it a fish.

10 Surfbird and black turnstone.JPG

10 Surfbird and black turnstone on Burrows Island. These winter visitors forage on rocks just about the waterline, scampering up and down to avoid getting splashed.

11 Sunset over Olympic Mountains.JPG

11 Sunset over Olympic mountains. In this part of the world, the clouds don't obscure they view; they are the view.

12 Sunset near Allan Island.JPG

12 Sunset near Allan Island. There's plenty of kelp, but the only otters around here are river otters, not sea otters.

I made it back to my car about half an hour before gate-closing time. Instead of a lecture, the ranger welcomed me back and asked me about my trip.

How could I explain to the ranger why the trip was so good? There's nothing better than to spend two days wandering around beneath the clouds, exploring the soul of the San Juans.

Alex
 

PhotoMax

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Joined
Sep 5, 2019
Messages
25
Location
Orcas Island, WA
First post for me here (experienced difficulties getting the permission thing set?)...

I love these trip reports! Just a wonderful mix of paddling tech stuff, navigation, maps, pictures, tips and focus on wildlife...

I live ten minutes from Doe Island. I purchased two kayaks last year but have yet to spend the night camping on Doe Island. This tiny island has like five camp spots and is the smallest or second smallest state park in the state of Washington. A quiet hidden gem.

Let me know if you are ever up this way again. I have a waterfront cabin minutes away...

Max
 

PhotoMax

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Sep 5, 2019
Messages
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Location
Orcas Island, WA
This is Cypress Island, captured a couple of weeks ago from Doe Bay. You would get the same view from camping at Doe Island, which is a very short paddle away...
 

alexsidles

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Joined
Jan 10, 2009
Messages
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Location
Seattle WA
Thanks for the kind words, everyone, and the lovely Cypress Island photo, Max.

There is an error in the trip report, which I’ve corrected in the version on alexsidles.com but which the forum software won’t allow me to correct here. The beach on Doe Island that makes an easier alternative to the pier, ramp, and float is on the south side of the island, not the north side. Kayakers may want to land on the south side.

Alex
 

PhotoMax

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Joined
Sep 5, 2019
Messages
25
Location
Orcas Island, WA
As this island is the size of a postage stamp I doubt anyone will miss finding the beach. :D

Have you paddled the other direction, north-east along the Orcas coast towards Lawrence Point? There are some lovely coves and rock pools, depending on the tides, to explore. Currents run strong along this “quiet side“ of Orcas Island. Some folks have had issues with the currents on a strong flood tide behind that point, beyond which can be classic big sea...
 
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alexsidles

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Joined
Jan 10, 2009
Messages
531
Location
Seattle WA
Max,

I have paddled up Lawrence Point a couple of times, but never close enough to shore to visit the coves and rock pools you describe. Currents are substantial in Rosario Strait at about four knots, but no worse than the rest of the strait further south. Around the bend to the northwest, currents abate considerably, although they still run over two knots. I'm surprised to hear you say folks had trouble on the flood, as it is usually the ebb that is stronger in the Rosario Strait area.

North of the northeasternmost private building, Lawrence Point is public land, including the shoreline. You can land on all those beaches. According to the Washington State Public Lands Finder, the land belongs to DNR, but that is inaccurate. The land actually belongs to the Washington State Parks Commission, as confirmed by the San Juan County Parcel Map. From available records, it appears the transfer from DNR to State Parks occurred in 2005. The Public Lands Finder is not always updated very frequently. This is not the first time I've caught it in an error.

Parks ownership is good news from a conservation standpoint, because whereas most DNR land can be logged, State Parks land cannot. However, from a recreation standpoint, dispersed camping is allowed on DNR land (unless otherwise posted) but not on State Parks land. Sadly, I must shelve my original plan to one day camp on a secret beach at Lawrence Point.

According to the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, the long-term plan for Lawrence Point is to connect it to the nearby Moran State Park. State Parks has had its eye on this property since at least its February 14, 2000 Moran State Park Management Plan, and now the plan is coming to fruition. Hiking trails will be constructed between Lawrence Point and the main part of the park. It will make for a cool kayak-hiking day trip once complete.

Alex
 
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PhotoMax

Paddler
Joined
Sep 5, 2019
Messages
25
Location
Orcas Island, WA
Alex,

Great background info!

I think some folks have gone beyond the point in a strong flood tide and have found themselves struggljng to avoid being out in the shipping lane waters. My place (two years into this project) is on the water just north of Doe Bay.

As you mention the currents, both flooding and ebbing, can be quite strong here. I have the tide/current books and use DeepZoom to plan paddle outings. I have been warned by locals never to paddle beyond Lawrence Point on a flood tide. I do most of my paddling alone. This will be my second year of paddling so I am still very new to it all and am quite cautious. I paddle a Romany Surf and a Dagor Stratos 14.5 L.

I have seen quite a few folks casually way out in this water with open recreational boats, just one paddle, cotten clothes, and no PFD: just makes my head hurt...
 
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