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Washington Park, Anacortes to San Juan Island County Park Aug 16 - 22, 2021


Jan 17, 2021
Portland, Or
My apologies, this is a longer than anticipated post.

After months of planning and giddy anticipation, my son’s and I completed our week-long adventure through the San Juan Island Archipelago. My apologies for the delay, but I finally got time to put it together.

The load at the park.PNG

Day 1. Monday Anacortes to Obstruction Pass State Park - Taking careful consideration of ebbs and floods and a ferry schedule, we started from Washington park at 7:15am Monday to catch the flood train up Rosario Strait with a pit stop on Strawberry Island in honor of Alex. The plan was to hang out at the Guemes Channel buoy until the 7:35am ferry leaving Anacortes passed by, and then make our way to Cypress Island’s Reef Point. Once the Yakima passed by, 10 Minutes late, we were literally the only craft in the water for the next hour. With a 10 knot wind at our backs and building flood we effortlessly made our way north. The next step was crossing Rosario Strait and making our way up the east side of Blakely Island. As you can tell from the picture below, as much as I thought we were ferrying, we were getting blown, swept, pushed, you name it. All I wanted was to make it through Peavine Pass. After about 30 minutes of paddling we took a break just to enjoy the funky grey colors and jumping fish when we noticed Strawberry Island was waaaaaay far away and the north tip of Blakely was fast approaching, yet we were not even close. Worst case scenario we miss the pass. A good lesson for me nonetheless. And yes, we should have gone through Obstruction Pass, but there was a cool beach we wanted to stop at. Obstruction Pass State Park is pretty cool. Not a hikers stop, but a great place to take in the accomplishment of the day. We considered paddling up to Olga to grab oysters at Buck Bay Shelfish Farm, but we enjoyed just hanging out and talking about how the hardest part of the trip was now over…..maybe.

Day One Washington Park, Anacortes Cypress in Background.PNG
A lesson in Ferrying.PNG

The team above: Noah and Ross The Path Taken: Above
Strawberry Island.PNG

Middle of Ferry Crossing looking north to Strawberry I.

Day 1 making our way.PNG

Another pause in the paddle, just taking it in.

all our stuff at Obs pass st pk.PNG

WWTA Campsite and all our stuff

Day 2 Tuesday Obs State Park to Jones Island on Water - All good trip planners have bail out points, and day two was the first. If we wanted an easy day, then Blind Island was our goal. If the team felt good we were going to Jones Island. After talking with the guides of a large group of kids from the Orikila School who were also heading to Blind Island, I got my boys to commit to another early wake up call, not easy, and make Jones our destination. Leaving at 8am, we made a stop at the Orcas Ferry Terminal to have lunch and quickly charge phones back to 100%. Here is a little tip. If you also one day want to stop at this ferry terminal, make Bay Head Marina your stop, just east of the ferry terminal. It is much easier getting out of the kayak here than at the docks. I made a call to the manager well in advance of our trip and he said park next to the boat ramp. A little muddy, yet very welcoming; it’s about a quarter mile walk to the terminal and grocery store. Once our bellies and batteries were filled, we made our way across West Sound, through Pole Pass at slack, across Deer Harbor, passed the north side of Reef Island, south of Steep Point on Orcas, and then across Spring Passage to Jones Island. Ah, Jones Island. This alone made it all worth it.

Day 2 Jones Island on Land - The trails on this island are well done. Once we set up camp, we did the west loop to find the WCT campsite and a decent perch for the sunset now that the clouds had all but disappeared. Here is a second tip for those who don’t know, I didn’t. If you want to camp at the WCT site on the west side of Jones, DO NOT land at the south cove per the WWTA guidebook. There is a perfect landing spot right in front of and below the sites that allow you to avoid the approximate one mile hike from the south cove. The two WCT sits were occupited so we camped in site 19 next to the orchard. Awesome spot for the curious.
jones i with spieden in background.PNG

Day 3 Wednesday Layover on Jones: Lots of resting, chess matches, hiking the east side and trip to Yellow, Nob, Coon, McConnell Islands where we saw/heard many seals. Based on the reports from the Whale Research Center we missed the transients feeding on these very seals the following day. Did I mention sunsets? Yes, everyone on this forum knows about the sunsets so I’ll stop here. Epic! So epic if you look carefully, even a seal was taking it in.
landing at yellow island.PNG

West Spit Yellow Island.PNG

Yellow Island West Spit

Yellow I from Jones I.PNG

Yellow Island from Jones Island east loop trail

The Crew Taking in Sunset.PNG

The Crew
Seal Takes in Sunset.PNG

Sunset and a seal on Jones Island near the WCT site.

Day 4 Thursday Jones Island to Posey - An easy paddle day. I had two goals: make it through Spiedend Channel in the morning for a little current assist and take a shower at Roche Harbor. We stunk. So using science and a bribe to guide my boys I told them we are waking up early again to be on the water by 8am and that will allow us fish and chips for lunch. One thing my boys like to do is paddle for about 30 minutes and then rest. I like it too. It makes me remember why we’re out there in the first place. So we hung out in the San Juan Channel a bit to take in the sunrise behind our backs, the last of the flood trying to fight us and salmon jumping everywhere. Once we rounded Davidson Head and more than a few checks of my map, we finally spotted Posey Island; it’s tiny. It was the perfect middle of the trip stop. I know people land there for partying etc...and we had a little of that. However, as the sun started to set, all was quiet, other than the 8pm cannon shot and incessant horn blowing from all the yachts from the harbor. Once that died down 30 seconds later, it was us and the moon and the sounds of the water. I’ll never get tired of wondering what all is out there just below the surface. The sunsets below on McCracken Point.

Sunset from Posey.PNG

Sunset on McCracken Point from Posey Island

Day 5 Friday Jones Island to Stuart Island - I gave the boys an option, we can head south to San Juan County Park and catch the ferry Saturday or we can head north to Stuart and add one more day of long paddling and hiking. They had no interest in leaving early so we timed it to catch a little of the ebb to cross Spieden Channel and then made our way into Reid Harbor. The hike to the lighthouse was as advertised. A little bit of trail, a lot of gravel road, but what a cool little library and museum on the way. I was also able to get a great view of Gooch/Rum Island, which is where I first got the bug to Kayak many years ago. We will return once the borders open. Turn Point is also a great spot just to sit and ponder life and all it’s wonders. It was also a great opportunity to show the boys just how fast container ships travel.

Rum Gooch Island from Turn Point.PNG

Day 6 Saturday Stuart to San Juan County Park - Ride the Ebb, then get nowhere fast. I listened to the weather report Friday night and warned the boys, WX2 on the VHF was calling for 15 to 25kt winds from the south in Haro Strait, and that presented a potential problem. So we thought we’d start early to ride the ebb as fast and far as possible. And that worked until a seal pup on Henry Island said, “You will not land here!” But before the seal pup, I must share this observation.
Spieden from a distance.PNG

Spieden ahead and no winds, yet.

Our goal coming out of Ried Harber was to get as close to Spieden as possible before turning south to cross Spieden Channel so we could be east of Danger Shoal and aim for Battleship Island. At that point we could either bomb down Mosquito Pass if the winds picked up or go along the west side of Henry Island if it was still calm. If miscalculated, the ebb could carry us into the Haro Strait shipping channel and have more wind exposure than desired. A funny thing happened...we never really got near Spieden Island. We got closer to the border than we got to Spieden. There was no wind but there was ebb. We were feeling confident and once again thinking we were making good headway. Then I looked to my right as my 17year entered Spieden Channel. He moved like he was on the Columbia River. He was a good 300 meters away and heading west quickly. According to Deepzoom this was about 3.5 knot ebb, and I knew this because I did my research and it was written on my map. I was simply impressed by how fast 3.5 knots really is. After we got organized, about a half way down Henry Island and more than a half mile off shore, we targeted a landing on Henry I. because one in the party needed a break.

Back to the Seal: We thought we would land at this nice little beach and I was about to hop out of my kayak to claim land ho and escape from the ebb when I’ll be darned that baby seal pup showed it’s cute little face. And I mean cute. Rats! Everyone back, back, back..So instead of relief we get back into the ebb. We made our way around Kellett bluff across Open Bay to a beach that looked accessible, private, but mostly out of view of the houses because we all needed relief at this point. According to Garmin, we travelled 7.5 miles in 2 hours. Not very efficient given there were times we were going 6.5 knots. But this is much better than what happened next.
henry island beach.PNG

A beach on Open Bay

I kid you not as soon as we packed up our snacks and got back in the kayaks the wind started. It was only four miles to San Juan County Park. We made our way south slowly across Mitchell Bay. As we got around the first turn we saw a group of kayakers ahead of us, and I started to wonder how slow they were going if we were catching up to them. They bailed out at Smugglers Cove and waved to us as we continued south, which seemed like an eternity to get them off our port side view. Were we going backwards? Once we got past the cove we were exposed to the full beauty of a SW wind. It was blowing us into the island and the ebb was gone. We finally made it to Smallpox Bay about 1.5 hours later and literally fell out of our kayaks. I’m blaming it on mud and not that I was really worn out. That’s my story and I’m “Sticking” to it. We didn’t have a reservation and lucked out with a site that opened up on the lower level; #31 for the curious. It doesn’t have a view, but it is really close to the water and boat ramp. We could have camped in the group site up top with the bikers and kayakers and views, but the wind blew all day and most of the night and we were able to easily wheel our kayaks right next to our site. Ah the sunsets, but you know what those look like.

Haro Strait.PNG

looking across Haro Strait to Vancouver Island


From the top of SJI County Park

Day 7 Day trip to Lime Kiln and the land of no eddies. This is for educational purposes only. If you want to do a day paddle from Smallpox Bay to Lime Kiln Lighthouse/Deadman Bay, follow these directions: Do not assume you can do it in an hour at max ebb. There are no eddies to bring you back. It took us 30 minutes to get there and an hour to get back. Time was of the essence only because we needed to pack before our taxi van arrived at noon to take us and the kayaks to Friday Harbor. We ran into a guide we’d seen a few times at Stuart Island, and he confirmed, there aren’t any eddies in that section. He said we would have been better off in a tandem or just wait it out a couple of hours. Or do what we did, and paddle like fools.

Front Row.PNG

Homeward Bound.PNG

Sorry for the long story, but everyone here has helped me put this trip together whether you knew it or not. So I feel compelled to share what I learned as well. The boys are going to plan the trip next summer, and our eyes are on you Canada.


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@alexsidles this trip was somewhat an homage to all you have posted. You are an inspiration.
@cougarmeat thank you for the insight at Stuart.

I forgot the requisite Map for the whole session. Each color represents a different day, and mostly the path taken.

The Map.png
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