Updated: Jun 13
I wondered if this morning I should do a visual inspection of Deception Pass from the Bridge that crosses the strait to see what I was about to get into. I had previously heard that the waters at the throat of the pass can be very treacherous and are full of tidal whirlpools and boils that can change almost from minute to minute and even motorboats can have difficulty making headway against the current. David gave me a warning about it.
“When you get there, you’ll see that there is an island right in the middle of the pass, one side is narrower than the other. The narrow side is rougher, but that is the side most kayakers go through as motorboats favor the wider side, where there is some room for maneuvering. Once you pick a side there is no going back, you can’t fight the current.”
I was camped on Hope Island about three miles from the pass. The water was calm like a lake with hardly any perceptible movement. The high tide had been about half an hour before and so the currents had not yet had much time to develop.
I decided to switch today from the wing paddle which I had used the past two days to the euro blade which gives me a bit more stability on the water, and for good measure, put on my helmet and decided to practice a few more rolls.
To my disappointment, I did not roll back up and had to do a wet cowboy reentry. The rolling techniques of the euro and wing paddles are slightly different, and it takes a few trial rounds to become accustomed to one when you’ve been paddling with the other for a while. I hadn’t paddled with the euro blade in several months.
After getting back in the boat I debated if I should try again. The water was extremely cold, and this extended dip (which was barely 20 seconds) had my core chilled, breathing heavily and yet sluggish.
“I don’t think I want to try this again for now.” I thought. “Better to get going while the tide was still weak and ebbing.”
I decided that I would inch my way to the pass slowly and carefully observing the water so I could judge the conditions. When I got sight of the bridge over the pass, I extended my neck as high as I could to catch sight of any tidal rapids. I could not see any on the wide side of the pass, and this early in the morning there were also no motorboats. I chose to take that route.
To my good fortune, the Deception Pass wasn’t living up to the hype. I crossed under the bridge about two hours after high tide. There were a few whirlpools spinning and tossing driftwood, but nothing scary. The wind was completely calm, and the air was silent. Only after I checked the GPS later that day, did I realize that I had a maximum speed for the day of just over 10 knots. When the wind blows against the current this place would certainly look very different from the bening conditions I had just paddled through.
Reaching the Juan de Fuca channel was like entering the football pitch through the tunnel of an empty stadium. The landscape widened in all directions, I had a clear view of the horizon with a few mountain summits in the San Juan Islands visible above the low clouds and the rippling sound of the current.
I hugged the coast and paddled north up to a town called Anacortes. When I was planning the route for the journey, I specifically planned to spend a day here to go to the local pharmacy for a PCR Covid test before crossing into Canada. However, the testing requirement had been lifted just a few days prior. Instead, I stopped in town for a more urgent need. I desperately had to find a bathroom to play call of duty.
I located an outhouse at the local marina, but to my dismay it had an electronic combination lock on it. I sat by the door for a while hoping some local might pass by to use it. My luck was in full swing as someone did after just a few minutes. I gazed out of the corner of my eye to try and glance at how the man typed the numbers on the keypad. It took me 5 tries but I eventually got it. 9137 yay! Deception Pass may have had disappointing whirlpools today, but I was going to make a big one here.
My kayak being much lighter, I made the five-mile crossing to the San Juan islands at top speed. I had hoped to make it as far as Orcas Island, however, I wasn’t yet feeling ready to put in a thirty-mile day. Instead, I stopped a little closer at Lopez Island which was just across the channel at a place called Spencer Spit. I had seen on Google Earth that the spit had a defined triangle shape with a wide beach on either side reaching into the sea towards a small rocky islet. I have noticed these kinds of formations before but on open coastlines where an island close to shore is eventually connected to the mainland. The waves immediately behind the island are calmer, and therefore sand is progressively deposited, until a sand bridge is formed. This is the first time however, that I have seen this type of formation far from the ocean and surrounded by other nearby islands that would have settled the sand long before it would have any chance of getting here. The meandering currents through the Juan the Fuca Strait and its many islands must be just right that this is the place where the sand finally settles out of the water column.
I approached the spit from the south shore before noticing a few tents immediately to the north, and so continued on, passing right in between the tip of the sand spit and the island it is slowly reaching out to.
Unfortunately, there weren’t just a few tents, but an entire tent city with nearly every patch of grass spoken for, but strangely, there was no one around. It was as if I had arrived in a ghost town.
I climbed out of the kayak, pulled it above the high-water mark on the sand, and walked up the short path through the tall grass to the campsite. The tents were all neatly arranged two or three per plot. Some plots had wooden benches and on top of them were dry bags and coolers which I presumed had food and drinks. On one bench was a plastic sack full of hotdog and hamburger buns. I don’t think it could have been more than a few minutes since it had been laid there, or the racoons and crows would surely have ransacked it all by now.
Eventually as I walked from plot to plot trying to find an empty spot to camp for the night, a person inside one of the tents noticed my presence and walked out to meet me. He was a kid whose age could not have been more than fifteen. He seemed to walk with a slight limp.
“High there, where is everyone?” I asked. He seemed a bit hesitant to talk but eventually answered me in a low voice.
“They are not here.”
“I can see that, but where did everyone go? There are enough tents here for some fifty people or more.”
“Everyone went cycling, they’ll be back soon.”
“How come you didn’t go cycling?” I asked before realizing that the question might offend him. He did not answer me.
I found a plot that seemed a little emptier than most at the edge of the campsite and decided to pile my gear there. Whenever the other campers arrived, I would ask if I could lay claim to a small patch of grass for the night.
About 30 minutes later a few cyclists on mountain bikes began rolling in. They were middle school kids, and soon the eerie quiet that had hung over the campsite like a fog dissipated with the chatter and shouting of a dozen little voices. One of the boys grabbed a football and was soon throwing and passing it between his friends. Eventually I heard the voice of an adult, telling the rowdy troop that they would soon be preparing dinner. I approached him to introduce myself and explain my situation.
“Oh of course please do camp right here for the night if you’d like. We are a school group from Utah and every year we take the kids out on a weeklong summer vacation camping trip. This year we decided on the San Juan Islands. There are about a hundred of us in total. Today the activity was cycling. Tomorrow we might go kayaking if the weather is decent. Yes, it gets a bit crazy but the kids love it. Wow, you are on the beginning of a big trip!”
I quickly grabbed the rest of my gear, set up my tent, and started eating my dinner. Today I would be eating canned tuna and canned salmon for the main course, followed by canned pineapple for dessert. I stretched my used socks and undergarments over the tent to give them a chance to soak up the remaining sunshine, and then sat on my folding chair to rest and watch the kids chasing after the football.
At that moment one of the other adults in the group approached me. He didn’t look happy to see me.
“I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to move. We booked the whole campsite for the week, and we do not want outsiders.”
“Your colleague said I could camp here for the night.”
“Well, he is wrong. I’m the one in charge and you have to go.”
I did not see much point in arguing. The best I would get would be a night with unfriendly people who didn’t want me around. I disassembled the tent, packed up my gear, and moved to the beach.
Sea kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation