A San Juan traverse

Posted by Ken Campbell May 24, 2010 0 Comment 1025 views
The weather was perfect for paddling. A couple of raindrops – literally, two – on Saturday afternoon, but the sun was out most of the time and the San Juans are at their most beautiful when the sun is shining.

The Rosario Strait crossing went quickly, our pace spurred by a massive freighter bearing down from the north. Although I knew we were moving fast enough to avoid him and his course was veering to pass behind us anyway, it’s still a humbling feeling to be that small around something that big. Even with all that room to move around, it’s almost like some kind of magnetism takes effect, a tractor beam maybe, like on Star Wars.

We got to the beach at James Island in 80 minutes, which isn’t bad at all. Conditions were most benign all the way across (a little wind near the island), but any fear I had about the board not keeping up to kayaking pace was gone. The Bark 14 flat out moves! Even with a load comparable to the one I expect to be hauling this summer on the coast, I had no trouble maintaining the going speed.

We cracked into our lunches and spent a lazy hour on the island, hiking a few of the trails and looking for agates on the beach. There is a loop trail on the southern portion of James Island that features quiet groves of fir and cedar, along with expansive views of Rosario Strait and Fidalgo Island.

The next four miles to Spencer Spit went quickly as well… normal kayaking speed, about 85 minutes. The wind pushed us on our way as we left James Island and entered Thatcher Pass, but before we could get to the top of Lopez Sound, it turned on us. The last half-hour or so was spent bucking a quartering headwind – a little harder than I wanted to work, but I was still able to make decent progress. Jackie beat me to the beach by five minutes – she had been further out in the choppier water of the Pass – and as I got to the beach, the first thing I could see was her grin. “That was fun!,” she said. “Let’s do it again.”

After setting up camp and hanging some wet gear up to dry in the afternoon sun, I took a walk down to the end of the spit. The cabin that once stood here is gone now – it was here the last time I passed this way, about two years ago, but it was looking pekid. With its log walls twisting from the forces of time, wind and gravity, it was only a matter of when, not if, it would finally collapse. They’ve built a new one now, concrete foundation and all, a replica of the original building that stood on the spot (one of the early homestead’s guest houses.)

Clouds were gathering as the afternoon turned into evening, and the wind had picked up. It was a cold wind, even though it blew from out of the south, and we were both tucked into our tents before darkness fell.

I awoke early on Sunday morning. The wind was still blowing, though not as strong as the night before. Low clouds scudded across the gray sky; I was wearing everything I’d brought with me. According to the last weather report I’d heard, conditions were supposed to be even more favorable than they had been the day before, but apparently just not yet. Oatmeal for breakfast, with fresh blueberries and granola, then into the drysuit for round two.

The wind pushed us along for the first 3 miles, to the top of Lopez Island. Once around the corner, however, it was in our faces, so we crossed over to the Shaw Island shoreline in an effort to escape it as much as possible. The current and the wind funneled through Cattle Pass and gathered speed, blasting directly north to where we were picking our way along the rocks. I felt the effects of the breeze more than Jackie did, and for a while anyway, I did my paddling sitting down.

It couldn’t have been that bad though… we were at Turn Island, just outside Friday Harbor, in short order. Somewhere in there, the skies had gone from gray to blue and summer had returned. We paddled the last half-mile into town in the lee of the San Juan shore, feeling the warmth of the sun on our backs as we finished the trip.


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