Going international

Posted by Ken Campbell January 16, 2009 0 Comment 572 views

If you’re ever of a mind to try a real open-water crossing, this could be the one. If you like strong currents and fickle winds and the possibility of crossing paths with oil tankers and other ocean-going über vessels, you might enjoy a paddle accross the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

It’s not that far, just under 11 miles from Port Angeles Point to Race Rocks (above.) It used to be a fairly common route for the native population of both the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island. I don’t see many Indians out there anymore though.

Get an early start. You can park your car at the PA Point access lot at the mouth of the Elwha and carry your kayak down the trail to the beach. If you’ve done your homework and you’ve got the currents all figured out, you’ll have a compass heading all ready to go. (There are buoys and markers in the straits that can give good feedback during the course of the crossing. Use these to determine whether your pre-trip dead reckoning needs to be modified en route.)

If it’s a clear day, you’ll be able to select a landmark on the island – a peak or a saddle in the island’s ranges – to set your course. Use the compass in conjunction with your particular landmark to determine the effects of the currents on a continual basis. If the fog comes in, as it often does, you’ll need to rely solely on your compass. If you haven’t done this before, don’t worry. It’s a tad unnerving at first, paddling blindly into the soup, but if you’re not prepared to trust your compass, you shouldn’t bother bringing one at all.

If that ol’ debbil fog rolls in, or even if it doesn’t, you’ll still need to be aware of the commercial traffic with whom you are sharing the water. The Strait of Juan de Fuca is a busy shipping channel, and it is inevitable that your paths will cross with vessels much, much larger than you are. Two tips: 1) They are moving faster than it looks – their bulk makes them look stationary, even when they are at cruising speed. 2) They will not see you and they will not even feel the bump that comes as they run you down – give them as much space as you can.

When you reach the other side, there are a number of suitable beaches to put ashore. There is no convenient customs house or other means of reporting your arrival to the authorities, but I have always been willing to tell any Canadian officials about where I have come from and that I have nothing to declare. I have not, however, run into any.

Two final points. 1) Watch the currents around Race Rocks. How do you think it got its name? 2) There’s a beach just west of the lighthouse near Church Point. On the headland above the beach are the remains of an old egg-beater windmill, and there is a sign on the hill above the beach that says something about not trespassing. In the deep grass at the base of the sign is a bottle of Merlot. (Western Australia, 2001, if I remember correctly.) If you get back there before I do, please have a drink on me.

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