Our Life, Our Love, Our Lady: the Sea

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Tales of a San Juans Sea Kayaking Adventure

This fantastic week began with a 7:30 meeting time at Catlin on Sunday morning. We loaded the bus and drove up to Alder Creek’s Jantzen Beach shop where we met up with Chris and Paul to try out various kayaks and dry suits for fit on land. Once we all found our dream Michelin-man suits, booties, and vessels, we drove north across the Columbia for our Basic Skills Class on benign Vancouver Lake.

Though perfectly placid, within ten minutes on the lake at least four of us succumbed to the difficulties of balancing and maneuvering barely eighteen-inch wide boats across water, and capsized! Thankfully, our dry suits kept us warm and toasty. After learning the basic strokes and practicing our edging and turning (and a few more capsizes), we all dove in the water in order to practice rescuing each other. Students adapted quickly to the importance of good communication, emptying teammates’ boats of water after flipping, and “rafting up” in order to increase stability and make for easier re-entries. After a game of Sharks and Minnows, we pulled ashore, loaded boats on the trailer, and enjoyed a quick brown bag lunch in the park before moving further north toward Seattle.

 

As soon as the Space Needle emerged on the horizon, we knew that Chris Potts and the Seattle Bouldering Project loomed nearby. “If you want to start a business, expect that it will take roughly six times more time and seven times more money to get going than you think,” Chris warned as he gave us a tour of the sprawling complex that he and a buddy opened a month ago, just east of I-5. His time and investment clearly paid off, and we enjoyed two hours of world-class indoor bouldering—the next best thing to an actual trip to Squamish or the Valley. Though most of us reveled in the creative route-setting and steep walls, Ian, Hannah, and Henry spent most of their time wrestling with Chris on the pole-vault-landing-style padded floor. Chris won, hands down. Visiting and playing with Chris definitely makes the highlight list for this trip, and future Catlin groups should not hesitate to go out of their way for a stop at SBP!

 

We then continued our journey northward, and finally met up with Chris and Dave at Washington Park in Anacortes for our first night. After a hearty taco dinner in the dark, we settled into a night of sleep on soft pine needles under a thick canopy and clear skies.

 

After an early Monday breakfast of peanut butter, Nutella, honey, and banana sandwiches, we loaded the bus and caught the 8:30 am ferry to Guemes Island. We drove to our launch site at the far north end of the island and began the tedious process of packing gear into dry bags and cramming it into our long skinny hulls for our sea voyage to Cypress Island. We learned to pay attention to the balance of weight not only from the front to the back, but also side to side while packing our kayaks.

 

 

Once fully locked and loaded, the previous day’s Basic Skills Class proved to be a valuable learning experience that enabled our entire group to confidently and immediately hit the open-ish sea. A two-hour paddle on calm water propelled us past dramatic wildlife such as porpoises, seals, eagles, oyster catchers, and more to Pelican Beach on the north end of Cypress Island—our new home for the next three nights. And…everyone stayed dry! We set up camp, explored the woods and beach, napped, went for short hikes and runs through the trees, skipped rocks, threw rocks and logs, built forts and fires, ate delicious Pad Thai for dinner, read our fortunes to one another (at six cents a piece, you can’t beat WinCo’s fortune cookies for the ultimate conversation starters), and went to sleep to the sound of pebbles echoing against one another at the edge of the water.

 

On Tuesday, we paddled our longest stretch of the week along the cliffs of the west side of Cypress Island, down through Rosario Strait to Strawberry Island. Though somewhat of a misnomer (we found many more wild strawberries on Cypress than on Strawberry), the 200-yard long island became the perfect spot to stop for lunch and an afternoon siesta. Students explored the island’s rocks and meadows and consulted a field guide for information on wildflowers such as wild roses and yarrow. Three students decided to join Erin and Dave for a short paddle to the south side of Cypress Island and a three-mile hike, and the rest of the group sunned for another hour on Strawberry before heading back north to our base camp.

 

Highlights of the remaining days include rafting seven boats together and creating a makeshift sailboat with a hammock and paddles (it worked!); finding dozens of bones, shells, pebbles, feathers, and other treasures; hiking seven and a half miles up and down the highest peak on Cypress Island; Dutch oven apple pie and polenta lasagna; learning about the incredibly complex currents, tides, topography, ebb and flood patterns, and weather variables of the San Juans; building drift wood fires and roasting marshmallows; playing silly games such as “hit the stick” and “launch each other off the log” on the beach; a nighttime paddle amongst billions of phytoplankton all lit up; sunny, clear skies and temps in the 60s and 70s; sleeping under the stars; a mixed-age group of students working extremely well together; and a windy and rough but exciting and satisfying paddle on our return to Guemes Island at the end.

 

The drive home went smoothly thanks to a late lunch stop at Burgerville in Centralia. We listened to our theme song, “Brandy is a Fine Girl” by Looking Glass at LEAST six times on the way home, belting the lyrics out the windows. Our life, our love, and our lady, indeed, was the sea—at least for the last five days. Most students agreed that leaving the islands proved to be their principal “low” of the week. All agreed that they’d do this trip again, ideally for at least a full week. We will be back!