Monday, July 4, 2016

San Juan Expedition Part 1

Heading Out (Sidney to Roche Harbour)- Friday April 29th (Day#1)

The San Juan Islands .... so close to home but why is it that we haven't heard of many people going there by kayak? Robyn and I got talking with Kari Challenger and we thought why not, let's do it so we put the word out that we were going and Lynn Baier and Michael Egilson decided to join our little paddling expedition at the end of April.

Only a mere 3.5 nm crossing from Rum Island (Canada) to Stuart Island (USA) the San Juan Islands were just too tempting for us to pass up. Maybe it's the fact that the border is involved and you have to paddle to the nearest customs location and possibly run the risk of having all your dehydrated foods confiscated. Maybe its the fact that to get there you have to cross a major shipping channel dodging 900 foot freighters and oil tankers not once but twice if you plan on coming home. Maybe it's the fact that you can't simply land where ever you want to because the land owners have property rights right to the water line. Maybe its the fact that we heard there are lots of currents there. Maybe its the fact that we would have to drink American beer and wine. LOL

Packing the kayaks at Van Isle Marina

Our little band of 5 paddlers launched out of Van Isle Marina at 06:45am to try and take advantage of a double slack that was being predicted for the morning. You see, if there was going to be a game of Frogger with big ships in the shipping channel we thought no currents would be in our favor to get a high score. Oh yeah I forgot to mention ... none of us had ever been there before either so we were really being explorers venturing into uncharted territory. But at least we had a couple of charts. LOL

To get there we decided that we would leave Sidney and head to Rum Island which would be our "Go, No Go" decision point before making the short run across to Stuart Island. After checking the Marine Traffic app on my iPhone and saw no big ships for miles and mile and miles we made the decision (08:30am) to press on towards the USA. Talk about anticlimactic! No big ships edging hard around Turn Point towards us and nothing heading our direction from Discovery Island.

The paddle into US waters was totally uneventful and it felt more like crossing over to Sidney Island from Sidney except we needed to find where Roche Harbour was on San Juan Island to check into customs. Remember, no landing until clearing customs..... even for a pee break! Checking our charts we could see where the entrance to Roche Harbour should be so we adjusted our course to paddle past a small islet called Battleship Rock and then we experienced our first taste of San Juan Islands currents. From a distance I started to notice that we weren't making very good progress towards the rock and no sooner had I figured that out I noticed the increasing ebb current flowing around the island. So it was early into our expedition that we got to experience how the water moves to and from the Georgia Basin through the San Juan Islands.

Arriving just a little bit behind schedule we paddled into Roche Harbour past spectacular waterfront homes some with their own de Havilland Beavers tied up to their docks and started searching for the customs dock. We had heard about Roche Harbour being a get-away destination and it was obvious by the multi million dollar yachts in the marina. Robyn had done a little recon the week before and actually called the US Customs Office at Roche Harbour and found out that we had to check in no later than 11:30am before they closed for a couple of hours.  

We located the Harbormasters building and managed to climb out of our kayaks at 10:45am onto the dock which was about 3 feet above us. There was a sense of accomplishment having paddled from Canada to the USA even though it is a relatively short crossing and not having big ships issues.

Tied up and waiting to clear customs

We let Robyn make the call to the US Customs using one of the dedicated telephones on the outside of the Harbormaster building. We were in luck as Robyn spoke to the young lady that she spoken to a few days earlier and before we knew it the young lady came down to the dock to check our passports. Looking like a group of honest kayakers (which we are) there was no checking our kayaks or even our dehydrated food that we brought with us. We each received a US clearance number just in case anyone asked us for proof of being allowed in the US and then it was time to get some much needed supplies ..... beer and wine!!!

Robyn makes the call to US Customs to let them know we are on the dock. 

The harbormasters office told us where we need to move our kayaks to before heading to the Roche Harbour Lime and Cement Co. general store for provisions. After picking up some fresh essentials such as fruit, soda, beer, wine and only one bag of Lays chips we headed to Posey Island State Park that we had passed paddling into Roche Harbour.

The one thing I regret is not exploring the town of Roche Harbour but we needed to get to Posey Island to ensure that we had a campsite to stay at. Posey Island is a small, one-acre marine camping park with 1,000-feet of shoreline for the exclusive use of boaters arriving by human or wind-powered watercraft.

Most of the state marine parks can be reserved ahead of time but we were visiting the San Juan Islands two weeks before reservations could be made so we just had to hope for the best at every place that we would make camp. Fingers crossed.

The campsite from the water. A very beautiful place to spend our first night

We landed on Posey just after 1:00pm and were totally blown away by how well maintained it was. Being a very small island it only has two available campsites (both empty) which can have a maximum of 8 persons each but there are no designated tent areas other than the abundant freshly cut grass to set up camp. The island also has a very clean and well stocked composing toilet and our first impression of the state park was pretty good. The other thing to note is that each campsite has a fire ring and the parks promote burning driftwood. Best yet ... the whole campsite is only $12 per night. What a great place to make camp after an early start to the day.

Does a campsite get any better than this???

We spent the rest of the day just taking it easy, planning for our next day of paddling and hiking around the island which took maybe a whole 10 minutes if you were lucky. The forecast for the next several days was warm temperatures and nothing but sunshine.

Sunset over Vancouver Island.

Talk about getting lucky with late April early May weather!! We watched the sun set over the Gulf Islands and it was just after 8:30pm when we all climbed into our tents. It was a great day 1.

2016 Paddle #17 - Sidney - Roche Harbour
Distance: 13.13 nm (24.31 km)
YTD: 118.48 nm (219.42 km)

Exploring (Posey Island to Blind Bay Island) Saturday April 30th (Day#2)

Just before sunrise on day #2

Robyn and I were up early 5:30am on day 2 and oh my what a beautiful sunrise that was greeting us as we climbed out of our tent. Our plan for the day was to be on the water for 9:00am so that we could take advantage of the slack in San Juan Channel which would be our only major (2nm) crossing for the day.  Keeping in mind that we had never been here before and we were trying to avoid any potential water features marked on the chart like whirlpools and standing waves. Arriving at Limestone Point we were relieved to see nothing but calm water and a couple of Washington State ferries heading down towards Friday Harbour in the south.

Our first port of call was the north campsite on Jones Island State Park. We paddled into the sheltered cove that had a dock with pleasure craft tied up. Landing on the nice gravel beach we explored the campsite that was once again beautifully manicured with two composting toilets and several campsites. We stopped to talk to the pleasure craft owners who were all middle aged men belonging to a group known as the Dogfish Derby fishermen. They actually didn't do any fishing anymore but instead their annual gathering was more of a "man party" for the weekend and they kindly warned us if we were going to stay here for the night it might get a little loud. LOL

We had other plans anyway so we headed on our way to the south end of Jones Island in our kayaks even though we could have walked the half mile trail through the middle of the island. Arriving at the south Jones Island State Park we found a beautifully manicured expansive grassy meadow and several Adirondack huts that could be used (and reserved) and lots of space to set up camp. We were now begining to see the pattern of how well the Washington State Marine Park system is maintained and operated and something our Gulf Islands National Parks Reserve should considering looking at as an operating model.

The beach at the Jones Island south campsite.

A beautifully manicured meadow with several campsites around the perimeter

Less than a mile south from the park we could see a very green grassy looking island and by checking our handbook (Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands) we found out that it was called Yellow Island which is a Nature Conservancy. I could envision how yellow it could become during the summer months. We headed towards it to do a little exploring carried along with the presence of a gently building ebb. The island has limited access, no camping or restroom facilities and is open to the public to visit from 10:00am to 4:00pm year round. Another regret of not stopping to spend some time on the island but that will have to wait for another trip as we need to make way towards our next overnight location in Blind Bay 5 nm east.

Our route took us past Cliff and Crane Island and then we followed the northern shoreline of Shaw Island against a building ebb until we reached Blind Bay and our next campsite on Blind Island at 2:00pm. From a distance the Blind Island State Marine Park didn't look anything more than a steeply sided mound rising out of the bay but once we got a bit closer we could make out a few picnic benches. The 3-acre island is located off Shaw Island near the entrance to Blind Bay and is part of San Juan Islands National Monument, which was created in 2013. It has about 1,280 feet of shoreline but due to the steepness you can't really walk along the waterline.

Searching for a place to land we located a small rocky landing area (not really a beach) on the west side and took turns landing and lifting our kayaks up onto dry land so that they could be unloaded. Once again we had the whole island to ourselves and after checking out the several campsites we settled on site #2 because it was the largest and flatest site on the island. However, each site nestled in the tall grass was manicured beautifully, each with a fire ring and very clean composting toilet all for $12 per night for up to 8 persons.

Not your average outhouse. Very clean, well stocked and some even had tile floors!!

We unloaded all the gear that we would need and Michael and I decided to make a run across Harney Channel to the town of Orcas less than a half mile away. After a nice afternoon of relaxing on Posey Island the day before, Michael and I did a little math and figured out that our beer supply might not make it before the trip was over so off we went to get more provisions. 

Enjoying the sun on top of Blind Island

The view to the west from the top of  Blind Island

After dinner we explored the little island, lit a small fire in site #1 and watched the sun set on our day 2 adventures. Tomorrow our plan was to be on the water at 09:00am and head further east around the bottom of Orcas Island.

2016 Paddle #18 - Posey Island to Blind Bay Island
Distance: 12.82 nm (23.74 km)
Trip: 25.95 nm (48.06 km)
YTD: 131.30 nm (243.16km)

Note: More pictures of the entire San Juan Islands trip can be found by following the link HERE 

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