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Test Lab Hike–San Juan Island Kayaking, part 4 of 6

Posted by joeabbott on October 29, 2011

Day 3


Kayaking - San Juan Islands 167This is the fourth of six parts:

Part 1: Intro

Part 2: San Juan Island to Jones Island
Part 3: Jones Island to Blind Bay and back
Part 4: Jones Island to Griffin Bay Park
Part 5: Walking tour of San Juan Island NP
Part 6: Going home


I’m not a very good photographer; or, better said, when I see pictures other people take, I always wish I could get more like what they’re doing. But, digital photography has given me the confidence to shoot a bajillion pics, knowing that I’m not wasting anything. And so, I present: Smooth Rock on a Log. hee hee.

Today was the “long day”. Mileage-wise, we were on schedule to paddle something like 12 miles and it was taking us right past our launch location from a couple days prior. So, there was no small concern on our part.

What this meant was that we got up early and hit the surf just after sunrise! Well, after we waiting on Ron to pack all his stuff and for everyone to quibble and argue over how much water they had to store on their kayak.

Our destination was Griffin Bay Campground: squinting at the small map to the right, you can see it as number “31” on the SPOT tracks. As campgrounds go, it was very nice: each site had a picnic table, as long as you weren’t in the “entry site” you had privacy, the grounds were mowed and not overgrown, and they had a privy not too far away. However, there was no water. At least no potable water. A “dry camp”.

And so we had to bring our own. Tim was genius himself by picking up a five-gallon collapsible plastic container; the others of us had smaller containers but many different ones. All told, I believe we had somewhere north of 10 gallons of water for the two days we’d be at the camp. It was more than enough.

But, in packing we found that our kayaks, which had appeared plenty capacious on the trip out, were suddenly jammed to the top for today’s trip. So the hijinks ensued as Tim stashed a gallon of water in my cockpit (arguing that he was bringing his 5 gallon container), I put it back in his boat (citing the tent that was among our gear), and he ended up setting it on Dan’s seat. And Dan played the grownup and found room for it.

Kayaking - San Juan Islands 164Kayaking - San Juan Islands 173But, we loaded up, waddled the now-overweight kayaks to the waterline, and shoved off in the early morning light. Once again Dan and I were a team!

The trip south didn’t seem special in any notable way: we passed to the east of Yellow Island, tipped our collective hats to Pt. George, and made our way to our first stop of the morning at Turn Island. But as we neared Turn Island and brought our boats together, someone noted that we’d only been out an hour or so and had covered the distance it’d taken us a couple days prior in a fraction of the time! We’d clearly caught the current and the goodwill of the morning calm waters.

So, we were just working out the kinks from the evening before and were feeling good when our itinerary said to stop and take a look at Turn Island. And so we did.

Dan and I beached first and I dragged my food bag out and settled on a nearby picnic table for a mid-morning snack. As Ron and Tim were just getting out of their boat and Dan was looking around, a motorboat came by at high speeds and nearly swamped the kayaks! Our boat just needed some sponging out, but Tim had to resort to the baling siphon to clear their kayak of water! That nasty little incident soured Dan and I a bit from hanging out there, so we hopped back into our craft to paddle about while Ron “explored” Turn Island and Tim stood on the beach and mooned us as he waited. Yup, 50 years old, respected Boeing engineer, and he’s flashing his fanny at us from the beach. My only regret is that I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to capture the villain!

Kayaking - San Juan Islands 203

Dan and I headed over to the nearby Reef Point (just across the channel from Turn Island) and were able to capture dozens of seals sunning themselves on rocks. They were very shy so we couldn’t get close, but I paddled and Dan snapped pictures. At this place we saw a bald eagle in a tree, a few fish in the shallows, lots of starfish, and the aforementioned seals.

There were a couple places where the rocks were just under or at the surface of the water, so the sunning seals appeared to be impossibly buoyant! As they were shy we had to shoot from a ways back, but the picture at the left here is among my favorites.

Once Ron was done wasting our time exploring the island, we were all back in our boats and heading across the generous Griffin Bay. It was both large and calm. At one point an outcropping of rocks afforded Dan and I a chance to paddle about and enjoy more wildlife, while Tim and Ron continued on. Our turn to waste a bit of time. And, yes, I was getting enough of the seals and starfish but I was also aware the trip was half over!

We paused mid-bay for a drink and short rest and then headed south, silent except for the gossiping of our paddle strokes.

The silence, and Dan as a partner, convinced me that I’m not a great endurance paddler. As when I was with Ron, I found that I’m fine for 2-3 minutes of paddling but often will pause to look at a jellyfish, hold my stroke as I enjoy the simple sounds of the water lapping, or reach for the SPOT, my GPS, or camera. I’ll be honest … I was disappointed with this. I like physical activity and like to believe I’m in shape, so having this habit of stopping all the time rubs me a bit the wrong way. But, I saw it in myself with both Ron and Dan as partners, so there you have it. If you want constant swish-swish-swish-swish paddling, choose Ron as your partner; if you don’t mind dilly dallying, I’m your man.

Kayaking - San Juan Islands 347imageHowever, I also found that I don’t mind if the other guy stops paddling and allows me to just keep going. There’s a psychological impetus to “do your share” and hard to not paddle while the other guy is … but I liked paddling alone. For one, even though I’d earlier used the expression “wasted time”, we weren’t in a hurry;’ and secondly, as the guy in the back seat, I always had to match my stroke to the person in front; by going it alone, I could stroke however and whenever I wanted. That’s nice.

But, even with our stops to see more seals, pausing for drinks, and my constant fiddling, we found Griffin Bay Campground.

Now, among nautical feats, this was a very small thing, and yet I was relieved as I hadn’t been able to find a map or reference that confirmed it existed. Well, beyond our itinerary saying it was there and the Forest Service stating they wanted $12 per night per camp site. But without a pin in the map, I was nervous.

I found one reference on the Internet that stated it was adjacent to Halftide Rocks, and that was on my maps. So we angled for the rocks, got near shore, and saw the sign!

Dan and I pulled up, we saw that we had the entire campground to ourselves, and spread out at the main entry site. After starting a bit of unloading, we realized that anyone else coming into camp would traipse through our area, so we took a campsite that was off to the side a bit.

In the picture to the right, the main entry is at the top of the image, our campsite is at the bottom (with the green arrow in the middle). The campground itself was a series of mowed patches separated by thorny bushes. There was enough room at all sites that the thorns didn’t cause a problem (and even helped to hang up clothes for drying!), and the open site allowed you to sit anywhere, avoiding roots and rocks, but it did take a bit of the “I’m outdoors camping” out of the experience. It was more like car-camping, I guess. But, I arranged this trip, not sure why I’m surprised or carping about it!

Kayaking - San Juan Islands 240I will note that, while there wasn’t potable water, there was someplace that mosquitoes were hatching! While in the sun, everything was fine but sit in the shade of the bushes or trees and watch out! It was like a Stephen King storyline or something from Roger Zelazny: in the shadows, strange powers held sway and the insects would drain you of blood!

After we setup camp, Tim, Ron and I took a walk around the various trails and back roads while Dan convalesced and enjoyed a book. Those of us on the walk found a circuitous route back to a point not a dozen feet south of our camp but separated by the vicious hedges. Ron finally plowed through to the beach down a small rise with Tim and I following.

Back in camp, we took in a bit of dinner.

At that point I was up for more paddling about while Ron and Tim decided to take another walk. They strolled the beach to the south while I paddled in that direction but went quite a bit further. As the above map shows, I made it out to the small marina toward Cattle Point, about 2.5 miles distant. It was quiet and enjoyable, but a lot of paddling after the big trip from Jones Island. I won’t admit that a walk would have been better, but it would have been a nice change!

By the time I returned, a couple other sites were taken and it was time again for a bit of reading. I was tired so I didn’t last long. I snapped a few pictures as the moon was nearly full and gorgeously bright, I thought about taking out the kayak for a late night excursion, and then turned in to a restful sleep.


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