Cascadia Marine Trail Day 2: To Anderson Island

9 07 2010

Day Two on the Cascadia Marine Trail!

Woke up amazingly refreshed at Joemma Beach State Park! I didn’t use the rain fly on my REI Quarter Dome T3 tent so all the early light was surrounding me. But as I was prepared with my face mask and ear plugs, I did not arise until about 6:45. And when I did, I couldn’t believe how dark under that mask it was, and how bright once I took it off! Wow! Others told me crows had been crackling keeping them up – I didn’t hear anything!

Heading out from Joemma Beach

I also used this new REI inflatable pillow. I used it to support my still recovering shoulder, and this made my night SO much more comfortable! No more achy shoulder! No more rolling around to get it into a comfortable position.

Sunday was July 4th, so fireworks were a big part of the day’s activities! We decided to do a lazy start, wait for the late morning high tide, and then head down southward toward Anderson Island.

We got a little ambitious and made a last minute plan to head to Eagle Island State Park for “lunch,” not really taking into consideration that it was already well past eleven o’clock. Eagle Island is 7.5 miles from Joemma Beach, and we just got over ambitious. We paddled into Drayton Passage, which lies between Anderson Island and the Key Peninsula. Ahead lay McNeil Island, a Federal Penitentiary we wanted to check out.

Unexpectedly the wind picked up substantially! As we entered Drayton Passage the wind picked up from the south/southwest to maybe 18 knots with whitecaps. Fortunately tide wasn’t much of a factor. It was against us, but it wasn’t strong.

Like a mother hen, I doted over the group and especially Bibi and Michelle. Monte did a great job of sticking with Michelle. The wind and waves grew and a few breakers sent water across my foredeck. My charts were not totally water proof – so I relied on Deborah and Warren’s protected charts. Crossing Drayton Passage, we encountered lots of traffic. Deborah sent out a hail over VHS to alert the power boats we were about to cross.

Checking my watch, I notice the time kept moving on. It was already 1:45 mid way across the passage. Once across, I polled the group about Eagle Island. Michelle was going to head to our campsite with Monte no matter what – she was tiring. We all decided it was not a good idea to try to make Eagle Island and then paddle all the way back to the camp. Too many paddling miles in this 18 knot wind.

We take a breather for lunch

So after lunch we abandoned Eagle Island ambitions and began the trek for our spot on Anderson. Plunging into breaking waves was, for me, lots of fun! My Valley Aquanaut LV loved it. Without skeg deployed, it wanders in calm waters. But in conditions, it tracks true without the skeg and is also rock solid stable. But here, Michelle’s flimsy spray skirt failed her – allowing water from the plunging waves to enter. Fortunately, Warren supplied an extra spray skirt, which solved the problem!

We saw smoke in the distance. Coming closer we realized there was a wildfire on the shore! We put ashore to check it out.  The 8′ x 8′ fire was burning hot, and above it were large driftwood logs – which were catching fire.

Further downwind on the beach there was plenty of fuel. We tried to extinguish it with our water bucket, but we knew it’d probably re-ignite.

So we spent some time calling 911 on the cell phone and managed to put a call out to the marine fire department. They agreed to send out a fire boat. We then put some buckets of water on the fire, and then took off. Maybe 15 minutes later a fire boat appeared, found the fire, and used its cannon to stop it. Kinda cool!

So far, the waves were coming at us mostly from the bow. This wasn’t much of a problem for our novices. We don’t have any images because we were too busy. But as we rounded the western end of Anderson Island, they’d be mostly to our sides. We were concerned for Michelle and Bibi. I figured they’d need to use a brace more than a few times. Once there, however, it became apparent that close to shore, the wind calmed down a lot. The island has one hundred foot high headlands – and a phenomenon was occurring there which reduced the wind. Sometimes when a wind comes directly at a headland, it lifts several hundred yards offshore, leaving the space near the shore much calmer. We could see that far above our heads, the trees were swaying, yet for us, there was not nearly as much wind. We could also see that there were whitecaps further out, but not where we were.

We came to the spot we assumed was the camping site I’d reserved through the Washington Water Trails Association. But a sign said NO OVERNIGHT CAMPING very clearly. Warren and I asked folks on the beach and they told us our site was 1/2 mile down island. Well, once we reached the end of the island with no site, we decided that the original site was in fact our place for the night, regardless. The information in the Marine Trail Guidebook must need updating? After the trip, I learned there is usually a water trails sign on that same post but it was missing.

It’s a very pretty site, located on the end of a sand spit with a lagoon behind. It was about low tide, so we were careful to check signs of high tide and pitch tents well above. You can see all up and down the opposite shore from there. It would be great for fireworks viewing!

The grunt work of carrying boats up from low tide took a while, but with team work we got the job done!

Michelle brought some wine and Warren had a bit of scotch, both welcome after this long day’s paddle!

Monte accepts some wine – well deserved!

All forms of backpacking food were brought out and cooked up. Warren and Deborah were the most prepared with dehydrated/vacuum sealed food they’d done at home. I had my usual Lipton pasta mixed with a pack of meat with a side of fresh greens, and Michelle had lamb she’d cooked earlier in the day.

Just past dinner twilight brought desire for a campfire. We gathered some wood and sparked a little beach campfire, and we all agreed we were privileged to have this spot, view, and atmosphere all to ourselves!

As night set in the opposite shore lit up! Some community fireworks began to really show their stuff by 10:00 and private fireworks displays were going on everywhere. I had my own cache, which we indulged in!

In Washington most fireworks are legal! Hooray!

Fireworks continued to decorate the opposite shoreline all night – some people must have broke the bank to keep going on like that! Pretty cool to watch!

Cascadia Water Trail Day 1: McMicken Island and Joemma Beach

8 07 2010

Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest! Time for island hopping on the Cascadia Marine Trail!

As a Meetup organizer, I’m always thinking of ways to put quality events on the calendar. My PaddleNW group has a lot of novice paddlers, yet I’m always jonesing for a challenge. Sometimes a challenge is the conditions, other times it’s planning/packing for overnights. And for me, as the guy leading, there are group management responsibilities. Equally challenging is forcing myself to schedule what to me is a boring paddle.

We hadn’t done a multi-day paddle with a different destination each day before. Further, we’ve only done one salt water overnighter. I thought it’s high time for an island hopping trip. Research revealed the Cascadia Marine Trail in Washington’s Puget Sound as an excellent choice for such a trip! There are paddle-only campsites sprinkled all around the Puget Sound.

For the July 4th 2010 holiday, I planned a multi day kayak camping trip for my Paddle NW Meetup group. The planned route would take us from Zittel’s Marina to McMicken Island and then camping at Joemma Beach, followed by a day on Anderson Island and then return to the put in. We’d be using sites along the Cascadia Marine Trail to camp.

Kayaking in the Puget Sound requires more planning than a trip to a lake or along slow moving rivers near Portland. It’s bigger water, and tides are a major consideration. Simply put, you must plan for the tides, or you might get caught facing a strong current. Tides can be 14 feet in the Puget Sound. They accelerate at narrow points between land formations, and sometimes the current is over four knots and squirrely. So I planned our route to be with the tide as much as possible. Gear must be stout enough for strong winds and waves. A VHF radio is strongly recommended. Charts are mandatory.

All arrived at Zittel’s Marina, near the tip of Johnson Peninsula, within ten minutes of each other – about 9:00 a.m. Our group was myself, Warren, Bibi, Deborah, Michelle, Monte and April. Everyone was

Gotta squeeze this in!

experienced at this type of paddling except Bibi and Michelle. I spent time preparing them for this trip. Two weeks prior, I held a wet exit and rescues class for them. I also spent time educating them on packing for a kayak camping trip. For the 48 hours prior to this trip I e-mailed back and forth trying to ensure they had the right gear. Bibi got extra dry bags and an extra compact camping pad. Michelle did well on food preparation. But my concerns were justified.

Michelle didn’t stage her kayak packing prior.

That morning she was struggling to get everything into her boat.

She brought an over sized sleeping bag without a dry bag. That could have spelled real trouble. And her spray skirt wasn’t really sturdy enough to shield from lots of water coming over the deck.

Luckily Warren carried an extra spray skirt. Michelle had a great time, but she was just unaware of the potential danger! Everyone had appropriate immersion wear.

At the put in, we gathered and began packing kayaks. Deborah’s gear was the standard…dry suit, booties, PFD and the VHF radio all are good to have! The Puget Sound is about 50 degrees. Sometimes wind and waves come up unexpectedly – so well fitting spray skirt, bilge pump, dry bags are totally a must!

Everybody packed quickly. We got off to McMicken Island, our lunch destination, by about 10:00 a.m.

I was insistent that we get well up beyond the mouth of Dana Passage by 11:00, because that’s

high tide; after that the tide goes against us. Dana Passage can have some strong current. The day began cloudy and it looked like there might be showers. But with calm wind we made good time!

We were escorted by seals and porpoises along the way!

Our friend!

Bibi: Lunch was good!

Up at McMicken we beached on the back side of the island, and made ourselves home at the picnic tables for lunch. McMicken is a state park – it’s a day use island, though. You can’t spend the night.

Lunch was a festive affair, followed by a hike around the north side of the island.

Then we took off southeast, for Joemma Beach State Park – our stop for the night. Paddling was pretty simple. Winds were less than 5 knots and we only encountered power boat waves. The sky opened up revealing a jeweled south sound for us. The Olympics briefly revealed their snowy peaks.

At Joemma, we went about setting up camp. Turned out we had all the marine trail and pedal campsites to ourselves, and even the picnic area! Good thing, because the sites were small. So small only one tent per site was possible…nevertheless we took everything over!

The camping at Joemma Beach is high above the water so you get a great view! The picnic area afforded a generous kitchen, and a parking spot for our kayaks. Warren and Deborah, both using bivvy sacks, slept down there to guard the equipment.

Down on the beach, we risked arrest by starting a little campfire.

By the fire!

Not long after we were enjoying it, a ranger showed up…with a bucket for water to put it out! She was totally cool. She helped us extinguish the fire and then showed us a place where fires are allowed.

This night fireworks began to light up the sky on the shore opposite our campground. We spent time on the pier watching….some people had some serious coin to fire all those fireworks, some went on for hours!

Sunset was very mellow, with reflective views of the sailboats anchored just offshore. Warren relaxed reading a book to the view.

There’s a long pier which affords a great view. April and I made the most of it!

Eventually, the days activities wore us down and it was time to crash for the night. I elected to forgo my tent fly – excellent choice. The stars were brilliant! I brought a face mask and ear plugs, which came in handy as the sky was bright by 5:00 a.m. and I was told crows were a-crowing!