Bachelorette Sea Kayaking Trip in The San Juan Islands

Paddling the West Side of Orcas Island With 7 Amazing Women

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It’s low tide, Saturday morning.   I’m stretching on top of the volcanic cliffs we paddled around yesterday, staring across president channel at Vancouver Island.  A growing current works it’s way around the point and islands dot the silvery landscape,  fading into bluish shades of gray as they recede into the horizon.  Bright purple star fish cling to exposed rocks and if you listen carefully you can hear the crackling sound of barnacles. Surrounded by soft, early morning light and watching distant mountains shed their cloud scarves, I am filled with gratitude that Kara wanted an alternative bachelorette party.  – 8/17/13, Journal Entry

 

When I told people I was taking a crew of my landlocked girlfriends with minimal sea kayaking experience to the San Juan Islands a few individuals raised eyebrows and cautioned of heavy currents.  Understanding the potential risks, I spoke to friends who had guided in the area, researched routes, currents and the tides (thank you Washington Water Trails for their wonderful website and maps!) we were to face and left the plan flexible so if weather picked up or fog rolled in we wouldn’t feel pressed to make poor decisions.  After all, they were my close friends with loads of back-country experience and we could have fun in a brier patch.  So, I reasoned, even if it poured every day and we chose not to leave our tents, it would still be the best paddling trip ever.

I was the first of my crew of girlfriends to take up sea kayaking and immediately fell in love.  I shared my enthusiasm for the sport by evangelizing to my friends, “Kayaking is like backpacking, only you can access beautiful remote places and bring fresh veggies and boxed wine!”  As a crew of “foodies” with an outdoor addiction this has major appeal.  So when brainstorming what to do for one of our friend’s bachelorette parties, it was natural that a sea kayaking trip in the San Juan Islands came together.  Always eager for adventure with one another we need little excuse to get together and laugh freely in the presence of an inspiring landscape.

Point Doughty Cliffs

Point Doughty Cliffs

Nonetheless, I was thankful when we had great weather, calm waters and a slack tide (the only part I could control by planning) to contend with our first day on the water.  Point Doughty can have some strong currents for beginner paddlers so it was important to paddle around the point during slack tide. After the long day of travel and packing (in brief: Ferry from Port Townsend to Coopeville, drive to Annacortes, another ferry to Orcas Island, followed by lunch in the quaint island town of Eastsound, plus a grocery store run for last minute items and an epic garage sale at the put in, then a final push to shuttle vehicles) we sighed when we finally set our kayaks to sea.  We didn’t get on the water till 7pm, only an hour before sunset and an hour and a half after I had intended for us to set off.  But so it goes with these things.  Fortunately, we only had a short distance to our destination, Point Doughty, and the slack tide was a long forgiving one.  The ladies looked good in their boats- one Osprey Triple (with two paddlers and gear in the center cockpit) and 5 solos (two Murrelets, a Coho, an Arctic Tern and a prototype boat) . Everyone seemed to find their place on the water.

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That first day on the water the sun set slowly and the glassy surface reflected an array of pastel blues, pinks and yellows.  As we neared the point, seal heads began popping up around us. The adolescent seals came close, curious to explore.  At one point we even passed a mother seal nursing a pup but somehow we managed to resist moving in for a closer look so as not to disturb the pup and mother. Rounding Point Doughty at sunset we pulled into an empty campsite and quickly divided the responsibilities to maximize the fading light.  Half the crew set up tents while the other half prepared fish tacos, complete with fresh chips and salsa (homemade the day before and packed in Tupperware). The fifty degree water of the Salish Sea makes for a nice cool hatch if items that need refrigeration are packed on the bottom.  The center cockpit on the Osprey Triple kayak also made it possible to bring a two burner Coleman stove, which made cooking for 7 a breeze.

Just as we were finishing dinner off with one of the many chocolate bars (it was a women’s bachelorette trip after all), Freya began rinsing dishes and suddenly let out a squeal, “Bioluminescence!” Those glow in the dark plankton that make adults feel like children shimmered along the shore.  We splashed and stomped to ignite our own underwater fireworks show. Tiny blue-green sparkles magically appeared wherever the water was disturbed and the cool water was quickly forgotten in the name of play as we plunged knee deep to see our movements traced by underwater galaxies.

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The bride to be in her sparkly veil.

I imagine Point Doughty can get very windy but our night there was calm with only slight interruptions by an owl and an occasional early morning seal.  After the hustle the day before to get on the water we took our time with breakfast, chatting and sipping coffee.  Breakfast tacos soaked up the remaining fresh salsa and then we were off.  We had approximately 9 gorgeous miles to get to Jones Island.  We giggled as we donned our sparkly visors; the bride’s complete with a white veil, and started out paddling close to shore.   It was low tide and there were lots of sea eninemes, starfish and cucumbers to see.

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Driftwood Picnic

After a pause for lunch we paddled a little further down to Lover’s Cove, a tiny beach about midway down the west coast of Orcas Island.  It was a gorgeous day, sunny and warm and it wasn’t long before the entire crew was swimming in the frigid sea.  With salt water still drying in our hair we set off again to make Jones Island before night fall.  Our timing was good as the tide was fairly slack when we set out to cross.  We landed on Jones to find a crowded island (Saturday summer crowds), even though we hadn’t seen any kayaks since Doughty point when a group of day paddlers landed just as we were leaving.  Again we divided to conquer- some of the gals worked on the campsite while the others began preparing the dehydrated tortellini with homemade sundried tomato pesto (the pesto was also made in advance and stored in a Tupperware).  That night we had cocktails to toast the bride to be and even celebrated with a surprise visitor – one of her best friends from childhood joined us for the evening.  We were able to sneak him on to the island by transporting him in the center cockpit of the Triple (yes “he” was a good sport to be the only man making a surprise visit on a bachelorette trip.).

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We decided to take a layover day the next day and explore the island by foot and kayak.  Almost all the other paddlers left, as it was Sunday, so we quickly moved into the most ideal campsite at the southwest end of Jones Island.  We hiked, napped on soft moss, played on a slack line, paddled around the island and even took time for kayak rolling practice. That final night we built a fire and joined hands in a circle to honor the bride to be and give her our blessings. We each brought a bead to represent our wishes for her which she  assembled into a necklace. It was a beautiful way to simply share the things we appreciate in Kara and to remind her of our support.  Her mother passed just months prior and she has handled the youthful loss with admirable grace. We invited Kara’s mother’s spirit into the circle to join us in supporting her.  My heart fluttered at the mention of her invitation and tears quickly followed.  It was a beautiful way to address the desire for her presence. I can think of no better place to support a friend in transition then by a campfire with loving friends, watching the sunset in an inspiring setting.

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The seven of us shared a powerful moment, gathered in the diminishing sunlight and celebrating a new chapter for our girlfriend.  As active women who appreciate the outdoors, it was the perfect twist on a traditional celebration.  It certainly wasn’t intended to be an epic adventure. More importantly we came together in the name of honoring our friend and her transition into a new phase of life. I personally find it grounding to spend time outside, especially during transitional periods of life; add to that a good crew of supportive women and some kayaks and it’s an ideal way to punctuate life’s chapters.

We had to leave the following day to catch all the right ferries. Realizing that it was too short a trip, we vowed to spend more time on the next one.  But for the time, it is the best bachelorette trip I’ve ever been on.

If you go: Be prepared to wait for at least an hour in ferry lines.  Summer crowds make arriving early a must.  If you can swing a week day, that would help. Also, Jones Island has a racoon problem and they can get into a lot of kayak hatches. When we landed we met some other Pygmy owners who had tested the hatches there before and assured us the racoons had not figured out our hatch system.  Fortunately, they were correct.  Also, while the crossing to Jones island is short, it can have strong currents.  Planning around slack tide is the safest way to get across to the island and to round Point Doughty. Washington Water Trails has a website for members that shows which campsites in the San Juan’s have water and toiles.  It’s a wonderful resource.

Article By Laura Prendergast, who works for Pygmy and greatly appreciates the fringe benefit of having access to an incredible collection of high performance kayaks for her off days. Clearly her girlfriends do too.

Photos By Freya Fennwood. Some of the photos from this trip are also in the current photo edition of Adventure Kayak Magazine.

 



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