Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Kayak Trip 2006: Blake Island (Thursday)

note: Due to the long, long nature of this post, I'm breaking it into several parts, more or less by day.

We arrived home, ultimately, Sunday night around 10pm. I was in “keep moving” mode before then, wanting to get as many things done as possible before collapsing into my (mercifully unsandy) bed, so after our long day of loading-paddling-beaching-launching-paddling-beaching-unloading we dropped off the three Seattle-based kayaks we’d rented, then drove out to Maple Valley to pick up our dog, then up to Deane’s to pick up my yellow dry bag of clothes that looked like the yellow dry bags of clothes that the five people currently staying in his and Erika’s house all had, and then, about 10:30, I picked up Us Weekly and did collapse into bed. I didn’t even finish the magazine, and I have to point out, that says something about how tired I was.

Kayak Trip 2006: Blake Island was blissful. As I’ve mentioned here before, I find it increasingly hard to live in Seattle and not own a boat. Fortunately, there are many options for getting out on the water, if you start to dig. It’s moderately easy to find someone to rent you a kayak for a few days. At least in a kayak, you’re in no danger of killing anyone but yourself if you fail to yield right-of-way, and signed releases take care of the company’s legal responsibility in that. There are also multiple tour companies offering kayak adventures. Several of us have taken part in a couple of these—they’re very gourmet, with exotic foods like green curry and smoked salmon omelets cooked for you, and tents provided. They involve quite a bit of paddling in my experience, more than we did this weekend. But, they come with guides. And guides impose an order that may not work very well for any particular group, or rather for all the individuals that make up a group.

So a couple months ago, when Erik brought up the idea of the next kayak trip (I love that there’s always a next one—we’ve hit on a winner as far as group vacations go), I immediately started brainstorming ways we could go without having to follow, well, anyone’s framework but my own.

Erik and his sister Sonja, and me and my brother Deane, all have fond memories from Blake Island, a +/- 480 acre self-contained marine state park in Puget Sound between Vashon and Bainbridge Islands. A quick consultation of Google Earth (the traveler’s best friend) showed Blake to be a mere 2 miles from the Vashon ferry dock, where presumably we could launch some boats. After an arduous couple of weeks collecting data on participant interest and availability, I found an outfit on Vashon willing to rent us the kayaks we needed, minus the three we could conveniently bring from Seattle (we were a large group and they didn’t want to have their entire fleet out on tour during one of their busiest weekends of the summer). They were a bit loath at first, hesitatingly telling me that Blake is very, very popular in the summer and trying to get a first-come/first-serve campsite, let alone three, would be very difficult with a Friday arrival. Okay, I replied, six of us will go Thursday. Eventually they agreed to my plan.

About 10 days before we were scheduled to leave, their accountant emailed and asked what time we’d like to start out on Thursday.

“Well, I have some questions,” I wrote back. “Is there a particular time of day, or time of tide, where the currents would be working in our favor, or at least not working too hard against us? Also, what kind of rescue equipment comes with the boats? Paddle floats? Bilge pumps?”

Evidently, these were the right questions, because my initial contact suddenly came back with a long, friendly email stuffed full of interesting information about the tides and the currents. Such as—Colvos Passage, to the west of Vashon Island between it and the peninsula, virtually always has a northerly current (which means it flows north, sometimes meeting a northerly wind, which blows south. The combination can make for some splashy, choppy, um, exciting waves.), regardless of whether the tide is ebbing or flowing. Also, just off the southeast corner of Blake Island sits a shallow sandbank where tide rips and afternoon winds make for some pretty dicey paddling. AND, it was a new moon yesterday, and so the tides were already particularly exciting over the weekend.

To take advantage of the slackest combination of tide and wind we could find, we all agreed upon a 7:00am launch on Thursday and an 8:00am launch on Friday (which meant, of course, leaving home at 5:00am on Thursday to catch the right ferry, and 6:00am on Friday).

Thursday’s early morning paddle was uneventful. We cut out straight across the ferry lane to Blake, and paddled slowly up the west side looking at the beachside camping. The island was quiet and almost empty, except for several small raccoons eating shellfish in the intertidal zone. Around the north end of the island we decided to land for a short time and first check out the Cascadia Marine Trail sites (for paddlers only, but too exposed for our liking, plus you could see downtown Seattle from them and that made me, at least, feel a bit too close to home—where’s the adventure in being in your own backyard? I’m 33, not 6!), then the west side standard sites. As we were landing we experienced our one and only capsize.

The northwest tip of the island is shallow and sandy, and becomes a huge beach at low tide. The tide was still mostly out, but when a couple boats passed by off shore, the wakes they created sent rollers crashing up the shallows and into our boats (literally into Mario and Laela’s, because Mario’s skirt didn’t fit right), and suddenly I’d tipped into the water. I felt a brief urgency when I didn’t just fall out of my boat, and I was reaching for the release loop on my spray skirt when I suddenly realized I hadn’t fallen out because my arm was resting on sand in six inches of water. I pushed, my boat bobbed upright, and I paddled the last 3 or so feet to shore, laughing hysterically and dripping with 45 degree brine. It turns out that spray skirts=not so effective for keeping out volumes of water, but dry bags=very, very good.

We decided on our three sites (at the north end of the west side, in the madronas) and paid for them, set up camp, found the bathroom (real running water!), and pretty much all dropped off to sleep. The remainder of Thursday we spent hiking around the island, and settling into camp. Mia and I walked to Tillicum Village on the other side to buy fire wood and were told a burn ban had just begun—no burning except briquettes allowed until it rained. Well, no biggy, we’d come and get some of those when we needed them for S’mores. Dinner that night was tofu and veggies in peanut sauce that Deane made. Yum.

And I slept on two mattressess.

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