For our third day of putting a Bowtie on Bainbridge, the plan was simple: pack up the campsite and paddle home. We planned stops at KVI Beach and Maury Island Marine Park. Anticipated total mileage: just under 20 nmi. Spoiler alert: things did not go to plan. Whenever your safety crew is involved, you know something didn’t quite go as expected.
Packing up the campsite went well at first, but derailed a bit towards the end. We have a relatively good system for getting the sleep system packed away, but we’re not as practiced with the camp kitchen. And we have added the concept of “camp clothes” (not just paddling clothes and sleeping clothes) to our set-up in preparation for living in our camp set-up for two weeks. We now know that we should change into paddling clothes first thing in the morning. Once we’ve changed, we can start packing up everything else. That slowed us down because we ended up with a couple different dry bags that couldn’t quite be packed away yet – because they were for clothes that were still on our bodies. Lots of great learning for our upcoming races.
Blake to Vashon
Throughout the morning, we felt the south/southwest winds kicking up, as predicted. We checked weather reports before heading out. Since they seemed manageable, we finished packing up and headed out. We paddled into a headwind across the Vashon/Fauntleroy ferry lanes and decided to add a break at Wingehaven and hug the east shore of Vashon a little more than we had planned, since we had to fight for our mileage.
Our experience from Wingehaven to KVI beach was remarkably similar to the last time we paddle Vashon. The headwinds and waves felt very familiar, and we hugged the shore close enough to get a good look at all of the waterfront properties. Unfortunately, that’s where the similarity to last month’s paddle ended. Last time, the winds died down around KVI beach and we were able to get our average speeds back up. In the end, we landed later than planned, but we didn’t lose anymore ground once the winds calmed.
Vashon to Maury
As we rounded the point at KVI Beach, the winds became dramatically stronger. We paddled into Tramp Harbor to stay close to shore while trying to make progress around the island. With gusts nearing 20 mph, we sometimes lost ground as we paddled. Once we pulled into the lee of the island, we checked weather again. A small craft advisory was now in effect and winds were not predicted to die down until 10pm.
While we had handled what the weather had thrown at us up to this point, it was time to make a safety decision. Our path home involved a minimum 2-mile open water crossing. Our only option to avoid paddling that section would be to get to the Tahlequah ferry terminal. Before the last crossing of the day at 10:55pm. And that would only help if we could get there in time to unpack our fully-loaded boats, and somehow haul all of our gear and boats up from the beach. All that, after fighting a headwind for more than 9 nmi.
Making the Call
We considered continuing on with our plan and calling in our safety crew (aka our paddling partner’s husband) at a later point. But we were nestled in Tramp Harbor already, looking at a shallow beach with a road just slightly uphill from the water. Both of the spots we’ve stopped before (Point Robinson and Maury Island Marine Park) have quite a hill between the parking lot and the kayak landing. So we opted to call our safety crew in and find the best spot to land in Tramp Harbor.
As soon as we called, the winds in our area died down. It was as if they were waiting for us to throw in the towel, just to mock us. While it felt ironic that the conditions now appeared beautiful as far as we could see, we didn’t waste time second-guessing our decision. It was striking how quickly the winds died down and the whitecaps flattened. But we didn’t trust that it would stay calm long enough for us to paddle another 10 miles.
Safety Crew: Heading Home
Our paddling partner had already requested a pizza dinner, so our safety crew even came with warm food and beverages. We took turns eating as we put the racks on the car, loaded up our gear and boats, and finally headed home… in time for the last ferry of the night. Of course, with a car to help, we could have gone the long way around. The ferry terminal at the north end of Vashon Island has sailings to Southworth or Fauntleroy past midnight. That would have made a late night & long paddling weekend even longer though, so it was a relief to arrive at the Tahlequah terminal in plenty of time.
It can sometimes feel disappointing when plans don’t work out. Sometimes, calling in a rescue feels like giving up. This one felt like a really smart choice instead. It felt like we could have fought for a lot more mileage. We could have continued through more hours of the afternoon’s suffer-fest. But we knew that we were making the right call for the conditions and for the timing.
In a race (instead of a training paddle), we probably would have made different choices. We would have pulled out our tent and huddled up to wait out the weather. We still wouldn’t have tackled an open water crossing in the predicted conditions. But we would have more incentive to stay in the running and see if the weather changed. As it was, all three of us had work in the morning – we didn’t take time off for this training paddle. Hauling out at a convenient spot for our safety crew to reach us was the right call.