This past weekend, we thought it was time to practice our camp set-up for SEVENTY48 and WA360 by camping at Hope Island. We learned year one of SEVENTY48 that kayak camping takes on a different look and feel when you’re in the middle of a race. Even if your goal is to finish, and you’re not #InItToWinIt. Let’s face it – no one that’s #InItToWinIt camps during the race.
The Best Laid Plans
Our plan was to launch from the Fox Island Boat Ramp and paddle to the Longbranch Boat Launch and then Boston Harbor Marina. From there, we would head into Budd Inlet to see the Olympia Shoal (the southernmost waypoint for WA360). To get some extra mileage, we added on stops at Rainbow Rails and a detour around Gull Island before heading to Hope Island Marine State Park to camp for the night. Total mileage: just over 30 nmi.
In the morning, we’d catch the ebb tide through Squaxin Passage, Dana Passage, and Drayton Passage. Then we’d fight the Flood through Pitt Passage and around the Fox Island Spit. Total mileage: around 16 nmi or so. Total for the weekend: just about 47 nmi.
When we checked the weather forecast early in the week, it looked like our idea of perfect. Temps in the 50s. Overcast all day. Chance of showers throughout. Light winds. Spoiler alert: that forecast evolved over the course of the week.
We left a bit of extra time in our schedules to load our kayaks at the launch site. All of the food and safety gear we need for training paddles is not nearly as much as we take camping. We didn’t allow quite enough time – we launched 30 minutes late. For the hour of the morning and the amount of gear we had with us, we took that as a win.
Wind speeds weren’t as high as predicted as we headed around the Fox Island Spit and started crossing Carr Inlet. As we approached Pitt Passage, harbor porpoises surfaced in every direction. Literally – we were surrounded by over a dozen harbor porpoises. Some of them came close enough that we could see the gradation of grey from their dorsal fins to their sides. We often see these creatures from such a distance that they nearly blend in with the waves around them. It is always a privilege when they decide to approach us. Since they’re normally shy around boats, it feels like a special benediction when they choose to swim nearby. Unfortunately, that was the last peaceful moment we had for hours.
Fighting for the Miles
The winds picked up as we entered Pitt Passage and we had to fight for every mile. We focused on our technique and chatted about various topics to take our minds off the slog. At one point, we were focusing on making headway and didn’t realize we were about to pass our break at Longbranch. We were padding towards the pier at Sound View Camp and hadn’t thought about anything but how to make progress against the wind for a while. We had our full route programmed on the Garmin, but it was a good reminder that it doesn’t matter how much fancy navigational equipment you have if you ignore it. After correcting our course, we landed for our midday break another 25 minutes behind schedule.
While we usually say that any day on the water is a good day… sometimes, it’s not a good day in the moment. As we rounded Devil’s Head on the southern tip of Key Peninsula, a combination of wind waves and boat wakes created washing machine conditions that just were not pleasant. We have enough experience at this point that none of the conditions worried us. Fighting headwinds and unpredictable waves is just a bore once you get a couple hours in. And we were in it for approximately six hours over the course of the day Saturday.
A few nice moments do stick out. A friendly sea lion travelled alongside us once we rounded Johnson Point. It paced us for a little while before taking off. I assume it had more luck finding fish than the people fishing in the mouth of Henderson Inlet. I realized while watching them bob in their boats, casting their lines over and over, that they probably have more in common with us than one would assume at first glance. We all looked at the weather and thought, “yeah, I could spend my day in that”.
As we were on the final stretch entering Boston Harbor Marina, we saw a ship we’d noticed when we circumnavigated Harstine Island last month. I remember seeing it motoring along the shore of Hope Island as we made our approach through Pickering Passage. For some reason, even though we’d only seen it at a distance a month ago, it was like seeing an old friend. We were also greeted by a blue heron that had perfected its impersonation of a grumpy old man. We were goofy enough at that point in the paddle that we burst into laugher, imagining him telling us to get off his lawn.
Change of Plans
By the time we landed at Boston Harbor Marina, we were an additional 15 minutes behind our plan. More than an hour behind schedule overall. And we were all feeling how hard we had worked for the miles. Instead of tackling another 15 nmi, we decided to change the plan. We paddled directly for Hope Island Marine State Park – just 3 nmi away – to set up camp.
Note of Recommendation – Boston Harbor Marina offers shelter on three sides, so it has been calmer than the surrounding water every time we’ve been there. Unlike many spots we’ve used to launch & land human powered craft in the Sound, you’ll find fully plumbed restrooms just across the street from the Snack Shack at the top of the ramp. We didn’t get food at the Snack Shack this time, since we were doing a test run on a camp dinner. I was sorely tempted when I saw grilled cheese and tomato soup on their menu. I can’t think of anything that would have been more comforting and wonderful on such a cold, windy, rainy paddle.
Refresher Course on Kayak Camping
Friends, it has been a while since we last camped from our kayaks. We didn’t manage any trips between the 2019 SEVENTY48 race and when COVID-related restrictions closed camping in our area. Once camping opened back up, other commitments kept us limited to one-day training paddles until now. So it has effectively been nearly two years since we camped out of our kayaks.
Not only were we a little rusty… we were trying some new things with our set-up for WA360. The gear that we take with us for 48 hours won’t be quite enough for a week or two on the water. One day, we’ll write up the full story of our first year’s test camping experience. Suffice to say, every aspect took a lot longer than we’d planned. It took us longer to pack our dry bags than we’d anticipated. It took us longer to pack our hatches with those dry bags. Both setting up and tearing down camp took longer than we’d planned. It was a whole lot of learning what NOT to do.
But then we got pretty good at it. We refined. We learned our limitations (none of us are exactly morning people, for example). We found our individual strengths and divided the work amongst the team accordingly. We developed a routine that helped make up for being sore and tired and slow-to-wake. But when you don’t practice for a year or two… and you are adding equipment and testing new load plans… well, it was eye-opening how much we still need to refine our plan. The good news is that we still have weeks to practice. And we have some concrete steps we’re going to take to re-develop our systems and get our plan ready for our races.
Snug as a Bug
After a day of wind and rain and hard work, the thing I was most looking forward to was snuggling up in our warm sleep system. In preparation for so many days on the water, we finally bit the bullet and bought our own down coupler and quilt. I accidentally bought a warmer version than what we had borrowed, so we tried it without my sleeping bag. We got warm enough – even too hot at times (which, at least, is easy to fix). Unfortunately, we didn’t sleep as soundly as I thought we would. We were too sore. After the delays and struggles of the day, it was difficult to put our minds at rest. I spent part of the night adjusting the quilt until I finally figured out how to tuck it just right to eliminate drafts.
We did finally drift off and were sleeping deeply by the time our alarm sounded in the morning. It was serene waking up to the sounds of birds. I identified eagles and woodpeckers out of the morning symphony – time to brush up on my bird call knowledge. We were sharing the island with just one other kayaker that night, and I highly recommend the experience.
It’s always hard to get going in the morning – and packing things into a dry bag is easier in my living room than at a campsite. Since we haven’t developed a system for all the new equipment, we’re still figuring it out as we go. All told, it took us nearly double the time we’d planned to get ourselves ready to launch. We are obviously still steeply on our re-learning curve.
As we launched, we finally got the exact conditions we’d originally looked forward to. It was a drizzly, grey morning with mirror-calm water and a current helping us along. From Hope Island to Devil’s Head, the tranquility was only broken by a few motor boats here and there. As we approached Johnson Point, a few harbor seals popped their heads out of the water to observe us. Then a few more. And we were surrounded. We tried to count them as they surfaced and dove, but they were quick in their hide-and-seek maneuvers. We probably saw at least 20 at any given time. Seeing that we had no fish, they quickly lost interest and went on their way.
Back to the Fight
As we approached Devil’s Head, we started to fight the flood. We were far enough behind schedule that we were working against the current a couple miles earlier than we’d planned. That’s the consequence of getting behind at launch. The extra work to fight the current mixed with the sun breaking through the clouds meant that all of us were ready to layer down when we landed for our break. A driftwood log in the shade of some deciduous trees was just the right location to cool off, eat a snack, and adjust our base layers before heading out for the last leg.
For a mile or so, we enjoyed paddling calm waters over extensive sand dollar beds and schools of tiny fish. We watched the antics of the sea lions on a nearby buoy and laughed as they appeared to play “king of the mountain.” Then the winds came back. As we approached Pitt Passage, we had both winds and currents against us. Once we made it to Carr Inlet, we pushed through quartering waves for a mile or two until we crossed far enough to be out of the path of the wind. Our final approach to Fox Island treated us to some of the lovely, calm water we’re accustomed to in that area.
As we convinced our tired, sore bodies to unload our kayaks and load everything into our cars, a paddle boarder passed near our landing site. We chatted briefly, and he said it… “any day on the water is a good day”. At the time, all of the effort we’d had to put into our 35 nmi made me wonder. Maybe yesterday wasn’t actually a good day on the water. But then I went home, had a hot shower, a good meal, and a long night of sleep in my own bed. Suddenly, all of the struggle-paddling this weekend did feel like good days on the water, after all.