In our project to circumnavigate all the islands of Puget Sound, we tackled Hope and Squaxin Islands in late August. In the Pacific Northwest, our summers tend to be warm and sunny. High temperatures usually top out in the 70s and 80s from mid-July to early September. We are basically heat wimps. As folks raised in Western Washington, our performance really dips when wearing cold-water immersion gear with temperatures above 65°.
Adjusting to the Summer
We had a few really warm paddles this past summer – something that hasn’t happened for a while. Although many people think of kayaking as a summer sport, we’ve spent the last few years doing most of our paddling January through June. In 2018 and 2019, we trained for Seventy48 a majority of the weekends in the first half of the year. As a result, we filled the last half of the year with everything we’d postponed. With a pandemic, 2020 has been a different beast. We still packed the first half of the year with about the same number of miles as we had in years past. But in 2020, our calendar was a lot more barren than ever before, so we’ve continued to paddle more weekends than we normally would in the summer.
Paddling when the PNW is sunny and warm has caused quite a few uncomfortable paddling days. Days where we cannot get away from the sun during an open water crossing… days where we spend our breaks standing in the 55° water to try to stay cool… days where the concept of dying from hypothermia because we’re not wearing proper immersion gear seems worth it. Okay, maybe not quite that last one. But there are days where we understand the temptation to dress for the air temperature instead of the water. We don’t fall to that temptation, but we do occasionally understand it.
So, it’s the last weekend in August, and we suffered through a LOT of sunshine on the paddle the week before (I know – that sounds amazing to some people…). We were preparing ourselves for the possibility that we may be in direct sunshine for all 4+ hours we would be on the water. But then… a summer miracle happened. As we unloaded about an hour after sunrise at the Arcadia Point Boat Launch, we were met with overcast skies and misty conditions. While that may seem less than ideal to some, it felt miraculous to us. Weather that makes our neoprene feel comfortable in late August? Amazing!
We planned two potential routes for our paddle – one that would check Steamboat Island off our list, and one that left it for another day. We weren’t able to find information online about whether the land bridge would be under water when we were in the neighborhood. It was not. We estimated that we’d need another couple feet of water before we had a chance to paddle over that sand. So we quickly adjusted to the version of our plan that took us around Hope and Squaxin Islands.
Our first loop was around Hope Island. We headed counter-clockwise around the island and then landed for a break. On our way around the island, we saw at least eight raccoons foraging at the waterfront and a handful of harbor seals. As we snacked at a picnic table, a soft drizzle and thick cloud cover kept us cool.
As we prepared to launch, the Southern tip of Squaxin Island was partially obscured by fog. In the drizzle, we headed toward the Belspeox Point; we had GPS for back-up if the fog got thicker. We trusted that Tucksel Point would appear if we followed the coast of the island. As we made the short crossing towards Squaxin Island, we were surprised by how shallow the water got. It appeared we could get out of our kayaks and wade across Squaxin Passage if we felt like it. In the aerial photo from Open Sea Map below, you can see that the whole area is a delta formed by a stream on Squaxin Island.
As we continued through Peale Passage, the drizzle stopped and the sun came from behind the clouds. We had made sure to plan our trip around Squaxin Island so that we wouldn’t need to land. Squaxin Island is the Native Reservation of the Squaxin Island Tribe, so we would need permission from their government to land. We did stop on Harstine Island before we rounded Salmon Point to stretch our legs. I recommend checking the current predictions if you’re planning on doing a similar route. We hit the tides nicely, and as Peale Passage narrowed nearing Salmon Point, it pulled us right through. It wouldn’t be quite as pleasant paddling against the flow.
After we rounded Salmon Point the sun was out and the wind picked up a bit. The wind created a bit of chop on our way back to the boat launch, but it kept us from getting too hot. The result? A wonderful paddle around two islands that didn’t even require sunglasses until well into the third hour.