The Largest Islands…

We had an ambitious plan. In our quest to circumnavigate all of the islands of Puget Sound, today would be the day that we checked off the largest island in Mason County. And, if the stars (well, the tides) aligned, we might even be able to tackle the largest island in Thurston County in the same day. Two largest islands in one day? It sounded like a great challenge.

Boston Harbor to McMicken Island

We packed most of our gear the night before, using our checklist. Weather predictions called for temperatures over 80°F during our paddle, so we added extra water and also brought thermoses of ice water. In the morning, we finished packing and drove to Boston Harbor. The boat ramp was busier than I like, but then I like it when I’m the only person using it. So the three other people who launched/landed while we were there weren’t too much of a problem.

As we paddled past Jeal Point, the current pulled us almost directly to Harstine as planned. There’s nothing quite like smooth water with a current going your way. The bluebird skies and snowcapped mountains made pretty perfect conditions to start our day. Eagles perched high in fir trees added just the right bit of wildlife.

The first leg going around Harstine Island

The paddle to McMicken Island Marine State Park is 7.99 nautical miles. There is a sandbar that turns McMicken Island into a peninsula at low tide. Even with an ebb tide, we estimated there would still be enough water to paddle over the sand bar. When we got there, the sand bar was almost fully exposed. We didn’t quite clear the sand, but with a little scootching, we managed to coax our hulls across the sand bar.

McMicken Island Marine State Park to Jarrell Cove State Park

The next leg of our journey took us to Jarrell Cove State Park. As we were paddling North, we saw a lot of California Sea Lions. While we often encounter sea lions lounging on bouys throughout the Sound, this was the most we had ever seen swimming in the water with us. I could hear them barking near shore on my right. We also watched two rafts of sea lions making their way South. One of the rafts had around 20 sea lions in it.

We had set our course using GPS, but as we were paddling towards what we thought was a bay I suddenly recognized the campground on the north end of Harstine from the time we paddled nearby last summer. In my head, I heard the line from The Hunt for Red October where the Captain of the Dallas says, “a 40 million dollar computer says you’re chasing an earthquake, but you don’t believe it.” I double-checked our position on my phone and radioed the others to tell them we were about to overshoot Harstine Island. We adjusted our course and made a mental note to check our position more often. We had another 5.1 nautical miles under our paddles when we landed at Jarrell Cove.

The second leg going around Harstine Island

Jarrell Cove to Hope Island, Finishing the First of the Biggest Islands

After our break at Jarrell Cove, we continued south. The water was very calm. There was a light breeze that was, unfortunately, hot. It felt like a betrayal, to have this puff of wind come up and make us hotter. We are already not the best fair-weather paddlers. While I know some people think of kayaking as a summer-only sport, we paddle dressed for immersion in water that rarely (if ever) gets above 60°F. Some of our favorite paddling conditions are low clouds and rain.

Extended heat and sunshine tend to sap our stamina. We find ourselves prioritizing shade above all else when selecting a location to take a break. We end up taking longer breaks than normal, just to cool down before heading back into the sunshine. This stretch was unrelentingly in direct sunlight. While it was probably very beautiful, we felt too drained to take much notice. We saw people on the beach, sitting in lawn chairs in the water – they had the right idea.

We’d circumnavigated Squaxin Island last August, so we had already done that section of Harstine and didn’t need to repeat it. Instead, we made our way along the west side of Squaxin Island to get to Hope Island. Other than a boat towing a tube that was weaving unpredictably, this was a nice uneventful paddle. We had a bit of a push from the current and added 7.53 nautical miles to our total.

The third leg heading to Hope


On our paddle plan for the day, we knew we were going to circumnavigate the largest island in Mason County. We were hoping that the tides would be right to allow us to also circle the largest Puget Sound island in Thurston County. As we made our approach to land on Hope, we looked across to Steamboat Island. The sandbar was still above water. Since the tide was now flooding, we decided to give it some time. We only needed another 6-8 inches of water to be able to paddle under the bridge and over the sandbar.

As we were sitting at a picnic bench having a snack, the family at the adjacent table asked about our kayaks. They also called us the most prepared kayakers they had ever seen. Apparently, that’s what happens after a couple of SEVENTY48s. We prepared to launch at sunset, turning on our Luci lights on the tails of our kayaks to be visible to other boaters after dark. With the sun past the horizon, it was finally cool enough for wool hats and neoprene gloves, a pleasant change. The nice family we’d chatted watched us head out from the shore.

The final leg going around Steamboat and back to Boston Harbor

A Barge and a Steamboat, Finishing the Second of the Largest Islands

As we made our way to Steamboat Island, we heard two short and one slightly longer horn blasts. The horn blasts weren’t really loud but did make us look back over our shoulders. We were very surprised to see an extremely large barge approaching us, being pushed by a large tug boat. One would think something that big would make a lot of noise, but it wasn’t as loud as the party happening somewhere nearby. The rule of tonnage is always top-of-mind, so we sped up to get into the shallows and out of their way.

As we approached the sandbar under the bridge to Steamboat Island, we could see it was submerged. However, in the Nautical Twilight, we couldn’t tell by how much. As we went under the bridge, I chose to go through a span to the left of everyone else. For the second time that day, I momentarily ran aground. This time it was just a brush; no scootching necessary. It is the most land kayaking I have done in one day in a very long time.

Back to Boston Harbor

After we came around Steamboat Island, we hugged the shore towards Hunter Point to avoid most of the current and made our way back toward open water. We passed the loud party we’d been able to hear from Hope Island – they were the biggest disturbance in an otherwise peaceful nighttime paddle. We approached the flashing green light on Hunter Point and chatted for just a couple of minutes with some folks on shore. When we told them we were just heading to Boston Harbor, they assumed we were just out for a leisurely sunset paddle. That impression changed when we mentioned that we came the long way around Harstine to get there. The surprise in their response was a good reminder that we were actually getting some sizeable mileage. Maybe our tired, blistered hands should have been reminder enough.

Once we rounded Hunter Point, we could see the lighthouse at Boston Harbor and the marina right next to it. We had a calm nighttime paddle back to the cars, adding another 4.07 nautical miles to our day, for a total paddle distance of 24.69 nautical miles. When we landed at just after 10:00pm, the boat launch was just as populated as I like it – just us, and a neighborhood cat that seemed disappointed that we didn’t have any fish scraps to share.

Largest Islands are Relative

No one disputes that Harstine Island is sizeable. It’s one of the biggest islands in the South Sound, and holds its own against all but the very largest islands in the rest of the Sound. Steamboat Island, on the other hand? It might surprise you to know that barely half a nautical mile can get you around the biggest Puget Sound island in Thurston County. Like so many things, it’s all a matter of perspective. We enjoyed a good day (and a wonderful bit of night) on the water, paddling around the largest islands of Mason and Thurston Counties.


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