Sunrise… Sunset… & Then Some

We Circumnavigated Vashon Island… Again

On Saturday, we circumnavigated Vashon Island for the third time in less than a year. When we originally discussed how we would tackle such a large island, we planned on camping at Lisabuela the first night, to break up the mileage between two days. We woke the morning of the second day to rain, high winds, and waves. Inside the tent, we were cozy in our sleeping bags, with the sound of rain lulling us back to sleep. We called in our rescue and packed camp up into the car instead.

The first time we circumnavigated Vashon Island was in preparation for our 70 Forty-Eight race in 2020. We wanted to circumnavigate the island as our first day of the race. However, we hadn’t ever paddled the stretch between the ferry terminal on the north side of the island and Maury Island Marine Park. So we added it as a training paddle a couple of weeks before the race, to familiarize ourselves.

This time around, we didn’t have a specific challenge in mind; we were just working on ramping up our mileage as part of our race training. We’d gone more than 24 nautical miles (nmi) the week before, so 31 nmi seemed like a reasonable jump to make. We knew when we were planning our paddle that conditions wouldn’t be perfect. Weather forecasts showed that we were likely to be battling headwinds about half of the time. But after last week’s 80°+ temperatures, we were looking forward to overcast skies, rain, and temperatures in the high 40s – low 50s. Other than the winds, we were looking at perfect paddling conditions!


We arrived at the Point Defiance Boat Launch just before sunrise and got ready for our paddle. While we always consult tides and currents, we were not as specific in our route planning as we usually are. As a result, we did not fully plan for the back-eddy that often happens near the southwest corner of the island. Although the current was against us, the back-eddy was manageable when we first hit it. Unfortunately, it only got stronger as we paddled through it. We were making slow headway when a Good Samaritan came over in his Zodiac to make sure we were okay. We assured him that we were, although we were working a lot harder for the miles than we’d intended. Lesson learned – always double-check your route, and avoid fighting the currents when possible.

We had also overestimated the amount of following winds and following seas we would experience in Colvos.  Between those two factors, we landed at Lisabuela nearly an hour and a half behind our plan. We were confident we could still finish, but we were unlikely to land at sunset as originally planned.


Not the picture of a seal I was hoping for

The second leg, finishing Colvos and rounding the north end of the island, was relatively uneventful. We had a nice current push and following winds and following seas (finally) for our last 30 minutes in Colvos. Once we rounded Point Vashon to the north side of the island, the paddling was idyllic. The ferries left just before we rounded the point, so we had clear traffic as we passed the ferry dock. The winds were completely calm, blocked by the bulk of the island. Waters were glassy. A friendly harbor seal entertained us by stalking each of us and then diving beneath the surface. Everything was as close to perfection as possible.

Then, we rounded the point towards Wingehaven and we got the full force of the headwinds that were waiting for us. Traditionally, every time we land at Wingehaven, I have to pull out my “layer up, layer down” bag – the dry bag that holds alternate base layers. The last two times, I pulled that bag out to layer down – switching from wool to my lightest-weight layers. This time, I was layering up – adding layers to what I was already wearing.

From there, we hugged the shoreline to try to stay out of the full force of the headwinds as much as possible. The winds began to die down as we took a break at KVI beach; the water was nearly flat again as we crossed to Point Robinson. Well, it was nearly flat except for the 6-foot freighter wake that came our way. That added a bit of adventure to an otherwise calm section.


By the time we landed at Maury Island Marine Park, the hours of fighting currents and winds were starting to take their toll. Some ibuprofen, water, and a PB&J helped restore us enough to tackle the last leg. We launched just at sunset, into completely glassy waters. The cloud cover gave everything a silvery quality as we headed toward Piner Point on the south tip of Maury Island. As we edged into darkness, we saw sporadic bursts of bioluminescence – one of the best treats that come with a nighttime paddle.

Night paddling

The Point Defiance – Tahlequah ferry kept us company, travelling back and forth and lighting our way towards the marina with every return trip to Tacoma. Once again, we had wonderful timing with the ferry – it headed to Tacoma just as we were passing Piner Point, where we had planned to take a bearing from the GPS to confirm our landing site. It made one more round trip as we approached, and then headed out just before we started getting close to the ferry dock. This was the end of our third time we circumnavigated Vashon Island.


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