Winds of Change

We’ve been picking up the mileage on our training paddles, since SEVENTY48 is quickly approaching. We had plans that kept us from the water over the weekend, so we took Monday off work for a final training paddle. We planned to circumnavigate Vashon & Maury islands again, as a nice way to top off our mileage for the race. But then the weather report encouraged us to seek other plans. Winds from the SSW building over the course of the day would leave us fighting a strong headwind on our final open-water-crossing back to Tacoma from Maury Island. After 20-some miles of paddling, that didn’t sound like a good (or safe) way to spend our last training day of the year.

Final Training Paddle: Plan B

So we adjusted our plan. Instead of paddling around Vashon, we switched to a paddle plan in Carr Inlet. We’d launch from Fox Island around 8am and paddle to our first break at Penrose Point State Park. From there, we’d, head into Henderson Bay to take a break on the Purdy Sand Spit. On the way back, we had potential stops at Cutts Island and the Fox Island Sandspit, depending on how things went. We’d rack up just about 21 nmi along the way. That’s not quite as many miles as Vashon, but a decent day’s mileage nonetheless. We would also have more options to haul out if the conditions worsened. Although our safety crew would have to cross the Narrows to come get us, if we needed a rescue, we wouldn’t be reliant on the ferry schedule.

Packing the Gear and the Miles

Since it’s our last training paddle of the year, we also did a final test pack of our gear and food. Well… kind of a final test pack. We’re not yet sure exactly which layers we’re going to pack for the race. And we are still treating ourselves to fancy things like salads in insulated containers, rather than mostly PB&Js. But we approximated our best guesses for bulk and weight on food and clothing. And we packed the camping gear and water we plan on bringing with us, so it should be a relatively close estimate.

As we prepped for launch, the skies looked a bit gloomy but the water was relatively calm.

Our plan included fighting the current to get around the spit, out of Hale Passage and into Carr Inlet. We also took some time to identify our navigational points. From Fox Island, it’s easy to see South Head, but trickier to pick out Penrose Point. We wanted to be sure that all three of us were paddling towards the same destination. As we crossed Carr Inlet, the wind picked up but didn’t give us too many challenges.

On our final approach to Penrose Point, just before we entered Mayo Cove, a harbor seal friend popped up to see what we were up to.

It’s hard to make out in the wide shot, but when we crop & zoom, there’s a little friend popping out of the water.

First Break of the Day

As we took our break at Penrose, we looked across Carr Inlet to the north/northeast to try to pick a visual to head towards. We could see the far shoreline where the Purdy bridge must be, but couldn’t make out enough detail to pick an exact line. We could, however, clearly see Cutts Island and Allen Point. We decided to just head mostly towards those, since our route would take us in relatively close proximity to both landmarks.

Again – a little hard to see in the wide shot, but if we crop and zoom…

Still not sure? Cutts Island is identifiable from quite a distance, due to its tree-topped southern cliff. Allen Point has that little clump of trees right at its point, with a low area separating that clump from the mainland:

Plan C is for Cutts Island

In the end, the weather told us that trying to pick our path was just hubris talking. Once we left the protection of Mayo Cove, the wind started building relatively quickly. We were dealing with quartering winds and waves, and growing frustration. So we decided to relax a bit, focus on our technique, and go with the wind instead of fighting it quite so much. As we worked on stern rudder and bracing strokes to help deal with the worst of the conditions, we zig-zagged our way across the water.

One thing we learned from our Gale Force SEVENTY48 was that we need to adjust our mileage and break plan. We can go a lot of miles in rough conditions. But if we’re going to do that all day, we need to add some extra recovery time – whether that’s taking longer breaks or taking breaks more often. So we decided to head for Cutts Island to take a break.

Plan D: Do Not Disturb (the seal pups)

Except it’s harbor seal pup season. And the harbor seals apparently agree with us that the sandspit is the best landing area on the island. We didn’t want to disturb them, so we decided we would keep going and find another spot to rest.


Plan E?

With the tides heading for a negative two feet and the winds continuing to build, we decided to turn around and head for the beach at Kopachuck State Park. We made our way into the headwind for quite some time, and were able to land a bit before low tide. We pulled our boats up a bit and headed for a picnic table in the shade, where we could still see the boats.

Again – a little hard to see in the wide view, but a bit of crop & zoom, and you can see our three boats, waiting for our return.

At this point, we were ready for fuel and rest. We feasted on noodles, veggies, and tofu along with fruit and cheese. Drank water. Took bio breaks. One team member pulled the boats further up the beach and then scouted the conditions around the point, to assess what we would be able to do for the day. We adjusted our plan again.

Plan F: Finish this Paddle

One goal with this final training paddle was to end the day relatively happy and empowered; not frustrated or discouraged. We wanted to end our training on as much of a high note as we could. With that in mind, and with the wind speeds and the amount we’d already pushed through so far… a final, mostly exposed, 3.5 nmi did not support our goals.

We have used Kopachuck as a haul-out and called a car in… but the carry up from the beach is no joke. And an easier carry was just over 1 nmi away at the Horsehead Bay Boat Ramp. We anticipated about half of that mileage would be protected from the worst of the winds. Protected waters sounded really good at that point. We called in our rescue crew to meet us.

We ended up with one more adventure along the way, but that is a story for another day…

Once we were packed up and underway, the weather behaved as we’d anticipated. We encountered spicy water until we got into Horsehead Bay. And then all was peaceful and relatively smooth for the rest of our paddle. We were able to quickly shuttle our cars and load up without incident. We ended the day with closer to fourteen hard-fought nautical miles for our last training paddle of the season. But these are the kind of miles that earn you double- and triple-bonus-miles. So each one was worth more in experience than it might appear to on paper. We got good practice at some of the skills we’ve needed in previous races. We remembered how to work as a team in challenging conditions. We accomplished hard things.

Final Tally

Did we end the day a little on the loopy side?

Did we end on a high note?

Did we celebrate with victory beers at our favorite watering hole?
Of course we did.


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