July 8, 1997
Anacortes, Washington, USA
As soon as it was light out, I ate some oatmeal mixed with protein powder, then hit the water. The first half
mile was a killer. The wind was fierce. It was raining hard,
and I was not having fun. I was moving so slow, I had to watch the shore to make sure I was
actually going forward. Eventually, I pulled off on a rocky shore to give myself a minute
to think. I checked the weather on my VHF radio. There was a small craft warning and it
was going to persist for most of the day.
Before I left this morning, I should have put on my dry suit... but, of course, I
didnt think of that until I was at least two miles out, with my bow torpedoing into
each oncoming wave. In areas like this, where there are islands around you, its easy
to forget that you are paddling in ocean water. Without my dry suit on, Id probably
only last in this water about 15 minutes before hypothermic shock would set in. When I
think about that now, it scares me. In the cock-pit at my feet was a seven hundred dollar
piece of clothing... that, without a doubt, could save my life... and yet I wasnt
wearing it .
After two hours of non-stop paddling, and a whole lot of singing, I finally arrived at my destination. On the map, the island looked to be about a quarter mile wide by a half mile long. From the water, I could see at least fifteen buildings on the island, most of them appearing to be vacant cottages. After tying my boat off under the pier, I walked up the beach and into a barn to get out of the rain and gather my thoughts. In the barn, there was a tractor, and a large truck. I wondered how I could suspend my hammock between them, and snooze the rest of the day away. Then I thought... "What if someone finds me here. There must be someone on this island." Just then, I heard a dog barking.
I walked out of the barn, into the rain, and onto the door-step to the cottage where the sound
was coming from. The dog inside went crazy. A large woman came to the door, and I said "Im looking for a
place to get out of the rain for the night. Do you think it would be okay if I sleep in
the barn?" "No... You cant stay here!", said the lady. "This is
a private island, and Im the caretaker." "Oh... well... Would it be
alright with you if I just ate my lunch here on your porch before leaving?"
"No... you dont understand." said the lady, "Its my job to keep
people off this island!" "You must like your job lady." I replied.
"You're very good at it!"
I ate my lunch as I drifted along past the left end of the island toward another long
stretch of open water. The rain continued to fall. This time, the crossing looked to be a few miles farther. I couldnt tell how much farther since the only useful maps I had were ones I drew myself, by copying larger charts. The scale on the map I was using was not accurate. I was aiming for a point of land called Samish Island. It really wasnt an island at all, just a long peninsula.
Shortly after setting off again, the wind started gusting in my face, and I was back in the same predicament as in the previous crossing. Once again, had over-looked the opportunity to put on my dry suit. The only difference between this crossing and the last, is that on this crossing I had some company. There were several harbor seals frolicking in a band of drifting kelp at my side for part of the voyage.
Paddling into the lee of Samish Island was a pleasurable experience. For the first
time in over an hour and a half, I finally got to rest my arms. I just sat in the kelp bed
for awhile, looking at star-fish and sea anenomies stuck to rocks along the water line as
As I rounded the point, I stayed close to shore so I wouldnt be in the main stream
of the current. Rich had told me that I should expect to see Bald Eagles on Samish
Island... and sure enough... there they were. Two of them were standing on the beach just
twenty feet away. I stopped paddling and just glided by. They never moved, other than
turning their heads to check me out as I passed by.
Ahead of me, I could see the tops of three Indian-style tepees just above the beach. As I
got closer, I could hear the sound of childrens voices. I went ashore and soon
discovered that it was a summer camp. The kids looked very surprised to see me. I guess I
did look kind of funny with my spray skirt still on, wide-brimmed Gore-Tex hat, and
I asked their leader if I could just hang out until the tide changes in about 45 minutes.
He told me it is against the rules to let anyone on camp property unsupervised, and that I
would have to leave immediately. I guess it just wasnt my day for picking places to
land. I said "thank you" and headed out across the bay toward the town of
Three quarters of the way across, the wind came up and I headed for the protection of an
islands lee. Before going out into battle again, I decided to take another rest. As
I was drifting along, I noticed a baby seal playing thirty feet off my bow. One of the
great things about viewing wildlife from a kayak is how close you can get without them
hearing you approach. I passed within five feet of the little guy. Curiously, he started
following two feet behind my boat. If I had stopped moving, he may have jumped on my back
deck and gone for a ride.
Not wanting to spend another miserable night out in the rain, I started across the bay
toward the Swinomish Canal. I fought hard for over an hour, but it was getting dark with
no shelter in sight. My only hope was a small dock a quarter mile farther down the shore.
The tide was at its peak, so I was fortunate to by-pass the hundred feet of mud flats,
which are found there at low tide. The dock was at the base of a steep hill, so I still had no idea what shelter, if any, was to be found at the top. After landing I climbed a staircase and was puzzled to find gravestones in the place of steps.
At the top of the hill, I found large white house with a big power-boat in the driveway. I knocked on the door and asked, "Could you tell me when would be the best time to go through the Swinomish canal tomorrow?" After the man got his tide book and answered by question, we chatted a bit, and then I asked, "Would you mine if I ate my supper in your garage? My stove doesnt work well in the rain..." "There is a large over-hang out back. You can eat there.", the man replied.
As I was pulling out the left-overs from the night before, Bob came out and introduced himself. I asked him what he does. He told me, "I pull dead kayakers out of the San Jauns for a living... Im a mortician."
"How many have you pulled out?" I asked. He started to count on his fingers. "Around seven." he answered. I laughed.
We chatted a bit more, then I asked him if he would mine throwing my grub in the mircowave. When he came out with my dish, I asked him if I could use his phone-line to get my email. "No problem." he replied. An hour later, I was sitting in his warm house, on the Net, with my clothes in the dryer.
While I was viewing my website for the first time, Bob asked me if I wanted to sleep in a sleeping bag in his living room. "Yeah... That would be great!", I responded. (I remember thinking, "Im sure glad that bitchy lady
kicked me off her island this morning - otherwise, Id be sleepn in a barn between a
truck and a tractor right about now.")