Monday, August 2, 2010
One thing I love about this is the abundance of paddling opportunities. There are flatwater lakes, swift moving rivers, and challenging open water courses. I never get to do as much kayaking as I would like when I’m up here, so this time I decided to make sure I got to paddle at least a little bit. I booked a five-hour tour with Anacortes Kayak Tours before we left South Carolina.
I set out early, planning to catch breakfast in one of my favorite joints in Anacortes before starting the tour. The bay between Samish and Fidalgo Islands was completely fogged in, but it looked like skies would be clearing. When I drove onto Fidalgo, the fog really set in. I found my way to my restaurant and had a fantastic breakfast while also putting out fires at work over the phone. So much for vacation.
I headed on over to the kayak place. I had been another another tour around Hat Island several years ago, but it turns out that it was a different group. This place not only had kayak tours, but also offered whale watching tours.
I was early, and got my instructions to meet the rest of the group on the other side of Fidalgo. Since I had some time, I stopped by Washington Park, which is just past the Anacortes Ferry Terminal. This early the road around the park was closed to auto traffic, so I walked around and took a few shots.
Pretty soon it was time to meet my group, so I headed to the Skyline Marina on Burrows Bay. In addition to myself and the guide, Ken, there were three others – Robbie from Tasmania, and sisters Sue and Carolyn. Robbie and I got single 17 foot Necky Looksha sea kayaks, and the two sisters got a tandem kayak. All of us were experienced kayakers, so Ken gave us some obligatory brief instructions, and we set out across the foggy water.
Our route would take us out around Burrows Island, with a stop at the lighthouse there. We would paddle on around Allan Island, then out to Williamson Rocks if we had time.
Although foggy, the crossing from Fidalgo Island to Burrows Island wasn’t too bad. It gave me a chance to get accustomed to the sea kayak. This one had a rudder, which was great for tricky maneuvering around the marina. However, on open water I kept over steering. In order to keep a straight track I had to put equal pressure on both pedals, and that got to be tiresome. Other than that, the boat was fairly fast and comfortable. One thing I definitely DID NOT like about it was that the storage hatches were unwieldy. Anything I might want to have available while paddling had to be attached to the tie-down straps outside the hull.
Our passage to Burrows took us past where I had been earlier that morning at Washington Park. As we rounded the western edge of Burrows Island we spotted a couple of bald eagles perched high in the trees. I was regretting that I only brought my two little cameras and didn’t have my telephoto lens. However, given the stowage situation on the kayaks, I don’t see how I could have used the big camera.
We continued past the rocky coast until we reached the Burrows Island Light House. There was a small rocky beach below the old Coast Guard house, and it seemed the perfect place to land. We climbed up the rocks, then up the stairs to the lighthouse grounds, where we found a picnic table for lunch.
We had some time to explore the grounds and enjoy the views. The lighthouse has been automated, and the old keeper’s house has fallen into disrepair. Ken said that there were plans to restore the house and turn it into a visitor’s center for the island. There was also an old helipad whith was overgrown, and hadn’t been used in ages.
After hanging out at the light for awhile we climbed back down to our boats and launched. The tide had come in, so we took advantage of higher water to play among the rocks at the base of the light, weaving in between them. It was a bit scary, as waves wanted to push us onto the rocks.
In addition to the rocks, another paddling challenge proved to be the bull kelp. Its thick, ropey stalks bumped under our kayaks. More than that, though, it was hard to push the paddles through the kelp to pull through the mess. Our guide didn’t seem to mind paddling through it, but I tended to avoid the kelp, and looked for clear patches.
As we crossed from Burrows Island to Allan Island the fog rolled back in. Mount Eyrie loomed out of the fog bank at the base of Fidalgo Island.
Allan Island is owned by Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, and it’s for sale. However, it was named for an Anacortes Navy hero, name similarity aside. According to our guide, Allen bought the island as a possible training camp for one of his sports teams, but found that it didn’t have enough potable water. According to this Seattle Times 2005 article, Allen bought Allan for his own getaway. Who knows what the real reason was.
We found a nice beach on the south end of the island and decided to stop for a rest break.
The looming fog looked like it would interfere with plans to paddle out to Williamson Rocks. The rocks are home to seals who have pups, so we wouldn’t be able to get too close, anyway. We lingered a bit, and the fog cleared for an attempt. Ken and the sisters stayed back, but Robbie and I paddled on out to the rocks. Even though I was keeping my distance, a seal took interest in my boat, so I started paddling a bit quicker.
By this time we were all getting a bit tired. One of my rudder pedals wasn’t adjusted quite right, so my legs and ankles were twisting oddly as I paddled. Strange that my legs were going to hurt worse than my shoulders when I got through. I also was quickly discovering another photography problem. When I stopped paddling to take a picture, the rest of the group kept going, and I would have to paddle faster to keep up. Not good. I may have to find a tour that’s dedicated to photography.
Our route back was fairly direct and took us along the east sides of the islands. It also gave us good views of all of the development along Burrows Bay on Fidalgo Island. Huge houses stretched from the waterfront all the way up to the crest of the hill.
Our five-hour tour was actually five and a half hours. Total trip length was about 8.75 miles. We were all tired, but it had been a good trip.