2012 Season Start

posted Mar 26, 2012, 3:00 PM by Richard Sevenich   [ updated Mar 26, 2012, 3:55 PM ]
So Far

I've been out 2 days in March seizing those rare chances which must include
  • decent weather for kayaking
  • no new powder on the ski hill

Until late spring, the water is maintained at a low level, which can present a problem at selected launch sites. Some, with very low water, expose boot sucking mud. So far, I've managed to keep my boots on. Waterfowl are somewhat nervous, even though I keep well away from nesting areas. I've seen Canadian geese (of course), eagles, cormorants, buffleheads etc. The western grebes will migrate through later, with some staying behind.

Carmen waiting patiently

Earlier, in the winter, I modified the backband in Carmen. The factory backband was too narrow for the comfort of my compromised lower back. It's now 6 inches instead of 3, which makes a significant difference. Last summer, I outfitted the cockpit with hip pads to achieve a snugger fit. I also added a keel strip. I plan to replace the deck rigging within the next 47 days. So Carmen is nearly ready for action.

An Opportunity

In our North Idaho winter, between ski days, I plan kayaking trips for my wife and me, looking ahead to the coming season. Our custom has been to travel to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, stay a day or two and then head a bit further north for some lodge-based kayaking. For the coming 2012 season, two trips are in the – the first finds us joining friends on Cortes Island (Otter Point Villa). I am instigating a second off Quadra , based at Discovery Islands Lodge, perhaps our favorite location - where we have stayed three times in earlier years. But when my wife announced that she, her mother, and a few others were heading to Norway in May, I saw an opportunity for a third trip. I would explore new waters during this period of temporary abandonment and decided to investigate possibilities in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. This is closer than the prior options with simpler travel logistics e.g. no border crossing.

Choosing a Tour Company

There are complex tides and currents in the San Juans in addition to potentially busy boat traffic. Being cautious (I'm not a Jon Turk), I decided that, for a first exposure, I wanted a multi-day trip in a less traveled area of the islands, under the guidance of a tour operator who would provide the desired level of local knowledge and safety. Not all tour companies are equal and choosing one from among many is not trivial. I used Google to aid my search and followed up with emails. Of course, once you invoke Google you must realize that a really well done web site may be seductive and does not necessarily reflect the substance of the company. For my investigation, I wanted to see biographies of the guides, descriptions of potential routes, comprehensive lists of what equipment would be provided, and of what I needed to bring.

Once I had selected a few candidates, I followed up with emails asking for various specifics. I had one criterion a beginner would not have. I required that the company allow me to bring my own kayak. This was very important to me because my back is compromised by an old injury. I have outfitted my kayak, including back band modification, so that it is comfortable over long periods of paddling. Most companies I contacted were very resistant to my bringing a kayak, for good reasons. A few, clearly reluctant, would allow my kayak only after a bit of persuasion.

My research eventually found one company that actually welcomed clients with their own kayaks – of course, after establishing that the kayak was of an appropriate type and the paddler at a sufficient skill level. This was Anacortes Kayak Tours (AKT). Additionally, the guide bios on the web site showed that AKT was making diligent hiring decisions. As hoped, AKT would provide meals and camping gear (I have a tent and a marginal sleeping bag, but that's it). The ensuing email interaction revealed that the owners are themselves kayaking enthusiasts and appear to have relationships with some of the central kayaking figures here in the Northwest.

A Description of the Trip, Beforehand

I've done enough trip planning to realize that creating an itinerary requires paying close attention to the appropriate tide tables, current tables, and profits greatly from incorporation of local knowledge. The vagaries of weather can completely destroy a rigid plan and contingencies must be built in. Obviously, injury to clients or significantly different skill and endurance levels can also dramatically affect the itinerary. Hence tour companies will typically indicate only a general outline of a trip. Mine would be a 3 day, 2 night experience launching from North Beach on Orcas Island and targeting the Sucia Island Marine Park and neighboring islands. The Sucia Group is at the north edge of the San Juans, pretty much where Canada's Georgia Strait begins. Here are many reefs and other obstacles for large commercial boats, while kayaks have ready access. Further, although a popular destination for pleasure craft, the mid May and mid week time slot would avoid most of that congestion.

One of my goals, beyond the enjoyment of the trip, was to learn enough to be able to subsequently venture into this area independently with a few companions. Hence, I was hoping that the guide would share trip plans and rationale. I wasn't going to be a pest, so the guide's enthusiasm for sharing this information would be essential. At the same time, I would bring the appropriate chart(s), tide and current tables, vhf radio for weather monitoring etc. These items would allow me to blunder through my own planning process in parallel with the expert.

More Later

I'll follow up after the trip with a description of how it actually turned out. There may be intervening blog entries; so I'll entitle it, The Sucia Trip, for recognition.