Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands


Winter Adventure

SAM_1790Winter Adventure

There is a 176 acre nature preserve directly across the water from Friday Harbor, owned and administered by the University of Washington, and next to one of the most pristine, favored anchorages in the islands. If you’re familiar with local features, you may think I’m referring to the UofW Labs preserve and the bay next to it, popular with boaters in the summer. In a county replete with bays and preserves, I’m thinking of Parks Bay on Shaw Island, and the nature preserve next to it.

With hazy sun overhead, and not knowing how long it would last, I determined mid-morning the day after Christmas to make something of the day by man-powering my bike to the Port of Friday Harbor where I keep my kayak.

Somewhere amongst the peddling, I decided I would make the trip a true daily-double and venture out beyond the marina where I normally exercise on the water, and into what I’ve always called “The Pond,” that body of water directly outside Friday Harbor where lonely Reid Rock buoy sits between Friday Harbor and Shaw Island.

I’d had an interest in the nature preserve for years, but had never gone there. It’s like the park near your house that, perhaps because it’s so close, you’ve never gotten around to visiting.

On a calm sea with no tide rips, and after a 45 minute paddle between launch at the Port and haul out at Shaw’s west coast, I was warm and ready for adventure. And nearly two hours later, I returned to the beach where I’d left the kayak, tired but sated by the discovery of mossy knolls, tiny bays, and dark, still groves of cedar trees feeding my spirit, grateful that I had stepped outside my comfort zone to explore unknown terrains. There are no man-trails in the preserve, so I had to follow deer trails to get through occasional thick patches of salal, making so much noise there was no hope of seeing a deer. I did, however, find this one that was past caring how much noise I made.

By comfort zone above, I mean that I’ve always been frightened by the tide rips in the channel. I’ve seen whirlpools in that very area where the center is a good foot below the edges, where the power and noise are not only scary but deadly. On my return trip, near Reid Rock buoy, the current bouncing off a ledge underwater caused a vertical surge of water about eight feet in diameter to bubble up just a few feet in front of my kayak. Many thoughts coursed through my brain: a submarine is surfacing right under me; I’m going to die as my tiny boat slides off the sloped edge of the bubble and rolls me under like a strawberry in a blender smoothie. The main thought I need, and force to the surface in my fright, is go to the center of the bubble so I won’t get thrust to the side by the powerful surge. I try, but am not completely successful, since the bubble appeared just to the right of my path. I slid to the left in the current and a wave splashed up and over the coaming as the boat hit the edge of the surge, but by leaning to the right, I was able to prevent a roll-over. I can assure you, that’s one way to keep one’s heart pumping.



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