Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands



Dory Story Time

Dory Story Time

Geoff, a friend of mine, has a large boat on a new trailer. He’s named the boat #44, and recently I asked him why, to which he replied, “It’s the 44th boat I’ve owned.” Makes sense, but it frustrated me because, while I’ve owned a number of boats, that number is unknown!

My brother used to keep a list of all the cars and trucks he’s owned. I asked him recently if he has kept the list current, and he said no, there were just too many to keep track.

I envied Geoff in a way, because he could recount the genealogy of his boat family (and to boaters they ARE family) and by doing that, had a chronology of his nautical interests and affairs. After all, they call boats ‘she’ for a reason.

So this dory caught my eye one day at the Port of Friday Harbor. It had a fresh coat of paint and a clever engine well and smooth transom that appealed to me. The most intriguing part was the for sale sign inside.

I’d never met Bill, the owner, but found him a fascinating character, gentle spoken, wildly experienced in life, with a nautical grey beard and wild but tidy wind-swept hair, the caricature of a seaman. I met him at the coffee shop to discuss the sale/purchase of his creation, and immediately felt cozy, tucked into his gentle manner.

I offered him $225, and his first reaction was a crooked smile and the simple question, “Why that specific figure?” but he was a pleasure to dicker with, compared to some horse-traders who feel that dickering is an act of war. If you watch “American Pickers” on the History channel, you have seen a few of which I speak. Both types.

I bought the dory (for $225!) and put an electric outboard on it. Oh, such a pleasure is an electric outboard. This one, a salt water MinnKota I bought online from a doctor on Cape Cod, was so quiet and easy to operate, compared to most cantankerous gas motors.

My favorite voyage with this boat went like this: My wife and I had taken our 40 ft. motorsailer to Blind Bay on Shaw Island. My favorite island anchorage, good holding ground (for the anchor), and a lovely setting sun to garnish the experience.

BUT, we wanted to go to Friday Harbor to attend a talk at the Grange of some residents of Easter Island, who were touring the west coast. Well, we purred (there’s not “Putting” with an electric motor) up Blind Bay at dusk to the ferry landing, getting easily heard compliments from fellow boaters we passed (and that’s always gratifying for a small boat owner with a pretty, classic style boat), then caught the inter-island ferry boat to town, had a blast at the lecture, hopped the ferry back to Shaw Island, then, by starlight, found our way down the bay to our floating home on a glass-smooth sea, the stars over head and mirrored in the water.

Ah, life is good in paradise!
IMG_0064 Blind Bay sunset.


Windy Day Recreation

Windy Day Recreation

Where were these toys when I was young enough to use them? This kite-boarder (I’m assuming that’s a viable term, since I’ve never seen these before) was really scooting across Jones Lagoon adjacent to Jackson’s Beach on Thursday, January 9th. This photo appears to catch him hanging from a cloud, while in reality, he was completing a sky hop, letting the kite yank him at least 50 feet into the air above the lagoon. Like a whip’s tip, it snapped him into the air, and I could almost vicariously experience the thrill of flying with him as he soared, then fell like a stone back into the water. He had to be quick on his feet (board?) because the kite was still sailing and ready to pull him out of the water, a maneuver he accomplished at least six times while I watched and photographed him.

I find it an affirmation of life, that people keep coming up with new means of entertainment, healing, growing food, creating energy, all with the grey-matter we were given (and often a magical dose of inspiration), so that decade after decade, generation after generation, men and women turn the simple word “create” into the masterful genesis of a new concept.

Digital technology is one of those ideas, and is great sometimes, and troublesome other times. In this situation, I couldn’t get the auto-focus to find something to focus on as he sailed through the air, so by the time the camera had made up its mind, the jump was completed, and I was left wishing I had my trusty old Nikon F3 without auto-focus!

The photo below simulates the speed this boarder was able to attain. He passed me where I stood watching, traveling at 25 or 30 miles per hour, but only ten feet from me. Being that close magnified the impression of speed, augmented with the ‘whoosh’ of the water in his smooth wake.


Just another sunset in Paradise

Just another sunset in Paradise

When Elder McKay and I go on our one mile trek (hopefully each evening, but with the short days lately we haven’t made that goal) the inspiration to take my camera is significant, and other times…no inspiration, but plenty of regret when a scene opens before me begging to be photographed, but I don’t have my camera.

I’ve tweaked the saturation a bit to more closely represent the impression in my mind of the glorious sunset I’m experiencing.

Denny shared this thought; that so often he shoots something like this and isn’t able to edit the results in his files, that is, throw out a single one, so he ends up with huge numbers of pictures that are trying to capture what his brain is seeing.

This one was taken January 5th, Sunday, at our usual track site at the old gravel pit above Griffin Bay. Again, so often on these walks the sky shows off in glorious arrays of nature’s spender. While to the south, Mt. Rainier was visible in the crisp winter air. Rainier, the tallest and largest mountain in the state, is a loooooong way away from the San Juan Islands, and so is seldom seen.



Busiest Seaplane Harbor in the Country

Busiest Seaplane Harbor in the Country

I’m told that Friday Harbor has the most flights of any “water” airport in the country. During the kayak voyage described in the post below, I had to get out of the way of not one but two seaplanes from Kenmore Air out of Lake Union in Seattle.

This large photo shows one of them just powering up on take off with the north shore of Brown Island in the background. I could feel the throb of the engine and propeller in my chest, I was so nearby.



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.



False Bay on a flood tide

False Bay on a flood tide

Taken the same day as the photo below, this calm scene is False Bay as the tide comes in. The rocks sticking up out of the water show how shallow this bay is. I’ve never seen a boat in the bay in the 42 years I’ve lived here, it’s just too shallow and rocky. Our weather this November has been superb with calm days and very little rain.