Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sea Kayaking Northern Skagit Bay: Seals, Sunshine, and Sweet Paddling

Not much more than an hour north of Seattle, northern Skagit Bay is a marvelous area to enjoy some beautiful scenery, spy wildlife, and explore undeveloped tree-fringed shorelines. What more could you ask for in a day sea kayaking?

I blogged about sea kayaking in Skagit Bay last year, but I can’t resist writing about this great place again after the exhilarating day I just spent there.

With strong currents from a large tidal exchange today, we almost go to Bowman Bay instead, which is outside Deception Pass. The narrow passages on either side of Hope Island in Skagit Bay can be tricky because of swift currents, tide rips, and swirly squirrely water.

We want to try something a little different than the usual loop around Hope and Skagit Islands, so after launching in calm water at Snee-Oosh Beach, we kayak directly west across the bay to Whidbey Island. Along the northeastern Whidbey shoreline, thick green forest crowds close to the water’s edge. The eelgrass and bull kelp we glide over sway in the current; this is valuable habitat for Dungeness crab and fish. I catch a glimpse of a belly-up crab half buried in the sand beneath some long flat strands of eelgrass in the clear, shallow water.

“We’ve caught a couple big crabs, it’s going to be a good dinner tonight!” says a woman we pass who is crabbing, ankle deep in the water with net baskets in hand.

As we round a small, rocky beach point, a shiny gray lump close to the water moves slightly: it's a baby seal. It turns to watch us with huge dark eyes and glances toward the tideline a few feet below, as if deciding whether to slip into the water and disappear.

“There’s mom,” says Julie. An adult seal pops its head above the water several yards behind us, clearly anxious we're there. We paddle away quickly. I've been told not to scare young seals into the water because they don't have enough insulation to withstand too much time in the chilly waters of Puget Sound.

Exploring Cornet Bay is our goal, but as we round Hoypus Point toward Deception Pass the wind becomes too fierce to battle. It’s an afternoon westerly, which the funnels through the pass like a wind tunnel. Instead we pull up to a beach across from Fidalgo Island, with Mount Erie looming close to the north.

With the often gray and dreary summer we’re having, I bask in the gorgeous sunny day here on this beach. Glacier-capped Mount Baker (or Koma Kulshan as the natives called it) seems to float above the Cascades on the eastern horizon, and to the south a forest-covered Goat Island rises gently in the distance, framing our view.

Since I’m trying to have gluten-free days along with meatless days, I must say I packed quite a tasty bean salad along with the berries I picked yesterday.

“Let’s head straight over the Hope Island,” suggests Julie when the breeze dies down. Boat traffic isn’t too bad considering it’s a beautiful summer day, so we paddle southeast, aiming for a beach near the northwestern side of this lovely island state park. I love paddling close to the island shorelines here, where the rocky bluffs are topped with moss, lichen, and occasional wildflowers.

Time flies when you’re outside doing something you love on a brilliant blue sky day. We catch the flood tide back to Snee-Oosh beach about 4 hours after we started. While it’s always a chore to lug the heavy kayaks up from the beach and onto the car, somehow the boats always seem lighter after a great paddle.

When You Go
There are lots of places to launch your kayak around this area, but Snee-oosh Beach is convenient, with no parking fees. Drive to LaConner, WA, cross the Rainbow Bridge over Swinomish Slough, then take a left on Pull-and-be-Damned Road (isn't that wonderful name for a road, or anything?) to Snee-oosh Road on the bay. As soon as the road drops down to the water level, take a quick left onto the dirt road to the boat lauch/parking area. Check the tides before you go since the currents can get pretty strong around the islands here and a low tide means tideflats that can restrict travel to the south (and make for some mucky walking on the beach down to the water’s edge.)


Barry said...

Yummy food, yummy trip! Thanks, Jill.

Mab said...

Four hours of kyaking sounds solong, but with a lunch like that, it must have turbo-charged your muscles! Want the recipe for that bean salad.

Candy said...

Love reading your blog. Makes me want to move to Seattle. Your photographs are always so beautiful - what kind of camera do you have?

P.S. (I am a friend of your sister, Anne. She recommended your blog to me.)

Dave Wenning said...

Looks like home. Is that Skagit, Flagstaff and Kiket in the first shot?

jill said...

Hi Candy, Thanks! I alternative between a Canon S90 and my waterproof Olympus Stylus Tough (used for the kayaking shots). Would love to meet you if you make it to Seattle.

Hey Dave, yes, I believe so - it's facing north from Whidbey. Is Flagstaff the island to the east of Skagit and Kiket? Will need to check a map.

Sara said...

Wow Jill – what a beautiful trip! Thanks for sharing.