Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Kayaking Puget Sound: Maury Island Circumnavigation

"Paddling on placid Puget pond," says Aaron.  He's nailed it. We're crossing a very smooth East Passage in Puget Sound from Dash Point over to Maury Island, and not a trace of wind or wave mars our course.

As everyone in our kayaking group knows, the calm sea is deceptive. It's not always like this. The open Sound can be a hazardous place for kayakers on many days.

We're doing an overnight trip, crossing the Sound from just north of Tacoma and circumnavigating Maury Island, where we'll camp, then kayaking back to the mainland the next day.  Trip leader Aaron has timed our route to coincide with the annual Low Tide Celebration at Point Robinson.

When we load up our kayaks and shove off on this sunny Saturday morning, the tide is way out (making for a longer slog with our gear to the water line), and there's no breeze or chop. Like Aaron says, placid.

Heading west across Puget Sound from Dash Point to Maury Island in the distance.
Our target on this first leg of the trip is Piner Point on the south end of Maury Island, which juts out from the east side of Vashon Island, connected by a narrow isthmus.  Within 30 minutes or so, we arrive at an undeveloped shoreline thick with leafy trees above the cobbled beach, with great views of Mt. Rainier back across the Sound.

Mt. Rainier looms large over East Passage in Puget Sound.

As we round the southern end of Maury and pass some waterfront vacation homes, a bald eagle watches us from his perch on an old piling just offshore.  Then we see a great blue heron eyeing us from the beach.  Sea kayaking is a great way to see lots of wildlife and marine waterfowl.

Turning north to paddle up Quartermaster Harbor that separates Vashon and Maury islands.
Our lunch destination is Dockton Beach Park on Maury about halfway up Quartermaster Harbor. While this park is used mainly as a marina and stop for boaters, we enjoy the nice covered picnic tables and clean, spacious bathrooms.

Low tide at Dockton Beach Park.
Next stop is Burton, a small community on Vashon on the inner harbor.  Originally we'd planned on dinner in Burton, but the one restaurant closed. So we grab sandwiches at the Burton General Store. 

Finding a place to land and secure our kayaks is a bit tricky, but we get permission from some guys at a drydock to come ashore and scramble up the bank to Burton. Then I enjoy one of the best ice cream bars ever on the bench outside the general store. Was it the charming setting, warm summer day, and good company? Maybe.

By the time we returned, this beach was submerged and our kayaks were fully floating.
Downtown Burton

Our only wind the entire weekend is a northerly headwind as we paddle north to the portage at the top of the harbor. No problem. As Aaron says, it makes things more interesting anyway.

"There must be hundreds of jellyfish," says John as we near the beach takeout.  I try not to hit any of the translucent, pearly white creatures with each stroke of my paddle.  It's near impossible to get a decent picture of them while moving, but they remind me of raw eggs just cracked and dumped into a pot of water.

So far today we've paddled about 8 miles, and now it's time for the 200-yard portage across the isthmus connecting Maury to Vashon.  A  kayak fully loaded for camping is just too heavy to carry that far, so we strap the kayaks on wheels and pull them across on the short road to the other side.

The take out, high tide at the south side of isthmus.
North side of isthmus, with strange collection of exercise bicycles (Portage Athletic Club).

T. and John hauling kayaks down to the beach on north side of Maury.
For meteorological reasons I don't fully understand, the northerly wind has died. Now we're paddling eastward along the north side of Maury through creamy smooth sea.  Our destination is Point Robinson, where we'll camp tonight.

Aaron and John cruising east, West Seattle in far background to the north.
Mt. Rainer and the Cascades are visible as we near the tip of Pt. Robinson.

Although car camping is not allowed at Point Robinson Park, there are a few sites for sea kayakers on a bluff above the beach. We stash our kayaks on the racks just above the high tideline, carry our camping gear up a short path through the woods, and set up at a nice big site with peek-a-boo views to the east.

This evening we witness a truly spectacular sunset from the beach, where I dash back and forth across the point several times to see the neon orange sky over the Olympic Mountains on the west and Mt. Rainier turning strawberry ice cream pink on the east.

Sunset over the Olympics from Pt. Robinson.
Pt. Robinson historic lighthouse, view north.

The Mountain.
Sleep comes fairly easily tonight, although occasionally we hear the rumble of jets landing or taking off at SeaTac airport just across the Sound.

By about 6 a.m., I'm awakened by a persistent rain on my tent. This is western Washington after all. However, the rain doesn't last, but just spits off and on the rest of the morning.  As I blogged about last week,  we enjoy a relaxing morning at the annual Point Robinson Low Tide Celebration.

By early afternoon we're off on our final leg, paddling south along the east side of Maury Island, then crossing back to Dash Point.  The Sound is still a placid pond today, which makes for a fairly swift crossing (about 40 minutes) back to Dash Point, although we get a bit of wake from a passing freighter.

Our group heading south along the eastern Maury Island shoreline.

A highlight of the trip comes close to the end:  We spot the circular up and down swimming of a harbor porpoise straight ahead as we're about halfway across the Sound.  This is only the second time I've seen this marine mammal that's listed as a Species of Concern in Washington.

By about 4 p.m. Sunday we're back at Dash Point, sweating from the steady pace of our crossing in protective drysuits or paddling jackets.  Happily for us, the tide is much higher than when we left yesterday, and we've a lot less beach to cover hauling our kayaks and gear to our cars. 

While I usually prefer to head north to the San Juans or around Deception Pass area for kayaking, this trip has made me reconsider paddling closer to home in the more southern Sound.

When You Go
We covered about 20 miles on this weekend. For trips like this, there are several kayaking groups that do weekend kayak outings.  Recently I've been doing outings with the Seattle Area Sea Kayaking Meetup Group, run by volunteers. In the past I've also done trips with the Washington Kayak Club and the Boeing kayak club (BWET).  Some people have spare kayaks to loan, but generally you need to provide your own gear. 


Joe Leeak said...

Maury Island is an interesting place. I used to take an annual bike trip to Vashon Is. and stay at the hostel for two or three nights while spending the days biking around the island which of course included Maury Is. The exercise bikes on the beach have a name-- can't remember what it is though. Something like The Vashon Exercise Club. It was also fun to ride to the south end of the Vashon and take the ferry over to Pt. Defiance and take in the zoo.
More about Vashon at:

jill said...

Hey Joe! Thanks for the input. That sounds like a cool things to do, staying at the hostel for a few nights and exploring the island. I did a marathon bike ride on Vashon one day with some hard core cyclists some years ago, man was I sweating to try and barely keep up! But it was fun and beautiful.

Anonymous said...

That would be the Portage Athletic Club. The number of machines waxes and wanes. There seems to be a lot of machines there now

Anne said...

Did you have any sort of good view of Brown's Point?

Mike Chirlston said...

Nice article. Thanks for sharing.

jill said...

Thanks for the comment Mike! Happy water trails. :)