26 August 1997

Ferry to Orcas Island - Meeting paddle group

Today started at 4:20am. The time I had to get up in order to get packed and to the Anacordes ferry terminal and thense to Friday Harbor to make my sea kayaking group. This was the only day where I HAD to get up and get somewhere on time. I had about 3 heart attacks before I got it done, too.

The first heart attack came when I tried to leave the campground. Having never tried to enter or exit a campground in the dark, it never occurred to me that they close the gates and no one gets in or out between 10:30pm and 6:30am. I got to the entrance and saw the closed gate and the sign saying it wouldn't open until 6:30 and nearly panicked. 6:30 wasn't going to be anywhere near soon enough when I still had to drive 30-45 minutes to catch a 6:15 ferry. And if I didn't get on that ferry, there was no way I could meet my kayak group at 9:00.

I was seriously considering whether I wanted to ram through it with my rental car when I thought to check and see if the gate were locked or merely closed. It turns out there was a padlock on the gate but it wasn't doing anything. I slipped the bolt back, opened the gate, drove through, then closed it behind me. I saw there was a senser on the ground under the gate and thought that if it triggered a chime or something somewhere, someone may make sure to actually lock the gate in the future but for the time being, I was off the hook.

I made it to Anacordes and found a parking place for my car, left the money in the little slot and made the ferry with some time to spare. I got on the ferry, propped my drybags under my feet and pulled out a book for the hour+ trip. About 20 minutes into the trip, I put down my book for a moment to check out the scenery and for some reason it occurred to me that the confirmation I got from the outfitter said, in big bold letters, "YOU MUST BRING THIS INVOICE WITH YOU..." and I'd left it in the car. Heart attack number 2... But a fairly brief one as I decided that they would have to have my name on a list somewhere and, if it came to it, I had ID to prove that's who I was. In any case, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it so there was no point in worrying it.

I got to Friday Harbor around 8 and the van was supposed to pick us up around 9. I found a spot where I could watch the whole area in front of the terminal and continued to read my book. Although I did think it a little odd that no other drybag-toting people got off the ferry when I did. If this were the only ferry that would arrive in time, you'd think there would have to be at least a few other kayakers on it...

Around 8:45 a woman walked by, saw my dry bags and asked me if I were going kayaking. Halleluia! I said, "Yes" and she said she was looking for the "prominent blue van" and I said I hadn't seen it yet but it wasn't quite 9:00 yet either. Then I asked if she was with Outland Adventures. She said, "No, Zoetic." Bummer... must be a bunch of outfitters meeting at the terminal.

Finally, apparent kayakers start congregating around the terminal area (all looking for SeaQuest or Zoetic) and right before 9, a blue van pulling a kayak-loaded trailer pulls up. The sign on the side says "SeaQuest Expeditions - Zoetic" Hmmm...

On an off chance, I ask the guy in the van if he's with Outland Adventures. He gets a blank look on his face and says, "No. SeaQuest." I go back to my bench and wait (with increasing discomfort) for another van.

Then it's after 9:00. A second SeaQuest van has pulled up but still no sign of Outland. I go to the ferry terminal and ask for a phone book. All they have is one for the island and it doesn't list Outland Adventures...but then I didn't expect it to. I know I called either Port Townsend or Port Angeles to make the reservation. I can feel heart attack number 3 brewing...

I hit a couple other stores along the waterfront, looking for someone who has a mainland phone book. No one does so I head back toward the terminal trying to decide what to do. I'm thinking I've been scammed, the outfitter's not going to show, I'm out $300... Do I just get on the ferry and go back to Anacordes? Do I try to wheedle my way onto the SeaQuest trip? Do I fall apart right there in the middle of the street and just cry?

As I'm standing indecisively there, a woman with a clipboard from the second van walks up to me and says, "Are you Sue?" I want to kiss her feet...but I'm speechless with tension and relief. "Sue Ho.., Sue Hot..." and points to my name on her clipboard. "Yes!"

It turns out that Outland Adventures is a booking agent and booked the trip for me with SeaQuest. The people in the vans were the guides and didn't know anything about the booking agents, all they know is they have a list of names to pick up. And if the info I got back from OA said anything about SeaQuest, I missed it. Probably if I'd had my invoice with me...

In any case, I load my gear and get into the van with the people I'll be spending the next 3 days with. 13 adventurers (including me) and 2 guides, Kerrie and Susan. Of the adventurers, there are 3 of us "singles". Since we're paddling double kayaks, 2 of the singles need to pair up and one will paddle with Kerrie. I end up with Kerrie and it works out great. She a marine and fisheries biologist and wealth of information about all things aquatic. Susan is an environmental educator so she's no slouch either. Between the two of them, we had an almost constant stream of fascinating information.

We had a little kayak, safety and paddling instruction on shore, packed the kayaks (no small feat as some people apparently completely disregarded the equipment and packing lists...) then headed out. It had started raining, not heavily, just enough let you know it was raining so we were all in rain gear. I felt damp and chilly as I waited a little too long to get waterproofed.

Before we'd even gotten out of the bay, we saw Dall's Porpoises playing out on the water. It was an auspicious start.

Eventually, the rain let up although the day stayed cloudy and gray. Throughout the rest of our paddle, we saw a bald eagle, a lot of salmon jumping, several kinds of ducks and water birds, lots of seagulls, a mink (on shore as we paddled by), some harbor seals (including one that came up close enough to my kayak that I could have reached out with my paddle and bopped it on the nose if I'd wanted to...) and some sea stars on the bottom as we paddled over shallows.

We paddled into Reid Harbor on Stuart Island in the afternoon and set up camp. Kerrie and Susan made supper (refusing almost all offers of help) and we feasted. Shortly after supper, it started raining again, so everybody pretty much retired to tents.

Our first day of paddling we covered about 9 miles. Stuart Island is a largish island with a permanent population. The island has no electricity except for what people make for themselves with generators, solar panels, or windmills. They have no ferry or bridge access and there's one, narrow, seldom-used-by-vehicles road that runs down the island. They have a one-room school for the gradeschool aged children that live there...currently there are 7 students. When the students get to be high school aged, they go to the school in Friday Harbor. Kerrie and Susan didn't know if they commuted by boat every day or if there was some sort of dorm setup in Friday Harbor and they came home on weekends.

The camp we're using is part of a state park established on the island. Reid Harbor is about a mile long and the park is all the way at the innermost end of the harbor.

Tomorrow, because of the weather, we'll circle the island and return here to camp again. Already my shoulders are sore and I take some aspirin before going to bed.