27 August 1997

Paddling on Puget Sound

I woke with the light but since it was raining, I didn't see any point in getting up. When pots and pans started clattering in the kitchen, I got up. We had a fantastic breakfast of multi-grain pancakes with walnuts and bananas mixed in. Looks like my plan to pack light lunches was right on the mark. I figured they'd feed us hefty breakfasts and suppers and I wouldn't need much for lunch.

By the time we hit the water, the rain had stopped and there was clear sky out there, though there was still fog higher up the island slopes, creeping through the trees.

We paddled out of the harbor past a sunken ship with a seal and her pup resting on it. Once we got out of the harbor and approached the channel, we were paddling into fog. We kept close to shore so as not to get lost in the fog or run over by boats. When we'd been paddling a while, I heard Susan say, "Hear that?" to Kerrie. Kerrie responded, "It's them." and they started paddling with energy through the fog. We paddled to keep up with them and are wondering why the sudden effort, where we're going and what they're talking about.

Pretty soon, we figure it out... The noise that Susan heard became obvious to us too as Kerrie said, "It's whales!" Orca whales. We could hear them breathing with that explosive exhalation. Never more than a second or two went by without hearing another one. Twice, I saw a dorsal fin dimly through the fog but for the most it sounded they were everywhere around us even though we couldn't see them. It was kind of eerie but mostly way cool.

We saw more seals, some with pups. In one place, there were 3 seals on shore sunning and a small pup (they're usually born in July) hauled itself out of the water toward them. when it got clear of the water, it tried to turn around and the shore was so steep that it just rolled hot-dog fashion down the slope and splashed into the water.

Around mid-morning the fog lifted and it was mostly sunny the rest of the day. We pulled into a little bay near Turn Point (at the tip of the island) for a break. It was a nice quiet bay and as we were pulling in, a doe crossed the beach and bounded up and away. We beached the boats and people began peeling out of their damp clothes and spray skirts and spreading them over rocks and driftwood to dry in the sun. It was the first real sun we'd seen. There was soon steam rising from our drying clothing and some of the driftwood and rocks on the beach. One guy (Vince, from Michigan) even went so far as to go swimming in the bay...where the water is 50 degrees, year round...but only for a minute.

We'd only been there a few minutes when suddenly everyone was jumping up and scrambling over rocks toward the channel. I looked up from my lunch and saw a pod of orcas swim by the mouth of the bay. I stood up, mouth agape with a camera around my neck and never even thought to use it. We all watched them (5 or 6, near as I could tell) slicing through the water with graceful arches to the surface. Glorious!

We settled down to eating again and a few minutes later, another pod swam by. This time, I got a picture...though I have a feeling, not a very good one.

The rest of the lunch break was mostly uneventful. We ate, basked in the sun and watched the big ships cruising the channel outside our bay. Several minutes after one huge freighter went by, the waves reached our beach and started sloshing some of our kayaks out to sea and filling any boats that didn't have the hatches closed. The people closest to the boats scrambled over rocks and driftwood to grab the ones being washed away (at the far end, of course...) and most everyone else hauled the rest of them further onto shore in case another freighter went by.

Wildlife tally for the day: jellyfish, a huge purple sea star, anemones, an osprey, an immature bald eagle, lots of seals, the 2 pods of orcas, male sea lions displaying for territory, an oyster catcher (funny looking black bird with a bright orange, pointy beak), a nesting cormorant, the deer on the beach and the same mink (probably) we'd seen the day before.

After supper we hiked about 2 1/2 miles to Turn Point to see an incredible sunset. Along the way we passed the one-room schoolhouse used by the island children. In front of the school was a line strung between 2 trees with T-shirts pinned to it. They were samples of the Stuart Island souvenir shirts that the school uses as a money raiser. Beside one of the trees was a big chest with all the different shirts in different colors and sizes all neatly packaged in plastic bags with a slip of paper saying to not leave cash, please send this amount to this address. According to Susan, in the time they've been marketing their shirts and notecards this way, there have only been a couple that weren't paid for.

Back at camp we broke down and packed up the kitchen. We're supposed to be on the water by 5:00 or 5:30am tomorrow so we can catch favorable tide currents for our trip back to San Juan Island.