The H2O Project:

Olympia to the Nisqually Delta

16 Feb 2019

A bit of history

I moved to Salmon Beach at the end of June 2016. Already having a love of kayaking brought with me from AZ (though we had lakes), this was the perfect opportunity to jump into sea kayaking….with no real experience.

I bought a 2009 Current Designs Squall GTS. Green, 16 ft 6 in long, 22-inch beam and not what I would, even now refer to as stable. I learned plenty, started buying gear, then got serious. I found a hard-chined Nigel Foster Shadow (later signed), sold the Squall GTS and replaced it with a Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 (the one in the pic on the sidebar), and then added a Point 65N Whiskey 16 designed by Nigel Foster (a surf/play boat). A 4th kayak, a 1995 Eddyline Sea Star is undergoing a full restoration and hopefully will be on the water this summer.

With multiple sets of quality gear, 4 capable and purpose designed sea kayaks, an array of camping gear, and some education (more planned), sea kayaking has become more passion than hobby.

The Cascadia Marine Trail

I am not exactly sure when the idea of paddling the Cascadia Marine Trail came up. When the idea crossed my mind, it was something I wanted to accomplish when I turned 50. January 2019, a month after hitting 50, in the locker room following a pool session, a couple of guys from the Washington Kayak Club were talking about paddling the length of the Puget Sound. My ears perked up. I immediately said I was in.

The plan was to paddle from Hobuck to Olympia (hence H2O) in stages (and not necessarily in order) before the end of 2019. A total of 190 nautical miles of paddling. PERFECT! Completed before 51!

Olympia to the Nisqually Delta

The first thought – can I actually do this at 50? I would be the least experienced paddler – by far. Plus the distance. I am in great shape but had never paddled more than 5 nautical miles of open water or more than 7 total. This would be 18 nautical miles with 2 short breaks. Not making it wasn’t an option.

The second thought was more of a realization – I would be paddling in conditions, at some point, beyond my skill set. That was followed by realizing I would be the least experienced paddler on this adventure. That meant some risk, but also plenty of opportunities to learn the way I do best – by the seat of my pants!

The Launch

We left Olympia about 0930 (I use a 24hr clock to make it less confusing, something tied to my survival skills – don’t confuse anyone who could save you.)

All the concerns were gone. They no longer mattered. The launch went smoothly. Paddling out we had good weather. There were a few grumblings about wearing too many layers as it was warmer than expected. The first 6 or so miles to Boston Harbor were easy. Mostly on a slack tide, little wind, and no waves. I felt good when we hit the beach for a quick break.

Back on the Water

A bit chillier, though pleasant. Still paddling without much current, the paddle to our lunch stop wasn’t difficult, but I started to feel it at the end. I was tired and had a bit of trouble maintaining proper form with my forward stroke. The last one to land, I definitely started thinking ahead to the last leg and if I would hold up the group.

Robert Nissenbaum and 2 other paddlers kayaking from Olympia to the Nisqually Delta


Lunch was in the rain and colder. It also provided another good lesson – I learned a bit about what I SHOULD have packed. I brought a sandwich and an energy bar. The trip leaders brought something warm to eat and drink! A thermos with soup and one with tea. Snacks were protein based – beef jerky. Note to self – get a thermos or 2 before the next stage (and yes, I did).

After some food and a needed break, my energy was restored. Finding out it was 8+ miles from Boston Harbor to our lunch spot meant a short paddle to our pull out point at Luhr landing in the Nisqually Delta – what I expected to be 4 or so miles (ended up another 6). That was a big morale booster.

Robert Nissenbaum in a Point 65 N Whsikey 16 checking out an old sailboat names the H2O On the Water checking out the Pterodactyl

An old dinosaur – the Pterodactyl

The Last Leg

Knowing I was tired, I swapped paddles. I started the trip with a Gearlab Nuklick paddle. It was the first time I used a Greenland paddle and there is a learning curve. Feeling I was less efficient, going back to my high angle Werner Cypress (Euro blade) made sense. Once back on the water I felt stronger and more confident (as one of the other paddlers stated, you know the blade is there and will support you on edge or in a brace). It was a reassuring feeling.

That didn’t last long. A mile in I felt more exhausted and started trailing behind. The shorter paddle (205cm vs 220cm) and high angle stroke isn’t a good pairing with a tired body. Tired meant my form was off again. It was harder to maintain full rotation and power so more arms and shoulders. Weaker stroke and an overall weaker muscle group. By the 3rd mile, I could feel my arms tiring and my upper back getting sore. We were still a distance out. Trailing back and a slight cross current meant little opportunity to stop paddling and rest.

In that situation all you can do is wrap your mind around the goal (in this it wasn’t really an option to not finish), focus on the basics, and keep going.

By the time I could see our cars, I was spent. It was a challenge getting there. Getting out of the boat was boat a relief and a sense of accomplishment…..and then remembering the next week would be a longer paddle!

The map of our kayak adventure from Olympia, WA to the Nisqualy Delta 2019

The map of our kayak adventure from Olympia, WA to the Nisqually Delta 2019

Lessons Learned

Aside from the little things, like the whole lunch thing and what to pack on long day paddles (a small cook system for heating water in case of hypothermia or for cold hands/feet, heat packs are perfect for placing in gloves, why a storm cag is handy), there were a few others:

The human factor

We maintained a good pace…18 miles in 5 hours of paddling works out to just shy of 3 and 1/2 knots. A decent pass with no current to assist. I thought initially my overall endurance and conditioning would be my biggest issue with the distance. Better wind endurance would have helped and I need to get back to running, but lack of experience made it worse.

My stroke was my weakest point. While it is good, it clearly isn’t good enough to maintain it over distance…especially when tired. For all of my time on the water, that still needs plenty of improvement and practice.

The Kayak

The other big factor may have been my kayak. I opted for the Whiskey 16. I had the most recent ‘seat time’ in that one and felt more confident taking it out in unfamiliar waters on a long paddle. But that kayak is a bit heavier dimensionally than my Shadow at 3.43lbs per ft vs 3.17. It was also designed to play, not cruise. The bow was built to ride over, not cut through, it’s 2 feet shorter, and plastic. After a discussion a couple of days later….I would have fared better in the Shadow. At 17′ 10″ with a longer waterline, lighter weight dimensionally, and less rocker it was designed for this type of paddle.

The Paddle

I am not sure whether there was an issue here, other than me being inefficient. While the Greenland Paddle is still new to me, I never felt it hindered me. If anything the Euro blade did. It’s possible a longer Euro blade, one suited for low angle cruising would have been better. No way to know until I get one before one of my legs (and by then I might have the Greenland figured out to not need it).

It is clear I need to learn how to more efficiently paddle with the Nuklick.

Looking forward

The second stage will take us from the Nisqually Delta to Pt Defiance (Owen Beach). That will take us through the Tacoma Narrows and around Pt Definace.

I know I can do it. I know we’ll have a wind at our backs and up to a 4.5-knot current with us. That means an easier overall day…or one would think.

From what I learned….I am taking the Shadow. While more work to handle in the currents, it should be easier to paddle as it was designed for this type of trip. As for paddle choice…I will start with the Gearlab. I’ll consider switching depending more on my comfort in relying on the Greenland one if I need to brace and maneuver in the currents.

The costs

Over the past 2 years I have been acquiring gear (and kayaks). The bonus here is that much of what I need to outfit this adventure I own. However, I have already learned I am short several items – small things like a thermos or two to additional safety gear.

The second cost factor are the incidentals. While I will not need to take off work for this trip (a luxury of what I do), there is still the cost of gas to get to launch and pull out points, food, a Discovery Pass (something I failed to consider for this leg), campsite fees, fuel for camp stoves and who knows what else.

To help others, I’ll do my best to maintain a list of trip related expenses (and a list of the gear used on this trip). Since this was somewhat of an afterthought, a few of those expenses will be estimated for this and the second leg:

  • Gearlab Knuklick Paddle – $348 (a good paddle is required, as is a spare one for any paddle. I only had one at the time and plan to do this right.)
  • Gas – $12 (about 80 miles to and from launch/pull out points and shuttling, 18.7 mph and $2.87/gal for gas)
  • Food – I am leaving this at zero as nothing was specifically purchased for this trip. It was a simply PB&J sandwich, a couple of granola bars and an orange.

Running total for the trip: $360

The cost is a running total of what I have spent on the trip, both gear purchased for it and incidentals like food and campsites. The cost is retail pricing and does not include sales tax as that will vary.

Support my kayaking adventures

I will continue to document my trips and learning. It all takes time and gear (plus food, campsite fees, ground transportation, etc). If you are an adventure seeker, living vicariously through my kayaking, or enjoyed reading, feel free to contribute to my gear collection (and expenses).

If you have gear you’d like reviewed or willing to donate and/or interested in sponsoring my journey, links, mentions, and reviews will be included as well as adding a decal to my kayaks.

Thank you to my Sponsors

  • Kayakers Go Coastal, a local retailer of kayak gear plus a full repair shop. Rhonda has discounted much of the gear purchased allowing my dollars to go further and allowed me access to the shop to repair the damage done on the trip/modify the kayaks used.
  • WordFence, a security plugin for WordPress Websites. Their financial contribution made it possible to purchase additional and upgraded gear. Much of this included safety items.

    Thank you, Mark and the team at WordFence!

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  1. […] bit more planning went into this leg. It was a bit longer than the Olympia to the Nisqually Delta leg, but more attention needed to be paid to where we were paddling and timing than the actual […]

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