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 became serious. I found a hard-chined Nigel Foster Shadow, sold the Squall GTS and replaced it with a Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 (the one in the pic on the sidebar, since sold), and then added a Point 65n Whiskey 16 Rocker (designed by Nigel Foster).

With multiple sets of quality gear, 3 capable and purpose designed sea kayaks, an array of camping gear, and some education (with more planned), sea kayaking had become more passion than hobby.

The Cascadia Marine Trail

I am not exactly sure when the idea of kayaking the length of the Cascadia Marine Trail came up. I remember learning about it was something I wanted to accomplish when I turned 50. January 2019, a month after hitting 50, in the locker room following a Washington Kayak Club pool session, there was a conversation about paddling the length of the Puget Sound. My ears perked up.

The plan grew with the intent to kayak from Hobuck Beach on the Makah Reservation 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!

UPDATE, May 2020: COVID-19 put a damper on the Project in March of 2020 and trips have been on hold for now.

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 it was a bit chillier, though still pleasant. 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 and began to wonder 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.

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.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 final miles

Knowing I was tired, I swapped paddles. I started the trip using a Gearlab Nukilik paddle. It was the first time I used a Greenland paddle outside a pool session and there is a learning curve. Feeling I was less efficient, going back to my high angle Werner Cypress made sense. Using it 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 with a high angle stroke wasn’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.

By the time I could see our cars at the end of our end point, I was spent. Exiting the boat a relief combined with a huge of a sense of accomplishment…..and then I remembered we be paddling a longer distance next weekend.

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 nautical miles in 5 hours works out to just shy of 3.5 knots/hour. A quick pace with no current to assist. Conditioning is important but covering distance in a kayak is a bit different than running or hiking. Form matters more. It’s about finesse more than power. A good stroke, one that is more efficient, means less work and a less tired body.

I need to work on my forward stroke.

The Kayak

The other big factor may have been my kayak. I opted for the Whisky 16. I had the most recent ‘seat time’ in it and felt more confident taking it out in unfamiliar waters on a long paddle. The Whisky was designed to be more of a play boat – surf, rock gardening, rougher conditions – not touring. While capable of it, the Shadow, with its longer waterline, would have been easier to paddle on this leg.

The Paddle

I am not sure whether there was an issue here. While the Greenland paddle is still new to me, I never felt it a hindrance. I don’t know if the Werner would have helped either. I think my form was the real issue.

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 Point Defiance.

Conditions as of now call for a tailwind and we’ll have up to a 4.5 knot current assist. It should make for an easier day.

The costs

Over the past 2 years I have been acquiring gear (and kayaks).I have much of what I’ll need to outfit this adventure. There are still items I know I will need (a better drysuit, a helmet, and a thermos or two come to mind immediately) and plenty I will discover I need or want.

There will also be logistical costs. I am fortunate to have flexibility with my business. It means no loss of income. That still leaves gas to get to launch points, campsite fees, parking fees, food, a Discovery Pass (something I failed to consider for this leg), and more I likely haven’t considered.

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).

  • Gearlab Nukilik 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 – all of which was already on hand.

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.

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!
  • Heritage Distilling Co. We end each trip with a toast of Whisky. Heritage Distilling Company was kind enough to donate for several legs of the project.

I am always looking for sponsors and gear to test / review. Beyond The H2O Project, there are more adventures on the horizon. 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 simply an adventure seeker, living vicariously through my kayaking, or enjoyed reading, feel free to contribute to my gear collection (and expenses).

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