The H2O Project:

Nisqually Delta to Point Defiance

23 February 2019


A 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 distance.

This leg would take us under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, through the Narrows, and around the tip of Point Defiance. Depending on tide flows that stretch of water can get rough with the current reaching 7+ knots, strong winds, 2 foot waves, and strong eddies. Around the Point itself, several strong current flows can cross making it dangerous to paddle. (There are a number of rescues performed off the point each year due to inexperience.)

In our case, the primary concern was not wanting to paddle against the current That meant timing our launch, our pace on the water, and where, when, and how long we take breaks.

Once we know the tides, the plan was to meet at Owen Beach at 0800, shuttle to Nisqually, and be on the water by 0900.



The week between the legs turned colder with rain and snow flurries. I half expected to launch in freezing rain or snow. This time, lunch was going to be something hot! I purchased 2 thermoses – one for a hot meal (soup, thank you, Amy) and the other for a hot drink (tea). For a snack, I opted for beef jerky instead of granola bars.


As I was comfortable on the last leg, I chose the same clothing – 2 base layers (top and bottom) under the drysuit.


Choosing to take the Shadow on this leg based on what I learned the week prior, meant the first project was rigging some extra deck lines. On the Shadow, the deck lines do not run the entire length from the bow to the cockpit. They are not entirely necessary, but from a safety perspective, they are highly recommended. The line I had was a bit larger than what is normally used but I made it work. (I will be purchasing new deck line prior to the next leg.)

The second task was getting the paddle britches on the bow. I needed to be able to reach the spare paddle on the water if needed. Again, the design of the boat and the shock cords made that a challenge. I found a temporary solution – one which covered the compass location (to be added later) – and will address it once I redo the deck lines.

On the Water

Launching out of Nisqually (late at 0935), I was less relaxed than I should have been. I got a bit into my own head. It wasn’t the distance this time. I knew I could handle it. I also knew we’d have a current assist so it should be easier.

It was my skill set.

I was in the Shadow and while I have plenty of seat time in it, it had been a while since I paddled it. That, combined with being acutely aware that the boat is a bit big for me – both designed for a larger paddler and truthfully, better suited to a more experienced paddler – affected my confidence. Its hard chined, flat hull provides a bit more initial stability and makes it more maneuverable, but at the price of secondary stability, especially in rougher water….and I knew we’d have some waves.

I would likely 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!

After a few minutes, I was feeling comfortable again, but still aware of my limits.

Leaving the Delta

Unlike the Olympia to Nisqually leg, we would have a current assisting us. We’d also have following seas with a tailwind. The combination of the Shadow and the conditions made for easy going at the start. I had no concerns about keeping up.

Our course took us between Anderson Island and DuPont. We had some current assist with a light wind from the southwest as we headed toward Ketron Island. A few small waves, gave me a chance to work on my stern rudder skill without too much risk of screwing up and capsizing. (It still needs work.)

Ketron Island, looking north by Robert Nissenbaum

Looking toward the south end of Ketron Island

Heading up the Cormorant Passage and with decent progress made, we stopped for a quick break across from the north end of Ketron, finding a nice little spot under the train trestle.

Nisqually Delta to Owen Beach, 23 February 2019, first break

First stop. Image by Francis Gan

A miscalculation.

After a snack, and back paddling, the wind and waves picked up a bit. We now had 1 foot waves from the southwest. Keeping our course meant maintaining a heading which had the waves landing broadside. I had no issue for most of that stretch. Most of it.

Here’s where the combination of a having a hard-chined kayak with decreased secondary stability and a lacking skill set aren’t a great combination.

Keeping the kayak on course and upright while being hit broadside continuously was a challenge for me. At some point I resolved that I was going to get wet. The concern wasn’t my safety or ego taking a hit, it was that I would impact our ability to hit the Narrows when we needed to continue to take advantage of the current. A capsize would affect everyone.

I decided to choose a line which brought me closer to shore. I could leverage the waves then pick a point and turn back on the heading by timing the smaller waves in closer. Bad decision. I misjudged my location on the water. I ended up too close to shore and wasn’t able to turn the bow quick enough. A couple of quick waves and I ungracefully exited the kayak off Chamber’s bay.

No rescue needed (or so I thought).

I essentially beached myself. I pulled the boat out of the water, emptied what it took on, then set to launch quickly. All I was think was to get on the water fast and not screw up our timing of the currents!

Mistake number two. Simple rule when launching into surf – 45 degree angle to the waves. Rushing to get on the water, my brain forgot that step. The short version, the trip leader beached, reminded me of my mistake, provide a bit of instruction, and help getting back on the water.

NOW the ego took a hit! AND I cost the group time. Fortunately the individuals I am paddling with are great people and 2 are ACA Instructors. Rather than laugh, it became a teaching moment.

Side note – the person who did laugh at me….my boss at the kayak shop.


Our lunch stop was at Titlow Beach, just south of the bridge. Getting there meant a few more waves and working to relax and get through them. By the time we pulled out for lunch, I needed a mental break more than a physical one. The decision to pack a hot meal and the beef jerky was now more important for improving my mindset and morale than for dealing with the cold.

Nisqually Delta to Owen Beach, 23 February 2019, in the Tacoma Narrows

Leaving Titlow Beach and heading up the Tacoma Narrows, Image by Francis Gan

The final miles

After lunch we headed for the bridge. The wind died done and the water was calm. We still had a bit of the ebb in our favor. I was also completely relaxed on the water for the first time all day. This last stretch, as dangerous as it can be, was ‘home’ for me. Living on Salmon Beach I have spent plenty of time kayaking in the Narrows and around the Point. I have learned to read the water. With no waves and little current, I knew it would be an easy last few miles.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, allowed for some conversation, and by the time pulled out at Owen Beach, I felt good, and a bit more confident in my skills (although not sure that was warranted).

Nisqually Delta to Owen Beach, 23 February 2019, Landing at Owen Beach

Landing at Owen Beach, Image by Francis Gan

Nisqually Delta to Owen Beach (Tacoma), 23 February 2019

18+Nautical Miles

Random Thoughts

One foot waves

I have been out in similar conditions on a camping trip to Blake Island last September while paddling the Tempest. He biggest difference on that trip, aside from a kayak with a soft chine and better secondary stability was the wave direction. Rather than broadside to the boat, they were at a 45 degree angle for our heading. Far different hitting waves in that direction.

Paddle Choice

Given I was paddling the Shadow, I opted to use the Werner Cypress the entire trip. The Greenland paddle does require a bit of practice to master and figured I had enough to handle without adding anything else into the mix.


The drysuit and base layers I was wearing did their job. While not completely submerged or in the water for any length of time, I was in the roughly 48 degree water. I stayed dry and as soon as I was paddling, I was warm. However, the drysuit needs to be upgraded. The biggest issue is the lack of booties. Even with neoprene shoes and waterproof socks, my feet don’t stay as warm as they could. That’s both a comfort and safety concern.

The other article of clothing I need for cold/inclement weather paddles is a storm cag – a one-piece combination jacket and spray skirt cover designed to be worn over existing clothing and PFD in inclement weather on or off the water. It would have been ideal on the first leg at lunch!

I picked up 2 thermoses to have hot food and drinks on cold paddles but I will need to get a third to carry hot water. This isn’t for drinking. It’s a safety precaution. Even dressed for immersion, with the right base layers, getting cold is possible – especially hands and feet. Carry hot water provides a quick way to warm extremities until more can be heated.

Lessons learned

  • I need to work on bracing, and turning in waves. Having both would have contributed to my being more relaxed and confident. They would have likely keep me from ending up close to shore avoiding 2 mistakes.
  • I need to slow down and think.

Looking forward

The next leg will be the first overnight trip (sometime in April). We’ll launch from Owen Beach, head up the Colvos Passage, spend the night on Blake Island, then head out in the morning to the Kingston Marina.

I am familiar with some stretches of the trip and having already made 2 mistakes (like getting the first scratches on a new car), I will be a bit more relaxed.

To get some more practice with being in the Shadow, she’ll be on the water a few more times prior to the next legs and at a pool session.

The costs

To help others in figuring out what it will take to outfit a similar adventure, I’ll do my best to maintain a list of trip related expenses and gear purchased (at retail pricing and not including sales tax as that will vary). Since I had much of the gear I needed prior to this trip, I’ll add a full section on all of my gear with costs in time. For this trip:

  • 2 Thermos – $22 (a steal as both were on clearance)
  • Gas – I am leaving this at zero as the I literally drove around the park and back – maybe a whole 5 miles.
  • Food – $5 As the soup was made by a friend and the tea bags I already had, the only real cost was for the beef jerky

Running total for the trip: $393

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

The H2O Project Legs:

Olympia to the Nisqually Delta
The Nisqually Delta to Point Defiance
Point Defiance to Point Jefferson
Hobuck Beach to Neah Bay

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  1. […] second stage will take us from the Nisqually Delta to Owen Beach. That will take us through the Tacoma Narrows and around Pt […]

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