The H2O Project:

Point Defiance to Point Jefferson

20-21 April 2019

It had been nearly two months since we completed the Nisqually Delta to Point Defiance leg of our trip. While I had been out paddling and in the pool, I was ready to explore out again.

This trip, as much as it is about testing myself and improving my skills, is filling that desire. It’s something which has been stirring in me since I thought about through-hiking the PCT back in 2012. 

While I had nagging thoughts and questions going through my head at the start of the first legs, I had none this time. Gone were the questions about my ability to handle the distance, my ability to keep up, or about my comfort level on the water – even in the Shadow. I was looking forward to this leg.

Aside from the camping element, this segment would take me further north than I had been on the Puget Sound. That sense of adventure was there. I was also aware that once we were out on the second morning, we’d all be paddling in ‘new water’.

The Plan

The plan for leg 3 called for launching off Owen Beach at Point Defiance, heading up the Colvos Passage to Blake Island - about 14 nautical miles. We’d spend the night on Blake, then paddle roughly another 13 nautical miles paddling up the east side of Bainbridge Island to Point Jefferson, just south of the Kingston marina. Click To Tweet

We’d have a decent open water crossing at Port Madison before landing.

Unlike the past legs, we’d need to monitor our VHF radios, primarily for boat traffic. There would be a couple of points where we would be crossing ferry lanes. Weather wasn’t expected to be an issue (and we did the usual pre-launch checks), but spending a night on an island only accessible by water meant paying attention. It wasn’t like we could pack up in the morning and postpone the rest of the leg. 

Preparations

Kayak

  • Deckline. Once I made the decision to take the Shadow, I added extra section of deckline for the second leg of the trip for safety reasons. The original design didn’t have the lines run the length of the front deck, only the bow. Having time now, I ordered red reflective line from Point 65N Kayaks and installed it.

Gear

This trip would be longer with the camping element. With my having enough kayak camping experience, preparing meant getting the last few pieces of camping gear necessary:

  • MSR Pocket Rocket and fuel. I have a Solo Stove which I prefer as it’s wood burning and removes the need to buy, carry, and deal with used fuel canisters, but you cannot collect wood on Blake Island and I had no intention of bringing any. The MSR is also a better choice when you need to get up and out.
  • Solar panel and back-up battery pack. Not an absolute need but they will be used over the course of this adventure. Having a way to charge VHF radios, GPS devices, and cell phones means the set-up is a safety/security purchase.

Clothing

With only one overnight, I didn’t need much

  • I packed a towel, a hoodie, a light jacket, an extra dry wick shirt, socks, and a change of underwear. I did toss a 32 Degrees beanie into my drybag as the temperature would drop at night.

Food

Adding the overnight portion meant food for 2 days on the water as well as a dinner and breakfast. The goal was high protein, filling, and something for a pick-me-up while staying healthy. Not carrying a cooler, I wanted to make sure nothing could spoil.

  • Snacks – I opted for beef jerky, a hard cheese (no refrigeration necessary), trail mix, a few granola bars, and apples.
  • Lunches – I picked up a couple of varieties of those ready to eat tuna and salmon meals in a pouch. They are easier to pack and open than cans (while weight isn’t an issue when kayak camping, they are perfect for backpacking – and my system, gear, and food options are designed with both in mind). They are also packed with protein. Adding a few flour tortillas and a bit of trail mix makes for an easy, tasty, and satisfying meal….with no effort.
  • Dinner. I grabbed what looked like a reasonably tasty backpacker meal. Not sure of our time, I didn’t want to rush to prepare a cooked meal like I normally would. For this trip, I’d be content with heating water. Plus, I was curious as to how bad they could be.
  • Breakfast. I grabbed a backpacker meal for breakfast and also a couple of oatmeal packets. I wanted to at least have a choice. Of course, I needed to have good coffee: I have a 32 oz Stanley coffee press. Nested inside is a plastic JIF peanut butter jar. Perfect fit and a great way to carry ground coffee. For longer trips I’ll toss in a scoop so I get a good, strong cup of coffee each day.
  • Water. In addition to the 2L hydration bladder I wear, I carried a second 2L bladder. While drinking water would be available, I’d prefer to be self sufficient and have enough

Saturday morning at Point Defiance

Five of us met at Owen Beach at 0800, the goal to be on the water by 0900. I think we all knew better that it would be closer to 0930. Our group consisted on the 3 organizers (Jose, Barry, and Romuald), myself, and Steve. Steve missed the last leg. Francis, our photographer, didn’t make this leg. That would leave me as the only one outside the organizers to complete (there was no way I wasn’t) all 3 stages. Not bad for a 50 year old with barely 3 years of open water sea kayaking experience and very little distance paddling under his spray skirt (the belt cliche just didn’t work here!).

The morning was warm, a bit of sun, and looked like we’d have pretty calm water at launch.

Packing the kayak

That moment when you realize you failed to remember something you learned on day one?

Yep. Had it!

It’s one thing when you can load your kayak with all of your gear without having to carry it very far. It’s another when you can’t. Guess what? It’s normally the latter.

I had made a comment as we were packing for the leg out of Olympia about everyone’s blue Ikea bags. Turns out, it’s a thing with sea kayakers. They’re big, strong, and waterproof. Perfect for carrying gear between cars and boats. I didn’t order them for the Nisqually Delta to Point Defiance leg as we only had a week. Then I forgot.

Fortunately I packed well. Still had to make 3 trips from my car to the kayak (then the kayak to the campsite, campsite to kayak…..). I have since ordered them.

Designed for it

The Shadow is an expedition boat. Two large oval hatches and a 425 lb capacity meant it could handle whatever I brought and it was easy to load. Since I opt for the minimalist approach (much of my gear will work for backpacking), I had room to spare. With wind and water conditions not a factor, I split the weight between the front and rear hatches (and yes, there is an art to packing a sea kayak which factors in paddling conditions). The day hatch holds my emergency gear, food for the day, and any other items I want handy.

The one rule I have is that the rear deck stays clear for rescues. My preference is that the front deck only carries a spare paddle, my GoPro, and a chart. Aside from room to store my pump and paddle float if used for a rescue, less gear means less paddle shaft interference and less to catch the wind.

Launching

Prior to launching, Barry took a moment to ask if anyone had checked the forecast and the wind/expected wind conditions. It was primarily directed at myself and Steve. Steve was using this leg to help earn his instructor certification. That’s an end goal for me, but my focus is on improving and building on my skills. After a quick conversation about the expected conditions, we slid the boats into the water.

We lost the sun and the water got a bit choppy as we headed out into a headwind. Leaving on an ebb tide should have mad the crossing to Vashon and into the Colvos Passage a bit easier. Except the currents in the Dalco Passage don’t seem to follow any rules (one reason why it, especially around the tip of Point Defiance, is one of the more dangerous places to paddle in the state).

Before we were halfway across, we hit ‘squirrely’ water (yes, it is a technical term!). The bow of Shadow was pulled one direction, then the opposite. It only took a minute to know the conditions we were in for me to stop trying to correct my course. I’m getting better at read the water conditions as I’m in them.

Further across the current picked up and we were fighting it. With the current weakest at the shoreline, we adjusted course for the shoreline. Easier said than done! You could feel the boat being pulled away from the shore. Break stroke and you would get pulled out. Let the current take you and the next stop would have been down the Narrows and under the bridge. (Again, why this section of water is dangerous for the inexperienced kayaker).

By the time we made it around the tip of Vashon, I was tired. I couldn’t believe how strong the current was just off the shore. Even Barry mentioned it was the strongest he’d seen it.

Lunch and Lesson 2

Fun fact about the Colvos Passage – it always flows out regardless of ebb or flood tide. Once we made it past the mouth of the passage, we had a bit of current assist and averaged about 4 knots even with a headwind before we decided to break for lunch. We landed on the west side of Vashon South of Sandford Point under the watchful eye of a Bald Eagle.

While eating, Barry asked Steve what he would do if his kayak floated off. The goal of the exercise was learning how to locate our position and relay it via a VHF radio. Though a GPS device may be an easy solution (and my VHF radio has GPS functionality), batteries die and technology can fail for other reasons. Being able to get bearings using a nautical chart and compass are critical survival skills on the water. So, out came the chart and compass and our second lesson for the day.

We oriented the chart, picked a reference point (which conveniently was a visible channel marker), and got our bearings.

While I can read and use a chart, I greatly appreciated it the lesson.

Pushing off the beach

The winds had picked up a bit and we launched in small waves. They weren’t big enough to knock over a small child, but that didn’t stop Jose from bringing up my ability to launch in them…referring to his need to give me a hand on the last leg. Fortunately I redeemed myself.

To take full advantage of the current with the strong headwinds, we paddled toward the center of the passage. Barry and I were up front as we made our way into the oncoming waves. At this point I was wishing I had swapped the battery on the GoPro. Sadly, no video

Barry mentioned getting a taste of ocean waves. We paddled into consistent 2-3 ft waves. (Jose claimed they were maybe 2 footers but we’re sticking with 3…sort of a sea kayaker’s ‘fish tale’.)

By the third one I had a huge grin on my face. We paddled up the wave, buried the power face of the paddle blade behind the crest and the bow would drop onto the back of the wave. Every wave or two, the bow would seem to hang as if we we teetering on the crest before it landed.

It wasn’t long before the winds tapered off and the waves disappeared leaving us with a relatively relaxed paddle until our next break.

Calm waters and sun

After a second break the weather changed. The Colvos Passage was bathed in sun and the water was calm. Having lost the current assist, while the paddling was easy, it was slow. I was grateful for the long waterline of the Shadow.

We did get a chance to play though. The tide was out far enough to paddle through one of the channel markers. Steve was up in front and aiming straight for it. I had already intended to follow when I heard Barry yell for me to go through it.

Steve and I made our way across the passage while Barry, Jose, and Romuald meandered up the Vashon side. We met up again just south of the Southworth Ferry landing for a quick break before the crossing the last few miles to the campsites on the Southwest end of Blake Island.

The campsite

Rule 1 when kayak camping….make sure your boats are well above the high tide line. That may seem logical but 3 weeks prior, 6 kayakers woke up on Blake Island to find their kayaks missing.

We were taking no chances! After getting our gear unloaded, the boats were pulled up well out of reach of the tide.

We set up camp – pitching tents and getting out of our drysuits. Gear was laid out and hung to dry. I was hungry but too tired to even think about making something to eat. I grabbed an apple I packed for a snack, planning to cook dinner later.

That never happened. I did not have the energy or desire to pull out the stove. Dinner for me consisted of one of my planned lunches – one those handy ready to eat tuna meals, a couple of tortillas, and some trail mix

Dinners that evening ranged from my tuna in a pouch, to a backpacker meal, hot dogs, and Romuald’s gourmet cooking – brats and red potatoes sauteed in beer with a pesto and cilantro paste. Who say’s camping needs to be roughing it?

Though Romauld’s dinner turned into its own adventure.

He has a small cast iron frying pan he’s had for years. We know it made it into his kayak at Owen Beach (he’s the opposite of a minimalist camper opting for the ‘if it fits, it goes’ method). By dinnertime is was no where to be found. He finally gave up the search and borrowed a pan.

A bit more conversation and I was done for the day. Lights out after one of the very few selfies I take.

Day two

Breakfast on Day 2 - MSR stove, backpacker meal, and a fig barWith the plan to leave by 0900, I decided to set an alarm for 0700. I didn’t want to rush or be the one who held up the group. I tend to be meticulous in packing up and wanted to eat without rushing.

I woke up feeling good. Not sore or tired. I slept well – I usually do when camping. Hungry, breakfast was the priority. I’d pack up after I’d eaten. I pulled out the MSR Pocket Rocket.

I opted for the backpacker breakfast over oatmeal. It meant not having to clean a pot.

And of course I had to have my coffee!!

We broke down camp and repacked the kayaks as Rhonda and Chris showed up with lemon and apple pastries. Rhonda called us the evening prior and mentioned they that would try to stop by. She owns Kayakers Go Coastal (one of my sponsors and part-time employer) and is the clinic and training chairperson for the Washington Kayak Club (we’re all members). It was a great way to start day two.

We also solved the prior night’s mystery of what happened to Romuald’s pan. As we were ready to leave, I spotted in at the edge of the beach just below the water’s surface! Apparently he placed it on the beach while unloading and the tide came in before he grabbed it! Both amazing that it was still there in the morning and that it was found.

It also served as a reminder of how fast tides can come in and the need to keep boats and gear above the high tide line.

Our group…with Chris on the left.

Back on the water.

Back on the water

We had good weather and a slight current assist when we launched. We came around Blake and headed to Bainbridge Island (a 4 mile open water crossing and through the Seattle-Bremerton ferry line). Being a bit warm we decided to stop at Restoration Point. To shed a few base layers.

Restoration Point, at low tide, requires coming around wide to avoid Decatur Reef.

Barry asked how far I thought I had to swing out to clear the rocks. I was trying to read how the water was breaking to determine that point. While they moved further out, I opted to not follow risking it in what looked like a deep enough gap. It wasn’t. There was that unmistakable sound of fiberglass against the rocks. I managed to high center the Shadow! (I did manage to get her off the rocks without having to get out.) 

Once I had her back on my car that evening, I got a good look at the hull. There was a decent crack in the gel coat exposing the fiberglass and some deep gouges. (I do carry an emergency repair kit for these cases, but she never took on water so I wasn’t aware of the damage extent.) All in all, it could have been much worse!

From Restoration Point we opted to paddled to the east of Blakely Rock. Coming around it, we spooked a few dozen seals and steering clear of one very large sea lion, then up the coast of Bainbridge Island. We were now all in ‘new water’.

Aside from monitoring for the Seattle-Bainbridge ferries and boat traffic, it was a very relaxed paddle. We stopped north of Yeomalt point for our first break before Jose went for an intentional swim. It was part of assessing Steve’s open water assisted rescue ability. Happy to report he got Jose back in his boat!

Lunch in Rolling Bay

A couple of points to note here – beyond treading lightly, much of the shoreline either has homes or is private property. We needed to be aware of our landing points to be respectful to both individuals and the environment. The second point had to due with tides. We knew we were at low tide. That meant a long walk to get to the tree line and making sure once again that we had the kayaks pulled up far enough. We would be too far away to even notice the water getting close to the boats or to do anything about it.

The final miles to Point Jefferson

The original plan was a final quick break before making our way to Point Jefferson. We all opted to skip that stop, cutting a bit of distance and time off the paddle. This trip wasn’t about the miles we’d log. It was about kayaking the waterway. We’d have roughly a 4-5 nautical mile final paddle to finish this leg.

We did raft up with a couple of miles to go to take a water break. Once moving, Barry asked us all to predict when we’d make it to the beach. I happen to be horrible at estimating time and distance. I just randomly picked a time. Nailed it at 1540.

The numbers

The trip isn’t about our pace or the miles. It’s about the experience. Still, it gives a sense of the magnitude of the trip. In total, we should paddle close to 190 nautical miles (212 miles). Each segment will be roughly 5 hours kayaking.

2.9 knots isn’t all that bad as a pace goes either over that distance and some of the conditions we faced.

Random Thoughts

  • More an observation than a thought, a loaded kayak behaves very different than an empty one. Sitting deeper in the water, both initial and secondary stability increase. Even with the conditions faced at launch and the first section of the trip, the Shadow felt rock solid…nothing like she did on leg 2.

  • While I live a minimalist lifestyle, some balance is required. I opted not to purchase a light-weight camping chair for this trip knowing there would be tables with benches and it wasn’t necessary. Until I sat on the bench. Being upright in the kayak all day, having chance to stretch out and relax my back muscles would have made for a more comfortable evening. I will be adding a chair to the list of gear still needed.

  • The backpacker breakfast was OK. I’d normally prefer to cook real eggs and bacon, but not being on my schedule, it was a great option. I didn’t try to the dinner but guessing it would be the same. Going forward, I’d likely carry them on trips as they take up little space and I could pull out my stove at lunch if I wanted.

  • My food choices were perfect and I had more than enough. Adding an option other than water to drink would be nice.

  • This trip is no longer just about the adventure and my journey. For someone who thrives on being a bit isolated, there is a growing camaraderie and the feeling of being connected in a way I haven’t since my soccer and ice hockey days prior to moving to Washington in 2014.

  • Prior to this leg, I ordered a Kokatat front entry drysuit through Kayakers Go Coastal (same price and supports a local business and sponsor) to replace my Ocean Rodeo one. For this trip and for my upcoming adventures, the upgrade was needed – as I found out on leg 2. Unfortunately, it arrived after we returned and it will have to make its debut on the next leg sometime in June.

Lessons Learned

  • The big one was my mistake at Decatur Reef. The mistake I made wasn’t choosing my own path rather than follow the group. Not smart, but not the mistake. Decatur Reef is clearly marked on my nautical charts (even Google Maps!). Even though I wasn’t leading the trip, the smart move would have been to check my own charts.

    It’s a good practice in general. I was essentially paddling blind. It was the equivalent of following someone in a car, yet not knowing your end destination or how to get there. You are at their mercy. If they make a mistake, you’ll repeat it.

    Looking back, I have been there and should have known better! On a 4 Wheeling trip in Reddington Pass in Tucson, AZ years ago, the trip leader missed a turn. I followed. He barely got through, I didn’t.

  • The second lesson was picked up during Steve’s assisted rescue. We’ll normally pull a flipped kayak across our cockpit to empty it making re-entry easier and less pumping required. With loaded boats, that maneuver is skipped. There is too great a risk for injury. It wasn’t something I had even considered.
  • Lesson three – Loose hips. While the old expression is ‘loose lips sink ships’, in the case of kayaking ‘loose hips’ it’s loose hips that matter. They help keep you upright! I need to relax more and allow the kayak to move the way it wants, not force it.

Looking forward

The next leg should have us landing at Point No Point, a relatively short day paddle at about 10 nm. It marks the end of the Puget Sound, From there we’d head into the Admiralty Inlet on a day trip from Point No Point to Port Townsend (west side of Whidbey Island) and the mouth of the Strait De Juan De Fuca (a roughly 17 nautical miles).

Prior to those legs, however, I’ll be in Deception Pass playing in the currents. longer term, my goal to paddle the waters on the eastern side Whidbey Island (Possession Sound, Skagit Bay) and the San Juan Islands.

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:

  • MSR Pocket Rocket 2 plus fuel – $33 for the stove, $6 for fuel.
  • Deckline – $35
  • Solar charger plus back up battery – $60 for the charger, $28 for the battery pack.
  • Discover Pass (not needed this trip but it will be on the next leg and was previously) – $35
  • Campsite – $12
  • Food – $55. I opted for a variety of food. I have plenty left over and ready for future legs.
  • Gas – I am leaving this at zero as the I literally drove around the park and back – maybe a whole 5 miles.
  • Parking – $10 for the overnight fee at the Point Defiance Marina.

Running total for the trip: $667

Thank you to my sponsors

I am always looking for sponsors and gear to test / review. Beyond The H2O Project, there are more 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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Follow the Project:

The Point 65n Whisky 16 in the surf on the north end of Marrowstone Island on leg 5 of The H2O ProjectCopyright: Robert Nissenbaum, 2019; rnissenbaum.com
Sea kayaking off Cape Flattery. Heading out of a cave into the rocks - Sea kayaking to Neah Bay from the Pacific OceanCopyright: Robert Nissenbaum, 2019; rnissenbaum.com
Spray over the bow - launching from Owen Beach on Point Defiance for leg 3 of the H2O ProjectCopyright: Robert Nissenbaum, 2019; rnissenbaum.com
Nisqually Delta to Owen Beach, 23 February 2019, Robert Nissenbaum looking toward Salmon BeachCopyright: Robert Nissenbaum, 2019; rnissenbaum.com