The H2O Project:
Hobuck Beach to Neah Bay
9 August 2019
One of the biggest challenges behind any undertaking of this type will always be logistics. By running the H2O Project in legs rather than as a through-paddle meant we eliminated the worry about work and personal conflicts. In doing so, we created a few other logistical concerns.
As we would be kayaking only one way in each leg, arranging transportation would be one challenge. Even with only 4 of us on the water, it still meant getting 4 kayaks to our launch points and coordinating how to get the boats, the gear, and us from the pull out point. Add in others on the trip and it gets further complicated.
The first two legs were easy. The launch and pull out points were convenient for day paddles. Leg 3 added a slight challenge. Point Jefferson, just south of the Kingston Marina was still a bit of a drive, but easy enough to have a driver meet us on arrival with the kayak trailer. The rest of the legs would not be so easy.
Transportation, even with everything involved, is still manageable. The more challenging element is the weather and water conditions. Legs need to be timed around the best possible conditions for safety reasons. Even then, we’d need a back-up plan as conditions can deteriorate quickly on the water.
In no particular order
To mitigate some of the transportation and weather conditions, the decision was made to not necessarily kayak each leg in order. The goal was to cover the entire shore line. We could accomplish that irrespective of time or order.
With the Washington Kayak Club Coastal Surf Clinic and Luau scheduled at Hobuck Beach Resort for the second weekend in August, and all of us planning to be there for the luau on Saturday evening, it made perfect sense to plan the 4th leg for the same weekend. From a logistics standpoint, we’d have more than enough ‘ground support’ nearby. The unknown factor would still be the weather.
Could I complete the Project
My ability to complete the entire project rested, in part, on this leg. While conditions in the Strait could be enough to keep me off the water, it would be the waters off the Cape that were the most dangerous, and more often than not, would be. That meant a good chance of missing the leg and falling short of completing this journey.
Simply launching off Hobuck Beach comes with some risk. While protected from the biggest waves, it is still the Pacific Ocean and it is a destination point for surfers, on boards and kayaks. It’s used for the Coastal Clinic to learn surf launches and landings. Heading out in 3-4 ft waves requires some skill – something I have yet to formally acquire. While we wouldn’t be landing on the beach, I would be launching in it. Any break we take would mean a surf landing. I have had some practice (in part thanks to a recent encounter with a container ship), I would not call the skill ‘polished’ enough to guarantee a smooth exit from the water, especially in rough conditions.
More than the launch and landing, we’d be heading out into the Pacific Ocean, through rocky outcroppings to Cape Flattery. We’d be in unprotected waters. I had been to head of the Cape Flattery trail a few years back. Conditions at the time made it hard to see the lighthouse on Tatoosh Island, I remember the water below looking like staring into a washing machine – churning, crashing against the rocks. Further out, rolling waves. It could get far worse.
It would require good weather and cooperative tides for me to make this leg. It would be up to the 3 seasoned trip leaders.
Hobuck Beach to Neah Bay, 9 August 2019
Heading out to Hobuck Beach
The launch was scheduled for Friday morning. With the Coastal Clinic and the weekend crowd likely to be there, I decided to head up Wednesday at noon. Accompanied by a friend, we’d take our time and enjoy the drive up the 101 following the coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We arrived around 1700 and set up camp. The rest of the afternoon was spent meeting those who arrived early and relaxing.
I had a chance to chat with Jose, one of the 3 trip leaders, about the conditions for the weekend. His report matched what I had found – sun, 7-10 knot winds, minimal current and tide change.
Essentially perfect conditions. I went to sleep confident I’d make the leg,
Up early, I opted to not play in the surf and practice. With the conditions at the beach and what was expected for the next day, I was more than confident in my skills. The plan shifted to hiking the ¾ mile trail out to the Cape. It had been almost 5 years since I had been there. I wanted to take it all in again. This time the weather was perfect and clear. Tatoosh Island and the lighthouse where crystal clear in the distance. The water was clear, the air warm. I found a vantage point where I could sit for a moment and let my mind wander.
While we expected perfect paddling conditions, there is a reminder at the lookout of how dangerous it could be….or get the following morning.
Cape Flattery is the most northwest tip in the contiguous US. The Pacific across and to the left, the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the right. At the end of the trail, there is a sign at the end of the trail noting the pounding that section of land and the caves carved below it get – all from the waves.
More telling about the potential danger below – there is a sign at the end of the trail. It notes the pounding that section of land and the caves carved below it get – all from the waves; that the Cape may not exist in a few hundred years.
There was talk of the wind picking up the following afternoon. I felt a bit of uneasiness. It wouldn’t matter what the launch conditions were. It mattered what the condition would be throughout the day. ANY period of sustained strong winds added to the risk, and a certain point, I’d miss the leg. All I could do was wait for morning and a final check
Friday morning: Weather check, risk assessment, and launch.
A final check of the weather showed ideal conditions.
I’d get to complete the leg. Rather than my adrenaline kicking it, as it had just prior to launch on previous legs, I was a bit reflective. I was grateful for the weather. I was also not the least inexperienced kayaker who’d be on the water that day. There is a huge psychological effect that has on me. I was comfortable and relaxed.
We meet at 0900 at the campsite, gear on and ready to launch. There were 9 of us: the three trip leaders (all L3 ACA certified instructors), the wives of 2 of them, another experienced couple, an older gentleman in his 70s, and myself.
We did a brief introduction, a check to see who had first aid and CPR certification (mine is good through May of 2020). a safety gear check (tow lines, VHF radios, first aid kits, helmets, etc), and a reminder that while we weren’t far from civilization, we’d be on our own if something happened.
The nearest Coast Guard helicopter would be coming from Port Angeles, more than 61 miles out. Putting that into perspective, we’d be looking at 35 minutes from response to rescue. Then we’d still need to get offshore for any rescue to be possible. In conditions where help would be needed, getting it might not even be possible.
Bail out points are something we keep in mind on these types of trips, both for emergencies and needed breaks. While there would be no way to know where we could land, low tide meant we’d likely have plenty of shoreline if needed. And still, surf conditions along the rocky shores could still make them inaccessible.
We carried the kayaks to the beach, loaded our gear, did a final launch pre-check and at 0930 head out into the surf one at a time.
Waves were small, maybe the odd one at a foot and a half. It would hardly count as a surf launch. Once beyond the waves, we waited for the rest, then turned and paddle out into the Pacific Ocean.
Once clear of the protected beach, we’d edge left and come around the first rough patch of water. Now out in the Pacific I took a deep breath, completely relaxed, and relished in the fact that I was there.
12.7 Nautical Miles
It would be a shorter paddle than usual. We estimated landing at Neah Bay by 1500. That would give us plenty of time to explore the caves, take breaks, have lunch, and not push the slower paddlers.
The weather was perfect. The water was as calm as it could get. We joked that we’d seen the Tacoma Narrows rougher than what we were in, and those conditions stayed with us the entire day.
We planned to be on the water for about 2 hours before our first break. Most of that time I was focused on the rock outcroppings, waves (when there were any), and simply enjoying the journey.
The first break came less than 2 hours in and I remember wanting to keep going. There was a small beach tucked in behind a few rocks. Barry headed in first to find a path. The rest of us would follow one by one.
Technically a surf landing but it could hardly be called that. I had landed in bigger surf off Owen Beach. I headed in to the left of a rock, a small wave catching the stern of the Whisky. A gentle stern rudder pry on my left side and I glided into the beach.
Surf launch (or a bit more of one)
Our short break ended up with me the first off the beach. Generally it will be a more proficient paddler off the beach first to be on the water to help if someone needed it. On a day when no ego boost was needed, it was nice to get it.
This time we had a semblance of a surf launch
Heading to the Cape
South of the Cape, one in the group spotted a small gray whale inside the rocks along the shoreline. After watching him for a few we headed into the first cave. (You can see his spout past the rocks at 5:08 in.)
I was astounded to learn that Alaskan caves might be hiding secrets about the earliest people ever to enter the Americas. That’s when I began to picture a story that would start with kayaking and lead into the caves. ~Will Hobbs
We continued to explore a few more before landing for lunch.
Around the Cape
From lunch we slowly worked our way through the maze of rocks and cave openings and around the Cape itself, the same place the day before, looking down at the water. This time I was on it looking up at the sightseers. The Pacific was now behind us as we headed to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
As we head around the Cape, we left much of the breathtaking coast behind and headed into the Strait.
The coastline was no less incredible and after a few minutes, off in the distance we caught sight of a waterfall. With this trip as much about exploring as covering distance, we detoured off and headed to it.
There was this thought running through my head, and clearly a couple of others, that we could paddle through it! As we approached, we realized the tide was out too far. That didn’t stop Barry,
He hopped out, pulled his kayak into the shallow pool and backed into the waterfall. I tried the passage on the right and got stuck, followed his line to the left, landed and opted to check it out on foot. Romuald and Jose joined us. Pretty sure each of us felt like kids on the school playground at that moment as Kyra got a picture of the 4 of us under that waterfall.
Image credit: Kyra Cammarata
The final miles
By this point we were off the expected pace and looking at another hour on the water.
A good part of the paddle now was through thick patches of kelp – the equivalent of walking through mud. At points it was dense enough on the water’s surface that I joked you’d couldn’t roll. The kelp would keep you upright.
The combination of those, then seeing our end point while knowing we had to paddle 3 miles around the island in the distance to land (a break wall to protect the bay prevents access), took its toll. A few in the group were tired, the distance longer than they are used to paddling.
We discussed a portage around the break wall. That isn’t easy either and we decided as a group to paddle it the rest of the way. As we neared the island, we chose to land for a quick mental break.
A last push
The break was perfect. Everyone hit the water for the last stretch with high spirits and some energy.
As we entered Neah Bay, keeping an eye on boat traffic, I slightly picked up my pace. As I did, I noticed Romauld do the same. He was off to my right and for the next few minutes we sprinted, matching each other stroke for stroke. With his boat having a longer waterline and quicker, it forced me to work on my form to keep pace. Then as if planned, we backed off at the same time.
We regrouped and made our way to the beach, leg 4 complete.
Launch: Friday, August 9, 2019 9:27 AM PDT
Distance: 12.69 nautical miles (+ cave time where GPS cuts out)
Duration: 6 hours, 49 minutes, and 14 seconds
Average Speed: 1.82 knots
Minimum Elevation: -59 feet
Maximum Elevation: 440 feet
Total climb: 952 feet
Total descent: 954 feet
This leg was a huge boost to my confidence on the water. While not tested in ‘conditions’ and a shorter paddle than the rest, I felt more comfortable that I had on past legs. I ended this one with energy and power to spare. While not tested in ‘conditions’, I left the water feeling like I could handle anything. In that very moment I felt like I could call myself a sea kayaker. That it was earned, not assigned.
This trip represented a bunch of firsts for me. It was the first time kayaking in the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the first time through sea caves, the first on water whale encounter. Though hard to call them that, It was my first beach surf launches and landings.
The Whisky 16 will continue to be my ‘go to’ kayak at this point.