The H2O Project:
Fort Worden to Point No Point
27-29 September 2019
Fort Worden sits at the head of the Admiralty Inlet in Port Townsend, the junction between the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Puget Sound. Now a historic park, the Fort Worden of 100 years ago was home to nearly 1,000 troops and officers training to defend the Puget Sound from potential enemy invaders.”
This afternoon it would serve as our launch point.
But it was our Plan B
Our starting point was to be Neah Bay, our pull out point for Leg 4. We’d make our way down the Strait ending at Pillar Point County Park. With the weather changing, we’d stand a better chance of having good conditions in the Strait now than later. The North end of the Puget Sound, while not immune from rough weather, is fairly protected, and could wait, increasing the chances for covering more miles and completing the project before year’s end.
A week out, the forecast wasn’t looking promising. It didn’t improve as launch day grew closer. Friday’s wind report was sitting at 4-5 knots sustained out of the north with 9-12 kt gusts and 6-7 ft seas.
Plan B would have us leave from Fort Worden for Fort Flager on Friday, then head south down the Sound. The wind would be stronger at 6-12 knots sustained and up to 21 knots gusts, but it would be at our backs. With following seas, the potential for large waves would be minimal. The intent was to paddle down the western side of Marrowstone Island, we would be sheltered from the worst of it.
Thursday evening the call was made to opt for the safer route and launching from Point Townsend.
I had few concerns as we headed to our launch point. The strength of the wind, and being constant, would be new though not unmanageable, especially at our backs. Wave height would be at a minimum. I’d be paddling the Whisky 16, a boat I have shear confidence in paddling. It had the makings for a great trip.
My biggest worry was hoping all of my gear for the 2 nights would fit in the Whisky. I ran a test fit the day prior so I knew it would all get in, but the thought still lingered. Things never go as planned.
The trip up included a must stop for ‘roller’ food and beer, but was otherwise uneventful. A light rain passed by the time we reached the Fort and we were greeted with some sun. The wind was light and the water was calm as we unloaded the boats and gear on the beach.
The 3.5 miles to Fort Flager should have been an easy paddle.
Gear loaded, we pushed off the beach and headed out. It didn’t take long before the winds kicked up.
I remember looking to my right at one point, Jose was only a few boat lengths from me, close enough to hear him over the wind and waves. Then suddenly I lost sight of him behind a wave.
The Whisky 16 was solid beneath me. It seemed effortless to control and handle the conditions, even without a working skeg. I was completely at ease, relaxed, and hips loose.
Making it across wasn’t the end of the adventure. We only had a vague idea where the Washington Marine Trails Association campsite was located. We needed to get in close to find it, That meant being in the surf zone, paddling along the shoreline, the waves approaching broadside.
The site found, we needed to land.
It would be a legit surf landing – in breaking waves – with fully loaded kayaks. Not ideal conditions and potential dangerous.
The risk doesn’t end when we hit the beach. As the bow hits the sand, the stern can be tossed by a crashing wave. As you hit the beach, you need to exit the cockpit immediately. To minimize risk, we’d land one at a time, allowing one person to guide others in and help control their boat on exit.
Already inside the surf zone, we needed to head back out, turn, then head to shore. We staged with our backs to the beach paddling to keep us out far enough.
Barry landed first, his skill and experience making it look easy. Steve landed next. It was now my turn. Jose yelled to pull my spray skirt.
As I turned into the wave, I was suddenly far closer to the beach than I needed to be for a clean landing. I caught Barry’s signal to hold up but the lack of distance in front of me, made that impossible. It was now all about taking what I knew and trusting I could execute.
Jose and Romuald followed. Barry shouted to grab Romuald’s bow but don’t let the boat hit me.
Standing on the beach, starring back out to the conditions we landed in, it was hard not to smile. That 3.5 mile crossing, the conditions on the water, the landing, was confidence building. More than that, it was true sea kayaking.
The site at Fort Flager was well sheltered. Even with a misty rain everything stayed dry as we pitched the tents. The boats secured, tents up, and gear off, we had a chance to relax. Food was on my mind.
On past trips I opted for backpacker meals or something pre-packaged. This time I prepped vegan sausage, potatoes, peppers, and mushrooms, complete with the seasonings and it all went into a vacuum sealed bag. All I needed was a bit of water and heat. Less expensive and healthier.
I have a couple of camp stoves including a wood burning Solo Stove for kayak camping. The Solo Stove gives me an option for a real fire when a burn ban isn’t in place and nice to have, but I tend to rely on my MSR Pocket Rocket 2.
For this trip I grabbed the smaller pot and the cover from my MSR Flex 3 set in addition to my 1100 ml Toaks pot (which serves to carry my stoves and matches all nestled together).
The combination was perfect to make a nice hearty meal with leftovers dropped into my thermos for lunch on day 2.
Before turning in, we discussed our plan for the morning. The forecast was still calling for strong winds. With the plan to head down the Western side of Marrowstone Island, there was a bit of concern around the small passage at the southern tip. The Eastern side could leave us more exposed to the wind but less overall risk. We’d check again in the morning.
Overnight, the temperature dropped into the upper forties with rain. The gear I acquired over the past year keeping me comfortable and warm. Staying budget conscious worked well. The only additions for this trip were a small inflatable pillow (being minimalist doesn’t mean being cheap or uncomfortable) and a sleeping bag liner I was testing for colder nights.
Day two had us waking up to more wind but the rain had stopped. With little changed from last night, we pushed back our launch an hour for more favorable currents, deciding to head down the Eastern shore.
A later start meant a more leisurely breakfast and more time to pack up.
One of the biggest hassles with multiple single night camp sites is needing to repack everything so it’s easy to set up again the next night.
I appreciated the extra time.
Launch conditions were better than at our landing. The surf launch was easy. As we headed east, the wind was out of the north at 10-15 knots with stronger gusts. Waves were 1-2 feet.
Without a functional skeg, the waves and cross wind meant more effort and a stern pry on my left every few strokes.
Once we came around the head of the island, the wind and current which had been working against us was now helping. An easy stroke and we were pushing 6 knots.
Stronger wind gusts would push a few waves beneath us. They gave me a chance to surf practice a bit – the equivalent to the bunny slope for skiers. They were enough to get a ride to work on body positioning and get some tips. It was a nice change from being wind battered.
We stopped for lunch in a small sheltered cove about 2/3rds of the way down Marrowstone Island. Of all the stops on this trip, this one was an oasis. Out of the wind, we had a chance to put our feet up, eat, and relax.
The plan from here was to head into Hood Canal to Wolfe Property State Park. Heading down the eastern shore, it would be a longer day on the water than planned and an open water crossing. After some discussion, our plan shifted (the 3rd change if you are keeping track) to spending the night at the Washington Marine Trails Association campsite at Kinney Point on the southern end of Marrowstone. This would leave us with a shorter day of paddling and making camp early. We wanted to paddle further but without options other than Wolfe Property and Kinney Point, it made sense to leave the crossing until morning.
It may have been the best decision we made.
Back on the water
It was a relatively easy paddle – until we hit the edge of the island’s southern tip.
You could feel the wind pick-up. We’d been sheltered from it. As we cleared the point to head back north to the campsite we found ourselves against the current and a 25 knot headwind. Barry was upfront. Me behind him, both staying close to shore.
As we headed further north, I remember questioning how far I could continue. I was approaching my limit quickly, I dropped off Barry’s pace. I was fighting to keep my form.
At that moment, Barry turned toward the beach. It was only a few feet more, then landing with the wind pushing hard against the right side of the kayak.
The landing conditions at Fort Flagler the night before were rougher, but this one took more work.
The decision to cut the day short turned out to be smart. Had we opted to continue to Wolfe Property State Park as intended, we would have been a quarter mile into an open water crossing when winds would have hit us. At that point, we would have been committed, facing a 25 knot cross wind on a long open water paddle.
We unpacked and stowed the kayaks on the racks provided (there is no beach at full high tide), hiked up the site, pitched our tents, and hung up the gear to dry.
The early landing gave us a chance to enjoy some daylight as we ate (this time it was a backpacker meal for me) and shared the rest of the BSB. After dinner I took a moment to get a enjoy the sunset over the water.
With clear skies and no rain predicted, it would be a cooler night but our gear would have a chance to dry out.
But nothing went as planned on this trip, including the weather. (Romuald joked at one point that no amount of planning would have helped on this leg.)
We all turned in early. At some point I woke to the sound of rain on the tent. I was warm and dry. I didn’t care.
By morning it was pouring. I heard Barry say he was going back to bed. I did the same.
0830 and the rain tapered off. We slowly began making breakfast, then packing up. Nothing meticulous this time. There was no need. I’d be home at the end of the day. The gear would be pulled out, aired out, and anything wet hung to dry. It just had to fit back in the dry bags.
in the rain, especially with a day of paddling ahead, and we opted to wait it out. The current more in our favor, the later start worked out well.
An earlier launch would have gotten us home sooner, but also heading out against the current. We’d cross the channel, then follow the shore to Mats Mats and across to Hansville.
Now a positive current, the decision was made to make the direct 2 hour, 6 nautical mile crossing to Hansville, take a short break, then head to Point No Point as our end destination.
The crossing and the final leg to Point No Point turned out to be mundane except for of a bit of wind on the final landing. It was a far cry from how this trip started.
Beating our transportation, we had time to explore before heading home.
A few of the numbers
- 5 paddlers
- Roughly 21 nm paddled.
- 2 nights camping (rain and upper 40s)
- 3-4 ft seas
- 15 – 25 knot winds
- 1 surf landing
- 1 surf launch
- Roughly 10 nm left to finish traversing the Puget Sound
The original Plan B
The actual Plan B
- I can handle L3 and potentially L4 conditions – the conditions which could have kept me from Leg 4.
- My skill set still needs refinement but a number of things have become instinctive now.
- I have gear envy. I definitely want (read: not a need) a slightly larger stove (more efficient using a larger pot and MSR’s Dromedary bag. The hydration bladders I used for this leg worked but were far more susceptible to ripping.
- You head out prepared with a plan, a back up plan, and be prepared to change all of it while on the water – this is more a good reminder than something learned.
We no longer expect to complete the Project this year. The new goal is to complete it by February – within a year of our start in Olympia. With only 10 nautical miles remaining to cover the length of the Puget Sound, we’ll likely complete that leg as a short day paddle in late Nov. As for December, it all will depend on the weather.