Sea Kayaking in the San Juans: Lummi Island

Part of a series of trips exploring the San Juan Islands

Gooseberry Point

Bill and I arrived early. We noticed another group of paddlers packing their kayaks on the beach near the boat launch and headed over to say hello. 

They were heading out on a 4 day trip. Their plan was to head north around the tip of Lummi Island, then make the open water crossing to Sucia for the first leg. The campsites on Clark and Lummi would be their next stops. 

While they were well prepared – all with seaworthy kayaks and immersion gear – and it was obvious they’d ventured out to campsites via kayak in the past, I didn’t get the sense they had experience paddling in the conditions I was seeing. I think Bill had the same impression, but didn’t ask. I also have no idea why I had that feeling…there was just a twitch of concern. Maybe it was knowing what lay ahead….and that it wasn’t conditions most sea kayakers I cross paths venture out in – they’re more into exploring.   

I had already assessed conditions. North was our planned direction as well. While all forecasts showed under 10 knots, it was blowing closer to 15 – and from the north. On the protected side of the island – leaving from the ferry landing at Gooseberry Point – it wouldn’t be all that rough, even against the current. Past Lummi Point and especially off Point Migley, we’d be completely exposed. With Force 4/5 winds, waves would likely be 4-5 feet with whitecaps. 

Trusting they were aware of the conditions (it was only a gut feeling I had anyway), we headed back to meet Leslie and Jesse who arrived. Marie, Steve, and Donald would get there a few minutes later.

Plan A

North was Plan A. Ferry across to Lummi Point, head up to and around Point Migley, wrap around Lummi in the Strait of Rosario, and take a break somewhere along the shoreline near Lummi Rocks. After lunch we’d continue south, come around Carter Point at the southern end and head roughly 1.25 nm to the Washington Water Trails Association campsite. Day 2 would have us head to the Lummi Island ferry terminal and back to our launch site at Gooseberry Point. 

Overall, approximately 22 nautical miles with 13 on day 1.

With conditions as they were, and knowing Sunday would see winds at under 5 knots and more sun, we discussed the option to head south, make camp early, and then run the longer stretch the next day in better weather. With the strength of the group, we opted for the original route north.

Launch

By the time we were ready to launch, the other group had headed south. I was a bit relieved, half expecting we’d need to assist in a rescue if they headed north (and with what we faced, they wouldn’t have made it to Sucia easily, if at all).

Kayaks loaded, we launched….almost.

Leslie, Bill and I were last off the beach…as I pushed off, Leslie shouted that the previous repair on her hull failed. I jumped out and Bill followed. Out came the repair kits and they did a quick patch job to get her to camp. Between the three of us, we’d have the tools to do a more permanent repair at the site. 

Finally on the water, we crossed the Hale Passage to Lummi Point. We regrouped for a minute to discuss the option of crossing to Clark Island and camping there, rather than at Lummi. With the other group heading south and limited campsites, there was concern we’d be short of space for our group. With Jesse potentially getting a call his 2nd baby was on her way, as a group we felt Lummi was the better choice should he need to get back sooner. We’d deal with the campsite issue if it arose. (Turned out to be a smart decision based on the conditions we faced. Clark would have meant a tough open water crossing in rough conditions.)

Up and over 

As anticipated, Point Migley didn’t disappoint. The Force 5 winds generated some fun waves with several at 5 feet. For me, it was the perfect time to play….and to test the voice control on the Insta360 One x2 mounted on my helmet. I shouted for it to turn on and hearing the notification, all I could do was hope it was actually recording….and have some fun. 

The waves would roll in, the Whisky 16 would head up the face, then back down. I was chasing Leslie and all of a sudden she wasn’t visible, the wave hiding her from sight. The Whisky climbed up, hung for a second, then dropped on the back of the wave. 

Staying a full 45 degrees to them would push us further off-shore. At one point Leslie mentioned to head in a bit closer. Using the crest of a wave to push my bow around, the Whisky 16, now pointed to the beach with waves to her stern, wanted to surf.

It was effortless to catch a ride….but with a fully loaded kayak and not having enough experience, as much as I wanted to surf….I held back and turned away from the shore once in far enough. I didn’t see it ending well. Later, I found out Jesse was questioning to himself if I was really trying to surf – knowing it really wasn’t a smart choice with a loaded kayak.

As we played/battled the waves depending on perspective – Leslie was shouting like a little kid on a roller coaster, Bill raced past on my inside and mentioned we needed to land. We had a paddler who’d already nearly capsized several times. 

Surf landing

Getting off the water at that point meant a true surf landing. The last time I did one in similar conditions….oddly with the Whisky packed for a camping trip….was Leg 5 of the H2O Project. That was also my first experience. This time what I learned then would be tested now. 

Bill and Marie headed into shore. Then Jesse and Steve. I was trying to pick a point where I could time the waves. I headed in just south of Jesse and Steve. I yanked off the spray skirt (done to allow me to jump out quickly if the kayak capsizes on the beach and to get clear) and tried to time the waves. Landing in surf, you want to come in on the back of a wave, not surf onto the beach. A glance over my left shoulder, time the paddling, then full stop. Repeat. 

It’s not always flawless or graceful! 

Two waves in quick succession. The first left me on the edge of the beach. The second insisted on pushing me up it…or in this case…into it. As soon as I felt the wave behind me, I arched back. It was enough to lift the bow. Rather than getting pummeled, I rode up the sand and jumped out. Now to empty the water from the cockpit….that second wave filled it.

Still on the water. Leslie shadowed Donald for a bit. I wasn’t sure if he’d done a landing like this and it can be intimidating. Jesse signaled them in and Donald did a great job with the landing.

Surf launch

After lunch and a chance to rest, it was back out into the surf. I was quite proud of my landing spot. Between the 3 locations, it had the best conditions for an easy launch. And while some relish the challenge, I was quite content to not have one. Surf launches are still new to me. I don’t do them – get the chance to do them – often enough.

Leslie launched first – she’d be on the water if a rescue was required. Bill would help get Donald off the beach, and Bill would assist Marie. Steve opted to get some help from Jesse. 

That left me. I almost asked for a hand. But I had to challenge myself. I knew I was capable. Boat into position at the water, get in, get the skirt on, monkey crawl (pushing off the sand with your fists to float out) as the water rushes in, and when there is enough water under the hull….paddle like hell! 

And get wet!

Heading to camp

The rest of the afternoon was less eventful. The winds died down a bit. As a group, so did our pace. We took a final break just before rounding Carter Point.

The last leg was smoother. Now in the lee, we only had a slight current to fight. I remember joking that camp was just past the next point. But there was always another point! Until there wasn’t.

The small cove came into view.

Camp

Gear unloaded and the kayaks pulled up past the tide line (and tied off for good measure), we now had to haul our gear up the steep sets of stairs…and of course, the site Jesse, Bill, and I ended up with….was the furthest one. 

Dragging, I was last to get my tent up, leaving my sleeping bag for later. I needed to eat.

Dinner

Most campsite meals tend to be canned variety – soups and chilis or those ‘just add water’ meals in a bag. I loved that Jesse had tortellini. While not sure if it was homemade, it was good food – what he’d have for dinner at home. That, to me, is how it should be done. And there is no reason you cannot eat well after paddling into a campsite. 

Me – I cook. I enjoy cooking and it’s a nice treat at the end of the day. There was a can of organic vegan soup in case I was too tired, but that’s the emergency rations. Dinner was to be drunken cauliflower with quick pickled red onions and tortillas – a combination I pieced together from a few recipes I found online. To save time and not have to bring extra stuff, everything was prepped the night before at home.

Turning in

While the paddle was physically challenging, I wasn’t nearly as tired as expected. But with everyone else turning in and the temperature dropping (and expected to be in the mid to low 30’s), I boiled some water and filled the hot water I brought – a simple way to keep warm by tucking it into your sleeping bag. I climbed into my tent, set up the sleeping pad, bag, bag liner, and pillow – I’ll rough it…but why? A bit of reading, then sleep.

A bit of struggle ensued as I tried to remove them while tucked into my liner in the mummy bag….the air around me was cold and I wasn’t going to get out of that bag!

Socks off, I fell back to sleep….until my cold feet woke me up. So a repeat of the earlier struggle – only in reverse.

Morning

On a number of trips, we need to time our launch around tides and currents. That was not the case. A later start, if anything, would help. That meant no rush and a chance to enjoy breakfast before packing.

Breakfast was simple – coffee to start, done pour over style (again…not roughing it here, plus it’s not crappy instant coffee or those wasterful single serve packs) and old fashioned oatmeal.

Saying goodbye to Lummi Island

With everything dragged down the steps one last time, we loaded the kayaks and launched around 9:30. 

Unlike the day prior, we had calm water, sunny skies, a bit of current in our favor, and the wind at our backs. We had a gorgeous paddle exploring the shore and playing a bit on the small waves. 

It was just after 11:30 when we reached the ferry dock on Lummi, officially finishing our circumnavigation. We waited for the ferry to leave, then crossed the Hale Passage to Gooseberry Point.

Next up….

Anacortes to Friday Harbor.

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