Momentum slowed with storm-watching once and paddle trips three times at West Point (with some successful surfing and some not), a trip to the Shilshole Marina, and a little exploring by car.

Thursday, November 6th

Blowing a gale at high tide on the West Point south shore.

Blowing a gale at West Point. Click to enlarge.

There was a 35 knot southerly gale at West Point, so I went to see what the surf looked like. With the beach swamped by crashing surf, launching or landing on the south side of the point would be suicidal.

Off the point, a parade of logs sailed north in stately procession, pushed by the wind and whitecapping waves, making that water and all the wood-choked water upstream and down ridiculously dangerous.

As I stood in the sheltered lee of the lighthouse, just feet from the surf crashing against the riprap, it dawned on me that I could launch from the sheltered north-side beach. From there I could paddle out to catch as many of the breaking swells as I dared. But of course I wouldn't.


Back out at West Point. On another high tide but with winds now from the north at eight knots, the waves weren't even a foot high. (See NOAA's NDBC page.) From the south-side beach, I made for the green buoy off the point to try again for surfable waves from big boats and tugs. (See The sea lion was napping on the buoy again, as unconcerned about me as before. A one-knot flood current kept me warm as I paddled to stay near the buoy.

In the bight south of West Point, sand flats are revealed on a low tide. Note the waves breaking further out on the edge of the flats.

A tugboat came by trailing a a three-foot wake, half breaking and half not. Perfect! I turned and paddled hard with it, but I couldn't stay on -- missed its first wave, couldn't stay on the next, then did stay on the smaller third for a moment, but not long enough for a stern rudder.

A bit later, a second tug provided a better run. But like the first, in the deeper water its waves weren't steep enough to carry me for long. The displacement hull I'm riding doesn't plane very well on the faces of these little waves. (I know, don't blame your tools, but still...)

It means I need lower tides with steeper waves in shallower water. (For example, see November 10th, just below, or February 2015.)

Near shore I practiced edging to the point of disaster and bracing to recover. And I played a little in the foot-high beach-break until I got so beached I almost had to get out and walk -- I poled with the paddle to get the bow around instead. (I did the same thing last month at Alki.)

I went in for lunch back at the car, and then back on the water again for the evening paddle, out to the buoy and another discouraging wake, then down towards the clay bank, back again, and home.


Edmonds Beach Park at sunset.

I drove north to look at the Edmonds waterfront parks and ended up exploring five from north to south -- Brackett's Landing North (with the ferry dock and the scuba park, there's no room for paddlers), Sunset Avenue as a bonus, Brackett's South (a beachy viewpoint), the fishing pier at Olympic Beach (crabbers and squidders, but no beach), and Edmonds Marina (Beach) Park, the best of the lot for my purposes.

At high tide it's a ten-foot carry with an easy drag to the water's edge. It's scenic, too, especially with its view of the Olympics at sunset.

Pretty sunsets from a pretty beach, but I could see no compelling reason to paddle there. Instead, I think I'd drive a little more north to Mulilteo and take the ferry to explore Whidbey Island. Or time the high tide for one of the river mouths -- the Snohomish (Ebey Slough), Stillaguamish, or one of the Skagit outlets. Or just back to Jetty Island.

Monday, November 10th: surfin' safari

"This area [the bight south of West Point] is also great for surf where
smaller waves will hold up over the shallow beach for some distance."
-- Kayaking puget sound and the san juan islands

At West Point on a six-foot low tide, a strong north wind drove me south into the wind-protected bight below Magnolia Bluff. As I paddled between the rocks, a few visible, most not, in the shallow water over the sand flats aging swells built up to run for dozens of yards before breaking on shore. (See the picture just above.)

When I paddled hard to get on one, I found I could surf the wave for a few yards before it dropped me, or me it. I paddled to surf its mate behind for a bit, and then the next. Nearing the beach I turned back over the next incoming wave, drawing like crazy, to paddle out through the rocks for another go-round.

This I did for a half-dozen runs. Twice I missed the turn-around to find myself side-surfing toward the beach. The first time I needed an up-beach low brace before a fast switch to a more stable into-the-froth brace for the short ride in, before completing the turn to stay off the beach. And out again.

West Point sunset on a quiet evening.

After six runs and diminishing returns, I saw two tugboats and a freighter coming, but I had to pee dammit, so I beached at a spot that would likely remain people-free long enough for my purposes.

Then a bite to eat and a stretch and all (saw a Bald Eagle and a Cooper's Hawk), until it was back into the top of the wetsuit, back into the boat, and back out onto the increasingly choppy water.

There was no surfing now, so I paddled back to the lighthouse, around the point and out of its protection -- and straight into a 20 knot north wind and three foot waves with wind chop on top. I worked further out into it, trying as elegantly as I could to handle the waves marching toward me.

I paddled into them for a couple more minutes, but when I looked over at the shore noted that I hadn't actually gone anywhere at all. I turned side-on to the wind and waves and paddled toward the breakwater below the lighthouse.

As I neared the riprap, the swells built and I turned some more to run with them back to the calm south of the point, the beach, and home.

Thursday, the 13th

The Chum are back in Piper's Creek, up Venema Creek all the way to the imprint tank.

Monday, the 17th

Paddling at West Point again, on a high tide with a moderate north wind.

Saturday, November 22nd

Today, 1963.

There was a Great Blue Heron in Piper's Creek today. It was surrounded by Chum that were nearly as big as it was and certainly weighed more. At the overlook, the elderly gentleman who tends the imprint tank said the total in the four weeks so far of this year's return was over 450 fish, with a hundred live fish counted in the water today and scores of dead evident on the shores, too. The heron seemed to ignore the fish.

Friday, December 26th

After a month's rest from the water, I was at Shilshole Marina, with a five foot tide, very little chop, 41°F and a wind chill in the 30's. To keep my feet dry, I was going to try a high dock boarding, but chickened out when I saw that the ramp was slick enough I could just slide the boat in from the ramp, dry shod.

So, north to the end of the breakwater, then south down its outside. The little beach that the book mentions was barely there on today's tide, but would be larger on a minus tide and worth coming back to in the summer sun. Paddling along the riprap, I counted 27 turnstones, three herons, and countless cormorants. Flocks of goldeneyes decorated the water, and one sea lion took a look at me and disappeared with a lovely roll.

As I rounded the south end of the breakwater into Shilshole Bay, the current out from the locks became apparent, at maybe two knots. Where the gentle swells coming in met the outgoing current, I could see the waves stack up, the water boiling for a moment, then settling down. I paddled against the current to the pilings at the Elk's Club beach, then ferried across the channel to the red channel buoy.

At the buoy I played for a few minutes, paddling upstream to come back down and practice a few sloppy turns into the eddy behind the buoy. I ferried back to the green buoy and rode the current back to the breakwater, then paddled up inside to the dock. I managed a high dock dismount, but just barely.

After a heavy rain, the current through Shilshole Bay would be fun to play in again, especially from the closer Elks Club put-in.

Sunday, December 28th

Looking south through the rain from Mount Erie on Fidalgo Island.

South over Campbell Lake, across Skagit Bay, and down Saratoga Passage, from Mount Erie on Fidalgo Island. Click for a panorama.

I saw a Stohlquist Bpod men's small drysuit for sale on Craigslist for $150, new with tags. It was in Anacortes, but after a bit of internal debate I decided it was worth the drive, emailed the guy and when I talked to him arranged to meet him today around noon. The Seahawks would just have to win without me.

Drove to Anacortes, found his house just fine (thanks to Google maps), and the drysuit was as described. He had had a kayak instruction and small sales business a few years back but now was out of it. This drysuit was a left-over, a couple of years old but brand new otherwise. I tried it on and it fit fine except for a tight waist.

150 bucks for a great drysuit -- bright "mango" color (off yellow), built-in booties, for comfort a neoprene rather than latex neck, latex cuffs, chest pocket, relief zipper, neoprene waist skirt cover, waterproof and breathable -- the whole nine yards. Beautiful.

He had two surf boats sitting on his truck, so he talked about local surf spots a little -- Partridge Point on Whidbey Island, plus another east of the Crescent Beach area on the Strait. He didn't think much of West Point-North Beach on Whidbey Island.

I left his place and drove up Mount Erie for old times' sake, then drove the short hop to Bowman Bay to try my new drysuit. But I soon realized that with the two mugs of coffee I'd drunk that as soon as I was out on the water I'd have to come back in.

So I went walking instead. First I hiked out the Lottie Bay trail to look at the portage from Bowman Bay to Lottie Bay, then on to look at Canoe Pass. I came back in to the portage and hiked out to Lighthouse Point to look at its possibilities.

On an incoming flood tide about an hour after slack water, the action around Lighthouse Point looked completely boatable, even with small whirlpools and pillows in the eddy lines (although I'm sure it would look different from down on the water). Ideally, from Bowman Bay I'd want to catch a late flood tide to paddle around Lighthouse Point, through Canoe Pass, then take the ebb tide back. Canoe Pass itself looked harmless when I saw it, but with a fast current it would look very different.

It's a stunning place -- eagles, seals, steep cliffs, grassy balds, bonsai'd trees, and interesting water. I will be back.

Here's the start of the next year of my Kayak Journal with January and February 2015.

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