Transcript of this 15 minute video on YouTube with some photos is below for all access. The video is priceless though and I recommend watching until you hit the fantastic musical part. 🤣🤣
Hey kids, it’s skipper Jenn. Come take a trip with me. We will ride my valiant steed Poop Deck and take a trip to the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Along for the journey is my crew and number one Boat Bitch, Eric. This is his team Zissou outfit.
We are taking a trip across the Salish Sea from Seattle to one of the northernmost islands of Washington state, Sucia. In the first clip, we are just past Admiralty Inlet on the west side of Whidbey Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca going into Rosario Strait. They say if you can sail in the PNW you can sail anywhere in the world. This is because of our geography above and below the sea, our weather patterns, and the tides. Together, these make ever changing conditions that would challenge any sailor. The depths of Puget Sound can be as great as 928 feet, with an average depth of 450, these trenches are between islands with steep sides and rocky outcrops that cause the water to push through with force and intensity. With every tide about 1.26 cubic MILES of water ebbs and flows in and out of this fucker. That’s four times a day in a mixed semidiurnal tidal cycle, meaning we have two highs and two lows all of different heights, which can be up to 3 meters at some points of the year pulling currents over 6kts at times.
All of this means that we have some weird shit happening in our waters. Essentially you are riding various white-water rapids at times with different rivers taking different paths in one giant body of water. Whirlpools are formed, upwellings, giant slicks of water and weird standing waves are formed. Sometimes it looks like the sea is boiling all around you and your tiller forcibly moves back and forth trying to cope with confused water. You have to time the tides right if you sail up here or you can get in real trouble. Video never does its justice, just as sailors know that waves at sea never look as big as they are, you can never truly capture how strange the conditions can be here.
Our first stop was James Island, a Washington state marine park on the east side of Decatur Island. We all know, 2020 has sucked some major balls. It was a real treat to have some peace and quiet in the midst of all of this chaos. In some moments, I almost felt normal again. Whatever the hell that means.
This is a Lions Mane Jelly, the largest in the world. It can get up to 7 feet in diameter with tentacles as long as 120 feet. They are usually a crimson color here but can be dark purple or even clear if they are small. They won’t kill you, but they sting, so if you see one washed up on the beach don’t touch it.
In this clip, we are on the east side of James Island looking out at Decatur. The hikes on the trip were fun to stretch and bond and take a million pictures of my boat from land.
Margaret Pommert, one of my mentors, once said that you have to do it wrong 99 times before you do it right in sailing. This is so true. We decided to try my new reaching rainbow spinnaker. I will spare you my reach around jokes here, but they are plentiful. In the process of launching we had several fuck ups and the whole sail ended up dragging in the water like a giant water balloon. I had to abandon the helm to run up and release the tack as Eric was sprawled on deck trying to manage the other lines. Luckily, nothing ripped, and we finally got it all to work. The good news: when you get it right in sailing it feels good and she got into the groove. My little Ranger 29 is a quick and sturdy unicorn who likes to prance and slice through wind and waves.
The sail to Sucia was damn near perfect until we got to Lawrence Point. Neither of us had been up north this far, so we were surprised when we saw the whirlpools and standing waves ahead. The current was in our favor, as planned and ripping through. As we sailed downwind the tiller started to pull with the water and suddenly the air died. Convergence zone. We waited, then it swung around to the front and we were at a close haul. As this happened, a river picked us up and between wind and water we were going 10.2 knots, the fastest I’ve ever seen Poopsie go. It was fun as hell. Then the wind died again, and we drifted until I got sick of it and turned on the motor. Such is sailing in the PNW.
We got a spot by the south finger in Echo Bay and made mocktails and grilled dinner with the sunset. It took 3 seasons to get up to Sucia. The first season my exhaust system died, and we spent time in Deer and Friday Harbors fixing it before heading home. The second I was in a total refit that naturally took 10x longer than anticipated, so I was rewiring my electrical in July instead of sailing north. This year I wasn’t holding my breath but was hopeful. There is almost nothing more satisfying than making cruising goals happen. That’s because there is almost always a dramatic back of the house story that led there with a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
Everyone had said that Sucia was so amazing. I have been to a lot of these islands and have loved them all so far, but I kept wondering what the big deal was. I mean: how cool could it be? Holy shit! Turns out: really cool.
Sucia was named after a Spanish colonizer/explorer and means “fouled” or “dirty” because of the reefs that surround it and the danger to the ships. The cool thing about Sucia is the geology. About 75 million years ago in the Crustacean period a bunch of stuff was deposited on the seabed floor like clams, snails and other critters including a fucking dinosaur. A Theropod dinosaur to be exact. As time went on, most of these from the Nanaimo Group of rocks moved thousands of miles through plate tectonics. A bunch of geologic shit happened and before the Cascade Mountains ever even uplifted, a giant river flowed through here 50 million years ago depositing lots of silt. This layer is called the Chuckanut and fossils found here were all deposited within 50 miles of their origin point. Later, through a process called folding, a shit ton of pressure was exerted the earth here literally folded into a U, which is why the island has its shape today. But the story is far from over. 37 million years ago we came into the current geological era, known to nerds as the Cascade Episode. This episode has had many phases, as the whole PNW was underwater until about 20 million years ago. 5-7 million years ago the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges pushed up by huge ass tectonic plates crashing. Finally, just a mere 20,000 years ago, during the most recent ice age, this region was covered in a layer of ice a mile thick. Fossils from this time include mastodons, bison, and even giant ground sloths. Yup, there were giant sloths. Eventually all that melted, and then humans and then colonization and then technology and yada yada yada to today where I’m on a PVC paddle board looking at cool rocks from the water.
22.9 Harbor seals are truly like the puppies of the sea. You can call to them and they will come. After tapping on our boards and the water a bit and hoping, a mama and baby stuck their heads up right by Eric to say hi. Soon after, they wandered to my board and just floated about a foot below it upside down. We stared into one another’s eyes and I was struck at the sentience there. We were two creatures united in curiosity and the connection of the moment. Then they swam away, leaving Eric and I with goofy smiles.
This is an egg yolk or fried egg jellyfish. Also called Phacellophora camtschatica, ( fac-el-lo-for-ah kam-chat-ah-kha) and you better bet your ass I had to YouTube how to say that.
We honestly saw a lot of critters this trip, including many birds. We saw many herons nesting near an eel grass protection area. I still don’t know why the seal lions were splashing like this all-around Echo cove, if you do, let me know. When I was paddling one day, one of them jumped and splashed like this about 6 feet from me. It scared the shit out of me and thrilled me at the same time. Sneaky buggers. I think they are fishing as it happened mostly at dusk, but who knows. I watched this River Otter over at Shallow Bay for quite some time. He was eating seaweed and what appeared to be geoduck, a giant clam that lives up here. It was gross and mesmerizing.
We hiked the whole south side of Sucia. Obviously, you can’t see me in the picture because I am camouflaged. A phrase that kept rolling around in my head was, “Wherever you go, there you are.” To be honest, as we traveled, I would cycle through moments of awe, wonder and peace followed by agonizing grief, rage, and hopelessness the state of the world and some of my own personal journey. It strikes me that peace isn’t so much about creating calm as it is truly being able to weather the ebb and flow of joy and pain with equanimity. I mean: the fossils and trees do. Why can’t we? Fucking frontal lobes, they can be real trouble.
Looking out to orcas from the beach by Ev Henry point. I tried to look up who Ev Henry is but got lazy when it wasn’t readily available in a search. One of my great irritations in life is how everything seems to be named after a colonizing man of some sort. I have been working on a project off and on for a year now trying to learn the indigenous names of these in the Coast Salish. One of the native words for beach is SÁSEU¸; (say-sou) coming from Saanich, one of the Salish Indigenous Peoples languages. I am certain I am pronouncing these incorrectly and hope to learn more in a way to honor the people and the land that was violently stolen from them so long ago. I have written on my blog and on my Facebook page ways you can support the local native people’s including paying rent to the Duwamish Tribes if you live in Seattle.
There was this really weird bright thing in the sky for part of our trip. It was hard to tell what it was as we hadn’t seen it all Juneuary. I think they call it the sun. Toward the end of our stay at Sucia I was starting to feel the introverted pull of being on a small boat with another human for too long, so I took off for my own adventure paddling the south fingers of the island.
The PNW has one of the most diverse varieties of kelp in the world. Bull kelp is a plentiful species here and creates the playground for many animals and fish with giant kelp forests. They are also crucial to the ecosystems impacting the food chain, the organic carbon levels in the water, and they even impact the currents. Sadly, they are also very much impacted by temperature, pollutants, and climate change. You can eat a lot of it too, and I’ve tried bull kelp. It’s weirdly like fruit leather in texture and tastes salty and a bit like you are licking a pier. Not that I’ve done that per say, but it’s what it seems like a pier would taste like. They say it has a lot of vitamins and minerals. I think I will stick to the Korean fried seaweed chips I like so much.
At the end of every single day it was such a pleasure and joy to come back to my sweet little Poopsie. And this leads me to my other favorite part of the trip, which is my trip Eric Buttfiles. Happy Jenn!
The cruising lifestyle is a paradoxical one, full of beauty and fear, rest, and intense physical labor. It brings tangible reminders of impermanence. One of the lessons cruising teaches me is to continue to respond and adapt to what is and let go of expectations and control on what I want it to be. Sailing is like that; you hope for the best and prepare for the worst. You celebrate the beautiful sails and dolphin sightings and learn from the shitty days. You know both are going to happen on the water because that is just the weather. As I came back to Seattle and the intense uncertainty and chaos of the times, I tried to bookmark what the cruising life was telling me. Slow the fuck down. Appreciate the little things. Do the best you can and keep yourself safe in the storm. Maybe we can come through this all together with collaboration, community, and growth. Maybe we can save ourselves and the planet.
Because my rainbow heart sail says it all: love and kindness will always win. And if not, the water, rocks and time will always-always win.
Until the next adventure, be well out there and I’m wishing you all peace.