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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Washington Paddling: Operation Orca

See one of the sea's keenest hunters as you paddle San Juan Island.

by: Charlie Wood & Casey Lyons

The Paddle
Bring a strong sea-kayaking resume for this three-day circumnavigation of San Juan Island, 24 miles off Washington's Pacific Coast. You'll glide amidst orcas and sea lions, passing rugged and wind-scoured shorelines on a challenging 30-mile sea-kayaking circuit. From Friday Harbor, leave the day-tripping ferry crowds behind as you paddle clockwise around the island with prevailing winds at your back. Small inlets and pine-lined pocket beaches offer respite from choppy seas. Deadman Bay, on the western shore, is one of the few places in the country to see orca cows and their calves. Camp at Griffin Bay Recreation Site, San Juan County State Park, Posey Island State Park, and Jones Island.

The Crux
Changing currents and tricky tides. The tidal exchange brings 13-foot swells, and rough water around San Juan Island has claimed seven kayakers in the past year.

The Key
Proper timing. The narrow Cattle Point channel, on the island's southern tip, funnels vast amounts of fast, freezing water four times daily as the tides go in and out. Avoid the channel in whipping winds and white-capped water–both are harbingers of potentially life-threatening conditions. Take the same caution when passing between San Juan and Spieden Islands. Study up-to-date tide charts and time your departure from the Griffin Bay campsite during slack tide–midway between high and low tides when the water is calmest.

The Way
Take the ferry from Anacortes (64.4 miles north of Seattle) to Friday Harbor.

Plan It
The Washington State Ferry ($13; goes between Anacortes and Friday Harbor 19 times daily. Pack Sea Trails Adventure Guidemap WA003 (seatrails .com) and NOAA chart 18423 SC (, available at Friday Harbor marina. Hit Discovery Sea Kayaks for rentals, advice, and tours (

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The Geezer
May 10, 2012

$13 for the ferry? What planet are you guys on?

Try $50 bucks in the summertime. Is it a plot to not see me so often that my sis moved up there?

You WILL visit the cash machine before getting on the ferry.


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