June on the Hook 2017 – Days 9 & 10 – Sucia Island

Sucia Island

I highly recommend a visit to Sucia Island in the San Juans Archipelago. This was my first time and am glad I finally made it. Its location on the northern border of the San Juans has been a deterrent for me in earlier trips as it was not in route to my previous destinations. I also read that there can be up to 700 boats here which is not the density I am searching for. June is early in the season, it is midweek, the weather forecast may be a deterrent, and curiosity has won out over stubbornness.

I first went ashore for a hike to Fossil Bay, the southernmost bay on the horseshoe-shaped Sucia Island. This is a more popular anchorage and the center of services including water, restrooms, docks, pavilions, and campsites. Shallow Bay, where I was anchored, has an outhouse but the closest fresh water is at Fossil Bay. I was sussing this out for future needs.

My walk took me up on some bluffs which provided good exercise and a great view for my lunch of cheese and hard-boiled eggs. One of the tricks for hard-boiling eggs is the rinsing technique which makes them easy to peel. On a boat with limited water supply and a hand pump, the amount of cold water necessary to rinse and cool the eggs quick enough to separate them from their shells is impractical. I suppose dipping them in the sea is a possible solution that I have not yet tried. For now, we’ll add this to the list of small boat disadvantages.

I witnessed some crows being opportunistic on a kayaker’s unguarded provisions. This is quite a common occurrence in Washington State Parks. Crows are smart and quickly learn that bright packaging can mean tasty treats. I learned to guard against this several years ago when canoe camping on Vashon and Blake Island in Puget Sound. To a crow, twelve cent ramen can have million dollar packaging.

Sucia Fossil

A fossil I found lying on the beach

Sucia Fossil

A Fossil in the Bluff

Fossil Bay

Where the Fossils Are

As I came down off the bluffs and got over my tunnel vision for exercise,  I read some interpretive signage the park offers. It explained the different geological eras that made up the island. The southernmost strip of land, which I was just hiking on, was 70 million years old. The rest of the island is made of rock only 50 million years old. The earth has been folded and lifted, which explains the different ages. The older area of land incorporates Fossil Bay, aptly named for the fossils that can be seen in the cliffs and on the ground. I was very excited because fossils are cool. Thinking about life 70 million years ago, in comparison to now, sends me down a heady philosophical path.

Since the tide was out, the best part was accessible. I was able to walk along the inside shore and what I found was pretty awesome. We all know that when we hold a rock, it is likely millions of years old. To put a specific number on it is even headier. It took quite a bit to resist the temptation of taking one, which, of course, would be illegal and unethical. Luckily, I have a small boat with limited storage to keep me honest. We’ll call that a small boat advantage.

Shallow Bay


Sucia island

Water Runs

After my geological survey, I filled my water jugs from the fresh water tap and headed back to the boat. With a storm in the forecast, I was contemplating re-anchoring the boat further into the southern part of Shallow Bay. This was finally decided by Cliff and his family who picked up the buoy that Sampaguita was relatively close to. They were up from Portland and chartered a sailboat out of Bellingham for the week. They had stopped in Shallow Bay for the night before heading to the Canadian Gulf Islands the following day. So I got into the kayak and did some leadline depth sounding and tidal height sussing. I then moved the boat (by the motor) into a new location, for better protection from the predicted SE winds.

While anchoring etiquette follows a “first arrival” protocol, this doesn’t apply to permanent moorings in the State Park. My choice to anchor rather than pick up a buoy was two-fold. First, I did not know the integrity of the mooring buoy set up, while I did know my own ground tackle. I have read stories about boats adrift, attached to a WSP mooring buoy. Second, mooring buoys incur a fee and anchoring does not. I have already invested in my own tackle. I also want to test my gear and my choices for future confidence.

In the evening I took another hike, this time to the north side of the island. Then, I did some wildlife viewing from the kayak in the bay. Herons, otters, and eagles top the list. As the sun sets, I paddled by Cliff’s boat, and he invited me aboard for a Scotch. While not typically a Scotch drinker, I suspected it would be good. I accepted, and he, his family, and I chat about boats (of course), border crossings, dentistry, and the game, Magic: the Gathering.

The last comes from the unfortunate question of what I did for money. If they don’t know the game already, I find it nearly impossible for people, especially older ones, to comprehend what it is. Personally, I prefer questions like “what is it you do when you are not sailing?” This way, people are not defined by what they do for money, which for many, is whatever they have to. It opens up the conversation to more personal interests and passions. You’re odds of getting more interesting and excited answers increases. If they decide to talk about their job, that is their call. Not so coincidentally, this is a technique I use while talking to clients at my, would you guess, job.

Shallow Bay lends itself to warming in the summer sun and is a good place to see bio-luminescence. This is caused by tiny organisms in the water that, when agitated, give off a glow. On my kayak trip back to the Flicka from Cliff’s boat, moving through the water easily set it off, as did swimming fish. Pretty much anything moving in the water does. I have heard of people seeing it in their boat’s head when flushing too. The warmer the water, the more you will see. The most extraordinary bio-luminescence experience I have witnessed was in Mosquito Bay on the island of Vieques, in Puerto Rico. You can rent a kayak and paddle in the bay. It is like being in water that is on fire. It is incredible. If you are ever there, GO.

Fossil Bay

Fossil Bay during the Storm

Shallow Bay

Shallow Bay during the Storm. Sampaguita is to the left.

I awoke the next morning to building wind with maximum speeds predicted up to 30-40 mph. My plan was to stay on the boat and ride it out while keeping an eye on the anchor, doing boat chores, reading, and napping. The least successful of these was napping, but this is not surprising. That would mean I was relaxed about the anchor part.

I sewed my mainsail cover whose stitching was rotting out from the sun, mildew, and age. This time I used a wax thread for whipping line and hand sewed it with a sail stitching needle. It will likely outlast the cover now.

I boiled all the eggs I had and cooked all the potatoes I had. My next stop was Canada where uncooked eggs and potatoes were prohibited to import. The eggs, due to avian influenza and the potatoes, because of competition.

I did the dishes, tidied up, and adjusted the riding sail on the stern of the boat. This is a small handmade sail that I attached to one of the backstays. Its purpose was to mitigate Sampaguita’s “sailing” at anchor. Because of her high bow, low stern, nylon anchor rode, the currents and whatever other windage factors that come into play, she won’t sit steadily with the bow into the wind while at anchor. This means she is constantly in motion back and forth across the wind. The riding sail adds more windage area to the stern, acting as a weather vane.

The wind was gusty, but the anchorage a good choice. I had out plenty of scope and the boat, while sailing back and forth, is still firmly anchored to the seafloor. After hours of chores and worrying about the boat, I got cabin fever and decided to head to shore. I went to the south side of the island and checked what the weather looked like there, and to top up on water. It’s a “get while the getting’s good” philosophy. I do this with gasoline too, which I call “fuel anxiety.”

The pictures show that I made a good anchorage choice. The boats in Fossil Bay were pitching. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be docked or anchored there. I think I would have survived, but with extreme discomfort. Earlier, I watched Cliff and his family motor out across Boundary Pass on their way to South Pender Island. They were very exposed to the wind and waves. They had a 40ft (or so) sailboat, but they didn’t raise the sails to steady the boat. I could see them rolling back and forth. As helmsman, Cliff was probably alright, but I felt for his crew who were likely holding on tight. White-knuckled, I’m sure, and the odds were high that someone was getting sick too.

Stats: AD~15ft, AS-130ft


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