|Seven WKC paddlers spent a beautiful day circumnavigating Guemes Island on Feb 22. The goal of the trip was to learn how to navigate San Jaun currents. This was a day with a southward strong ebb of 3.5 knots through Bellingham Channel, producing moderate eddies and rips to play around in. To take advantage of that current for our ride, we took the Guemes Island ferry onto to the island and launched from Young’s park on the north end. This is a beautiful and quiet launch site, one of my favorites for circumnavigations of Guemes, Cypress, or a visit to Vendovi.
We got a strong current ride immediately after launch, as the ebb draws water out of Padilla Bay around the north end. There were many eddies and boils in this area, with many harbor porpoise taking advantage of the turbulent water to do their fishing. Our first current exercise was to try and ferry across to one of the Cone Islands. A very sharp angle was required, and we still missed the island but were able to tuck into the back side of the island where the current was blocked to make our approach.
From the Cone we then used the current to take us to the Cypress Head BLM campground for lunch. Current takes you swiftly right into the beach on the tombolo that connects the headland to Cypress Island. As the current passes by Cypress head it produces a long eddyline extending out into the channel. Behind the eddy line some paddlers found a maze of vortices to navigate, slowing their passage. Other paddlers rode the current in front of the eddy line to find some moderate rips kicked up by a passing boat. GPS clocked us at 7.5 knots in this current! This was a fairly calm day, so these currents were easy to play in. With a south wind of 10 knots or more and these large southward currents, I think the area around Cypress Head would be rather fearsome.
One we finished our current ride past the Yellow Cliffs on Guemes we encountered slack and actually had to use our paddles to make progress for the rest of the day. We stopped at the ferry terminal where some found ice cream cones as big as their head at the general store. The remainder of the paddle around the southeast corner of Guemes was quite scenic, with massive cliffs plunging into the water, looming Mt Baker, and the lovely islands (Saddlebag, Hat, Dot, Huckleberry) about a mile off shore. Boat Harbor has a beautiful public access beach for a rest and/or a hike.
Finally tired arms made it back to Young’s park, we scrambled to catch the off-island ferry, got some insight into island life from a local resident as we waited in the ferry line, and were treated to a magnificent sunset while riding the ferry back to Anacrotes. The Guemes Island circumnavigation is one of my favorite paddling trips, allowing you to experience everything the San Juans have to offer without a long ferry ride to get there.