A PADDLE AROUND WHIDBEY Part 3: Making the turn, changing directions

  • Tue Nov 17th, 2015 11:12pm
  • Life

Mutiny Bay is blanketed in morning fog with deep ship horns echoing from mid-channel. The July sky will clear with the day’s heat but we launch into a still, insulated world. John took a compass reading last night, so we can head in the direction of Double Bluff.

In front of us a seal surfaces, nose pointed skyward, then seeing us, slips slowly back into the water. It will likely surface again after we pass and perhaps follow us a ways. Seals tend to be curious about kayaks.

A much-publicized report was released early this year by Gov. Jay Inslee’s blue-ribbon task force on outdoor recreation. It revealed that nearly $22 billion is spent annually on outdoor recreation in our state. The economic opportunities in our love of the outdoors are being reconsidered from the governor’s office down to the local level.

The report’s cover photo is of a kayak.

Shoreside signs abound along our route: No trespassing, Do not enter, No fishing and private property.

Nowhere on our trip, however, have we seen one sign from the water indicating public access. We kayak yearly on Vancouver Island and even in remote areas, marine parks are clearly signed for boaters.

Despite the best efforts of local citizens’ groups, Whidbey’s elected officials have demonstrated scant will to provide this information for the public.

The tide is heading out as we pass Double Bluff, and the spit is covered with seagulls and a few great blue herons. Sun replaces the fog and we watch birds gather to see what the low tide reveals. “When the tide’s out, the table’s set” fits as scavenger birds squabble over dead crabs and clams while herons stand quietly in the shallows, watching for a chance to snap up the unwary. Two bald eagles sit on the beach. 

Because of the low tide, we are unable to explore Deer Lagoon. Before the dikes were built there to claim more bottom land for farmers, customers could row up the lagoon to the Bayview Cash Store for supplies and local news. The lagoon is rich in wildlife and a kayak is the ideal way to see it.

Whidbey’s steep bluffs, fronted by narrow beaches, may be a danger for property owners who build too close to the edge, but provide ideal wildlife habitat.

North of Maxwelton Beach, low tide draws more than a score of blue herons, several bald eagles and an osprey, all looking for a meal. We paddle the nearshore leisurely, observing its richness. Tiny creatures dart away just ahead of us, leaving shiny circles in the water. Below are moon snails and their sandy egg cases, several varieties of crab, and fish whose shadows we glimpse as they swim away. There are colonies with uncountable numbers of live sand dollars, their edges partly buried in the sand to stabilize themselves as they filter feed. They are reminiscent of dense condo developments, but strung out along an underwater landscape.

We stop for lunch at Maxwelton, where a few families are enjoying the sunny day. Small children are testing the shallow waters with their feet or splashing knee deep with joyful enthusiasm, depending on their age and spirit of adventure.

The beach was the site of early 1900s summer gatherings known as Chautauquas. Ships and boats brought residents from around Puget Sound to camp and take in lectures, entertainment and spiritual improvement. Modeled after similar gatherings in New York, the local version flourished for about half a dozen years. The theatre on the beach held 5,000 people but it all ended when the roof caved in during a heavy snowfall in the winter of 1916 according to “South Whidbey and its People.” The remnants of the pier where ladies, gents and children unloaded can be seen stretching out into the water today. Modern media did not exist and I can imagine the anticipation of people as they came ashore, ready for enlightenment and amusement. Sue Ellen White photo | Mutiny Bay on a foggy morning presents a tranquil launch for a kayak trip.

Today’s annual Maxwelton Fourth of July parade echoes those wholesome festivities.

Paddling on toward Cultus Bay the raucous calls of hundreds of seagulls point to a large herring ball. Perhaps tightly schooled to protect from underwater predators, the fish are providing a feast for the scrambling gulls.

We proceed leisurely across the bay, enjoying the view through shallow water at the eel grass, other underwater plants and small marine creatures. The bay was the site of a permanent Coast Salish village of the Snohomish tribe. According to historylink.org, it was an important village containing five longhouses and a potlach house in the early 1800s. With its southern exposure, protected location and gentle slopes it’s easy to see why this place was chosen.

At low tide the bay is nearly dry. My question is how the ancient locals managed their fleet of large wooden canoes. Perhaps they simply timed launches and landings at high tide to avoid hauling the heavy boats across the flats.

Our destination for the night is at the most southerly tip of Whidbey Island. As we turn from Admiralty Inlet to Possession Sound and away from the shipping lanes, anglers in recreational fishing boats pass to and from Possession Point, Mukilteo and Everett. On clear days Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker are prominent; both hide from us today.

Possession Point State Park is a tiny jewel of a marine campsite — the only one on South Whidbey. We set up camp with an unobstructed water view. It’s a short distance to the county park of the same name where I decide to go to refill our water container. On the way, I stop at the Possession Point Bait Company for a little information and perhaps a cold drink. The anglers are fishing for ling cod, according to Dan Cooper, owner of the bait company. Come August this shoreline will be filled with those hoping to land a salmon using his herring. My catch, after a long day on the water, is the best root beer I’ve ever had, cold from Cooper’s cooler.

Back at camp we watch as a fresh new Boeing jet rises steeply above the hill on the mainland, perhaps on its maiden flight. As the long evening lingers we relax and watch the activity. Boats zip by, the Mukilteo/Clinton ferries pass back and forth, a sea lion pokes up its head and just before twilight, several porpoise arch their backs above the water, heading west.

Early morning clouds are light, promising a calm, sunny paddle to our destination, Clinton Beach Park, on the north side of the ferry terminal. Soon we see the string of houses lining the shores with their balloon-like mooring buoys bobbing just offshore. Then, we must wait for the ferry traffic.

Even larger from our perspective on the water, we stop while the great green-and-white boat docks, unloads and loads. After it heads for the far shore, we paddle under the dock before the next ferry approaches, disturbing the doves nesting among the pilings.

Clinton dock, with its amenities such as running water — and yes, a chicken burger and fries — welcomes us home. We’ve paddled the entire west side of Whidbey. Next, we head north on the east side.