title- Kayaking Shaw Island


In my twelve years of paddling the Pacific Northwest, I have done almost no paddling in the central San Juan Islands. So, when George posted a trip to Shaw Island, I jumped aboard immediately. Shaw Island is the smallest of the San Juan Islands to be served by the Washington State Ferry system, but it could not be more central. Lopez Island lies just one mile to the east across the Upright Channel. San Juan Island is one and a half miles west, across the sometimes blustery San Juan Channel. Orcas Island is just half a mile to the north. Shaw Island has a roughly triangular shape, with its hypotenuse lying along the northern shore. It's shape is interrupted by numerous protected bays, and the straight line sum of its sides is about 12 miles. It is a wooded island, only slightly hilly. Wikipedia reports a year around population of 240 people but there are many second homes on the island and the population triples in the summer.

We caught a 7:30 ferry from Anacortes and the trip across gave us a chance to get acquainted with our paddling partners. I had paddled with three of the group, but, as with all these outings, I was to make some new friends. George spread out a chart, and we had time to talk about our paddling options based on the forcast winds and currents.



Using the chart to plan our paddling.

George, Barbara and Peggy talk about the paddling options.


First Nation "Old People" strike up a conversation.

We caught the eye of a couple in the booth behind us, who said they were with the Samamish Nation. We asked if they would be considered "Elders" of their tribe, and they said, "yes, but we use the term Old People." They could not have been more friendly and outgoing.


Setting up camp

Setting up camp at Shaw Island County Park. The campground was spotlessly clean, had about 15 sites, and takes reservations outside of two weeks before a date. This was a group site. Single sites sit on a low bluff looking right at the water.


Launching for a practice session.

We decided to start with practicing rescues in the shallow bay adjacent to the camp, and then to go for a short warm-up paddle around Canoe Island. The low tide meant that we had to portage the kayaks 100 yards or so on the nearly flat beach. The woman bent over at the back of the group is the caretaker of the campground. She lives on Lopez Island,in the distant background, and paddles every day, winter and summer, to tend to the camp. She said that occasional winter storms would prevent her coming over, but that she had never failed to make it home at the end of a day of work.


Assisted rescue 1

In the protected water behind Canoe Island, we practiced assisted rescues. In this case, John rolled over and performed a wet exit by un-tucking his spray skirt from the lip that securely holds it and him to the boat, and then pushed down at his hips to rotate out of the boat. One must remember to hold onto both the boat and the paddle, as the wind can easily move the boat away faster than one can swim. George then directed John to hold onto George's boat while he pulled John's kayak onto his lap and tipped the water out. George is very secure here because John's kayak acts as a giant outrigger.


Assisted Rescue 2

George was able to get essentially all the water out of John's boat. He then refloated it and aligned it next to him pointing the opposite direction from his kayak.


Assisted Rescue 3

With the kayaks parallel, but pointed in opposite directions, George "braced" John's kayak by using the cockpit lip to hold it securely. John rolled one leg into the cockpit and then wrenched himself into the cockpit while George held the boat securely.


Assister Rescue 4

Following that demonstration, we took turns practicing assisted rescues. This and the solo rescue are essential skills for kayaking. The club requires that its members know at least these skills to go on club outings. The water temperature of about 46 degrees ensures that the hands become numb and useless in perhaps 10 to 30 minutes. The club does heve pool sessions, where one can learn these skills from other members in warm water.


Canoe Island

After the practice, we set about exploring Canoe Island.


Canoe Island Dock

Canoe Island is privately owned by the Canoe Island French Camp, where high school students can have a French language immersion experience while canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and exploring wildlife.


Entering Upright Channel

We enter Upright Channel, which runs north up the east side of Canoe and Shaw Islands.

We finished our morning paddle and it was time for lunch and a rest. By then, some of the rest of our group had arrived on a later ferry. We decided that the current allowed for us to paddle north up Upright Channel and around to the north of Shaw Island. There we could explore its harbor and Blind Island which sits at the harbor entrance.

Our afternoon paddle took about three hours and was pleasant. We did face a bit of headwind on the way home. By then it was time to fix hors 'd oevres, have dinner, and spend some time by the campfire before heading for our tents.


We paddle past a fallen madrone tree.

Our afternoon paddle, up the eastern side of Shaw Island took us past a mostly uninhabited coastline. The only activity was an occasional deer in the forest and sea lions who would monitor our progress.


Sign for Blind Island

The Cascadia Marine Trail is a series of more than 50 campsites for man powered watercraft which streches 150 miles in Puget Sound. Blind Island is one of these.


John takes a rest on a picnic bench

John relaxes a bit on Blind Island.



Ferry going into Orcas Island

From Blind Island we could watch the ferry going into the dock on Orcas Island.


My Eddyline Raven on a small beach

My Eddyline Raven is 15 years old, but has taken me to a lot of interesting places.


Departing Blind Island

After stretching our legs and taking a break, we leave Blind Island for the paddle home. In this photo are Jan, John, George and Peggy.


Ferry at the dock at Shaw Island

As we paddled across Shaw Harbor, we loitered so as to let the ferry finish loading and back out of our way.


Ferry and store at Shaw Island.

There is a convent as well as a Catholic retreat center on Shaw Island. For two decades, until 2004, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist ran both the ferry terminal and the store. The red building pictured is still the only store on Shaw Island.


A cabin in the woods.

A cabin in the woods.


A small beach

Exploring a small beach.