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San Juan Island Circumnavigation

We paddle around San Juan Island via Cattleman's Pass, Posey Island, Jones Island and back to Friday Harbor a four or 5 day paddle

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Launch Point Friday Harbor
Max Difficulty: SKIV (Cattleman's Pass, Spieden Channel, and 2.6 mi crossing
Paddle Length/Time 4 or 5 day (we paddled in 5)/ 45 miles
Tide/Current Station (T) Friday Harbor, Kanaka Point, Mosquito Pass, Roche Harbor (C)San Juan Channel, King's Point, Cattle Point, Discovery Island, Kellett Bluff, Limestone Point (Spieden Channel), Crane Island, Turn Rock Light
Destination Friday Harbor (goal is to circumnavigate San Juan Island

Day 1 Friday Harbor to Griffin Bay:  6.3 miles

We decided to take the 2:40 sailing out of Anacortes so we did not depart Friday Harbor for Griffin Bay until 5 PM.  We did have a bit of a current against us but overall we managed to avoid it except going through the narrow pass between San Juan and the island just south of Turn.  Took a little extra effort to get through.  Griffin Bay camp site is a little hard to find/see on approach (thank you GPS!).  There is a Water Trails marker that is visible once you get about 200-400 yards off shore.  The campsites where large and grassy and it looked like there were at least 4 sites.  We were the only ones there that evening.. except the raccoons.  The site has a nice view to the east.

Day 2 Griffin Bay to San Juan County Park:  17.1 miles

We had an early get up so that we hit Cattle Pass at slack,  we were on the water at 8:15 and paddling.  The water was calm crossing the bay.  We entered Cattle Pass and had some light chop, no wind, and paddled through with no issues.  We stayed west of Goose Island and shortly rounded the Point with the automated Light House.  Rounding the corner we soon encountered 1-2’ swells and had a bit of a rough ride for the next 2 miles.  It turns out this is not an unusual condition in this area and looking at the map it shows there is quite an underwater ridgeline going from the island out about 3 miles so that the water depth goes from 300’+ to 18’.  This forces the water up and even with a little wind rough water develops quickly. Caution: The first part of this leg is very exposed to westerly's, be sure to check wind conditions before paddling this route. 

We paddled up the shoreline about 1.4 miles and then decided to take our first break, we had a surf landing and that was a bit of fun… I was first in and managed to turn 90 degrees to the surf once on the beach and got a tad wet on exiting the kayak.  I helped the others come in and we took a well-deserved break.  We launched after about a 45 minute break, taking off in the surf was a challenge and we helped each other until there was only one.  I had launched in similar conditions when we paddled Dungeness last year and knew that I would have to time it and then go, no hesitation allowed… of course I hesitated..  about 5 minutes later after pumping out my boat I tried again and was successful.  You really have to point into the surf and just go!  (Photo)

We made our 2nd stop about 2 miles further up the coast for lunch. The seas had calmed way down and were fairly flat.  We made our 3rd stop about 6 miles further down, just south of Lime Kiln Point.  We had a nice beach which after about 10 minutes had 10-12 other kayaker on it as we were joined by a couple of tour groups and a single.   Conditions remained very good for the rest of the way and we were all very happy to see SJC Park!!  This was as long a paddle as I want to make without having a good current push.  We were all beat and the equipment issues did not help.

We had raccoon troubles this entire trip,  they roamed around and growled a little in Griffin Bay, we ended with a full on hissy fit at SJC Park when they attacked 2 containers that we hoped were raccoon proof. .operative word hoped!  These two raccoons made a ton of noise parking at each other and just basically rabble rousing.  I finally forced myself up, since no one else seemed to be, and ran them off. 

NOTE:  San Juan County has a new rule and your party will be charged $7 to launch here and you will need to sit through a 15 minute whale watching rules presentation and fill out a permit.  This applies only to the west side of San Juan.

Day 3 SJC to Posey Island: 7.8 miles (includes trip in to Roche Harbor shower, beer, and food),

This day was much easier!  We paddled up to Posey via Mosquito Pass, we timed the currents well and had no issues going through the channel.  We arrived at Posey and set up camp, Campsite #2 is on the east side of the island and we had both morning sunrise and a sunset view.  We were joined on the island by a tour group who used campsite #1.  There are only 2 sites and the number of campers is limited (16) on the island. (photo)

 We paddled into Roche Harbor after setting up our campsite.  A nice easy paddle.  The showers were great.. 10 minutes for 8 quarters.. we wandered around the village a bit and had supper on the deck at McMillan’s.  Good food (non-dehydrated!), great COLD drinks.  We had a pleasant evening paddle back to Posey!

Day 4 Posey Island to Jones Island: 9.5 miles (Note: To make this a 4 day trip paddle direct to Friday from Posey approximately 12 miles)

We had a late start to work the currents and left Posey at 10, again it was sunny warm and the waters were calm as we paddled down Spieden Channel toward Jones Island.  We stopped at Rueben Tarte Picnic Area for a lunch stop before paddling across to Jones. The fun really began when got to the WWTA site and I was met by a kayak tour guide who told us there was no room at the inn, she had 7 in her party and staked claim to the whole site!  Told us that she had another group joining them..  after a little discussion I decided it wasn’t worth arguing and we headed to the southern end of the island.  We ended up camping in site 21 right at the sound end, it had a tight little beach for landing but turned out to be a very nice site.  We never saw any other kayakers go into the WWTA site.

 Day 5 Jones Island to Friday Harbor:  6.2 miles

Thursday was our “bad” weather day!  We woke up to 10-15 MPH winds blowing from the south.  They lessened a bit as we approached launch time and by the time we shoved off they were blowing a steady 10 mph and we had some 6”-12” chop.  The wind was directly off our nose so it wasn’t too bad.  The map below shows the “as paddled” route. We broke camp and found out our raccoon friends had been back.  They managed to open a cockpit cover and get into a day back to grab a power bar… they also got into another boat.  Seems like the critters are getting worse be sure to stash your food securely.

 The wind waves were not too bad, we stopped for a break on Yellow Island and then paddled in.  We took a sharp angle on the crossing to keep the wind off our left nose rather than doing a 90 degree and getting wet.  It didn’t take long to cross and make it into Friday Harbor.  We were greeted at the Harbor entrance by a very nice gaffe rigged schooner coming out under full sail.  Nice to see that.  We had a nice lunch in Friday and departed for home on the 4:15 boat.

Photo's of the trip

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Copyright © 2015 Chuck Hemphill. All Rights Reserved
Last Updated:  June 13, 2015