Double your fun
testing the new F2 tandem prototype on
Washingtons wild Ozette coast
Leann and I arrived at Neah Bay at 1pm the day before summer
solstice. After a few hours of sorting food and packing gear we
were ready to launch.
3pm might not be the best time to launch an untested kayak onto a rock
studded fogbound coastline in the wind and drizzle, but we did
still have six hours of daylight, the swell was low, and we
at least had a reasonable suspicion of finding an isolated beach to
land on before dark set in.
Leann discovered this useful map hanging on the side of the
marina. It's tempting to chuckle at the lack of pertinant
...until you see my own map, drawn freehand from Google Earth the
night before! I'm sure the sight of this 'map' is
currently triggering fits in a good number of people right now,
so let me take a moment to clarify that after a lifetime of following
coastlines I've found these simple hand drawn maps more useful than a
stack of charts, current tables, newfangled GPS units, and
radios. Relying on electronics for rescue or to bring you
to port safely is always a mistake, and the mesmerizing amount of
information on good chart/topo combo map can obsfucate the relevant
details especially when trying to read on the fly while sloshing around
in a six foot chop. By redrawing the map yourself, you
insure that you are actually looking at the charts, considering
what is relevant and important, and organizing all the
information from 3 or 4 different sources in once easy to reference
place. Premarked distances combined with on the water
bearings and timechecks create a powerful tool to gain a clear picture
about where you are and where you need to go next, which is the
essence of navigation. Would I reccomend making a map off
of google earth and not bringing along paper charts?
No. But then again, I wouldn't recommend driving in a car,
ever. (at least not with me driving) So I suppose our
determinations of acceptable risk lie more in perception than analysis.
Our six mile paddle out to Cape Flattery, the most Northwestern
point of the United States, was beautiful, if not a bit
dark and dismal. We sloshed back and forth in a
boisterous cross chop against a backdrop of jutting rock, caves, and
arches while we searched for a suitable beach to land
on. With low swell predicted to drop even
further, it was safe to consider some fun options that could be
hazardous in other circumstances.
This marvelous and mysterious tunnel led to an curiously illuminated
beach and is definately one of the neater landings I've ever made in a
After landing I took a moment to look over the rudder assembly to see
that everything was still attached and functional. A
rudder is a level of fuss and expense that doesn't usually make sense
on a skin-on-frame kayak, even on a day tripping double,
but for a touring, sailing, double it's a useful addition.
Our bow setup. The sail has a few strings but everything is
clean and stows tidily. The fishing pole is kept
ready for checking out those nearshore rocks that only kayakers can
A stunning campsite, albeit one of dubious legality and even more
dubious tidal activity. There was some debate that we may
actually be camping underwater.
Our view to the North. At first I was a little dissapointed
with the fog and rain, but after a while it seemed appropriate to
see this place against a palate of gray.
The entire headland is a giant rock swiss chesse and would be a
marvelous place to explore with a whitewater kayak on a flat day.
Leann is happy to be cozy and dry!
Recieving over a hundred forty inches of rain a year in the coastal
valleys, the Olympic Peninsula is an explosion of chloropyl.
Lush growth continues all the way to the tideline.
The next morning we discovered that no spoons had made it into our
bags, luckily there were plenty of natural substitutes,
already cracked open and well cleaned by the maurading raccoons that
raided the rocks at low tide.
The mussel shells proved to be excellent utensils and caused one to
wonder at the expense, effort, and pollution of making plastic or metal
Early morning revealed that our cave beach was now rock.
A few more hours brought the water back up to the sand though and after
some stretches we were once again paddling south.
Well, paddling south for about 40 yards before stopping to
explore this next cool cove.
As a connoisseur of fine coastlines across the globe I'm not quite sure
how Cape Flattery has escaped me for so long. It's
one of those things I always meant to do but just never got around to.
A typical scene on the Cape.
The entire trip we paddled in and out of heavy fog, which is
quite manageable if not a little confusing, with a very low swell with
no wind, but could easily become extremely dangerous with even a
moderate swell and normal onshore daily wind pattern.
The prediction of no wind and a falling 3ft swell for the first 3 days
was the reason I chose to do this trip at all, and even
then, the final decision wasn't made until the night before we
You'd think we'd know better, but we packed the hats
away. Of course the fog broke,
neccesiting this tricky unpacking manuever miles from land.
A glassy flat ocean and a little help from some improvised water wings
makes these shennanigans possible. By the way, yes, those
are our life jackets piled on deck, and yes, if a tornado or a
great white suddenly hit us we might be in real trouble, but
considering the conditions it was much more comfortable without them.
I would only do this on a dead flat day.
A two hour crossing brought us to a beautiful cove protected by two
long reefs extending out to sea.
A relatively short 12 mile day and we were both tired which really
surprised me. I thought that after a winter of hardcore
whitewater paddling I'd be an animal, instead all that hard
anerobic paddling made me less strong over the long haul, and of
course I whined about it constantly. Leann kicked
back while I dropped a line in search of dinner.
A few minutes of jigging and I reeled up this Ling Cod, which I
promptly filleted on deck and stuffed the carcass into a crab
trap. Decades of overfishing has brought a
precipitous decline to the bottomfish populations of the pacific
northwest, so nowadays the only fish I will retain are Ling Cod
and Black Rockfish. While looking every bit as
prehistoric and horrible as their spiniest rockfish bretheren,
Lings are actually a different species that grow much faster and are
much more resilient, Black Rockfish are also relatively
resilient, although their numbers are a fraction of historic levels.
Barely a ripple penetrated the reefs and we glided to a calm landing on
a pebble beach.
Leann spotted this marvelous little rocky nook, and the best
part... cobbles! Anyone who has spent time camping on
sand will tell you it is a vile and insidious substance to be avoided
at all costs.
Priority number one: set up tent. Priority number
Who needs tent stakes? "Consider the
advantage..." I told Leann, "If the tide does
come up in the night, at least we'll know where the boat is!"
Just when you think you've found some privacy, the locals show up!
As the sun dipped lower we set out to explore.
Leann cooked us good
food while I searched for meat to compliment the
meals. Pesto pasta and fresh Ling Cod for
dinner. (we didn't catch any crabs!)
Our spoons proved useful vessels for the after dinner drinks, and
their precarity conviently limited our intake levels, in other
words, when you can't hold the shell level anymore, you're cut
An idyllic evening scene on the Ozette coast.
Rather suddenly, we were beset by pea soup fog, this photo was
take fifteen minutes after the photo above it.
Even with the tide right at the edge of our camp, I stubbornly refused
to move the tent. I liked our little spot!
Leann is skeptical of the rising waters.
Does it seem a little weird to you that we hang our food in the trees to keep the
bears from eating it, while we
sleep on the ground....
Our not so big beach at twilight.
Morning rituals, breakfast, packing up....
...and filling the water bottles.
Almost ready to shove off.
We set out late in the morning toward Ozette island with a very low
We detoured a ways offshore to explore a couple little islands teeming
with growling stellar sea lions. A loud snort and a splash
close to the boat was enough to warn us off. It may seem
ridiculous, but we're talking about a habitually aggressive
animal the size of fully grown Rhinocerous. Anyone
who claims not to be afraid of such creatures has not yet had one rise
out the water five feet from ones face, snarling and shaking
thier head and baring four inch long teeth. It's an
instinctively horrifying feeling when you are sitting in a kayak.
These are not seals.
The less choice real estate is left to the cormorants. I
always feel bad for cormorants, often seen standing with open
arms to dry their perrenially wet wings. Cormorants do in
fact have oil secretion glands but unlike other sea birds, they don't
seem to work very well.
The fog ceiling decended forcing us to paddle south close in through
the nearshore reefs and kelp beds. This tactic was only
made possible by the almost completely flat seas and lack of
wind. The kelp made for slow going, but did afford us a
magical passage through the treetops of these rich underwater forests.
Curious sea otters monitored our passing.
In the distance Leann spotted two bald eagles perched on a spire and we
paddled over for a closer look.
We bashed into a few rocks working our way back out of the reef in the
swell, but nothing damaging, and absolutely worth our intimate
experience with the kelp beds.
Another hour of paddling and some irritating detours around long reefs
brought us to what I thought might be a good landing place for the
evening. The problem was that with no visibility, we
had no way to be certain that we were indeed exactly where we thought
we were, and exact is what is needed when you are talking about
threading through breaking waves and reefs to hit a 100 foot wide sandy
slot. Whereas more heroics and dicey recon missions are
possible in a single kayak, the inherent sluggishness and
unlikelieness of a successful combat roll in a tandem kayak means you
have to be a lot more certain before committing. We
decided to sit offshore and fish while we waited for a break in the
This positively enormous, (and positively unlucky) black rockfish
is now headed for the deep six in the crab trap.
When the fog lifted I felt pretty proud that we were in fact exactly
where I thought we were and all that was required was to land on this
tiny sand hook, protected from the swell by a small curving reef.
Much of this coast looks like a beach but is in fact a gauntlet
of hard nearly submerged rock with a sloping beach above and behind it.
With limited visibility such sights might tempt a kayaker to
land in marginal conditions only to realize too late in the surf that
there is no sand at all, possibly leading to less than pleasant
We were soon engaged in the time honored tradition of salami, cheese,
and triscuits. I was so happy to see the triscuits and
greatly appreciated Leann bringing them instead of Rye Vita or some
other such hippy dog biscuits.
Leann insisted that we bring Watership Down, a classic, extremely
well written, and extremely boring book about an exodus of
"I know it's going to suck." I said, "Nothing is going to
blow up, and nobody has sex."
"Rabbits have sex." Leann countered.
I begrudgringly left the sci-fi at home, and predictably we
trudged through about 15 pages of Watership Down in five days.
Luckily we still have 200 hundred more pages to read on future
trips. Do you hear that Leann? We're going to read the
Feeling hopeful I headed back out to check the crab trap.
...and with dashed hopes I returned empty handed. I have never
pulled an empty pot on a sandy beach and was feeling quite perplexed.
I suppose if thats the worst of your problems though, life ain't
This entire coastline is managed by the national park service and while
our trip may have been, um, less than officially sanctioned, I do
try to keep within the spirit of their regulations by having no open
fires and leaving no trace of our campsites. I have found
it difficult over the years to coordinate touring on open coastines
with governing agencies. With possible landings and
schedules determined by the terrain and the mood of the sea,
sticking to official campsites is often not possible. Still, I
try to be respectful and keep a low profile.
After a dinner of rockfish fried in butter and garlic, and a few
shells of single malt, we have strawberries and chocolate brownies for
A crack in the clouds gives us a glimpse of sunset.
The next morning we rise before dawn in hopes of early visibility and
putting on some miles in a rising swell.
The little line of offshore rocks functioned exactly as I'd
hoped, leaving us a small clean slot to escape past what were now
significant waves thundering across the reefs.
Making miles before 7am. With the first pulses of a
long period seven foot swell arriving, the breakers were anything
but benign and we had to keep well offshore to avoid being dashed to
splinters on the reefs.
Under beautiful skies we approached Jagged Island, a fantastic
rocky pinnacle jutting up like a minature Tahiti. Even with
the beautiful sunshine, I watched to the west like a hawk as a
low lying fog bank snuck towards us, and to the east I constantly
assessed and re-assessed possible emergency landing options through the
now white and surging reefs. Five minutes after this
photo was taken we were working our way slowly through some reefs when
I saw Jagged island suddenly dissapear to my right. We made
a quick decision to crash land on a semi-protected beach in the swell
shadow of Jagged island, and after a dicey slalom through some
boomers we touched down with a minimum of violence on a minimal beach.
This photo was taken ten minutes after the photo above it.
We would not have been able to thread the reefs in this fog and just
barely made it through them before everything went white.
It should be noted that another option would be to paddle well offshore
and head south on a known bearing for a known time and then hang a left
for shore. This works well on less varigated coastlines
with wide and less consequential targets. The North
Washington coast however, is a minefield of offshore reefs and rocks
that extends for miles offshore. After an hour or two of
traveling a complicated course in zero visibility fog by compass and
watch alone, with wind and current effects, even the best
orienteering bad-ass might be a little intimidated to turn shoreward to
hit a narrow landing target through reefs and boomers big enough to
break boats and paddlers. Now consider that sea fog often
comes with a 20+ knot wind and 6ft wind chop on top of whatever
existing swell there is and you get an idea of the very real danger
that exists in common conditions on this coastline.
The point I am trying to make is that open coast touring, especially
here, requires sound judgement and careful selection of
conditions. Traveling should be limited to visible passages
with a careful eye toward the ever present fog banks.
It became quickly apparant that our entire beach would be awash in the
quickly rising tide, so we climbed over this ridge to consider
the prospects of the next beach to the North.
This thin ridge connecting an small offshore pinnacle gave me the
feeling of Macchu Picchu in the fog. We saw the next beach
over to have slightly more real estate including a few cobbles,
so we decided to punch out around the corner for greener, or um, grayer
Rather than wait for the tide to start sloshing us around with the
driftwood we dragged the boat back to the tideline and headed around
Our new digs on the other side of the rock.
The mist blew in and out revealing errie glimpses of Jagged island.
We were barely settled when this curious young buck wandered down to
see who we were.
With nothing else to do while the fog swirled in and out, Leann
took a nap while I explored the beaches.
The beaches are always a facinating repository for various marine trash.
I especially liked this toilet seat cover.
I have no clue what this tiny thing and can only speculate it's the
scalp of a member of a previously undiscovered secretive race of seven
inch tall wild coast people. I know it's these little
guys who stole my car keys, and my fork, and my
bandanna, and my fillet knife, and my surf hood...
Twisted kelp mats stretched up the beach like an H.R. Giger
The fog swept in and
by the afternoon it seemed to be holding so we decided to try to make
the seven mile hop to La Push.
Twice we passed by what I thought was a kelp bed and Leann thought were
sea birds. We were both wrong, these were giant rafts
of sea otters!
Even well offshore cutting behind the reefs to avoid mile long detours
proved a sketchy proposition. I don't try to capture much
of this action with the camera because it never looks all that
exciting. For instance, the rock above is the
size of a house for scale and exploded in mass of spray and fury every
10 seconds. Moments after this shot was taken we were
lifted fifteen feet up by a set wave that was threatening to break on
what we assumed was a deep slot. We punched the foamy white
top and dropped into a series of menacing troughs as we sprinted hard
straight out to sea!
Two miles from La Push in 5 knots of wind I asked Leann to raise the
sail so I could get a photo. It's a wonderful little
sail, made by Mick MacRobb of Flat Earth Kayak Sails. Easy
to deploy, the lines and sail fold unobtrusively onto the deck,
and doesn't actually need a rudder. I'm looking
forward to using it to troll offshore for salmon this
We paddle past little James Island on our way into La Push.
The harbor here conveniently uses James and little James as extensions
of their breakwater to create a navigable channel.
We paddle upriver against the current and into the marina...
...where we feel a bit shellshocked by the sudden contrast of
civilization. We float aimless and indecisive for a few
minutes looking for a place to tie up.
Not wanting to bother the absent harbormaster in this sleepy town we
took a chance and just tied up inside the gas dock.
We stowed our expensive gear as best as we could and left this note for
anyone who might come by. Some people might be apprehensive
to leave so much gear unattended but I've found over the years that
most people are more honest than you'd think. This being the the
Quilleute Indian Reservation and me being a white guy, I supposed that
even if the whole boat went missing I would just consider it
It was 6:30 pm and drizzling when we decided to embark on the 70
mile, 3 road hitchike back to Neah Bay. We set
out with little more than street clothes and a quarter bottle of
whiskey, figuring that at worst we might have an unpleasant
night, but were not likely to die from
it. Our first ride was the Quilleute
shuttle, a free bus to forks!
Luckily they weren't enforcing the rules that day.
With the exception of the sunscreen caked onto my skin, we
actually looked pretty tidy. I hitchike shuttles a lot and
being clean and smiling is the first rule to getting a
ride. You see a lot of hitchikers out there who look
like Charles Manson, do these guys really think that they are
going to get rides?
The shuttle brought us to 101, where we caught a ride north with
a mountain climber who dropped us off on the very sleepy junction to
113. After walking this road for a half
mile with no cars passing by we were starting to wonder if this
was a bad idea when a Makah
tribal councilman pulled over and gave us a ride to all the way to Neah
Bay. Micah was a bright fellow and deeply involved in
ocean resource issues so we had a lot to talk about on the long ride.
On our way out of Neah Bay we stopped to check out these impressive
blue totem people.
Finally we arrived back at La Push at dusk, making for a very
long day. Noone had bothered our kayak and we collapsed
into a hard sleep feeling very grateful to have been lucky enough to
see this beautiful stretch of coastline with favorable
conditions, and a bit of luck when it mattered. The
F2 prototype performed beautifully on the trip and it was a pleasure to
use a tool so perfectly fitted to both the bodies of Leann and I and
also customized for our needs. I think that this ease in
changing even the hull shape for a single boat, even for a single
trip, is what makes skin-on-frame so appealing to
me. The challenge of course is knowing what to change
and how to do it to achive a predictable result. Things
don't always work out so well on a prototype, but in this case,
everything functioned as intended which left me feeling pretty
good. Kayaking for me is all about intimacy,
the ability to get close to a remote coastline and really experience
the place without a lot of fuss. A custom kayak takes
that one step farther, allowing the kayak to dissapear as much as
possible beneath you (but hopefully not literally!) so there is
even less between you and the experience. This applies to
any custom kayak really, skin-on-frame is just fun because it is
such a fast, cheap way to get on the water. Even after
building and helping to build well over 300 kayaks, I still get a
lot of pride from saying I built it myself!
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