Reports from the Field

Friday, February 21, 2014


Mid-Winter Kayaking Fun

So we are now officially two-thirds of the way through our Pacific Northwest winter. Although each day has been getting slightly longer since winter solstice, most of us are getting a bit of cabin-fever and we begin to pine for green foliage and bird song. As any native to Washington knows, the only antidote to the winter blues is to get outside and do something!

Last week that is exactly what we managed to do.

Every year, at about this time, a group of friends take a week off from the daily grind and head out to the west coast of Vancouver Island, to the little town of Tofino. We rent the same big house on the beach, complete with a hot tub (of course!) and plenty of space for everybody to stay. This is one of the highlights of our winter, our annual surf-kayak safari.

As it turned out, the weather cooperated wonderfully for all but the last day that we were there. The surf was nice, and the warmer temperatures meant that our boys were not afraid to spend a lot of time in the water. You know that you are raising a true Northwestern child when you see them splashing about in the ocean in the middle of winter!

As always, the best part about the trip (besides the kayaking) was being able to hang around with old friends, and meet some new friends. This year the "newbie" was Sarah Outen. If you have not heard of Sarah yet then I would highly recommend that you check out her story. She is halfway finished with a human-powered trek around the world! She started by kayaking from London to France, then bicycled across Russia, then kayaked to Japan, then rowed (solo) across the Pacific Ocean to Alaska. Yes, solo rowed across the Pacific Ocean. Holy Cow!! In April she will paddle through the Aleutian Islands to Homer Alaska, then bicycle across Canada, then row (solo) across the Atlantic Ocean and back to London.
Oh yeah, I should also mention that she has already rowed (yes, solo) across the Indian Ocean, and wrote a book about it. She's 28 years old.
Boy do I feel like an under motivated individual!

If a measure of success is the quality of people that you can call friends, then we feel like the most successful people around. Our circle of friends keeps growing and all of them are exceptional people in their own ways!

Since pictures often tell a story better than words I have posted a few images below. You can also view them on our Facebook page, look for the Tofino 2014 album.

Me and my new surf boat.
I'm ready to go after getting some coaching from Tashi. 

Taiga and Tashi playing in the surf.

Leon Somme, Body Boat Blade International.

Barry Shaw tears it up in his sea kayak.

Leon likes to paddle until he drops....literally!

Taiga gets some great coaching from Barry!

Sunset, Tofino, with Megan and the boys.

Justine Curgenven, smiling as always!

Sarah Outen practicing her surf landings.

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Monday, October 14, 2013


Autumn Kayaking, and Canoeing!

The fast-paced days of the summer season are behind us now, but the weather has been pretty good over the last few weeks and so we are still managing to accommodate the hardy folks who want to get out on the water when the Sun is shining. Although the air temperature can be a little bit cooler, the reward comes in the form of being the only ones out on the water and enjoying an enhanced sense of "wildness" that can only be experienced during the shoulder-seasons here in the the San Juan Islands.

Being part of the Pacific Coast Flyway, the birders who live in our area love this time of the year as we get to see a wide variety of migratory birds. Right now we are already seeing a number of Snow geese moving into the Skagit and Samish river valleys. Just last week a Parasitic Jaeger was sighted down off of Deception Pass State Park. If you haven't seen these acrobatic fliers in action then you are really missing out! They specialize in harassing other gulls and terns until the unlucky victim disgorges their catch (which the jaeger will usually catch in mid-air). Jaegers are part of the Skua family, whose larger members are often seen patrolling the southern ocean surrounding Antarctica.

In other news, last week I joined former AKT guide Corey McCartney, and current AKT guide Leslie Mix on a fun canoeing trip down the lower Sauk River. The Pink salmon were thick as thieves and large groups would surge under our boats as we glided downstream. There is something incredibly powerful about seeing this final stage in the great saga that is a salmon's life. After spending years at sea, traveling thousands of miles, and avoiding countless threats to their lives, the luckiest and strongest fish make one final herculean effort and swim miles away from salt water, up hill, over obstacles, avoiding even more threats, in order to finally lay their eggs and then die. It seems like an unlikely way for a species to survive, but it works! It's been happening here in Washington State since the last Ice Age retreated, and it's been happening for millions of years before that. Exactly how they do it is still somewhat of a mystery, and in my view that's part of what makes it so profound to witness firsthand from the unique perspective of a canoe.
Anacortes Kayak Tours guides on the Sauk River

One reason for this trip was for Leslie and I to shake off the canoeing cobwebs, after a summer of sea kayaking, and get prepared for a class that we both enrolled in down in Oregon. Being actively involved in the British Canoe Union style of learning and coaching we both signed up to participate in the 4-Star Canoe Leadership training course, and for three days we we going to be immersed in learning how to better manage leading groups down rivers in traditional canoes. As it turned out the class was one of the best paddlesport classes that I have ever participated in. Our instructor, Rob Yates, was incredible in his way of giving us just the right amount of information, at just the right time, in order to maximize our learning. I was able to sort out some huge obstacles to my own personal canoeing skills, as well as being able to more effectively manage groups on the water. Even though I've been in this industry for a long time, I feel that there is always so much more to learn. How lucky am I?!! I love my job! 
Thanks Rob for coming all the way from South Africa to share your knowledge. and a HUGE thanks to Paul Kuthe of Alder Creek Canoe and Kayak for the great accommodations!

Paul Kuthe, making it look easy in Bob's Hole rapid!

Lunch break on the Clackamas River.

Rob Yates (white helmet) giving instructions to the group.

Professional development for Anacortes Kayak Tours guides.
Rob watching as Leon Somme navigates a small rapid.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013


September Kayaking; Beautiful Weather, and Whales!

For those of you who are fortunate enough to live here in western Washington State, you already know that we've been enjoying some beautiful weather this month. Sure, there has been some rain, but the warm temperatures, and calm winds have made for some truly amazing days. This is the time of the year when the San Juan Islands are quiet and peaceful. Gone are the summer yachts and hordes of travelers, and the islands feel like a very different place than they did just a few weeks ago. For most of our kayak guides this is their favorite time of the season as the frenetic pace of work slows down a bit and allows them time to wind down and enjoy a little more free time.

We've still been running tours every day however, and the last few days have been incredible. Long-time AKT guide Mira Lutz was leading a trip on Sunday that unexpectedly came upon a pod of Transient Orca whales. The fact that they were kayaking through a light fog bank made the encounter even more surreal as the animals literally appeared out of nowhere, swam around them for a moment, and then disappeared back into the mist. I can't imagine a more perfect way to experience these iconic creatures. Even Mira, with countless kayak tours under her belt, remarked that this was the "coolest trip she has ever led". That's saying a lot!
I posted the only picture that turned out of the whale encounter, it's a bit grainy but still pretty cool (sort of like the old Loch Ness monster images)!

We will be running our kayak trips for a couple of more weeks before we shut down for the winter months, give us a call!

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013


Labor Day Weekend, (the beginning of the end of the kayaking season in the San Juan Islands.)

We enjoyed nice sea kayaking weather over the holiday weekend here in the San Juan Islands. Lots of fun wildlife encounters have been happening as well. The seals right inside the marina have been extremely friendly lately too. The fisherman coming in from their charters toss the filleted remnants of the catch into the water and these clever buggers have learned to follow them in to get an easy meal. Consequently, we have also had some extremely close encounters form our kayaks.

Although today is a bit drizzly, this summer seems to have been filled with sunny and warm days. We've made the most of it too, and have launched trips to more of the San Juans than ever before. We were very happy with the way our San Juan Island program worked out this year, although the Orca whales were not very cooperative, our guests seemed to enjoy their time on the water. Our last multi-day tours to Cypress Island went out on Saturday, the camp areas close down after Labor Day and won't re-open until next May.

Here's a fun picture of our guide Alex leading a tour at Burrows Island. Note the seals in the foreground. Thanks Steve for coming out with us!

Here's the view this morning from our Anacortes office window, looking back toward Mt. Erie. It was a spectacularly beautiful morning with a little warm rain and gorgeous cloud formations. The folks departing on the 5-Day kayaking adventure into the San Juan Islands were in for a real visual treat as they headed out across Rosario Strait. I love this time of the year!

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Saturday, August 24, 2013


Late Summer Sea Kayaking in the San Juan Islands!

Our summer season is beginning to wind down now as Labor Day weekend approaches, but we've been kayaking all over the San Juan Islands these last couple of  weeks!
Yesterday Megan McCarthy came back in from her multi-day trip from San Juan Island to Jones Island State Park. Matt Smith and his guests had an exciting paddle back from Patos Island (our newest National Monument) after spending five days kayaking up in the Outer Islands, and Jimmy Pasch returned with his group from another awesome adventure out on Cypress Island. All of these trips reported back that they had a terrific time, and that seals and porpoise were "everywhere". Unfortunately the Orca whales have not been present in Washington waters very much this summer and so nobody had any whale encounters this week. Oh well, there is so much more to see than whales out here in the San Juans and nobody seemed to mind. Just hanging out on the beach and enjoying the gorgeous scenery is worth the trip!

This morning we woke up to a little "liquid sunshine" falling down on our docks. It wasn't much rain, just enough to clear the air and wet the kayaks down. The best part was that it created a beautiful scene as the mist wrapped itself around the evergreen trees out on Burrows Island. The air was still, the water glass calm, and a Bald eagle flew across the channel and plunged into the sea to catch a swimming fish. That's how our day started...a quintessentially Pacific Northwest moment.

The weather looks great for this coming week, the last week of August (how time flies). Join us!

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Mid-August Rains, and the Whales Returned!

While August is historically the warmest month in the San Juan Islands, it is not always the driest month. July takes that top position with just 0.86 inches, while August comes in at 1.03 inches of measurable precipitation in Anacortes. It's nice to live in the rain-shadow of the Olympic Mountains! Well this last week we got a little taste of that good old liquid sunshine. Luckily most of it fell during the evening hours and served to "freshen up" the smells of the forest for our multi-day guests who were out enjoying Sucia Island, Jones Island, and Cypress Island. After a month of no rainfall at all it was nice to hear the comforting pitter patter of raindrops on our tents and the morning skies were gorgeous!

After almost three weeks of being AWOL, our Southern Resident Orca whales are finally back! We actually got to watch them swimming down Rosario Strait two days ago....and we saw them while sitting at our desks in our new office space in Skyline Marina! Although we are very reluctant to give our customers false hopes of kayaking with whales, it is nice to know that they are back in the San Juan Islands. Hopefully they will stick around for a while this time.

Other wildlife sightings these last couple of weeks have included some close encounters with Harbor seals who have learned that during the salmon fishing season boats often mean an easy snack that comes in the form of the cast off remains of the fish after they are cleaned. For us kayakers this also means that they will often come right up to our kayaks in hopes that we'll give them a handout (which obviously never happens). We've also been enjoying some good looks at the ubiquitous Harbor porpoise that make their home in the waters around Burrows Island. Lots of mothers with their tiny offspring have been seen out near the Burrows Island Lighthouse.

Great trips, good weather, and the fast-paced life of our peak summer season, it's a good time to be living here in the San Juan Islands!

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Sunday, August 04, 2013


Perseid Meteor Showers over the San Juan Islands

One of our favorite times of the year is almost upon us. The Perseid meteor shower is about to happen again as the Earth moves into the stream of debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle.  NASA's Meteorid Environment Office shows that the Perseids are the #1 source of fireballs in the Earth's sky. This meteor shower is called the Perseids because the fireballs appear to originate in the constellation Perseus. The maximum is coming over the next two weeks, between August 11-13 it should peak with roughly 100 meteors per hour lighting up the sky above the San Juan Islands. The highest number can usually be seen in the pre-dawn hours as the Earth rotates towards the sun and scoops up more debris as it moves through space. Our overnight kayakers are in for a real treat these next few weeks.
Humans have been watching this meteor shower for over 2000 years, and we suggest that you join the fun!

In other news, the Orca whales have been absent from the San Juan Islands for nearly three weeks now. This year's Chinook salmon runs are very poor which is the likely cause. Apparently a cruise ship recently saw what is assumed to be the Southern Resident Orca about 20 miles off of the west coast of Vancouver Island.  Luckily for us we don't "hang our hat" on kayaking with whales, and have created trips that are fun and rewarding regardless of what wildlife is encountered. We have been enjoying some really interesting seal encounters as the pups are getting weaned, and the porpoise sightings around Burrows Island have been wonderful.

Here's a picture of a "wild" group of lovely ladies who recently joined us on a Half Day trip around Burrows Island. Thank you "Kayaking Kweens", we really enjoyed your enthusiasm!

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