If you look southwest from our window — along the line through Duwamish Head and then Alki Point — the next land you see is Blake Island. That’s the piece of my shoreline exploration that I saved for last.
The island, at one time privately owned, is now a state marine park. It’s reachable only by boat, but affords amenities for all kinds of travelers. Popular with tourists is a commercial cruise that includes a traditional meal and a cultural program with dancing and storytelling, featuring lore from several Native American peoples, most of them hailing from north of here however. The little marina also attracts sailboats and small powerboats, and there’s a fairly lavish campground there, with pay showers. There are more campsites, with offshore moorage, along the western shore. And on the northwest corner of the island there are three Cascadia Marine Trail campsites. I had yet to try packing the Ikkuma for a camping trip, and an overnight stay here sounded like a good test, in preparation for bolder expeditions later.
Blake Island is a not-unreasonable distance from West Seattle, even for solo paddlers; but it’s much closer to Manchester, or, better yet, Southworth, on the Kitsap Peninsula. And besides, it’s actually easier to find overnight parking at those places; so I rode the ferry from Fauntleroy and launched from the little street-end just north of the Southworth ferry dock, leaving the car in the big commercial lot nearby. I paid for two days, in case I got delayed.
For weeks I had been pondering tides and currents, wind and temperature. Ironically, by the time I tired of dithering and just set out, conditions were far from ideal. My trip coincided pretty well with the new moon and the summer solstice, meaning big daytime tidal exchanges. Boaters are warned about a north wind against an ebb through Colvos Passage, and the breeze exceeded expectations. There’s a current-prediction station south of the island, but I wasn’t sure how much of that current I’d see on each side. It could have been nearly two knots, during the hours that I might ordinarily travel.
So I got, for me, an unusually early start. It took only about half an hour, in fairly calm water, to reach the island’s nearest, southern point. Then as I was coming up the eastern side the waves got bigger — though they never exceeded a couple feet. I rounded the marina’s breakwater and landed on the beach to the north (there’s a little sandy area inside too if you need it). A busy raccoon there seemed unconcerned at first but then bounded away as I bumbled about. I paused to have a drink and call home.
Conditions improved as I paddled around the north shore toward the campground. One of the three campsites was occupied, so I took the one furthest away, closer to the point. My first acquaintance here was an excitable bird, which I took to be a killdeer. I thought at first that it was trying to get my attention to lead me away from its nest or something, but I gradually got the idea that maybe it wanted to be fed. It was trailing its wings, spreading its tail and generally looking expectant. The rules posted on the nearby kiosk clearly prohibited feeding; otherwise, we might have become very good friends. I’m not sure that mating would have been out of the question, had I been a second killdeer.
A human eventually arrived also, a young fellow living in Austin but currently on a voyage of self-discovery. (He had lived on the Kitsap Peninsula as a child, so this was something of a homecoming.) I complimented him on his camp, which included a hammock and a couple of coolers for food and drink, stored beneath his picnic table. It was not clear to me that he had arrived on the island under his own power, but there was no shortage of space so I didn’t even ask.
My new neighbor warned me about raccoons, saying that he had been having to chase them off. He didn’t mention the deer that I would see in camp as dusk fell. The three of them, despite their greater size, made much less commotion than the other animals, and I could easily have overlooked them myself.
Besides some gulls, the only other creature of any size on display was a heron who would greet me from the shoreline as I arose on the second day, but who did not wait around to be photographed.
There was evidence of some other wildlife, though, involved in a little mystery. For each campsite, the park provides a critter-proof safe, about the size, shape and color of a sidewalk trash can. I used mine mostly as an armoire, since I’d brought my food and toiletries in my own bear vault, a sturdy round container that fits in my forward hatch. As I was stowing my gear inside the door I noticed that there seemed to be a chunk of driftwood, about the diameter of a knackwurst, standing in one of the corners. In each of the corners, in fact. Opening the door again later I found, in place of one of the sticks, a lot of fresh sawdust. I believe that the standard “bear saver” has a little square hole at each corner of the floor, probably for drainage or anchoring or something. If the holes aren’t closed in some way, then tiny, clever, persistent animals can use them for access. After I realized this, I noticed a little pile of similar sticks nearby, ready to be fed into the square holes like firewood into a stove.
From the stern of the kayak I had withdrawn the tent ingredients, now cunningly repackaged into three long narrow components to fit around the skeg housing, and with a flick of the wrist and some matching up of tabs they became shelter. Actual bedding travels in a conical bag in the prow (no metal is stowed forward of the cockpit, where it could interfere with the use of a compass). I breathed life into my air mattress and shook out my sleeping bag, hung some stuff out to dry, and began contemplating an afternoon of leisure.
The park provides plenty of trails for hiking. I took the one that I knew led over to the longhouse. One reason that I had considered putting off my trip for a few days is that, during the summer season, dinner is served there in addition to lunch. An ideal evening might have included their baked king salmon, at least as an alternative to my freeze-dried chicken. Also, I’ve not seen the entire floorshow. But I had chosen instead to avoid the crowds and the summer heat. I poked around a bit and took advantage of the fresh water provided there.
There’s lots of beach walking to do also, and there was eventually a nice sunset. I retired soon thereafter, resolving to get underway as early in the morning as possible. It was windy during the night and I thought I even heard rain, but I arose early and was on my way home before 6:30. The current could have been as fast as a knot by then. At one point I crossed a boundary that spun me a little, but for the most part the surface of the water was calm. The crossing was even quicker than on the way over.