This photo shows the custom-made private dock the outfitter uses to begin their kayak tours. The boat slips are just wide enough to accommodate the Seaward kayaks, that are approximately 20 feet long, and 28 inches wide.
The outfitter advertises the sunset kayak tours as suitable for all skill levels, so in the first part of our instruction, our leader showed us how to get into the kayak from the adjacent wooden deck.
Our next lesson was how to put on our "apron" that fits over the head and shoulders, and has an elastic edge that will fit snugly around the rim of the kayak opening. Of course, the outfitter also made sure we had our PFD (Personal Flotation Device) that they furnished, properly adjusted for our comfort and safety.
Even though I was visiting the San Juan Islands as part of a Road Scholar group, the sunset kayak tour was not part of our program, rather it was something I had arranged on my on, to attend as a single person. However, since the Seaward kayaks the outfitter uses are the Gemini (two person) design, I took this photo of the lady who would be my kayaking buddy for the few hours. I gave her the choice of front or back cockpit, and she chose the back.
Just as we were about to exit our watery stall, the instructor said, "Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention: Make sure the handle of your spray apron is ON TOP of your kayak, and not hidden underneath, inside your kayak. Otherwise, he said, if you tip over, you will not be able to get out of your kayak, and you will die. Personally, I would have appreciated knowing that piece of information at the very beginning, instead of as we were about to leave!
However, none of us were going anywhere, because the instructor did not pass out our paddles, until he had finished his safety briefing! The paddles we used are called European style---two roughly spoon-shaped plastic blades, at either end of a cylindrical shaft.
Our starting point was on the west side of San Juan Island, near the Snug Harbor Resort ( www.snugresort.com ), so we had to paddle underneath a pedestrian bridge that boat owners who dock there, use to access their boats. However, it was plenty high enough for us to go under, and the water was calm, so it was not an issue.
Once we passed the "snug harbor", we were out in the open water, headed westward! Although the hotel where I stayed was in Friday Harbor, on the east side of San Juan Island, this outfitter prefers to take their guests on a 30 minute shuttle van ride, to the west side of the island for the sunset tour. I think it is interesting to note that San Juan County, Washington, is the only county in Washington not to have state highways. However, most visitors use a Washington State Ferry, a part of the state highway system, to get to the islands. There is a fee to use the ferry to get to Friday Harbor, but once you get to Friday Harbor, there is no fee to use the ferry to travel between the San Juan Islands that the ferry services. The ocean is their "highway"!
The Juan Islands are an archipelago (chain of islands) between the state of Washington and the Canadian province of Vancouver Island. Four of the islands are accessible by the Washington State Ferry system. I asked the guide if the mountains we were seeing in the distance were USA or Canada, and he assured me that this "purple mountain's majesty", as the good ole USA!
The coastline we explored was very rocky, and we encountered this opening, which appeared to be a sea cave. Our guide paddled into the cave, but since he did not give us any instruction as to whether to follow him or not, all of our group waited outside the cave, thinking he would come out momentarily. That was NOT the case. I began to wonder if he had drown inside there! Finally, he reappeared (with no explanation as to why he had been gone so long), and we continued to paddle up the coastline.
This is a profile photo of our guide against the western horizon. He was the only one who was not in a tandem kayak. Crystal Seas said they limit their sunset tours to eight people per guide.
Besides the evergreen and pine forests that cover large areas of the San Juan Islands, a visitor will also see the gnarled, ocher-colored, Pacific madrone tree. To me, the big tree in this photo reminded me of a deer head mount with big antlers, that I have hanging in my house in Arkansas!
This photo not only shows two of our kayakers silhouetted against the setting sun, but you can see the retractable rudder that each of our Seaward kayaks had as a part of their design.
There is a group I belong to on Facebook, called "Look at the Front of My Kayak", so I took this photo for them! The only requirement for the pictures that are posted on that site, is that it include the front of your kayak. It is great fun to see kayaking photos from all around the world there!
The outfitter tells you up front, that your excursion will last from the time you get to their office at 6 pm, until your return to Friday Harbor, around 10 pm, depending on the exact time of sunset. I have to admit, that we paddled for so long AWAY from the harbor, I began to be concerned that we were not going to make it back to our starting point before dark. The kayaks (nor any of us paddlers) were not equipped with lights, so my imagination was swarming with all sorts of alarming scenarios. The only thing that kept me calm, was remembering Scripture verses that promised, "FEAR NOT, for I am with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5). And, just when I thought we were not going to be able to find our starting point, we made it back to safe harbor, just before darkness fell upon the water.
I was glad to make it back to land, not only because of the impending darkness, but also because there was a restroom for us kayakers to use, after being inside our boats for quite some time. This is a photo of the facilities where the restroom and parking area is located. I am very thankful to have had this opportunity to try my hand at ocean kayaking, in such a beautiful location. It gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!!
ADDENDUM: At the time this article was published, the San Juan Islands are closed to all non-essential travel, due to the COVID19 Pandemic. To get the most updated information on planning your vacation there, log on to their website at www.visitsanjuans.com