~Sucia: The Good & Bad side of the Island.
I don’t know about you, but the thought of having an opportunity to dip my paddle into a new body of water is exciting. In preparation for the Orcas Island trip, I spent several hours researching and talking to outfitters on the phone about taking our group over to Sucia Island. After all, I’d heard such wonderful things about this little island.
I narrowed my search down to Outer Island Excursions. I told them how many (24) and what we wanted to do; have them port us and our kayaks over to Sucia Island, and lead a guided tour around the Island. Seems like a simple enough request, right???
Either I didn’t communicate effectively, or they didn’t realize what they were getting into. As our group arrived at the designated time and place, I saw the looks on their faces that read “how in the world are we going to take all these kayaks and people over”.
Here’s how they did it. A picture is worth a thousand words!
They piled our kayaks on top, on the side and any which way they could. They actually had to add a second boat to fit us all.
After the exciting boat ride and off loading of all the kayaks, this should be fun, right?
Here is one of the two guides talking to us about the paddle ahead of us. Notice his clothing. He never wore a life vest, nor did he have anything to communicate aside from his cell phone.
One by one we launched from Little Sucia and were in the water.
The plan for the day; paddle counter clockwise around the island, taking a break for lunch as we waited for the tide to calm down. We were to all come back to Little Sucia to be picked up at the end of our tour.
The scenery was breathtaking. The water was calm and the rock formations worth multiple discussions.
Here’s a shot of one of the many Eagles spotted along the way.
Little did I know when taking this picture, we would all be on the beach later that day waiting for the ‘mother’ ship to come pick us up. This wasn’t part of the original plan.
Our guides, while lacking in proper paddling attire, made up for it with knowledge about the area. We decided to have our lunch break here, in Ewing Cove. It was beautiful here with a long stretch of rocky shoreline, a pit toilet and a few nearby hiking trails.
Oh look, there’s Mount Baker again, and the channel we would be paddling through after lunch. This was a channel into all hell breaking loose!
A short hike up the hill took me to a vantage point to see the other side of the island (Mount Baker in the background). Notice the water, it was choppy and the tide was moving quickly. Our guide said, we’ll only have to paddle hard for about 25 minutes to reach Little Sucia. He was so very wrong!
We all launched and started making our way through the channel in the earlier picture. Paddlers were scattered immediately, some almost colliding with each other as the swift current swept the bow of their kayak into an unexpected direction. My thought was to paddle hard and fast to make it through, and I did.
It never got better for a really long time. I knew that if I stopped, I was going in the water. Something I usually try to avoid. I kept going, along with four others. We thought the rest of the group was a little ways behind us. Once we finally found a safe place to rest, we knew we were wrong. Where were they? What do we do now? Our decision was to keep going and we did. We stopped on occasion to check for other paddlers and we spotted two more coming towards us. Now there were seven of us.
The following picture was taken by a fellow paddler. I’m the paddler on the right and the water you see is what we paddled through for at least an hour and a half! I had never felt more exhausted. I learned that day what a ‘tide line’ was. It’s a river moving across the water at a pace faster than anything I want to try to paddle through! I got some encouragement from my friend Linda and pushed through. And, as soon as I did, I was on the other side moving at a pace of at least 6 mph!
Once all seven of us made it to Little Sucia, I called the outfitter to let them know where we were. We were scolded for not staying with the group. We were told to stay put and someone would come get us.
The boat arrived and loaded us up along with our kayaks, and took us to where the rest of our group was; the cove where my earlier picture was taken.
It was beautiful here and I was thankful to be alive and well. This is where we learned that one of our paddlers had flipped twice in the channel and the rescue was a challenge. The guides were apparently trying to corral all the paddlers to come back, which all but the seven of us did. I didn’t hear any whistles and I didn’t hear anyone telling me to come back.
I was exhausted by the time we arrived back on Orcas Island. This was, and still is to this day, one of the most exhilarating adventures I’ve been on. Would I do it again? No way!
I hope the outfitter learned some lessons that day too. Our group’s story was one that would be talked about and I’ll be willing to bet they never took that many paddlers out for a guided tour again.
I know others who have paddled directly from Orcas to Sucia to explore and camp. There are designated camp sites and there are miles of sandy and rocky beaches. You should be an experienced paddler if you attempt to cross, or hire and experienced guide. Just be sure to check their references first.