As unbelievable as it is to me sometimes, I have a daughter who is now a high school senior, and our lives over the last couple of months have been filled with college catalogs and financial aid forms.

Back during Christmas break, Alice and I took the first of a couple of trips to visit some colleges. On that trip, we went up to Bellingham, a town that I had never been to before, to wander around the campus of Western Washington Univeristy, which had a promising looking theater program. This was the first campus we visited, and we just wandered around on our own, rather than getting a guided tour, but what we saw looked pretty nice. The theater infrastructure was impressive, and so was the huge library.

Alice in the Library at WWU

On the way back south, we stopped and got a guided tour of University of Puget Sound in Tacoma and Alice had her first of several admissions interviews. UPS has a beautiful campus, and the adjective “bricky” got its first use by us. “Bricky” would come to be a theme of our college tours.

Last week, Alice cut school for a couple of days, and we went on a little longer trip. We started out with a guided tour and interview at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, another beautiful, very “bricky” campus, with a nice looking theater and a fantastic looking study abroad program. The admissions building at L&C is an old mansion previously owned by Lloyd Frank, as in Meier and Frank department stores.

For some reason, even though I had a camera in my pocket on all of these tours, I usually seemed to forget to get any pictures. Too bad in the case of L&C, as there were some great photo opportunities there.

After our morning appointment in Portland, we hopped in the car and drove east to Walla Walla to visit the Whitman College campus.

We are pretty serious coastal people, I and my family, and to cross the Cascades, or even to travel very far east of I-5 is kind of a big deal. We tend to get all nervous and unsettled when we suddenly find ourselves in dry grass and brush lands, with few trees and little rain.

But Whitman came highly recommended, and I’ve been feeling like I really should learn to broaden my own personal horizons as long as I’m advising my kids to do the same, so off we went, into the eastern side of the state, where there might as well “be dragons”.

Horseshoe Falls, Columbia River Gorge

We went out east on I-84, through the Columbia River Gorge, and stopped along the way to look at some amazing waterfalls, and the snow and ice that was everywhere.

There were also huge windmills, stretching for miles along the hillsides in SE Washington. I’ve been watching the parts and pieces of these travel past Skamokawa on ships for years, but I’ve only seen them in place a couple of times, and never in such great quantity.


We stayed the night at the La Quinta Inn in Walla Walla, the site of part of Mike Birbiglia’s great Moth Podcast story “Sleepwalk with Me”, which was also featured on This American Life. If you haven’t listened to the Moth before, you should. I could not resist the opportunity to stay there, in spite of the fact that there is absolutely nothing special about a La Quinta Inn.

Alice was pretty eager to establish whether or not she could live in such a town, so far from the coast, so we went out walking around that evening, looking at downtown and looking for something to eat. We finally found Phosho, which had delicious pho, and some pretty excellent sake, too.

sake and coconut juice

Next morning we headed over to the campus, where Alice had yet another interview, and then we got a guided tour for just the two of us, led by a Whitman student who was also a theater major. So far, out of the ones that we’ve visited, Whitman is the one that struck me as maybe the most likely good fit, in spite of its great distance from the Pacific Ocean. We’ll go back in March for another visit and a scholarship interview.

On the way home, I decided to go a different route, and we went up through Yakima and over White Pass, a road I had not been on since I was Alice’s age, on a high school field trip. Six hours later, we were back in Skamokawa, where it was pouring rain and all the coastal streams and rivers were approaching flood stage.

Mahmoud Ahmed show, Portland, OR, January 1, 2011

As if it wasn’t enough to start out the new year by whitewater kayaking and catching a steelhead, my day wasn’t over yesterday when I posted the previous blog entry. After writing that post, I hopped in the car and drove back over to Astoria and picked up Shannon, and we were off to Portland for dinner and a music show.

We had Lebanese food for dinner at Nicholas’ Restaurant on SE Grand, one of my very favorite Portland restaurants for close to 20 years, dropped the car off at a friend’s house and took a cab down to a performance room near the Convention Center to see Ethiopian swing legend Mahmoud Ahmed.

Mahmoud Ahmed show, Portland, OR, January 1, 2011

At nearly 70 years old, Mahmoud Ahmed pretty much rocked the house. A large portion of the audience was Ethiopian and sang along with the lyrics which we non-Ethiopian fans didn’t understand a word of. But it was still a really fun show, and really rewarding to see someone like that still putting on a long and high energy performance, and a crowd of people absolutely loving it. There were happy people everywhere, on stage and off. I don’t want to forget to mention the fantastic opening act, Tezeta Band, either. If you have a chance to see them sometime, it will be worth it.

I also got introduced to a couple of new beers that I had never encountered before, St. George and Meta, both from Ethiopia.

Mahmoud Ahmed show, Portland, OR, January 1, 2011

This was a late show, starting at 10 PM, and I didn’t get to bed until after 3:30 AM, nearly 22 hours after I woke up in Nehalem to go fishing. We slept in today, and had a fantastic late breakfast at Pambiche, a Cuban restaurant that is fast becoming a new favorite for me. I’m finally home again, snacking on leftover falafels and hummus. If the rest of 2011 goes like January 1st did, I’ll be well satisfied…

Pambiche, Portland, OR

Up until today, I had never managed to catch a winter steelhead. A few winters back, I would spend hours every chance I got wading up and down the very, very cold Elochoman and Grays Rivers, casting, drifting, and retrieving, over and over, in every different spot I could imagine would hold fish. I never got so much as a bite, and eventually, even I gave it up as a waste of time. Steelhead gear and poles got pushed into a corner of the shop, and nearly forgotten.


Up until a couple of years ago, white water kayaking was something I had never tried, and my first and, until today, only trip on whitewater was with Brian, on the Nehalem River in the winter, chasing a plump and promising looking cedar log, with chainsaws, peavies and other gear lashed to and stowed inside the kayaks. This trip resulted in my first unintentional wet exit from a kayak in a long time, and those of you who know me well have probably heard that story. Fortunately for both Brian and I, neither of us had cameras with us that day, and neither of us wrote about it in our blogs.

Nehalem River

A few days back, Brian called me up and invited me to come down and go kayaking and fishing on the Nehalem, and, since I’m apparently a glutton for punishment, I agreed. I got down there last night and had a pleasant, quiet and early New Year’s eve, playing with the cats in the main house at Revolution Gardens.

steelhead and kayak

We got on the water this morning just before dawn, and started down the river, stopping and fishing wherever it looked promising. To our amazement, we nearly had the whole river to ourselves. We encountered only about a dozen bank fisherman and one raft all day.

Brian fishing

I’ve spent so many hours casting, drifting and retrieving without success that it sort of becomes a mindless repetitive exercise, which is a nice break from the occasional bout of despair and frustration at how many hours have been spent accomplishing so little.

So it was a big surprise when, on one of the zillion drifts of the day, I actually hooked a steelhead. Better yet, I actually caught it using one of the spinners I had made years ago when I was doing this every weekend. We eventually got it in the net, and it even turned out to be a hatchery fish, meaning I could keep it.

steelhead and kayak

This amazing burst of activity energized us, and we spent the next hour or so, combing the surrounding waters. I lost a couple of spinners, and eventually decided I was done fishing for the day, but Brian persisted until he had covered both sides of that section of the river very thoroughly. No more fish.

When we got back to the shop, Brian posed the fish for a nice whitewater kayak picture, and I snapped one, too.

Maybe it’s time to revisit this whole winter steelhead thing, after all…

We just got back from SSTIKS 2009 last night, and both Alice and I slept late today. It was a great weekend, made even more amazing by the fact that for the first time in a couple of years, it did not rain! It was mostly sunny and warm, and the water was warmer than I remember it ever being at SSTIKS. Warm water, though, means happy algae and we had to contend with some really yucky masses of smelly, orange algae blooms, especially when the tide got low.

John Pederson

The big highlight for SSTIKS this year was the presence of John Pederson and his son Lars, from Ilulissat, Greenland. John actually hunts seals from a kayak, which is what they were intended for in the first place, and anyone who got to take one of his strokes classes got to practice silent paddling and sneaking up on seals, which showed up as if on cue. His son Lars joined the kids’ games, and was an aggressive dead fish polo player.

Alice and her new kayak

Alice finally got to paddle her new kayak for the first time, too. It looks nice! Only a few people were able to fit in it though, and I will be loosening up the fit a little to make it more comfortable. It is a pretty snug fit, even on Alice.

kid's games

As usual, I spent a good deal if time with the kids’ sessions, playing games and getting all wet. Also, as usual, my drysuit started its annual summer leakage this weekend as well, but this time, I am going to try to repair it myself, rather than send it in. Wish me luck!

kid's games

We held an informal rolling competition, too, and although I’ve been feeling sore and inflexible and out of practice lately, I was talked into competing by Mckinley and Dubside. I missed several that I normally hit every time, but I was surprised to find myself not at the bottom of the points spread after all. I really need to do more yoga, and spend more time in tight fitting kayaks, though. Sadly, none of the pictures I took of the rolling came out very well; the lens was covered with water on almost every one.

kid's games

A couple of kayaks that Maligiaq Padilla built were there for a little while on Saturday, and I got a chance to scope out some construction details on those.


qajaq frame detail

And Brian from Cape Falcon brought a beautiful East Greenland replica frame to donate to the fundraising auction. A lengthy bidding war ensued….

Evan trying on the East Greenland frame

auctioning the kayak frame

The salmon for the Saturday night dinner came fresh from the Copper River this year, and was delicious.


Unfortunately for me, I came to SSTIKS without any spare camera batteries and my Pentax battery was almost dead when I got there, so I did not get nearly as many pictures as I would have hoped for, but there are more on my Flickr page here.

Every year I am reminded again how lucky I am to live near this event; I can hardly wait until next year!

Michael in Alice's kayak

starting out

So, back last November and early December, my friend Brian and I spent a few days in kayaks and my skiff, pulling clean spruce and cedar logs out of log jams on the Nehalem River. But how to get them out of the river and back to the shop, where we could mill them up?

bucking the big Spruce log

bucking the big Spruce log

The nearest good boat ramp was over 3 miles downstream from where the logs were tied up, and Brian’s idea was to have a kayak race, where teams would each be assigned a log, and the first ones to get their log past the highway 101 bridge over the river would be the winner.

So, On February 7th, with a strong outgoing tide in the afternoon, a groups of kayakers converged on Brian’s shop in Nehalem and he laid out the plan. There were prizes offered, including a skin on frame kayak, a well used copy of “Kayaks of Greenland” and a quart of excellent beer.

Within an hour, all the kayakers were putting in at the upper boat ramp, having already shuttled a mess of cars to the dock in Nehalem. Andrew Elizaga came along in one of Brian’s adirondack guide boats and filmed the whole thing, his movie can be seen here on Youtube.

Andrew filming

When we got to where our logs were tied up, we separated into teams and I started passing out logs as I untied the raft. Some people got enormous huge logs, some got smaller logs, and it was evident pretty quickly that a close competition was not going to be had, as those with lighter cedar logs quickly took the lead, and the team of three paddlers with the monster butt log struggled to stay with the group. Brian switched teams around a bit and he and I rotated around between the teams that had bigger logs, helping keep the group together.

Dave and Diana

Bob and Reg

We passed a motor boat and some folks out on their decks as we got closer to town and got some strange looks and odd comments here and there.

Finally everyone made it to the dock and we tied up the logs, and then paddled back upstream to Nehalem, pulled out on the dock in town and wandered over to have some pizza and beer. And that was the kayaking race.

tying up at the dock

The next day I came back with the truck and a trailer and Brian and I spent the day loading the logs onto the trailer and taking them back to his shop, where we finally figured out how to unload them without getting stuck in the wet grass. This one was the biggest one, at eighteen feet long and 34″ in diameter at the small end. It was a one log load, scaled at 950 board feet on the Scribner scale and we guessed its weight at about 5,000 pounds.

Big spruce log

There are still a few small logs tied up there, and once we have them pulled out and moved to the shop, I will move the mill down there and saw it all up into lumber, some of which will get built into kayaks, and some of which will get built into a new back porch to replace the one I lost to snow load on Christmas day. Stay tuned!

None of these have been blogged before. No words today, just pictures. Enjoy!


Skamokawa Creek

floating wood

tiny newt!


farm cat


Astoria anchorage

ancient cedar tree

snail shell


hardie hole



number 35

reflected pilings

resting boats


Moon and Stars

water and rocks

In breaking with my tradition of not getting around to blog entries for days or weeks after the event, I am writing this one up the very next day!

Last year was the second annual Deception Pass Dash, a kayak race staged at Deception Pass in northern Puget Sound and last year was the first year that I volunteered to be a safety kayaker for the event.


For those who have never seen it, Deception Pass is a narrow slot of water between the mainland and the northern tip of Whidbey Island. On every tide change, the water rushes back and forth through this narrow slot, which has a small island in the middle, dividing the pass into two passageways, one much smaller one named Canoe Pass, and the larger side known as Deception Pass. There is a tall bridge connecting the mainland with Whidbey Island.

at Deception Pass

On a large tidal exchange, like those near the full or new moons, the current speed in Deception Pass can reach over 7 knots, and the turbulent water attracts kayakers from all over to play in the standing waves and whirlpools.


The race was organized for the first two years by Seattle Raft and Kayak, but this year it was handed over to the Outdoor Adventure Center in Seattle for them to run. Considering the last minute change in organizational personnel, things went very smoothly.

getting ready to race

The day began with arriving at Bowman Bay, just north of the pass. Safety boaters had their meeting at 8:30 and then headed out to their various stations around the course. Racers had their meeting shortly after, and the race began at 10 AM.

Bowman Bay lauch

The race starts in Bowman Bay, goes around Deception Island, and then heads back east to the pass, under the bridge through Deception Pass, around Strawberry Island just inside the pass and then out through Canoe Pass. Before returning to Bowman Bay though, racers have to go back around Deception Island again. This course is about 6 miles, and is timed so that if you are reasonably quick, you can get around Strawberry Island at slack tide, and ride out through Canoe Pass with the ebb. If you are not so quick, you may miss that timing and end up paddling on a treadmill under the bridge, as the ebb tide builds and attempts to push you back out to to sea.


Last year I was at Strawberry Island, and the only rescue that needed to be effected happened right there, when one of the racing surfskis cut to close to the rocks and snapped off his rudder, capsizing him. I rescued him and his craft, and he continued on with the race, rudderless. This year, I took that same station, since I was the only person there that had worked at that location before. But this year, there was no action in my area at all. All the surfskis stayed clear of the rocks, and our station was uneventful, but we could hear on the radio that the Deception Island station was much busier, with many capsizes and troubles out there, since there was a brisk southwest breeze and 3 to 4′ seas at the beginning of the race.

kayak and kelp

After the last racer went past, we packed up and followed him back through Canoe Pass, where there was a nice standing wave pattern building up. I stopped to play briefly and then headed out a little ways towards Deception Island to see what all the fuss was about. Another paddler who I had met there last year came along and we were both thinking the same thing: that we wanted to go out and play, but neither of us felt we should go alone. So we went together.

Canoe Pass and bridge

The seas had gotten larger since morning, and now were looking more like 4-5 feet, with stronger wind and a strong current. When we got around to the southwest side of the island, we found ourselves in an area where the waves were getting very big and close together and were interacting with the waves reflecting off of the rocky island as well. It was an exciting area to be in, and I took a lot of pictures, most of which were blurred from water on the lens. Right after I took this one, I dropped the camera in favor of the paddle, and the wave broke right in my face, shoving my kayak backwards quite a ways. What fun!


After some of that, we headed back to the bay and portaged the kayaks over the little sand spit and headed back over to Canoe Pass to see if anyone else was over there. It was just the sheriff’s deputies on the jetskis, and we played around in the standing wave for a little while, before finally heading back over to the launch to see if we could find some food. All in all, a good day, and no snow like last year!


Once again, the camera was all wet and gave me another pile of almost useless, out of focus pictures. This one though, was kind of cool the way it was, so I kept it. Coming soon: a somewhat grumpy and not entirely glowing review of the Pentax Optio W60. There is a lot about it that I like, but it falls short in some significant areas.

Jonathon and the waves


check out the totally awesome “stern cam” video of the race at Andrew Elizaga’s blog here and some stats from the race at his blog here.

I have been to Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands many, many times, since a friend of mine bought the old Grace Episcopal Church there many years ago. I did a lot of remodelling on the church and worked on his vintage Bluebird motorhome up there too. But I had never been to any of the other islands before.

So when I saw that Justine Curgenven of CackleTV was holding a video release party on Orcas Island for her “This is the Sea 4” movie, I decided to make the trip, and visit friends at Body Boat Blade as well.

It takes about an hour on the ferry to get from Anacortes to Ocras Island, stopping along the way at Lopez and Shaw Islands.

ferry bow

ferry ramp at Lopez Island

ferry bollard

I got to Ocras Island right at dusk and had a good stroke of luck in stumbling across the kayak shop by accident while I was looking for the film venue. Justine and her boyfriend Barry were there, playing with wigs.

Justine, Barry and the wigs

Sucia Island geology

After the video event, we all went back to Shawna and Leon’s place for the night, and the next day decided to take a short paddling trip out to Matia and Sucia Islands, part of a Washington State Marine Park. I have long looked at these islands on the nautical charts, and it was a treat to actually paddle around them. The geology of these islands leaves beautifully sculpted edges all around. I took a lot of pictures, but most did not turn out so well; the lens was constantly wet and salty.

beach on Matia Island


We had lunch on a beach on Matia and then headed back to Orcas by way of Sucia, making a trip of about 10 nautical miles. It was a beautiful day, but it was also Election Day, and we were all wondering a little bit how things were going with that.

the gang


Sucia Island reflections

I went to Djuna’s yoga class in town after the paddling trip, and then we all headed over to an Election Day party nearby, in a very high end home, with a fantastic kitchen, and a big screen TV to watch the Election returns on. At 8:15 or so, McCain conceded, and it was finally over.

The last time I was away from home on Election Day was 1984, and this year, it was a much happier experience where I was at. Normally, I don’t get too excited one way or another about elections. I don’t have TV, so I had not seen Obama speak before, except for catching his appearance on Letterman in passing. But I have to say that I was really impressed by his acceptance speech. Let’s hope that things start turning in a new direction now.

happy day

Back in Anacortes the next day, we ran across this gentleman standing on a street corner with this sign, and we circled the block to come back around and get his picture.

Yet another kayaking symposium!

In early October, I traveled south to Mendocino, CA to attend the Traditional Arctic Kayaking Symposium. I had never been to this one, since it is usually held much further south, in San Simeon. Initially, I was not planning on attending this one either; it has been a busy year of travelling around and attending kayaking symposiums, and I was thinking I would just stay closer to home that weekend. But when I realized that Maligiaq Padilla, seven time Greenland national champion would be there, along with Cheri Perry and her partner Turner Wilson, I decided that if there was any year to travel south to this event, this would be the year. Once I had promised to transport Cheri and Turner’s qajaqs from Ginni’s farm where they had been left in August, after the LoCo Roundup, then I was committed.

Norsaq and deck lines

I got down to Van Damme State Park Friday around noon and checked in to my campsite, but due to some unforseen circumstances, there were a number of venue glitches. There was a abalone divers’ convention at Van Damme park where TAKS was supposed to be held, so most of the TAKS folks ended up camping at another campsite down the road. It took a while to find everyone, and I finally ran across them at Big River, which turned out to be a great site for almost everything.

Beach at Big River

Rainy potluck dinner

A potluck dinner was planned for that evening at the new campsite. A drysuit would have been the perfect attire, since it literally poured down rain for most of the evening.

Cheri and storm roll technique

The next day was rolling instruction, strokes instruction and a coastal paddle trip. I would have liked to go along on the coastal trip, but what I really wanted was to get some rolling coaching. Usually I am teaching at symposiums, and never have a chance to actually get any coaching for myself. I spent the morning in Turner’s qajaq, working on norsaq and hand rolls with Helen and Maligiaq. I had developed some bad habits that I wanted to get rid of. In the afternoon I got back in Turner’s qajaq again and worked with Cheri on improving my storm roll.

Rolling in a tight fitting Greenland style qajaq is pretty different from rolling a conventional manufactured kayak. I realized how inflexible I really am!

Dubside and Cheri, rolling

One big treat on Saturday was watching Maligiaq go through the rolling list in Cheri’s “cheater” rolling qajaq. He makes it look so easy! And not only that, but he brought a real sealskin tuiliq with him from Greenland. It is a thing of beauty, and smells wonderful, at least to my nose. I’m sure others might disagree.

Maligiaq and the sealskin tuiliq

Helen got to try on the tuiliq with the cheater qajaq for awhile as well.

Helen and sealskin

Here’s a couple of video clips of Maligiaq rolling.

Here’s one of Helen rolling Cheri’s qajaq and wearing the sealskin tuiliq.

Turner and Cheri’s qajaqs attracted a lot of attention. Cheri’s qajaq was built as a close copy of a competition rolling qajaq that Maligiaq had built years before. There are a lot of details about this qajaq that are interesting to builders and competition rolling afficionados. The “isserfik”, or the deck beam that supports the rear of the cockpit coaming, is fastened to the gunwales at the bottom, rather than the top, and the coaming “floats” with the skin, so that when you lean back, the coaming has some give to it, and gives you a little extra layback. The ribs from the seat area down past where your feet go were only partial ribs, not going all the way across the bottom of the qajaq, making it much easier to slide your feet into. This would not be a strong enough construction technique for a general purpose qajaq, though.

Turner's qajaq


Cheri's qajaq, masik

No Greenland qajaq symposium would be complete without a ropes setup for qajaasaarneq moves. Dubside did a ropes demo in the parking lot at Big River, and then the kids climbed on to play, too.


Here’s one who was watching Dubside carefully…

Watching Dubside

Saturday night we all went into Fort Bragg for a nice dinner, and while we were waiting for them to be ready for our huge group, the qajaasaarneq ropes got setup again next to the restaurant and Dubside and some kids were at it again.


Sunday morning there weren’t very many people willing to get wet, I guess, and there were only a few of us on the water. Cheri, Turner, Dubside and Maligiaq were out goofing around and helping a few of us work on rolls. While Helen was getting world class coaching for the under-the-hull sculling roll, Cheri was helping me work out the front deck sculling roll, which I had never gotten before. I did manage to hit it once with Cheri’s coaching.

Maligiaq showed us the new rolls that will be added to the list next year, and I was glad to see that I already knew how to do one of them and quickly figured out one of the others.

We also dragged out the harpoon to play with, and I asked Maligiaq to look at my harpoon setup and critique it. Much to my surprise, a few of the key measurements were actually right where they were supposed to be.

Turner throwing the harpoon

Turner throwing the harpoon

I don’t know if I will make it all the way down to San Simeon next fall for TAKS, but if it ever comes back up north again, I will be there for sure.

Maligiaq goofing around

It happened at last! Columbia River Kayaking’s first ever Oregon Coastal expedition finished up successfully last Thursday when we all landed safely on the beach at Pacific City, Oregon, over 60 nautical miles from where we had started on Monday morning in Seaside.

Columbia River Kayaking has had this trip in the calendar two years running, but this year we finally got some people who were willing to trust us with their lives on the open coast signed up for the trip, and we were able to make it happen. Our friends from SSTIKS, Marcel and Jenny came along, and also Dave G and Bruce from the Portland area signed up as well, giving us a full trip.


On Sunday night, Ginni and her partner Dave and I headed down to Seaside, Oregon in the Ford truck, stuffed full of gear and carrying a full complement of NDK Explorer kayaks on the roof rack. We set up camp at the Circle Creek Campground, met a few of our clients and then Ginni and Jen and Bruce took off to set up the vehicle shuttle: one car and kayak trailer in Pacific City and a car in Oceanside, about half way, just in case.

In the meantime, while resorting and repacking my gear, I discovered that my radio battery was nearly dead. I had gone out of my way to get extra batteries for the camera, the GPS and my headlamp, but I had totally forgotten to stick the VHF in the charger before we left. Doh! Dave pulled out spare batteries though, and for a minute, I thought I was saved, until I tried to put one in my radio. Apparently, the spares were for the previous model of ICOM radio and would not fit in the new, floating radios that we all had now. In the morning, we called Englund Marine in Astoria, put three new batteries on the debit card and Ginni arranged for a friend to pick them up and deliver them to us at our campsite that evening. Whew!

We slept poorly, to the sound of trucks on the highway nearby, and got up early in the morning to start getting ready. It took two trips with the truck to get all the people and gear down to the beach in Seaside, and then a taxi to get people back from where the vehicles had to be parked for the duration of the trip. The BCU joke is that a shuttle is always a five star trip. No joke!

packing boats in Seaside

I had never camped out of a kayak before, let alone for four days, and I had packed an awful lot more gear than I ever would have considered for a backpacking trip. I had even gone to REI a week before to find a sleeping bag that would compress into a smaller package than the giant one that I already had. Boy am I glad I did that! The Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina bag that I bought was well worth the price. It is plenty warm and, when compressed, it fits into an extra small NRS drybag.

Three blue IKEA bags filled with gear went down to the beach with me, and I was pretty skeptical that I would ever fit it all in the kayak. But twenty minutes later, it was all in there, even the IKEA bags, all rolled up, and I was ready to start the trip. Can I say here that I absolutely LOVE the blue tarp bags from IKEA? It makes the perfect tote for wet kayaking gear.

it all fit in there!

I usually paddle an NDK Romany, a much shorter and lower volume kayak than the Explorer, and the Explorer was going to take some getting used to. My Romany has a hard fiberglass seat that I’ve become pretty fond of, and the foam seat and different backband felt pretty foreign at first. When I hopped in the kayak at the edge of the sea, and started to get ready to approach the surf, I realized that I had forgotten to adjust the footpegs, so I had to stop and fiddle with those. I got them right and pushed off towards the surf zone, but I was still adjusting things and trying to get the seat and backband to be comfortable when I realized, too late, that a good sized wave was just about to break right on top of me. I had no time to brace or try to punch through, and I got capsized and pushed right back towards the beach. I managed to roll up and head on out, and that was the only time during the week that I capsized, during the first sixty seconds of the trip! Apologies to Jenny, who was not encouraged by watching this.

The surf zone at this part of Seaside is pretty wide and it took some paddling to get far enough out where we could safely wait for the others. Ginni and I used the VHF radios to talk back and forth about the launching that was in progress. I got one round of communication out of my radio and then the battery died, mid transmission. A short time later, I realized that the GPS batteries that I was hoping were still good for another day also died. Live and learn…

Tillamook Head

Once we were all at sea, we headed south around Tillmook Head and pulled out for lunch at Cannon Beach, and then continued on south after lunch to Cape Falcon, where we hoped to be able to camp at Oswald West State Park. I tried trolling for salmon in front of Cannon Beach with the handline, but the drag of the gear was slowing me down enough to make me fall behind the group, so I gave it up after a while.

We landed on the beach at Oswald West around 5 PM, after 16.7 nautical miles of travel that day, and one of crew who had camped there before set out to find out where or if we could camp. The park had been closed recently due to some trees falling in the campground, and we weren’t certain what we would be allowed to do. Dave G came back without having found anyone, and so we went ahead and set up camp at the top of the trail to the beach and hung things up to dry, and the other Dave set up the kitchen and made dinner.


Oswald West has a beautiful little protected beach called Short Sands by the surfers, who flock there in droves. We had a nice evening sitting and watching the sunset, and then got a decent night sleep.

Short Sands beach


In the morning, we were sitting around eating breakfast at a somewhat leisurely pace, with tents still standing and gear all over the place, when the park ranger came into view and headed right over to our table. Boy, he was not happy with us! We were camped in the day use area, and even though Dave G tried to tell him that he had actually been told to camp there once before, he was not having any of it. He gave us 30 minutes to clear out or he would be back with the ticket book and hand out $97 tickets for illegal camping to all of us. No need to tell us twice!

coffee and kayak

With coffee and bowls of oatmeal in hand, we broke camp and moved the boats and gear down to the beach in record time and when the ranger came back, there was hardly a trace of our illegal camp. When he saw how fast we had cleared out, he mellowed somewhat. We moved on down to the beach, packed the boats and got on the water for the start of our second day.

we're going out there!

surf launch

Today’s plan was to head south as usual and pull into the mouth of the Nehalem River for lunch and then cross back out to sea and head on to Tillamook Bay, where we would cross another river bar and camp in Garibaldi, a few miles inside the entrance to the bay. But the weather report was calling for 2-3 foot wind waves on top of 7 foot swell, and the tide was still somewhat low when we arrived at the “NR” buoy at the mouth of the Nehalem River at 11:20 after over two hours of paddling. The bar was closed out completely with breaking waves, some of them kind of large. We decided to eat lunch at sea and continue on to Tillamook, hoping that the entrance there would be more passable, since it is deeper.

Nehalem River Buoy

Nehalem River Buoy

This resulted in some creative solutions for pee breaks, and one member of the party getting temporarily seasick when he had to sit still in the swell. Fortunately he bounced right back when he was underway again, and we headed on towards Tillamook Bay, with our fingers crossed.

We arrived at the green number one buoy off of Tillamook Bay at 1:15 and, as we were approaching from the north, the bar there did not look much better than Nehalem had. When we got all the way to the buoy, though, and sat to watch the entrance for a while, we could see that it wasn’t completely closed out. Ginni called the coast guard tower on the VHF and they gave us some more detail and told us that there was a way in, and that we would be OK to cross. A half an hour later we were in the bay, and pulling up on the beach for a real lunch, after 13.9 nautical miles and four and a half hours of continuous kayaking.

Rough Bar

lunch at last!

After a real lunch on solid ground, we paddled on into the marina at Garibaldi, making our daily distance 15.8 nautical miles. We discovered that the campground we planned to stay at, the Old Mill Resort, had its own boat ramp, and that we would be able to camp right next to it. We also found running water, free hot showers and even a coin-op laundry. This place turned out to be a much better camping spot for us than I had thought it would be when we scouted it in advance. We had a fantastic pasta and salad dinner and hit the hay pretty hard.

Old Mill Campground, Garibaldi

The next morning we headed back out towards the entrance, hoping to find our path free of breaking waves. We got out near the bar and called the Coast Guard again, who told us that the bar was better than the day before and we were free to go. A couple of minutes later though, he came back on and asked me a series of questions about radios, GPS units, flares and trip plans, and then gave us the OK to leave.

Crossing Tillamook Bar, outbound

It was an exciting crossing, and we were often out of sight of each other in the troughs of the waves and swell, but we got out without incident and made our way southwest to the “TR” buoy, and then headed south. We made good time and we landed in the surf at Oceanside at 11:15, three hours after checking in with the Tillamook CG tower and 11.4 nautical miles from the Garibaldi campground.

Three Arches, Oceanside

We had a long, restful lunch at Oceanside, got back on the water at 1 PM and pointed our kayaks at the westward tip of Cape Lookout to the south. This leg of the trip was probably the hardest one for me. I ate too big of a lunch, and it took over two hours to stop feeling sluggish and slow. Eventually though, we made it to the tip of the cape, where, just like all the other capes and headlands, the water was confused and choppy, with lots of clapotis and turbulence, and localized wind.

Cape Lookout is a very impressive feature on the coast. It sticks out into the ocean almost two miles and must be close to 1000 feet high, with rugged, vertical cliffs. In the very end of the cape is a huge cave, maybe a couple hundred feet wide and close to a hundred feet tall. I wish that I had come away with some better pictures of that. I stayed outside with one of the clients and watched the others go in. They were tiny little specks compared to the size of the cave.

Black Rockfish!

When we came around the tip of the cape, the wind died down somewhat and our campsite beach was visible now a couple of miles in front of us. I pulled out the handline to fish, while most of the rest of the groups headed towards the beach. Within a few minutes I had caught a black rockfish (Sebastes Melanops), and a few minutes later Dave G and Bruce joined me to do some cliffside exploring and fishing. It was maybe the best part of the trip for me, poking along the edges of the cliffs and kelp beds, checking out the seabirds perched on the cliffs, and hoping to catch another fish. We probably spent close to an hour working our way east towards the beach. I finally gave up the fishing when I kept snagging up on the kelp and we headed on towards the beach, checking out a cool basalt archway and marvelling at the scale and texture of the cliffs.

columnar and pillow basalt


When we got close to the surf zone, I decided that I didn’t want the spiny rockfish fins and fishing lures bouncing around inside the kayak and against my drysuit, so I put the fishing gear back in the day hatch and tied the rockfish to the deck with my contact tow line. I got a couple of fun rides to the beach and was finally on solid ground again, after a day’s travel that was measured at 21.6 nautical miles by the GPS.

me in the surf

kayakers on the beach

This was the most beautiful campsite we’d had yet. When we do this trip again, it would be nice to spend a couple of days here, surfing and fishing and exploring the cliffs. I cleaned and cut up the rockfish and Dave put it in the soup for dinner, which was delicious. After dinner, we sat and listened to the weather report for the next day, which was the most benign report we’d had yet, calling for moderate wind and only 3 foot swell.

listening to the weather report

I went to bed while it was still light out. The next morning there were otter tracks all around our campsite and up and down the beach. We had a hearty breakfast and got packed and launched for our last day of paddling. Now that we were so close to the end, neatness in packing didn’t seem to matter as much any more, and as long as it could be made to fit in the kayaks, that was good enough.

otter tracks

morning kayaker

We started out exploring the cliffs in more detail and poking into caves and arches like this one that Jenny is in. After some time exploring like this, we finally headed south towards Haystack Rock next to Pacific City, where vehicles were waiting, and food and beers at the Pelican Pub. Today’s trip would be our shortest day, and we landed at Pacific City at noon, in the smallest surf of the whole trip, after rounding Cape Kiwanda in some of the biggest, most confused seas of the trip. The mileage today was 9.3 nautical miles, making the trip total come out to 63.3 nm.

Jenny in the cave

It was a long carry across a busy beach, in soft sand to the parking lot, where we spent quite a while unpacking and cleaning boats, and some of us went over to the hotel room that Dave G had rented for hot showers. Some of the gang went back to pick up the other cars in Seaside and Oceanside and brought them back to where we were waiting. Once we were all packed up and the boats were loaded up, we walked over to the Pelican Pub and had our last meal as a group, complete with appetizers and pints.

finished, Pacific City

It took almost two hours to get everyone back to the truck in Seaside, where Dave and Ginni and I loaded up the kayaks (again!) and finally headed home.

All in all, the trip was a great success, and we are hoping to do it again next year, and are already looking south to the next stretch of coastline.

expedition competed, Pacific City