Tuesday, November 9, 2010

An extra calm day: Circumnavigating Lummi Island

 Looking west across Bellingham Bay is Lummi Island.  About one mile across and ten miles long, Lummi Island is home to small farms and vacation homes on the north half, while the privately owned southern half is wild and mountainous.  According to the official Lummi Island website, the Island received its name thus:

            “The island was charted for the first time in 1792, by Spanish explorers Galiano and Valdez as "Isla de Pacheco." Later it was known as McLaughlin's Island. The name it bears now was bestowed officially by the U.S. Geodetic Survey in 1853. There are several theories on the origin of the name. One is that the name referred to "luminara", or great bonfires seen by the Spaniards as they arrived, a name the Lummi tribe later took as their own. The other is that it referred to the L-shaped longhouse on Gooseberry point, whose tribal name sounded like Lummi.”

The website also mentions the Lummi people called the Island “Skallaham”.

Part of what makes Lummi Island attractive to Bellingham area paddlers is its accessibility.  Drive to the Lummi Island ferry at Gooseberry Point, and one only has to paddle across ¾ mile traffic and current strewn Hale Passage to make it to the island.

First, dodge the Whatcom Chief ferry, not an easy task since the ferry leaves a dock every 15 minutes.  Thread through the small commercial crab boats who are always on the move.  Then the sport fisher boats.  Oh look, here comes a southbound trawler yacht!  Its enough to make me, a kayaker paranoid of being run down by power boats, nearly die of fright.  Fortunately, I’m barely smart enough to minimize my hazards by timing the crossing during benign sea conditions.  Study the currents and wind; five foot steep chop can appear in no time when the wind blows against a 2.5 knot current.  I prefer not to divide my attention between staying upright and fearing becoming “prop suey”, so I cross at slack tide and light winds.  Multitasking isn’t my strong suit.

Of course, the astute among you might ask why not just take the ferry and launch from the Island?  You are going to get a blank stare from me.  Besides, its cheating.

Safely across Hale Passage, I’m treated to a view of Mt. Baker to the east, and to the west, the sandstone rock of Lummi Island.

I caught the last of a gentle flood current to the north tip of the island.  Turning south, I see a calm Rosario Straight and the steep forested sides of Orcas Island 3 miles distant. 

The water was glassy smooth.  A week earlier, I attempted the circumnavigation, but turned around when conditions deteriorated.  For the next several days strong SE winds dominated.  I waited a week for the weather to turn, then jumped at the chance since the weather window was closing for the year.  Mid October can be one of the most lovely times of the year in the Pacific Northwest, but a taste of the coming winter storms is just as likely.

The owner of this 19 foot Bartender has it right.  I imagined he or she had a nice little beach house, a clinker dinghy on the beach, friends to visit, and fish to catch using this little runabout.


In Legoe Bay I glided by these mysterious platforms.  Men were working on them.  Curiosity goaded me to paddle up and ask what they were doing, but in the end it was tempered by respect of their work day.  Later, I looked it up and discovered they were fishing for salmon using a technique called reef netting

A reef netting platform.  See the steam rising over Guemes Island?  Those are steam plumes from oil refineries 15 miles south.
 Here is a diagram lifted off the internet:

 Reef netters catch salmon by anchoring a platform over a reef that salmon frequent.  They spread their nets, and wait for a flood tide to carry the fish into their stationary nets that funnel them into a live well.  They make a big deal about this method being “sustainable”, as well being a method the Lummi tribe pioneered.  I’m not impressed, folks.  As far as I’m concerned, the real benefit of this method is less overhead for the fisher.  No fuel, no real boat, and you get to go home every night.  But I’ll grant the salmon caught this way probably taste good because of how they are caught, handled and killed.  Mortality rates of unwanted fish are lower too.

 The water was so calm one could see kelp flowing with the gentle ebb beneath the surface.

I stopped for lunch at Lummi Rocks, a few hundred yards off the southwest part of the Island, and about halfway around the Island.


DAMN!  And I was going to introduce a colony of cats.

A half hour later it was 2:00.  I needed to push on.

This gull was funny.  He kept looking at me suspiciously out of the corner of his eye.

The southwest coast of the island is lovely.  The water is clear, the cliffs tall and the water a cold 50 degrees fahrenheit.   I saw a few Dall’s porpises passing through, curious seals, many birds, and kelp.  I also continued to see, fifteen miles to the south over Guemes Island, steam from the Anacortes oil refineries’ steam towers.  I also could hear the jets of Whidbey Island Naval Station 30 miles south.  The south part of Lummi Island may have been remote, but well, I think you get my point.

 On the southeast side of the Island there is a lovely campground, accessible by water only.  It is maintained solely by Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts, or WAKE.  Thanks folks.

Look for this sign.

The view looking south.  The sign from the previous picture is on the lower right.
I left this site feeling a little tired, and behind schedule; I wanted to return before dark!  Unfortunately, I had to push against a rising north wind to make it back, and I gave up on taking pictures.  I returned to the crossing at Hale Passage, and, sprinting like a madman, just made it in front of the Whatcom Chief as it headed for the mainland.  True, it probably wasn’t that close, but it felt close!