What Would YOU Bring to the San Juans?

-- Last Updated: Jun-14-10 11:23 AM EST --

Yo, people-

My sweetie and I have been paddling our Folbot Greenland II around the protected waters in southern California over the past few months. This September we are going to car camp the San Juans (San Juan County Park and Doe Bay Resort), and want to consider a few 2-3 hour shoreline paddles while there. We also may want to use our sailing rig (with outriggers) as well.

What are the necessities to bring for a comfortable and safe paddling experience? We don't have much equipment, nor much money! Oh, and are there whales at that time of year? Thanks in advance.

Weather radio and tide charts
Rainfall won’t be much of a problem at that time of year, especially with a vehicle to fall back to. I would still bring a small, cheap weather radio just to be aware of wind.

Tide and current charts are important for the San Juans because the complicated topography makes it hard to guess which way the water will be moving at any given time. The relevant charts are available for free in many different formats from the following websites:





Free Is Good!
Great, Alex. Cheap and free are good! Thanks!

tide/current info and cold water gear

– Last Updated: Jun-14-10 2:32 PM EST –

Definitely, tide and current info. Very important. They do get strong currents in the area, and significant tide rips. Make sure you know where they are and which way the water is flowing, and plan around this.

Also bring cold water gear. If you have read Deep Trouble, many of the deaths in that area where due to lack of cold water gear. The water there is cold. Where the average for Los Angeles,CA for July is 67F, for Port Townsend, WA, it is 54F. Here is a brochure that talks about cold water survivability: http://www.northernforestcanoetrail.org/media/NFCT_ColdWater20090302.pdf. For water in the 50s, should you end up out of your boat, you will be exhausted in an hour to 2 hours and can only survive for 1 to 6 hours. A 3 mm farmer john wetsuit for $100 would make a huge difference should you end up swimming.

On whales, my best recommendation would be to take an afternoon or day and spring for a whale watch tour on a power boat. Their are resident killer whales in the area, but they could be anywhere. You may get lucky and see them (I did a week there, and we did not), but the whale watch tours pretty much guarantee you will.

The wet suits would be okay? That’s a whole lot cheaper than two full dry suits that would only be worn a few days. The Greenland II is a really stable boat. Using the sail kit with outriggers, it’s highly unlikely to tip with two people inside.

Once back in southern California, the wetsuits might come in handy, but the dry suits would more than likely remain (expensively) in the closet never to be worn again.

I ask about whales because my honeybun keeps watching those darned youtube videos of close orca encounters or worse, and thinks we’re going into some sort of hotbed of orcamania where the whales sneak up on unsuspecting paddlers for the fun of it. :o)

Thanks for your input.

SJ County Park and Doe bay
These areas and the waters around them are particularly subject to strong currents and rips. Around SJ County park you have Cattle Pass which can have standing waves and can be subject to ocean swell coming down the Straits on the flood and a strong ebb dumps you out into the straits.

If you go East from Doe bay there are Peapod rocks and the rips associated with them and to the west you have Peavine Pass and Obstruction Pass.

I’m not pointing these things out to say “don’t go there!” My point is that the San Juans have a lot of currents and many that flow in the opposite direction than you would expect! This is a place to really be aware of your skills and have your trip planning dialed in or you can find yourself on the wrong island, paddling on a treadmill or worse.

For myself, I love paddling there and wait for the big spring tides and the rips that come with them, but I’ve seen what can go wrong with poor planning and overestimating your abilities/skills.

Remember Experience does not equal expertise!

Email me privately
and I will help you. My back yard and I know the waters as both a paddler and commercial vessel captain. I have lots of helpful info and some suggestions which may lead to a more off the beaten track experience.

A commercail whale watch tour is your best bet to see whales safely and in accordance with the laws. Many good operators to choose from.


what we wore
For the week long trip I took there, we wore 3 mm farmer johns. And we did do rescue practice on the trip, so were in the water at one point.

On wetsuits
I actually think the wetsuits are optional. I’ve done four multi-day kayak trips through the San Juans, including solos, and have always just worn jeans and a sweatshirt even in December. The majority of other paddlers I’ve met up there wear the same.

It sounds like you’re planning to stay mostly close to shore. Plus, the area you’re going and time of year you’ll be there, there will be plenty of other people around. The water IS cold, and there have been fatalities up there, but if you keep an eye on the weather conditions, currents, and distance from land you do not NEED a wetsuit.