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An Amazing Day in Deception Pass

Published on 6/27/2013

An amazing day in Deception Pass

Those who overcome their initial trepidation and venture for the first time into Deception Pass immediately become addicted. There is no better place to build and practice kayaking skills, and to have an immense amount of fun while doing so. In addition, the beauty of the area is stupendous. Viewing the pass from the bridge or the Straits from Bowman Bay is always restorative for the soul. It is twice as good sitting there in your kayak. Whenever I ask my paddle pals where we should go for our next outing, the answer is almost invariably Deception Pass.


Of course one must learn to paddle in the Pass one step at a time. But once you have developed basic skills, that first step is not as big and scary as you might think, especially in the company of more experienced paddlers who can show you the tricks.

You begin by learning how to cross eddy lines with a simple edging of your boat. Next, bracing skills quickly become instinctive by paddling through small whirlpools and boils at small current levels. And if you are pushing yourself a little, as you should, you will capsize and practice rescue and rolling skills under real conditions. You will discover that executing these skills is similar to what is learned on flat water, but with some differences that require further experience in these conditions to learn. For example, rolling up inside a whirlpool works better on one side of the boat than the other!

For the last three years I have organized trips to Deception Pass on days when the current is low. These trips are designed to give beginners a chance to experience Deception Pass for the first time in the company of experienced paddlers. This year the first trip to the Pass was on April 20. Only experienced paddlers showed up this time, and for the first time we found conditions rather beyond 'entry level.' If beginners had signed up we would have found an alternate paddle plan, as did the intro class that was there that day as well.

"All in all, it was an amazing day of fun"

On Saturday, special conditions produced what everyone agreed was the most fun any of us have had in the Pass. The night before a westerly gale winds in the Straits of Juan de Fuca kicked up four foot swell aimed directly at the Pass. Winds had died to a manageable 15 knots, but the waves persisted. Our original plan was to go north out of Bowman Bay to explore the cliffs and caves along the coast, but once we left the Bay we found the water to be essentially oceanic—medium swell reflecting off of cliffs and rocks, producing considerable clapotis.

While this was fun and made us happy, we decided that it was not a good idea to head into an area where there was no safe take out, and headed instead into the Pass for 'shelter.'So after a bouncy ride south and into the pass, we played in the mellow 3 knot flood current in the eddy under the bridge (fondly known as the Room of Doom). After lunch at slack the real fun began!

Normally, under beginning ebb a slight breeze into Canoe Pass will kick up small standing waves a foot or so high that one can surf in place for about a half an hour—a baby tide race. On Saturday 15 knot winds and the swell produced something completely different—four to five foot waves that persisted for hours! At first these waves traveled too fast to surf, but we could still use them to ride into and through the pass against the current. As the current built to 5 knots the wavesslowed and then produced some nice fast rides.

One of our group said: The best part for me was that the condition of the water was so varied from launch to our return at the end of the paddle. These are the conditions that really let one develop their skills and connection with their boats. Yesterday was simply amazing … for the size of the waves and for how long they lasted. It was more than I had hoped for! All in all, it was an amazing day of fun.

There was only one capsize amongst our group (not counting all the rolls!). Another paddler said: I was pleased for the opportunity to do a REAL, non-staged, not-in-a-class-with-an-instructor-watching rough-water rescue! I think it makes you a better paddler to have to think on your toes like that and realize how important it is to keep an eye on all trip participants even if everyone is skilled. Conditions were relatively low-consequence but also gnarly enough to make the rescue challenging—the perfect combination.

After a while our arms were ready to fall off, and we rode the ebb out into the now smooth swell around Deception Island, accompanied by five eagles soaring overhead in a sunny and calming sky, and sea birds and porpoise feeding in the water. It was possible to ride a little breaking surf into the beach back at Bowman Bay. As usual, we all washed ashore afterward at the Rockfish Brewery in Anacortes, sharing good beer, food, stories, and plans for the next trip. We hope to see you there, too!

—Dave Ortland

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