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A Cape Flattery winters paddle


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Now I realize that I haven't written any trip reports in my almost 3 yr. absence from the east coast; usually it was because I didn't have the time to write anything in detail. My recent trip 4+ hours from my home in Seattle doesn't require a lot of detailed navigation info as my 10 day San Juans trip does. I'll write that soon, I promise.

Earl called to see if I was up for a few days surfing in Makah Bay on the Northwest Coast of Washington. Since I have no job to go to, I thought I'd at the least go for the trip. We headed out on Wed., stopping at Crecent Beach just west of Port Angeles to check the surf conditions. Crecent is about 50 miles east from the mouth of the Straits Of San Juan Defuca. The beach had 3-4 ft. surf. We kept going towards Makah.

Our arrival at Makah was late, around 3pm. We were expecting Barry, a Port Angeles Paddler to join us, he hadn't arrived yet. Earl decided to take me on a hike to the end of the trail at Cape Flattery while we waited for Barry to arrive. We drove 5 miles and then hiked out another 1/2 mile to the point.

Cape Flattery is the Northwestern most point of the continental US, bordered to the east by Neah Bay and to the south by Makah Bay and home to the Makah Tribe. When we reached the end of the trail, I was in quickly transported back to my memories of the wild and remote areas of the Maine Coast during a storm. Unlike those memories, it wasn't stormy here. The conditions were mild with an 8 ft swell. From the point, I could see sea caves and arches that were screaming to be played in and explored. I had been to the Mendecino coast in the fall to explore the sea caves, but conditions then were benign.

In talking with Earl we both thought that an assault of the Cape was going to be our plan for the next day if Barry showed up. A storm was approaching, but I had no problems with this trip unless the others did. Earl was a 4 Star paddler and an avid big water kayak surfer. Barry I hadn't met yet, but Earl vouched for his skills since they done their ICE together and Barry had spent time open water paddling with Chris Duff. Barry arrived later that night and we agreed that Cape Flattery was our goal for Thursday.

The morning came with a pre storm calmness that was almost scary. The forecast was calling for 12ft. swell and 15-25 knot NE winds. We knew this would be a one way trip if we departed from Neah Bay. We decided to go from East to west and then south to Makah Bay to use the wind to our advantage. The trip itself was only around 10 miles, but there would be no bail outs anywhere along the way other than Tatoosh Island that layed a mile off Cape Flattery; if that were the case we be landing in wind driven waves and refraction on the east side.

Out around the breakwater at Neah Bay and into the swell we rode. At one point a sweel so large rose up to break on the island at the end of the breakwater that was easily 20-25 ft. That one got everyone's attention as we wove our way through the boomers in the Strait. Every ledge, reef, and rock became a lesson in the power of the sea for Earl who had spent little time in such conditions.

Barry was a bit uncomfortable, but he had spent plenty of time sailing the west coast, so he knew what to expect. As we paddled the wind grew stronger and our speed increased. We were on the last couple of hours of the ebb tide which also help move us along.

Upon reaching The caves and arches at Cape Flattery, it was clear that the sea conditions, an ever steepening 12+ ft swell was going to yield to our desire to explore the caves and arches. Carefully we threaded our way through the rocks of the Cape to find the small somewhat protected beach in the lee of the big breakers. I needed to pee and I wasn't wearing my wetsuit. Having experience landing on the Cal coast in dumping waves, this looked easy. I decided though that it might be best to land backwards so I could keep me eyes on the incoming dangers. A quick landing and departure had us moving again towards Makah Bay. It would be another 4 miles before landing.

Most of the west shore of Cape Flattery is covered by a rock garden about 1/8 of mile from shore setting up a dangerous landing in these conditions. Although we were now in the lee of the wind, the swell steepend as we approached Makah Bay. The last few miles was like slidding down a snow hill in both directions. We finished our trip landing in heavy surf on the south end of Makah Bay. Luckily, I enjoy paddling through the surf zone backwards, so I was able to roll under the biggest stuff. I was just worried about blowing out my back again as I had done in the Cal surf.

Earl and Barry blasted into the beach and then went back out for more. The trip for me was fun. For Earl and Barry, it was a learning experience. I just kept thinking how great the trip would have been with the likes of my hardcore friends back east. You know who you are.

Bob Burnett

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  • 2 weeks later...

> The trip for me was fun. For Earl and Barry, it

>was a learning experience. I just kept thinking how great

>the trip would have been with the likes of my hardcore

>friends back east. You know who you are.

I'm not that "hard core" but for those of you who are, American Airlines is running a deal: $223, round trip, non-stop, Boston-Seattle-Boston. If you go out of Providence, RI or Manchester, NH you can save another $20 (and pay less for parking). Not non-stop though.

Liz N.

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