Stalking the wild oyster

a week of skin kayak touring with traditional skills expert Kiliii Yu

Here on the Oregon coast I spend so much time buried up to my eyeballs in foam that it's easy to forget that my sea kayaks actually have other uses besides surfing.   Left to my own devices I would do nothing but work compulsively and surf.  So when my buddy Kiliii asked me to run safety for his wild foraging kayak trip in the San Juan islands, I had a hard time saying yes.  He sweetened the deal by offering himself and his interns for two days of hard labor on my farm.  Five people can get a LOT done in two days and staring out my window at a sea of sprouting blackberry and undug garden beds the temptation was irresistable.   Hey, I thought, maybe I'll even learn something on the trip.

Our first afternoon was spent with fully loaded kayaks doing nothing but rescues.  Everyone learned quickly the limitations of rescuing loaded skin boats in windy and choppy conditions.   By simply practicing in real life conditions one easily discovers all the little things that can mean the difference between success and failure in a real rescue. 

The curl rescue seemed the only viable option for dewatering a flooded loaded skin kayak,  but it took a while to get the techniques dialed.  With eight people actively rescuing, we'd stop every ten minutes and share our observations, and then apply them to the next round.  Within two hours the rescues were reasonably clean.  It heartened me to see that six out of eight paddlers had reliable real world rolls and even when the rolls failed they knew how to wait for an eskimo rescue.

Being wet and cold really put peoples immersion gear to the test.   Being young and marginally employed Kiliii's interns have to make do with farmer johns cut from old wetsuits, old fleeces for an insulating layer, old rain jackets for wind protection, and old PFD's from other water sports.  Some of this stuff worked just fine, some of it I replaced from my considerable gear stash.

Kiliii utters the fateful phrase "Hey guys, watch this roll."  and then...

On our second day we took the ferry to Friday Harbor and paddled to Jones Island.   We had to paddle late in the day to catch favorable currents, here is Zach landing at Jones.

One of the more miraculous things I've witnessed, I scooped this seemingly dead dragonfly out of the water on the way to Jones as my arm swept down for a stroke.  It lay lifelessly plastered to my cuff for an hour and I payed it no mind, then I noticed that it seemed to have moved.  I pulled out my point-and-shoot and snapped this photo just before if flew away.

Yes, these are tortillas, soaked from a not so dry drybag, we successfully dried them all.  A little saltier but no worse for the wear.

Zach took charge of cooking.  These makeshift pots are known as 'billy cans', and having used them for a week I cannot detect a funtction disadvantage over the pricey campers cooksets.

Paddles are lashed into a tripod to suspend the billy cans.

On Jones I show the crew how to use current tables, charts, a compass, and a VHF marine forecast to make a navigation plan for the day.

Of course every navigation plan should include a consultation with the local authority.

I realize the difference between me at 30yrs old and the interns at 20yrs old when I see them swimming happily in the 50 degree water.


Moments before leaving for our next jump to Sucia island, someone spots a clam spout and the dig is on!

Claire finds a big one.

On the next days crossing the guys get a healthy respect for the conditions when we encounter a strong current and headwind sweeping past the west tip of Sucia island.  It takes a triple linked tow to get everyone around the corner.  "Was that hard?" I asked, and they nodded in agreement.   "That was twelve knots of wind and a two and a half knot current going in the same direction, now imagine 20 knots of wind against a four knot current and you get an idea of the trouble you can get into here."  I could see a new understanding register in four sweaty faces.

That night we camped in Echo Bay on Sucia island and were treated to this beautiful sunrise the next morning.  With so many people vying for the same resource the San Juans can hardly be called a wilderness, I don't mind the cruisers though, I grew up as one.

We discover that our current tables got soaked in a leakey chart case and we carefully peel the pages apart and stuff them with grass to dry.

Thaddeus leads a nature hike and stops us to identify wild edibles and useful plants, as well as poisionous ones.

On the other side of the island Jack and Noah contemplate the crossing to Patos.

Noah spots limpets on the sculpted sandstone rocks below and he and Jack quickly scramble down to collect the tasty creatures.

Jack pries them loose from the rock.

Limpets are still plentiful in the San Juans.


On the way back to camp I spend a little too much time exploring close up things and I look up to find the group is gone, so I have no idea what any of these plants are. 



On my way back to the campsite I came across this umiak, built on Waldron island, this weekend it was filled with school children and rowed to the island for a camping trip.

With dozens of miles of twisted sandstone shorelines, the natural sculptures and caves make Sucia island a paradise for little kids.

Back at camp Taylor has caught and is eating a rock crab.  People have been exploring the tideline and collected bounty of tasty sea creatures.

I eat my first raw oyster.

The texture is revolting, but the flavor is actually pretty good.

In twilight and firelight Kiliii and Taylor plot the morning jump to Patos island.

click here to go to Part 2