Editor’s Note: Deb Volturno is a Coastal Kayaking Level 5 Instructor Trainer Educator, American Canoe Association, and a Surf Kayaking Level 4 Instructor Trainer Educator, American Canoe Association. Marty Mayock is a Coastal Kayaking Level 3 Instructor, American Canoe Association.
On April 24 I took a class from Capt. (Deb) Tortuga. Not only Captain of the Tsunami Rangers, Debrah Volturno is a kayaking instructor/instructor trainer, and paddler extraordinaire. On Friday the 22nd I drove up to Port Angeles, WA, where Deb has lived since she moved up from Half Moon Bay over 20 years ago. On Saturday we corralled our gear into one truck (hers) and took the ferry from Port Townsend to Coupeville, then drove to Quarry Pond campground at Deception Pass State Park. The park spans the tips of Whidbey and Fidalgo islands, and is treasured for its spectacular scenery and rich history. Fishing, hiking, camping, swimming, and scuba diving are some of the activities offered there. And of course, extraordinary kayaking!
Coast Salish tribes originally settled this place, but in 1792 Capt. Salvador Fidalgo of Spain explored the area, giving his name to one of the islands. Around the same time, Capt. George Vancouver of England explored the pass, believing it was the mouth of a river until his lieutenant Joseph Whidbey sailed around to the south and figured out the land was actually an island. Having been deceived by the waterway, Vancouver named it Deception Pass and named the island after Whidbey. In 1866, the US government created a military reservation on the land around the pass, now home to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. In 1922 a Congressional Act created the State Park. In the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, trails, and buildings to develop the park for visitors.
Deb and I scouted the area, and it’s a good thing we did. A marathon was being held the next day, the day of our class, and the road to Bowman Bay, our put in, would be closed from 6:45 to 7:45 a.m. Plus the boat launch and its surrounding area were closed off to protect Emerson, a baby elephant seal, whose mom had left him there after giving birth back in February. Emerson was resting on the beach and sporadically exploring his new world while he learned to swim and forage on his own as park rangers kept watch.
On Sunday, April 24th, Deb and I rose early and hightailed it to Bowman Bay, hoping to get down to the beach before they closed the road. Our class was supposed to start at 8:30 to take advantage of slack current. When we got to the road Capt. Deb Tsunami-ed her way past the Herbert guardians who initially wouldn’t let us drive down. She told them we were meeting friends at the campground. They threw everything at us they could think of. “There’s no one down there.” Actually there was a full campground, and we had seen it the day before. “You won’t be able to get back out ALL DAY”, making it sound like we would NEVER RETURN TO CIVILIZATION. Foiled by Capt. Deb’s polite, friendly but firm insistence and her refusal to move, they finally let us through.
We drove down to the parking lot. It was glorious. The water was like glass. We had a picnic breakfast, unloaded our boats, and wrangled our gear. Sure enough, people began to show up around 8 and soon the other four students and Deb’s formidable assistant instructor Marty had all arrived. We had a brief introduction on the beach and then paddled south out of the bay and around Lighthouse Point.
Conditions were calm at launch, although there had been a wind line on the horizon early on and it moved in slowly as we discussed student objectives and Deb outlined the plan. Winds had been predicted up to 25 knots from the SSE the previous day but had been adjusted down to 15 knots that morning. The tide was high, dropping throughout the day. Slack was at ~10:30, and ebb current was predicted to max at ~5 knots. The goal was to launch at the end of flood current, get to the pass before slack, explore the lay of the land while learning navigation skills, and apply navigation skills through slack current. Then as paddling skills increased and the current ebbed, the class would practice assisted and self-rescues culminating in cowboy/scramble rescues in maximum ebb current. It was an ambitious program and it worked out pretty much as planned.
We paddled along the rocks, staying as close as possible to the cliffs. I noticed there were lots of bailouts, little coves and beaches that made the pass seem friendly. We landed at Lunch Cove, had a snack and a drink of water, and discussed navigation. Marty shared his Navionics app, which was way cool and a great addition to the navigation toolbox. Then we crossed to Pass Island and paddled the north side. We gathered at the east end of the island for a quick conference and then used ranges to cross to Strawberry Island. After circumnavigating Strawberry, we used compass navigation to paddle back to Pass Island.
Completing a circumnavigation of Pass Island, we paddled back to Lunch Cove, ate lunch, and discussed kayak handling skills, strokes, brace turns, edging, and the use of bathymetry to infer relative current speeds and features like boils and whirlpools. After lunch we paddled back along the rocks, working Canoe Pass from the north side. Starting with peel outs, we entered the current with a low brace turn and re-entered lower down. Eventually we crossed to Pass Island and worked that side, practicing ferries as well. The ebb current was building handily, and waves, whirlpools, and eddies appeared and disappeared without warning, upping the challenge and excitement meter.
As confidence with boat handling skills developed, we finished with both assisted and self-rescues and rolls in the main current. Everybody swam, but this day it was intentional – surprisingly nobody capsized accidentally! One of the tour boats plying the pass gave a nod to Deb and revved the engines, making big boat wakes, and the next thing Deb was zooming into a maelstrom of standing waves that all but obscured her. Fun to watch! Tired and happy, we finally wrapped it up and made our way back to Bowman. The ebb current carried us home with the wind at our backs. At the beach we had a short debrief and called it a day. A Perfect Day!
Thanks and kudos to instructors Deb and Marty, and to students Tom, Kathy, Sandra, and John. Everyone did a great job and the class went smooth as silk. We achieved all our objectives and covered forward stroke, low and high brace turns, and bow rudder. We didn’t get to the hanging draw and stern rudder, but it’s good to leave something for next time. Can’t wait!
To contact Deb about classes or ACA certification, she can be reached at email@example.com. Check her out!
To find out more about Emerson the elephant seal and his mother Elsie Mae, go to https://www.whidbeynewstimes.com/news/new-pup-in-town/
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