A Quick Saturday Paddle to Olalla Bay

Once upon a time, the Hubby thought it would be great to get me into kayaking. So we went down to Point Defiance and rented some kayaks at Owen Beach for a leisurely paddle along the shore. We were meandering our way back from the end of the promenade when we heard something that sounded incredibly similar to a whale. Of course, it’s impossible that there are whales in the tiny, mile-and-a-half stretch of water between Point Defiance and Vashon Island, right? I mean, they’re giant creatures that MUST want more room to swim, right…? Right?!?

Uh, no. Because while I was still busy doubting that there might possibly be a whale there, a humpback (!!!) decided to surface again, complete with fluke show. You know, in case anyone might disbelieve that such a thing might happen. Score one for you, Mother Nature.

Fast forward several years and multiple kayaks later, to this Saturday. We’re on Owen Beach, preparing for another Seventy48 training paddle. The tide was higher than we’d experienced before, but we had managed to find a launch point that would allow me to keep my feet dry, and we were just about ready to hop in the boats.

Owen Beach at high tide - ready to launch for our Saturday morning paddle.

Right at that moment, some friendly folks stopped by and said, “I’m not sure how far out you’re heading, but there are some whales just over there,” and pointed to the Vashon ferry terminal. Sure enough, when we looked that direction, the orcas (!!!) decided to show themselves. I may have spent some moments freaking out before gearing myself up to get into a tiny kayak to paddle in the middle of freezing cold water with a pod of GIANT PREDATORS. But then I went for it.

At that point, I didn’t know if these were Residents (who eat salmon) or Transients (who eat marine mammals), so I did tell some harbor seals nearby that my kayak was not a safe place to hang out if they needed refuge. I doubt they spoke English, but they didn’t jump on my kayak, so I consider that a win. Later in the day, I logged onto the Orca Network‘s facebook page, where they were identified as K pod (Residents), and it suddenly made more sense why the seals were just kind of lounging in the water nearby.

I stayed calm enough (temporarily) to snap some grainy cell phone photos of the orcas frolicking near the Vashon shore. These aren’t very high quality, but the black and white smudges near the top of the water are orca whales. The small white smudges in front of the shoreline are whale breath – or you know, spouts, if you want to get technical.

Orca spouting near Vashon IslandOrca spouting near Vashon IslandOrca whale diving near Vashon Island

After these photos, I got even more freaked out. You know, because the whales were EVERYWHERE. They were pretty well spread out between Gig Harbor and the Tahlequah ferry dock. They were minding their own business for a while, but then it was apparently time to head downtown, because one of the whales that had been playing near Gig Harbor started to head RIGHT FOR US. I mean, I’m sure that it wasn’t heading for us, so much as it was heading beyond us. But it was on a beeline path in our direction for a non-zero amount of time. At that point, I said a quick prayer to the orca, “Dear Orca, please notice that we are here and decide that you want nothing to do with us.”

I get that these whales are not interested in eating us. I just also understand that we’re tiny specks on their radar, and I suspect that they might not know their own strength. Also, I don’t really trust that if they startle me, I’ll react calmly enough to stay upright. I’m easily startled, after all.  Luckily, Laura reminded me that I should be doing some zen breathing. And they eventually took off for another area. I definitely had more adrenaline than I need for good kayaking technique, but that’s another story.

Paddling North into Colvos Passage

All’s well that ends well, and all four of us landed safely in Olalla Bay just two hours after first hitting the water. This in spite of spare adrenaline, gazing at orcas, whitecaps, wind, and employing my “very distinctive” panic paddle technique. Once again, we did things that were more difficult than I thought I could handle. And we came out the other side just fine, albeit a little muscle-sore. You do that enough, and you start feeling like a total bad-ass.

Landing in Olalla Bay