The title this time refers mostly to the sheer size of this post. It was a busy month, with most of the action crammed into a single week. But, I promise, whales will also make an appearance!
Our annual summer trek to Orcas Island took us again to West Beach Resort. We’ve been coming to WBR on and off (mostly on) since 1994. We just haven’t found anything else in the Pacific Northwest that compares for adult relaxation, kid fun, water access, rustic but comfortable accommodations, proximity to tons of things to do, and a great summer cool-off near the ocean. So, back we go year after year.
In all our years of enjoying this magical spot, we have never (read: zero times) seen Orcas off the beach. But this year we were relaxing in the rustic Adirondack chairs along the beach and I noticed the Victoria Clipper coming around the point at the end of the bay. Odd, I think, since the usual route for this Seattle to Victoria BC boat is far to the west. But then I realize that they also claim you can whale watch on your transit, and at the same time I see a few other whale-watching boats following along. Where there are whale-watching boats, there must be whales. And there they were! It’s difficult to get a good photo from so far out. Even at our distance, it was pretty stunning. The cry of “Whales!” got everybody out of their cabins. What a great place.
One of the great things about West Beach is that it’s really hard to get a reservation. Why, you say, is this so great? When you rent a cabin for the week, you get an automatic first-right-of-refusal to reserve the same cabin for the same week next year. As a result, the same families come back year after year, sometimes (like us) for decades. We have friends from WBR that date back to the 90’s, and have watched their kids grow up, and even a few of their grandkids show up too. Our kids and grandkids have made friendships there that get renewed every summer, and last seemingly forever. This year was no different, and this motley crew can look forward to many future summers together. Great, right?
The Best Boat Ever
Anyone who has ever owned a boat will tell you, the best boat ever belongs to somebody else. We recently sold our boat to make room for a travel trailer, which we are using much more than we ever did the boat. But that left us with a hole in the water that was unfilled at the West Beach Resort dock. Not willing to sacrifice all the fun things a boat can deliver, we gladly accepted my sister’s offer of their newly acquired Parker outboard, Doogie (see the earlier blog How’s Your Doogie). It was perfect for our group, with plenty of room for our island hopping. This year we hopped to Jones Island (a nearly annual deal), and again to Suchia Island, which has Fox Bay, a totally cool spot at low tide, and the fossil cliffs, with real fossils. It also has some great beach glass hunting.
We usually travel to West Beach Resort in 2 “shifts”. Wendy and I take the earlier departure so we can pick up the boat and do some shopping for groceries, check into one of the cabins, and just generally get set for the arrival of the grandkids. This year, we felt the trip got off to a super start when we ended up in the front row of the ferry, on the bottom level, assuring us to be the first off the ferry. This might not sound too astounding to those of you who haven’t yet traveled a summer schedule San Juan Islands ferry, but not having to wait behind all of that ferry traffic on the 2 lane road on Orcas is pretty nice! Every ferry has a No. 1 end and a No. 2 end, and I was strangely relieved to see that we were NOT in No. 2!
A Fistful of Firsts
This year our trip included a first: grandson Dylan, from Los Angeles and just recently turned 9, came along. It was quite a treat for us; we’ve been trying for a couple of years to get him to come. Getting here was no easy feat. His Mom and Dad accompanied him up from his home in LA, combining the flight with a few days of family visit with family in Seattle. “Launch Day”, departure for the ferry that would take us to The Rock, as Orcas is known to the locals, was Saturday July 21. There is, at least, a majority of enthusiasm as the three youngest settle into the rear seat of Aunt Rachel’s SUV. And thank God we have a ton of space in the pickup. It takes a lot of toys and stuff to make the best of our week!
This trip also included a fistful of firsts for Dylan. From these, the reader can also get a good idea of the variety of fun things to do we find for our week in the sun.
This was Dylan’s first week away from home and his parents, kind of like a giant sleep-away camp. His older brother, Brandon, has been going to sleep-away camp for years, but Dylan, 6 years younger, hasn’t yet started. So this was a good opportunity for him to develop some camp skills.
It was also his first time driving a boat, something he thoroughly enjoyed, and took to quite naturally. Not just the driving, but the handling at dockside, and the general activities of a good Deckhand.
It was his first time to the top of Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands. The view from there is literally breathtaking. A stone lookout “fortress” was built in the 1940’s as a way to put locals to work, and to preserve a piece of wonder for future generations. There is a small vendor in the parking lot, Sugar on Top, which dispenses Lopez Island Ice Cream, our favorite, out of a vintage Airstream trailer.
Fishing rod: $39; hot dog bait: $.04; trip to Orcas where the fishing pier is: $5,600; catching your first fish: Priceless!
Dylan immediately picked up the skills of setting and retrieving a crab pot. Although it was another first for him, he quickly assumed the job of Deck Boss, running a crew of younger enthusiasts in the “fetching of the pots” that would bring us a bunch of fresh crab for dinner.
In a stroke of great coincidence, the family in the cabin between our two hails from Los Angeles. Their son, Ethan, is 10, just about Dylan’s age. He plays the same sports, and lives just a short distance away. They immediately bonded, and it turns out they have continued their friendship at home. Ethan’s folks, Ira and Tamara, offered to chaperone Dylan up next year! What a great place.
Birdwatching up Close and Personal
We rent 2 beachfront cabins at WBR, and upon check in we discovered that a family of swallows had nested up above the front door of one, with 3 teeny chicks poking their heads up every time Mom or Dad came flying in with more food. Swallow chicks know not to “foul the nest”, so they hang their butts over the side of the mud nest to poop. This put the front door squarely on target, so we fashioned a redneck poop deflector out of a Jimmy Dean sausage carton. Resort management offered to replace it with something a little more architecturally pleasing.
We did a little research and discovered that once the chicks fledge (get their feathers), they are out of the nest in about 7 days. These chicks were covered with feathers when we arrived, and we believe that at least one of them, whom we nicknamed Bubba because of his prodigious size difference, had gone before we did.
Our first Wildlife Rescue
On the last day, with time for using the boat running out, a camp neighbor informs me that a Harbor Seal pup has taken up residence on the rear of the boat. This is pretty normal for mother seals to park a new pup somewhere safe while she goes fishing for a couple of hours. She will regularly return to nurse the pup, and either leave it there while going out to fish again, or relocate it somewhere else if it doesn’t look quiet and safe. We took a peek, and being unable to determine if the pup was sleeping or sick, we had the reception desk call a local wildlife rescue service, Sea Docs, to come and have a look. It’s not necessarily legal, or smart, or kind to just boot a baby seal off of your boat, but we needed to get the boat back to my brother in law, Jeff, who had loaned it to us, so the pup had to go somewhere. The rescue team arrived quickly, and produced quite a spectacle for the resort guests as the biologist and her aides tended to the pup, a 10 day old female which turned out to be just napping. She got a full inspection, had her measurements taken, was “tagged” with a small triangular block of wood with her number, B9, on it, used for reporting her whereabouts back to Sea Docs if she is seen. They then relocated her down the beach where it was much quieter, and her mom could easily find her. The rescue team were very nice, allowing the kids watching to come up a couple at a time to discuss the pup before she was taken away.
Speaking of firsts, Grandma Wendy and Dylan both stood up on a paddle board for their first solo! Dylan is shown here piloting one of the boards during the Great Paddle Board Water Wars on Cascade Lake. And Grandma Wendy made the big voyage “around the point” to Beach Haven up the coast.
Toward the end of the week, we have traditionally had a giant water balloon fight, and this trip was no exception. Hundreds of water grenades were deployed, completely filling a small inflatable pool.
There is a family of Bald Eagles that nests just north of West Beach. The patriarch, Walter, made his usual early morning visit down to say hi as I sat in my morning Adirondack chair with my coffee, binoculars, and camera. While I was still in the shade, Walter was full-sun-on at the top of his tree just over my shoulder.
Friends, Family, Fun, Firsts, where do we even start to describe it all. You have to see it to believe it.
And, of course, we never leave Tippy behind!