It’s back, unchanged but still as useful as always, salvaged from the depths of someone’s old stinky gear bag… the old, yellow, wrinkled pirate map that’ll prep you for the joys of your race.
Let’s dip our paddles and check out what’s happening as we sit in our boats with hearts pounding, waiting to do battle with a couple hundred of our best paddling buddies at the starting line on the right of the page.
The starting line goes from the end of the pier to a buoy we’ll designate in the Bay. Please don’t aggravate the starter by crossing early. We’ll sound five blasts of the air horn with five minutes til the start; three blasts with one minute til the start, and one LONG, UNMISTAKABLE blast to send you flailing on your way.
It’s a mile from the start to Deception Island. If there’s a south wind, you’ll feel it as you pass Reservation Head on your left and head into open water. The ebb noted on the pirate map, running from left to right, won’t be a factor on this leg, but may be on your return.
Deception Island is surrounded by kelp, as are the other two islands on the course. In flat water you can see it as you come up on it; when it’s rough that’s a little harder to do. It can really slow you down when it hits your rudder, so stay wide if you want to avoid it.
There are some rocks on the south side of Deception Island. At this tide level they should not be an issue but they’re also home to the thickest kelp bed on the course so if you can, stay between the rocks and the island like the nifty yellow line here (note that north is UP in this pic, and WEST is up on the pirate map):
From the Island to the big crux move in Deception Pass, where races are won and lost and big strong dudes are reduced to tears watching Sherri Cassuto cruise past, it’s a mile and a half of wide-open water paddling.
When you reach the Pass, you’ll go under the big bridge over the main pass – to the right (south) of Pass Island. Experienced Pass paddlers have their favorite ways of approaching the crux, but here’s the key info: the longer it takes you to get to this point, the stronger the current will be against you and the fewer choices you’ll have. If the ebb is against you already, tuck in behind Pass Island and sneak along the wall in the kelp-filled eddy that gets narrower as you go under the bridge and approach the east end of the island. Hit the power here, this is the crux… do not rest, do not slow down, do not think, just power, power, power through the eddy wall and into the open water of the Pass. Once you’re beyond the end of the island, the current will ease a bit but you’ll still need to crank it the rest of the way – half a mile – to Strawberry Island, the halfway point of the race.
Stay wide again if you want to avoid the kelp, as Strawberry has it too.
It’s a half mile back to Canoe Pass, and now you’re going with the current… so the hard work is over and the fun’s about to start… right? Well, yes, in certain conditions. You may find that friendly 3-4 knot current sending you on a thrill ride into some amazing standing waves at the pinch point in the narrowest part of the Pass, only to spit you into that mile-and-a-half return to Deception Island in a world that looks a lot more confusing than it did 20 minutes ago. OR you might be in swift, glassy water without a ripple except those boiling slicks that keep pushing your bow left and right. OR you might be so busy trying to shake that punkass who’s been drafting you since the start, that you don’t care about the conditions. In any case, slog it back to Deception Island.
If you’re baked, and you want to skip the slog, take “Escape Bay” on your pirate map, or “Lottie Bay” on modern charts. It’s just a short portage from there to the parking lot.
Back to the slog, for that open water crossing to the island, remember the “Ebb” arrow on the pirate map. Heading for the left side of the island, the current will move you a little to the right; even more so in a stiff south wind. And by this point you’re pretty tired, so use your head more than your brawn right here. Point your bow a little more to the left and crab across the channel.
Rounding the island for the last mile back to the dock, it’s even more important to follow this “crabbing” advice. If you end up entering the bay too far to the north, your hull will find some rocks it really isn’t going to like. STAY RIGHT!
The finish line is at the tip of the pier, as close as you can get so the timers can read your boat number. If you’ve lost the number, be ready to holler it out so the officials can hear.
After you’re done, STAY OUT OF THE FINISH AREA. We don’t want to count you twice.
Hit the beach, get out of your boat, and come on back to grab a meal. Nice job!