From the June 2022 issue of 48° North.

Years ago my daughter, Dagny, did a report for school about the marine mollusk species called Limpets. She learned that Limpets have a ‘home spot.’ Their shells are worn to fit a precise location and orientation. They go feed and wander around, but then always return to that precise location. The San Juan Islands are like that for me.

Perhaps it is fitting that this line of thought emerged as I was happily adventuring far from my home waters — as I love to be. A few weeks ago, I received an email asking if I was available to host a ski charter aboard my 64-foot steel sloop, Ocean Watch, in Prince William Sound. Of course, the only reasonable answer was, “YES. Hell, Gulf of Alaska in April — what could go wrong?”

As I write this, I am sitting at the nav, drinking a cup of coffee, and motoring across Frederick Sound in Southeast Alaska. We will arrive in Lituya Bay at 1400 hours tomorrow. Another long night ahead. I can smell the glaciers already…

Ocean Watch nestled in the ice in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
Exploring the San Juans offers touchstones, literal and figurative.

I generally think of home as anywhere on the water, but my Limpet-like home spot is the San Juan Islands. The feeling I get there is not unlike when I pull on my crustiest old pair of leather work gloves. There is a moment of adjustment as everything gets reacquainted after an absence, but then things click into place. Close, comfortable, and worn well into every groove, nick, scar, and bump on my hands. Home.

A couple of nights ago, we weathered a breeze in Dixon Entrance that was, to say the least, memorable. Deep in that discomfort, I found myself thinking. A lot. I plumbed the breadth and depth of how I adore adventuring as far as possible, and how I also love the feeling I get when I squirt back south through Seymour Narrows and the Salish Sea welcomes me home again. As we bashed along in that dark, wet, exhausted spin cycle in Dixon, I reminisced about the shakedown cruise I took a few weeks ago through the San Juans. I needed to test a few systems, and I had a weekend to kill.

Departing Bellingham after the installation of a new cockpit enclosure created and constructed by Greg and crew at Oyster Creek Canvas, we were greeted by a group of familiar faces on OC-1s, surfskis, and kayaks. Some of the best paddlers around hang out in Bellingham. Smiles, waves, and jokes were traded quickly as we passed by. I get so much pleasure from popping into different places in the Salish and seeing familiar faces. You never know who you might run into. Or not — there were so few boats out that day, it felt like being up here in Alaska.

From Bellingham I had to decide: go north through Hale Passage? Or south to Cypress? I chose north. I can’t say I had a good reason why, I simply felt like going that way. I raised a bit of sail and slowly angled across the lanes to Sucia. Passing Matia, I saw Vincent tied to a state parks buoy in Rolfe Cove with his trimaran. That guy gets around.

Connections with these waters and shorelines become innate. Baked in. Genetic.

We anchored between North Finger and Sucia. Perfect fit. I thought of all the times I had been there…in that very place. So many memories with different people, other boats, other lifetimes. Echoes of times past. I think these are the bonds that form with a place. It takes time. Over generations, it is easy to imagine those connections becoming innate. Baked in. Genetic.

We paddled over to Ewing Island the next morning. It felt amazing to drift along between the sculpted Chuckanut sandstone blobs. The seals were very curious and followed us for miles. Sea dogs for sure. They are every bit as smart as canines and I am fairly certain they remember individual humans. When I lived in Deer Harbor, I frequently paddled out around Yellow Island. When I first started doing that, the seals would explode off the reefs at the west end of Yellow. Then, they would swim around and take a long gander at the two-legger on a standup paddleboard. They must think it is such odd behavior. I would talk to them. Sing songs. Generally do all the stuff I never would with other people around. It didn’t take long — and they would barely lift an eyelid when I paddled past. I should’ve stuck with singing lessons in grade school. While I believe they recognize people, I certainly recognize them as neighbors, friends, who share my home.

We pulled our boards up on the beach and went for a walk across to Shallow Bay. Only one boat anchored out. It was so quiet, you could hear the crackle of the currents outside the entrance to the bay. We visited the China Caves. Again, the sweet melancholy of memories surrounded me. How many glorious days had I spent climbing around in there with Dagny? I always go visit the tube worm sticking out of the wall on the first layer of caves. Tradition, like some sort of touchstone. I like to kneel in there, and think about the scale of time in that worm’s life, death, becoming entombed, and eroding free so generations of climbers can rub its lumpy business end. Dagny is getting so big now. Perhaps one day I will climb around in there with her kids.

Sandstone blobs in the San Juan Isands are a welcome sign of home.
We may tie up in the marina, but the cruising grounds are home, too.

After some more hiking through chest-high salal, we paddled back to Ocean Watch, hauled anchor, and meandered our way to Stuart. I always dream like crazy when we anchor in Reid Harbor. I have a favorite little spot to drop the hook. Over the years, I am pretty sure I have dug a hole with my anchor there. One blob of mud at a time, slowly mining it deeper. Being on the northeast side, it keeps the light later in the day, as the sun moves past Tip Top — the birds love that too. There is something settling, comforting, and homey about that nook. Again, we got out for a paddle to Happy Island, also known as “Gossip Island.” The white shell beach is incredible; the volume of goose poop is too. I enjoy laying on the rocks there and looking down the barrel of Haro Strait at the Olympic Mountains. I always wonder if I should be over there instead…I wonder if there are any waves to surf down there. Maybe it’s my fear of missing out. There are so many good things to do.

That night, we paddled back, made dinner and climbed into our bunks. The next day, we returned to West Sound on Orcas, where I anchor most frequently for my time with Dagny. My thoughts returned to those limpets. Sometimes when I drop the hook in West Sound over by Haida Point, it feels just like that. Back from another walkabout, scraping algae off the rocks, and here I am again — back in my home spot.

Karl Krüger is one of the PNW’s most celebrated adventurers. He’s planning another Arctic SUP expedition, among other voyages. Find out more at