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James Island Marine State Park

James Island Marine State Park

visited 19 July 2023

This is a story of beauty, strength, and misadventure.

James Island is a relatively small member of the San Juan Islands, close (3 miles over water) and yet far from Anacortes. Camping is allowed on the island, but beyond that, there are no permanent residents; just a quiet forest for temporary visitors to enjoy.

Let’s start with the beauty and we’ll get to the other parts later.

I paddled over from Washington Park in Anacortes, which is well worth exploring in its own right. (It’s not a state park, so I won’t be including it in this project.)

Here is the island as seen from maybe a quarter mile to its southeast:

Rosario Strait, near Anacortes, Washington

On this day it was super clear and I could see Mount Baker.

Rosario Strait, near Anacortes, Washington

I saw one writer refer to the island as being shaped like a dog bone and I think that analogy fits. (See map at bottom of this page and zoom in a bit.) The north half of the island is off-limits to the public as a Natural Forest Area, but there’s plenty to do in the neck and south half of the island.

The “neck” of the island, if you will, forms two crescent-shaped harbors on the east and west sides. I put in on the east side.

There are some hiking trails on the south half of the island which I explored for a while and had totally to myself:

Midway around the bluff trail, I got some nice views of nearby Decatur Island.

And a couple of last photos before it was time to head back to Anacortes.

So, that’s the beauty of James Island.

I opened this post also talking about “strength and misadventure.” I’m going to write up what we in the software business call a “retro” or retrospective, an analysis of what happened when something goes badly wrong.

Here goes:

I was not smart about planning this trip. I had started a couple hours later than originally planned. In retrospect, I should have called off the trip and saved it for another time, but I was eager and the conditions seemed good on the way out. The bad outcome was that I wound up fighting tidal currents and getting blown badly off of my intended course. I ultimately made it back safely, but it took much longer than I expected and a lot more work than it should have.

Lesson learned: Wisdom outranks ambition. Do the research on where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and honor the results, no matter how tempting the destination might seem.

There are several similar island state parks around Orcas Island, which I had hoped to visit in the next few days. I’m holding off for now because I need to recover and also rethink how I get there. (I’m hoping to get to one island, but it won’t involve a kayak. Stay tuned …)

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