Double Island – Exploring the Central San Juan Islands (Part 4)

Many people visit Orcas Island’s popular destinations of East Sound and Deer Harbor in the San Juan Islands, often overlooking the tranquility found in West Sound. One of the benefits we’ve experienced anchoring in the cove northwest of Double Island is the dryer and warmer weather compared to Shaw Island’s Blind Bay located a short distance south across Harney Channel. This is especially noticeable when the fog rolls northward through Cattle Pass from the Strait of Juan de Fuca in August—nicknamed ‘Fogust’ in the Pacific Northwest.

Our stay in West Sound was tranquil until we hoisted anchor and set the hook in a tiny bight south of Indian Point. After a calm night, we awoke to hear an unusual sound—owls calling to each other with single long hoots. Climbing on deck, we found ourselves surrounded by Harbor seal mothers and their vocal pups! And noticed the boat swinging close to the rocky ledges and outcroppings protecting the seals from West Sound’s waves. Why? The anchor chain had stretched further than anticipated across this unfamiliar seabed. Since leaving this idyllic cove, we’ve observed many pups calling to their mothers in the summer. So, whenever you visit a well-sheltered bay keep your eyes peeled for a marine nursery. But offer a wide berth as the seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Harbor seal mom with newborn pup

Motoring from the cove, we were surprised to spot a Kenmore Air seaplane, a DHC-3T De Havilland Turbine Otter, taking off from a nearby residence. Painted with the logo “K5 Evening News” on its tail and fuselage with the call sign N5OKA, the aircraft seats ten passengers. While the iconic seaplane is a familiar visitor flying residents and tourists to and from the San Juan Islands on chartered, scenic, and scheduled flights, this was the first time we’d seen it leave West Sound from somewhere other than the West Sound Marina’s seaplane dock.

KING 5 Evening News Seaplane (N5OKA)

Did you know Kenmore Air, a family-run business started in 1942 utilizing both seaplanes and wheeled planes, is one of the world’s largest seaplane companies? Besides flights to the San Juan Islands occurring mainly in the summer (weather permitting), they fly passengers to British Columbia, Canada, including the popular boater destinations of Victoria, Princess Louisa Inlet, and Desolation Sound. If you’re curious about Kenmore Air’s history, then I invite you to read Success on the Step by C. Marin Faure and to visit Kenmore Air. There you can schedule your flight to the San Juan Islands from Kenmore on Lake Washington, Seattle on Lake Union or Boeing Field (wheeled plane), and starting May 16, 2024 from Tacoma at Ruston Way.

Place names on the nautical chart below (first mapped by Captain Henry Richards on British Admiralty Chart #2689 in 1858-1859) indicate West Sound hasn’t always been peaceful. Rather, Massacre Bay along with Skull and Victim Islands memorializes a Lummi Indian village eliminated in 1858 by a raiding party of northern Indian tribes. On one of our walks from West Sound’s public dock to Deer Harbor, we passed Massacre Bay Bed & Breakfast. At that time, the new owners invited us to stroll on their private beach across the road. It was hard to fathom what transpired standing at the water’s edge in the sunshine on that windless summer day.

Today, day-use (no overnight camping or fires) public access for viewing marine mammals, seabirds, and wildflowers along with picnicking are allowed on Skull Island (about 3 acres) and Victim Island (about 4 acres) by the Bureau of Land Management. They are not Washington State Marine Parks. To visit Skull Island in Massacre Bay, a tiny white-shell pocket beach uncovers at mid-tide or below on the island’s northeast tip. To explore Victim Island about 250 feet from shore and south of Four Winds*Westward Ho Camp, the small beach on the southern side facing Double Island appears at lower tides. The non-profit youth camp often uses the island as part of its environmental education program. But we’ve mostly spotted the campers learning to canoe, dinghy sail, sea kayak, or paddleboard north of Victim Island where the camp is situated.

Victim Island
Four Winds*Westward Ho Camp is around the lefthand point (Orcas Island)

Besides Four Winds*Westward Ho Camp, the San Juan Islands host Camp Orkila (Orcas Island/Satellite Island), Camp Nor-wester (Johns Island), and Canoe Island French Camp (Canoe Island adjacent Shaw Island/Lopez Island)—all four are overnight camps.

Camp Nor’wester on Johns Island

Ruth Brown’s zeal for girls’ education and the outdoors made Four Winds*Westward Ho Camp a reality. Soon after graduating from a Michigan college in 1916, the talented educator became involved in Seattle’s Camp Fire Girls. Seven years later, after serving as its Executive Director, she established Camp Sealth on Vashon Island in Puget Sound. Wishing to create a private camp, she persuaded Revenue Agents to let her accompany them on their patrols of the San Juan Islands. Here she discovered a former salmon cannery site. The dilapidated building overlooked wood pilings strewn about the bay. Logged hillsides above it hid a forsaken barn, tack shed, and orchards. In 1927, Four Winds Camp invited its first female campers. Eight years later in 1935, the Westward Ho Camp property was purchased to welcome boys. Today, the co-ed traditional camp sparks new friendships, stories, and laughter amid opportunities to learn responsibility and stewardship during its two summertime four-week sessions.

S/V Kelpie anchored south of Victim Island

One activity caught my eye as a sailor. Since 2003, campers entering grades 9 and 10 may apply to go on a three-week cruise aboard the camp’s 61-foot wooden yawl, Carlyn, to Princess Louisa Inlet on the British Columbia mainland. Last summer in 2023, they sailed to Chatterbox Falls at the head of the 44-mile fjord and to picturesque Desolation Sound—the adventure of a lifetime! Thus, reviving a camp tradition of voyaging on earlier vessels named CourageousMartha, and Dorade.

Sailing in Desolation Sound, British Columbia

Built as a sailing training vessel for Four Winds*Westward Ho Camp in 1995, the yawl was christened Carlyn to honor its former director from 1968 to 1973, Carlyn Kaiser Stark. Daughter of Edgar F. Kaiser (son of well-known industrialist, Henry J. Kaiser), she grew up attending camp. Coming from an avid sailing family, she arranged to bring the 100-year-old schooner Martha her father purchased for her from San Francisco to Orcas Island for the camp’s use. Today, Salish Sea Expeditions (Bainbridge Island) offers marine science programs for school groups in the spring and autumn aboard the Carlyn—with Four Winds*Westward Ho Camp offering additional seamanship instruction on short trips in the San Juan Islands and for several weeks in British Columbia during the summer.

Bat Star
Desolation Sound
Sun Star
Desolation Sound
Desolation Sound

Perhaps activities spread across the camp’s approximately 100 acres hold more appeal? If so, there is time to explore a wide variety of arts & crafts, gardening, horseback riding, and land sports in addition to waterfront fun. A few choices caught my interest here too—stained glass, planting herbs to make soap, pony cart driving, archery, and pickleball. At sea or on land, there is something for everyone.

More, a two-year Leadership Training Program is available to high school juniors and seniors who wish to transition from camper to staff member. Serving campers as a Counselor Trainee or working as a Helping Hand for a small stipend to keep the camp running well gives each participant an avenue to develop leadership skills and to become an excellent role model.

Four Winds*Westward Ho Camp’s horses

Do you have fond memories of going to summer camp? My sister and I attended a Girl Scout camp where we slept inside a Conestoga wagon—such fun! In Part 5, I will share more tidbits about the ‘west side’ of West Sound including the Double Islands.

Thanks for reading!


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