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Three Islands, Two Kayaks and One Salty Pup

Kayaking with dogs

By Stephanie Grace, Photos by 

Sean Davin Gutierrez

Tired, slightly delirious and running off of cold brew and almond milk, we arrived at Lieberhaven Marina.

Dave was just beginning to start what we came to learn as his morning routine restoring boats, telling stories and upkeeping the marina. Lucy, our dog, quickly became infatuated with Put-Put, Dave’s elderly basenji mix, and left us to follow Put-Put around the boat docks and sandy beach. If the sun hadn’t just rose, we could’ve said she was running away with Put-Put into the sunset. But this wasn’t the case, and we had a full day of kayaking planned ahead of us and needed to get settled into our quirky marina cottage for the long weekend.

Dave really is the most interesting man you’ll ever meet. Him and Kitty, his wife, have been living on Orcas Island for over fifty years, restoring wooden boats and running the show at Lieberhaven. Fun fact: Dave and Kitty are opera buffs (look up Lieberhaven) and Dave can tell some tall tales. I won’t tell them all here, but some are true and others are to give you a good laugh; one of the latter being that Put-Put is trained to hunt Sasquatches and he’s the last of his breed. No wonder Lucy fell so hard for him.

Kayaking Orcas IslandCarrying an Oru Kayak

Settled into our cottage, we began to load the boat up with our Oru Beach LTs for our first day on the water. Now our boat wasn’t some Roche Harbor yacht, but it got the job done. At first, there was some hesitation from Jim (my Dad, Dave’s new BFF, and our boat captain) about the kayaks fitting, but that hesitation quickly turned to fascination because they fit perfectly! On our small boat, our Oru Kayaks were able to fit right behind the seats at the stern. We took the boat up into the Eastsound and around Obstruction Island, but the wind picked up and we returned to Lieberhaven.

Orcas Island is shaped like two saddlebags. Where our ferry docked was in Orcas Village on the southwestern end and Lieberhaven is on the northeastern side by Doe Bay. On our drive to Lieberhaven we passed through Eastsound, Olga and Moran State Park. With the wind having picked up, we thought it’d be best to snag our Orus off the ocean, pack them in the car and head to Mountain Lake in Moran State Park for some afternoon kayaking.

Oru Kayak in a car

Kayaking at camp

Oru Kayak on an island

Kayaking through the San Juans

Moran State Park’s Mountain Lake has a campground, but it’s BYOK (bring your own kayak) and no motorized vessels are allowed. The more frequented and accessible Cascade Lake has a general store, ice cream shop and kayak rental; it’s a great place to start but brace yourselves for the summer crowds.

We spent the afternoon on Mountain Lake alternating between kayaking, napping, swimming, and island hopping around the lake’s tiny islands.

Kayaking basics

Kayaking for beginners

Kayaking at night

As you could expect, after a long day on the water, both fresh and salt, when dusk set in we were beat tired, Lucy included. We snagged some oysters from Buck Bay on the way home from Moran and settled in to watch the sunset with wine and oysters over a fire and Obstruction Pass and Lummi island in the background.

The next few days were a blur of early morning kayak exploration, more oysters (everyone else in my family hates oysters, so this has turned into my Dad’s and my thing - we love them), afternoon storytime with Dave and laying on the beach with a book in hand.

Kayak camping

Oru Beach Kayak

Kayaking in the San Juans

Folding an Oru Kayak

Having portable kayaks enabled us to visit three islands, a lake, and a multitude of coves over the course of our four days in the San Juans. In Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, we were able to explore the uncrowded coves near Point Caution.

These coves, once a meadow, are now feathered with Douglas Fir, Pine, Wood’s Rose and ferns that meet a pebbly shore. As a biological preserve, we had to leave Lucy behind, but this particular excursion also honed our skills in assembling and disassembling our Orus directly from our small boat. We used the boat’s bow as a platform and the dis/assembling process took less than 7 minutes each time, boat and seaplane wakes included - we know because that lady on the left in the photo above is my Mom and she timed us each time!

The quick assembly and disassembly prepped us for our biggest adventure the following day - Sucia Islands. If you don’t have a boat, you can launch from North Beach on Orcas Island to cross the channel to Sucia in a kayak. For the channel crossing we would recommend the Bay or Coast Oru Kayaks. We were able to use our Beach LTs only because we had a boat take us to Sucia.

Kayaking with your dog in a Oru Beach Kayak

Wildlife in the San Juans

Kayak paddle strokes

Learn how to kayak

If you can visit only one island group on your trip to the San Juans, go to Sucia Islands. They are one of the most remote islands in the northwest and closest to Canada. The contrasting water, rock, and flora colors are indescribable, but hopefully these photos help do it justice. I felt as if Sucia Islands, embodied coastal northwest landscape: uninhabited islands, sandstone, and a horizon of glaciers and mountain peaks.

When people first found out that we were going to the San Juan Islands, people inevitably gasped, confessed their love for the islands and rounded out with proclamations that we would “fall in love with them,” or “you’ll love it there.”

When we boarded our ferry back to Anacortes, with the sun breaking through the morning marine layer, and Lummi island on the horizon - we knew we’d say the same to other San Juan Islands visitors. So go, go visit the San Juan Islands. Take your Oru Kayaks and explore those secret coves and lakes; we promise you won’t be disappointed and more than likely your Oru Kayak will help take you places most people haven’t been before.

Dog on a ferry