Canoe Journey Journal
Coverage of the annual gathering of canoe cultures
Tad Sooter photos
July 14 – Port Gamble to Port Townsend
25 nautical miles
Seven in the morning feels even earlier when you’re standing in knee deep in saltwater. So members of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Canoe Family were relieved when the call came to push off the beach and begin paddling.
Forty Port Gamble S’Klallam pullers assembled at the beach that morning and rotated between three canoes – Noo Kayet, Kloomachin and the Trevathan family canoe.
We were one of the last groups to leave the beach and canoes were already scattered to the horizon as we pulled north up Hood Canal. I started my day in Noo Kayet and the morning chill was soon dispelled by steady paddling under a hot sun.
We had our first man overboard just an hour into the trip. The Kloomachin had pulled alongside one of Port Gamble S’Klallam’s two support vessels to bring on new pullers. As it pushed away from the boat, Kloomachin tilted severely (as it often does) and a young puller fell backwards into the water. The puller swam to the support boat, climbed back into Kloomachin and kept paddling.
At 10:30 a.m. we stopped Oak Bay park, near Indian Island, for an early lunch. From there pulled up the canoes entered the narrow channel between Indian Island and the mainland, which serves as a southern entrance to Port Townsend. The canoes shared the channel with a steady line of powerboats and plowed through wake after wake.
The water was calm in the bay and the canoes made steady time past Fort Flagler and across the Port Townsend ferry lanes. After shooting photos from a support boat for a few hours, I joined the crew of Noo Kayet in the bay.
The sun was unrelenting and young pullers in the canoe were tired and wrestless. We passed downtown Port Townsend and turned northwest toward Fort Worden State Park. Ahead we could see the white strip of beach and barely make out canoes unloading. The closeness of our goal made the last half hour of the trip interminable and pullers were having trouble keeping time.
When we finally arrived at the beach we were greeted by drummers and dancers. The crew carried Noo Kayet up to the line of canoes at the driftwood line with the help of bystanders.
It was only a little past 1 p.m., but already a tent city had blossomed on the hillside above the beach. We found our ground crew pitching tents and cooking an early dinner (or was that a second lunch?) of spaghetti.
There were hundreds of tents packed tight on the lawn and a melee of activity. Shuttle vans were making trips to town, children were playing soccer and a few drum circles were starting up.
A hamburger and hotdog dinner was served and after a canoe family meeting I had enough time to wander the camp and explore bunkers in the park before crawling into my tent for the night.
Drumming and singing circles continued until 11 p.m. then the camp finally began to quiet. Our wakeup call would come at 5 a.m.
Map by the Muckleshoot Tribe. See a full map here.
The Port Gamble S’Klallam Canoe Family departed Port Gamble Bay for Port Townsend early Wednesday morning. By the time this posts, we should be pulling out of Hood Canal. This is how the route will break down over the next six days.
July 14: Port Gamble to Port Townsend – The first day will take us out of Hood Canal, across Admirality Inlet and up to Fort Worden.
July 15: Port Townsend to Jamestown – On the second day we’ll pull past Protection Island and Sequim Bay for a rendezvous with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
July 16: Jamestown to Elwha – We’ll round Dungeness Spit and push west past Port Angeles to the Lower Elwha S’Klallam reservation. Several routes converge in Elwha, so it should be a large gathering of canaoes. We’ll rest there on July 17.
July 18: Elwha to Pillar Point – From Elwha the canoes continue along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Pillar Point. It’s a convenient midway spot between Elwha and Neah Bay, but no one seems too sure what camping opportunities will be available there. We’ll soon find out.
July 19: Pillar Point to Neah Bay – The final leg of the journey will take us from Pillar Point to the Makah reservation at Neah Bay on Monday. The canoes will assemble at the beach for the landing protocol, the ceremony that allows pullers to come ashore. A week of ceremony and celebration will follow.
Canoes are carried ashore Tuesday at Point Julia in Port Gamble Bay. (Brad Camp photo)
More than 30 canoes pulled into Port Gamble Bay this afternoon for an overnight stay. The lines of canoes on the beach at Point Julia were an impressive sight.
(Tad Sooter photos)
Impromptu campgrounds popped up at the point and above at the tribal center.
The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe hosted dinner for a crowd of hungry pullers. Protocol ceremonies will last late into the night.
I’ll be joining the Canoe Family at 6 a.m. tomorrow for an early morning departure.
A massive amount of preparation goes into the canoe journey, as I wrote in the Herald last week. Launching the journey takes months of practice, fundraising and organization.
On a personal level, each participant is responsible for providing a kit of gear in a plastic tote, which will be packed from campsite to campsite by the ground crew. For illustrative purposes, I have posted a photo of the kit I packed this afternoon (not procrastinating, merely maximizing time efficiency).
Each tote, in theory, includes a tent, sleeping bag, extra clothes, rain gear, extra shoes, towels, a flashlight and hygiene items. Pullers also bring a life jacket (thank you Doug), sunscreen, sunglasses and a brimmed hat, along with a paddle (more to come on that).
If this doesn’t seem like a lot of gear, multiply it 120. That’s how many Port Gamble S’Klallam members are participating in the Journey this year, though most will not be pulling. My estimate in the Herald story was woefully low.
As a reporter, I’ll be bringing my own baggage to the Journey (only some of it emotional). I’ll have a camera, lenses, batteries, a netbook for blogging and filing stories with, and all the associated cords.
Reader Julia Miller snapped this photo Tuesday morning of a canoe rounding President Point south of Kingston. Several canoes will travel from Suquamish to Point Julia today. Canoes will gather in Port Gamble Bay beginning at about 3 p.m.
Photographer Brad Camp and I will be shooting the landing. Feel free to send me your own canoe photos, I’ll be happy to post them here.
Canoes land in Tulalip on Sunday. Photos by Kirk Boxleitner, Marysville Globe.
The Port Gamble S’Klallam won’t depart the friendly confines of Hood Canal until Wednesday but some tribal canoes have been under way since July 3.
Canoes will follow a half dozen different routes to Makah. Some are working their way down the east shore of Puget Sound. Others are following the east and west coasts of Vancouver Island. Still others are winding their way up from the south Sound or braving the open coastal waters. The canoe families camp along the way, often hosted by other tribes. It’s a chance for families to reconnect and tribes to show their generosity.
Colleague Kirk Boxleitner of the Marysville Globe was kind enough to share the photos (above) of canoes landing in Tulalip on Sunday. Some of these canoe families had traveled from as far as Sechelt, north of Vancouver, B.C. These same canoes will paddle into Suquamish today, joining a handful of south Sound canoes that arrived in Agate Pass on Sunday.
About 20 canoes are expected to land in Port Gamble on Tuesday afternoon. S’Klallam pullers will spend hours on the water, guiding in the visiting canoes as they land. A clam and cockle bake will follow. The public is invited to join the landing. Shuttles will be available to carry visitors to the Point Julia beach. Canoes can also be seen on the west side of the bay from downtown Port Gamble.
When the S’Klallams talk about paddling the same marine highways their ancestors traveled, they aren’t talking about a few generations. Evidence suggests canoes have been used in the Northwest for thousands of years.
Canoes were king in a land where dense forests and strong rivers made inland travel challenging. They were a lifeline for fishing and whaling. They allowed tribes to travel hundreds of miles to trade and visit, and carried bands of warriors to battle.
Canoe culture faded as white settlements spread in the Northwest and tribes were confined to progressively smaller territories. Considering how vital canoes were to Northwest tribes it’s no surprise they are now at the center of their cultural renewal.
When the Paddle to Seattle was organized in 1989 there were few traditional canoes in use and few tribal carvers with the knowledge to build them.
Twenty one years later, the Port Gamble S’Klallam have two canoes:
Built for the Paddle to Seattle, the Kloomachin is a traditional dugout design, carved from a single cedar trunk. The Kloomachin was designed by Duane Pasco of Poulsbo.
Its narrow hull and rounded bottom make the Kloomachin fast but fickle. It’s capable of rousing speed but requires an experienced crew. Many new pullers, including myself, had their first practice in the Kloomachin on Saturday. Paddling the Kloomachin is a constant balancing act. Pullers must lean their bodies like bobbleheads to keep the canoe level while constantly paddling.
We were pulling out of sync as we left the beach on the first trip Saturday and the Kloomachin responded by leaning heavily to one side then the other.
“I thought we were going over a couple of times,” skipper Laura Price said after the Kloomachin returned safely to shore.
Once the pullers found their stride and began paddling in unison the Kloomachin leveled and sped across the water.
Though challenging for new pullers, the dugout has led the family on some impressive journeys, including the 500-mile paddle to Bella Bella in 1993.
If the Kloomachin was a Ferrari, the Noo-Kayet (pictured above, and below) would be a Cadillac. The Noo-Kayet was built in 2007 and, unlike the Kloomachin, was constructed with cedar strips and fiberglass. Its flat bottom gives it remarkable stability and it’s capable of carrying a host of pullers through rough water.
Noo Kayet the canoe used for practices and will do the bulk of the work on the Journey.
The Canoe Family held perhaps its final practice on Wednesday afternoon in 80 degree weather.
The session was chaotic but lighthearted. Nearly 30 Canoe Family members turned out to pull, the largest crowd in months. A TV crew from Germany was also on hand to film (see the post below), which added to the confusion. Anthony Adams skippered Noo-Kayet, the Port Gamble S’Klallam’s broad-bottomed, cedar-strip canoe, on three trips through Port Gamble Bay as the film crew shot from a support boat.
I joined the third trip and so did a shirtless German cameraman, who installed himself in the front of the canoe. He conducted a few interviews at point-blank range with pullers in the front, then slithered his way to the back and wedged his burly torso between myself and the neighboring puller so he could talk with Adams.
The film crew couldn’t help but be distraction, but they were good natured and the Canoe Family put on a good show.
After three short trips in the bay, Laura Price took over as skipper and guided a large crew of pullers north toward Coon Bay as the sun slid toward the Olympics. The crew pulled hard despite the lingering heat. After months of practice, the mouth of Hood Canal and the strait beyond appeared enticingly close in the slanting sunlight.
A month ago German journalist Michael McGlinn typed three words into a Google search bar.
Seattle. Fishing. Weird.
“I got ‘geoduck’ and this place,” McGlinn said Wednesday, standing on the beach at Point Julia on Port Gamble Bay.
Spurred by zany search engine results, McGlinn and a crew from Hamburg-based mareTV are spending time learning the customs of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. A feature on the tribe will air sometime this fall on the German station, which showcases maritime communities around the world.
When McGlinn began internet research he was hoping for a story about native fishing. The S’Klallam tribe seemed a safe bet, but McGlinn’s crew soon learned the tribe isn’t fishing much this time of year. Instead, the three-man crew will spend its time crabbing and filming preparations for Tribal Journeys.
“They’ve been great,” McGlinn said of his hosts.
This won’t be the S’Klallam Tribes television debut. Food Network’s Extreme Cuisine host Jeff Corwin stopped in Port Gamble last year to sample native fare.
I stood with thousands of other onlookers onshore as the canoes massed below and sweated in sun through the hours-long landing ceremony.
When the canoes finally unloaded I snatched interviews with the pullers as they trickled up through the crowd. They were weary but jubilant. Sunburned but inspired. I realized quickly their stilted quotes wouldn’t tell the story. To fully experience the Journey, you must experience it with a paddle in your hand.
This year I will have that opportunity.
Two months ago the Port Gamble S’Klallam Canoe Family invited me to join them on the Journey. I was surprised and honored. A few non-tribal guests are invited on the Journey each year, and it’s a rare opportunity for a person and certainly a reporter. Since the invitation in May I have joined the family on canoe practices in Port Gamble Bay and Hood Canal. It has given me a taste of both the hard work and camaraderie that launch the Journey each year.
In coming days I will write about the preparation for Journey, the practices, the planning and paddle carving. After the canoes depart Port Gamble on July 14 I will be posting dispatches as frequently as time and wireless signals allow. Look for posts here, photos on Flickr, updates on Facebook and accompanying North Kitsap Herald stories in print and online.
When we arrive in Neah Bay on July 19, I hope to have a new understanding of canoe culture and the families traveling beside us. And I hope to share that experience as best I can.
First, I must thank the members of the S’Klallam Canoe Family for inviting me into their journey.