Destruction Island

  Roadless Coast
Barkley Sound
Destruction Island

July 30th, 2004  (N47 40.46'  W124 29.21') - Destruction Island was a trip that Kiwi and Steve had had in the back of their minds for a couple of years,  but for some reason or anther, had never been able to make it a reality. Finally, with Ken's help we were able to put all the pieces together and everyone on the water at the same time. Mike Jones, a former surf clinic client and promising paddler, had expressed an interest in doing something on this level and was invited to join us.


Map of route from Ruby Beach

3.75 NM from Ruby Beach to Destruction Island

2004 Azimuth Expeditions. All rights reserved

The United States Lighthouse Board first reserved Destruction Island's 30 acres for lighthouse purposes on June 8, 1866, but the rocky islet's role in the maritime history of the Pacific Northwest began much earlier. Spanish naval lieutenant Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, returning south in the Sonora from a voyage of exploration, passed the island about the day of Nuestra Senora de Dolores, or September 18, 1775. He recorded it on expedition charts as Isla de Dolores.

In 1787, Captain Charles William Barkley, an independent English fur trader, arrived on the Northwest coast in the bark Imperial Eagle under the Austrian flag. Barkley sought to trade with Northwest Coast Indians for furs, which he could sell in China. He brought with him his 17-year-old wife, Frances, who is said to have thus become the first white woman to visit the Northwest Coast. Barkley had changed the registry of his ship, originally British, and her name, Loudoun, to circumvent the East India Company's monopoly on trade with China. Cruising south along the coast from Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, Barkley anchored inside Bodega's Isla de Dolores, and sent a party to the mainland for wood and water.

As the Imperial Eagle's boat neared the mouth of what is now the Hoh River, Indians ambushed it and murdered the crew. Over the years similar fates had befallen our crews. Mate Miller, Purser Beal, and four seamen died. Barkley named the river Destruction River. Five years later, Royal Navy explorer Captain George Vancouver (1758-1798) applied Barkley's name for the river to Quadra's Isla de la Dolores, charting it as Destruction Island.

Destruction Island, about three miles from the mainland, is the only offshore island along Washington's outer coast. It serves as a landfall light for transoceanic mariners seeking the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and, for coastwise shipping, as a warning of the rocks and ledges that extend as much as a mile offshore to the south. In 1882, the Lighthouse Board requested and eventually received an $85,000 appropriation to establish a first-order light and fog signal on Destruction Island.

With this as the historical backdrop who wouldn't be tempted to paddle out and visit the lighthouse? Ken received permission from the Coast Guard to land on the island and we were off. Kalaloch National Park provides beach side camping and is located approximately 8 miles south of Ruby Beach where we'd be launching.

Ken, Kiwi and myself arrived that afternoon, and having some time to kill as well as some white water boats, decided to do some surfing. As we walked down the path which leads to the beach, we could just make out the lighthouse through the fog. The surf was moderate, winds light, with a favorable weather forecast for the next 24 hours, but having paddled off the coast before, I knew how tricking it could be backtracking to a put-in, and the fog could certainly complicate things considerably. But with the surf calling us, we decided to put off any worries and enjoy the afternoon. A few hours spent playing was just the ticket to warm up for tomorrows paddle, and of course, we had a good laugh at each others antics. Mike joined us that night just in time for one of Kiwi's famous meals.

Morning found us at the parking lot of Ruby Beach checking and rechecking each others kit. We were relieved to have a clear horizon with the lighthouse and island clearly visible. We all threaded our way through the surf and few offshore rocks without incident. Seas were roughly 4', with a light breeze from the west. The forecast called for seas and winds building in the afternoon, but as long as the wind stayed from the west we weren't to concerned. After a summer of guiding in the Puget Sound, it felt good to have a swell under the boat. The paddle out to the island was uneventful with the exception of the number sea otters we spotted playing in the kelp beds. It was impossible to accurately count them but we estimated the number to be around 80.

It didn't take us long to find a suitable beach for lunch. However our efforts to win the top of the island in order to get a closer look at the lighthouse were thwarted by the thick Devils Club. Gingerly retreating back down the cliff we launched our boats and continued around the island. We soon came upon the remains of the old loading facility for tendering the lighthouse. Although there was a walkway leading to the interior of the island, it appeared chocked with undergrowth as well. There just doesn't seem to be an easy path to the top of the island.

We threaded our way to the west end of the island out into the full force of the swells, which we noticed that along with the wind, had increased. Not wanting to push our luck and take the longer route back, we doubled back on our tracks and headed for the put-in. Coming through the surf was somewhat trickier then going out, but we all made the beach without incident.

It's quite a haul taking boats up the walkway from the beach back to the parking lot, but after such a wonderful day exploring Destruction Island, no one grumbled. Driving south on the way home, we pulled in a scenic turn-out to glimpse one last view of the island. As I looked reflecting on the days paddled I was sure we'd be back to continue the exploration of one of Washington's many coastal treasures.


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