Deception Pass Dash – December

Start02I ‘participated’ as a spectator the last few years, and it was very cool.
This year’s event takes place on Dec. 9th, 2012 at 10:45 AM.  The staging area is at Bowman’s Bay, Deception Pass State Park.  All participants line up behind the bouys that mark the end of the pier.  After the race starts, the best viewing spots are to the east and west of the Bay via the trails, just follow the crowds.  The other good spots are from the Deception Pass bridge.  Climb down under at either end using the steps and you have a great big view of almost the entire race course as it progresses.  I like the bridge view right over Canoe Pass as the boats pass underneath on the final leg. It is 18 miles from Highland Garden House to the bridge.  Need a place to stay? (I added some pix that I took in 2010, the cloudy ones, and 2011, the sunny ones, at the end of this post.)

2012RaceStartCurrentThe current in the Pass is eastbound until 11:20 AM on Race day.  Remember:  tides are the vertical difference in the sea level, current is the horizontal movement of the water, created by the tides.) If you do not get through the Pass by this time, you will be fighting the current.  If you get through before this time, you will then have the current at your back the entire rest of the race.  The chart to the left is the current at 10:45 AM, Dec 9, 2012.  If you like this chart, you can see more totally interactive charts at (Requires the free MS Silverlight plug in, but if you are a map junkie like me, it is really worth it.)

Wear warm clothes and good boots or walking shoes.  Bring your camera or camera phone.

Here is some text from the web site created for the 2009 event:

yellow route 1“Some deep digging through the files at DPDash Headquarters recently unearthed this ancient, hand-drawn map of the race course. We share it with you here to give a few pointers and course knowledge if you’re unsure what awaits you out there. You might want to consult a REAL chart of the area for more information.

Here are the highlights of what’s revealed by the map. Click on it for a larger view.

Approximate distances:

Bowman Bay – Deception Island, 1 mile;

Deception to the far end of Pass Island, 1.5 miles;

Pass to Strawberry Island, .5 miles.

Total approximately 6 miles round trip.

There’s a lot of kelp around all three islands, especially on the SW side of Deception. Tempting as it is to cut close to the islands and shorten the course, if you have a rudder you’ll be happy to stay wide of it.

When you get to Pass Island (2.5 miles) the current will be starting to build against you. There’s a narrow eddy next to the island which will allow you to get to the upstream end (marked “CRUX MOVE” on the map). Please do not stop and rest in this eddy as you’ll block the path for other racers. Rest if you must, in the large eddy at the far downstream (West) end of Pass Island.

Some racers have successfully avoided the congestion in the eddy, and the dynamic water at the “CRUX”, and powered all the way past the island in the main channel, against the current. You need to be ready for a long, powerful sprint to make this strategy work. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it.

“CRUX MOVE”:For most racers, this brief, turbulent moment determines your ability to complete the course. Use the eddy as far as you can, then break out into the opposing current and go hard toward Strawberry Island. The whole idea behind this race is: The longer it takes you to paddle the 2.5 miles to this point, the stronger the current against you when you get there.

Between Pass and Strawberry islands, the water is typically calm as it’s protected from wind on all sides. You’ll find some mild boils and slicks that try to push you off course, so pay attention and keep going! You’re nearly halfway there, and the return trip is the fun part!

Big ol’ standing waves stack up at the West end of Canoe Pass on the return loop. Paddle hard and straight, and you’ll go right through it. In some conditions, ocean swell comes down the Strait until it meets the building ebb at this pinch point, and can get pretty big. On a flat day with no wind and no swell, you’ll barely notice it. As some paddlers have witnessed, on the other hand, in “perfect” conditions you may get slapped in the face by a wave, or even paddle right under it to get through… wahooo!

Returning around Deception Island and racing the final mile into Bowman Bay, be aware that the building ebb current will be pushing you from South to North. There are gnarly, submerged rocks throughout the north half of the bay, so you really want to enter on the South side. Watch where you’re going, angle your bow to the right, and make sure your course is taking you straight to the pier.

The finish line is right next to the end of the pier, where the timers can look down and see your boat number. We’ll only be able to get your time marked accurately if you finish where we can see you.”

My own pictures below: (Yes, this guy paddled barehanded the whole way!  Kneeling and prone.)


Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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3 Responses to Deception Pass Dash – December

  1. It helps to be crazy, but is not a requirement to be in the race. Every year the weather can be different. In 2011 it was clear and about 38F, the year before 50f and cloudy. But it could be very windy, as you know coming ‘strait’ off the strait.

  2. Great pictures, Dennis! Are they hardy (or crazy) Deception Pass Dashers?!

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