Ravenous Raccoons of the San Juan Islands

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats… Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.” -Wind in the Willows

By Taylor Parsons


Whether you’re out braving tempests in the open sea, out for a cruise through the bay or floating down a local river, there’s something special about being able to simply mess about in boats. I’d like to take a minute to talk about one boat in particular, and how great it was to mess about in the San Juan Islands over Labor Day weekend 2018. I had the privilege of taking the Tempest 170 out for a three-day tour this year and I only have good things to say about it.

I have never been to the San Juan Islands before. Though I’ve messed about in boats for my whole life, on trips ranging from 1 to 28 days, I’m always excited to experience something new. Being able to grab your kayak, head to a water body of your choosing, and just be “out there” is such a freeing way to be. So when a friend invited me on my first overnight sea kayak trip I couldn’t turn down the offer.

Now, my girlfriend and I may have what some people would call “a problem.” Between the two of us there are a total of 9 boats hanging out at our home, but none of them are sea kayaks. Of course, our problem is not the large number of kayaks, rafts and canoes we use almost every weekend, but the lack of sea kayak in our floating quiver. Enter the Tempest 170: a boat that has been the winner of the Sea Kayaker Magazine Reader’s Choice Award for “Best Day and Weekend Touring Kayak,” and named “Best Beginners Sea Kayak” by OutsideOnline. Our local paddle shop, Mountain to Sound Outfitters, along with Alki Kayak Tours, let me take it for a spin over my three-day tour.

Our small crew packed our things and rolled our boats out behind the cars and bicycles headed to Friday Harbor. My first impression of the boat was how much gear it can store. Between the two hatches in the stern and single hatch in the bow, there is no shortage of space for all of your overnight essentials. As we reached the harbor and started packing the last of the gear, I found myself asking my friends if they had any gear or food they wanted me to carry. I grabbed some extra food, shoved some extra water into the easily-accessible hatch behind my seat, and still had room for more. With that, we were off. As motor boats streamed in and out of the harbor and two float planes landed within 100 feet of our route I was also glad the three hatches in the boat led to separate compartments. These compartments are separated by bulkheads that, if something happened and a hatch started to fill with water, would still allow me to float.

Ferry Image

Our journey involved paddling north from the harbor, stopping at a couple islands along the way, and camping for the night in the wind- and human- power only camp sites found on Jones Island. We found a fantastic camp that you can only use if you own a sail boat or kayak. Best of all, even with the three-day weekend, my friends and I got first pick of our site. Once again, the Tempest showed it’s worth as a great touring kayak, as I found all of my gear was still dry.

I spent the night sleeping under the stars and waking up to the tamest raccoons I’ve ever met trying to get into our food. Note for next time: bring a bear can or figure out a better way to seal hatches. These guys can pry open even the hard-to-open hatch covers on this boat. After waking up to over half a dozen eyes staring at me with apples and crackers in hand, I had to get creative. Strapping a paddle tightly across the hatch pretty much did the trick. Lesson learned. Luckily, if you own your own boat you can buy hard plastic hatch covers that go over or replace your watertight neoprene ones.

boats on shore

The next day, we tooled around the islands some more as we headed south to Blind Island, another wind- and human- power only camp. With motor boats out en force, the Tempest braved all the wakes and wind thrown at it. When the larger wakes passed by at the right angle, I found myself paddling hard and catching longer and longer surfs on these waves. I’ve been sea kayaking before in more expensive boats and never felt more comfortable surfing than in the Tempest.

After another great night spent sleeping under the stars, we made the journey back to Friday Harbor without a hitch. The biggest open-water crossing of the trip was no match for this boat. Back on shore, we stripped off our wet gear, grabbed some ice cream, and waited for the ferry to start loading; a fitting end to a great trip off “roughing it” without frozen treats. Though I’m sure you could keep things frozen in this boat with a good flexible cooler and some ice…


Bottom line: If you’re looking for a fantastic touring kayak to weather any storm and take you to your next big adventure, the Tempest may just be the boat for you. It handles well, surfs waves easily, tracks well with the skeg engaged, and stores all the gear you’ll need. I hope to take it out again on my next flat water adventure!

san juan map

The Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 is available at Mountain to Sound Outfitters for $1319.00. Charts, maps, books, paddles, PFD’s, and safety equipment also required for this trip can also be purchased at Mountain to Sound Outfitters.

Ravenous Raccoons of the San Juan Islands

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