Eleven-acre Yellow Island lies south of Spring Point on southwest Orcas Island and west of Crane Island. In 1979 The Nature Conservancy acquired the island and administers it as a kind of laboratory to study the invasion of grassland by woody plants and how to resist or reverse it. So, for instance, the group does small controlled burns on Yellow from time to time as part of a process to bring back native plants.
Until the mid 19th Century and for millennia before the island served as a garden to Lummi and other Native Americans who summered in the San Juan Islands. Camas, harvested for its edible roots, retains a presence on Yellow Island. Matt Axling, current Yellow Island Steward, reported in his June 24, 2019 post that members of Tulalip Tribe visited Yellow Island this spring to see camas in bloom.
Early in 2012 on Crane Island when Dan and I were attending to a barge-load of gravel coming to Crane to be used on its roads, I noticed an old aluminum rowboat on the beach to the east of the concrete launch ramp and above high tide line. Did he know who owned it?
Dan said the boat had been there for a while, had probably gotten loose in a storm, and washed up on the beach. He had no idea who owned it. Hmm. Did he think it would be OK for me to take it back to our pocket beach and check it out? Sure. So I did.
Its registration number was illegible, so it would be tough to try to find the owner. Well, that was my excuse. About midships the port side had been cracked from the gunwale down about four inches and patched with an old license plate. The crack ended above the water line, so the boat wasn’t likely to sink because of the damage but the hull was significantly compromised.
On the other hand, the boat was relatively light, well made, and I had a six-horse two-stroke outboard I could use with it. I towed the boat through Pole Pass to our pocket beach and spent some time cleaning it up. Yvonne and I took it for a ride and it performed well. It would serve as an alternate to Hugin, our Sea Sport, for commuting to the Crane community dock on Orcas. We got to like the old aluminum boat and found ourselves using it to travel in the neighborhood of Crane Island, as far as Jones Island three miles away. It needed a name, so Yvonne christened it the Picnic Boat.
One May Sunday in 2012 Kate called and suggested she and Ken, Yvonne and I get out to Yellow Island to look at the wildflowers. Let’s go over in our Picnic Boat, I suggested, thinking we could just drag it up on the beach at Yellow Island rather than going over in Hugin, towing the Picnic Boat, anchoring, and then using it as a tender to get to the beach. Much simpler with one beachable boat. So that’s what we did.
We picked Kate and Ken up at Deer Harbor Marina and motored through the pass between Steep Point and Fawn Island. A beautiful sunny day, putting along at walking speed, in no particular rush. What else did we have to do that was more important than May wild flowers?
We beached our boat on the north side of the eastern tip of Yellow Island and I tied the bow line to a log on the beach. The tide was coming in so I’d have to check back. If we lost our boat we couldn’t just walk home. I came back in a little while and the tide had floated our boat so we dragged it up above the tide line. With tides sometimes running ten feet or more in the Islands, and running quickly, one has to to pay attention.
The little island was ablaze with wildflowers. It really was. The island had been a Native American garden, tended time out of mind, not overrun by grazing deer or invasive plants. Yellow Island is a tiny paradise.
We saw the caretaker’s house but didn’t approach it, thinking that would be an invasion of his privacy, though he might have welcomed us. At that time the caretaker was Phil Green, now it’s Matt Axling. He reports over 600 visitors in April and May this year (2019).
Kate and Ken both know a good deal about Yellow Island, its history, and the role it played for the local tribes, and so acted as our guides. Ken’s interest in “natural” as opposed to factory farming runs deep and he’s been involved with the Orcas Island Seed Bank, whose mission “is to contribute to local food system security by acquiring, testing, propagating, and sharing varieties of seeds of store-able staple crops suitable to local growing conditions.” (Ilands Sounder).
Orcas is serious about sustainable agriculture and Deer Harbor is the home of Bullock’s Permaculture Homestead, attracting people from around the U.S. and beyond to its courses and site tours.
After two hours on the little island we headed back to Deer Harbor to drop off Kate and Ken and then sputtered south to Crane and tied up at the community dock. What a great day!
We made good use of that damaged aluminum boat over the next year but in July 2013 a Coast Guard inspection caught us. We had a big group so we intended to use both Hugin and the Picnic Boat to go over to Jones Island for a picnic. Leaving the Crane dock we were intercepted by a Coast Guard Auxiliary team doing safety inspections.
Yvonne was driving Hugin and it passed muster but in the Hugin I had two problems: I had no registration and I had no sound producing device, in this case no whistle. I was given a form to fill out and send to the appropriate Coast Guard officer. We went on to Jones Island and had a great time.
Later I decided we really couldn’t keep the old boat we didn’t own. I made an effort to find out who actually owned it and it turned out it was Lefty, a caretaker and handyman for someone who owned multiple properties on Crane. I got in touch with him and let him know the boat would be on the Crane dock on Orcas. He could pick it up any time. Six years later the Picnic Boat is still there, upside down at the end of the dock, unused and unclaimed, sharing space with ten Crane-member aluminum rowboats. No one seems to care.
© 2019 – 2020, johnashenhurst. All rights reserved.