How to Downwind Shilshole Bay and Stay off the Jetty

Note: This post applies to any downwind run, even if you've never hear of Shilshole Bay. 

Downwinding is super popular for SUP paddlers as well as outrigger canoe paddlers. Here in Seattle when the 20 - 40 kt wind start cranking in winter, the paddlers come out to ride the bumps made from the wind waves. Winter paddling has increased as a result of downwinding because it is surf and waves you can ride anywhere there's water and wind.

As with anything that gets popular especially in water, accidents begin to happen usually as a result of unskilled paddlers (for the conditions) getting blown offshore, into a jetty (see below) or they'll paddle past their destination. Accidents also happen as a result of new paddlers joining up with other paddlers who don't have adequate skills to keep one or both of them out of trouble. Safety in numbers doesn't work out if your buddy is as inexperienced as you. Two paddlers downwinding on Maui's north shore were rescued in November as a result of the above.

Check my posts about downwinding and downwind safety to learn how to prepare for and pick your partners for downwind surfing.

In the pics below, both show the most common ways to get into trouble on my home waters of Shilshole Bay in Seattle.  Downwinding Shilshole isn't easy. It's hard to get a good long line unless you're going from West Point to GG or north to Edmonds, or vice versa. I like to surf the inside bay doing loops on strong NE winds, using the lee (wind protected areas) of Ray's and Elks to paddle back upwind.

This is a very urban paddle so getting to the shore isn't a problem, unless it's a jetty where you'd rather avoid to prevent from banging up your board or being stranded on in case of big winds and waves.

Twice in 2 months from 2016 and 2017, local paddlers whose skill level wasn't appropriate for the conditions ended up on Shilshole jetty, one nearly destroying his board due to wave action.  Using the diagrams below, you can avoid this situation.

In this diagram, the red arrows show the flow of waves/swell generated from the Northerly winds. A NE wind wraps around Meadow Pt (Golden Gardens) and swings into the bay.  If you're coming out from the marina or from the beach at GG, paddle straight out (west) about a quarter to half mile to get in line with with the straighter direction swells headed North to South.  Even if you're not paddling (swimming or resting) these swells will bring you to Magnolia vs into the jetty.  Not going out that far will mean a lot of hard work trying to keep your nose from going into the jetty. Not fun!

NE Winds around Meadow Point on Shilshole Bay - Paddle Route in Green

Below is the diagram for a SW wind coming from West Point into Shilshole Bay and Ballard.  I heard of two groups in December that launched too close to the jetty from the Elks and got blown into the jetty due to the swift Locks current and SW winds. Instead, paddle upstream towards the Locks by Ray's, then cross at the channel at the narrow bottleneck, then paddle directly below the Magnolia bluff to the big erratic boulders below Day Break Star Center. Then begin to paddle offshore heading north to Golden Gardens.

Note a SE or SW wind can wind tunnel down the Locks speeding up current 2x. Rains will also speed up the current. Use a ferrying angle to cross (45 degree angle facing up current - look at where you want to go (prior post). Use the edges (eddies) of the channel to paddle upstream to save energy. This means directly below the pilings at Ray's etc.

Avoid the Rip - On a strong SE wind, as mentioned above, the wind will push through the Locks speeding up the outgoing current up to 2x. Add an outgoing tide (ebb) and paddlers trying to paddle up current (south) in the channel between the south end of the Shilshole Marina and the outer red buoy will find themselves in a rip. It can be so strong, even strong paddlers will struggle to paddle back to shore. Instead paddle straight towards Magnolia to get less Locks current, then cross the channel by Ray's.

SW winds and Locks current into Shilshole Bay. Paddler route in green. 
New to Wind?
SE - means wind comes from the SE. 

Most common wind directions in Seattle - SE, SW and NE.

Tip for choosing the right 'line' to your destination.  In strong winds or current, aim for a spot just before your destination in case you get blown downwind too far.  Always wear your leash. 

Downwind Posts to Check out.. 
Great post from Suzie Cooney on Maui on Downwind Safety

Check out our SUP classes in Seattle - Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.