Share story

It sounded like the beginning of a bad joke. A minister, a firefighter and a pregnant lady walk into a kayak-rental shop …

While we hadn’t intentionally chosen our group to look like an “anyone can kayak” poster, it was certainly shaping up to feel that way.

Our crew also included Naomi and Eliza, ages 10 and 6, a senior citizen, a total kayak novice, a couple of jock types and even a small dog named Poppy thrown in for good measure.

We had a loose goal in mind: Take advantage of a summer warm spell, and explore a corner of the frequently overlooked island of Vashon from a unique perspective — riding in kayaks only a few inches off the water.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

In case you’ve never been to Vashon Island, the 20-minute ferry ride is like a magic act: One minute you’re looking at Seattle’s “mainland” and three miles later you arrive on a quaint forested island — somewhat of a hybrid between Whidbey Island and the San Juans.

We rented kayaks from Vashon Watersports on the shores of Quartermaster Harbor and soon our ensemble was cruising around the winding bay.

The first thing I noticed was that the shoreline was fairly developed. The second thing I noticed was that some of the houses were straight out of a coastal-living magazine. It felt like we were boating down the streets of a really expensive neighborhood.

I tried to imagine that the world had flooded and I was kayaking through a gated community, but instead of friendly neighborhood dogs, we had harbor seals popping up to say hello.

Up the creek (with paddles)

After a quick pass through picturesque Quartermaster Marina, the mouth of Judd Creek seemed to appear out of nowhere. Since everyone in our group was feeling confident in their kayaks by that point, we decided to paddle up the wide creek, just to see how far we could get.

To our surprise, a half submerged two-story houseboat waited for us just around the first bend. Its dilapidated hulk set against a vivid green backdrop (and a somewhat impressive overpass nearby) only added to my post-apocalyptic mindset, evoking images of abandoned rural backwater dwellings in the bayou and fond memories of reading “The Box Car Children.”

The presence of the houseboat is the stuff of island legend, and I watched Naomi and Eliza drift alongside a flooded doorway, as they tried to decipher who left it there, and why.

Minutes later, we were skimming up the flat creek through marine grasses, seeming to fly at breakneck speed. When the river became too narrow, we drifted back to the bay, listening to the chatter of kingfishers and grunts from Canada geese hiding in thickets.

Water fights ensued. A small Nerf football was thrown around — an impromptu game of aqua tag — and even Poppy seemed to enjoy the attention as she was passed from boat to boat.

Schools of jellies

In my experience, the average person can last only about two to three hours in a kayak before their arms feel ready to fall off. So we charted a lazy course back to the rental shop and ended the afternoon gliding over giant schools of moon jellyfish and the occasionally ominous-looking orange variety.

But I kept thinking about that derelict houseboat and the unique perspective you get when you ride in a kayak so close to the water. The chance to see something so unexpected and weird from the cockpit of a tiny boat was an experience Naomi and Eliza probably won’t forget.

For that matter, neither will the minister, the firefighter, the pregnant lady, the senior citizen, the novice, the jocks and perhaps even little Poppy.

Seattle-based writer Jeff Layton blogs at

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.