Deception Pass Tours Wild Ride

By Lara Dunning

Deception Pass is known for its strong current. At over 8 knots, almost 900 million gallons of water pour through the pass. This creates standing waves, rolling eddies and large whirlpools with a 4.5 foot difference from one side to the other. These treacherous waters are traversed only by those who know how to navigate such waters. This is what Deception Pass Tour’s 37 foot aluminum jet catamaran, the Island Whaler, zooms through.

I picked up my ticket at the Deception Pass Store on Hwy 20 and was immediately greeted by the savory smell of freshly made waffle cones and smiling staff. After getting my ticket I perused the ice cream parlor and eyed the generous ice cream cones and milkshakes with flavors like regret, salted caramel, and frolicking donkey trails with vanilla caramel and rolos. I’d definitely be swinging back later. I continued driving down Hwy 20 right over Deception Pass Bridge. Through patches of white clouds the sun shone on deep blue waters that swirled and twirled below. Waters, I’d soon be cruising through.

Taking Cornet Bay Road I followed it down to Cornet Bay, part of Deception Pass State Park, and walked down the docks to Island Whaler. Captain Brett and his crew, Alyce, welcomed everyone onboard and soon we were cruising past Ben Ure Island. Alyce told us about its unsavory past in the late 1800’s. Its namesake ran a house of ill repute and smuggled rum, opium and illegal immigrants; some of whom were unlucky enough to wash up in Dead Man’s Cove on Lopez Island.

Island Whaler 2

We jetted over to Fidalgo Island and looked up at the cliff face to see a cave with rusted iron bars across it. From 1910-1914, forty prisoners from the Walla Walla State Penitentiary mined for gold and magnesium there. Unfortunately, no millionaires were made, and the quarried rocks were shipped down to build Seattle’s waterfront.

As we approached Canoe Pass, the smaller of the passes, the Island Whaler slowed. Cliffs rocketed up on either side as the boat slowly turned in the currents. We watched eddies and swirls up close and somewhere above us a Peregrine falcon called out. As we slid under the belly of the bridge that connects Fidalgo Island to Pass Island the deck arches and cantilevers loomed over us like a steel shadow. Once through, the boat revved back up and took us to the perfect spot to snap a picture of Deception Pass Bridge and learn about its construction in 1934.

Then the catamaran thundered into the open waters of Rosario Strait and with each second the air became cooler and saltier. As the boat slowed to a stop we all stood up to check for wildlife. Depending on the time of year, and the type of tour, one can see gray whales and orcas. Today, we saw a range of ocean birds, including gulls, cormorants, auklets and buffleheads. With her keen eyes, Alyce spotted two Harbor porpoises slinking in and out of the converging tidal waters as they searched for herring and smelt.

At Rosario Head on Fidalgo Island harbor seals bobbed in the water and oyster catchers clustered together on jagged rocks. The crew pointed out Urchin Rocks, a good place for tide pooling next to Rosario beach, and a particular spot they’ve named “King Kong Head” for its likeness to the beloved giant-sized gorilla. We cruised along the island, past wooded forests, rocky islands and beaches that begged to be walked on. Then, we slipped into a small cove only accessible by boat in early spring and in the shallow depths below searched for thatched barnacles, Dungeness crabs and colorful starfish.

Then Captain Brett asked everyone to take their seats for the high speed cruise through Deception Pass. Depending on the current, the Island Whaler can charge through the pass at 45 miles per hour. As we approached I couldn’t keep my eyes off the curves and angles of the bridge above us. Spanning three islands, Whidbey Island, Pass Island and Fidalgo Island, it’s easy to see why 2 million visitors flock to see it each year. From my vantage point, 180 feet below, its dimensions seemed sharper and elongated, like a sideways skyscraper. At the top, a few onlookers waved at us. We flashed smiles and waved back, then whooped as we flew through Deception Pass’s eddies at high velocity.

Tickets can be reserved online, purchased at the Deception Pass Store on Hwy 20 or in the kiosk in the parking lot on the south end of Deception Pass Bridge. Tours run April-October, including seasonal whale watching tours. After your tour, save your ticket stub for a free souvenir at the store.