It was a smoky August morning, and a couple of friends and I had planned to head out into Bellingham Bay to drop some crab pots and paddleboard while the pots soaked. With our summer days numbered, we chose to risk the lung damage and set out through the haze, commenting on the spectacular colors the smoke created. We had gone on a couple of paddles together in the past and didn’t want to miss this opportunity.
In 2020, Anthony Petz and Matt Twining joined me on my trip from one end of Lake Whatcom to the other, and we had dropped anchor and paddled around Sinclair Island on another day trip. We planned to do something similar on this day but had no actual plans. As we discussed where to go, Petz asked Twining to grab the anchor, only to realize it had been left behind.
I assumed we would just beach the boat or MacGyver something when Petz remembered that Vendovi Island had a dock where boaters could tie up. We decided to head that way, which was the start of exploring an island with an interesting history that I had never before heard.
Owned by the San Juan Preservation Trust, Vendovi Island, located in Skagit County, is named after a Fujian prisoner, Ro Vendovi. He was aboard an 1841 naval expedition that became so fond of its captive that Captain Charles Wilkes named the island after him. The island was eventually settled and became a sheep farm in the 1880s and a religious settlement in the 1930s. Prior to the island’s written history, it was a seasonal home to the Coast Salish people, who used the island for farming.
After docking, we had no idea where to go or what to do. We’d gone out to paddleboard, but now found ourselves on an island we knew nothing about. At the top of the boat ramp, a sign told us the island’s history, informed us of some flora and fauna, and mapped out the area’s hiking trails.
We decided that when finding oneself unexpectedly on Vendovi Island, that is the time to explore it. We walked past the old homestead, which apparently is still home to some island caretakers, but saw no one as we hiked the .8 miles to Paintbrush Point, going past John M. Fluke Island Cemetery on the way. From Paintbrush Point through the fog of smoke, we took in the southerly view of Guemes Island and Samish Island, with Padilla Bay in between.
Heading back towards the dock, we wandered paths, not knowing where we were headed but assumed that being on an island, we would eventually find our way back. The hiking on Vendovi is easy with just little bits of elevation gain. The trails wind through the forested island, offering views of the surrounding bays and neighboring islands.
After finding our way back to the boat, we hopped on our paddleboards to circumnavigate the little island we’d just explored. The rocky shore off Vendovi Island offered great views from the paddleboard of Dungeness and Rock Crab scurrying along the shallow bottom. Starfish of various colors clung to rocks, and the occasional fish came into view.
To our surprise, Vendovi Island—at least on this day—was home to more seals than any of us had ever seen. They barked at us from shore and stormed into the water in a flurry of activity. Ensuring we were behaving ourselves, the seals would surround us, observing from a safe distance. We were relieved that seals are not aggressive towards humans, because if they’d wanted to knock us off our boards and make us their next meal, they certainly had the numbers to do so.
Fortunately, we were just their day’s entertainment—as they were ours. We finished our loop around the island and returned to the dock to find two large boats now docked next to our little Boston Whaler. We offered to trade boats, but they declined, so we loaded up the paddleboards and set off to locate the set crab pots.
The first pot garnered no results. The second pot, filled to the brim with clawed creatures, offered two keepers an acceptable prize to go along with a fun adventure. With pots secured and the smaller crabs back in the water to grow for next time, we made our way across Bellingham Bay and into the harbor.
Vendovi Island is a gem in the Puget Sound, preserved for wildlife. The well-maintained dock and trails offer access to soaring eagles, jumping fish jumping, and barking seals. The easy trails make the hiking accessible to all ages and abilities and lead to picturesque views. I will undoubtedly return—with luck, on a day that’s free of wildfire smoke.