Little boat, big whale

How to kayak with the biggest fish, hunker down on the California coast and make it up the Northeast Corridor in one piece.

By Donald D. Groff

Published June 8, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

My partner and I are traveling to Orcas Island in September for our best friend's wedding. We are hoping to do some sea kayaking and would like to do so with the whales. How we can go about organizing such a kayaking trip and get other information for planning the visit?

September, especially after Labor Day weekend when the summer hordes are gone, is a great time to visit Orcas Island. Orcas is considered the most scenic of the San Juan Islands, located north of Seattle in the straits between Washington state and Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

You'll definitely be able to kayak, though frolicking with the whales is less certain. First, Orcas Island is not the best place for whale watching. "The vast majority of whales are seen off the west side of San Juan Island," according to Tom Carter of Shearwater Adventures on Orcas. Secondly, the best time to see the whales is late May to mid-July, and you'll be there outside that peak period.

Still, if you're set on giving it a try, it's fairly easy to take an inter-island ferry from Orcas to San Juan Island and hook up with a kayaking company there. Shearwater (phone 360/376-4699) can help direct you. If you stay on Orcas, the company offers three-hour trips, day trips and multi-day trips, as well as classes for all skill levels.

An excellent source for planning your trip is the recently revised "Best Places San Juan and Gulf Islands," edited by Jan Halliday (Sasquatch Books, second edition, 2000).

From Seattle, most visitors drive 90 minutes north of the city to the ferry at Anacortes. For ferry schedules and prices, check the site for Washington State Ferries or call (206) 464-6400.

You also can fly to Orcas, either from Sea-Tac International Airport or by seaplane from Seattle's Lake Union. Harbor Airlines, phone (800) 359-3220, makes the trip from Sea-Tac, and Kenmore Air, phone (800) 543-9595, flies from Lake Union.

Check out the Orcas Island Organizations site for links to the chamber of commerce and accommodations. The island has a good selection of B&Bs and resorts.

While on vacation in California, we plan to drive from Los Angeles up the coast to San Francisco. Where can we find out about inns along the way?

California is an inn-rich state, and you can plan your lodging using "A California Directory to Bed & Breakfast Inns," published by the nonprofit California Association of Bed and Breakfast Inns. The directory covers more than 360 B&Bs and is organized by five geographic regions; the areas you'll be driving in are Southern California and the Central Coast, and dozens of inns are described for those parts of the state. There's also contact information for the local tourist bureaus.

To get a copy of the directory, send $7 to CABBI Directory Request, 2715 Porter St., Soquel, CA 95073. At the CABBI site you can find the same information, including a map on which you can click any area and get a list of local B&Bs. Many of the inns have their own Web sites, and you can locate and link to them through the CABBI site.

Is I-95 North the best choice for driving from the Southeast to New York in summer?

Interstate 95 is the most common route into the Northeast Corridor from the southeast part of the country. It's "good" in the sense that it's a direct route; it's not so good if you happen to hit its busiest parts, around big cities and between Washington and Boston, during rush hours or peak periods.

You can avoid those backups by staying away from the trouble zones during morning and afternoon rush hours. Beware the days around Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day, too.

The distance on I-95 from Miami to New York is about 1,300 miles, about 1,536 miles to Boston.

Construction is the other main type of delay on I-95, and you can get information on big projects through a publication called the "Northeast Travelers Alert," published by the I-95 Corridor Coalition. The map shows bottlenecks and areas of I-95 where work projects are underway, along with the estimated length and dates of the projects. The Travelers Alert covers the I-95 states from Maine to Virginia and is available at interstate rest stops once you reach Virginia; an Acrobat Reader version is also available at the Web site.

A guide that can help you plan -- and describes all the rest stops -- is the "I-95 Interstate Exit Guide," available for $9.95 from Starsystems, 447 Old Henniker Road, Hopkinton, NH 03229, or order by calling (603) 746-3010. A related Web site, the I-95 Exit Information Guide Online, has an order form, as well as tips and construction alerts for I-95 travel.

When it's time to hit the road, you can get traffic information for the areas around Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston through SmarTraveler, a service giving real-time road and mass transit conditions in those and about a dozen other cities around the country.

You also may be interested in "A Field Guide to Interstate 95: The Travelers Companion to the History, Geography and Trivia That Lie Beneath the Nation's Busiest Highway," by John Cribb (Rowman & Littlefield, 1989).

Revisiting a previous Travel Advisor Q&A:

A recent column on visiting coastal South Carolina brought this enthusiastic comment from a reader:

You must tell that reader about Hunting Island State Park, in South Carolina, about 20 miles from Beaufort. It is the only completely protected, pristine South Carolina coast island. It has five miles of uninhabited beaches and a state park campground located in a grove of tall pines right at the water's edge. For anyone interested in camping, paddling, walking moonlit beaches, it is an undiscovered treasure. Go at sea-turtle nesting season.

"Forrest Gump's" Vietnam scenes were filmed there -- it is that wild and tropical -- and the Bubba Gump shrimp dock scenes were filmed at a real shrimp dock about a mile away, on Frogmore island (home of Gullah culture). [There] you can buy shrimp caught that day to take back and cook at your campsite. It is also the scene of many of Pat Conroy's novels, and the bays are filled with dolphins. I want to go back.

Donald D. Groff

Donald D. Groff has been dispensing travel advice for a decade for such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Boston Globe and the Kansas City Star.

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