Freshwater Get-away


September 30, 2022

Wanting a trip that was low in cost and complications, we’d opted for a fresh water adventure on Alouette Lake in Golden Ears Park. This avoided the time and deadlines of ferry trips, and let three of us revisit a campsite we hadn’t been to in many years. The expedition consisted of myself, my friend Rhian, and Paul and Nessa, two longtime friends I hadn’t seen in person since before the pandemic.

Rhian and I met the other two expeditioneers at the boat launch on Alouette Lake about noonish. As anticipated, with all the faffing about, we didn’t launch until about 1:30 – just in time for the afternoon wind to have ramped up in our favour.

The fleet ready to launch. The Narrows is visible in the distance as the gap between the taller mountain on the left and the much lower hill on the right. Photo courtesy Paul Richards
Kayaks ho! Getting ready to head up the lake.

The fleet consisted of three Seaward HV Tyees (my, Paul’s and Nessa’s personal boats) and Rhian’s rented skeg boat. I’d opted to bring my Tyee rather than my skeg boat for two reasons: Firstly, I wanted to wallow in the decadence of lots of cargo capacity for extravagances such as a full-sized camp chair and twin pizza ovens. Secondly, I knew from experience there would be an afternoon inflow wind up the lake, and I wanted to sail if and when possible. Since I knew the wind would be either fully with us or fully against, “barndoor” sailing only, I left the crosswind-upwind Falcon Sail at home, and brought only my mid and full-sized Spirit sails.

Paddling and sailing up Alouette Lake. Photo courtesy Paul Richards

We cruised easily along towards The Narrows (the bottleneck between the south and north ends of the lake), marveling at the unseasonably warm and dry weather. (Rhian and I had originally planned to bring our drysuits, what with it being the beginning of October, but had both changed our minds on looking at the weather forecast. Just as well: in our drysuits, we’d have been boil-in-bag entrees cooking in the sun.)

At first, I put up only the smaller Spirit Sail, so that I was paddle-sailing with the group. (As I explained to them I was really doing it for their sake, so that my slow, old-man paddling wouldn’t hold them back. I’m very considerate that way.) With the boost of the sail, it was like paddling an empty boat, rather than one heavily laden with luxuries. But for the last third or so of the trip, I couldn’t resist switching to the full-size sail, and bowling along under wind power alone. It all worked out, as my three companions opted to follow the western shoreline while I took a more direct line to our destination. We were never out of sight of each other, and we all converged again at the entrance to The Narrows with such perfect timing that any onlooker would have thought we’d choreographed it.

We’d been passed by several power boats as we paddled up the lake, but, mirabile dictu, the beach and campsite at The Narrows were unoccupied except by a quiet older couple who were daytripping in their little runabout. And even they motored off shortly after we landed, leaving us in sole possession of a site with our pick of several level upland tent sites, a proper outhouse, and a large sheet of weathered plywood someone had thoughtfully propped into place as a kitchen counter. As a crowning touch, Paul and Nessa produced still-chilled beers from a cooler they’d somehow jammed below decks.

Chateau Du Kayak red wine in a bag? Check. Two stoves and two Outback Ovens for mass pizza production? Check. The pizzeria is open! Photo courtesy Paul Richards
Fresh hot and sliced! Photo courtesy Rhian Evans

With no need to rig tarps either over our tents or over the kitchen-dining area, I had plenty of time to mix up the pizza crusts, knead them, and let the yeast work its expansive magic in the dough. Soon Filippo’s Primo Pizzeria was open for al fresco dining, with a million dollar view of the northern lake and peaks. Business was brisk, with such demand that I put a third pizza on as soon as a pan from the first round was available. This last pie took a while, but the diners were patient, applying themselves with a will to reducing the volume of our red wine bag so that packing would be easier on the return voyage. Later, as the Aunty’s Puddings simmered to warmth in the pot, we harked to an owl hooting on the far shore, admired the super bright stars, and goggled at a satellite train dump trailing like a gold bracelet strung across the sky.

October 1, 2022

As always, I slept better in the tent than at home. The night had been so warm, my winter-weight sleeping bag would have been sweltering, so I’d simply laid it duvet-style over me.

Rhian treated us to a slap-up brunch of eggs, hash browns and burritos. Afterwards, Paul and Nessa were ambitious enough to take a paddling daytrip down the north end of the lake. Rhian and I just hung out at camp; she pursued photography and a siesta in her hammock, while I wrote up my journal and admired the view.

Fall paradise. Photo courtesy Rhian Evans

Though we saw powerboats and paddlers come by, we continued to have our site all to ourselves. Amazing considering how warm the weather was and how accessible the lake is.

Paul and Nessa rocked back up in the late afternoon. Since it had been a while since they’d practiced wet exits, assisted rescues or paddlefloat re-entries, I’d volunteered to walk them through things. While we were getting ready and doing our dryland practice of skirt releasing, Rhian put us all to shame by paddling out and pulling off an impressive cowperson scramble re-entry. But of course, she had a skeg boat, much easier for scrambling onto the low rear deck than our high-decked rudder boats. At least that was our excuse and we were sticking to it.

Rhian shows us how it’s done.

Once we three were on the water, we had a worthwhile voyage of discovery: Nessa’s too-tight sprayskirt proved pretty problematic to release when actually upside down in the water. She didn’t panic, and got out under her own steam, but much better to make these little discoveries about your gear in rehearsal than in combat. They quickly added a less tenaciously-fitted skirt to their post-trip shopping list.

Skirt release rehearsal

Dinner, courtesy of Paul and Nessa, was gnocchi with assorted vegetables and chorizo sausage. For dessert, they provided a store-bought strawberry-and-rhubarb pie, which, as we’d done on our last camping trip here years before, we heated in the Outback Oven ‘til it came out hot and feeling fresh baked. Yumm!

October 2, 2022

We’d wanted to be on the water early enough to be back at the put-in/takeout before the contrary afternoon winds picked up, but hadn’t wanted to get up at a ridiculously early hour. It was Paul who had suggested the logical solution last evening: rather than make breakfast at the campsite, have coffee or tea and a snack, and save the big breakfast for the landing. And it worked a treat. In the still unseasonably warm weather, no immediate hot breakfast was no tribulation. We launched just after 9:30.

Photo courtesy Paul Richards

As we made our way down the west side of the lake, we discovered where all the campers who hadn’t been at our site were: bunched up on the beach south of The Narrows.

A fine and private campsite just southwest of The Narrows. The steep and lumpy portage to the boat ledge make it better suited to canoeists than kayakers.
Alouette Lake was formed by a dam flooding a former logging area. The underwater stumps are ordinarily both hazardous and unattractive, but Rhian Evan’s skilled eye has given this view a painterly beauty.
Photo courtesy Rhian Evans

Though we felt faint breezes, the advance heralds of the coming afternoon wind, the lake stayed millpond calm as we made our way home, landing at our takeout about 11:45. As one would anticipate on a sunny weekend afternoon, the launch area was a bit of a circus, with boaters and boats of all sizes and abilities jostling for space, a couple of bros determined that everyone should share their taste in music, and spectators in beach chairs, smartphones at the ready, hoping for Tiktok-worthy trailer carnage on the ramp. But all we had to do to maintain our zen was adjust our mindset from “wilderness paddling” to “bustling afternoon at the holiday seaside”.  

While Paul and Nessa paddled off for some final re-entry practice, I assembled the brunch kitchen on an upshore picnic table, far from the madding crowd. We enjoyed our blueberry pancakes and bacon leisurely in the shade as we watched the afternoon wind raise whitecaps out on the water and congratulated ourselves on dodging it. About mid-afternoon, we swayed boats and gear onto and into the cars, and headed home, much refreshed in body and mind.

Post-paddle brunch. Photo courtesy Paul Richards

Shoulder season on the Sound: Hotham Sound


September 30, 2021

During the drive to Earl’s Cove, heavy rain showers coated the winding road with sheets of water a centimeter deep at times. It was uninspiring, but by the time we arrived at the ferry terminal, it had cleared.

As we approached Saltery Bay on our second ferry ride of the day, we could see Freil Falls (AKA Harmony Falls) in the distance off the starboard side. Shortly afterward, the ferry crew announced whales cavorting off the port side. I snapped a couple of photos of the “you can’t quite make it out, but this black blur is a whale” variety.

The Falls in the distance
A humpback whale spyhops in the distance

By the time we’d landed it was late afternoon. Packing the boats for the first time on any trip always involves a couple of hours of faffing about, especially when you have to go park the car several hundred meters from the put-in after offloading. So we opted to car camp at Mermaid Cove that night, and make a single hop, all by daylight, to our intended destination at Elephant Point the next day.

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Different Angles On Sea Kayak Compass Navigation

If you’ve done any map/chart and compass navigation at all, you’ve wrestled with the inconvenient truth: with some very limited local exceptions, in most parts of the world, the needle on your compass does not point to the true North pole (the Northern tip of the axis around which the Earth revolves, also known as the geographic North pole); instead, that needle usually points to the magnetic North pole. Sort of. Because what that needle is actually doing is aligning itself with the local magnetic field of the Earth. And those local fields are heavily influenced by currents and counter-currents in the sea of molten iron that swirls far below the Earth’s outer crust.

kayak deck compass with sail reflection
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The Trip That Wasn’t (Part 2)

August 20, 2001

Though I had set my watch alarm for 6:30AM, when my bladder alarm went off at 3:30AM, the wind was howling fiercely through the trees and the barometer had continued to fall. I switched off the clock alarm and slept in until 8AM – which was fine: as it turns out the wind continues to blow against me and whitehorses gallop north through the passage as far as the eye can see.

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Sea kayak safety: the parallel rescue

Plenty of sea kayakers know the bow rescue – a technique where the rescuer presents the bow of their kayak to a capsizee, so the unfortunately inverted paddler can hip flick back up using the bow for support. There are many Youtube videos showing it, and it’s taught in Paddle Canada and other sea kayaking courses.

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The Trip That Wasn’t (Part 1)

August 13, 2001

Just getting to the put-in at Prince Rupert from Vancouver has proven to be an epic. I’d driven up from Vancouver to Port Hardy and camped at the Wildwood Campground. The Port Hardy to Prince Rupert ferry which was supposed to leave at 7:30AM on Sunday, August 12, had engine troubles. On the plus side, this meant I didn’t have to get up at 4:30AM to hike from the campground to the ferry terminal. Having driven over to the terminal at 7:30 and dropped my kayak and equipment, I drove back to the campground to park my car long term, and caught a lift back to the terminal in the RV of a friendly Dutch family I’d been chatting with the evening before. 

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Paddling The Past: A Fishy Tale

All fishers have tales about The Big One That Got Away; here’s mine about The Big One I Was Glad To Let Go.

One summer in the early oughts of this millennium, four of us took the MV Uchuck from Gold River into Nootka Sound, with our sea kayaks as deck cargo. My wife and I were in my double kayak; my buddy Mike had borrowed my single for the trip, and his partner was paddling another single.

Several days into the trip, we were camped on an idyllic beach with a view of the open Pacific. I borrowed back my single boat and set off in search of supper. Since I was after bottom fish, I was using a hand reel and lure, but had no gaff or net — a nearly tragic oversight, as we shall see.

a sea kayak breaks out through surf
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Electric Pump for Sea Kayak, Mark III

For several boats now, I’ve been outfitting my sea kayaks with electric pumps. (My reasons are explained in the first part of this posting.)

an electric pump in a sea kayak

So I’ve fitted my new-to-me Valley Etain with an electric pump as well. The overall design is pretty similar to my last pump, with a waterproof Pelican battery box designed to let me run the system on either 12 rechargeable AA batteries or 8 alkaline AAs. A stretchy Velcro strap and a pair of stainless steel footman’s loops hold the battery pack in place against the bulkhead at the back of the cockpit.

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Valhalla Warrior: Solo Kayaking And Hiking On Slocan Lake, Part 2

July 12, 2003
I slept until 7:00, clearly tired out after my hike down from the hills yesterday. What with breaking camp and chatting with my neighbours, I didn’t launch until 10AM.

a sea kayaker paddles down a lakeIt was a perfect morning’s paddling. I came across two sunken barges, easily visible in the clear, fresh water. Like shipwrecks in the sea, these old hulks act as reefs and nurseries for life. They swarm with minnows and a few full-grown trout. Continue reading

Valhalla Warrior: Solo Kayaking And Hiking On Slocan Lake, Part 1

July 9, 2003
The shuttle driver from Smiling Otter dropped me off with my boat and gear at the north end of Slocan Lake at about 13:00 hours. The weather was lovely and sunny.

The first few hundred yards of paddling was past beautiful summer cottages. Beneath the emerald water, I saw what I’m speculating might be Asian Milfoil growing on the bottom – a corkscrewed shape, like a drill or auger. The branches of an evergreen freshly toppled off the bank vanished into the ghostly green depths of the lake. The water was startlingly clear; in the shallower areas, I could see the shadow of my kayak flitting across the lake bottom. 

kayak from underneath rescan resized

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