Going Paddleabout: Sea Kayaking around Bella Bella, BC (Part 2)

July 17th

View of a creek over the bow of sea kayak

Peering out of my tent after the alarm went off at 5AM, I could see wavelets even in the lee-sheltered little bay. I decided not to make the exposed crossing to Stirling Island with the seas already so stirred up. I rolled over to enjoy a lie-in.
I rewoke at 8AM, on time to bid Gerald good-bye as he left, and make a yummy pancake breakfast. I spent the day sight-seeing and exploring the archipelago northeast of Triquet Island, rewatering from a small creek in a Hunter Island bay. With the weird and random winds running through the channels , I got to sail in short bursts on both the outbound and return trips.

A By-The-Wind Sailor (Velella) jellyfish As I arrived back at camp in late afternoon, I spotted several little By-The-Wind-Sailors bobbing just inside the surf zone. These colony creatures go wherever the wind takes them. I took that to be an auspicious metaphor for my revised “walkabout” voyage, as contrasted with many of my previous, goal-oriented trips.
After an excellent day on the water, I supped on one of my favourite dishes: spaghetti with tomato soy sauce and pepperoni coins.

July 18th

And in the night, the rains cameth. I awoke to a relentless drumming on the tent roof. With visibility really low, I decided to take a full rest day.

hash brown potatoes cooking on a campstove

People sometimes ask if I get bored on shore days, especially since I travel solo. Yes, if I’ve been weather-bound for days on end, but never when it’s just a single day. On this day, for example, I slept until ten, then rigged my tarp, admired my handiwork and the view for a while, and began the leisurely process of rehydrating and cooking up hash browns and bacon, washed down with two huge mugs of sweet, creamy coffee (a rest day treat  ̶  caffeine makes me pee far too much to drink on paddling days). By the time I had my first plateful of food, it was 13:00 hours  ̶  a very fashionable hour for brunch. As I munched, I watched an eagle and a kingfisher going about their business in the bay.

Later on, I showered and shampooed with rainwater collected off the tarp and heated on the stove. Trimmed my beard and shaved. And of course, there was the mid-afternoon hot chocolate  ̶  all part of civilized roughing it. And mending the small flex crack I’d discovered in my GPS baggie. And playing with the panorama setting on my pocket camera, trying to capture a little sense of the sprawling view. And updating my journal. Why, the day was jam-packed. Who’d have time to be bored?

a view of the seascape from under a camp tarp

July 19th
Up painlessly at 5:30. A lull in the rain made striking the tent less unpleasant, though the interior still got damp from being packed with the fly. (Note to self: for future raincoast trips, bring your little Siltarp in addition to your main kitchen/dining tarp, as you have on some Gulf Island outings. That way, you can rig a second, upper roof over the tent to reduce interior condensation in extended rain.)

With the tide high, launching was easy. As I made my way between Manley and Kidney Islands, I saw a yellow SAR plane and a helicopter weaving what were clearly search patterns through the grey skies. The chopper swung low to check me out, then flitted off again. I hoped that it was merely a drill, and if not, that whoever they were looking for was OK. (Sadly, the outcome was not good.)

There was a good swell running from the southwest as I entered Kildidt Sound, so I opted to pass on the lee (north) side of the mid-channel Serpent Group. As I ran north, I surfed and sailed through vast fleets of By-The-Wind-Sailors. The swells were streaked with equal parts of foam and these iridescent creatures.

The Serpent Group was ruggedly beautiful and steep, wonderfully exposed, with seas surging and ebbing through rocky clefts and channels. I spotted from seaward what I took to be the campsite referred to in The Wild Coast guidebook, and was happy not to be attempting it in this tide and weather.

Regular squalls made me very glad of my drysuit (and to think I’d worried it would be too warm for a summer trip!) I also had a paddling jacket/wetsuit combo, but the paddling jacket doubles as my rain jacket on shore. It had gotten damp on the inside from condensation and would have been uncomfortably, even dangerously, cold in the present wind and rain.

In these conditions, the western entrance to Nalau Passage was like a gate guarded by a scattered line of surf-pounded reefs and rocks. The trick was to get close enough to be in the lee of the southern point, but not into the critical “curl zone,” where the occasional larger swells broke earlier than their smaller cousins, ready to wash me on to the northern cliffs.

View from the kayak: the tip of a sailboat mast barely visible beyond a swell

Can you spot the mast tip?

As I made my approach, a sailboat motoring toward the same entrance passed me. The pilot gave a friendly wave. With the swells rolling beneath me, the yacht was soon periodically hidden completely save for the tip of its mast.

After the roar of the surf outside, the quiet inside Nalau Passage was almost tangible. I could even hear the huff of a sea otter surfacing behind me.

After rounding the northern tip of Nalua Island, I turned south, getting a final half hour or so of good swell on the starboard quarter as I crossed the south end of Hakia Pass to the northern entrance of Goldstream Harbour. For a few moments, I thought that at this stage of the tide I wouldn’t be able to get through to the southern side of the harbour, where the camping was. However, I found a shallow, wending channel through the rocks that no craft but a kayak could have threaded.

Goldstream was beautifully calm and sheltered. I found the traces of old tent pads on the white shell beach. But with high tide not due until 19:47, I refilled my water bags from the trickling creek and ate a leisurely supper before erecting the tent. By that time, I could see I’d be safely above peak tide. Just before dark the SAR chopper made another low pass overhead.

I was pleasantly tired, with that blissful feeling that comes from fresh salt air, honest exercise, and the knowledge that a secure bed and good book await.

July 20th
Up painlessly at 6AM. With a smooth beach and near high tide, packing and launching was effortless. The run down the south side of Hecate Island was lovely, with a cool overcast, calm airs and the current on my side. I made the starboard turn into Kwakshua Channel about 10:30. Not long after, a strong S/W headwind came up. I crossed to the north end of Calvert, where there was an intermittent lee.

three otters on a rockApproaching the north turn north in Kwakshua Channel, I rounded a bend to spot a trio of otters on a rock. Soon afterwards, a flying boat, presumably coming from one of the nearby lodges, droned low overhead. I love flying boats: they invoke an era of travel unrushed by tight connections, and unfettered by the need for landing strips.

With the wind strong from the west in the channel, I wondered about the paddleabilty of Choked Passage. I decided to poke my nose out, hoping the unfunneled air and the shelter of the archipelago would make things manageable. And so it proved. With the sun now out, I had a wonderful run to Wolf Beach, stopping only to chat with a couple anchored just off the Hakai Land and Sea lodge in their well-used and much repaired sailboat. This retired fisherman and his wife now spend their summers gunkholing up and down the coast, exploring at leisure the areas they used to have to rush through when he was working.

Loud, rhythmic roars and solid white lines had signaled from a long way off that Wolf Beach was pretty surfy. However, as I’d hoped, I was able to tuck into the lee of a little spit at the northwest end. By running a mini relay race (quite intense when you’re the only participant) I got the boat and cargo up the beach without losing anything to the greedy waves.

Since the late afternoon sun was shining and I was in sole possession of the beautiful beach, I stripped off to let my body breathe after a day in paddling gear. I hung my wet stuff to dry on the driftwood windbreak built by previous visitors. As I filled my water bags from a creek that cut a deep ditch through the sand to the sea, I found, appropriately enough, wolf tracks.

With unlimited water available, I showered before dinner. Very civilized. However, I appeared to have left my tux at home in the same bag as my stove fuel, so I had to wear fleece to dinner. Fortunately, the dress code at the self-serve seaside restaurant was casual, so I got a seat (on a log) and enjoyed stuffed tortellini, followed by mint-filled chocolate for dessert.

Well exercised, well fed, clean, and secure in the knowledge I was well above high tide, I fell asleep to the lullaby of breaking surf.

wolf tracks in the sand

Part 1 of this trip report is here. Part 3 is here.


3 thoughts on “Going Paddleabout: Sea Kayaking around Bella Bella, BC (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Going Paddleabout: Sea Kayaking around Bella Bella, BC (Part 1) | Kayakwriter's Blog

  2. Pingback: Going Paddleabout: Sea Kayaking Around Bella Bella, Part 3 | Kayakwriter's Blog

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