Going Paddleabout: Sea Kayaking Around Bella Bella, Part 3

July 21

the tent and tarp on Wolf BeachThe sound of rain on the roof had me scuttling out of the tent at 5:45 to rescue my drysuit and long johns from the no-longer drying area. Then it was back to bed ’til about 9. I took advantage of a brief lull in the rain to select a suitable centre pole for my tarp from the driftwood offerings on the beach, and used my kayak mast to hold one edge high as an entrance.

No wolves appeared during the day, but in late afternoon, I watched an eagle plunge to snatch up a salmon thrashing at the water’s surface. He’d just landed on the rocks to dine when a launch from one of the fishing lodges came peeling ’round the cape. Seemed they’d hooked that fish first. Whether it was an honest desire not to molest wildlife or the sight of me clicking away with my telephoto lens, they let the bird keep his ill-eagle catch.

fishermen in a boat approach the eagle who stole their catch

July 22

An islet with the rock strata tilted to 45 degreesUp before the alarm at 4:45. After hot cereal and dried fruit, I used driftwood logs as skids to launch into smooth seas with drifting showers. Since it was calm, I wove through the islands of Choked Passage. Amazing geology, with some strata tilted a full 45 degrees. Stunning to think of the titanic forces at work to move those untold millions of tons of rock.

a kayaker's POV of seaside cliffsBack in the channel, I stopped to chat with some of the young staff at Hakia Lodge. I had a nice run back up the east side of Hecate Island, with the current on my side. However, I did get dishpan hands from the now-constant rain.

Flotsam: a storage tank washed off a fishing boat

With high tide the same height as three nights before, I knew I was safe setting up my tent on the platform I’d cleared at Goldstream Harbour. A nice woman from the yacht anchored just offshore was kind enough to ask if there was anything I needed, but my supplies were holding up fine.

She, her husband and their German Shepherd left shortly afterwards in their dingy/skiff for a spot of fishing.  Twenty minutes later, they came roaring back in. I’d assumed that meant rapid fishing success, but she advised it was because there were terrible dark clouds bearing down on us (hidden from me by the harbour hills). From her description, I expected a tempest of everything this side of frogs and locusts, so I battened down all the hatches, tightened the tarp lines, generally rigged for storm running and waited. And waited. And waited. Nary a rustle.

I supped on a huge bowl of onion soup and toasted cheese sandwiches. Then, with a potentially “big hop” tomorrow, I hit the sack early.

tent and tarp rigged under tree branches

July 23rd

View over the kayak bow: low clouds backlit by the sun.I was up at 5 and launched painlessly at 7:30 into a mix of sun and cloud.

Not long after traversing Hakia Passage, I watched a lone eagle and a full flock of seagulls swoop in to feed on a herring ball. And shortly after that, I made an urgent landing   ̶  last night’s onion soup was flushing out my personal bilges with alarming effectiveness.

By the time I hit the east side of Hunter, I was bucking both wind and current, which reduced my speed to 2 knots or less. Still, the sun now shone steadily, and crew morale remained high.

I got to Kiltik Cove, a possible campsite, about 12:30. It would have made for a short paddling day, but an opportunity to break a long hop into two easier leaps. However, there was a lodge there, and the idea of camping in what was emotionally, if not legally, someone’s front yard did not appeal.

Approaching the southern DeCosmos campsite, I spotted an Auk and shortly after heard the most incredible shrieking and wailing echoing through the trees. I’m guessing it was some sort of avian food fight or territorial dispute; it certainly gave the shoreline a distinctly Jurassic jungle air.

Both the southern and northern DeComos sites offered only brutal landings and dubious safety from high tides, so I committed to the full run to Serpent Point. By this time, I was quite tired and a bit too warm in my drysuit. But I was also increasingly in the shade of Hunter Island’s high hills. And brief favourable breezes allowed me to sail or paddle sail for a few minutes here and there. They proved to be the advance guards for a late afternoon inflow; by the time I reached Carpenter Point, the wind was strong and steady enough that I was able to put up both sails and enjoy a free ride for almost 4 nautical miles. The occasional overtaking wave that pooped on my rear deck suggested it was probably a good thing the wind hadn’t come up earlier  ̶  it might have been rather too exciting if the seas had had all afternoon and the full fetch of Fisher Channel to build.

The very welcome break recharged me for clawing into the headwind funneling through Lama Passage between Hunter and Denny Islands. I finally landed at Serpent Point about 20:00 hours, after twelve and a half hours at sea and about 25 nautical miles of travel.

Fatigue had destroyed my appetite, but I ate as much of a freeze-dried dinner as I could manage, so I’d have fuel to prevent shivers in the night.

July 24

tarp and tent After yesterday’s epic paddle, I slept ’til nine, then began the slow, deliberate ritual of preparing brunch, now seasoned by a sharp, enjoyable hunger. Later, I inspected the “real” upland campsite on the west side of the little bay mentioned in The Wild Coast guidebook, but it’s become lumpy and overgrown since John Kimantas’ visit, so I opted to leave my tent at the head of the beach, albeit jammed between a pair of logs. I rewatered from the small creek, showered, and then updated the journal I’d been too tired to complete last night. I also fired up my phone on the off-chance I’d get a signal from Bella Bella or Shearwater and be able to make a reassuring call to home, but no luck.

July 25

Unusually for me in a tent, I slept very poorly  ̶  hardly at all, in fact. I’d been careful not to nap during the day, but a lack of ventilation made the tent stuffy (logs on either side of it prevented me from leaving the doors open in the intermittent rain) and a host of bugs (I’d foolishly opened one netting door without extinguishing my headlamp) meant I was tossing and turning through most of the night. At 5:15, I gave it up, and began the reverse Russian-doll packing process, putting smaller things into bigger things, and those into even bigger things, and so on.

A sea kayak pulled up on a cobble beach.

 

The run up the east side of Denny Island was cloudy, cool and calm, with a favourable current, perfect for paddling with a present-in-the-moment appreciation of the beauty around me. We (or at least I) always aspire to travel in this rarefied, thinking-higher-thoughts kind of way, but we (or at least I) too often get distracted from it by the quotidian demands of weather, navigation and logistics. This morning, however, I was in the zone. The mountains on King Island loomed lovely atop the mist. The waterfalls on my side of the channel sang beautiful songs. And my imagination flew unfettered, running a time-lapse video in which I could see each of the tangled trees above me each growing at frantic speed, shouldering its neighbours over the cliff edges and into the waiting sea, and in turn falling victim to younger rivals, a desperate mêlée that only our fleeting human timescale fools us into mistaking for a tranquil forest.

a gnarled, fallen tree on the shore

By the time I made my dog-leg turn towards Gunboat Passage, the sun was steadily out. At my rest stop, the warmth tempted me to peel off my wetsuit, but I opted to keep it on. That turned out to be wise.

a driftwood log forms the outline of a dragon

Tell me you don’t see a dragon.

Approaching the tight gap formed by Maria Island, I was overtaken by a powerboat en route to Shearwater or Bella Bella. A white plume hung in its wake, and I was piously tut-tutting about exhaust fumes when a loud huff clued me in that I was actually looking at a whale spout. I hung about to watch the humpback blow steam once more. Then, with rainclouds cascading down the hills on the southeast side of Hampden Bay, I quickly pulled on my cag. Not for the first time, I was glad to have a waterproof layer I can don or doff at sea. It slipped on easily. Especially after I turned it the right way round.

The narrowest section of Gunboat Passage was lovely, with a swift, favourable current that made it feel like running down a river. I whipped happily past the mid-channel buoys, each pointing downstream like a marine weathervane. After the passage widened and slowed, I took the opportunity to munch a couple of snacks while still making progress toward my goal.

As I drew parallel to Manson Point, I could see a solid grey wall sweeping toward me from the west  ̶  no more of the gently drifting showers I`d been dealing with. As the rain swallowed me, visibility was quickly reduced. Fortunately, I had my destination in my GPS. And I knew from a visit four years earlier that the camp on Rainbow Island was flat, roomy and securely above any tide. So I plodded through the heavy torrents with a light heart. And glad to have left my wetsuit on. In just swim shorts, I`d have been dangerously cold.

I made landfall on Rainbow about 16:30 hours. As I scouted to find the optimum beaching point that would minimize my portage carries, a pair of humpbacks emerged not a hundred feet offshore. I managed to get my pocket camera out and capture some blurry, shaky footage of their subsequent surfacings.

As I unpacked, I discovered several inches of water in the kayak`s rear compartment. I tried to determine if there was a leak in the bottom by looking for water draining out now that the boat was on land, but the driving rain running down the sides and dripping off the keel made it impossible to detect anything. Eventually, I concluded the water must have flooded in via the ends of the rudder cable hoses, which had been submerged by the steep slope of the landing, and kept underwater for an extended period as I scouted portages and whale watched. (As we shall see in the epilogue, this turned out not to be true. I`m really glad the rear compartment was almost entirely filled with a Futa Stowfloat tapered drybag and a Watershed Duffle. These waterproof bags provided secondary floatation in the event of hull failure, just as I`d always planned. And kept my clothes and down sleeping bag from a disastrous soaking. Likewise, as planned.)

An island campsite with tent, tarp and sea kayakDespite being cold and tired, I took the time to set up camp carefully, rigging the tarp first, and pitching the tent beneath it to reduce both interior condensation and the noise of rain on the roof. Naturally, all these elaborate preparations ensured that about twenty minutes after I finished, the rain stopped. So it was time well spent.

Supper was tangy sweet-and-sour baked beans accompanied by my last two slices of flat bread, lavishly buttered. Indescribably delicious.

Having not slept much for 36 hours and paddled a long, honest day, I drifted off quickly and slumbered blissfully for a full 12 hours, dreaming of whales sounding into bottomless green depths.

July 26

With the ferry not leaving `til late in the day, I was able to eat and pack leisurely, launching just before noon. I paddled the couple of hours to McLoughlin Bay and timed my landing for high tide around 14:00 hours.

A wooden building with West Coast Native art

Shortly after I`d settled into the waiting room, I was greeted by Gerald, my site mate from Triquet Island. We passed a companionable ferry voyage back to Port Hardy, comparing notes on paddling adventures and our mutual love of companion dogs.

a chart with lines showing the route described in the posting

The route for “Going Paddleabout”

Epilogue

Subsequent inspection of my kayak at home revealed that a cut in the rubberized keel strip I`d had applied years ago had held water almost constantly against the keel, decaying the very matrix of the fibre. The leak had been slow enough to be undetectable on my two hour sprint to McLoughlin Bay, though it had clearly let the rear compartment flood on the previous long day on the water. Since that keel strip had also protected the boat against years of solo drags up and down rocky beaches, I`d say it was at least a wash in terms of its effect on the boat`s life, and more likely a net gain.

But in combination with all the other repairs I`d made to the boat over the years, it was a sign that she was no longer safe for long voyages. No regrets: I`d used this kayak roughly through 13 years of hard travel and major mods, so I got my money`s worth and more. I was loathe to sell or even donate the boat to unknown parties, not wanting the legal or moral responsibility if anything went wrong despite my warnings she needed major work to be seaworthy.  I’d asked on the westcoastpaddler.com forum about  an eco-friendly way to dispose of it. The consensus was there wasn`t any such way for composite boats.

And so on a late fall evening, I found myself stripping the fittings off the boat in preparation for cutting it up. It was an emotional experience. This kayak wasn`t one of those unique handmade beauties of wood or skin on frame. It was a mass-produced object of fabric and epoxy. But we`d been through so much together. She`d borne me safely across miles of stormy waters, given me access to remote places I`d never otherwise have been, and sailed me through countless summer afternoons on English Bay.

The next morning, I happened to be chatting to a co-worker of mine, a long time sailor and sometime kayaker. His eyes lit up at the mention of my old boat; his wife has her own kayak and he`d been looking for an inexpensive way to get one of his own. I brought her in the next morning and he took her to her new home on Bowen Island. He is one of the few people I would trust to take my old craft. He understood what he was getting, and the work required to make her seaworthy once more. He has the skills and the patience to put far more labour into her than it would make sense to pay anyone for, purely as a past-time and for the pleasure of restoration.

So he got a new-to-him boat out of the deal. I got some bucks and a bottle of a most excellent single malt of a make that is new to me. And a grand final adventure with my beloved boat. And best of all, the knowledge that she, like the Mary Ellen Carter, will rise again.

Part 1 of this trip report is here; Part 2 is here.

 

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