August 17 An Epically Long Day
I got up at 3:30AM to get on the water for 6:00, as I had a fair way to go get to the Greene Point Rapids, and slack-to-flood was shortly after seven. I wound up breaking camp in the dark and fog by the dwindling light of a dying headlamp (good thing the batteries had been full a couple of nights before when I was dealing with Bruno).
Because I had to battle headwinds and a stronger-than-expected countercurrent, I was about 15 minutes late getting to the rapids. They were shrouded in heavy fog, and I could hear water splashing, which spooked me a bit. Surely there couldn’t be overfalls or standing waves just a quarter hour after slack? Then I spied a pod of our distant cousins, marine mammals, cavorting happily westward through the current, making the splashing sound I’d heard. A magic moment.
I stuck as close as I could to the southwest shore line, but tightly packed bull kelp and at one point a fallen “strainer” tree pushed me out into the channel. When Edsall Island emerged through the fog, I knew I was below the tide rip area, so I set a direct course for Lorte Island, behind which there was supposed to be a marina where I might resupply. Now that I was past the danger zone and I knew that the increasing flood would simply flush me further away from the rising turbulence, it was very pleasant and familiar paddling through the fog. Being out of sight of land gave things a real “at sea” feel, and made me nostalgic for the Canadian Maritimes and the southwest coast of England, both places I know well from childhood.
The marina turned out to be a resort with no store, but the owner invited me in for a cup of coffee on the house. When one of the guests ordered breakfast, I inquired how much it would cost to piggy back on. They quoted me ten bucks; I left them twenty: they’d been really friendly, even to the extent of popping a depleted set of my GPS batteries in their charger (I had solar panels with me, but hadn’t had a lot of sun). A second breakfast seemed justified: my 4AM granola and dried berries were a distant memory at this point.
It got better from there. Another guest was making a supply run to the marina at Blind Bay, which had a store (it had been inaccessible to me because of rapids that flooded against me at the same time the Greene Point Rapids flooded favourably). He offered me a lift.
Just a couple of hours after slack, the Greene Point rapids were running impressively — even my benefactor’s powerful Bayliner was getting spun off course by the downstream swirls.
By just after 11, I was back at my boat, reprovisioned with ramen noodles, a tin of beans, a loaf of home-baked bread, cream cheese, alkaline batteries for my headlamp, and one of their famous cinnamon rolls. It sure went down nicely as I noshed it a bit after 14:00 hours, half way down the east coast of East Thurlow Island. I also got to sail for a short while down Nodales Channel between Thurlow and Sonora.
My original plan had been to camp on Hardinge Island, but the site there was a dark tunnel under the trees. I decided to carry onto the site just inshore of Howe Island on Sonora. I had a pleasant paddle there, with the current on my side, but there were power boaters landed on the cobble beach. I wasn’t in the mood for noise, so I decided to carry onto the next site south described in The Wild Coast Volume 3, which mentioned camping on a grassy lawn next to an old cottage. That, and the stream shown on the chart, sounded good. As soon as I made the decision to head there, a head wind blew up and the current turned against me. This wasn’t paranoid imagination on my part: I was stroking at a rate that would have been moving me at 3+ knots unopposed, but my GPS showed 2 knots or less.
I reached the little bay with the cottage a bit after 19:000 hours, unloaded my cargo, and then carried my tent bag up to the grass. Only to discover lots of fresh bear scat among the berry bushes that had taken over there. I really should have checked before offloading all my stuff. Back in the boat it all went and off I went. The site just north of Cinque Islands featured lots of awkward rocks and a single ledge that would be sketchy during these spring tides. I headed off to Shipwreck Cove, knowing I was completely committed to it at this point. I landed there just as dusk started to fall. By the time I’d made camp and supper on the ledge that was the only usable spot, it was near midnight.
The trunk of a long-dead tree angled up onto my ledge served as a wall/shelving unit for my camp. But I was careful not to place anything in the hollow underneath it: the high spring tides would lift the end in the water and drop the shoreward end like a press. And indeed, as I dozed in the tent, I heard the tree lifting and creaking like the mast of a tall ship under sail.
I was in no hurry to depart the next morning — I only had a couple of hours to go to the next site, and the low tide had exposed hundreds of feet of muck that wanted to suck your sandals off at every step. (I would usually not have bothered packing up for such a short hop, but the following day I had an early morning opening to get through the Upper Rapids in Okisollo Channel and I wanted to be as near as possible to them. Time and tide wait for no kayaker.)
So I bathed, had a pancake and bacon breakfast with coffee, wrote up my journal, and packed up slowly, ready for the rising tide to float me off in the early afternoon. I found myself a bit depressed and keyed up, which I put down to accumulated fatigue from two recent long days of paddling and apprehension about the next day’s rapid transit.
Then a loud crashing through the trees on the far side of my little beach announced a visitor. This bear was much bigger, but far more chill than Bruno, my unwanted guest from a couple of days back. This fellow was clearly aware of my presence, but unbothered by it, and went nonchalantly about his crab harvesting. The casual ease with which he flipped over heavy rocks underscored his strength. His visit quite cheered me up: this was the right kind of bear encounter. It was broad daylight, so I could see what was going on, and I wasn’t going to be trying to sleep in the area that night.
My good mood was further enhanced by a quick and easy voyage to the next campsite. The sun shone, and the currents and eddies ran mostly my way.
The beach nearest to the Upper and Lower Rapids between Sonora and Quadra Islands was obviously going to flood completely with the spring tide. Congratulating myself on my masterful foresight, I pulled out the hammock I’d brought along with just such a scenario in mind. I strung my sky bed between the roots of two driftwood tree trunks, then did a test lie-in. There was an ominous creaking, followed by a resounding snap before I was deposited unceremoniously onto the stones. Nursing a bruised ego and butt, I re-rigged the hammock to roots made of sterner stuff, then deployed my tarp as a roof over it.
All went well at first in the night; the tarp shrugged off several heavy showers. But at about one in the morning I stretched luxuriously in the hammock, draped my arms over the sides, and found my fingertips submerged in salt water. It was time for all hands to “Abandon hammock!” This I did very cautiously, as the hammock had a tendency to tilt and decant all its contents if you were careless, and the last thing I needed was a soaked down-filled sleeping bag. I waded to the edge of the tree line, stuck a stick at the water’s edge, and waited ’til the tide was clearly receding. The interlude gave me time to realize where I’d miscalculated: my estimations of tide height vs hammock bottom hadn’t allowed for the fact that the bed sagged several inches lower when occupied.
After about a half hour, I was able to wade back and gingerly reboard the hammock. As I drifted back to sleep, I began to hear the endless crash of big waves, somewhere out in the dark. This was odd, as there was no wind running, no water breaking on my beach, and no boat had gone by to create wake. Then I realized I was hearing the tumult of the Lower Rapids, running at full tilt more than a mile away, an impressive indication of their awesome power.