April Showers bring… April showers


April 7, 2023

We’d laid plans for this trip with an Option A (Howe Sound/Átl’ka7tsem) and an Option B (Indian Arm/Nuth Khaw Yum Provincial Park). The predicted winds made Howe Sound sound rather too exciting, especially given that if we were crossing from Porteau Cove to the Islets View site, we’d have the wind and waves on the beam coming and going.

Rack n’ Roll: securing boats to the trusty Subaru
Read more: April Showers bring… April showers

So Indian Arm it was. Rhian and I swung by the Jericho Sailing Association compound to grab our boats, then met our accomplices, Paul and Nessa, at the Deep Cove put-in. A light drizzle washed us as we loaded and launched. 

Paul and Nessa snap a selfie at the Deep Cove put-in as Rhian and I demonstrate precision kayak maneuvers in the background.

Things cleared a bit as we made our way down the Arm, becoming what the Irish would call “soft”. Scraps of blue sky even appeared, lulling us into a false sense of security.

We paused to frolic briefly in the currents below Silver Falls, then pressed on.

Premature Exhilaration: Paul and I celebrate the blue sky. North Twin Island is visible on the horizon behind my outstretched left arm.
Sea kayak siren self-portrait: Rhian’s selfie

The rain held off as we landed at Bishop Creek (Berg’s Landing) in the late afternoon, letting us all rig both our tents and the overtarps for them. It began to foreshadow the coming deluge as we rigged the kitchen-dining tarp.

Nessa and I approach Bishop Creek/Berg’s Landing on the left. Croker Island is visible just beyond us.
Overtarps are de rigueur in heavy rain to reduce interior condensation in tents. So de rigger set’em up!
Paul and Nessa’s backcountry pied-à-terre. Happily, the grey overtarp I lent them accessorized well with their tent, else I’m sure they would have refused it.

Fortunately, the group consisted of seasoned outdoor folk, who understand that when it comes to weather, things are what they are. Plus, we had brought a lot of good cheer (mostly of the fermented-red-liquid-in-bags kind.) And, as this group’s now-traditional dessert, we heated a pie in the Outback Oven until it was as warm as though fresh-baked, and drizzled it with hot custard. 

April 8, 2023

Throughout the night, the temperature continued to fall, as did the rain. In fact, it cranked up to a volume that made last evening’s showers look like a desultory drizzle. Even landing on the tarp above the tent canopy, it drummed loud enough to preclude sleep. So I stuck in my ear plugs – not usually a recommended procedure in bear country, but honestly, unless Brother Bruin were clashing cymbals to herald his approach, I’d never have heard him over the rain anyway.

I was on breakfast duty and had massively underestimated the time needed to cook a “full English” for everyone in the group. It could only have gone slower if I’d started by planting the potatoes and fattening the pigs. Fortunately, no-one was in any hurry to leave the sheltering tarp, so the meal evolved into a leisurely “full English brunch”, washed down with endless cups of tea and coffee.

Camp kitchen, complete with cold and colder running water (under your feet)!

The ground under the kitchen tarp had gone from fairly damp last night to full swamp this morning. Fortunately everyone had waterproof pants for kneeling to cook or fill plates, and full-frame, above-the-flood chairs for actually eating.

By this point, all of us were wearing every layer we had when outside our tents, and counting our blessings that we’ll all brought winter-weight sleeping bags, pads and clothing. Entering and exiting the tents involved elaborate doffing or donning rituals that would have looked familiar to a hard-hat commercial diver. Vapour hung in the air with our every breath.

In the afternoon, Paul and Nessa, ever the bold and energetic ones, launched for a daytrip to Granite Falls. Rhian went on a wet weather photo safari, finding the beauty in the rain. I did likewise in my own way, hanging out under the tarp and admiring the way the swirling low clouds concealed and then revealed the various peaks and crannies in the fjord walls opposite our camp. And I pondered an additional point I would emphasize to the students in my Online Trip Planning Class: in the Marine Weather class, we typically talk about the importance of being dressed appropriately for whatever on-water (and possibly in-water) conditions prevail. But frankly, if everyone in our group had not been equipped with not just drysuits and appropriate layers, but winter-weight shore wear and sleeping equipment, we’ve have at best been trying to call a water taxi for the trip home and at worst needed to be medi-vaced for hypothermia.

Supper was tamped down with our also now-traditional hot Auntie’s Puddings and custard. (Are you sensing a theme here?)

April 9, 2023

Wanting to be back home at a reasonable hour for what promised to be several days of drying tarps, tents and selves, we’d agreed the night before to aim for a 9:30AM launch. Typically this means we’d actually launch nearer 10ish. But we were all apparently very motivated, and were sliding the boats off the cobbly, shelly beach at the appointed hour. Even with all four on each boat for the portage from the loading station to the water, we all walked very gingerly – one slip on the slimy, lumpy and shifty rocks would have been an excellent way to twist an ankle or break a leg.

Undamped spirits or contagious rictus? We Report; You Decide.
Rhian and Nessa model this winter’s must-have kayak cruise wear. From the high (and watertight) necklines to the little-black-cockpit skirts, they’re sure to make a splash wherever they go!

My three companions, all younger than me, set a smart pace back to base. At first, I kept up well, and was even in the lead for a bit. But gradually, I fell behind. If there had been a Captain Oates Award For Best Straggler, I’d have been a shoe-in. Fortunately, the situation was not quite dire enough for the others to suggest I go outside for some time. Besides, we already were outside.

About an hour out of Deep Cove, we got hammered by a headwind squall and blinding rain. In the low vis, I mistook two other paddlers who were bee-lining for their shoreline cottages as Paul and Nessa, and wound up paddling for sometime at a tangent to the rest of the group. But once the weather cleared, we re-united.

On the final leg to Deep Cove, the wind shifted, and I kept hoping I would get a least a sail assist to catch up with my friends. But the wind just toyed with me – repeatedly inviting me to rig the sail, glide through the water for a few seconds, then dying off. My companions were remarkably patient with all this faffing about. And even with it, we landed at Deep Cove shortly after noon.

The rain continued to fall so hard that Rhian and I simply stayed in our drysuits for the drive back to Jericho and dropping off our boats. Even with the wipers on full blast, the windshield often looked as though it were iced over. The heavens poured one last contemptuous dump on us as we offloaded the kayaks. And naturally, as I drove Rhian home from Jericho, the showers ceased and the sun began to peek coyly out from behind the clouds. That sun of a bi …!

Big thanks to Rhian, Paul and Nessa for sharing their companionship and photos!

Sea Kayak Navigation: natural ranges and pre-plotted LOPs


In a previous post, we talked about Lines Of Position and about two kinds of LOPs: the shoreline, and compass bearings taken from recognizable landmarks.

But sometimes we just don’t want to break our paddling flow to stop and take compass bearings. And sometimes exuberant waves make shooting and transferring bearings onto a chart that’s bouncing off the trampoline of a sprayskirt deck rather like working on a crossword while riding a Tilt-A-Whirl. At such times, it would be great to have “self-shooting” LOPs. Happily, these exist: they’re called ranges*. They come in two flavours: artificial ranges, which kayakers generally avoid, and natural ranges, which we embrace like the tree-huggers we are.

* Or “transits” if you’re British. They do have a strange habit of coming up with odd new words for things when there are already perfect serviceable ones in English. See truck/lorry, glasses/spectacles, trash can/dustbin, etc.

Read more: Sea Kayak Navigation: natural ranges and pre-plotted LOPs

Artificial ranges are often erected along narrow channels and tricky harbour approaches for the benefit of bigger boats. They’re typically a pair of brightly-coloured trapezoids mounted on frame towers a few hundred metres apart. When the captain of a ship sees them lined up, one directly above the other, it tells them they’re in deep water, in the centre of the marine traffic lane, right where they want to be. When the captain of a kayak sees the same thing, it tells them they’re in deep doo-doo, in the centre of the marine traffic lane, right where they don’t want to be. At best a kayaker may acquire an expensive ticket for interfering with bigger boats; at worst they might be pureed in the prop of an overtaking freighter. So take advantage of your kayak’s much shallower draft and hug the sides of any such vessel traffic lanes you must follow. (But also remember that the wake from big boats will get steeper and more spilly in the shallows.)

A photo of two navigation ranges, showing their appearance in real life.
A pair of artificial ranges. If you were piloting a ship downriver, you’d want to move far to the left to get the ranges to line up one over the other and put your craft in the deep water channel until you hit the 12A marker shown on the chart section below.

A section of a nautical chart showing how navigational ranges are indicated.
The same ranges, both circled in blue, as they appear on a nautical chart. The bright green circle shows approximately where the photo above was taken.

Natural ranges occur wherever two distinct landmarks line up from the paddler’s point of view. They’re the same sort of landmarks we’d be looking for when taking a compass bearing: the end of an island, a navigation buoy or marker, or the tip of a point.

Showing two landmarks as a natural range, creating a Line Of Position. The eastern tip of Gossip Island is lined up with Laura Point on Mayne Island.
Looking north from the shoreline of Miners Bay on Mayne Island. Laura Point, in the middleground on the right, is just overlapping with the eastern tip of Gossip Island, visible in the far background, beyond Rip Point and Burrill Point on the left.
A section of marine chart, with a line drawn showing natural ranges for determining your position.
The natural ranges from the photo above as they line up on a chart. Where the orange line meets the shoreline of Miners Bay is your location. (The large public dock you’d be floating beside would also be a good clue to your location, but you can’t always count on having such infrastructural validation, especially when you’re paddling in remote areas.)

You can mix-and-match the intersection points of all types of LOPs to find your position. If all your LOPs are shorelines and natural ranges, you can usually count on them to be pretty accurate (islands and buoys generally don’t move around much). But if one of your LOPs is a compass bearing, it’s not a bad idea to take a second bearing off another object, just to offset errors in taking the first shot and transferring it to the chart.

The next best thing to a natural range as an LOP is a pre-plotted compass bearing. Especially when searching along a shoreline for a not-obvious-from-seaward campsite, a pre-plotted LOP can save a lot of anxious vacillation between “We should spot camp any minute now” and “We’ve overshot it and need to turn around.”

To pre-plot a compass bearing LOP, identify a landmark on the chart you’re confident will be visible as you’re approaching the target campsite in real life. Next, use a ruler or parallel rules to draw a straight line from the campsite to the landmark. Then, using either a hiker’s compass or a string-equipped Davis protractor, determine the magnetic bearing from the campsite to the landmark. (If you do all this at home or ashore in camp, it will be much easier to plot accurate bearings and draw straight lines.)

Pay no attention to the waterfall! We’re navigating by chart and compass, dammit!

For a worked example, let’s go back to the chart we used in this post. But now let’s pretend that instead of making a crossing from Elephant Point to the campsite, we’re paddling north along the shoreline of Granville Bay looking for it. (For purposes of this exercise, we’re going to ignore the fact that in real life, just north of this campsite, there’s a fourteen-hundred foot waterfall thundering down the cliffs as a subtle visual and audio clue to your whereabouts!)

A section of marine chart, with a hiker's compass used as a protractor to determine a bearing from one location to another.
How we determined the bearing from Elephant Point to camp using a hiker’s compass. The “Read Bearing Here” indicator on the compass shows 39°, which we rounded to 40° for practical purposes.

To determine the magnetic bearing from the campsite to Elephant Point with a hiker’s compass on the chart, we could just reverse the procedure shown in the photo above. We’d lay one edge of the compass baseplate running between camp and Elephant Point as before, but this time with the Direction Of Travel arrow pointing the opposite way. Next, we’d turn the compass bezel to make its meridian lines parallel to the blue magnetic North lines on the chart, then note the degrees shown at the Read Bearing Here indicator. But we’ve already done all the same sort of work to determine the bearing from Elephant Point to the campsite, as shown in the photo. That bearing was 40°.

You’ve probably heard the slang, “Doing a one eighty!” to describe turning right around to head straight back to where you came from? It’s a handy way to remember how to work out the reverse (technically called the reciprocal) bearing from B→A when you already know the bearing A→B. In this case, we know the bearing from Elephant Point to the campsite is 40°. So we add 180° (“one eighty”) to 40° and get 220° – the reciprocal bearing from the campsite to Elephant Point.*

*When our original bearing is 180° or less, we add 180 to determine the reciprocal. If the original bearing is greater than 180°, we subtract 180 to get the reciprocal. So if the original bearing had been 270°, the reciprocal would have been 90°. Why this way rather than just always adding or always subtracting? Because, for tediously complicated historical reasons, compasses use 360°circles. So unless you’re Captain Jack Sparrow, your compass won’t show a course higher than 360° or in negative degrees.

A section of nautical chart, with a Davis protractor, showing how to determine the compass bearing from one location to another.
How we determine a bearing from Elephant Point to camp using a modified Davis Protractor. Happily, the indicated bearing is 40°, same as for the compass method above. Alert readers will note that the reciprocal bearing, 220°, is also shown on the edge of the protractor, saving us from having to do the addition or subtraction described in the paragraphs above to get the bearing from camp to Elephant Point.
A section of a marine chart, with a pre-plotted bearing line from camp to Elephant Point.
A pre-plotted bearing line in green. The letter “M” after the noted 220° reminds us that this bearing is relative to magnetic North rather than true North. The arrows on the line indicate that the bearing shown runs from camp to Elephant Point.

So now we note the 220° bearing from the campsite to Elephant Point on the green line drawn between the two. As we make our way north up the shoreline of Granville Bay, we periodically take a shot of Elephant Point with our hiker’s compass or our deck compass. If the bearing we get is greater than 220° (I.E. further south), we know we’re not quite there yet; if it’s less than 220° (I.E. further north), we know we’ve overshot.  

A section of a marine chart with a pre-plotted bearing and a taken bearing south of it.
Imagine we are paddling north along the shore of Granville Bay and are at the orange circle over the end of the word “Granville”. If we were to take a bearing to Elephant Point from here, using either our hiker’s compass or deck compass, we’d get a reading of about 244°. That’s south of the 220° pre-plotted bearing to camp, so we’d know we weren’t there yet.
A section of marine chart showing a pre-plotted compass bearing and a bearing taken from north of it.
If we found ourselves at the location of the orange circle shown here, a compass shot to Elephant Point would give us a bearing of about 204°. That’s north of the 220° pre-plotted LOP to camp, so we’d know we’d gone too far.

It’s good practice to er, practice with LOPs of all kinds even in waters you know like the back of your hand. In fact, especially in waters you know like the back of your hand. That way you’ll quickly recognize any errors you’ve made. Then, hopefully having made all your mistakes in low-consequence situations, you’ll be more confident and competent when applying those skills “for reals” in unfamiliar environments. 

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
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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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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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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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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

Paddling The Past: Solo Sea Kayaking Kyuquot Sound, September 1994 Part 2

the mouth of Johnson Lagoon, a tidal inlet

When the weather and my sickness lift, I return to the entrance of Johnson Lagoon. This time, I have scheduled my approach better: like the gate of a fairytale kingdom that opens to only a few, the current admits me. Not wanting to have to wait half a day for the next slack, I leave the lagoon less than two hours later. Already the current is coursing in a strong ebb. It’s with me, but this is a mixed blessing. While I don’t have to fight against it, it also means there is no retreat once I’ve neared the mouth of the lagoon. The virtues of a kayak optimized for touring—its length, straight line speed, and resistance to turning—are liabilities in what is effectively a whitewater river. It’s like doing a downhill slalom on cross-country skis. After a couple of heart-racing minutes, I am flushed out onto the open sea, very glad not to have left my departure any later. Continue reading

Paddling The Past: Solo Sea Kayaking Kyuquot Sound, September 1994. Part 1

A sea kayak makes its way through heavy rain

As I round the tip of Whitely Island into the long Pacific swell, the bow of my kayak lifts like the head of a stallion eager for rolling, open country after miles of narrow trails. The first leg of my solo paddle from Fair Harbour has run through sheltered channels, and my boat seems to welcome a greater challenge. As do I. For the past several hours, the weather has been what the Irish euphemistically call “soft”—meaning it has varied from gently curling mist to torrential downpours that have hissed on the surface of the water like oil on a hot frying pan. Now the clouds have parted, making the final hour of paddling to Rugged Point pleasantly dry.

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