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.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
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.
It 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
There is nothing quite like the experience of nearly being eaten to make you appreciate how fleeting your position atop the food chain is. In the summer of 1993, I became one of the lucky few to acquire this sort of insight.
Backcountry tourists, as opposed to those who live in the wilderness, seem to fall into two equally simple-minded groups. Those of the old school are convinced that behind every bush, a predator lurks expressly for them. They are barely able to stagger down trails under the burden of rifles and grenade launchers. Late-night forays to answer the call of nature are made perilous by the razor wire and minefields they have used to “secure” the camp perimeter. These folks have delusions about their own importance in the scheme of things. Continue reading
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
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.
A trip from a time before digital photography.
August 25, 1999 We awoke to a mix of blue sky and clouds, and no rain! With a forecast for 15 knot westerly winds, we made the decision to go for rounding Cape Scott today, and got launched about 9:45AM. Even as we crossed Experiment Bight, we could see foam from swells breaking on rocks north of Cape Scott.
Near the north of the cape, Stania was startled by a sea lion surfacing with an explosive snort just behind her. He torpedoed past our bows, glaring back as he paced us. Just then we noticed, in a kelp bed a couple of hundred feet away, the front flippers of numerous sleeping sea lions, presumably our escort’s harem. By this time we’d passed our closest point of approach to the ladies, so as much as one can tiptoe in a kayak, we tiptoed away, while trying to project soothing vibes to the effect of “We have no designs on your wives, lovely and blubbery though they all are, we’re sure.”Continue reading
A trip from a time before digital photography.
August 17, 1999 Stania and I were up at 6AM to stow our gear. I dropped her with our kayaks at the Government Wharf in Port Hardy, then bucketed my trusty Escort Wagon over 63 kilometres of logging roads to our takeout on the San Josef River. As arranged, a truck from North Island Transportation picked me up there at 11AM.
Meanwhile, back at the dock, when Stania asked to change in the washroom at the Coast Guard Office, she was welcomed with open arms. She was even invited to take a shower (or perhaps be given one – it wasn’t quite clear). Oddly, when I appeared, I was not offered a shower and only grudgingly allowed to change.
In Canada, the government-required equipment for sea kayaks includes “a buoyant heaving line at least 15 meters long”. In other words, a rescue throwline. I’ve always suspected this requirement was drafted by some well-meaning but ill-informed civil servant who didn’t understand the differences between river and ocean kayaking. Because when I did whitewater paddling, I used my throwline more than once to fish out a buddy who’d had to abandon boat and was being recirculated in a feature that was loathe to spit him out. But I did that from the security of a riverbank. In sea kayaking, if your companion is in the soup, you likely are also. There’s rarely land or a patch of calm water from which to pitch a line. If you’re going to tow someone, it’s usually easier to paddle over and clip in your towline.* In more than three decades of sea kayaking, I’ve used my towline/throwline as a rescue throwline exactly once. And it wasn’t to save a kayaker.Continue reading
This series is a response to one reader’s request (It’s nice to know I have at least one reader!) They’re grab bags of trip suggestions and photos from many sea kayak voyages I’ve made through BC’s Gulf Islands over the course of more than two decades. I keep going back, not just because of the islands’ proximity to my home port of Vancouver, but also because they are richly served by a combination of National, Provincial and commercial water-accessible campgrounds.* By mixing up routes and seasons, you can create an infinite variety of voyages. Continue reading