Dances With Beers: Sea Kayaking The Broughton Archipelago To Powell River. Part 4

August 19
Up at 5AM, on the water for 7:35. At first, I paddled through thick fog that was backlit by the rising sun into a luminous white. It looked rather like a Hollywood effects tech’s idea of “going to heaven.” Heaven or not, the prospect of running the Upper Rapids blind was pretty daunting, but fortunately the fog burnt off as I went.

a sea channel in low-lying fog

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Dances With Bears: Sea Kayaking The Broughton Archipelago To Powell River. Part 3

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.

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Dances With Bears: Sea Kayaking The Broughton Archipelago To Powell River. Part 2

August 14
A good day to have taken off. The wind and rain had risen steadily through the night, til by this morning, it was blowing from the southeast at 15 to 20 knots. (Appropriately enough, the book I had been reading in the tent was Gale Force 10: The Life and Legacy of Admiral Beaufort)

a couple walks amid WWII ruinsI rigged my tarp as a wind-breaking lean-to, then enjoyed a cozy pancake brunch in its lee. Later, in the company of four older yachties who had landed in their dinghies, I explored the ruins of the WWII complex. Lots of buildings. It must have had quite a garrison in its day.

 

a ruined WWII gun emplacement

August 15 My Dinner With Bruno

a waterfall cascading into the seaUp at 6AM. I paddled through calm waters and under low cloud up Sunderland Channel. Headwinds developed by the time I got to Althrop Point, which made me call off a planned visit to the head of Forward Harbour for grizzly watching (I’d also seen a sight-seeing boat deke rapidly in and out of the Harbour, which made me believe there were no grizzlies about).

A happy petroglyph near the entrance to Forward Harbour

I got through Whirlpool Rapids (the second of the major “tidal gates” on this trip) just after 16:30 hours, then had to fight a headwind. I could duck out of most of it by hugging the shore down Wellbore Channel, but not while crossing Chancellor Channel. As a result, it was after 20:00 hours and dusk was falling when I reached the campsite just north of Solitary Mountain. I was delighted: there was a large, level area of soft duff for my tent, in upland safe above the highest tides, and even a kitchen counter— a driftwood plank set across two log stumps.

the view from the almost perfect campsite

the view from the almost perfect campsite

Unhappy bear in a tree

I got my tent up, my mat inflated, and my sleeping bag laid out. I’d just poured boiling water into a pouch of freeze-dried Sweet and Sour Chicken, and was back in the tent stuffing my pillow bag, when I heard the crack of a breaking branch and a series of roars from beyond the kitchen. Investigating by headlamp, I spied a shadowy black figure a few feet up a tree. Only his gold eyes were clear, reflecting the light’s beam. He was huffing and howling aggressively, so I fired two bear bangers, making sure they landed and went off between me and him (folks have been known to land them on the far side of a bear, stampeding the frightened animal towards them).

The results were not what I’d hoped: instead of running away, the bear shimmied further up the tree, from where he alternated threatening growls with whimpering and hyper-ventilating. On closer inspection, I could see he was no cub, but also not a full-grown adult. A yearling, perhaps. I hoped his mother wasn’t within range of the cries, ready to go Momma Bear on anyone she thought was picking on her special snowflake.
So I did the only sensible thing: I sat down and ate my dinner. Now why would opening a package that smelled like Chinese take-out be a good idea in the circumstances? Because I saw a lot more paddling in my future, and I hadn’t eaten since lunch. Energy-wise, I was tapped out.

As I ate, I talked to the bear in the same reassuring tone you would use with a scared dog you thought might strike out in fear. I continued our “conversation” as I struck camp and reloaded my boat — making sure to retrieve the two spent bear banger cartridges (just ‘cos you’re doing a midnight bug-out is no reason to be a litter bug). Bruno’s contribution to the dialogue was limited to huffing and whining, but that was OK: it let me know he was still up his tree, and that was where I now wanted him to stay until after I’d sailed.

By the time I launched about 23:20 hours, it was raining. I normally love night paddling, but I prefer it to be across familiar waters to a familiar destination. In this case, I was crossing unknown waters under a dark sky, utterly committed to an unknown campsite that I was guided to only by GPS.

As if in compensation, the bioluminescence ran brilliantly. Each stroke of my paddle spawned glowing galaxies that whirled off behind me. My bow wave was a bright green-yellow arrowhead. Periodically, fireworks went off in the depths as schools of minnows darted under my boat, with the occasional bigger rocket as a predator pursued them. Whole dramas that were concealed beneath the reflecting surface by day were highlighted on this night.

At first, I was guided mainly by the vague loom of the hills on the east side of Loughborough Inlet (to preserve my night vision, I didn’t keep the screen of my GPS lit constantly, firing it up only every several minutes.) But as I cleared Tucker Point, the slow, reassuring blink of the Lyall Island light hove into view, and gave me a constant reference angle.

I spotted the stacked lights that identified a tug with a tow coming westward toward me down Chancellor Channel. In my haste, I hadn’t packed my usual night running light in an accessible place, and I wasn’t sure my headlamp would be visible in time to do any good. But a few minutes assessment with the angle on the bow technique assured me I would pass well ahead of him. I doubt he was ever aware of my presence.
I had a few scary moments when the wind blew up. Doing the paddling equivalent of a stumble and fall against oncoming waves held no attractions miles from shore and in the path of an oncoming tug. Fortunately it blew through quickly.

I landed at ten to one in the morning, to find a beach that was obviously going to be submerged by the high spring tides. The only above-water option was a lumpy rock ledge I dubbed Camp Barnacle. I anchored my tent internally with bags of gear and jammed every soft item I wasn’t wearing into the crevices under my sleeping pad to get it more or less level. For all its faults, I slept better here than I would have if I’d stayed at the other camp. I bet Bruno did too.

August 15’s route

chart section showing a kayak route

The route of my night flight

August 16

Not having got to sleep ’til after 2 in the morning, there was no way I was going to try to make the rapids at Greene Point today.  I had a leisurely breakfast, washed and watered up from the creek. I inadvertently scooped a salmon parr in my water filter bag, and released him as way undersized.

a sea kayak on the shore with a tent in the background

Camp Barnacle

My tiny strip of beach was sloped, windy and wet, but bear-free. I thought I’d seen the last of bears on this trip. Little did I know.

Dances With Bears: Sea Kayaking The Broughton Archipelago To Powell River. Part 1

August 10

trip provisions laid out on the bed

We’d spent four lovely days at the Paddler’s Inn on Gilford Island in the Broughton Archipelago. It was our second time there, and we can’t recommend it enough – Bruce and Josée go out of their way to make you feel at home. But today my wife got on Bruce’s boat for the ride back to Telegraph Cove and the car; I slipped my kayak in the water to paddle southward.

A sea kayak on a resort dock

Ready to launch

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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 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.

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. Continue reading

Going Paddleabout: Sea Kayaking around Bella Bella, BC (Part 1)

a bottle of rubbing alcoholPrelude
I’d driven up Vancouver Island to Port Hardy the evening before my 7AM ferry to Bella Bella departed, and car camped a few miles from the ferry terminal. As I sat in camp about 8:30, I realized with horror that I’d left the bag with all my alcohol at home. No, not that alcohol — the fuel for my stove! So I raced into Port Hardy. Just before they closed, I scurried into the pharmacy section of the local grocery store, and cleaned them out of their rubbing alcohol. As he rang up my eight bottles, the clerk eyed me with a mixture of pity and contempt. I decided any explanation would sound like protesting too much, so I rolled with it. Back at camp, the test burn in the stove went well: a little sootier than proper meths, but plenty hot. Continue reading