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.”
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.
Sometimes we need the temporary comfort of illusions while we come to terms with an unhappy new reality. It`s been two weeks since we had to say goodbye to our beloved shelty Scotia. I’m no longer weeping every day. Most of the time I can deal with the fact that she is gone for good. No more fluffy chest ruff to run through my fingers. No more pitter-patter of little white paws on the kitchen floor. No more cool black rubber nose nuzzling me.
But at other moments, I’m not yet ready. Last week, I stopped by a pond in one of the parks we used to go to with Scotia. Unlike other dogs, she spurned retrieving sticks or balls, but loved to run chest deep into water to bark at the cannonball splashes of thrown rocks. As I sat on a log and looked out over the pond, I became convinced that if I tossed a rock into the water, the splash would work some kind of death-defeating spell, and my little girl would run out barking from behind the nearest tree. I dared not actually throw a rock and expose the fantasy for falsehood.
Yesterday morning, as I drifted in that liminal state between sleeping and waking, I seemed to hear the short, sharp yip that Scotia gave at dawn to signal she was ready to come in from the patio (she preferred to sleep outside, even in rain and snow) and be served breakfast. Surely if I opened the door, she would slip between my feet, ready to lead me to the kitchen. Part of me knew full well this was a dream. The other part clung to sleep as long as I could, reluctant to be torn from that other world where Scotia is still alive.
Although I have a car, both Scotia and I often preferred to travel by bike, with her riding in a kiddie trailer behind me, enjoying full access to all the sights and sounds and smells on the way to and from our walks. When I rode with the trailer for the first time since her death, the familiar heft of its weight behind me made me feel that if I were just to turn my head, Scotia would be there, with that eager shelty smile, tongue lolling in excitement and head cocked to ask “Where are we going today, daddy?” But I did not look, preferring not to shatter the illusion that she was just a few feet away.
I’ve dealt with death before, of both human and animal companions. I know that the time between tears will gradually become longer and longer, and eventually I’ll be able to deal permanently with the fact Scotia is really gone. Someday, I’ll be able to remember her with a fond smile rather than a lump in my throat. But for now, with the wound recent and raw, I sometimes need to take a break from the cold truth and to shelter, at least for a few minutes, under the warm and comforting blanket of make-believe.
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.
Several years ago my wife and I, together with our friend Heidi, completed a circuit of the famous Bowron Lakes Canoe route (though we used kayaks). While we ate excellently overall, one supper was unforgettable not just for its taste but for its after effects. I commemorated the occasion with this pastiche of Robert W. Service’s famous “The Cremation of Sam McGee“.
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 →
There are a few perks to being a sea kayak Instructor/Guide. Like being invited to join a focus group run by Mustang Survival. In Canada, Mustang has long been a go-to brand for recreational boaters, commercial fishers and racing sailors. But, with the exception of a manual inflation vest that’s popular with paddlers who can’t find a foam PFD that fits their body shape (or who just find foam PFDs too warm), Mustang’s products haven’t been top-of-mind in the sea kayaking market. They’re gunning to change that. Which is why I found myself, along with three fellow instructors, doing dawn patrol on a crisp, sunny fall morning. Continue reading →
The day dawned clear and dry. It was sooooo much easier to pack when I didn’t have to plan the logistics of breaking camp and packing as if prepping for a spacewalk, as one needs to do in heavy rain.
Paddling the southern end of Mathieson Channel was like kayaking across some huge northern lake. The water was mirror smooth. So much so, it was sometimes vertigo-inducing. As I looked at the rock walls on my right, the border between real and reflection was seamless. Continue reading →
With a “long weekend” running from Wednesday to Friday, I wanted a trip that maximized paddling and camping time and minimized driving time. And it had been several years since I’d paddled nearby Pitt Lake. So less than an hour after leaving home, I was unloading the kayak and gear at Grant Narrows Regional Park. As I packed the ‘yak, I was surrounded by vast flocks of bird watchers. I recognized at least two common species: the Full-Breasted Matron and the Pale-Legged Lesser Warbler, identifiable by its Tilley head plumage and its distinctive call: “Shirley, where’s the sunscreen? Where’s the sunscreen?” Continue reading →