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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Oh Deer: Meeting Equipment Challenges In the Deer Group

June 5

We “broke camp” at the hotel in Port Alberni about 7AM and hit the logging roads in my Subaru. Enroute, we took an unplanned detour down the wrong fork of the multi-branching and sparsely-signed roads. This was moderately embarrassing given that both Chris, my paddling partner, and I teach kayak navigation. In fairness, that’s all about navigating kayaks on the water, not on a roof rack. Despite the magical mystery tour, we reached our put-in at Poett Nook just before noon.

Two happy kayakers in a selfie

The Master Navigators

Though I’ve been kayak touring for decades, I’d only used ruddered kayaks on tour. My skeg boating had been limited to daytrips, guiding and teaching, so I was very excited to have a borrowed skeg boat for this multi-day trip. To my chagrin, I hadn’t been nearly ruthless enough in winnowing my gear to fit its narrower holds. Despite a hour of playing Tetris with the cargo, I still wound up with a couple of drybags lashed to my rear deck, and looked more like a peddler than a paddler. (In my defence, since we were headed out to a possibly arid archipelago, we were carrying a full week’s worth of water. Touring down the wet coast, I’m more used to carrying just a couple of day’s worth.)    

We launched about 13:25 and paddled with the inflow wind and waves on our port quarter toward the  San José Islets. (Yes, we knew the way to San José.) Both Chris and I were frustrated to find our skegs were jammed and wouldn’t lower via the slider switches. Luckily, we could “buddy up” and reach under each other’s sterns (of the kayaks, that is…) to pull things down into place. Having made our turn east at Tzartus Island, we had an excellent run before the wind to Fullerton Point. There we had to turn into the wind and waves for the final leg to the Studd Islets.

It was at this Point (so to speak) that things began to go a bit pear-shaped. My cockpit turned into a bathtub, with several inches of water sloshing around my butt and thighs (hurrah for drysuits!) My (also borrowed) handpump sucked. Or rather it didn’t – so I had to bum Chris’s in order to bail the boat. Afterwards, I made very sure the skirt was well sealed to the coaming, but still had to pump the boat out again before we landed. If 30 years of kayaking and various Paddle Canada courses have taught me anything, it’s that the water is meant to be on the outside of the boat.

beach view with a landed kayakwild flowers and seascapeEvery trip has a theme, and the theme of this one was quickly emerging: meeting equipment challenges. Oddly, this didn’t bother me. I’ve been touring long enough to have confidence in my ability to adapt, improvise and overcome. So I was perfectly at peace as we pulled our boats up the beach at the Studds. They were just as beautiful as I remembered them from my last visit 20 years before – the water over the sand shallows still the near-tropical turquoise colour, the view to the Pacific horizon as lovely. And amazingly, we had this paradise all to ourselves.There was clearly some kind of leak in my boat, but we had a safe harbour, food, water and the time and materials to find and fix whatever the problem was. For now, there was camp to make and supper to cook. It was “sufficient unto the moment.”

My Zen state held even as I shook out my tent and was enveloped in a blizzard of flakes – the waterproof coating had delaminated with age. It was all good; I had a small tarp I had brought as a second roof. Originally, I’d intended it to reduce condensation in the tent. Now it would serve as the main rain barrier. This was, as I’d realized, the Meeting Equipment Challenges Trip.

Sloshing water around in the cockpit quickly ferreted out the leak in my kayak: it was at the juncture between the tubing that houses the skeg cable and the box for the slider switch. We patched this with two-part putty from my repair kit.

Cooking dinner was a co-operative affair. My veggie-choizio pasta was well received, which was especially gratifying given that Chris was a professional cook in a previous incarnation. My dessert offering was chocolate pudding in cups, generously splashed with Cointreau, and eaten while watching the moon and Venus rise into the clear sky.

June 6

Up a bit before 8AM. After a leisurely breakfast of hash browns and bacon, we romped down the west coast of Tzartus for a daytrip. With a bit of an inflow headwind on the outbound voyage, I was glad the boat was only partially loaded and that we’d fixed the leak. The sun was out and the paddling was glorious.

a sea kayaker approaches a rock archPeering back through the first of many sea arches, we spotted another group of kayakers taking a break on a beach, so we expected company back in camp that evening.

a sea kayaker on calm waterWe ran the sea cave tunnel at the northeast entrance to Robber’s Passage, then landed on the south shore of the passage for lunch (leftover pasta from last night).

The run home was before a diminishing wind but an increasing swell and included a dogleg to pass behind a tug and its long tail of log rafts. As expected, we had sitemates back at camp – a very friendly group of older paddlers.  

The equipment challenge theme continued with the discovery that my VHF radio had somehow got turned on and the battery was completely drained. Fortunately, we had Chris’s VHF and the barometer in my watch for weather forecasting, and I had a PLB on the shoulder of my PFD in case of an emergency where I was separated from Chris.

Sunset from a beachIn turn, Chris learned that his new Pocket Rocket stove offered two options for cooking in any kind of breeze: crank it up and cremate your food, or turn it down and enjoy a paleo diet. Fortunately, I had enough spare fuel for my wind-shielded stove to cook all our meals for the trip if needed.

June 7

a sea kayaker paddles near surf breaking on a rocky shoreUp as planned at 6AM to catch the forecast. With 15-20 Southeast winds predicted for later in the morning, we decided to make an early run for Diana Island. We experienced virtually no headwind until we were abeam of Robber’s Passage, when we hit a strong, steady breeze, and large but non-breaking swells. Mostly non-breaking, that is: there were some truly impressive boomers to our north.

a deer in a clearing

Welcome to my island…

We landed on the lee (east) side of Kirby Point just before noon, and made camp quickly as we were uncertain about what kind of weather might be coming our way.  

lean-to built against a fallen treeAfter lunch, we followed a bushy trail to the other side of Kirby Point, finding a headstone with a sunken grave (remnants of the small European settlement that once existed here), a native burial site and a “Hobbit Lean-To” that someone had constructed out of driftwood propped against an uprooted tree. We also wandered out along the edges of the bay, exploring the tidepools.

a close-up of a sea anenomeIn an effort to make the crusts really crispy, I slightly burnt the bottoms of the supper pizzas. But maybe “blackened” pizza will be the Next Big Thing for jaded foodies on a constant quest for the new and novel? Either way, it was still quite edible and we had leftovers for the next day’s lunch. Curiously, though we were full of pizza, we still had room for shortbread cookies.

a campfire on the beach in twilightIn the intimate blue light of dusk, we sipped Scotch and chatted, the conversation meandering easily from matters casual to profound and back again.

June 8

a tent under a tarpHeavy rain began just as we hit the hay last night and continued through the day. Fortunately, the tarp kept all water off my scabby tent fly.

By mutual agreement, we didn’t paddle today – the wind was strong from the west and the seascape heavily punctuated with whitecaps. I took advantage of the spare time and fuel to have a hot shower. Then we had a leisurely pancake brunch under Chris’ large and excellently-rigged kitchen tarp.

The afternoon was spent in general sloth: reading and napping in our respective tents.

a close up of gooseneck barnaclesWith a break in the weather about 4PM, we had a late lunch of soup and leftover pizza. I took a brief photo safari to the south end of the bay.

 

sunset over a seascape horizonAround 7PM we enjoyed single malt and snacks, then strolled to the northwest end of the bay to catch the sunset. Chris treated us to Pears William as a late evening goodie.

We later discovered the racoons on the island are particularly clever. They’ve helped themselves to our whiskey – the line in the bottle is several inches lower than we remember it – and even resealed the cap in an attempt to cover up their crime.

June 9

It rained periodically through the night. We were up about 7:30 to breakfast on oatmeal with chunks of fresh apple and candied ginger, then launched for a daytrip about 10:30.

We made our way along the west sides of Diana and Edward King under low cloud and with a light following breeze and incoming swell. The supposed campsite on Edward King looked landable if you tucked far into the northeast corner of the shallow bay, but launching in any wind from southwest to northwest might be pretty dodgy, with reefs tripping the swells into breaks.

sea kayaker off wave-swept rocksThe oncoming swells grew larger and steeper as we got further west down Hammond Passage. We periodically lost sight of one another on opposite slopes of moving liquid mountains. At the Bordelais Islets, the most seaward rocks in the archipelago, great grey seas swept in, exploded impressively against the rocks, hurled geysers of foam into the air, then fell back like repelled invaders before renewing the endless assault. We arced well out to sea to avoid claptois reflecting off these rocky ramparts. 

The southeast coast of Edward King was dotted with sea caves and sea arches. Chris got slightly too bold in the entrance to one and had to backpaddle and brace as a “seventh wave” tried to surf him into the cave’s far wall.

We landed for lunch on the southeast corner of Haines Island about 13:00 hours. The weather kindly opened up into a warm haze, so we didn’t need to rig a tarp. I discovered more than a gallon of water in my bow compartment, and assumed I’d failed to seal the hatch properly when we launched that morning. Just as we were wrapping up lunch, the heavens opened up and bombarded us with everything they had. No problem once we were buttoned back into our boats.

Arriving back at camp about mid afternoon, I found about a quart of water in the bow coma patch on the interior of a fibreglass kayakpartment. Since I’d sealed the hatch very carefully after lunch, we did a leak test with more water. Drips revealed a crack right through the keel. Providentially, the brea crack in a kayak keel repaired with puttyak was 4 ½ inches long – just short enough to be safely overlapped by the 3 x 6 patch in my repair kit. Also fortunately, the sun came out to cure the UV-activated resin in the patch. And I had just enough putty left in the repair kit to put a reinforcing bead along the outside of the keel.

We supped on Pad Thai, with steamed pudding and custard for dessert, then lingered over a campfire and Bowmore’s til about 23:00.

The incoming weather brought cooler temperatures – I zipped up my sleeping bag for the first time on this trip.

June 10

Up shortly after 7. We carried the boats to the edge of the sand, just where it gave way to slippy, seaweed covered rock. This let us pack as the tide rose towards us, and launch at 11:50. (No deck cargo on the voyage home; we’d eaten and drunk our way into the boats.) Enroute home we checked out the Ross Islets – a large pod of kayakers was already encamped there.

We explored the southeast coast of Fleming Island, but with the wind rising, about half way to Robber’s Passage, we opted to make a beeline across to Nanat Island. This way, we had the seas on our stern quarter rather than on the beam.

a sea kayak paddles past an eagle on the rocks

An eagle assesses Chris for edibility

The wind and waves rose steadily during the crossing so that on the final third we were regularly surfing. I was very glad to have caught and repaired the bow crack. With a loaded boat working in these seas and under the pressure of surfing, it would have flooded heavily and probably submarined the boat as I rode down the wave faces.

Once around Nanat Island, we were in the lee of the waves, with just a pleasant tailwind to push us home to Poett Nook, where we landed about 13:20. Another happy flock of kayakers was already packing up to launch, chattering cheerfully, their boats and gear strewn across the shore like tidewrack. We wished them as fine a time as we’d had.

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

Last Kayak Camping Trip of 2015

My Personal Transport Team (AKA my long suffering wife) dropped me with my boat and gear at Deep Cove about 14:00 hours on December 30th. I’d been waiting for a window of clear weather; the temperatures are lower under cloudless skies, but it’s easier to stay safely warm in dry cold than in icy rain. That’s true both in the kayak and in camp. Continue reading