Adventures on the Blue


This weekend I headed up to the Tofino area for a bit of surfing and kayaking. We picked the right weekend to enjoy the west coast with a heat wave over Vancouver island. The waves in Cox bay were messy as hell and pretty big. A nice wind mixed with the tides made for a pretty challenging time on the water. The day after surfing I planned to launch from Tofino into Clayoquot sound and enjoy a little sightseeing in a new area. Man, I was in for a treat.


I got up from my camp at surf junction at about 0700 and headed to Tofino. Then it hit me: I had no idea where to launch at all. I stopped at the gas station on the edge of town and bought some snacks for the trip. While I was there, I asked if he knew a place to launch a boat and he told me turn right on 4th street and it's right at the end. I merrily drove to 4th street and came to a rather large government dock - with fees to the tune of $20. I stood around looking confused for a few minutes and this grizzled dude came out and asked if I was looking for a kayak launch. He then instructed me to go to fifth street, which I guess was some kind of Tofino local joke and I fell for it. Fifth street unequivocally does not exist.


So I was kind of stressing at this point, desperately looking for anything beach-like in town. I eventually broke down and asked someone standing in front of a kayak store where to go. He said go down to the bottom of First street and there's a little gravel road with a beach. I drove down the street and sure enough, there was a small boat launch there - even labelled "kayak launch." by now it was about 0800 and I still had to find parking somewhere while my boat sat a bit too close to the tide line for my liking. I went up a block and dropped off the Van and ran back to the boat.


The confusion and stress of getting there was dispelled the second I hit the water. This place was not like anywhere I've paddled before. The area was very very shallow for the most part and there were reams of tiny islets populated by any tree that could grow roots. the water was exceptionally clear making it easy to see large shoals of fish and jellyfish going about their business. I had planned to be out in high tide near slack, so I could explore freely. Even though I planned my route, I didn't follow it at all. Instead of going into Lemmens Inlet, I was on course to get a ways around the sheltered part of Vargas Island.


I crossed first to Felice island and the over to Stubbs island. Felice island was fairly unremarkable except it has a big swirly current around it and some pretty amazing shallows. I saw some pretty gnarly jellies here - they were big and bright red with thin stringy tentacles. Stubbs island had a large, modern pier with solar cells on the archways. Everyone has a powerboat/yacht in this area, so I was constantly hearing the roar of motors from almost every angle. the northeast side of stubs has a spectacular view of lone cone, a steep mountain on the west side of Meares island. I swear parts of this area came straight out of a postcard.


I set out from Stubbs to the southwest side of Meares island. Lots and lots of boat traffic from zodiacs to fully rigged fishing vessels whizzed past. I'm wondering how the boating tradition will change in this area in the next few years, if fuel prices continue the current trend. From Meares I crossed some weird swirly water to Vargas where I met a strong opposing tide that I really wasn't expecting. I guess the current flows through the channel between Vargas and Meares to the south during high tide. Luckily, I was out there near high tide at 1016, so it wasn't all that strong, just a good workout.


I paddled and paddled along a fairly rocky shoreline along the east side of Vargas with a beautiful mountain range in the distant east. A light mist was coming off the water as the sun turned on the heat. As I got to the northern part of Vargas, I noticed I was able to see very far away to the west. I sort of imagined the surf I was in the other day and decided going around this island was not the right idea today.


Instead I headed back to a few places that caught my attention on the way up. The first was a neat rocky islet just off the tip of Vargas with some unique rocks doing their best to defy gravity. Just around the corner is a little sandy shallow nook on Vargas itself. This place was a highlight for me. It's a cool little channel with a nice sandy beach at the end that had lot of room and a slow ebb and flow even at high tide. As I entered this place, I kept seeing massive shoals of fish passing under my boat. I scared one group and the water came alive with jumping fish. They looked like small, silvery catfish and probably just fry. By the time I could get video of them, I was aground.


I set foot on the island hoping there were no bear around as the onshore breeze was throwing my scent right into the bush. It was refreshing to have a a nice light breeze and some shade on a few parts of the beach. There wasn't much to do at the tide line, but the photos make feel warm and cozy inside. Unfortunately I was on a schedule, so the book stayed in the hatch and I put back in. The current was now in my favour and I was making good way back toward Meares island with very little effort. The current comes on quickly in here I guess.


I crossed to Meares and played chicken with a couple of powerboats. Meares was also very shallow near shore, but the Kayak really doesn't care. I came upon a town on Meares that consisted of a few houses on the water and a small marina. The village had a unique antenna structure in behind the houses which made it look like a remnant of some X-files set. It was a pretty neat place/the perfect hideout for a bond villain.


I crossed from Meares to the Deadman islets trying to avoid being on the wrong side of the nav aids in the deep parts of the channel. A whole lot of boats took that route out of Tofino, so I decided to go between the islets, which is incredibly shallow even at high tide. It may be impassable at low tide. I dodged a few more power boats and ended back at Tofino. As I pulled up onto the beach, I was greeted by a couple walking their copper Husky. We gabbed about kayaks and tourism in the area for a little while and I headed back to the van to load up and head back to camp. I didn't think I went as far as I did today, but the conditions were too nice not to explore just a bit.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008 Leave a Comment 2 comments


This weekend I enjoyed a weekend of paddling with a few members from the west coast paddlers forum. We planned to use Portland island as our base camp and we'd do a long trip to somewhere in the gulf islands. The weather was fair with nice, warm winds at night. We ended up doing a fairly long paddle from north Portland to South Pender Island and then a beautiful, scenic trip around Coal island on the way home.


I left late Friday afternoon, just after work, and drove to the Swartz bay government dock just beside the ferries. I have to thank John Kimantas' wild coast book for finding that place. I probably wouldn't use that launch again unless I was totally guaranteed to have a partner for the trip. The dock is VERY high for paddle craft and has a large railing along the edge which makes putting a loaded kayak in the water very difficult. There is also a beach you can sneak down to, but be warned, there's a small car ferry that pulls into that beach at high tide. At Low tide, it's just big, jagged rocks and it's easy to bottom out on approach. Luckily there was help nearby when I went to put in.


The trip to Portland island was jaw dropping. I was paddling during golden hour and the sky was turning all interpretations of purple and gold. There were a number of distant fires on Saltspring island. Not sure what was burning, but it sent up white-yellow plumes of smoke that hung just above the treetops. I was being followed the whole way by seals. You could hear them snort and dive from pretty much all angles. The sea is totally alive with herring right now, you can see them jumping every couple of seconds. Maybe the seals were waiting for me to rile up the fish. I got to Portland Island amid a fairly strong opposing current between Pym and the shell beach.


I got near Chad Island and I met with Greg in his cool little Feathercraft. He was heading out to find Mark, who was coming in from Tsawwassen. I heard a bit of VHF chatter between them and I headed to camp, missed it, then headed to camp. It's a long story, but look at the GPS track for the first night. I think I need a checkup from the neck up. I got to the beach and saw the first of the famed raccoons that plague campers here. As soon as the camera flash went off, he was gone.


I tied up my boat and set up camp. The camp was fairly full already with what looked to be fairly permanent camp sites staked out. We were lucky and scored a nice group area on the point just in case the party got bigger. I had a chat with everyone there and got acquainted. I had met a few of them at the snow camp in April, but it had been a while. I think the high point of the night ended up with Greg teaching a raccoon a lesson with a stick. Nothing daunted these critters though. Just when you thought you were safe, they'd poke their heads out of a tree or come out from behind some hiding place. I was beat, so I headed to bed in anticipation of the next day's paddle.


The next morning was overcast, but the winds were light and warm. We all sort of got up at the same time and ate breakfast. Greg and Mark had found something weird to show me: the contents of a white bag beside the picnic table. It was full of bones! At fist I was thinking they were human, until Sheila withdrew the flipper bones. It was parts of a dead seal that had washed up on the beach *Whew* --- A little after everyone was up, we started to consider routes. The girls had it with Poets Cove on South Pender Island, a place that will always remain in my heart as "that place we could have gone to get a burger and a heated room during 2 degree weather with 10-20knot winds at the WCP get together." Mark shook his fist many times at the dude who told us not to go. I also hate that man :) I'm serious, wait till you see this place.


So we crossed the ferry lane to North Moresby. As we left, I really didn't feel much current, but as we got closer to Moresby, it was clear we were in an ebb tide. Greg stayed north of the channel and the reef around canoe rock, the rest of us were swept right into it with the tide. At one point, I was ferrying almost directly north to stay on track. Once the water got a bit less messy, we found a well populated seal haul out. A few of them scattered into the water, but a few stayed to have a look at the Pentax W30 with me :)


From north Moresby, we crossed to the big bluffs on Pender. The bluffs somehow have driftwood more than 30 feet up in the air and they have their own funny weather effects. For instance, as we got closer, the tempurature went up and a breeze picked up. The bluffs were a fun place to explore in calm waters like we had today. With only a few hundred kilometers of kayaking experience, I probably wouldn't reccommend being anywhere near these cliffs in wind. The swell breaks apart and goes everywhere and the current is really messy.


I passed by a whole lot of sea stars, kelp beds and fish. I still can't get over how many fish there are in the gulf islands right now. Having a white paddle really helped to make them show up as I glanced down. Just at the entrance to Bedwell harbour, near some pricey housing is a sudden shallow area and he current here runs in every single direction all at once. We had fun attacking this little feature.


Rounding the corner into Bedwell harbour we heard the rough idle of a number of high powered speedboats waiting in poets cove marina. We cautiously crossed to poets cove and found a nice bit of beach to pull out. We had been warned not to come here with kayaks, but no one cared at all. We were greeted mostly by smiles and waves. Poets cove was a beautiful little resort built into the hillside in south Pender island. As we got up to the terrace above the beach we found the restaurant
and had a look at the menu. It was all affordable and delicious. Not much like a pint and a burger after paddling a while.


To think we sat and froze our asses off at Beaumont park and didn't even come out to the sparkling resort in the distance. Oh well. They even had a heated pool, water view suites and a massive dining hall. Anyway. I spent some time walking around with the camera and taking pictures of some of the sights. We sort of left in a hurry, but I was prepared to spend a couple hours chilling on the beach there. I'd do that trip along the bluffs again in a heartbeat.


Mark and I left after the rest and cheered on the power boats ans they opened up the throttle through Swanson channel. To add to the noise, a harbour air flight took off into the air at the end of the parade. it was like I was being sprayed with fuel. Just as they passed, the wake and current started to interact and the water went kind of nuts. it would slide into the bluffs and back out into the channel and then up over all the shallow parts. We decided it'd probably be less agonizing to head away from the shore, and sure enough the current let us out of its grip.


The sun came out with a light mid day fog developing over the water. The Sun caught the top of the Olympic mountain range to the south. The trip back was a fairly long crossing to Moresby with only a few bits of current left in our way back to camp. We waited for the ferry to go by and Mark started to charge into its wake. I stayed back a bit and snapped some photos. I told mark, "You've got a ferry, a lighthouse and a breaking wave! what more could a man want?"


We came back to camp ready for rest and met Ken B with his spiffy NDK Explorer HV. he was full of energy and brought out hors d'oeuvres! The dude's the life of the party. Next time, I'm bringing two bottles of wine, smoked salmon, pate, crackers etc etc etc. I've come to the realization I just don't camp right ;) The sunset on Portland was spectacular. Just as the sun started to go down, Mark and Ken brought out their boats and put in for some rolls and stroke practice. Ken showed off his sweeeet two piece Feathercraft GP and Mark had a go in the Explorer HV. Night set in and we watched lighting over Bellingham and orcas island. After a bit more warding off raccoons and trying some fine drink courtesy of Ken, we all hit the hay.

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The next morning I was up a bit later than the others. I packed up camp and headed out with Mark and Greg on a scenic route home. We decided to round coal island and work our way back into Swartz bay on a light ebb. We parted ways with Ken, who was off to Fulford harbour, and headed out around the east side of Portland island. Always a man of class, Ken was smoking a stogie while paddling out. The only tricky water was in Moresby passage where we rode all sorts of little current rivers at a pretty good clip. The ebb tide got us to Coal in no time at all.


Coal island was beautiful as always, large stand of trees and old rustic buildings. It's a great spot any time of the year. Lots of seals huffing and puffing around us and more fish today. This place is pretty hard to land on. Nearly all of the southeast beaches are rocky and covered in barnacles. It's hard to pull out for a break. We found a respite near the little house on the southern beach. From there it was on to page passage and in through a shallow route into canoe bay. We paddled around the docks and headed around the point to Swartz bay for good byes. What great weekend!

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Sunday, June 22, 2008 Leave a Comment 0 comments


Today I hit lake Pend Oreille in the north part of Idaho. I came here on part of a scooter rally, another hobby of mine, and brought the kayak with me, so I could have a little fun on the large lake near Bayview, ID. I didn't realize it, but to bring your 'yak on the Tsawwassen/Swartz bay ferry with a minivan costs and extra $20 each way. Apparently I'm and oversized vehicle even at just under 2.6m. This time, I was driving on the freeway and the roof rack seemed to hold up alright at 70mph. I even had some pretty crazy side winds to fight on the way down. I went down to the lake on Friday to see if I could paddle, but then I realized that this lake has a rather unique weather system that includes shit tons of wind.


I looked out over the lake and it was choppy with the wind registering just over 15 knots on the meter. I sort of wanted to enjoy the place rather than fight it for a few hours, so I called it - it was a no go for Friday. I went and had fun up at the camp with all kinds of Vespa related antics and awoke the next morning to a cloudless sky and little wind.


Without wasting my time, I got my butt down to the launch and put in dockside. Having the dock was a nice touch, I could just jump in without getting my feet wet. I met up with a few technical divers going out to explore the underwater sights. One of them pointed at the opposite shore and told me it got to nearly 200 feet deep. Locals in Bayview indicated it was as deep as 1100 feet in places and that the US navy used it for submarine training. I was a bit more interested in the topside, though.


I sort of made this trip up as I went, but I got some hints from the friendly park ranger at Farragut state park, who supplied me with a simplified map of the sights. I started by paddling southwest toward a small, protected bay. The wind started to come up again as I paddled out and it was blowing about 8 knots by the time I got to the bay entrance. The boat didn't seem to care much, though. Even with little chop here and there, it just cut right through. There's a good chance that there's too little fetch to get it really rocking until storm conditions come through. You can see lots of old wooden structures sthat have been mangled by continuous gales over the years.


The little bay was a sight to behold. Huge fjord-like cliffs to either side and the morning sun just peering over the mountaintops. The quiet of the place was only broken by fighting eagles. Deer watched over the water from shore and a few boaters were prepping their slick, fiberglass boats for a day on the lake. I jumped onto shore for a little me time.


After a little scenery hypnosis, I hopped back into the kayak and started my way up the opposite shore. Here the cliffs descended into the water with underwater fingers that went down to the deep. The treeline stopped about 20 feet from the water line. The birds were out: bald and golden eagles, hawks, crows, ravens. There was a total absence of gulls, though. I saw tremendous amounts of fish around my boat. Next time I'm bringing a fishing rod. I passed a few enthusiastic canoeists flying solo by sitting in the stern and paddling on both sides. One guy's bow was completely out of the water.


The sun was starting to get hot, so I headed over to Bayview from the cliffs. There are a whole lots of boats using this lake all day long, so the crossing from the cliffs to the point just before Bayview was a bit busy. The wind was up to 15knots now and the water was getting a bit disturbed, but nothing like the ocean at 15knots of wind - the only nuisance is that it wanted to have my paddle. I tried feathering the paddle, but it really made no appreciable difference.


I paddled into Bayview and met a few kayakers heading out in small rec boats. They looked like they were having a great time as they rounded the point into a stiff headwind. Bayview was another neat place to see. you can tell a lot of outside retirement and government money has gone into the docks here. Everything looked super modern from the docks to the boats themselves. They offered all kinds of facilities for boaters right on the waterfront. I thought I'd go down later and take some pictures from land, too. I was getting pretty hungry, so I called it and started back toward the launch.


I rounded the point at Bayview and the wind was now hurtling through at a 20 knot average. I had to fight to get back into the dock and I could see the smiles on sailboater's faces from the dock. A whole bunch of people were coming into shore and the water was getting choppy again. Pend Oreille lake is a neat place overall, I'd definitely like to explore more of it over time. The lake runs all the way up to sand point, which is nearly 40 miles down the road. On a side note: having the starter fail on your van during vacation sucks! Thanks to this dude named Jeff from some border town, I was back up and running in about 4 hours. At least the gas station I waited at had all kinds of nutritions foods like corn dogs, churros and pizza pockets.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008 Leave a Comment 2 comments
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