Thursday, May 31, 2007

My Ride

Who would want to pimp this one?

Thanks to Linda Ward for this nice shot at Shearwater.

Day 25 starts well, ends...

The day started off beautifully and ended up not so well.

Got an early start and the weather was already showing patches of blue with the cloud cover much higher than yesterday. By mid morning, the sky was half sun, half clouds. It was an easy paddle in low swells as I skirted "the Wall", a low cliff face that I guess extended underwater, a spot famous among salmon fishermen who frequent the fishing resorts in Rivers Inlet.

By the time I neared the first resort, I was already crossing the Inlet to Penrose Provincial Park, a wonderful series of islands that creates a maze for a kayaker--hidden narrow passages, some of which lead out to the Sound with crashing surf, and others that lead to another bay, and on and on. There were even a few beaches, so I imagine its a popular sailing destination in the summer.

Sailing, or motor boating, would be a good way to see the several tight island groups that exist on B.C.s coast. From Desolation Sound to the Broughtons to Penrose, Hakai--these areas are too dispersed to connect by kayak normally, but with a larger boat and a dinghy or a kayak on board would be great. I'm glad I'm able to see all these areas, but I can't imagine someone (except from the Vancouver/Puget Sound area) making a special trip to any one island group for the kayaking.

Penrose had a nice campsite, but it was only 10:30, and if I stopped there, it would be a long paddle to Hakai tomorrow. There was one camp further on that sounded OK so I decided to paddle the 6-7 miles to it.

I was now paddling in FitzHugh Sound, a passage known for its winds funnelling from the north. As I left Penrose, the breezes began to pick up, and over the next 2 hours built to the point that paddling was getting tiresome, maybe 12-15 knots.

I finally made the small bay I hoped to camp in, and it was pretty disappointing. There were 2 parts of the bay--one had a lovely sand beach, but it looked like last nights high tide had covered it, and the tide would be higher tonight. The other part of the bay was rough rock, from fist-sized on up. The high end of this shore looked higher than the sand part of the bay, but it was hard to tell where last nights tide reached. I hunted through the bush to see if I could find a safe tent spot, but nothing reasonable. This didn't feel like home.

4 miles further north was a manned lighthouse and I vaguely recall that someone had been steered to a good camp on Blair Island next door by the lighthouse keeper. I think that memory dates back 6 years, so it is fuzzy. Anyway, I get out the VHF and call the lighthouse (Addenbroke). I ask the fellow who responds about the potential camp, but he's new at the lighthouse and doesn't know anything about camps in the area. But I'm welcome to visit the lighthouse anytime. Hmmmm. That clearly was not an invitation to spend the night. Too bad. The weather isn't getting any better out here. In fact, squalls are moving through, and with them comes gusty winds.

So I decide to give Blair Island a shot, though there's no mention in any books I've read about camping on Blair. The wind is even stronger now, so paddling is more laborious--nothing dangerous, just plodding. By the time I reach Blair and check out all the potential bays that turn up nothing, its after 3:30. So maybe if I paddle another hour into the wind to take up the lighthouse keeper's offer, it might turn into an invitation to stay the night. After all, its a windy, blustery, squally kind of afternoon, and keepers have been known to invite folks to stay. What's the worst that could happen? I'd have to paddle back an extra couple miles to a crappy camp.

Another option would be to try for the next camp up the Sound another 5-6 miles. It's supposed to be a nice camp, but 2 problems--I had hoped to cross the Sound at Addenbroke because that is the narrowest point (~1 1/2 miles) and the next camp would be past the channel headed west to the Hakai. And of course, I wouldn't think of continuing unless the wind died down. So I call the lighthouse and commit to a 50 minute paddle around Addenbroke Island to the lighthouse.

When I finally paddled around the last corner and saw their "dock", I couldn't believe it. They used to have a floating dock, but it got destroyed by the seas, so now they have a generator-powered hoist on a concrete deck 50 feet above the water, and a rocky climb to get up there. And that's if you managed to get out of your boat in that surging bay. Roger, who is one of the lighthouse keepers there with his wife, Leslie, lowered the crane hook and I tied to it. Then he swung the crane arm out over the bay, and my boat hung out there, riding the waves.

Roger and Leslie welcomed me into their comfy home out of the rain and wind. Sitting in their kitchen drinking chai, you'd have no idea of what it would be like out on the water. We had a nice chat, India, their German Shepard, finally warmed up to me, and I did my best to suppress my yawns and drooping eyes. In their warm kitchen, I felt how tired I really was.

But in the end, there was no invitation to stay, so I took my leave, and Roger helped bring my boat in to shore. The wind seemed to still be blowing too strong to try to make my way further north, but once I paddled out into the Sound, I wasn't sure. I turned north, paddled a few strokes, and decided against it. If it were earlier in the day, maybe I'd try, but it would be slow going, and I didn't feel like I had the strength. I turned back around and paddled south with the wind for an hour to what I expected to be an uncomfortable night.

I set up camp at the very top of the rocky shore with the tent half up in the bush. I only used 2 of the 4 poles because there wasn't enough room for the full tent footprint. I hacked away at some of the overhanging vegetation so I had a place in the bush for all the hear. I was dead tired, and the bugs were thick, but I kept plugging along getting the routine chores done--haul gear, set up tent, kitchen, make dinner, close up gear, hang food, store gear above high water, and sit and wait for the high tide. It was supposed to arrive around 11pm, but by 10, it was clear that I''d be OK, so I finally crawled into the tent. It was a fitful night sleeping on boulders and on a 30 degree slope, but it was OK. Better than I had feared.

Maybe Roger and Leslie had done me a favor.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Cape Caution

I've been looking at Cape Caution on maps for a long time, and now I've paddled beyond it. As with so many dreaded ventures, this one was relatively easy. Not because of my own skills, but because the weather was cooperative. Nevertheless, the experience of being on the ocean swells, in a very small boat, on a grey, foreboding early morning, and all alone (the last human form I've seen was 3 days past) provides enough anxiety without bad weather.

Light breezes and low swells marked the long morning paddle toward the Cape. I paddled off shore almost 2 miles to avoid the rough water. If you get in too close, the reefs and shoals and rebounding waves from the shore make for difficult paddling. And then I paddled more than 3 hours to get to a decent place to stretch my legs. And that was it. It was done. It was easy, and I'm glad it was.

I've had a couple peeks at the sun, but mostly these last few days have been grey with low clouds and sometimes rain. Temps get up to low to mid 50s F.

It's surprising that it's only been 3 days since leaving Port Hardy--it seems at least a week.
The first day I was paddling by 4:30am from Port Hardy to cross Queen Charlotte Strait. The day was peaceful and grey, and the crossing went smoothly I seemed to have a favorable current because I was to the mainland by 9:30--less than 5 hours.

After that paddle, I had a nice long day at a beautiful camp marred only by the hordes of flying insects. The mosquito head net was a sanity saver.
Next day was a side trip to Hakwakto Rapids with its 16 knot ebb flow (They say it's in Guinness.). I wanted to see what that would look like, but I had to settle for the miniature version. I watched the current start to build, but then I had to hurry back to the boat to get out the Slingsby Channel to the Sound before too much water started funneling out. As it was, I had tide rips and whirlpools more than 2 miles out into the Sound. Nothing too vicious, but not at all relaxing. Not sure what it would have been like had I waited for the faster water. As it was, I was sailing through the Outer Narrows of Slingsby at better than 7mph.

And now I was out in the great Pacific swells. It had been so calm the day before, crossing from Port Hardy, they were hardly noticeable. But now they are--big, wide and comfortable. A few mile paddle to camp, and then wait for the right weather to round the Cape.

Who would have guessed the right weather would show up the next day?

PS...I'll go back and put some pictures up when I find a computer with USB ports. As it is, the only access I've found to the internet in Bella Bella/Shearwater is at the hotel reception desk. Thank you, Janice!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Port Hardy 2, May 22

The food arrived at the post office, and the weather looks good for tomorrow. Hope to push off before dawn. I'll write you all soon.

Port Hardy, Day 18, May 20

I'm in Port Hardy having paddled up Johnstone Strait the last few days. I've been putting in good miles, maxing out at 32, because the combination of wind and tidal currents have been in my favor throughout the morning hours. But be it 20 miles or 32, I'm fairly whooped by the end of the day.

I arrived here in Port Hardy a day earlier than expected because of the good mileages I had put in during the previous days, and because of strong headwinds that were predicted for today (which were accurate, somewhat amazingly). The problem with arriving early is that I arrived on Sunday of a long holiday weekend. It seems the Canadians celebrate the birthday of a bygone queen of England. I've been asking around to see why Victoria is so honored, and most don't really know. I did get an answer today that seemed to make sense--Victoria was queen when Canada became a country, or a federation, or something. I don't know if that's true or not (and I expect to hear some comments on this point), but it has a certain ring to it. And for those who are curious, that answer came from a 20-something year old.

So I've had some time (Boy, have I!) to think over a few things, and one thing I've been pondering is why the hell am I doing this paddle trip. And I think part of the answer lies in my need to tackle a challenge now and again that is large enough to take all my focus and concentration. I can think back to a string of challenges/opportunities/hurdles that more or less fit this mold:

Some might say secondary school.
Starting Klutz.
The South America/Africa trip.
Starting the Seat of the Pants Construction Co.
Doing a land subdivision
Learning to fly.

So maybe I have a biological need to try something new, to have an adventure, to learn something foreign to me.
Or maybe I'm just quacking in the dark...

Hopefully my food will arrive tomorrow, and I can pack up and leave on Wednesday. This next section of the trip really gets into the meat of it. There are very few people living out there and very little in the way of human "improvements" to the land. And some of the biggest known challenges of the trip happen right off the bat. I have to cross Queen Charlotte (there's another one!) Strait to the mainland, and then I have to work my way 30 miles around the exposed headlands of Cape Caution. And I'll bet I'm not the first one who wished it were named Cape Fairweather, or some such. Weather will determine how long it will take to get from here to the other side of Cape Caution. I'm also hoping to visit Nakwakto Rapids, just off course this side of Cape Caution, but that visit will depend on the timing of the currents when I get there.

And in case you're wondering, I've been thinking about these next few days of paddling for at least a week now. And I think I'm suitably psyched up at this point. Now I just hope I'll be able to sleep tomorrow night before the dawn start on Wednesday.

Wish me luck. And wish Carlie luck as taking care of her mom has become a full-time job. My mom is doing well after her surgery.

Thanks again for your comments--it's great to hear from everyone!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Day in the Life, Day 14, May 16

This was an interesting day...

The motor rigs were gone from the Shoal Bay dock by 6:30am to catch the fast water at Green Point Rapid some 5 miles north from here. They tried to convince me to do the same, but I was afraid they didn't really understand what it could be like in a kayak. They didn't think I'd have a problem with the turbulence, but I kept thinking of when I am cycling and car drivers tell me how short or flat the road is to my destination.

I had a cold breakfast and headed up for a shower at the outbuilding that Mark, the government dock caretaker, had offered me last night. No one was stirring at Mark's so I showered and went back to pack my boat. I was hoping he would share the fresh-caught shrimp that Kathy, from one of the yachts, had given me last night. Oh well, I guess I'll have to eat them all myself. Thanks, Kathy.

It was around 7:50 when I paddled away--still no sign of life from Mark's place. I paddled a few miles to a lodge I had read about a mile above Green Point. I was hoping to spend the day there--maybe buy lunch, read, relax. But, as I feared, they weren't really open for the season yet. Rhinehart and Doris, the owners, were there cleaning up, and Doris could cook me dinner this evening, but she's not doing lunches yet. (The Cordero Lodge looks like the kind of small, quaint lodge you might find on the Rogue River.)

When I asked about slack tide at Green Point, they said it was at 10am--50 minutes away--and that I had timed it perfectly. Well, kind of. It would be slack, but then flooding, which would work against me in the 5 miles of the narrow Cordero Channel to follow. But it did seem like the right thing to do at the time. I could always pull over somewhere and wait for the afternoon ebb if the current was too much to fight. I guessed that would happen around 4pm, but the current tables didn't list Green Point so I wasn't sure.

I floated down through Green Point on the last of the ebb and within a few hundred yards of passing the Point, the favorable current seemed to die. I paddled near the shore and made decent headway. I was surprised because I had read about how swift the current could be in the channel. It could be that I didn't have much current to fight in these first couple hours after slack.

I had my shrimp lunch after Cordero Channel and set off again. I thought I may as well keep moving and if I'm lucky, I'll hit Whirlpool Rapid at afternoon slack and be whisked along, possibly all the way to Yorke Island on Johnstone Strait, some 10 miles past Whirlpool. I figure without a current, I can average 3-3.5 mph, so with a current, I may be able to make Yorke by 6:30 or 7:30. It would be a push, but I'd take it one stroke at a time.

As with Green Point, I wasn't sure when currents would change at Whirlpool, but I was guessing between 4 or 5pm. I set up benchmarks for myself to measure my progress: I wanted to make D'arcy Point by 2pm and Whirlpool by 4pm. Otherwise I'd give it up.

Paddling along Chancellor Channel, a breeze started up and of course it was in my face. It slowed my eddy-hopping progress, but I was still making way. Two large log booms (huge corrals of logs towed slowly by tugs) were being pulled slowly the other direction, and I wondered if I'd have to time a crossing of the Channel between passing booms. But they were past before I needed to cross to Wellbore.

I passed my first functioning fish farms along this stretch of channel. Not much to look at--floating pens with a house and outbuilding (food supply?) on floats next to the pens.

I finally headed across the channel, worried that the opposing current would set me back considerably. But it didn't, and I made D'arcy Point by my scheduled 2pm.

But now I could see whitewater all across the mouth of Wellbore Channel. Uh-oh. I headed to the nearest shore and hoped to find enough rocks to do some eddy-hopping to avoid the turbulence. But the shore was steep-sided with deep water right to the edge. It still seemed to be the place with the least amount of whitewater so I paddled on. Within seconds, I was in a set of smooth, steep waves. They would bury the nose of my boat in the trough and my rudder was useless in the air above the wave. I kept paddling and bracing when necessary. I could see there weren't that many waves ahead of me before quieter water began, but I couldn't be sure I wasn't just staying in one place, even though I was paddling hard. I could have looked at the shore next to me to gauge my progress, but I wasn't ready to take my eyes off the nose of the boat so I knew which way I'd have to brace if the nose buried too deeply.

I eventually made the smoother water, and the whole episode probably didn't last 60 seconds, but whatever length of time it was doesn't matter--it was way too long!

As I was catching my breath, I noticed on the nearby shore the first bear of the trip. It was a black bear sniffing around the cobbles for something to nibble on, no doubt. I guess it's time to quit sleeping with food in my tent...

Moving up this channel, it's clear that I'm fighting a current. I keep eddy-hopping until I'm making too little headway, then I pull out to wait for the turn of the current. I sit on shore munching food and reviewing my strategy. I made it to Whirlpool plenty early--in fact, it's just a little past 3pm. If I leave by 4pm and get a little push from the eff current, I still could make Yorke Island. That would be good because campsites are limited through this section particularly. One possible campsite I read about may not be good at spring tides, and tonight is the highest tide of the month of May. One other one I read about, but I don't remember any details. I do have its coordinates on my GPS, so at least I could find it...hopefully. That sure didn't work on Texada Island, when James spotted me and took me in.

I sat for a while watching a big fishing rig probably headed to Alaska, a ferry and a barge. I could tell the fast water had slowed a lot so I geared up and set off. There was still current against me, but there wasn't a problem eddy-hopping. I kept paddling along the shore for a half mile, then a mile,then a mile and a half. Frankly, Whirlpool Rapid didn't show up on my topo map, so I wasn't sure when I would be through and finished with the Rapid. I hadn't found any turbulent water, but the current was definitely against me still.

It was now almost 5 pm and the best I could guess was that I had slack water--certainly not the push I was expecting. And ahead of me, around a point of land that marked the entrance to Sunderland Channel, whitewater again. But these waves looked like pretty normal whitecaps, not the confused waves from tidal action. Sure enough, as I rounded the point, I was hit by a 15 knot headwind that gusted higher. The waves weren't really big--maybe 2 feet--but between them and the gusting wind, it was all I could do to make any headway at all.

Suddenly, plans changed. I had my GPS on to help figure when slack happened (my speed would change), and I had it set to go to the nearest campsite--4.4 miles ahead. I was doing 1.4-1.9 mph so it would take me at least a couple hours at that pace. As the gusts hit, I leaned into the wind and dug my paddle blade in and hung on tight. I was hoping the conditions would change soon for the better, but they didn't. If anything, the wind got stronger. If the wind just stayed steady, I could relax a little, but I was afraid one of the gusts would surprise me.

It was hard paddling, and no fun, but the best alternative I could think of was to keep trying to move forward to a probable campsite. Turning back had its appeal, but it still could take me a long time to find any kind of camp spot, and it was already late in the day. I pressed on. As time went by, I noticed that every 10-15 minutes, there would be a 10-20 second lull in the gusts and I would take deep breaths and stretch my fingers. My shoulders and upper arms were aching from the forced paddle after a long day on the water.

I noticed also, after about 30 minutes, that the GOS was showing 2.4-3.0 mph, though the conditions seemingly hadn't changed. I must finally be getting the benefit of the ebb tide. Glad something's going in my favor.

I would glance down at the GPS when I could and I watched the hoped-for campsite get closer, a tenth of a mile at a time. Each point of land I had to round brought more intense conditions and I had to pump myself up before attacking each point. Finally I was .4 miles away and I could see a cobble beach ahead. I kept plodding forward and at .2 miles away, the wind abated as I approached the lee of the next point.

It's easy to imagine Greek gods at work here. Finally the obnoxious ones lost interest in me. The wavelets on the shore of the beach were tiny, and the air was still. It was uncanny. I got out of the boat and stiffly moved around trying to coax my body to work in land mode. I fought off an urge to kiss the ground, and wandered off to verify there would be space up in the trees behind the high water line to camp. And given tonight's highest tide of the month, I couldn't trust anywhere on the beach.

I did find a semi-flat spot in the trees and I was HOME! Did that ever feel good.

I set up camp, had dinner, and even out here in the middle of nowhere, I was able to get enough cell phone signal to be able to wish my sweetie a happy birthday. I toasted here with my hoarded Lagavulin and went to bed. I didn't know what tomorrow would bring, but I knew it wouldn't bring an early start.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

May 12, Arrival in Powell River

The Strait of Georgia is behind me, and it was characterized by sunny days and headwinds. That's a combination I've been told to expect: If the days are fair, the wind will be from the NW. So I'm supposed to be hoping for bad weather??

Marc left the trip one day out of Nanaimo on a spur of the moment decision. We had just spent a few hours paddling into a cold 10-15k wind, and he decided that, with open water paddling coming up, and not many intimate islands to explore, he would bail and have more of a land-based adventure. I left him in Nanoose harbor hitching a ride back to Nanaimo.

I paddled across the Strait of Georgia the next morning, and I was glad for Marc's sake that he wasn't there. 15k winds, 3-5 foot waves, with the occasional 6 footer. It was a slow trudge of a paddle, but I made it.

I only have a few minutes before this internet cafe closes, so I'll be brief. I paddled up the west coast of Texada, and the last night I was saved from a potentially awful camp spot. Well it wasn't really a campspot, but I was getting desperate and willing to put up with this otter nest for the night. But the forcast was for strong winds today, so I wasn't looking forward to being there. Then my hero arrived around the corner paddling a kayak. James owns the property around there and invited me to spend the night with him. He fed me, gave me a bed, and shared some great conversation. Thank you, James.

The wind was howling this morning, but by noon it had quieted down and I had a good paddle into Powell River. I even got here with enough time to get some errands done, which was important because tomorrow is Sunday, and this is the last town of size I'll see for a while.

Next up, the Islands of desolation and discovery.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Arrival in Nanaimo, May 7, Day 5

What an amazing place to be paddling. The Gulf and San Juan islands are perfectly suited to small boats--narrow passes, demanding currents, and beautiful islands with cliffs and rocky shores.

The biggest surprise was the strength of the current in some of the passes. Without some whitewater experience, I think you'd want to be very careful around the narrowest channels. At one point, Marc was ready to camp to avoid the current that had trapped us on a private island. Eventually, we gave it a try and it turned out to be easier than expected, but it was an eye-opener.

Boundary Pass, the stretch between the US and Canada, provided the first good shot of adrenaline on the trip. We were headed between Stuart Island and South Pender Island, and the wind started blowing around 8am. It was a south wind blowing around 15 knots. The current would be taking us from east to west, but we didn't know how strong it would be. Would we be swept pass the Penders and out the Strait? And then in the middle of the passage was a major shipping channel where ships from the west would be coming from behind Stuart Island, making a 90 degree turn and bearing down on us. At least the ones from the east we could see coming.

We stopped on shore, stretched our legs, ate some food, and started paddling. We guessed the crossing would take us an hour, depending on the current. 5 minutes off shore, the first freighter showed from around Stuart. It turned and came our way. At least it looked like it was coming our way. In fact, it missed us by a mile, but it was unnerving to recognize that we had only 10 minutes from first seeing the ship to its passing in front of us. Luckily, no other ships showed up on the crossing.

The wind pushed us along and we averaged 5 mph as opposed to our 3-3.5 mph normal. But the wind also built up 3+ foot waves that were exhilerating and "something less than terrifying", depending on your perspective.

By the time we arrived in Bedwell Harbor to clear customs, we felt like we had accomplished something. It was the first time that I felt like this long-awaited trip was really happening. It took 3 days, but now the excitement of the adventure was evident.

Most days have been a mix of clouds and sun. Some days calm, others blowy. We had one long morning of misty rain when the water temp was 48 F and the air temp was 47. But we were both comfy in our dry suits. In fact, if the temp didn't get above 52 while we're paddling, I'd be happy. It's easy to start sweating in a dry suit.

I'm also discovering that 20 miles/day is a daunting goal. Yesterday, our last day into Nanaimo, we logged 24 miles, but it was the first 20+ mile day of the trip. And we haven't been dawdling. At least I don't think so. We could streamline our morning packing some, but not much.

It leaves me speculating on what changes may have to be made in the trip--Will I have to more hours per day paddling? Will I get stronger and find it easier to make more miles? Will I have to cut out some of my planned side trips to make my schedule? Or will I have to make this a longer than 3 month trip?

Marc and I are travelling well together, though I have to admit I'd feel more comfortable on some of our crossings if I thought he had a competent brace. But I know he knows how to get back into his boat if he capsizes, so that's good.

We had a good 40 minute crossing yesterday in a 15-20 knot breeze. The breaking waves we found in the middle of the passage pretty much established the limit of what Marc wants to deal with on this trip. They were enough to push a boat sideways, and I wouldn't have been comfortable out there if I didn't know how to brace into waves. But all went well, and the wind kept pushing us north along a particularly beautiful section along Pylates, Rustin, and Decourcy Islands.

We stopped for lunch on DeCourcy and met a group of women on a 3 day paddle. Some were fishery observers in Alaska and longtime friends. They gave us a bottle of wine for the trip which was encredibly generous. Thank you Lisa, Leah and gang.

I picked up my first food drop here in Nanaimo. After all that hassling with Canada customs about how to ensure a safe delivery of my packages, they didn't even open the box. Course if I hadn't done anything, they surely would have torn the package apart. Anyway, it bodes well for the other packages I've sent north to Port Hardy, Bella Bella, and Prince Rupert.

Here's hoping that both my and Carlie's moms recover successfully from their recent surgeries--mine for fractured vertebrae, Carlie's for a broken hip. Concern for them and Carlie weighs heavy at times. Good luck, all.

Continuing north tomorrow...

Thursday, May 3, 2007

At Long Last, Put-In, Day 1

After arriving in Anacortes on May 2 with good weather forcast for the next day, Marc and I decided to leave a day early. Our last minute shopping (for things like waterproof bags that had been destroyed by a leaky DEET container) had been done in Seattle so we were ready to go. I think it was a measure of my excitement that I didn't remember until 2 days out that one of the reasons for arriving in Anacortes early was to practice rescue techniques with Marc, since we had never done that before. Maybe we can practice en route. I was also hoping to spend some time playing in Deception Pass, where the currents and whirlpools are pretty dramatic. It would have been a good time to get used to how my loaded boat would handle in squirrelly water. But that, too, would have to wait.

But, in general, I'd have to say my excitement was muted. By what, I'm not sure, but I think I just have to be on the water paddling to let the excitement seep in.

It's amazing to me now to think back at all the time, energy and planning has gone into this trip. And now it's time to see if it's all paid off!