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...

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