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.


jlines said...

Hi BC. Good to see your long planned trip is going well for you. We look forward to helping you review and relive the trip our next visit.

Anonymous said...

Hey BC, Great to keep up with your travels. Post more pictures!!! Did you go mink island? Sounds like quite a ride so far! LIfe feels so calm here in comparison. We are trying to keep Carlie busy, but she really misses you and threatens to get herself a little dog, what is that about???

Anonymous said...

Great writing about an amazing adventure... I enjoyed reading every word and found myself seeing every turn, wave, and emotion... just one question: why Lagavulin intead of Laphroaig? Keep up the amazing journey... hope I can do the same some day... there's a nice bottle of wine that awaits you!! Safe travels.
John McCune

Anonymous said...

Wow. Sounds pretty exciting. It reads like one of those books we used to read on our hut trips. Full of challenges and excitement. Stay safe. Don't worry about Deb's comment about Carlie getting a dog. I won't let it happen!

Anonymous said...

BC, Annie & I are just back from a faboo Grand Canyon trip and enjoyed your blog mucho. While we were roasting in the ditch we thought you might be suffering from bad weather, but the pics look good! Thanks for keeping in touch. We'll look forward to more. Bueno suerte! Kenny.

mknaut said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mknaut said...

Hey BC,
Just got off the Whistler slopes, wearing our private powder hats - we love rubbin' it in to those whistler powder hounds - amazing though -great snow even May 20.

You are motoring along -we had hoped to catch up, perhaps on your way home you will drop into Vancouver for a home cooked meal.

You are paddlin' so hard, you will be in Alaska before you know it. Tell Carlie we have lots of cuddly dogs in Vancouver.

S & M