Monday, April 30, 2012

Sea Stars, Jellyfish And A Sunken Sailboat

After a very busy weekend of painting bedrooms in the house along with garden work we left a couple of hours open to take a relaxing paddle into Tod Inlet late Sunday afternoon. We arrived at the Brentwood Bay put in location next to the BC Ferry dock and unlike our last launch here, we rigged up our yaks onto the Swagman wheels and simply rolled them down to the waterline. Waaaaay easier than manhandling them down to the waterline fully loaded!

Sun Sea Star

As expected the winds were calm and with a low tide and unbelievable clear water we saw hundreds of sea stars of all different sizes and colors. Purple, pink, white, orange, leather, sun, long thin legs, small, huge..... you name it. We have never seen such a diversity of types and were surprised to see them in the numbers that we did.

Ochre Sea Star

The Ochre Sea Star otherwise known as the Purple Sea Star has always been a favourite of mine because of the deep purple color. They probably are the most dominant sea star on the west coast.

Every time we have paddled into Tod Inlet there have been Moon Jellyfish in great numbers as well. On this paddle we came across a bloom where there were so many, the water under our kayaks literally turned white much like a white out conditon in the snow. The one time that I leave my GoPro at home... rats!!

We recently heard from a fellow kayaker (I can call you that now Kathryn) about a Purple Martin bird house that was built to look like a Star Trek ship. Sure enough as we paddled up to bird houses we spotted the Star Ship Enterprise's Shuttlecraft Galileo looking like it had a little heat shield damage. Apparently it was put up to see if the Purple Martin's preferred a typical "bird house" or if anything resembling a bird house would do. Turns out the Purple Martin's like the Galileo just as much as any of the other available nesting boxes.

Heading back to the put in location we made our way past some of the sail boats anchored in the bay and I heard Robyn say.... "there's a sail boat under me". Thinking that it was a little early for her to be sipping the after paddle wine (LOL) I turned around and sure enough there was the top of the mast about 5 feet below the surface and you could see all the way down to the deck. What an eerie sight! Again ..... where was my GoPro???? Doh!! Lesson learned??? You bought the GoPro at least take it with you. :-)

On our inbound track you can see where we stopped between the 6km and 6.86km right next to an anchored sail boat. That's where the sunken sail boat is. I must do some research on how she got there.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Relaxing In The Nanaimo Estuary

This weekend we are camping at the Living Forest RV Park which has always been a favourite location for us because of its terraced RV sites and view of the Nanaimo River estuary. Ever since we started kayaking we have wanted to come back here and explore the many channels of the estuary and in particular see the many bald eagles that live in the area.

The RV park has a great put in location right on the river that flows out towards the city of Nanaimo. At this location the river is influenced by the tides of the Salish Sea changing the landscape dramatically from the low to high tides. During the low water levels most of the estuary is nothing more than mud flats but during high water the established river channels clearly show themselves much like roadways to the open ocean.  

Here is the view from the same location but looking up the river. During low tide the currents run pretty good but they can be paddled and it's a good place to practice moving from eddy to eddy. When the water level is perfect you can actually paddle the "loop" that takes you to another ocean bound channel but today the currents prevented us from making it to the junction further up the river. 

Making our way out into open water we noticed a Cessna Sky Wagon tied up to one of the log booms and of course we just had to check it out. The pilots were walking on the log booms so we stopped to chat with them where they explained that they were looking for a particular boom that would be selected for processing at one of the local mills nearby. 

Every time we paddle we work on some skill improvement and today it was proper positioning of our hands on the paddle shaft. Last weekend Sheila P. noticed that our hands were too close together and suggested marking our paddles with tape for hand location so that our elbows are at 90 degrees when the paddle shaft is place on top of our head. Although feeling awkward at first we both noticed less stress on our forearms, improved efficiency in our stroke resulting in an increase in our speed. Thanks Sheila!!

As the tide rose the mud flats submerged and we were able to make our way up the other main channel of the "loop" in hope that we could complete our quest that we tried earlier. The water level just wasn't high enough to pass the last set of rapids so we turned around and focused on getting some pictures of the bald eagles in the area. During the salmon spawning season there are so many of them in the estuary that we are looking forward to coming back in the fall. Robyn took this great picture of a mature eagle that was no more than 25 feet away.....amazing creatures!!!

A great day of relaxing in the shallow waters of the Nanaimo River estuary. Our track below shows us paddling through the log booms but we didn't actually. The booms have moved since the last Google Maps image was taken. :-)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

WCP Portland Island Camp Out - April 13-15th

This past weekend the annual West Coast Paddler (WCP) camp out took place on Portland Island which is part of the Gulf Island National Park Reserve. Portland Island is located about 2 nautical miles by kayak just north of Swartz Bay and has very little amenities other than a few outhouses and 3 designated camp areas. For more information about Portland Island you can also visit the Parks Canada link here to get an overview of the area.

Ever since we heard about the camp out in the WCP Community/Forums back in January we began preparing ourselves for a weekend of camping (old style) in a tent and taking everything we needed to survive in our kayaks. For those who know us, this is a big stretch because for the past couple of decades camping to us has been in a RV with all the comforts of home. Needless to say we we eager to make this happen so we dug out our 25 year old Hillary four person tent that has never been slept in but used a lot as an airplane hanger at R/C flying events. Not sure that we would enjoy rustic camping we made a few personal purchases like sleeping bags, self inflating mattresses, pillows, plastic plates, mugs and wines glasses too but kept our expenses to a minimal. We also borrowed items like a camp stove and a pot and then raided our RV for the rest of our cookware.

Being our first trip to Portland Island, I researched the tides, currents, weather and BC Ferries schedules for the optimal departure time settling on a 0900 hrs launch from Ardwell Beach (1.5 NM south of Swartz Bay). Fellow SISKA member Burke Gillespie joined up with us as this was also his first trip to the island. The planned route has many challenges and travelling in a group just adds a safety factor in the event something was to go wrong. Good planning reduces risk and I would say that we had the all the bases covered off pretty good.

Burke and I with our Delta Kayaks loaded to the brim and ready to head out to Portland Island.

The weather couldn't have been any better with clear skies and a slight NW breeze as we headed north across Tsehum Harbour, through Iroquis Passage to the end of Goudge Island. 

Delta Squad in formation through Iroquois Passage

The first major crossing of the trip was next as it meant that we would be transiting the BC Ferries departure / arrival route (Colburne Passage) servicing Vancouver the Gulf Islands. Carefully checking our time and from my pre trip planning there were no ships scheduled to be using this route. Making sure that the group was in good condition we crossed over to Pym Island for a short rest to drink some liquids and munch on energy bars before the  crossing  Shute Passage to Portland Island.

The conditions were perfect as we paddled our loaded kayaks at steady pace being careful not to over exert ourselves keeping a reserve just in case that we need to pick up the pace. Arriving at Portland Island the three of us were all smiles ear to ear as we rounded Brackman Island and passed Shell Beach before heading up the western side of the Portland Island towards the Arbutus Point camp area. Passing Chads Island we rounded the northern tip of Portland Island and our campground home for the next couple of days came into view. A big sense of accomplishment for each of us to make it without any issues at all!

Arbutus Point home to the 2012 WCP camp out. Notice the ferry swells?? 

After landing our kayaks on the beach and meeting the folks who arrived the night before the task of scouting out our tent site and unloading all of our gear was next. It wasn't long before we had the "condo" up on our little piece of beach front property. Although not what you would call a hiking or kayaking tent, it served the purpose and we could easily store all of our gear inside. If it was just a little bigger the kayaks probably would have fit in too!  LOL

Nice side yard for the yaks and a big arbutus tree
to hang our coolers away from the raccoons
A view of the condo from the dishwasher.
Pretty nice digs for $10 a night.



We set up camp and made a cup of Silk Road tea and headed down to the beach to soak up the warm sun and relax a bit. We had heard about the great number of raccoons that lived on the island and it wasn't long before we saw them in the camp looking for anything they could steal.

They sure lived up to their "bandit" nickname because they pretty well would help themselves to what ever they could find. The kayaks turned into food lockers at night but in the morning it was common to see who had been around.

After spending the rest of the afternoon hiking we returned to camp and hung out at the beach to watch other kayakers arriving for the weekend. Some arrived after taking a BC Ferry to Swartz Bay where they put in there while others arrived via one of the other Gulf Islands again serviced by BC Ferries. While watching the arrivals we noticed what looked like a wind surfer way out in the distance and it was only when it got closer that we realized it was a kayak with sails heading to the island that turned out to be MEC writer Philip Torrens from Vancouver. Not only were there kayakers from BC but a few made the journey from Puget Sound which made the camp out an international affair.

Philip's kayak equipped with sails

The next task at hand was making dinner for the first time using a borrowed MSR Pocket Rocket stove (thanks Lauren) and we kept the menu simple putting together a fried rice stir fry. The stove worked perfect and we were amazed at the heat that little burner produced so much that I would use one of these even when RV'ing to cook outdoors.

Throughout the day I had been posting some pictures on Facebook and I guess this one did it for our paddling mentor Sheila P. As the sun was starting to set over Saltspring Island I received a text from her saying that the car was packed and she was on her way. Sure enough, around 8:30pm she came into view just as darkness was falling over the island. Sheila wouldn't be to only one to arrive that night as Alana and Matt made it to the island around 11:30pm after navigating by chart and compass and surrounded by bioluminescence which they said was "magical"

We woke to warm sunny skies on Saturday morning after our first tent overnight experience in over 25 years.  Our greatest fear was being cold during the night but our sleeping bags were nice and toasty. Other than the noisy seals, otters, water fowl and the odd ship that droned through the night we had a good sleep. For breakfast I whipped up a cheese and mushroom omelette, Silk Road tea and orange juice. As Paddling Otaku (Brett) said ..... we don't have to eat like hikers do and I fully agree!

After breakfast Robyn and I decided to hike the trail that follows the shoreline around the island. Circumnavigating the island by foot took around 3.5 hours as we checked out the other camp grounds and came across fellow campers Jill & Bob who were hiking in the opposite direction. Arriving back at camp Sheila and Burke were just about to launch for a paddle around the island and they kindly waited for us to suit up and join them for a circumnavigation of the island by kayak. Taking our time meandering through islets I let Robyn play with my Werner while I tried Sheila's Greenwood cedar paddle which felt like using a knife to paddle with at first. Once I started to get used to it I realized that those weird looking paddles actually work! :-)

Before we landed back on the camp beach Sheila wanted to try a few rolls and asked me to spot her just in case the type of roll she was going to attempted did not work out as planned. So after a on the water rescue lesson she proceeded onto attempt #1 as I keep close by. Almost making it fully up she gracefully rolled back upside down and gave me the "Eskimo Rescue" signal by patting the hull of her kayak with her hands. Holy cow!!! I thought she was going to pull it off and now I have to perform a real life rescue so I manoeuvred my kayak into position for her to right herself using my bow or in this case my paddle shaft. I think I was more nervous than she was during the rescue to which she complimented me on my first official rescue.... Wheeew!!!

Arriving back at camp we gathered on the beach in the sun with the rest of the campers waiting for 5 paddlers to come back from Fulford Harbour where they went for lunch. We finally spotted them (tiny specks) heading across Satellite Channel and also a freighter heading in their direction. We watched as 4 of the paddlers continued on their way but the 5th paddler stopped and seemed to be playing chicken with the freighter. As it turns out it was Dan (WCP founder) who was taking photos of the freighter as it passed by several hundred feet away. Using my Sony Cybershot with 10x zoom I started taking pictures not really knowing what to expect. Checking the pictures when I got home I was very pleased at what I captured.

Dan looks really close but he is actually quite far away and in no danger at all.
It's amazing how the distance can play tricks on your depth perception 

After the 5 kayakers made it back to camp the planned potluck dinner started to kick into gear. I had promised on the WCP forum that I would make scallops and bacon while a whole assortment of goodies were created by the other campers. I must say that I thought RV'ers ate well at potlucks but I really think given the fact that we had to haul everything to the island and cook on little rocket engines (LOL) a kayak potluck is simply amazing! Stir fry pasta, crab cakes, all sorts of home made deserts, real American Coors Light beer and even a full chocolate cake made it to the table under the MSR big top.

2012 WCP Camp Out Potluck Dinner

After a busy day hiking, paddling and stuffed from the potluck it didn't take long to fall asleep in our condo for our last night on Portland Island. Sunday morning the skies were trying real hard to become overcast but the sun persisted and so did the gradually increasing SE wind. After another great camp breakfast we decided to pack up and head out before the forecast of 20 - 25 knot winds hit us. Leaving the camp we (Robyn, myself, Sheila and Burke) paddled past the other campers loading up as well. We knew it would be a bit of slog back to Ardwell Beach this morning.

My Delta takes a wave on the left side that completely rolls over the deck and my spray skirt.

Heading down the west side of the island we were sheltered from the SE winds but as we rounded Brackman Island and headed into Shute Passage the fun began. Here we were head on into the 12 knot winds, good size rollers and slightly breaking crests and thus the slog home began. This definitely was our most difficult paddle to date but at no time did we feel unsure about continuing on nor did we question our Delta's stability in rough water. Keeping focused on our paddling stroke technique really helped to maximize the efficiency of each stroke even though our progress was slow but steady. Looking at our track data we averaged around 1.5 knots through Shute Passage and the conditions added 1.5 hours to our paddle back to Ardwell Beach.

Robyn keeps a close eye on Sheila, Burke and myself as the
Spirit of British Columbia passes close by us.
After a rest stop behind Knapp Island out of the wind to refuel with liquid and energy bars it was time to make the final push across Colburne Passage. The timing was right on this leg that we expected an inbound Spirit class ferry from Vancouver and sure enough it came into view when we were about half way across the pass. We were protected from the SE winds by Coal and Goudge islands so our speed increased and allowed us to cross well ahead of the ferry entering Swartz Bay.

One last crossing of Tsehum Harbour and we were back into the sheltered waters of Roberts Bay and our launch point of Ardwell Beach. It was a long hard slog home but each one of us were exhilarated by the experience and felt that our skill level jumped a few more notches up the ladder.

Thanks to our paddling buddies Sheila and Burke for making the inbound trip with us and to all the 2012 WCP Camp Out kayakers for making it such a great weekend for a couple of newbies.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Relaxing Easter Paddle

Almost a year ago we and the Reaville's (Dave & Kelly) booked the waterfront deck sites at Pedder Bay RV Resort with intentions of staying with them for the Easter long weekend but due to family issues we had to cancel the trip for this year. So last night I managed to convince Robyn to take a break from the recent hectic week and head out to visit Dave & Kelly with kayaks in tow. Dave & Kelly were all over the idea of renting kayaks and taking a nice relaxed paddle in the bay since the winds were blowing really good past William Head.

Our first stop was to get a photo with the DHC Beaver beached at low tide. Dave has flown many of these airplanes up and down the West Coast and I make parts for them at Harwood Custom Composites so we both have interests in them.  In fact... Dave proposed to Kelly in a Beaver while she was flying it. :-)

The low tide brings out many critters who scavenge for tasty seafood treats. I think this is the first time we have seen a raccoon doing this and he had no problem in letting me gently glide up to him to get his picture. 

I let Dave and Robyn have a few strokes with my new Werner Ikelos and once in the hands of Robyn I had to chase her down to get it back. I guess she likes it ..... See honey, I told you how nice it would be. LOL :-)

Come back with my paddle!!!

Keeping an eye on the wind conditions and the water which was showing some pretty good white caps off the head we hugged the shoreline and did a little rock garden navigation. It was a good opportunity to explain to the group of the terrain that I was paddling in during Friday's current runs except today there was no current here. I think they might have been able to visualize the elevation changes of the water when it pushed through small rocky islets like this one.

Heading across the bay with the wind at our back our speed increased as noted on the track below. We paddled our way back down the west side of the bay and came across the two swans that make Pedder Bay their home. Robyn and I have seen them before but never this far out but we figured it was probably due to the extremely low time back near the marina. 

Paddling back to the marina Robyn was pleased as punch at my recent "Gear Head" purchase. Nearing the RV site we got Dave to take a picture of our new "wheels" for the kayaks. Sure beats lifting fully loaded boats and it leaves a free hand for a cold beer on the walk back to camp.  LOL

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Day Of Discovery

The past week and half of routine life took a serious blow with the passing of Robyn's step father early yesterday morning from a massive stroke that happened over a week ago. It was only a few days before we were celebrating his 80th birthday and it reconfirmed to me how precious life is and how fast it can all change in a moment. 

Although time heals, the past several days the family was able to come to terms of what was happening and sadness slowly started to change to sharing laughs in celebrating a wonderful life that Bill experienced. When the news came that Bill decided to tee it up on the greatest golf course of all, :-) the next step in the healing process began for each of us. Rest In Peace Bill Page 

Although it may sound callous, I headed to the water (with family urging) on the warmest day of the year to stretch my kayaking skills the most I have ever done in one day. With predicted 10 knot winds, up to 5 knot currents, blue skies with billowing white clouds it was such a perfect day to experience an open water crossing, rock gardens and currents. My mentors for the day were Sheila Foehn-Wind Porteous who is soon to be a Paddle Canada Level 2 Instructor and Roy Scully who although is not formally an instructor has an extreme wealth of knowledge and amazing group awareness. 

We launched out of Cadboro Bay around 10am with both Sheila and I testing out our recent Werner paddle acquisitions. As soon as I dipped those big blades of my Ikelos into the water it felt so good to have such a high performance paddle in my hands. The paddle was so effective I noticed the difference in the blade stiffness and how easy it was to get up to speed compared to my entry level Aqua-Bound. 

My Ikelos, Sheila and Roy blasting out of Cadboro Bay (Gyro Park)

Knowing that I was going to be experiencing some currents today I had some natural apprehension but I also was confident in my skills to this point and my ability to adapt so far on the water. Being in the company of Sheila and Roy also helped as they made it very clear that if I didn't feel comfortable at any time we could turn back or find an alternate route.

The crossing (Baynes Channel) to the Chatham Islands went a lot quicker than I thought it would take and it wasn't long before we started exploring the shoreline to the north with the purpose to circumnavigate Discovery Island with a lunch stop at the Marine Provincial Park on the south end of Discovery.

Entering the channel between Strongtide Islet on the right and main Chatham Island on the left.
The water is shallow but you still need to be aware that in certain wind and current conditions it can get
pretty gnarly in these long channels with standing waves. Great place for advance training!

Working our way south  past Griffin Island we rounded Discovery's Sea Bird Point passing the lighthouse on Pandora Hill. I was amazed at the size of the fog horn building in the fore ground of the picture below. Right on the top of the nearest corner to us was a huge juvenile eagle which kinda puts the building's size into perspective.

Heading towards Rudlin Bay which is home to the Provincial Marine Park camp area and our lunch stop we navigated through my first real rock garden with current. Here I got a lesson in using the hips to make sure the current is allowed to flow under the kayak and not over the kayak. How? By edging the kayak to the opposite side of where the current is making contact with the kayak. This allows the kayak to ride on top of the current and reduces the possibility of getting really wet! 

Relax, read the current, edge the kayak, keep paddling and focus
on the point you are trying to get to and not the rolling water

Paradise? Relaxing having lunch on such an amazing beach just made me want to pitch a tent and stay the night.... but no tent in my yak. :-(  A couple of other kayaks (furthest in the picture below) also arrived and it turned out to be Peter from Ocean River who was scouting out the location for a youth group paddle coming up. Peter is the sales rep who sold Robyn and I our dry boots so it great to meet a familiar face again.

Sheila and Roy enjoying the warm sun talking about the pros and cons of the many kayaks on the market. It was a pleasure to be with both of them as they really explained every situation (currents & eddies etc.) that we came across. Being the new kid on the block I felt very comfortable and in good hands. Thanks guys!!!

At this point in the trip it would have been the perfect opportunity to swap out the GoPro battery or put in a fresh SD card. But since I left the battery at home and the spare SD card hasn't arrived in the mail yet I missed a great opportunity to capture my first real rapids runs (swirlies I'm told) LOL and ferrying to the back eddies behind every islet. So ..... I'll just have to explain it the best that I can.

From a distance after leaving the beach after lunch I could see what I thought was just waves at Commodore Point. As we got closer I saw that it was actually changes in water elevation as the current rushed between the many islets and we were on the bottom step so to speak. Two choices.... press on or go back so after another lesson on what to expect as I entered the main channel of the current. Roy lead the way show me how it is done and then it was my turn.  Making my way into the current the process clicked into gear....relax, focus on the eddy I am trying to get to, edge opposite to the current, keep paddling and BOOOYA!!! Success! A few more of these and it was into Plumper Passage with the current where it reached almost 10kph without even paddling.

Another quick transit through the main channel between the Chatham Islands and it was back into Baynes Channel where we ferried across picking a spot way up current (left Oak Bay Marina) and angled our way back towards Cadboro Bay. Without using this technique we surely would have ended up around 10 Mile Point and getting back to Gyro Beach would have been a slog. You can actually see on the track below how our course bends to the right (with the current) from about 12.5km and the 14km point.

Passing Jemmy Jones Island my last lesson of the day was how to leave a back eddy and enter and run with the current and all this without getting wet (paddling upside down). Once again Sheila and Roy explained and demonstrated the process and after a few circuits of entering and exiting the current I felt exhilarated (again).

The final push to our starting location and after the hands-on 2 on 1 mentoring I received today, my body was starting to tell me that it had a great work out. Sheila demonstrated a few rolls and you would never know that she had double knee surgery a few weeks back. In fact this was her first solo kayak trip since the reconstruction and at almost 17km in distance I was impressed with her stamina.

Thanks Sheila and Roy for such a great experience that I will never forget.