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.


  1. Love it. Outstanding. I am going to cross post a couple of places in a couple of days.


  2. Glad you enjoyed our adventure PO. More fun on the way this weekend.