Monday, August 20, 2012

Portland Island Camping

After visiting some of the many wonderful kayak camping destinations on our recent vacation we went to work planning our first solo camping trip which took place this weekend. Our goal is to gradually build up our touring / camping skills by kayak so that one day (maybe next year) we can head out on an extended trip.

Our first kayak camping experience was this past April when we attended the West Coast Paddler Campout to Portland Island and we selected this location again as it is only a couple hours from home. It was also a great opportunity to try out some of the new gadgets that we have acquired over the past couple of months.

I did the pre trip planning in regards to the weather and tide forecasts while Robyn handled the culinary menus for the weekend. With the recent heat wave that hit the west coast it was a perfect opportunity to camp in a tent rather than our normal RV mode. We launched out of Ardwell Beach at 3:30 Friday afternoon under sunny skies with almost no wind and headed towards Portland Island riding the flood tide along the way. The flood current through John Passage was fun to play in and it carried us to the end of Coal Island where we stopped to check out the BC Ferry traffic. With only the 4:00pm Spirit class still loading at the berth we crossed Colburne Passage over to Pym Island.

Coastal class on the left heading to Tsawwassen and Spirit class on right heading to Swartz Bay behind Hood Island

The Shute Passage crossing was relaxing as we rode a gentle flood tide towards Brackman Island and then to Shell Beach to check out a number of kayakers unloading and setting up camp for the weekend. Our destination was Arbutus Point on the northern end of Portland Island and a couple of the kayakers said that they saw nobody there a few hours earlier when they passed by. Making our way along the west side of the island we arrived at Arbutus Point and to our amazement there wasn't a soul in sight. We had the whole camping area to put up our new 3 person tent and call it home for the weekend. In fact we only saw a few people all weekend who hiked over from Princess Bay so we named ourselves "Arbutus Camp Hosts" for the weekend. LOL

Sunset over Saltspring Island
We choose probably the best camp spot to watch the sunset but in reality it probably was the noisiest spot as well because of the waves from the ferries crashing into the base of the rock ledge that we were perched on. Once the ferries stopped running close to midnight the waters calmed down and we fell asleep listening to the seals splashing in the water below us until a couple of raccoons climbed the tree above our tent at 2:00am. Camping in the wilderness ........ priceless!!  :-)  One thing we noticed and I have to ask other kayak campers about, is even though there was no moon (new moon), the inside of our tent was surprisingly lit inside. Robyn thought that my watch LED was on but it wasn't so all we could figure out is that the star light somehow was captured by the fly material creating a artificial light source for inside the tent.

The 8:00am ghostly departure from Swartz Bay
Sleeping in until 8:00am on Saturday morning we woke up to the numerous Oyster Catchers squawking on the rocky point of the campground. It was time to start what would be a very relaxing kick up our feet type of day that we envisioned. For breakfast we made cinnamon raisin bannock for the first time and it was simply amazing with a hot cup of Silk Road tea. I think we have found a new camping treat that can be made with almost anything you can image and so easy to do as well.

Our two 2:00am visitors the next morning below our tent. How cute are they????

Watching the tide go out from our camp I spotted what I thought was a river otter crawling up onto the exposed flat rocks of the point but then we realized that it was a baby seal getting a little morning sun. I headed down to the point and sure enough it was a baby seal and it had no problem in letting me get within about 10 feet as I was concerned that it might be injured since it's mother was nowhere in sight. The little guy (which we named Neil the Seal) looked strong and like I mentioned just wanted to catch some rays. He spent a good 4 hours soaking up the warmth before leaving the beach unannounced.  :-(

At low tide we scavenged the tide pools looking for a possible dinner candidate (crab) but none were to be found. However we did manage to find a few oysters and decided that a few of them would be nice for lunch steamed in white wine and butter and topped with parmesan cheese. The rest of the afternoon we spent reading and just plain doing nothing just as we had planned to do all along.

Keeping an ear and eye out for the Sunday morning forecast I checked my iPhone and VHF radio for updates. The Sunday forecast had gone from winds light to now increasing 10-15 knots from the south so we put a plan in place to wake up the next morning and reassess the weather conditions. Worst case scenario we would just simply relocate down to Shell Beach and wait out any bad stuff. After another great meal of curried chicken and rice for dinner the wind started to come up and with over cast skies we retreated to our tent and read until we were ready to doze off. As I waited for the last ferry to pass by our rock ledge I watched the lightening flashes in the distance light up the tent and only heard the odd thunder roll. A great way to finish the day off but I would have liked to see the lightening a little closer in all its fury.  :-)

Sunrise looking over our private beach for the weekend. A great way to wake up in the morning!!

Sunday morning we woke up before sunrise and climbed out of the tent to see the sun coming up over the Salish Sea. It was a pretty amazing sight that we never get tired of no matter how many times we see it. Over a fresh brew of Silk Road tea and bannock I checked the weather forecast and sure enough it wasn't looking good for later in the day with predicted 25 knot winds from the south. It was time to pack up the kayaks and "Get out of Dodge" as we launched from our beach front property ($4.90 per person , per night) at 8:05am and headed south towards Shell Beach. With an ebb tide that would follow us home we rounded Kanaka Bluff and saw that Shute Passage was absolutely flat. As we passed Shell Beach, kayakers were busy loading their rides obviously aware of the forecast as well.

The ebb flow was pretty obvious in Shute Passage and especially with the big rollers coming off Celia Reefs, we ferried our way to Pym Island to hold our course. We crossed back over Colburne Passage and headed south through Iroquois Passage letting the currents carrying us back towards our put in location. After a few hugs and high fives we loaded the truck as we watched the south winds starting to build in the bay. Shortly after 10:30am we walked through the door at home feeling pretty good about our solo camping experience and have already begun to plan our next tenting adventure.

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