Monday, September 30, 2013

Riders On The Storm

Download video and pictures.... edit in some Jim Morrison and Doors "Riders On The Storm" and it could have been epic except ...... the storm didn't arrive!

All day Saturday we hunkered down as the first storm system of the Fall season rolled onto the west coast. Sunday promised to be even better and so Roy Scully sent a FB message on Saturday night for those hardy enough to head to Esquimalt Lagoon on Sunday morning. We awoke to monsoon type rains but very little trace of winds but even so decided to head to the promised land in search of surf conditions.

We met up with Roy, James Manke and Peter Marshall at the beach to warm calm conditions in a light drizzle but decided to go for a paddle anyway and maybe the wind might rise by the time we got back to the beach.

Robyn and I started out using our euro-paddles only in hopes that we would be paddling in more challenging conditions. It didn't take long to make the switch to our Greenlands and try different maneuvering strokes that we are so accustomed to doing with the euros. Although we have used our Greenland paddles primarily for touring purposes, using them in the tight rock gardens environment felt really alien to me. It's a stick for heavens sake!

Peter (in Roy's Reflection) and Robyn chat along the way towards Fisgard Lighthouse

We paddled out to Fisgard Lighthouse and across Esquimalt Harbour following the shoreline all the way to Macaulay Point searching for any rocky outcrop that would allow us to run through the surge channels. Only for the odd rollers coming in from freighters out in Juan de Fuca Strait there wasn't really much to play in but it was still great to be out on the water.

Roy hugging the shoreline in search of rock gardens to play in.

A tiny rock garden surge pushes me through the gap in the rocks while James and Robyn watch.

One thing for sure ... Greenland paddles (GP) are not the ideal for rock gardening with and my Joe O Paddles took a bit of a beating as I learned quickly how to use it in the tight, shallow channels. I also took advantage of watching James work his magic with his GP and in particular how his hands and wrists moved around the paddle. There was no death grip as the paddle just seemed to flow through his fingers so fluidly. It definitely is an art that both Robyn and I want to explore further.

James in one of Roy's kayaks. It was great watching his paddle technique in the rock gardens.

We paddled back towards the beach in hopes of finding some waves to surf on near the lighthouse but there just wasn't anything worth trying to catch. Other than a bit of fun in the currents near the bridge heading into the lagoon that was it in a nutshell.

Back at the beach it was time to try a few GP sweep rolls that I watched Robyn do while she was working with James over the past couple training sessions. James did try to tell me that the water was cold on the head but that didn't stop me from completing my first two sweep rolls with a GP. I actually came away from the day with a really good vibe about using the GP and I am committed to using it more. Heck ... they sure are nice to roll with!

Greenland sweep roll with James watching closely just in case I missed it. Not gonna happen dude!! 

Foot Note: Robyn and I took her Mom out for dinner to celebrate her 80th birthday at the Beach House Restaurant in Cordova Bay later that evening. Look what showed up! LOL

2013 Paddle #60 Storm Riders
Distance:  5.18 nm ( 9.59 km)
YTD:  333.53 nm ( 636.10 km)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Further Exploration

Ever have those moments (or week) when you just can't wait do something again? Well it didn't take Robyn long to book her next Greenland rolling session with James Manke as we were back at the All Things Qajaq training center yesterday afternoon. :-)

The goal for this session was to transfer the skills that Robyn learned last week in a Greenland kayak to her P&H Delphin. For me it was another opportunity to watch James' teaching methods as becoming a kayak instructor is on my radar for the future. I also took the opportunity to further explore some of the features of the Fuji XP50 cameras that we have been using the past year with some frustration.

OK ..... How many of you guys (and maybe some ladies too) out there don't read or just skim through those annoying little multi-language booklets or papers that come with new items that you buy? Helloooo ...... they are called instructions! They are meant to be read (no matter how boring) and then that knowledge is meant to be used to explore your new item.

Back to Robyn. While I sat very comfortably in an Adirondack chair on the the dock at the ATQ facility, Robyn and James did some refresher work in his Tahe Greenland kayak to review what they worked on last week. It was then time to use those skills and transfer them to her own kayak and make the subtle adjustments needed to compensate for the design differences. 

Static Brace in the Greenland Tahe
Static Brace in the P&H Delphin

The same skill set being used for the static brace but just a different environment (kayak) that they are being applied in. 

Sweep Roll 

Now it's just time to practice in various open water conditions to further develop these skills and build confidence and make them bullet proof so to speak. Somebody out there once said that you have to do a particular skill 10,000 times to perfect it. OK Robyn, only 9,930 or so more static braces to go and then you get to work on the other side! :-)

For me ..... I just read the my camera instructions and finally figured out my frustration wasn't with the camera. Go figure! What did I learn? Well, that Auto shooting mode that most cameras have is only good for one thing. Taking bad pictures. My camera has 21 other shooting modes each programmed for certain conditions so guess what? I selected the Sports mode since my target (kayak) was moving all the time, turned off the digital zoom as all it does it take really 'grainy' pictures and used the Continuous Shooting mode to capture 12 pictures pictures (4 per second).

325 pictures later ..... finally a big improvement in the picture quality and what a great way for Robyn to see things that she can build upon in her rolling skills.

It's almost like James is saying ..... "It's just that easy when you learn the skills" ;-)

2013 Paddle #59 Rolling Pictures
Distance:  Zippo nm ( Zippo km)
YTD:  328.35 nm ( 626.51 km)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Letting Go

What is the the fastest way to get back into your kayak?? Answer ..... stay in it. Easier said than done for a lot of people but once the fundamental mechanical skills of rolling a kayak are learned it can greatly improve the experience of kayaking.

A few weeks back I contacted James Manke of All Things Qajaq about doing a one-on-one rolling session with Robyn to help her get through some of the obstacles she has been experiencing with her rolling technique using a euro paddle. Although she didn't know about the session when I started planning it with James, once I told her she was excited about working with him after following his teachings on Facebook and from what I learned from him last spring.

Yesterday afternoon we headed to Langford Lake where James started with an on shore demonstration on how to use the torso and legs together to get the kayak to roll while using minimal arm or paddle force. James also explained the proper stroke using a Greenland paddle which answered some of the issues we have been experiencing with ours. Although we brought Robyn's P&H Delphin with us to the session James let Robyn use his Greenland Tahe kayak as it is designed specifically for rolling and yes she would be using her Greenland paddle as well.

Isn't she cute?
Once suited up in a very special tulik Robyn started the on water portion of the session working through static bracing, butterfly roll, hand roll (no paddle) and finally a sweep roll. 

Watching her from the water in my Delphin I was amazed how quickly she worked through each technique but more specifically how fluid she was able to make each look. I think she would probably agree that the skill that amazed her the most was the hand roll as she simply had to let go of the paddle and allow her body and kayak to become one to complete the roll. Talk about a leap of faith but boy did it look great and heck .... I haven't done one of those yet!

Static brace or just hanging out relaxing on the water. 

Letting go ..... no paddle hand roll.

Although this session with James only scratched the surface of Greenland rolling techniques, the mechanical skills that Robyn learned was amazing. Does she want more? Hell ya!!! Sign her up James .... in fact sign us both up for more Greenland paddle rolling.

Instructor - James Manke

James Manke is the founder and visionary of All Things Qajaq. His passion for Greenland kayaking has spread worldwide and he travels around the world primarily teaching Greenland rolling and related skills. James is the Canadian ambassador for Northern Light Paddle Sports and sponsored by both Joe O’Paddles and Reed Chillcheater. James serves as an active member of The Hurricane Riders, an inspiring group of passionate sea kayakers on the West Coast of Canada on the pushing edge of the sport.

2013 Paddle #58 Greenland Rolling
Distance:  Nada nm ( Nada km)
YTD:  328.35 nm ( 626.51 km)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Foggy Island Splendor

Fogtember might be what we start saying around here with the recent pea soup fog that has been cloaking southern Vancouver Island the past couple of weeks. That didn't stop our plans of heading to Portland Island for a little kayak camping trip this past weekend. Our friends Sheila and Neil decided to join up with us for the weekend and they headed out of Amherst Beach (Sidney) about an hour earlier than we did. The last text message that I got from Sheila was "It's friggen foggy"

We arrived at Amherst and saw the Rami Bam-Bam vehicle but no kayaks on the beach so they must have set out in the soup. After we got all of our gear stowed it was time for us to take to the water and navigate our way to Portland Island in the fog. Although we did have the usual manual navigation tools with us we relied on our trusty Garmin Oregon 550 to point us in the right direction.

Socked in at Amherst Beach at 1:35pm .... this should be fun dodging the BC Ferries.

As we paddled towards Tsehum Harbour the fog really got bad and we had a very difficult time seeing the yachts leaving the marina for the weekend. We decided to paddle into the harbour a bit to reduce the crossing and hopefully get a better glimpse of the marine traffic. Even so it was a little bit like the game Frogger dodging some of the boats but thankfully they were going slow enough to see us as well.

Not but visibility crossing Tsehum Harbour

Keeping in mind that we just might have to cross Colburne Passage in the fog which is the main water way that BC Ferries use when entering Swartz Bay, we paddled through Page Passage to the northern tip of Goudge Island to assess the crossing. Thankfully the fog lifted enough so that we could visually make the crossing without any vessels bearing down on us. 

We think it was the Mayne Queen heading out from Swartz Bay but at least we could see it was a ferry.

Our next challenge would be crossing Shute Passage over to Portland Island and from our vantage point between Knapp and Pym Islands there was nothing but fog. Robyn took over the navigation duties by programming a direct course to Shell Beach on the GPS and off we went into the fog again. It wasn't long before I spotted the tops of trees poking through the fog into the sun and then the rest of Portland Island came into full view. The rest of the paddle up the west side of the island to Arbutus Point was so relaxing and it wasn't long before we saw Sheila and Neil's kayaks on the little white shell beach.

Our tent on the left and Sheila and Neil's on the right

We spent the rest of the afternoon setting up camp and were treated to another wonderful Arbutus Point sunset. Once again we had the whole campsite to ourselves but that might have been because of the fog the past several days but we sure didn't mind the peacefulness.

As in the past we made sure that our campsite was locked down good for the night just in case bandits came into camp which Portland Island is famous for. I'm talking about those four legged, striped tail with mask bandits called coons in these parts. Usually they make themselves known when ever your set foot on the island but today there wasn't a sign of them. Could it be that they simply are no longer around?

One thing that is hard to get used to about Portland Island (Arbutus Point) is the almost hourly crashing of waves on the beach whenever a ferry goes by. Add the factor of fog and that means they were blasting their fog horns ever couple of minutes too. Needless to say, the first night sleep was kinda restless and when it did get quiet for the rest of the night you could hear fog horns blowing all around the south coast.

Saturday morning was the start of a really special day and I would even go as far as saying epic in some ways. Up early (BC Ferry fog horn alarm clock at 6am) the campsite was soaked in misty dew from the fog. The tide was way out this morning so I went for a walk to inspect the inukshuk that was placed on the rocky reef off the point by a group of SISKA paddlers last Wednesday. All weekend this "host" was always in sight even at the high tides washing around his feet and many times we thought someone was standing there until we realized it was our inukshuk friend.

Me and our inukshuk host in the fog

While making coffee we heard the sloshing of boots walking passed our guide tarp and said hello to the passing stranger who was dressed in shorts, paddling shirt, booties and a PFD. Just as he was about to leave Sheila said .... "That's John!"  I said "John who?" she said "John Kimantas!" John then turned around and spotted Sheila and we had a nice chat about what he was doing in the area. It was great to meet the author of what we kayakers call the kayaking bibles of the WILD COAST

John Kimantas paddles past our inukshuk host as he gathers more update information for his books.

John Kimantas kindly took this picture of our foggy camp and kayaks before he left to do more research.

After a breakfast of cinnamon, raisin, sunflower seed bannock and an omelette we were cleaning up our dishes when Neil yelled "ORCA" from the beach. Sure enough there was a pod of orca about half way between our camp and the reef marker just off Morseby Island. Wanting to get a little closer for some good pictures, Sheila and I paddled out about half the distance again just beyond the kelp beds off Arbutus Point and waited to see what direction they were traveling.

Robyn captured this picture of us with the orca and the Spirit of Vancouver Island

Suddenly out of the fog the Spirit class BC Ferry (Spirit of Vancouver Island) came into view from Active Pass so we held our position to watch what the orca would do. With the ferry slowing down to show the passengers the pod, the orca started to spy hop almost as if checking out what the ferry was doing.  The pod then decided to head towards our direction passing by several hundred meters away and over then next 15 minutes Sheila and I were memorized by their presence.

Another shot from Robyn on the beach

No sooner than they were with us that they continued on their way past Chads Island and out of view. It was such an spiritual experience of sorts to be in their presence and being in my kayak made me feel so small in comparison to the size of the orca. It was a kayaking bucket list item of mine and I never thought in my wildest dreams would it happen so soon in our kayaking adventure. 

The rest of the day the four of us tried our hand at fishing for rockfish off the north side of Arbutus Point. Sheila managed to catch numerous lingcod but they weren't big enough to legally keep. I managed to catch a rockfish that was perfect for Robyn and I to have for dinner and then we set our starfish trap. Yes I said starfish trap. Enough said .... again! LOL

After lunch we headed back out for some more fishing and while I jigged my buzz bomb lure, Robyn went on a little tour of the bay on the east side of the point. I love it when she picks up extra miles for our yearly count :-) 
2013 Paddle #56 Fishing Touring
Distance:  2.86 nm ( 5.30 km)
YTD:  316.72 nm ( 605.07 km)

When she arrived back to where I was fishing she found me with what we thought was me hooked on the bottom. I passed her the fishing rod and tugged away on the line in hoping to either snap it off or get it to release. Suddenly something let go and I let Robyn reel in the line except there was something really heavy on the other end. I decided to reel in what we thought would be a big hunk of kelp but to our surprise was a very small red snapper with a 3-4 foot lingcod firmly attached to it. Holy cow!!!!

When I managed to get both fish to the surface the big lingcod let go so I dropped the little snapper back into the water and the lingcod took another big bite of the snapper. Go figure ... we didn't take the net out with us so we called over to Sheila to bring hers but before she managed to get to us the big lingcod let go and descended into the depths. It sounds like a fish story but believe us .... 100% true!!

That one is going back too! 

Sheila and Neil spent then next couple of hours playing catch and release in hopes of getting the "big one" but finally settled on a rockfish perfect for dinner too. As we sat around the camp preparing our dinner a river otter climbed onto the rocks just below our tent. Usually we have found the otters to be a little timid but this one hung around for a while as we took pictures. 

Why do we love kayak camping? No matter how many times you visit the same place there are always different stories to be told. As for capturing the great moments, the pictures we take really can't explain what we experience out there but we like to share them with our readers.

On with our story, after dinner on Saturday we decided to make some coffee but ...... where did the Zip Loc bag of coffee filters go?? Remember the bandits I mentioned before? Well they were now in camp and sure enough our coffee filters were gone. 

Robyn all smiles making dinner but where did the coffee filters go???

Saturday night everything was raccoon proofed and we have to mention the really cool food cache that the parks have installed. It worked great!!! Saturday night while nice and warm in our tents we heard the little bandits making their rounds through the camp but HA! No food for you!!

Sunday morning we woke up to the fog again and it was time to pack up after breakfast and get out of dodge so to speak. The forecast for later in the day didn't look good and those of us who live in Victoria can attest to the thunderstorm that rolled through that afternoon.

Robyn lead the way with her GPS and we simply followed our track back towards Amherst Beach and what did we see when we arrived back at the beach ....... another pod of orca swimming past as we were loading our truck!  

I can't help think that maybe our "camp host" had something to do with our amazing weekend. Be safe my friend through the winter storms.

2013 Paddle #56, 57 Portland Island
Distance:  5.65nm, 5.98 nm ( 10.46 km, 10.98 km)
YTD:  328.35 nm ( 626.51 km)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

D'arcy Island Magic

This past weekend we decided to spend the Labour Day long weekend at one of our favourite kayak camping locations on the south coast. Located at the southern end of the Gulf Islands chain, D'arcy Island is a short hop (2.25 hours, 7.59 nm) from Sidney which we consider to be just far enough and in some cases tougher to get to in adverse weather conditions. Although it can be challenging to get there and back it has become our little bit of paradise so close to home. Maybe that's why it usually isn't very busy the times that we have been there.

To start the trip we launched out of Amherst Beach in Sidney and left the truck parked on 3rd Street just a couple of blocks away. We could have also launched out of Island View Beach but the parking pass to do so would have cost us $40 and in our opinion the truck wouldn't have been as secure as where we parked it in Sidney.

Pre-launch sausage roll and we're off!

The weather forecast was for diminishing 10 SE winds and with the promise of rain looking pretty black over the Saanich Peninsula we headed across Sidney Channel against the last of the flood. Our goal was simple, make the biggest crossing first and then hug the coastline of Sidney Island all the way down towards D'arcy. Anchored at Sidney Spit a mega yacht caught our eye with a helicopter on the aft deck. The Westport 164 Evviva is owned by Orin Edson, the founder of Bayliner. Just as a note, mega yachts of this size can be chartered for a mear $50K per week on average for 12 lucky guests.

Go figure... the winds dropped completely and the skies opened up into warm and muggy sunshine which made wearing our drysuits a little uncomfortable. Still we pressed on towards our destination. Our hydration packs really came in handy on this paddle.

Resting at the Sallas Rocks before crossing Hughes Passage with D'arcy Island in the distance.

Arriving at the designated Gulf Islands National Park Reserve campground on D'arcy Island, only 3 of the 7 sites were occupied and they all seemed to have the same tents and gear but nobody was around. We figured that they must be part of some group tour which turned out to be sort of true as the guides were touring their family members visiting from the Quesnel area. It was not long after we got our first ever guide tarp set up (in the air) that Lynn Baier and Morley Eldridge arrived on the beach to spend the weekend with us. Nice!!

We're getting good at this kayaking camping. Site #1 D'arcy Island

After a restless sleep, Saturday was pretty well the perfect day for lounging around. We did set the crab trap .... enough on that story LOL and the rest of the time we hung around on the grassy knoll in the sun drinking wine, beer and nibbling on snacks. Lynn and Morley went for a little paddle around Little D'arcy to play in the currents and when they returned Morley borrowed my drysuit and did a little rolling practice in the bay while we critiqued his technique. :-)

Our view from the grassy knoll of Lynn and Morley returning from their paddle.

Morley practices his Greenland rolling techniques.

Just before dinner we spotted a number of fast moving boats coming through Baynes Channel heading towards D'arcy Island. It wasn't long before we realized that they were grouping together and had come to a stop which only could mean one thing ....whales!!!

Sure enough as the flotilla got closer to us we could see orca dorsal fins heading towards Kelp Reef. Morley and I thought about paddling out towards the marker for a closer look but by the time the pod arrived there it would have been too late for us. It's too bad as it was also slack tide and the conditions were dead calm, Next time we'll be on the water for sure to get a better view. Unfortunately the pod was about 3/4 of a mile away so we couldn't really get any pictures worth keeping. 

After dinner, Morley introduced us to Lynn's BioLite CampStove as the sun started to set. I have been wanting to see one of these little stoves in action and I was really impressed on how easy it was to start, how much heat it generated as a little campfire and of course the fact that it could charge my iPhone!! We never did try actually cooking with it. YES!! It's on my gearhead bucket list!!

Sunset from our campsite

The rest of the evening we watched a little bird hunt flying termites that were taking to the air all around the camp. He didn't have to go very far from his branch, more like a jump to catch the tasty insects. The following night he was back at it as the last of the termite hatch departed.

Sunday morning was absolutely spectacular when I climbed out of the tent. I grabbed my camera and headed south along the bay to capture some stunning pictures of the sunrise. It is really hard to know what images you are capturing when pointing the camera directly into the sun but I'm sure you will agree that our little place that we call magic is really just that.

After breakfast the four of us decided to go on a little paddle up the east side of Sidney Island and check out Halibut and Mandarte Islands. Taking advantage of the flood we made our way across Miners Channel to Halibut Island which is privately owned while I trolled for any type of fish. Enough of that story too!  LOL

We then crossed over to Mandarte Island which we thought was a protected part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve but it turns out that it is actually a First Nations Reserve (Bare Island) which is a fitting name because other than the single leafless tree on the island there is nothing but scrub brush and thousands of birds. 

Lynn with Mandarte Island in the background

What we thought were research stations are actually First Nations buildings

The only tree (if you can call it that) standing on Mandarte Island. I wonder if it has some sort of First Nations significance? 

We then paddled over to the cliffs on the east side of Sidney Island. Like some of the other cliffs on the neighboring island these are also massive in height. In the picture below you can just see Robyn on the beach and a couple of people walking along the sand.

On our way back towards D'arcy Island we stopped for lunch on a small sheltered beach to stretch our legs. What a way to spend the day just paddling around looking at the scenery. Life is tough!

Morley ponders kite
flying over a beer
We arrived back at camp just in time as the predicted 15 - 20 SE winds were starting to pick up. For the rest of the afternoon we took it easy up on the grassy knoll until Morley tried to get his kite into the air.   

Morley at the controls while Lynn and I try to get the parasail to inflate.

After several attempts of which each was followed by another drink (LOL) we concluded that there just wasn't enough wind up on the grassy knoll to let Morley fly his kite. Oh well .... another time. Note to self .... take my kite with me on camping trips. 

Our last night in camp was spent stoking the BioLite and taking in the last sunset of the weekend as a Feathercraft double camp into the bay. I think we all did a double take considering the water conditions weren't the best. The paddlers set up camp in site #5 and that was the last that we saw of them for the evening. 

The following morning we woke up to a thunderous "BOOM" as thunder rolled in over the camp around 6am. We also noticed the sound of raindrops from the on and off showers on the tent. Timing it right we got out of the tent and the showers were just that as a frontal system was passing by. Hey ... our guide tarp did it's job keeping our kitchen area nice and dry too!

The Feathercraft owners were busy disassembling camp as our group made coffee and thought about having breakfast. Morley spoke to them and it turned out that they were planning on heading directly to Discovery Island without any tide knowledge. They had no idea that they would be paddling into a 3.13 kt flood that would be happening at Baynes Channel. I was also a little shocked to see that one of the paddlers also didn't have his PFD on when he left and just hoped that the winds wouldn't come up on them. 

The forecast winds actually called for very light conditions and so we didn't hurry to depart from D'arcy Island. With the flood heading our way we decided to wait until around 11:30am to launch back towards Sidney. Our route back allowed us to ride the flood along the east side of James Island and straight to Sidney and boy did that work. Checking our GPS we managed to hit 4.7 kts without hardly even paddling and with no wind assisting us. In our fully loaded kayaks that made the 2 hour paddle go by fast. 

Riding the currents towards Sidney on the east side of James Island. Not a breath of wind either.
So sad to leave D'arcy but we'll be back .... maybe later this fall ;-) Anyone wanna go???

2013 Paddle #53, 54, 55 D'arcy Island
Distance:  7.58nm, 10.89 nm, 7.59 nm ( 14.03 km, 20.17 km, 14.05 km)
YTD:  313.86 nm ( 599.77 km)