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)

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