Sunday, April 27, 2014

2014 West Coast Paddler Unofficial Camp Out

It wasn't an official event. Just a bunch of kayakers who follow the forums on West Coast Paddler and get together once a year for a camp out.

The date was set a long time ago and we were at the mercy of the weather with the decision to “go or not go”. Robyn and I have paddled many nautical miles in various conditions since our first unofficial camp out 2 years ago and we were determined to keep the tradition going. The weather on the other hand tried its best to convince us otherwise.

We met up with Gary Jacek at the Swartz Bay Government Dock at 14:30 last Thursday afternoon and loaded the provisions into our trusty rides for the crossing to Portland Island. The marine forecast? Only 15-20 knots from the SW and an ebb working against us …. not the best conditions to paddle with a fully loaded kayak but we pressed on.

Gary and myself ready to head out with paddle (essential), pool noodle (not) and a near .05 beer (liquid)

Leaving the beach we paddled past Knapp Island and into Shute Passage towards Portland Island. With the winds pushing us along, Gary raised his kayak sail and started to pull away from us quickly so Robyn and I rafted up with him and under sail power the three of us managed to do 2.2 knots!

Under sail with Gary doing 2.2 knots with full left rudder.

Our original plan was to pass the north end of Brackman Island and then head up the west side of Portland Island to Arbutus Point. Nearing Celia reefs it became obvious that with the ebb flow combined with the rising SW wind there was no way we could reach Brackman Island. At this point we had separated from Gary and were surfing some of the swells at almost 4.7 knots! It was time to switch to plan “B” which meant we would allow the wind to push us up the east side of the island to the campground.

Arriving at Arbutus Point we were greeted by Dan Millsip from Langley (one of the founders of West Coast Paddler) and Kelly, who had come from Kelowna. With rain in the forecast we went to work (with help from Kelly) setting up camp making sure our tarp was secure. As in past years, the UVIC bird watchers were camped on the point as well and over the weekend we found out that they were researching the song sparrows on the island. Every morning at around 0700 they would head off in teams around the island either by foot or by zodiac and would return just before dinner.

Robyn and Gary around our shared kitchen table.

Gary's camp including a garage for our kayaks.

Friday morning we woke up to nothing but sunshine so Robyn, Gary and myself headed out for a clockwise hike around the island. Taking just around 2 hours we stopped at a few viewpoints and the other two campgrounds. We also bumped into a team of the birdwatchers who were searching for the nests of the song sparrows.

Arbutus Point spotted from the island trail

A Song Sparrow greeted us at the Princess Bay campsite

From L to R: Looking back towards Swartz Bay Pym, Knapp and Piers Islands

Shell Beach .... love this place!

Arriving back at camp we welcomed the last 4 paddlers to arrive for the weekend as we relaxed on the little shell beach on the point. First time camp out kayaker Richard from Vancouver arrived followed by Greg and Rod from Victoria and last but not least Phillip from Vancouver who arrived in his usual style - under sail power.

Friday evening, as the sun started to set over Saltspring Island, the group gathered on the shell beach and talked about how the Enbridge Pipeline and our dependency on oil is influencing our lives. At times the conversation was quite animated but we all agreed that we need to think twice about what we do or consume that involves oil by-product,s especially from overseas.

The sun setting behind Saltspring Island

A great setting for debating how we live now.

Saturday was another glorious day but the wind forecast was another story. After breakfast, 6 of us headed out on a counter clockwise circumnavigation of the island by kayak and once we rounded Kanaka Bluff we were paddling head on into a stiff SE wind. Dan had decided to paddle in the opposite direction and we passed him at Princess Bay.  We all noted how many raccoons we had come across on the south end of the island  as they searched the low water shoreline for food.

Our Saturday morning paddle route.

Arriving back at camp the latest marine forecast called for a gale warning and sure enough it started to blow 35+ knots with gusts even higher! We all retreated to Dan’s MSR guide tarp which provided shelter from the wind while the potluck for 9 got underway.  Robyn surprised the group with a little game of chance (count the jelly beans) with the winner (Dan) receiving the coveted buff that Robyn won the year before. We are hoping that the buff will become a pay it forward item so it is now up to Dan to figure out how he will pass it on next year.

Dan's MSR guide tarp provided shelter from the wind during our potluck

Dan Millsip, the lucky winner of the coveted buff for 2014

Several times we checked our camps during dinner to make sure that the tents and tarps were secure. A couple of the exposed camps needed to have their tarps taken down as they were taking a pretty good beating in the wind.  The marine forecast for the following morning wasn't looking very good as I checked the 21:30 update on my iPad so the plan would be to bug out as early as possible depending on our window of opportunity.

Sunday morning we awoke to overcast skies and just a slight breeze and the 04:00 marine was now forecasting winds of 15-20 knots from the SW. The good thing was that we would be riding an ebb back to Swartz Bay but still the winds would be a factor. The rest of the campers were soon up after us and we all started the task of packing up and heading onto the water as soon as possible. It was just after 08:30 when we left the beach and headed down the west side of the island. Our little group of campers had once again made the trip to Portland Island and it was now time to say goodbye for another year.

It's 0830 and we are bugging out before the winds come again

As expected, the sea conditions around Brackman Island was a little confused due to wind and current but we pressed on toward Knapp Island. Once we reached the shadow of the islands the winds decreased and we adjusted our course for the ebb flow. We arrived back in Swartz Bay around 10:00 and were back home just after 11:30.

The weather probably played a big part in the lower attendance this year at the unofficial camp out as the original forecast was for rain and wind the whole weekend however, for us on Portland Island, we had lots of sun, a howling wind storm on Saturday night and only a sprinkle of rain in the early hours of Sunday. It was an awesome weekend for everyone who attended.

2014 Paddle #10,11,12  WCP 2014
Distance: 11.44 nm (21.18 km)
YTD: 62.32 nm (116.38 km)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Self Rescues In The Rain

What to do when the weather turns wet and blustery? Suit up and go get wet! And that’s exactly what we did on Saturday afternoon.

Yup .... it's raining!

Because of the conditions that we can be exposed to on our paddling adventures, we believe that knowing how to perform self-rescues is a very important skill set. Most kayakers learn these skills in the safe confines of a pool, sheltered bay or lake but when it comes time to need them it probably will be when the crap hits the fan. Like any skill, they must be practiced regularly and in different conditions to prepare for the unexpected.

So what is the best self-rescue? I think that most kayakers will say that the roll is the quickest and most effective way to get yourself out of the water. Although easy to perform, the roll is probably one of the hardest skills to learn and needs to be done over and over to master. That is our first self-rescue option when ending upside down admiring the fish. :-)


If the roll just isn't going to work then it’s time to either scramble back into your kayak (cowboy) or use your paddle float to rescue yourself. The key is simple …. get yourself out of the water as fast as possible and that’s what we practiced today.

Robyn goes to work using her blow up paddle float for the first time during a self rescue.
Using new equipment requires practice before you really have to use it!

Another great day of paddling even if it was spent mostly in the water. :-)

2014 Paddle #9  Self Rescue Training
Distance: 3.89 nm (7.20 km)
YTD: 50.88 nm (95.20 km)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Training Around Bentinck Island

Our plan was simple enough and the currents at Race Passage were perfect. The question when we woke up on Friday at the Pedder Bay RV Resort was would the marine forecast cooperate? An overnight front arrived from the southwest with strong winds and the gusts continued to roar in the morning through the bay out towards open water. The only good thing about waking up to a blustery morning was that the skies were clear and the sun was trying to warm the chill from the air.

Checking the 10:30 revised marine forecast there was hope for diminishing winds around lunchtime which fit perfectly with our need to take advantage of the slack at Race Passage. We wanted to accomplish a couple things on this paddle as we start thinking about preparing ourselves for a Paddle Canada Level 2 course in the fall. The past few paddles have been more relaxed using our Delta kayaks but now the time has come to take the P&H Delphin’s out and play in some tougher conditions.

Launching from the marina we explored the low tide conditions in the bay as we headed to our training area around Bentinck Island. Along the way we spotted a swimming bald eagle struggling to make it to shore. At first I thought that it was tangled up in something only to realize that it was dragging a halibut head in one talon as it hopped up onto the beach. Drifting past it was obvious that it wasn't about to leave the catch of the day no matter how close we approached.

The swimming bald eagle with its halibut head lunch

The resident Mute Swans were also exploring the shoreline along our route and they seemed to not care one bit as we paddled by. As usual a few seals followed us announcing their presence with a snort or big splash behind our kayaks. So far this year we have noticed that there seems to be more river otters present than in the past. Today was no exception as we spotted them everywhere foraging in the shallows of the low tide while keeping their distance from us. They really are nervous characters.

A river otter enjoying a Dungeness Crab

Rounding Edye Point the westerly winds were blowing pretty good through Eemdyck Passage as the turn from slack to flood was just starting with the bull kelp indicating the direction of the current. There would still be plenty of time to head on the outside of Bentinck Island to the other end of Eemdyck Passage to ride the flood current through some of the islets.

Heading around Bentinck Island towards Eemdyck Passage

Earlier in the week a large pod of transient orca were seen not far from our location in Beecher Bay and today there were orca sightseeing whaleboats nearby. Could this be our lucky day? Paddling through the choppy conditions with rollers we entered the western end of Eemdyck Passage and plotted a route through the exposed islets. However, we weren't alone in the passage as well over 50 seals spotted us and curiously came closer to see what we were up to. Seals in the water could only mean one thing … there wasn't any orca nearby and this was confirmed when the whale boats left the area.

Joanne, Robyn and Reale just at the entrance to Eemdyck Passage

Leaving Eemdyck Passage we spotted a couple of familiar faces heading our direction through the rock gardens. Reale and Joanne were out on a paddle from Weir’s Beach so we stopped to chat while our little group rode the gentle flood current. Wishing each other well we headed back into Pedder Bay hugging the rugged shoreline while squeezing through some (and not) small gaps between the islets noting “rock” when we found one. Just before reaching the DND dock we spotted a couple more whale boats heading into the east side of the bay looking for something so we decided to cross over to see what they were searching for. We figured that since they couldn't find orca they must have been showing their customers the William Head prison or looking for seals that frequent the rocks nearby.

Having some fun in the rock gardens

With the tide gently rising, otters were still busy making their rounds in search of tasty crustaceans and we witnessed one in particular around a crab trap float. For those of you who know about our amazing luck of crabbing we now have developed this theory. After placing our crab trap in what we think is a great area, along comes a river otter who has been keenly watching us from its shoreline den. It continues to monitor our trap for several hours and when it’s full of crab the otter finds a starfish, removes our crab from the trap and puts in the starfish. We come along and haul up our trap only to find a starfish inside. It all makes sense to us now … it’s not our fault!! :-)

Heading back to the marina we both had a really good sense of accomplishment of completing the goals for the paddle. It’s time to ramp up the training a bit more so tomorrow if the weather cooperates we might just do a little rescue training.

2014 Paddle #8  Bentinck Island
Distance: 7.03 nm (13.02 km)
YTD: 46.99 nm (88.00 km)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Escaping To Portland Island

After our paddle to Discovery Island last weekend, Robyn and I started putting a plan together to do a little kayak camping this past weekend. With record breaking summer like conditions here on the south coast our only dilemma was deciding where to go and when. Our original plan was to head out after work on Friday but by mid week the marine forecast didn't look good for wind. It seemed like we wouldn't be going anywhere as the predicted winds came up on Friday afternoon. Stand down!

Saturday morning we woke up and behold sunshine ..... and an updated marine forecast of 10-15 NE winds. Could we???  We decided to test our camping readiness by loading our kayak camping gear into the truck and headed to the grocery store for supplies. Our destination of choice was going to be Portland Island for an overnight if the conditions were favorable.

We headed to Swartz Bay in hopes of securing a parking spot at the Government dock but luck wasn't on our side so it was back to Roberts Bay (Ardwell Beach) that we have launched from many times. So what if it added an additional 1/2 hr to the paddle... we were in no hurry to get where we were going. This was also a personal test to see if I could handle paddling in wind, current and with a loaded kayak. 

Camping gear secured and getting ready for Portland Island

We headed for Coal Island going through John Passage to Fir Cone Point to assess the BC Ferry traffic. It was perfect timing on our part as there were no departing or arriving ships which allowed us to transit Colburne Passage at our own pace riding a gentle flood in the direction to Portland Island.

Robyn paddles through Shute Passage towards Portland Island

Once we passed Pym Island the sea state was only a little choppy due to the wind against current but the transit across Shute Passage would be short. We headed for the familiar white shell beach on Portland Island called Shell Beach and then made our way north along the coast to Arbutus Point. We had hopes of camping there but to our amazement the entire camping area was overrun by boy scouts and even a few raccoons!. There was also a work crew there who were busy refurbishing the composting outhouse. Arbutus Point would not be our home for the night so it was back to Shell Beach.

Arriving at Shell Beach we found the whole camping area to ourselves. Having never camped at this site before we were amazed how beautiful it was and in retrospect we think we had the best campsite on the whole island.

The Shell Beach campground... all ours this day.

Waterfront camping with an amazing view.... all ours!

One thing for sure about Portland Island is that there is always BC Ferry traffic .... everywhere! Sometimes the larger Spirit class, sometimes the smaller Gulf Island ships and sometimes all at once!

The fleet coming and going from Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal

We were excited about testing a couple of new "gear head" items on this overnight trip that "ups" the comfort zone.  For the past couple of years we have used relatively cheap blow up air mattresses and every time we have come home complaining of how uncomfortable they were. So for this season we decided to purchase a couple of Exped Synmat 7's and holy cow what a huge difference in comfort.

I also used an Exped Air Pillow for the first time and experienced no more pillow fights with myself. Another great feature of both of these products is that they take far less space in the kayak and weigh considerably less. Bonus!!

Robyn with the Rogers 4G Mobile Hotspot
We also tested a Rogers 4G Mobile Hotspot that we received free ... yes free from Rogers as part of our personal cell plan. With 2GB of data we are able to hotspot our iPads instead of using our iPhones.

Yeah, I know ..... we were supposed to be camping with no connection to outside world but that's how we teased you with the pictures that we sent live from Shell Beach on Facebook.
How many of you just wished you were in that moment with us?? LOL

Why do we kayak camp? One of the reasons are the amazing sunsets that we are blessed with. The perfect way to end the day.

Sunday morning at our private resort :-) was simply amazing. Breakfast consisted of freshly baked cinnamon, raisin and sunflower seed bannock, scrambled eggs and coffee. A couple of SUP's arrived on the beach from Swartz Bay for a quick rest stop on their way to Saltspring Island.

Not much room for camping gear ... I'll stick to kayak camping.

And then it was our time to sadly start packing up to get ready to head home. We couldn't have picked a better overnight trip and the location was spectacular. Note to self .... must win lottery to do more kayaking!

How can you leave on a day like this?? We'll be back ;-)

Next weekend we are heading to Pedder Bay RV Resort with the P&H Delphin kayaks to do a little more training. I'm happy to report that all systems are go ....

2014 Paddle #6 & 7  Portland Island Camping
Distance: 10.30 nm (20.05 km)
YTD: 39.96 nm (74.98 km)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Chatham / Discovery Island Exploration

While the rest of Canada was still in winter mode, Robyn and I joined Gary, Lynn and Morley last Sunday for day trip to the Chatham's and Discovery Island group. Launching from Gyro Park in Cadboro Bay our plan was simply to enjoy the brilliant early summer like conditions and do a little exploring of the islands.

Gary, Lynn and myself gearing up for the day. Although warm, immersion wear is a must when making open water crossings.

Hugging the shoreline we headed towards 10 Mile Point to assess the conditions in Baynes Channel before making the crossing over to Strongtide Island.

Lynn paddles through the Cadboro Point islets before heading into Baynes Channel. The radio towers on Stongtide Island in 
the distance are great range guides to judge how the current is working against you. 

Today there was just a noticeable ebb flow as we made the crossing and started to explore the passage between the main Chatham Islands. Robyn and I noted that this was our first time taking this route which also gave us a better chance of maybe seeing the coastal wolf that now resides on the the islands. 

Heading towards Discovery Island with the Olympic mountains peaking above the clouds.

After reaching Discovery Island we continued along the eastern shoreline towards our lunch stop in Rudlin Bay. We were kind of surprised not to see any other kayakers here today considering how great the weather was.

I never get tired of pictures of kayaks at rest on Discovery Island.

It didn't take long for the discussion at lunch to turn to "I wish we had our tent" and it got us thinking about maybe camping next weekend.

New picnic tables and food caches are now in place at the campsite. 

Robyn and I did a little exploring of the campground for a possible future adventure and noticed all the wildflowers that were starting to blossom. In a few more weeks the grassy meadow should be a sea of color.

After lunch it was time to start making our way back towards Cadboro Bay. One of the things that I noticed was how many eagles were present around the islands. This immature eagle didn't seem to mind us as we paddled into Plumper Passage.

The crossing back to Cadboro Point was very relaxing with on a hint of the ebb current. April 6th and it is almost like summer here on the west coast. What a place to live and paddle!

Gary and Lynn admire the beauty that we call our paddling playground.

Once again .... we didn't see the wolf. My guess is that she could see us though being the resident caretaker of the islands. :-)

2014 Paddle #5  Cadboro Bay to Discovery Island
Distance: 9.51 nm (17.61 km)
YTD: 29.66 nm (54.93 km)