Friday, July 31, 2015

God's Pocket - 7 Days plus 1 (Part 2)

Day 2 - July 12, 2015

Uuuugh! The 5:00am headache woke me up with a bit of a jolt..... just great! I should have known better to read on my iPad late into the night when I was tired after a long day on the water / establishing camp. Thrashing around in my sleeping bag for the next hour I finally convinced myself to get up and try coax the throbbing above my eyes to subside. By the sound of the water dripping on the tent it sounded like it was going to be a wet start to the day as well ..... just great!

Robyn and I pulled on our rain gear and neoprene boots (must have) and headed to the kitchen to fire up the Jetboil to make coffee. The plan for the day was to head out on a circumnavigation of Balaclava Island later this morning but after trying to force down coffee and granola for breakfast followed by a couple of Tylenol chasers it was time for me to head back into the tent for a couple of hours of sleep.

Wake up #2 was much better although I still had the residual pounding that just didn't want to go away. Maybe just getting onto the water would help so our group geared up and headed out north into Browning Passage. The forecast was for rain developing later in the day but that wasn't going to bother us one bit as the temperature was still fairly warm.

Gearing up ready to explore Balaclava Island

Heading north into Browning Passage as the flood was just beginning. 

Passing Lucan Island I heard the blow and then spotted the dorsal fin of a humpback whale no more than 100 feet from me. I managed to get my camera out in time to capture it's last few breathes before it vanished beneath the surface. About five minutes later it surfaced again several hundred feet north of us and I realized that it was feeding in the eddy line next to the current running south. This humpback made its way to the islets across from the old log boom area and then headed back towards Lucan Island staying in the eddy line all the time.

So close ..... close enough for me. My first encounter with a humpback whale. 

Darkness envelops me as I explore the cave
After our encounter with the humpback we followed the shoreline exploring some of the sea caves that could be seen at low tide. A few of them were big enough for a kayak to back into, briefly disappearing from those who waited outside.

Robyn still has plenty of water behind her in the darkness

Many of the sea caves were only several feet deep but the contrast between the rock, under water life and the flora was stunning. The thing that was really evident was how natural these features are being virtually untouched by mankind.

Absolutely beautiful colors

We arrived at the old log boom site which is now being used as a campground by kayakers visiting the area. The gently sloped beach consisted of small smooth pebbles and we needed to make sure that our kayaks were firmly secured before exploring the area. With the rising tide the kayaks easily slid back into the water with the assistance of the currents if we weren't paying close attention to them.

Arriving at the old log boom site.

Actually a very nice beach to land on. We must visit this site again on a future trip.

The nice thing about this site is that it can accommodate a large group of kayakers with places to set up your tent in the meadow, under the boughs of the giant cedars or if you prefer above the high water line. There was also an established small kitchen area and firepit with a supply of firewood that had been left by previous visitors.

Makeshift kitchen and firepit area

Surveying the meadow
The huge meadow is slowly being reclaimed by nature and is now home to many wild flowers including hundreds of foxgloves (digitalis purpurea) . Stan mentioned that when you see the fox glove in full bloom it usually indicates that summer is coming to an end. Ha!!

I also spotted evidence of deer in the area which surprised me since the island is known to be home to a number of wolves.

Purple foxglove
The contrast of the foxglove's purple color against the green spectrum of the surrounding forest was very vivid. The foxgloves are biennial plant and folklore has it to be a favourite lurking-place of fairies. We didn't see any fairies in this magical place although I'm sure there were creatures in the forest whom might have been watching us. :-)

After our rest stop we continued on towards Raglan Point at the north end of Balaclava Island. From our vantage point we could see across Gordon Channel and the islands of the Walker Group 3.5 nm in the distance. Rounding the point we paddled through huge kelp beds and we all kept our eyes open for our first sea otter sighting. Unfortunately the only aquatic creator we saw were a few curious seals.

Exposed to the storms that shape the seascape, the north end of the island is very rugged with limited landing opportunities. However, as I paddled along I kept my eye open for open camping areas (which I didn't see) but saw many places that in a pinch one could haul out and establish a hammock camp above the high water line. Robyn and I should try that one day!

The contrasting yellow of Robyn and Jane's Delta Kayaks against the darkening skies and forest.

Exploring the rugged north coast of Balaclava Island

After exploring the nooks and crannies we arrived at the Scarlett Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse was first established in 1908 and the history of this station is a good read at Lighthouse Friends. Robyn and I have had the pleasure to visit a number of lighthouses this year and were excited at the opportunity of setting foot on this one. Unfortunately there really isn't any easy landing areas around the lighthouse other than the sky bucket system that they use to access coast guard vessels when they arrive.

Scarlett Point Lighthouse

Our group was about ready for lunch so we headed south into Christie Passage and found a small bay with an abandoned shack sitting deep in the woods. Respectfully we stayed close to the high water line and settled down to enjoy a few snacks and then it started to rain .... really rain! At this point I really should have taken some pictures of the area but I was too traumatised by finding a raw egg (the hard way) in our hard boiled eggs container. LOL

Letting the flood currents carry us back towards our camp we saw a very large gathering of eagles closer to Nolan Point. Every tree that you looked at seemed to have a mature or immature eagle sitting in it. It was quite something to see and over the next few days we would get to see this large group of eagles in a few locations around the island.

Just a couple of the many eagles we found on the trip.
Arriving back at camp I was feeling pretty ugh again so I headed straight to the tent for an afternoon nap ... I mean sleep. :-) While I was ZZZzzzz, Robyn spotted another humpback close to camp and she saw its flukes rise high out of the water before it dove into the depths. Sweet!!!

Stan and Paula were the chefs for the night and they served up a great appetizer of cream cheese stuffed pear fruit leather. The main course was a couscous curry which we enjoyed huddled under the tarps while we captured the rain runoff for use later washing the dishes.

The rain finally subsided enough that we were able to spend the evening on the beach reading or just simply enjoying the beautiful scenery that came into view every once and a while. I soothed my head and thoughts by doing what else ..... creating art. :-)  

Paula enjoys her book as the rain clouds slowly start to drift away.

Our first full day complete, it's time to unwind on our beach after dinner.

This one served another purpose other than showing how magical the area is. 

No glue, just letting go when it feels right.

The tide has risen and my mosaic still stands even with the ever increasing water. Don't ask how it does it ... enjoy!

2015 Paddle #25 - Balaclava Island Circumnavigation
Distance: 8.00 nm (14.81 km)
YTD: 207.37 nm (‪384.04 km)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

God's Pocket - 7 Days plus 1 (Part 1)

Travel Day - July 10, 2015

Our first time in the Port Hardy. A lot quieter than I thought it would be
After travelling all day from Victoria to Port Hardy (500km) our group consisting of Gary and Jane Jacek, Stan and Paula Ball along with Robyn and I met up at the North Shore Inn located in Port Hardy in time for our 6pm dinner reservations at the Quarterdeck Pub. 

The special for the night was prime rib so we made it easy for the waitress by ordering a half dozen for our last supper in civilization while we watched eagles fly around the marina in numbers like we see seagulls at home. We discussed some last minute planning details before adjourning to our hotel which reminded me of a nearly defunct ski hill establishment from the 1950’s.

One would have thought that for $135 the rooms would at least have the right amount of coaxial cables so the TV would work or have air conditioning. We resolved both issues simply by not watching TV (reading) and opening the barely operable sliding door to the sloped deck. What the heck ... the parking of our vehicles was free for the time we were going to be away so maybe it was a good deal? The next morning we wouldn't have to be concerned with such amenities as we would be heading to God’s Pocket Marine Park.

Day 1 – July 11, 2015

We woke up to overcast skies with only a hint of rain as our little band of travellers headed to Captain Hardy’s for a full breakfast before attending to the task of packing our kayaks. Our goal was to be on the water before 11:00am to take advantage of high tide for loading and the turn to ebb that would carry us towards our destination. 

How the heck is all this stuff going to fit in the kayaks?? Well it did with room to spare.

Packing went as expected and once again we were amazed that we managed to squeeze everything in the kayaks (including the watermelon) with room to spare. You just gotta love the Delta Kayak 15.5's Expeditions for this reason. The forecast was for light SE winds with possible showers and visibility of around 10 miles. Perfect conditions to head to our planned first stop on Balaclava Island and set up camp but we had to get there first. Gary took on the role of paddle leader for this portion of the trip as this was his (along with Stan and Paula's) third time here. Robyn, Jane and I were simply along for the ride at this point and I was content just to absorb our environment.

Crossing from Duval to Duncan Island in easy paddling conditions ...... this time ;-)

Launching ahead of schedule we made our way along the west shoreline of Port Hardy Bay to Duval Island to reassess the conditions before committing to the crossing of Goletas Channel to Duncan Island 3 nm in the distance. The relatively calm conditions made me wonder what the participants of the Race to Alaska experienced over a month ago battling 30-40 knots NW wind as they tried to traverse this narrow passage. Our crossing was nothing more than an opportunity to soak in the rugged beauty of the northern end of Vancouver Island until we reached Duncan Island where we caught sight of a fairly large fish farm that was not only looking out of place but generating enough noise to disturb the tranquil quietness that we were paddling in.

The first time we have seen a salmon farm. It just seemed out of place in such beautiful settings. 

Our destination was now less than 3 nm away as we paddled past Blyth Island and Noble Islets in light showers sighting several harbour porpoise along the way. Arriving at Nolan Point on Balaclava Island we noticed that the primary campsite on the point was already occupied so we landed in one of the sheltered coves to scope out our camping opportunities.

Camp Nolan, site #2
Gary spoke with the group already on site (from Vancouver) and found out that they would be leaving in a couple of days so we selected the alternate campsite just across the dry creek bed which had an established kitchen and seating area. It had everything we needed including big cedars to pitch our tents under, a common area (the kitchen) and we even had our own private little beach with a pretty nice view.

Shelter... bring on the rain and it did!
After setting up our tent and getting out of our dry suits, Robyn and I went to work on tarpology for the kitchen and dining room. You can never have enough rope or carabiners when it comes to camp craft and when you add a couple of collapsible poles and a few greenland paddles the whole thing comes together nicely. While hustling around we heard the telltale blowing sound of a whale and sure enough we got our first glimpse of a humpback whale just beyond Jerome Island.

From L to R: Myself and Robyn, Jane and Gary, Stan and Paula

Robyn and I cooked up a batch of scallops and bacon for appetizers followed by pork chops with mushroom sauce and salad for the main entre. We tend to like cooking fresh for the first couple of days but after the success of Robyn's dehydrated meals on this trip we are going to rethink that for the future.

Our beach front view. Photo by Gary Jacek

It's all about balance in life
I spent part of the evening showing rocks how to defy gravity. It's become a bit of a passion lately as it challenges myself to be patient while pushing the envelope a bit on getting multiple rocks to balance on each other with the least amount of contact.

Robyn suggested that I create a new Facebook page dedicated to my art and you can see more of my creations here. Gecko Paddler's Mosaic

Tomorrow would be our first day trip in the area and we were excited as to what we would experience. We sort of had a bucket list which included humpback whales (fairly close-up), orca and of course sea otters.

The last thing I remembered before closing my iPad book was how light it stays this far north of home. Even at 10:30pm there wasn't a need to use a flashlight around camp.

2015 Paddle #24 - Port Hardy to Balaclava Island
Distance: 9.97 nm (18.46 km)
YTD: 199.37 nm (‪369.23 km)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

In The Right Place at the Right Time - Tillicum Narrows

On Saturday it was our pleasure to take Salt Spring Island paddler Lisa Stafford on a little tour of the Victoria Inner Harbor which included playing in the Tillicum Narrows. Lisa is in town for a couple of days while her son Lukas is being mentored by James Manke on how to build a skin on frame Greenland rolling kayak. Nice!!

The Tillicum Narrows at -10 knots. About a 4 foot difference in water height today under the bridge

We launched out of Songhees Road near the Delta Victoria Hotel and headed north to Tillicum Narrows where it was ebbing 10.2 knots. Although we could have just worn our wetsuits we optioned to put on our drysuits closer to our destination and then spend an hour or so playing in the rapids. Having been here a couple of weekends ago when it was running at about 7 knots, the feature was quite a bit different today.

Robyn with all her suds in the washing machine. LOL

Lisa's turn playing in Jamie Sharpe's Reflection. 

Lots of suds today
It was a boiling foaming madness with a rock exposed at the bottom of the trough in the center of the feature and a very fast section of rapids running along the north wall. Paddling out of the foamy back eddy on the south side we  played in the turbulence experiencing some unplanned capsizes and some that resulted just from pushing the envelope a bit too far while we tried some interesting ferrying without bracing. Yeah .... that didn't work so well for both Lisa and I. LOL


Too much fun ... let's rescue someone now!
It was good times at the rapids supporting one another just in case we might need a hand. BTW ... thanks Lisa for chasing me down  ;-)

Sometimes when you think all is good something happens that brings you back to reality and makes you think "what the heck"!!!! Well we got to experience that today as we noticed a paddler heading towards the narrows from the upstream side. Now we have seen this before and in those cases the paddler turns around and heads back before reaching the waterfall.

This time however this paddler kept coming and we all noticed that he didn't have a PFD or helmet on. Pardon my language but it was one of those WTF moments as he dropped over the waterfall into the trough and although it looked like he was going to make it he capsized right next to the rock right in the middle and then all we saw was his kayak hull and no sight of him.

By that time we were already moving towards him and I thought for a moment that this could possibly be an extraction or hand-of-God scenario as he was somehow trapped in the feature. Thankfully his head popped up out of the water as he managed to wet exit from the kayak. Lisa and I reached him as he was floating towards the back eddy on the north side. Having giving up on the PFD he decided he was going to swim to shore with his kayak and so we escorted him and his kayak into shallow water until he was able to stand up and haul his butt and kayak out of the water.

"Let me see .... if I wear this it might save my life next time I do something that stupid" LOL

It all happened so fast but it seemed like time stood still as the whole scenario played itself out. The first thing I asked him was where was his PFD which he reached down and picked up. At this point he decided that maybe it was a good time to wear it and even though it only took 3 attempts to get it on he finally did. He was pretty apologetic for what happened and noted that "maybe he used up one of his 9 lives today" and thanked us for assisting him. Robyn tracked down his other gear floating nearby and had a little wisdom discussion with him before he set off towards the inner harbor.

One of the new Sterlings Kayaks Progession's in stock

That was enough excitement for the day for us so we paddled down to the Ocean River Sports dock and got out of drysuits before heading into the store to check out the new Sterlings Kayaks Progression. We think Lisa just might have her eye on the lime green one that is begging for her to test paddle. LOL

Robyn and Lisa checking out the menu

We finished the afternoon off with lunch at Barb's Fish & Chips located at Fisherman's Wharf before heading back across the harbour to the put in location. OK, that was a pretty good tour of our wonderful waterway that makes up the inner harbour of Victoria. Rescuing a kayaker ...... priceless. Tip please!!!!

2015 Paddle #23 - Tillicum Narrows Rescue
Distance: 5.5 nm (10.18 km)
YTD: 189.40 nm (‪350.77 km)