Friday, April 8, 2016

2016 Easter on Portland Island

Storm after storm after storm has been the weather pattern the past month or so but things were starting to look a bit better heading into the Easter long weekend. After checking the camping gear (minimizing again) we decided that we would head to Arbutus Point on Portland Island for 4 days. We really didn't care what the weather would do as long as the winds didn't stop us going or coming back home. Tarps, rain gear and multiple layers of warm clothes were packed along with what seemed like a whole fridge of food (we really need to work on that).

We meet up with Beverely (and Bella the dog), Lynn and Morley at Van Isle Marina in Sidney at 07:30am to take advantage of the predicted light winds and a slowly increasing ebb which we would be paddling against. For Robyn and I this was our first time launching at the marina and I must say what the heck were we thinking of the last 3 years launching from some of the local beaches with limited parking? Van Isle Marina has a nicely paved unloading area which allowed us to load and wheel our kayaks down the ramp with ease. And ... a great parking lot to leave the car in!

Launching out of Van Isle Marina

Leaving the ramp at 08:30am we headed towards our destination via John Passage, Pym Island and on to Shell Beach. As expected the ebb currents were starting to build and it was a bit of slog approaching Brackman Island so decided to take a rest stop at Shell Beach, which to my surprise was completely empty of campers. While stretching our legs we spotted Jo not far behind us so we waited for her to catch up to us and continued on our way to Arbutus Point.

One of the things about arriving at Arbutus Point is that you never know who might be there especially on a long weekend. To our surprise there wasn't a soul around so we had our choice of the tent pads and one of the first things I noticed was a new kiosk welcoming travelers like us.

The new welcome sign
The sign welcomes visitors to SXEĆOŦEN and explains that for thousands of years the Coast Salish have considered Portland Island to be part of their traditional territories. SENĆOŦEN is one of the Coast Salish languages spoken in this area and SXEĆOŦEN is the traditional name for the island which translates to "dry mouth".

Life is tough .... enjoying the sunshine

Some of the recent upgrades to the campsite include a new metal food cache, composting outhouse and each pad site has a new picnic table. The changes are a welcome sight as the last time we visited in late 2014 I thought Arbutus Point was starting to look a little run down. We went to work setting up camp which included tarps over the tents and tables since rain was in the forecast later that night. As we were relaxing after brunch, fellow paddlers Dave, Kevin and Gene arrived from Mill Bay and somewhere Reale and Jeff were still on the water.

Dave, Kevin and Gene arrive after paddling from Mill Bay

As our group number was increasing it pretty well took up all of the available tent pads except for one until a super pod (10+) of kayaks and canoes started to arrive just after noon. One by one they landed on the crescent beach behind the campground and came into the camping area surprised to find us here. As it turns out they were a nice bunch of people who had been coming to Arbutus Point at Easter for the past 10 years or so. While they were deciding what they were going to do about camping our group headed out to hike around the island. The coastline trail seems to be a ritual for us when ever we visit the island but there also is a central trail that Robyn and I have never explored.

Morley, air cast and all made the trip and catches up on some reading around camp.

Taking approximately 2 hours to complete the circumnavigation of the island, we stopped at the Shell Beach and Princess Bay campgrounds and surprise, surprise they were both completely empty (still). Shell Beach is a wonderful location to spend a weekend but can be a popular spot for power-boaters and occasionally is a party beach. Princess Bay is a grassy meadow like campsite near an old orchard but on this day it was pretty wet and 'boggy' which would make setting up camp pretty difficult.

Brackman Island just off Shell Beach

Jo heading back home
Arriving back at Arbutus Point we found the "Easter group" of campers scattered through the trees behind the main camping area. Obviously they must have done this in past years with the number of people in their group. Reale and Jeff had also arrived while we were away but unfortunately Jo need to start heading back home to look after her sick kitty.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening sharing stories and enjoying each other company before heading off to our inviting tents just near dusk. The forecast for the evening was for rain and just after we climbed into our sleeping bags it started to pour. However, it was comforting knowing that our tarps were doing their job and so were my ear plugs as I drifted off to sleep :-)

On Saturday morning we woke up to clearing skies and our group started making plans for the day after breakfast. Gene, Dave and Kevin would be heading back to Mill Bay as there was a potential for high westerly winds on Sunday. Reale, Beverely and Jeff decided they would also be heading back towards Victoria but only after paddling over to Point Fairfax on Moresby Island. Robyn, Lynn, Morley and I headed out on a circumnavigation of Moresby Island which we have never done before. I must say that it is fantastic day trip from Portland Island and it also gave us the opportunity to get a closer looker of a destination we are heading to at the end of April. Where you might be wondering? The San Juan Islands!!

Stuart Island, one of the San Juan Islands on the left and Rum Island on the right. A short paddle across Haro Straight.

Lunch stop near Point Fairfax

We stopped for lunch and a nap for me on a nice little crescent beach on the west side of Point Fairfax. At last reported, Moresby Island was up for sale in the neighborhood of 50 million dollars. It would be nice to see a good chunk of the island designated as a new Gulf Island park but that probably won't happen in my lifetime. Arriving back at camp our little band of travelers were now down to the four of us and the Easter group which now had a couple of additions not related to them. It seems that 2 Russian speaking fellows arrived by stand up paddle boards and they too were camped back in the woods.

Relax, relax relax ....... repeat!
The Easter group gathered on the crescent beach just behind the campsite to cook a turkey on in a portable dish like hibachi and they even came by and offered us some too but we politely declined as we had just finished our dehydrated meals. For the rest of the evening we just hung out on the bluff near our tents and simply watched life go by. :-)

I took the time to shoot some pictures of birds along the shoreline.

My first picture of an Oyster Catcher

Great Blue Heron

Sunday morning was a real lazy start to the day, no rush, two cups of coffee and I went for a full breakfast consisting of hash browns, bacon and eggs. Robyn and I decided to hike the trails inside the island while Lynn and Morley did a little hiking on their own. Morley recently got back to kayaking after suffering a skiing injury over Christmas. Even this weekend he was is still in his air cast while his torn Achilles tendon is healing. He did quite well around camp on his crutches and is happy to be able to paddle again.

The trails inside the island were a wonderful surprise of raised board walks, tall fir trees and even several large arbutus. I'm glad I brought my new Canon 70D SLR with 18-135mm lens with me on this trip and I used a lot of time to shoot over 800 pictures mostly because I was trying out different modes, shutter and aperture settings.

Raised boardwalk on the Kanaka Trail

Very quiet and beautiful on the interior trail

Dark Eyed Oregon Junco ... who sees who? 

The magic of the weather. 

Arriving back at camp we settled in for some early appetizers and as the weather forecast predicted we were graced by several rain squalls coming from the northwest. They say every cloud has a silver lining and for us it was much more colorful.

Our last sunrise before packing up and heading home

Monday morning we woke up to partly sunny skies and a building wind from the north (as predicted). After a quick breakfast we dismantled camp and headed onto the water as white caps were building in Swanson Channel. As we all expected the winds decreased to almost to nothing once we reached Shell Beach because we were now in the wind shadow of Portland Island. We made our way back to Swartz Bay in full sunshine and took the scenic route through Page Passage and into Tsehum Harbour and finally back at Van Isle Marina.

It's official ..... kayak camping season is now full on!!

2016 Paddle #8 - Van Isle Marina to Portland Island
Distance: 5.00 nm (9.26  km)
YTD: 60.77 nm (112.23 km)

2016 Paddle #9 - Arbutus Point to Moresby Island
Distance: 8.80 nm (16.30  km)
YTD: 69.57 nm (128.53 km)

2016 Paddle #10 - Portland Island to Van Isle Marina
Distance: 5.08 nm (9.40  km)
YTD: 74.65 nm (137.93 km)

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