Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Gecko Goes Blue

When I first started kayaking coming up to 5 years ago, I never would have thought where it would take us and what I would be doing with it now. Some of you who know me well enough might have guessed pretty close but I can honestly say that I didn't see it coming.

The Gecko Paddler blog has been primarily our personal kayaking journal right from day one back on September 12, 2011 and my goodness we have done a lot since then. Looking back it makes me wonder how the heck we found the time and money to make it all happen. No regrets at all .. none! But now ... it's time to give back.

This past weekend I was asked to be the head instructor for a Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Skills Level 1 course for Blue Dog Kayaking based at the Mill Bay Marina. Blue Dog Kayaking is owned by David Nichols and I received my Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Skills Level 3 and Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Instructor Level 1 certifications over the past 18 months from him.

So this blog post really isn't about another one of our adventures but really is about 3 people who decided to start or enhance their own sea kayak journey like Robyn and I did a few years ago.

Talk about a small world .... Sandra and Kevin live on the mainland and decided to take a Paddle Canada course with Blue Dog Kayaking while visiting her parents nearby. Where did they find out about Blue Dog Kayaking? None other than the Gecko Paddler blog so they were really thrilled to have "the" Gecko Paddler as their instructor for the weekend. LOL  The only kayaking experience they had up to this weekend has been using Delta Kayaks 10's a few times.  

Katelyn is a SISKA member who just joined the club after having relocated from the interior where she has done some lake paddling and kayak camping. Her goal this weekend was to work through the Level 1 skills to prepare herself for a Level 2 course with Blue Dog Kayaking at the end of June.

Tagging along for the weekend was Robyn who also is Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Skills Level 3 certified and she fulfilled the role of demonstrating some of the in the water rescues with me. She also partnered up with Katelyn which allowed our students to do more instead of sitting back and watching.

The Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Skills Level 1 course is jam packed with lots of different paddle strokes and rescues that need to be completed on day 1. Day 2 is really about using the skills learned on day 1 while planning and going on a day paddle. Being my first full hands on course I needed to keep a close watch on our timeline to ensure that we would complete the skills requirements. Time management was key and I prepared well in advance the week before by having my flip chart, waivers and schedule ready to go for 9:00am on Saturday.

Sandra, Katelyn myself and Kevin ... time to get to work

Checking out different types of paddles. I think Kevin likes the twig one. LOL

Saturday morning was all about paddle strokes with an emphasis on the forward paddle stroke.

Coming back to the dock for lunch Sandra uses her newly learned draw stroke.

It was really amazing to see the paddle strokes skills progression during the morning. From the time our group left the dock until we returned for lunch it was like night and day. For me that is the reward I seek because during this short period of time they learned to purposely maneuver their kayaks in a manner that they were dictating what the kayak was doing instead of the kayak dictating where it wanted to go. And the smiles .... Oh my!!!

During lunch it was time for me to present short Seamanship, Weather and Navigation lectures that would prepare them for Sunday. Once again my preparation paid off as I didn't need to write on the flip chart while speaking and I found the students to be like sponges soaking it all in.

Utilizing time well ... lectures while having lunch.

After lunch it was time to get wet and for Sandra and Kevin they would get to experience their first wet exit which probably is the #1 apprehension of most new kayakers.

Time to get wet. Nervous .... heck no!!!

Kevin went first and Sandra preformed the Assisted Rescue with him.

Then it was Sandra's turn!

See! Big smile!! Not so bad huh??

I demonstrated a paddle float Self Rescue

Kevin completing a Bow Rescue on my kayak

Being a relatively small paddler Katelyn performed an Assisted Rescue on Kevin and
worked through the expected issues of helping a larger paddler.

Kevin back in the kayak. It's not about strength but more about technique and Katelyn figured it out nicely!

Sunday morning they were back at it at 9:00am and started working on their day trip planning. This involved getting the latest weather report via VHF, internet (since we had connectivity) and I also introduced a few apps that I like to gather information from. Then it was onto looking at the local chart, discussing tides and currents, how weather interacts with the water to create the sea state and then look at a float plan for the day. Lots to cover before we headed out but the lesson was that this is something that needs to be done every time before taking to the water.

Using the chart we could determine where we were going, how long it should take us and when we
should be returning. And ... how the weather, tides and currents might impact the paddle or change during the day. 

Big smiles on day #2.... Like!!

Just a slight breeze with an incoming tide allowed for a leisurely pace to our destination. 

Before stopping for lunch we did a little boat management. This is a skill helpful in performing rescues.

And communicating from a distance. 

During lunch I talked about Leave No Trace, the environment and a little bit about the history of the areas we paddle in.

We also covered off contact towing without ropes and towing using tow release systems

These students were F.A.T. - Flexible, Accessible and Trainable which made my job easy.
Congratulations to the newest Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Level 1 certified paddlers.
Thanks Dave at Blue Dog Kayaking for letting me join your team of instructors!
A big thanks to my wife Robyn for being the scenario / support paddler ... loved having you along

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Thetis Island Retreat April 14-17

It's been a busy few weeks having just returned from kayaking to the San Juan Islands. That blog post will be coming over the next couple of weeks but here is a post of a recent long weekend spent on Thetis Island.

Our friend Kari Challenger invited us and Morley Eldridge to stay at her family cottage located near Pilkey Point on Thetis Island. So the four of us headed there Thursday evening by taking a BC Ferry from Chemainus arriving just after dark. This trip brought back many fond memories for Robyn and I as her parents used to have places located on the cut between Thetis and Penelakut Islands. 

Friday morning we headed out on a day paddle to Porlier Pass with a stop at the BC Parks Dionisio Point campground. The forecast was for calm seas and for mid April it was unseasonably warm but perfect conditions for many of the wildflowers to be in full blossom. We couldn't have asked for a better weekend to explore the area by kayak.    

Getting the kayaks ready. The waterfront cottage has been in the Challenger family since the
early 1950's and provided us with easy launching and amazing views of Trincomali Channel. 

On our way to Porlier Pass via Reid Island

We landed in Coon Bay (Dionisio Point) on Galiano Island after paddling through Porlier Pass on the slack.
A wonderful almost white sand beach with a small islet connected by a tombolo. Like many of the places we
visit by kayak this park had no other visitors when we arrived.

First things first ... lunch before exploring the park.

Porlier Pass seen from the small islet. Not much current running here today but it can reach nearly 10 knots at times
 so caution is advised when paddling through the pass. 

The small islet (no camping allowed) has a few established trails offering great views.

The wonderful colors of spring were everywhere to be seen.

Kari looking back towards Porlier Pass

It's always great to have Morley along on paddles or trips. Being a well know archaeologist his knowledge of the
area is amazing. Here we have Kari and Morley talking about one of the big fir trees on the islet.

We were careful to stay on the established trails as all around us the blossoms were beautiful.

Blue Camas (Camassia quamash) were very abundant. It was a good opportunity to us my new Canon 70D camera
 to capture some of the amazing colors and scenery.

Kari in her "Happy Place". Actually we all were as nothing beats exploring by kayak.

Lots of bald eagles were around the park too. This is a juvenile was checking us out while we were exploring on land.

The trail from the Coon Bay landing area leading to the campground. A bit of a walk but relatively flat.

Morley checks out the interpretative sign about first nations plankhouse that existed here 700 - 1000 years ago.

Nestled back in the forest the campground is like most other BC Parks sites.
No fire rings but plenty of places to set up camp.

Dionisio park is noted to have water and we found the pump close to the visitor kiosk. However, there was
no handle to make the pump work. Maybe the BC Parks disables it over the winter?

Kari and Robyn located a geocache located within the park. BC Parks allow geocaches 
in their parks which encourages visitors to the area. 

After exploring the park we started heading back to the cottage and Porlier Pass was just starting to ebb.
Of course Morley and I had to play a bit at Race Point before continuing on.

The old gas dock in Lighthouse Bay. Robyn remembers when she and her dad used to come here for boat gas when
they lived on Thetis Island. It looks like it hasn't been in operation for some time.

It's interesting how forecasts and conditions can change so rapidly. Leaving Porlier Pass we could see and hear the confluence of the currents in Trincomali Pass and knew we would have to paddle through it to reach Reid Island. What we didn't expect was a sudden wind squall to develop from the SE which made the crossing to Reid Island somewhat lumpy. Wind interacting with current makes paddling interesting especially when it is abreast of our direction. From Reid Island however it did provide a welcomed push back to the cottage even though we were paddling against a gentle ebb current.

2016 Paddle #13 - Porlier Pass
Distance: 12.40 nm ( 22.96 km)
YTD: 90.22 nm ( 167.08 km)

The plans for Saturday were to circumnavigate Thetis Island and locate a few kayak accessible geocaches and also visit the cemetery. I awoke early and captured the sunrise colors greeting us this morning. I never get tired of sunrise or sunsets.

Good morning ... time to start the day!

Looking north from the beach at the cottage towards Ragged Islet.

Pilkey Point is well populated. The cottage is the one at the far right and has a nice small gravel beach
that makes launching relatively easy.

Off we go. Lots to do today and this weekend I committed to use my Greenland paddle.

Those of you who know about our crabbing adventures will get a kick out of this. It seems that crabs will
easily grasp a Greenland Paddle when you put it in front of them.  

The only thing is that the crabs kind of make a mess of your nice old growth cedar Greenland paddle when they
crunch it with their pincers. Still ... might be much easier that using a crab pot. LOL

You are not allowed to feed the wildlife but another kayaker? 

We stopped on Burial Islet near the south end of Thetis to locate another geocache.

Although not designated an ecological reserve it does have a great diversity of plants.

Morley checked out the islet's many wildflowers and also had an archaeologist interest too. 

I checked out a few Oyster Catchers close by. Amazing color contrast of their black plumage, orange beak and pink feet.

We landed on a small beach on the south end of Thetis in Preedy Harbour and walked up a small trail to
 the St. Margaret's Cemetery. Many of the island's earliest settlers are buried here.
There was also another geocache located nearby so we found that one too.

It also gave us a chance to visit the resting place of Robyn's dad
Paul Raike and his second wife Lillian (Lil).

We carried on around to the Thetis Island Marina and stopped in for for some refreshments and found another geocache.  

Those of you who have paddled through "The Cut" before know how low the tide can get leaving expansive mud flats
 and very little water between Thetis and Penelakut Islands. Near the east end of The Cut is where Robyn's dad and Lil
 used to reside and operate the Thetis Island Post Office. In the past you could see their house from the
water with its beautifully manicured lawn and gardens but it now looks to be run down a bit.
Robyn and I have fond memories of this place.

We paddled back to the cottage and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and prepared dinner. One of my favorite things about the cottage was its spa which Kari, Morley and I used a bit during our stay. After dinner we went for a short walk to the end of Pilkey Point where we could see Ragged Islets which would be our paddling destination the next day.

2016 Paddle #14 - Thetis Island Circumnavigation 
Distance: 13.22 nm (24.48 km)
YTD: 103.44 nm ( 191.57 km)

Although we were leaving on Sunday there was no rush to head home. Once again another beautiful sunrise to start the day.

Sunrise looking east across Trincomali Channel towards Valdes Island. You can just see Mt. Baker near the far right.

For this paddle to the Ragged Islets I decided to give Robyn's Wilderness Zephyr a test ride. I have to admit that
 it was a good kayak to paddle in and was much more comfortable that my P&H Delphin although not
quite as maneuverable.

The Ragged Islets are only less than a mile from the end of Pilkey Point.
Once again great conditions to explore above and below the waterline.

The low tide was perfect for observing the marine life which was very diverse.

Looked after by the Ragged Islet Protection Association of Thetis Island, visitors are welcome to
stop and enjoy the scenery and wildlife. 

Easy landing opportunities to visit the islet. Not far to the north is Miami Islet and the resting place of
the wreck of the Robert Kerr. The remains of the ship are surprisingly intact for being under water since 1911.
(Much of the what remains is in only 20 to 30ft, 6-9m!) I had the opportunity to dive on the wreck when
we used to visit Robyn's dad and Lil and found it to be abundant of marine life.

While we were there several Oyster Catchers were letting us know that we might be around their
 nesting areas so we were very careful as to where we stepped.

I think this might have been a Ostrich Plume Hydroid but might be wrong. Any guesses?

Lots of Kelp Crabs everywhere

Leather Stars and even a few Ochre Stars that seem to be making a comeback on the south island.

Back at the cottage it was time to do a little rolling practice. But first, Kari's little buddy Otis had to go for a ride.

"What?? You want me to jump that far?"

Kari working on her low braces

Robyn rolling

Morley rolling

And finally Kari rolling

Then it was time to see if all three could do it at the same time. Surprisingly this only took one take as on the count of three they made it happen.

Then it was my turn to try it in Robyn's Wilderness Zephyr. Wow!! Does that kayak ever roll nice!!

A fantastic weekend of relaxing, friendship bringing back fond memories for Robyn and I. Thanks Kari and the Challenger family for letting us use the cottage.

2016 Paddle #15 - Ragged Islet
Distance: 1.91 nm ( 3.53 km)
YTD: 105.35 nm ( 195.10 km)

NEXT UP: 10 days and 9 nights - Our San Juan Islands adventure.