Tuesday, August 22, 2017

D'Arcy Island .... All to Ourselves!

It’s the middle of summer and we haven’t gone kayak camping yet! What the heck?  So off to D’Arcy Island (Gulf Islands National Park Reserve) we went last Friday morning, ahead of the wind warning for Haro Strait that was to build in the afternoon.

We didn’t really have an on the water time but still we managed to get up early and left Amherst Beach at 9:30 am, loading on a low tide which meant that we would be paddling against the incoming flood all the way to D’Arcy. Trying to combine the perfect departure time, correct current direction and good wind conditions always seems to be a problem with one or more of these criteria not being met. In our case, it was the current flowing the opposite direction and so we started the average 2.5 kts paddle towards the island. A quick rest stop at Sidney Spit and we continued to our destination (7.65 nm) arriving at 12:30 pm.

Low, low tide at Amherst Beach. Loaded and ready to head out.

Pit stop on Sidney Spit

Little D'Arcy on the left and big D'Arcy on the right while Slogging our way down Sidney Channel

Sidebar #1: D'Arcy Island was once a leper colony for Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Just as we were landing, a couple of researchers from the University of Western Ontario were leaving the island after checking up on their deer study which involves tracking the movements of the deer on the island and how recorded sounds affects them. We were a little surprised not to find anyone else in the campsite or any other boats anchored in the small bay and we wondered if that would change later in the day.

Our favorite site #2 

And the rest of the sites completely empty!

It wasn’t long before we had our camp established and settled in for some well-deserved relaxation time.  For the rest of the day we watched the world go by on the waters between ourselves and San Juan Island (U.S.) only a few miles away. There were lots of cargo and tank ships, a few sport fishing boats and quite a few whale watching boats running at high speed.

Our kayaks were the only ones on the beach this weekend.

Sidebar #2: A typical 3-hour whale watching tour out of the Victoria Harbour costs around $120.00.

As predicted, the westerly winds did increase through the afternoon but we were sheltered on the east side of the island and felt only a slight breeze. Haro Strait was a maelstrom of dark seas and whitecaps which was probably the reason why nobody else arrived during the rest of the day. D’Arcy Island would be all ours for the first night.

Wind and current in Haro Strait Friday afternoon.

D’Arcy Island sunrises are spectacular and it’s one of the reasons why we love going there. The campsite faces southeast which means on a great day the sun bathes the beach area until around 5:00 pm when it settles in the west and the last of its sunrays sneak through the forest behind the campsite.

Goooooood Morning from D'Arcy Island. Bliss!

The wind forecast was much better for Saturday so we expected we would get some visitors either arriving by kayak or powerboats. Other than a few small hikes to a couple of vantage points we did nothing other than cat nap in our Helinox chairs, read and have a few snacks and happy hour beverages during the day. By the time the sun left the beach area and dinner time had passed so had the opportunity for visitors to arrive at our island retreat. D’Arcy Island would be all ours again for the second night.

That's the Discovery Island lighthouse in the distance

Fenced off ruins of the buildings for the Chinese immigrants leper colony from 1894 to 1924 

Sunday morning was another amazing start to the day and it looked like we were going to get all three conditions (time on the water, current direct and wind) for an ideal paddle back to Sidney. There was no rush to leave as slack before the flood was at 11:38 am so we watched the birds playing all around us in the foliage close to the beach, a family of river otters frolicking in the bay, the same four female Harlequin ducks who paddled around the waterline all weekend, a fawn that was around camp all weekend, an elusive Belted Kingfisher who wouldn’t sit still for me to take its picture and when we least expected it .  .  . a Humpback whale surfacing in our bay!!!

On of the many warblers that we spotted. Here is an Orange-crowned Warbler

A family of River Otters

Female Harlequin Ducks

A baby fawn deer

The Humpback surfaces in the bay

The Humpback in between little and big D'Arcy Islands

We kind of expected that we might see Orca passing by in Haro Strait in the distance but we never thought that a Humpback whale would appear so close to us.  We watched the whale as it made its way into our bay and through the shallow waters between ourselves and Little D’Arcy Island only a few hundred yards away. Realizing that the whale couldn’t pass between the exposed rocky islets at the low tide, it turned around and made its way back out and around Little D’Arcy Island and into open water.

While dismantling our camp we did have a couple of visitors in a powerboat on a day trip from Victoria visit us for a few minutes before they continued on their way in search of the Humpback that we told them about. All of the excitement of the morning had put our departure time behind schedule but it didn’t matter as the flood current would assist us home.

Ready to head home

As we made the crossing from D’Arcy Island to James Island we once again spotted the Humpback whale a few hundred yards away and hoped that we wouldn’t get a surprise close-up encounter on our crossing. Yeah right .  .  .  we both wanted it but it didn’t happen. Unlike our paddle to the island, the return transit back to Sidney resulted in an average moving speed of around 5 kts.

Crossing over to James Island after spotting the Humpback again.

Arriving back at Sidney wharf in only 2 hours we decided to paddle into Port of Sidney Marina and see if there was any action at the Blue Dog Kayaking dock but there was nobody around. On a nice day like today the crew was probably out giving lessons or touring a group through some of the islands nearby. We paddled to our put-in at Amherst Beach and with a rising tide it meant a relative easy unloading of our gear.

Blue Dog Kayaking's Port of Sidney operation

Sidebar #3: Robyn and I are both Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Level 3 graduates of Blue Dog Kayaking.

It was a wonderful weekend of solitude on our very own D’Arcy Island which doesn’t happen very often. See ya on the water!!

Yup! That's us!!

Distance: 15.66 nm (29.00 km)

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