- Feb 27, 2006
I'd driven up Vancouver Island to Port Hardy the evening before my 7AM ferry to Bella Bella, car camping at Wildwoods Campground. As I sat in camp about 8:30PM reviewing my plans, I realized with horror that I'd left the duffle containing my alcohol at home. No, not that alcohol! The fuel for my Trangia. I booted it into Port Hardy. Not much open on a Saturday night in a small town. Neither of the two gas stations had any gas line anti-freeze. Just before they closed, I scurried into the pharmacy section of the local big box grocery store, and cleaned them out of their 90% rubbing alcohol. As he rang up my 8 half-litre bottles, the clerk eyed me with a mixture of pity and contempt. I decided any explanation would sound like protesting too much, so I rolled with it.
Back at camp, the test burn went well: a little sootier than proper meths, but plenty hot. (Plan B would have been to extend my ferry ride to Shearwater, and get stove alcohol from the marina store there.)
July 13th, 2014
With the snakes-and-ladders logistics of getting up at an ungodly hour to break camp, dropping my kayak and gear at the ferry terminal, driving the car back to the campground for long term parking, and catching the bus back to the terminal, I didn't get a whole lot of sleep.
The ferry was crowded with First Nations folk from all over the west coast on their way to Bella Bella for a native canoe festival I hadn't known about. I had a fascinating conversation with a chief from a Washington state band who was weaving traditional cedar hats as gifts for the host band. Turns out cedar bark is the thing for ceremonial hats; cedar roots are what you want for hats intended to actually keep out the rain.
After breakfast, I paid a few bucks to use the onboard shower, then found an unoccupied bench and caught up on my sleep for a couple of hours. During this time, the mist and rain burnt off, so by the time we landed at Bella Bella around 13:30 hours it was beautifully sunny.
I'd been a bit concerned about solo launching on the rock barricaded beach at Bella Bella, which was one of the reasons I'd picked this date and time - a high spring tide. This part of the plan worked beautifully: I was able to wheel the kayak right into the water. I was to pay for my cleverness later.
At first I made good progress down south down the channel. But as I rounded German Point, the wind came strong from the south west. The GPS suggested I'd spend 3+ hours battling headwinds to get to Dodwell Island, the nearest campsite in that direction that I knew of, which would take at least until 20:00hrs. And that assumed no rest breaks or slowing of my current pace. Unrealistic assumptions, both. Which put me potentially paddling in the dark to an unfamiliar landing. So I came about, put up the sail and ran before the wind to a little lagoon tucked in behind Walker Island on the far side of the channel, landing before 17 hours. An early night seemed like a good way to get into a pattern of early rising and early on the water.
July 14th, 2014
As I got up to pee about 2AM, I discovered the sea lapping at the foot of my tent - the downside of the high spring tide that had benefitted me earlier. I hastily dragged it up the unsleepably steep section of the little valley I'd camped in. As those who've read some of my previous trip reports will know, having at least one of these tidal alarms and excursions has become something of a tradition on my voyages - a tradition I'd gladly dispense with. Fortunately, I always secure my kayak with a painter, so the only casualty was one of my paddling sandals, borne away by the thieving sea. Good thing I also had neoprene slippers for my drysuit, which could double as paddling footwear even without the suit.
I got back to bed about 3AM, but the outrushing tidal creek pretty much kept me awake. But that meant getting up and launching for 7:30 was no problem. I was paddling through heavy fog on a compass/GPS course. The air was calm, with only tidal currents moving driftwood through in the water. When I saw one such log a few hundred feet in front of me apparently being swept from off my starboard bow to off my port bow in a few seconds, I thought there must be some serious current action ahead. But I realized it was in fact my bow being swung off course in the brief intervals I had my eyes off the compass and GPS. Amazing the tricks fog plays on you when you have no other visual references. It doesn't surprise me in the least that sailors report sea monsters and mermaids.
By the time I'd landed and rewatered on the far shore, the fog had burnt off. As I approached Sans Peur passage, the current was turning against me. I'd wanted to explore the temping looking channels winding through the McNaughton Group, but it was work just making progress in the comparatively wider Sans Peur passage. In the narrower, shallower jet nozzles of the archipelago, it would have been like trying to paddle up whitewater rivers.
With the tide low, the walls of the passage were hung with plumerose anemones buttoned-up against dehydration and drooping like three-day old party balloons. Or worse.
Around 14:20 I landed at a beautiful sheltered cove about a mile northeast of Superstition Point. I had my pick of several tent pads, all at least ten feet up the embankment at the back of the beach, safe from anything short of a tsunami.
About 20 minutes after I'd landed, I was joined by Betty, another solo paddler. She'd come from Triquet Island, my next intended destination.
As we ate supper together, I was proud of how well my home cooked, home dehydrated Moroccan Chicken had turned out. Betty inadvertently one-upped me with her meal, which was not only home cooked and home dried, but made from home-grown organic vegetables. D'oh!
July 15th, 2014
Peered out of the tent at 5AM. Visibility only a couple of hundred feet in the mist, with the mast light of an anchored yacht looming like a street lamp on a Vancouver winter day. Not what I wanted for rounding the exposed outside of Superstition Point. It looked to me like by the time it burned off, the 25 knot northwest winds the VHF was calling for would have arrived. Again, not what I wanted for paddling on the outside. I rolled over and went back to sleep.
Later, as I fried up my breakfast of hash browns and freeze-dried heuvos rancheros, three additional paddlers arrived safely from Triquet Island. Oh well. I was camped in a beautiful bay. And besides, an idea had been percolating at the back of my brain. My original plan had been to paddle from Bella Bella back to Port Hardy. But over the last couple of days, I'd been reminded of the times I'd paddled in this general area years before. And how rich and beautiful it was. Blasting through it was beginning to seem like a real waste. Better to linger, explore and savour the beauty at leisure.
I set off in early afternoon to rewater in the bay 'round the corner and try my hand at fishing. I'd promised to share any bounty with the three Americans in return for one of them doing the filleting.
I spent a pleasant couple of hours rocking in the sun, dropping my line off swell-washed points north of the camp. Sadly, I caught nothing but a series of undersized rockfish. As I worked to release the last one, one of his spiny quills stabbed my index finger. It began to throb so intensely I was trying to remember whether rockfish harbour some kind of neurotoxin. Fortunately, after a bit, it subsided, so it was clearly just a mild physical trauma - no worse than having a sewing awl hammered through my fingertip.
Back at camp, I discovered my American site mates had been gifted by a passing fisherman with a lovely salmon and fresh veggies. Fishing and farming the easy, bloodless way! In light of my earlier offer to share with them, they happily shared with me.
While updating my journal as I waited for supper, I had one of those perfect, near-mystical moments I travel for: watching a tern scurry along the water's edge, I fell into a reverie about how evolution sculpted the aerodynamics of the body, the length of the legs and the shape of the beak.
July 15th, 2014
After a rest day and an early night, I woke painlessly at 4:30, a quarter hour before my alarm was set. But even as I packed, I was wavering a bit a bit about heading out through the sheltering gap around the corner from the bay - low clouds were already flying by southbound, and with no real outer coast paddling under my belt yet on this trip, I was having to work to summon up what Napoleon famously called "the courage of the early morning."
Still, with the help of the Americans, launching was easy. So I told myself I could just poke my nose out through the gap, and beat a retreat if it was too sketchy. At first, I thought I would have to do just that. The waves were sweeping in from multiple directions and interacting chaotically. But as I pulled clear of the gap, which had been squeezing and rebounding the seas, things settled down to a low, predictable swell from the northwest. I made sure to get well west of Superstition Point and any outlying reefs before putting up my sail and coming about for the northeast end of Spider Island. It was glorious: the wind bid fair for my destination, and the early morning light painted the sea a rich, deep blue that ran unbounded to the western horizon.
After exploring the campsite at the northeast end of Triquet, I opted to return to the one at the northwest end - the beach there was sandy rather than muddy, and the tent sites were safely in the upland.
As I landed, I chatted with Gerald, a solo paddler camped there, who was outbound for a daytrip. Temporarily in sole possession of the beach, I spent a happy half hour simply contemplating the beauty of the little bay and the islets with their wind sculpted trees, like scaled-up bonsai.
When I eventually emerged from my trance, I made toasted cheese sandwiches for lunch and fell on them in shameless ecstasy.
Once camp was made, I rigged my hammock (it was really nice to use it other than for emergency camping). With the sun turning the water in the little bay turquoise, it felt positively tropical to be swaying gently under the trees as a warm breeze wafted over me.
Gerald returned a bit after 15:00 and proved to be a great site mate and conversationalist. He was also an accomplished white water paddler, and his description of his near-death experience in the seas at the south west end of Calvert Island was harrowing. He'd turned back. I'd been torn about going down the outside of Calvert. This seemed like a clear sign that I shouldn't.
One of the many the great things about solo travel is the ability to change your plans without needing to achieve consensus or worrying that you're ruining some else's trip. It was at this point I decided definitely that instead of rushing through to Port Hardy I'd do a wending loop and return to Bella Bella. It was a very liberating decision.
I fell asleep to memories of that perfect sail from Superstition Point to my present camp. After a couple of hours, I woke up shivering, with my arms and chest in spasm. The temperature had dropped and the wind had risen. Fortunately, the solution was simple: take my sleeping bag, which had been just draped over me, and zip it into full mummy mode. Now warm and cozy, I dropped off again, lulled by the howl of the wind in the trees and the boom of surf on the islets inshore from my little bay.
July 17th, 2014
Peering out of my tent after the alarm went off at 5AM, I could see wavelets even in the lee-sheltered little bay. I decided not to make the exposed crossing to Stirling Island with the seas already so stirred up. I rolled over to enjoy a lie-in.
I rewoke at 8AM, on time to bid Gerald good-bye as he left, and make a yummy pancake breakfast. I spent the day site-seeing and exploring the archipelago north east of Triquet, rewatering in a bay on Hunter Island. With the weird and random winds running through the channels , I got to sail in short bursts on both the outbound and return trips.
As I arrived back at camp in late afternoon, I spotted several little By-The-Wind-Sailors bobbing just inside the surf zone. These colony creatures go wherever the wind takes them. I took that to be an auspicious metaphor for my revised "walkabout" voyage, as contrasted with many of my previous, goal-oriented trips.
I supped on one of my favourite dishes: spaghetti with tomato soy sauce and pepperoni coins, having enjoyed an excellent day on the water.
July 18th, 2014
And in the night, the rains cameth. I awoke to a relentless drumming on the tent roof. With visibility really low, I decided to take a full rest day.
People sometimes ask me if I get bored on shore days, especially since I travel solo. Yes, if I've been weather-bound for days on end, but somehow never when it's just a single day. On this day, for example, I slept until ten, then rigged my tarp, admired my handiwork and the view for a while, and began the leisurely process of rehydrating and cooking up hash browns and bacon, washed down with two huge mugs of sweet, creamy coffee (a rest day treat - it makes me pee far too much for paddling days). By the time I had my first plateful, it was 13:00 hours - a very fashionable hour for brunch. As I munched, I watched an eagle and a kingfisher going about their business in the bay.
Later on, I showered and shampooed with rainwater collected off the tarp and heated over the stove. Trimmed my beard and shaved. And of course, there was the mid-afternoon hot chocolate - all part of civilized roughing it. And mending the small flex crack I'd discovered in my GPS baggie. And playing with the panorama setting on my pocket camera, trying to capture a little sense of the sprawling view. And updating my journal. Why, the day was jam-packed. Who'd have time to be bored?
July 19th, 2014
Up painlessly at 5:30. A lull in the rain made striking the tent less unpleasant, though the interior would still be damp from being packed with the fly. (Note to self: for future raincoast trips, bring your little Siltarp in addition to your main kitchen/dining tarp, as you have on some Gulf Island outings. That way, you can rig a second, upper roof over the tent to reduce interior condensation in extended rain.)
With the tide high, launching was easy. As I made my way between Manley and Kidney Islands, I saw a yellow SAR plane and helicopter weaving what were clearly search patterns through the grey skies. The chopper swung low to check me out, then flitted off again. I hoped that it was merely a drill, and if not, that whoever they were looking for was OK. (Sadly, the outcome was not good: http://www.westcoastpaddler.com/community/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=6962
There was a good swell running from the southwest as I entered Kildidt Sound, so I opted to pass on the lee (north) side of the mid-channel Serpent Group. As I ran north, I surfed and sailed through vast fleets of By-The-Wind-Sailors. The swells were streaked with equal parts of foam and these iridescent creatures.
The Serpent Group was ruggedly beautiful and steep, wonderfully exposed, with seas surging and ebbing through rocky clefts and channels. I spotted from seaward what I took to be the campsite referred to in The Wild Coast, and was happy not to be attempting it in this tide and weather.
Regular squalls made me very glad of my drysuit (and to think I'd worried it would be too warm for a summer trip!) I also had a paddling jacket/wetsuit combo, but the paddling jacket doubles as my rain jacket on shore. It had gotten damp on the inside from condensation and would have been uncomfortably, even dangerously, cold in the present wind and rain.
In these conditions, the western entrance to Nalau Passage was like a gate guarded by a scattered line of surf-pounded reefs and rocks. The trick was to get close enough to be in the lee of the southern point, but not into the critical "curl zone", where the occasional larger swells broke earlier than their smaller cousins, ready to sweep you onto the northern cliffs. As I made my approach, I was passed by a sailboat motoring toward the same entrance. The pilot gave a friendly wave. With the swells rolling beneath me, the yacht was soon periodically hidden completely save for the tip of its mast.
Look carefully and you'll see the tip of a yacht mast
After the roar of the surf outside, the quiet inside Nalau Passage was almost tangible. I could even hear the huff of a sea otter surfacing behind me.
After rounding the northern tip of Nalua Island, I turned south, getting a final half hour or so of good swell on the starboard quarter as I crossed the south end of Hakia Pass to the northern entrance of Goldstream Harbour. For a few moments, I thought that at this stage of the tide I wouldn't be able to get through to the southern side of the harbour, where the camping was. However, I found a shallow, wending channel through the rocks that no boat but a kayak could have threaded.
Goldstream was beautifully calm and sheltered. I found the traces of old tent pads on the white shell beach. But with high tide not due until 19:47, I refilled my water bags from the trickling creek and ate a leisurely supper before erecting the tent. By that time, I could see I'd be safely above the peak. Just before dark the SAR chopper made another low pass overhead.
I was pleasantly tired, with that blissful feeling that comes from fresh salt air, honest exercise, and the knowledge that a secure bed and good book await.
July 20th, 2014
Up painlessly at 6AM. With a smooth beach and near high tide, packing and launching was effortless. The run down the south side of Hecate Island was lovely, with a cool overcast, calm airs and the current on my side. I made the starboard turn into Kwakshua Channel about 10:30. Not long after, a strong S/W headwind came up. I crossed to the north end of Calvert, where there was an intermittent lee.
Approaching the north turn north in Kwakshua Channel, I rounded a bend to spot a trio of otters on a rock. Soon afterwards, a flying boat, presumably coming from one of the nearby lodges, droned low overhead. I love flying boats, so redolent of a Humphrey Bogart era of unrushed travel and rich with the potential to land in any remote bay.
With the wind strong from the west in the channel, I wondered about the paddleabilty of Choked Passage. I decided to poke my nose out, hoping the unfunneled air and the shelter of the archipelago would make things manageable. And so it proved. With the sun now out, I had a wonderful run to Wolf Beach, stopping only to chat with a couple anchored just off the Hakai Land and Sea lodge in their well-used and much repaired sailboat. This retired fisherman and his wife now spend their summers gunkholing up and down the coast, exploring at leisure the areas they used to have to rush through when he was working.
Regular roars and solid white lines had told me from a long way off that Wolf Beach was pretty surfy. However, as I'd hoped, I was able to tuck into the lee of the little spit at the northwest end where it was a bit more sheltered. By running a mini relay race (which is quite intense when you're the only participant) I got the boat and cargo up the beach without losing anything to the greedy waves.
Since the late afternoon sun was shining and I was in sole possession of the beautiful beach, I stripped off to let my body breathe after a day in paddling gear. I hung my wet stuff to dry on the driftwood windbreak built by previous visitors.
As I filled my water bags from the creek that cut a ditch through the sand to the sea, I found fresh wolf tracks.
With unlimited water available, I showered before dinner. Very civilized. However, I appeared to have left my tux at home in the same duffel as my stove fuel, so I had to wear fleece to dinner. Fortunately, the ambiance at the self-serve seaside restaurant was casual, so I got a seat (on a log) and enjoyed stuffed tortellini, followed by pieces of mint filled chocolate.
Well exercised, well fed, clean and secure in the knowledge I was well above high tide, I fell asleep to the lullaby of breaking surf.
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