Johnstone Strait, Aug. 13-17, 2015 (with ORCAS!)

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by pawsplus, Sep 3, 2015.

  1. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    This was a guided trip with a company based on Quadra Island.

    DAY ONE (August 14, 2015)

    After a long day of travel the day before (cab from my mom’s place in Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay; ferry HSB to Departure Bay; bus Departure Bay to Campbell River; ferry Campbell River to Quadra Island; cab QI ferry term to hotel!), and a pre-trip meeting at the Heriot Bay Inn on Quadra the night before, we departed via van from Quadra on the AM of Aug. 14 for the drive to Telegraph Cove. There were 10 guests (a family of 2 parents, two adult children, and their spouses, a couple, another single woman, and myself) and 2 guides. I was concerned about this large a group—my trip last summer in the San Juans was just 4 guests and 1 guide, and while we saw no orcas, the paddling was great. I feared (rightly, as it turned out!) that so many people would slow things to a crawl.

    [Telegraph Cove!]
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    [Here are the boats, ready to launch. My first boat is the white one in the foreground.]
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    We launched out of Telegraph Cove at about 12:30 PM. I started out (for the first 2 days) in a white Atlantis Titan. It was a nice boat ,but felt large for me—I felt sloppy in it. But it was fine, particularly as we encountered nothing even mildly challenging. The other single woman on the trip (B.) had requested a tandem, and there were plenty of boats, but for some reason one of the guides pressured B. to try a single instead. There was some discussion about it and B. finally agreed. They gave her a Current Designs Solstice.

    [Heading out of Telegraph Cove.]
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    By the time we got out of the Cove, heading East down the Strait in very calm seas, it was clear that B. was having a lot of trouble. We went at a snail’s pace, constantly having to hold up and wait for B. and the guide with her. Despite having paddled before, she had only ever gone in a tandem, and she was afraid she would capsize. In addition, she just wasn’t very strong in her upper body. We took hours to get to Blinkhorn Peninsula (which isn’t very far at all from Telegraph Cove), where we stopped for a snack and (thankfully!!!) to allow B. to swap with someone in a tandem.

    [At Blinkhorn Peninsula.]
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    Then we started again. Progress was better with B. in the tandem, but still fairly slow, as everyone just seemed very lackadaisical. This surprised me, as almost everyone else, other than the guides and one guest, were in tandems, and they really should have been able to smoke me in my single. I have a fairly brisk stroke, I guess, and it’s hard for me to just meander. What amazed me again and again, though, is that when there really was something good to see (an eagle or a bear) the group looked at it and went right on, while I was still happily watching whatever it was. At least that gave me a chance to get into the zone and really paddle while catching up!

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    Around 4 PM we reached Kaikash Creek Campground. It was lovely, with a great beach (from which we viewed orcas the first night!), a nice protected area in the woods for tents, and the cutest outhouse in the middle of the ferns! We had dinner, watched the orcas, and went to bed early. My tent (rented from the company) came with only 4 stakes and there were no extras, and my Thermarest (also rented) would not stay inflated. The former wasn’t a big deal, but the latter was. I slept poorly throughout the trip.

    [My tent.]
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    [World’s Cutest Outhouse.]
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    [Guides preparing dinner.]
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    [Boats safely stowed for the night.]
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    DAY TWO (August 15, 2015)

    Having decided to stay for 2 nights at Kaikash, we launched after breakfast and paddled East towards Robson Bight. Again, progress was slow. I tried to paddle as slowly as I could, but even so constantly heard, “Elizabeth, wait up!”

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    [Gulls on a huge log barge.]
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    After just an hour on the water, we stopped for snacks, and 90 minutes later, we stopped for lunch. This group was all about the eating. I just wanted to paddle! We finally made it to Robson Bight, and after observing the sign for a while, we saw a pod of orcas heading toward the Reserve. They were fairly far away, but with my binos I could see them well. Very exciting! They were too far away for pix.

    [Robson Bight sign]
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    Then we headed out into the Strait—about 1/3 of the way out, I guess—and then headed back West towards camp (still out in the Strait). I really enjoyed this open water paddling, although the sea was still glass and there was almost no wind, so there was no challenge to it. From where we were, we could see across to Blackney Passage, where a lot of whale watching boats were milling about. It was too far for us to get over there, but we knew there was a humpback there because we heard him breach even if we couldn’t see him! Wow! That’s an amazing sound.

    We returned to camp around 3:30 PM. Everyone was worn out except for me. We hadn’t gone very far at ALL—10 K I think. That day we saw the following animals: black bear; eagles; orcas; Dall’s porpoises; stellar sea lions; sea urchins; various water birds. I took a short hike to the actual Kaikash Creek in the late afternoon.

    [Kaikash Creek Hike.]
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    That evening, the guides asked me if I would be willing to switch boats for the rest of the trip. The Current Design Solstice had been labelled “The Tippy Boat” by everyone who had tried it, and no one wanted to paddle it anymore. I had been looking at it with interest, so readily agreed.

    DAY 3 (August 16, 2015)

    Today the plan was for us to pack up our stuff and head across the Strait. We were going to head into Blackney Passage, then go down the South side of Hanson Island to a basecamp at the western end. This seemed like a great plan, as it was new territory—I was all for it!

    But circumstances conspired against us. First, we got started late. I appreciate that it is difficult to wrangle 10 people into getting up, eating, and packing up, but it was frustrating when so many were slow and made the rest of us late. I immediately found the Current Designs Solstice (yellow) to be a nice boat. It fit me much better than the Atlantis (a snugger fit, so I felt more in contact with the boat) and other than when getting in (when it was a bit less stable than the Titan), it seemed quite stable to me. Once we were finally on the water, though, the person using the Titan (who had not liked the Solstice) decided that she didn’t like the Titan either. So after only being out for 15 minutes, we had to put in at a beach and do a 2-way swap so that the person who didn’t like the Titan was now in a tandem. This took a solid half hour!

    [​IMG]

    Then we encountered ORCAS! Lots of them, and close! The first group came through when we were out about 1/3 of the way into the strait. We rafted up and they came by fairly close—many females, juveniles, and several big males. It was wonderful to see them at last from a kayak—I felt very close to them, being on their level and in their water.

    [​IMG]

    Unfortunately, although it was only about 11 AM, after this the guide decided that it was now too late to complete our crossing and proceed down Hanson Island, and it was decided instead to return to Blinkhorn Peninsula to camp. I was really disappointed by this, as it meant just retracing our steps instead of going someplace new. As we were headed back to the Vancouver Island shore, we saw another group of orcas heading right for us. Guide #1 told us to head toward shore to get out of their path and I started off fast for shore, wanting to get to the safe spot and get turned around before they got to us. Then I hear Guide #2 tell everyone to raft up where they were! I was surprised, because it was clear to me that this would put the group in the path of the orcas, violating the Marine Mammal laws (do not put yourself in their path and stay at least 100 yards away—in the US it is 200 yards). I stopped and turned around, and started back, but saw the orcas coming and knew I wouldn’t make it, so I just stopped in the water and rapped my hull. The orcas (3 of them) came right under our boats. We couldn’t see them, but they surfaced on one side and then the other. I was never worried, as orcas echolocate and probably knew we were there miles back!

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    [Approaching Blinkhorn]
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    Once the orcas were on their way, we headed back East towards Blinkhorn. We put in there around 1 PM and made camp. The wind came up around 4 PM, as it had most days, and when the guides suggested that we might take an evening paddle, the 3 weakest paddlers elected to stay on shore. The plan was to head out around the peninsula a ways and then come back.

    I’m not sure what the guides expected—clearly the wind was up a bit and clearly there would be chop out there. But once we got out there and they saw the chop (6” at best—and the wind would have been behind us on the way back) they aborted the plan, made us go back, and we ended up just dinking around in the bay a bit.

    I made myself this lovely little place to have tea and read my Kindle, right next to my tent.

    [​IMG]

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    Later on, B. and I took a hike (very short) to Blinkhorn Light, which was picturesque.

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    While there, I found some lovely driftwood. I’m kind of a freak for driftwood. ;-)
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    In the evening, the wind got very strong and, as we were camped on an exposed spit (instead of the protected campsites—not sure why that decision was made!), my tent spent most of the night trying to fly away. The lack of tent stakes had not been a problem at Kaikash—I had just used pieces of branch to anchor the fly—but here it was a serious issue. I found large boulders and anchored the tent and the fly as best I could, but had to get up several times during the night to make adjustments.

    DAY 4 (August 17, 2015)

    We had to be back at Telegraph Cove to hand the boats off to the next trip by noon, so we got going fairly early and got back at 11 AM. We saw several eagles on the way back, including a pair, and another eagle eating a fish just below a nest.

    [Getting ready to launch.]
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    [Pix of me in the Current Designs Solstice.]
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    [Rounding the bend around Blinkhorn Peninsula.]
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    [Eagle].
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    [Back at Telegraph Cove.]
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    Once unloaded, we headed back to Quadra Island, and the next day I made the long trek (cab/ferry/bus/bus/ferry/bus) to the Vancouver Airport. The next day I returned to Tennessee.

    OVERALL

    I have to say that I’m a bit confused as to what this outfit does when the weather fails to cooperate! I mean, it IS the ocean, and you can’t expect calm water and sun every day. And most people really will rise to a challenge--I’m sure that had we continued on our planned route on Day 3 that everyone would have been glad to have had to work a little harder because they would have achieved something (a novel route) for it.

    It’s funny, because last year’s trip in the San Juans was AMAZING paddling (some difficult challenges, long days, plenty of paddling) but we saw orcas only once, and then from shore. This trip was great for orcas, and I wouldn’t have missed it for that, but the paddling, other than being much more beautiful, was no more challenging than an easy day on my lakes here in Tennessee. For that reason, I’m really glad of the day on English Bay (see my trip report about that!), because otherwise I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do anything more challenging than I can do at home!

    I ended the trip feeling that I will probably not do any more of these guided trips. They are very expensive, and since there is no way to know the makeup of the guests or the willingness of the guides to paddle on anything but glass seas, I run the risk of being disappointed (I was NOT this time, but primarily because of the orcas). I will post some questions soon about ideas I have for a short solo trip next summer. In the meantime, I will keep taking classes when I can, and keep paddling my boat here on the lakes. This winter I hope to get out on some windier days for more practice. And I am hoping to get to the Seattle/SJI area late next Spring for a course—possibly the 5-day one at Body Boat Blade on Orcas Island.
     
  2. tiagosantos

    tiagosantos Paddler

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    Thanks for the write up paws!

    This is kind of why Ana and I have mostly been paddling together and haven't really signed up for any trips, etc. We're too worried about dragging other people down, or being slowed down/pushed too hard by slower or stronger paddlers. I think signing up for a trip like this means accepting to be at the mercy of the group dynamics which can go a lot of different ways. I'm glad you still enjoyed some bits, the orca encounters sound amazing!
     
  3. fishboat

    fishboat Paddler

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    Nice write-up paws. The wild life looks/sounds fantastic. Having orcas that close must be quite an experience. Too bad you didn't get to stretch your wings a bit. I've not been on guided-group trips like that...don't they offer them in skill-levels..beginner, intermediate, advanced..?

    I started hiking/cycling/kayaking with different local meet up groups in March this year and, while I've generally had good times(and they are free), the 'group dynamic' of skills-interests can be a little challenging at times. Going slow and waiting can be harder than going too fast...with cycling I can't do it..I just go.

    I'm hosting a wilderness camping-kayaking-hiking meet up thing in the UP-Mich in a couple weeks. One person..we'll call her 'B'.. joined in and mentioned she recently moved here from overseas and hasn't hiked/camped before in the US...though how she stated it sounded more like she hasn't done these things at all. I can only hope she's camped & hiked in ?? to some extent.. If she hops in a kayak..I hope it's good.. :)
     
  4. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Sounds like an interesting trip, with some downers and a bunch of uppers. The dynamics of all comers groups are like that. Some guides are very effective in goosing the slower ones along. Typically, new folks do not know how much they can actually put out, and hence slag off. Others are just lazy. Your group definitely had a bunch of whalewatchers in it, and only one mile-eater.
    -----------

    Aside:

    [Going it alone in the Broken Group would be a good choice for you next season. Plenty safe, killer beautiful, typically upbeat interesting people in the communal campgrounds, etc. If you prearrange rental of a boat through the Lady Rose folks, you can probably pick one just your size. Because public transportation will put you on the Frances Barkley in Port Alberni, and you can rent your boat at the dropoff, all you have to do is get your camping gear and food aboard and the rest is easy. Sending a couple links via PM.]
     
  5. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    None that I've seen do. Makes sense that they can't--they have to fill the trip if they can and people want certain dates, so. . .I got lucky last summer being on a trip with few paddlers who were all strong.
    Yeah--I can't drive 55 (for anyone old enough to remember that song LOL!).
    Good luck LOL!
     
  6. NatashaE

    NatashaE Paddler

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    Great trip report! One option you might consider in the future is doing a course that involves an expedition. My guess is that your fellow participants are more likely to be more motivated to do more paddling rather than be in go slow vacation mode. I did one years ago focused on paddling in surf, tides and currents with the first 2 days based in Tofino working on skills on day trips then we headed out onto Clayoquot Sound for a couple of nights. Unfortunately the company owners have moved onto other things and the company is no longer operating. :(
     
  7. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Expedition meaning one way? Not sure what the difference is otherwise?
     
  8. NatashaE

    NatashaE Paddler

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    By expedition I ment a course where you are spending your nights camping as a group in the wilderness versus it just being 9-5 on the water and go home or back to your own accommodation afterwards. But having read a little closer I think the course you are already planning to do with Boat Body Blade meets this criteria.

    The solo trip approach sounds great. If you ever decide to do another group trip to get to more remote/exposed areas I'd definitely be asking the company some questions about the typical pace of the day, how they handle guests with varying degrees of interst in actually paddling anywhere, and if you are able to be at all flexible with your dates, if there is a particular trip that has participants which they think would be compatable with you. Its always a bit hit or miss since you ultimately can't control who is on the trip but perhaps with a better understanding of the guides' approach to the group you can find a company/trip that is a better fit.
     
  9. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Participants often self select based on the literature from the outfitter, and the reputation of the area. On GWAII Haanas, for example, it appeared to us the guided groups moved right along, and did not shirk days. They moved as fast as our group of four experienced, fit paddlers, perhaps because they were all in doubles. We had one double and two high volume singles. The double beat the singles to the beach every day. In addition, the guides I spoke with were completely dialed in, very professional, and seemed to be very good stewards of group morale and promoted good energy amongst all. They were generous with useful advice, and fed us better food than we had!

    I think you had a weak group, for whatever reasons.

    The only error i would identify was placing Pawsplus in a completely inappropriate boat. A five minute dialog with her would have had her in that Solstice from the beginning.
     
    Standup Gal likes this.
  10. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Well, this trip WAS that. We camped every night--we stayed 2 nights in one place and one in the other. Tents, etc. :)

    Yeah, I did ask those questions. I also asked about maybe going out again in the evening, for more advanced people who wanted more paddling, and was told that that would definitely be an option. But it was clear that they guides did not want to do that. The one time when we did it was the time that there was a little wind that they freaked and made us go back. So . . . !
     
  11. nootka

    nootka Paddler

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    Some red flags for a guided trip:
    -no experience necessary
    -a scenic destination/objective ie orca watching
    -not moving camp often
    -a flexible itinerary
    -participants don't need any of their own gear
    -you can't arrange beforehand to be in a specific boat
     
  12. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Well, partly my fault b/c I really DID want orcas. Missed out on them last year and wanted them. :) Of course, the outfit last year is in the middle of Orca Central (SJI), markets their trips for the orcas, says no experience necessary, etc., and yet the paddling was great. I think the problem really is that sometimes you get a small group of strong paddlers (last year) and sometimes you get a big group of lackadaisical ones. There is no way for me -or the outfit--to control for that, really.

    The same outfit offers a trip where they water taxi you out to a "basecamp" with tent cabins and a hot tub :roll: and you take day trips from there. Needless to say, I was NOT interested in that, and opted for the real camping because (1) I enjoy camping and (2) I hoped that it would attract a more rugged clientele. I'm sure it DID--just not quite rugged enough LOL.
     
  13. NatashaE

    NatashaE Paddler

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    I have definitely experienced your frustration on other group trips (kayaking or skiing). If I've invested in a trip I want to make the most of it and spend as much time as possible doing the target activity, not relaxing in the cafe sipping mulled wine while watching other people skiing. I've learned over the years that as much as the operator assures me there will be plenty of time on the target activity, my desired level of activity is higher than a typical participant and try to adjust my expectations heading in so I am less disappointed.

    I don't think I am communicating at my most effective today. Please let me try and clarify. I was suggesting that if you are looking for a group trip in the future you might search for courses/instructional programs that involve overnight camping in the area you want to explore rather than guided vacations that involve kayaking and camping. I suspect people who sign up for an instructional program are more likely to share your mindset and want to challenge themselves, rather than just go for a very leisurely paddle and then relax on the beach with a book.

    p.s. Your photos of the whales are amazing. Such a cool experience to have seen them so close!
     
  14. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Yes, that makes sense. :) The Body Boat Blade course, though, only has one night of camping. Every day the class goes out and works all day, but then you are expected to put yourself up. This sucks, as it's expensive, and I was thinking of camping at Moran State Park (class is on Orcas Island). I haven't seen any courses where there is camping every night. Know of any? :)
     
  15. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Some research now on an available B and B in Southsound (?) might yield something reasonable and convenient. I think Moran may be distant from the launch sites they use.
     
  16. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    re: the BBB Course: They said they launch from all over the island on that course and Moran is really the only place to camp. I would have to rent a car (which I HATE the idea of doing, as it will be sitting there most of the time, but really no choice b/c they can't pick you up, wherever you stay. Even so, camping would, I think, still be less expensive than a hotel, and more pleasant than a dorm room at the semi-hostel (which is still $50 a night!).
     
  17. tiagosantos

    tiagosantos Paddler

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    That's a bummer, I thought they'd camp through the 5 days. There are quite a few options for rooms in Eastsound (or Orcas in general) on Airbnb - that's what we did last weekend.

    SKILS also has a 5 day instructional camp thing - I'd guess it's probably halfway between the more instruction focused BBB course and the relaxed tourism of a standard guided trip: http://skils.ca/instructional-tour.html
     
  18. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    That would be a deal killer for me. The ferry tariff for a vehicle would be another deal killer. Maybe you could coordinate with someone with a vehicle, both for that, and for sharing a campsite. Bet the BBB folks would help with that. They want your business.

    Then you sneakily paddle across to the Gulf Islands and continue, with a solo journey!

    Hacksaw blades in a cake for the aftermath?
     
  19. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    That looks good, but "relaxed atmosphere" and "plenty of time for hanging out on the beach" are now red flags for me LOL.
     
  20. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Maybe. I did email them a while back. They said that most people stay at one of the B and Bs. They didn't seem to think a lot of people camp. I am leery of relying on MAYBE finding someone with a car who is also camping.

    Trust me--not nuts about this aspect of it. Kayak Academy has a good 5 day course, but the lake the first 3 days are held at allows no camping, so hotel again! I'm a bit frustrated by the whole thing. It is apparently impossible to do anything frugally anymore!