The Paddler's Inn to Powell River, Part 2

kayakwriter

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August 17, 2013 An Epically Long Day

I got up at 3:30AM to get on the water for 6:00 as I had a way to go get to the Greene Point Rapids, and slack-to-flood was shortly after seven. I wound up breaking camp in the dark and fog by the dwindling light of a dying headlamp (good thing the batteries were bright a couple of nights ago when I was dealing with Bruno).

Because I had to battle headwinds and a stronger than expected countercurrent, I was about 15 minutes late getting to the rapids. They were shrouded in heavy fog, and I could hear water splashing, which spooked me a bit. Surely there couldn't be overfalls or standing waves just a quarter hour after slack? Then I spied a pod of our distant cousins, marine mammals, cavorting happily westward through the current, making the splashing sound I'd heard. A magic moment.


I stuck as close as I could to the southwest shore line, but tightly packed bull kelp and at one point a fallen "strainer" tree pushed me out into the channel. When Edsall Island emerged through the fog, I knew I was below the tide rip area, so I set a direct course for Lorte Island, behind which there was supposed to be a marina where I might resupply. Now that I was past the danger zone and I knew that the increasing flood would simply flush me further away from the rising turbulence, it was very pleasant and familiar paddling through the fog. Being out of sight of land gave things a real "at sea" feel, and made me nostalgic for the Canadian Maritimes and the southwest coast of England, both places I know well from childhood.

The marina indicated behind Lorte turned out to be a resort with no store, but the owner invited me in for a cup of coffee on the house. When one of the guests ordered breakfast, I inquired how much it would cost to piggy back on. They quoted me $10; I left them $20 - they'd been really friendly, even to the extent of popping a depleted set of my GPS batteries in their charger (I had solar panels with me, but hadn't had a lot of sun). A second breakfast seemed justified: my 4AM granola and dried berries were a distant memory at this point.

It got better from there. Another guest was making a supply run to the marina at Blind Bay, which had a store (it had been inaccessible to me because of rapids that flooded against me at the same time the Greene Point Rapids flooded favourably). He offered me a lift.

Just a couple of hours after slack, the Greene Point rapids were running impressively - even my benefactor's powerful Bayliner was getting spun off course by the downstream swirls.

By just after 11AM, I was back at my boat with ramen noodles, a tin of beans, a loaf of bread, cream cheese, and alkaline batteries for my headlamp, plus a fresh baked cinnamon roll - something they're famous for, apparently. It sure went down nicely as I noshed it a bit after 14:00 hours, half way down the east coast of East Thurlow Island. I also got to sail for a short while down the channel between Thurlow and Sonora.
At Sutil Cove resized.jpg


My original plan had been to camp on Hardinge Island, but the site there was a dark tunnel under the trees. I decided to carry onto the site just inshore of Howe Island on Sonora. I had a pleasant paddle there, with the current on my side, but there were power boaters landed on the cobble beach. I wasn't in the mood for noise, so I decided to carry onto the next site south described in TWC3, with mentioned camping on a grassy lawn next to an old cottage. That, and the stream shown on the chart, sounded good. As soon as I made the decision to head there, a head wind blew up and the current turned against me. This wasn't imagination on my part: I was stroking at a rate that would have been moving me at 3+ knots unopposed, but my GPS showed 2 knots or less.

I reached the little bay with the cottage a bit after 19:000 hours, unloaded my cargo, and then carried my tent bag up to the grass. Only to discover lots of fresh bear scat among the berry bushes that had taken over there. I really should have checked before offloading all my stuff. Back in the boat it all went and off I went. The site just north of Cinque Islands featured lots of awkward rocks and a single ledge that would be sketchy during these spring tides. I headed off to Shipwreck Cove, knowing I was completely committed to it at this point. I landed there just as dusk started to fall. By the time I'd made camp and supper on the ledge that was the only usable spot, it was near midnight.
Shipwreck Cove resized.jpg


August 18, 2013
I was in no hurry to depart the next morning - I only had a couple of hours to go to the next site, and the low tide had exposed a couple of hundred feet of muck that wanted to suck your sandals off at every step. So I bathed, had a pancake and bacon breakfast with coffee, wrote up my journal, and packed up slowly, ready for the rising tide to float me off in the early afternoon.

As I packed, I had a visitor, announcing by a loud crashing through the trees on the far side of my little beach. This bear was much bigger, but far more chill than Bruno, my night visitor from a couple of days back. He clearly was aware of my presence, but unbothered by it, and went nonchalantly about his crab harvesting.


The beach that was nearest to the Upper and Lower Rapids between Sonora and Quadra Islands was obviously going to flood completely with the spring tide, so rather than set up my tent, I strung my hammock between the roots of two driftwood tree trunks, then rigged my tarp over it.
hammock before the flood resize.jpg


All went well at first. The tarp shrugged off several heavy showers in the early part of the night. But at about one in the morning I stretched luxuriously in the hammock, draped my arms over the sides - and found my fingertips submerged in salt water. I abandoned hammock (very carefully, as it has a tendency to tilt and decant all its contents if you're careless) and waded to the edge of the tree line. I stuck a stick at the water's edge, and waited 'til the tide was clearly receding (about half a hour). Then I waded back and carefully reboarded the hammock. As I began to drift back to sleep, I heard the ceaseless crash of big waves. Which seemed odd, because there was no wind running, no water breaking on my beach, and no boat had gone by to create wake. Then I realized I was hearing the tumult of the Lower Rapids, running at full tilt more than a mile away, an indication of their awesome power.
at flood tide resized.jpg


August 19, 2013
Up at 5, on the water for 7:35. At first, I was paddling through thick fog, backlit by the rising sun into a luminous white. The prospect of running the Upper Rapids blind was pretty daunting, but fortunately it burnt off as I went.
Approaching the Upper Rapids resized.jpg

approaching the Lower Rapids resized tilt corrected.jpg


By deeking through counter currents close to shore, I reached the pinch point of the Upper Rapids about half an hour before slack. I sheltered in the back eddy behind a large rock, watching a six inch overfall and the current still running strongly against me. It seemed so incredible that it would switch in 30 minutes that I dug out my Tides And Currents booklet out to double check my calculations, convinced I'd made a mistake on the timing. But no. So I bided my time, admiring the intertidal life in my little pool.
soft colours resize.jpg



Like a slow-mo version of Moses parting the Red Sea, the overfall leveled, the current slowed, and within five minutes was flowing the other way (there wasn't really a period of true slack). I slipped into it and paddled south hastily before it built up.
I explored the Octopus Islands. Very pretty, but full of awkward landings and anchored yachts. Their owners were friendly, but generators were droning steadily. So I watered up and headed over to Francisco Island, which I knew from my fiftieth birthday paddle tour a few years back. As I'd expected, there were other paddlers there, so for the first time on this trip, I shared a campsite. The other group, 4 adults and 2 teens were super-friendly. With the sun up, I got in a bit of snorkeling.
feather duster resized.jpg


Later, my neighbours kindly fed me supper (wraps with fresh veggies, yum!) and plied me with gin and tonics. On past trips I'd been the recipient of group hospitality and felt badly at not being able to reciprocate, but there's not much room for low-proof bevies like wine or beer on a long solo tour. So for this trip, I'd cunningly equipped myself with a hipflask of whiskey to share. But when I produced it to offer 'round, the male among my hosts went white and declined. Turned out he'd had the mother of all hangovers on whiskey years before, and the Pavlovian conditioning had yet to wear off. He appreciated the gesture though.

August 20, 2013
relaxing on Franciso resized.jpg


A beautiful, sunny day with the wind from the North. It would have been great for sailing, but during the previous very long days and 4 nights of camping on sketchy sites I'd promised myself a day off and a couple of consecutive nights on a flat site that was unquestionably above high tide. So I hung out and chilled. The group sharing the island left early to get through Hole In The Wall, leaving me in sole possession for bathing, suntanning and sloth. I made an excursion to the Octopus Islands for water to do laundry. Even well below the Lower Rapids and Hole In The Wall, the water was impressively swirly in this spring tide period - which also furnished me with a lovely full moon that evening.
moonrise over Fransico Island resized and tilt corrected.jpg


August 21, 2013

I literally sailed through the last of the tidal rapids at Surge Narrows. The easiest passage yet and a relief to have behind me. No more getting up at weird hours to hit slack tide.


In Sutil Channel, the view was awesome - a 360 panorama of the mountains up and down Vancouver Island and the mainland.
I landed for the day at a very civilized hour - 16:30 at Shark Spit on Marina Island. Though the island is private, the owners graciously allow people to camp here, and it's clearly a local institution, with lots of yachts and small boats bringing their children ashore with tents, giving the place a friendly family vibe.

After I'd set up camp on the beach, I made my way to the upland towards the outhouse, passing a musical family who'd all brought their violins. As I seated myself, they struck up Vivaldi in the distance, making it quite the most elegant outhouse experience I've ever had. Even the five-star restaurants I've occasionally snuck into had only recorded classical music in their facilities.
sunset at Shark Spit resize.jpg


August 22, 2013
More fantastic views up and down the Strait as I paddled across to Lund, arriving there mid afternoon. What a contrast from the sleepy backwater of 20 years ago - the marina was so crowded I had to hail the Harbour Master on my VHF about a place to dock. They graciously let me use the dingy tie-up for a couple of hours.

I got some groceries, a book, and a new-to-me secondhand skirt from the Powell River Sea Kayak shop, to supplement my leaky old one, then had an early fish-and-chip supper at The Boardwalk restaurant. Lovely.
Dinner Rock resized and tilt adjusted.jpg

The cliffy shore around the Dinner Rock campground looked more accessible to kayak commandos than regular kayakers, and I'd left my grappling hook at home, so I paddled out to the beach on the south end of Savary Island, just a few hundred feet inshore of where I had camped 24 years and 2 kayaks ago, on a trip from Port Hardy to Vancouver. I had a lovely chat with a family there as I waited for the tide to peak.

August 23, 2013
campsite on Savary resize.jpg


Up at 5:30, on the water by 7:30 to beat the 30-30 knot winds from the southwest forecast for late morning, which would be sure to flood the low lying beach I had camped on. And a good thing. It had already blown up to pretty spilly by the time I reached the mainland. Also a good thing I had the "new" secondhand sprayskirt or I'd have shipped a serious amount of water.

The original plan had been to try and make the Willingdon Campground in Powell River, but that had to be rapidly revised. As I clawed along the shore, I searched for any landable beach that wouldn't flood out with high tide and storm surge that wasn't also the front lawn of someone's summer home. No luck. I had visions of huddling in the underbrush, hoping no homeowner would set the dogs or the law on me.

Then I clawed my way 'round the next point to see a fleet of RV trailers camped above a gravel beach. I pulled in, and confirmed they'd rent me a tent space. I'd only paddled an hour and a half that day, but as I emerged from my first full-on shower in many days, it was clear I'd made the right choice: the flag by my tent was flying straight out, the water was streaked with whitecaps, and even full-size boats were pitching and digging in their bows as they fought upwind.
windy campsite resize.jpg

Both the owner and the guests at the campground were super-friendly. One hospitable family, the Evans, more or less adopted me for the two days I waited out the wind there: I had breakfast with them one morning, and joined them for the BBQ they threw for their parents 60th wedding anniversary. The place is clearly a Powell River institution: many of the guests have being spending their summers there for generations, and they appoint themselves to do things like moving the grass. (Weirdly, I can't find any address or website for the campground - I guess the locals know about it, and that's that. But the lat and long are N49° 56.205, W124° 41.656, in case you find yourself paddling the sunshine coast and looking for a kayak-landable site.)

Also, they have, I kid you not, a beer-vending machine (a hacked soda machine). No fancy microbrews, but pretty much anything tastes OK when it's cold and two weeks since your last pint.
beer vending machine resize.jpg

beer vending machine close-up resize.jpg



August 25, 2013
After 2 days off, I was up at 5:30 and on the water by 7:30. At first the smoke from the stacks of the distant Powell River pulp mill rose reassuringly vertically. But soon the white weather vanes flattened and pointed N/W, heralding the approaching S/E winds. The forecast was grim - up to 25 knot winds developing tonight, the rest of the week unpaddlable or only marginally doable. I could have still made it back to Vancouver, but it would have been steady plodding, with the challenge of finding shelter from the weather on a largely privately owned shore. Besides, I'd paddled that stretch of the Sunshine Coast before; I had nothing to see or prove by doing it again. And I'd get home just before I had to return to work. And the really pretty places between here and Vancouver - the Thormanby Islands, Secret Cove, Keats, the Pasleys and Gambier - I see regularly on weekend getaways anyway.

So just after 10:30AM, I pulled into the Willingdon Creek campground in Powell River and made a call to my wife. If I treated us to a couple of days at a cabin on the coast, would she come fetch me? She would. She'd be there the next day. It's good to have a personal support/extraction team. All the serious expeditioneers do.

Epilogue: The following evening, I looked out through the living room window of our cabin on the coast onto the darkling water. Wind and rain rattled against the glass and the bay was white with spilling waves. But inside, all was cozy, with my wife and our sheltie keeping me company. I`d clearly made the right choice.
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mick_allen

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So you, of all people, just paddle along and pull into the only place in the world that has a suds vending machine right at hand?
Why don't the rest of us find such stuff? Forget your bears, birds, and breaching behemoths - but a beachside beer machine for thirsty paddlers!
wow.
 

Rodnak Kayak

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Dec 19, 2007
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Victoria, BC
Phillip, envy is one word to describe how I feel, great report, great pics, and hey! your wife is obviously is a great supporter!
Bravo to the brave bruin befriender!
:clap: :clap: :clap:
 

kayakwriter

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mick_allen said:
So you, of all people, just paddle along and pull into the only place in the world that has a suds vending machine right at hand?
Why don't the rest of us find such stuff? Forget your bears, birds, and breaching behemoths - but a beachside beer machine for thirsty paddlers!
wow.
I know, crazy right? We've often joked at work about stocking the drink vending machine with brew to inspire some truly creative writing, but there it was for realz!
 

kayakwriter

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An update for those who might be interested: the phone number for the Emmonds Beach campground (the RV camp where I took refuge from the storm) is 604-483-9766.
 

Astoriadave

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May 31, 2005
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Location
Astoria, Oregon, USA
Definitely the beer vending machine was the highlight of the trip. Glad there are still a few wild and wooly places left where such can happen. Never happen where I live!
 

chodups

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Nov 2, 2005
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So Philip,
You know that I admire your writing and I’m never sure exactly where that line is between inspiration and plagiarism. I do admit to crossing it, though, and steal from you whenever I need something better than I can come up with on my own. Recall
“paddling in green water up to my elbows”
Totally yours and I totally stole it but I warned you first, right?
Some brilliant images from this report that may inspire me to larceny include:
After I'd set up camp on the beach, I made my way to the upland towards the outhouse, passing a musical family who'd all brought their violins. As I seated myself, they struck up Vivaldi in the distance, making it quite the most elegant outhouse experience I've ever had. Even the five-star restaurants I've occasionally snuck into had only recorded classical music in their facilities.
I'll probably never be able to use this
A second breakfast seemed justified: my 4AM granola and dried berries were a distant memory at this point.
Like this one
All went well at first. The tarp shrugged off several heavy showers in the early part of the night. But at about one in the morning I stretched luxuriously in the hammock, draped my arms over the sides and found my fingertips submerged in salt water. I abandoned hammock (very carefully, as it has a tendency to tilt and decant all its contents if you're careless) and waded to the edge of the tree line.
Hope I never experience this and need to use it
It would have been great for sailing, but during the previous very long days and 4 nights of camping on sketchy sites I'd promised myself a day off and a couple of consecutive nights on a flat site that was unquestionably above high tide.
a site that is unquestionably above the high tide? See, I'm not even using quotation marks on this one. Great justification for a day off.
Then I clawed my way 'round the next point to see a fleet of RV trailers camped above a gravel beach.
I can so picture that. Inspiring......

Thanks for the great trip report and inspiration!
 

natgeo

Paddler
Joined
Dec 4, 2012
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Location
Kalamazoo, Michigan
You always do such a great job of bringing your journeys to life through words and pictures. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to living vicariously through your next adventure.
 

kayakwriter

Administrator
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Feb 27, 2006
Messages
983
chodups said:
So Philip,
You know that I admire your writing and I’m never sure exactly where that line is between inspiration and plagiarism. I do admit to crossing it, though, and steal from you whenever I need something better than I can come up with on my own. Recall
“paddling in green water up to my elbows”
Totally yours and I totally stole it but I warned you first, right?
Thanks for the great trip report and inspiration!
Glad our Mutual Admiration Society is still going strong - I greatly enjoy your reports over on 3 Meter Swell. It`s especially interesting when you're describing somewhere I've been too. Amazing how similar or different our experiences of an area can be, depending on weather and circumstances.

And don't worry - I'll 'borrow'a phrase or two from you sometime :)
 
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