The Whales of August


Feb 27, 2006
I've done several trips over the years with my friend Ron, a retired fisherman and very talented artist in metal welding. This past August he put together a trip with we two and John and Paul, whom I hadn't met before. But Ron knew them and liked them, and that was a good enough character reference for me.

We got up at an ungodly hour (3AM) on Sunday morning to make the ferry to make our supposed mid afternoon water taxi we'd booked in Tofino. We arrived there in plenty of time, only to be told the trip would have to wait 'til early evening because the conditions on "the outside" were too rough and the needed to settle. We suspected shenanigans on their part, since from what we could hear of their radio communications, it sounded like they'd simply overbooked or mis-scheduled and couldn't free up a pilot for us. Whatever. We finally got under way mid-evening, and were landed on the northwest corner of Flores Island not long before dusk.
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Peter, who was doing the first supper, got the fire going while the rest of us made camp, and BBQed enormous steaks. Soon after, we tumbled into bed, stuffed with flesh and red wine, and exhausted from a long day, though we hadn't paddled a stroke. I slept like a log, as I usually do in a tent. The night was so warm, I didn't even bother with a sleeping bag - just my pad.
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The following morning, we took a daytrip over to check out Hotsprings Cove. There was a bit of wind rising from the south, and we didn't want to risk being weatherbound, so we just scoped it out from seaward. (Those of us with sails got brief, exciting runs into the Cove.) Once we'd crossed back over to Flores, my three companions went fishing.
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I paddled back to camp to do a bit of snorkelling. I did see a few rock fish and a Kelp Greenling, but the water in the cove where we were camped was turbid, the particles swirled and churned by the swell from the southwest. After an hour of blundering around like a submarine Mr Magoo, I called it quits, and headed upshore to make supper for the group (my famous/infamous pasta and veggies stir fry, for those who have been on a WCP weekend). But first I put up the kitchen tarp to ensure the occasional light showers would stop completely. That worked a charm, as it often does.
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In the course of setting up my mise en place, I came across an untenanted snake skin on the beach. Fortunately, this was neither Survivor nor Iron Chef, so I didn't have to work out a way to incorporate it into the evening meal.
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After dusk, our little cove was ringed by the green glow of bioluminescence with every breaking swell.

We got up early the next morning. Winds from the south were supposed to be rising through the day, and we wanted to round Rafael Point before the seas got too sporty. On the approach to the point, it looked for a while like we might have to land and camp - not an attractive prospect, since the few beaches were narrow, steep and gravely. However, by passing well out to sea of Rafael, we were able to stay out of the spill zone and avoid the chaos of the clapotis.
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As always on outer coast paddling, it made me feel like a true seafarer to be riding on the long swells, and to have the ocean stretching before me, landless to the horizon - even if that was only off my bow and starboard side.

I spotted a sea otter, but he was quicker on the dive than I was on the draw with the camera.

As we approached the point at the western end of Cow Bay, and were preparing to make our swing to port, we heard the explosive hiss of whales venting. We hung in a patch of kelp as a pair came by only a few kayak-lengths away. In one of the smaller bays within Cow Bay, we encountered a second pair of whales, who seemed to be hanging around and feeding.

When we landed at the southern tip of the huge beach at Cow Bay's eastern side, we were unenthused by the idea of multiple portages to get our boats and cargo across the hundreds of feet of sand between us and the campsite. A group of energetic youth on an Outward Bound trip took pity on the old geezers and carried each of our fully loaded boats up. We rewarded this kindness with cookies.
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We took advantage of the tent pads at Cow Bay. Definitely the eco-friendly thing to do for the shallow forest soil when an area sees lots of use, and also a great way to minimize grit and friction in the bedroom - which I find is always a good idea.
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The sound of surf on the beach was my lullaby that night - one of my favourite aspects of outer coast trips.
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The next day, we each did our own thing. Ron went off in search of fish. I backtracked to the little inlet where we'd seen the whales feeding the day before. The trip there was wonderful - the open Pacific (now on my port side), a gentle swell lifting my boat and my spirits, and a soft wind filling my sail. I spent a happy hour moored in various kelp beds, communing with the whales.

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Courtesy of John, we enjoyed wild Chantrelles on Rainforest Crisps as our pre-supper appies.
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In the evening, the VHF brought dire predictions of gale force and greater northwest winds next afternoon, setting in for several days. The same openness and gently sloping beach that made Cow Bay so lovely could also make it unlaunchably surfy in big weather. We decided to set out early the next morning and run for the lee on the northeast side of Vargas Island. From a previous trip years ago, I knew of a little bay with campsites in the woods there. Not as nice as the wide beaches we'd been camping on, but, as they say, any port in a storm.

Our start was auspicious, with still more whales saluting us as we threaded out through the rocks and islets at Cow Bay's south-eastern end.
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Soon we reached the lovely Whaler Islets, which looked as though they were afloat themselves on a sun-sparkled sea of deep blue. If not for the bad weather predicted, I would have suggested camping on them. But the wind had already picked up to the point that we could sail. As we crossed toward Vargas, a massive fog bank began to roll in from the southwest. I bunched up the group, and paired us off so that each two paddlers had at least one VHF and GPS between them. In the event, the fog began to burn off as it reached us, but it seemed a sensible precaution to have taken.
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The final third of the crossing was glorious - enough wind to sail, but not enough to be alarming. The sun sparkled, Catface Mountain loomed above the sea fog at its base, and at times I had to fight not to be rocked to sleep by the overtaking waves.


We arrived in the little cove at the northeast corner of Vargas to find it taken. The main cobble beach was occupied by two Outbound instructors, and all the little clearings in the woods by their students doing their 24 hours alone in the woods. One of the instructors directed us south to Rassier Point, which she assured us was wide, warm, and beautiful. I wasn't sure if she was simply trying to fob us off. That turned out to be a very unworthy suspicion. The beach was all that was promised, the water so warm we took a brief swim. Plus, it was just a hour or so paddle from Tofino - perfect for our paddle out the next morning. I made paella for the group that night, which we washed down with the last of the wine.
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We were greeted by a thick fog the next morning. Though theoretically the trip to Tofino was a straight compass course, because the maze of sandbanks enroute, I was glad to have the GPS.
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In the event, the biggest hazard turned out to be the tour boats and fishing boats roaring through the fog like visibility was unlimited. Fortunately, we dodged them all and landed safely. Still thinking about the Whaler Islets though; I think they just need to be camped on.
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Dec 4, 2012
Kalamazoo, Michigan
Great trip report. Clayoquot remains one of my favourite wilderness destinations on the planet, and your observations brought me right back to that bliss.

We were also disappointed that we didn't camp on the Whaler Islets. Next time! :)


Feb 27, 2006
Glad you both enjoined the report. For some reason the video links/embedding didn't take properly, but you can cut and paste them into a new tab to see a bit of whale footage and some sailing.