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Portland and Rum Islands, Gulf Islands, BC 15–17 Feb 2020


Jan 10, 2009
Seattle WA
For the fourth year in a row, a forecast for strong wind persuaded me to change my itinerary over President’s Day weekend. Originally, I had planned to circumnavigate Gabriola Island near Nanaimo. I rethought that plan in the face of the forecast 15-25 knot winds. The Strait of Georgia is no place to paddle a kayak in 20-knot winds. (Entrance Island did indeed record 20-knot winds on Saturday).

Instead, I stuck to the sheltered inland waters around Swartz Bay. Saturday afternoon, I paddled over to Portland and spent the rest of the day wandering the forest maze. Sunday morning, I rode the last of the flood up to Ruckle Provincial Park to hike the even more beautiful trails there. The Sunday afternoon ebb carried me at a blistering pace down to Rum Island, one of my favorite spots in the Gulf Islands. Monday morning, I tried to catch the flood back to Swartz Bay, but the tides swirled so around unpredictably through the maze of little islands I felt like the current was always against me, even when it should have been in my favor.

00 Map labelled.jpg

00 Route map. This was my first time back on Portland Island since WCP spring campout 2012.

01 Launch at Swartz Bay.JPG

01 Launch at Swartz Bay. I was lucky to find free overnight parking right next to the ferry terminal. By Monday morning, there were no spots remaining.

02 Harlequin ducks.JPG

02 Harlequin ducks. These are some of our cheeriest ducks.

03 Looking south down Prevost Passage.JPG

03 Looking south down Prevost Passage. Even over such short distances, it's easy to get lost in this watery maze if you don't know the geography.

04 Looking toward Saltspring Island.JPG

04 Looking north toward Saltspring Island. Even in this most urbanized part of the Gulf Islands, nature still dominates the vista.

05 Barrows goldeneyes.JPG

05 Barrow's goldeneyes. These are the least shy of the Bucephela, but they still don't like to be approached.

06 Alex on Portland Island.JPG

06 Alex on Portland Island. It was just me and the raccoons, all afternoon and night.

The wildlife highlight of the trip was a pod of eight orcas near Mayne Island, seen from the ferry but unfortunately not from the kayak. Bird-wise, the Big Four alcids were present in fair numbers (marbled murrelet, pigeon guillemot, rhinoceros auklet, and common murre), but I did not see any ancient murrelets. I have probably missed those for the winter, unfortunately, since I also didn’t see them on my trips across Haro Strait and President Channel. Disappointingly, I also missed long-tailed ducks, which were present last time I was in the southern Gulf Islands in December 2014 (pictures no longer available on forum since the software “upgrade”). However, there were plenty of goldeneyes, about half of which were Barrow’s.

07 Leaving Arbutus Pt in morning.JPG

07 Leaving Arbutus Pt. in the morning. On days like this, you just want to keep wandering through the islands forever.

08 Cormorants at Arbutus Point.JPG

08 Cormorants at Arbutus Pt. I could smell them before I could see them.

09 Common Murres.JPG

09 Common murres. Almost all the murres and most of the guillemots had their breeding plumage. None of the murrelets did.

10 Sunset on Rum Island.JPG

10 Sunset on Rum Island. When kayakers dream at night, this is what they see.

11 Silhouettes on Rum Island.JPG

11 Silhouettes on Rum Island. There was caution tape across the trail leading up from the beach but no closure sign or any other explanation.

12 Sunrise over Rum Island.JPG

12 Sunrise over Rum Island. I love these chilly, blue-sky winter days.

The best part of winter kayaking is the solitude. There were no other campers on Portland or Rum Island. Two yachts were anchored at Princess Bay, but their crews did not come ashore. There were plenty of people at Ruckle, of course, but they were the only people I actually spoke to all weekend. On Monday morning, there were a few kayakers in the vicinity of Coal Island, but they stayed far away from me.

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Superb photos. That harlequin shot is a killer image. We see them in small groups, often just a single pair mixing it up in the currents and swash, off Ecola Point, inside Ecola State Park. (Unfortunately, the access road is closed because of a massive slide.).

Keep it up, Alex. Your skill finding paddleable waters when the winds rage amazes me.
Alex, Thank you for your report and inspiration. If you haven't done it before, Getting to Ganges Harbor (SaltSpring) on a Saturday is a real treat because of the amazing Saturday Market there. I don't know if it is open during Winter months but when it is ... you will have no problem Carbo-Loading for your next paddle destination.

Now I was going to PM this next question to you but I figure the answer could be useful to others ... When I stopped by Rum Island last year I saw the tent platforms (and good trees for hammocks). But the Port-a-Potties were some distance away (a good thing depending upon the wind direction), were full of spider webs and, politely, just a mess.

I know there's a long history/tradition of using the intertidal zone as a bathroom - just like hikers used to deposit in a cat hole. But these days sensitivities trend towards haul all "trash" out.

So what's the deal on Rum? It is so small - such a jewel - that I'd hate to see anything that doesn't escape the intertidal zone. But those "rest rooms" were frankly, scary.

Was it just the end of the season when I was there or because it isn't "main stream" were those facilities just neglected (apparently for years). I'm talking about the two units just beyond the beach near the info kiosk. Maybe there is something better/newer tucked away mid-island?
Rum Island is a great spot unless a crowd arrives. I have stayed there many times and explored the interior of the island hoping to discover a forgotten cache of rum. Instead, I found a bat research project with transmitters and story boards outlining the project. The small deer herd is entertaining and I have spent a fair amount of time observing the pair of river otters near the campsite. Thanks for posting your recent trip to Isle-de-Lis.