Dave and I planned to paddle from Port Hardy around the north end of Vancouver Island…..sort of. I say sort of because normally there are months of detailed planning that precedes these trips but both of us were so busy with family and work that planning was crammed into very short, individual and last-minute time slots. Dave, the fastidious planner, would normally have three routes carefully worked out with different timelines for each. We would pick one as conditions presented themselves and stick with it. I had learned a lot from him and incorporated his style into my solo trip plan in 2012. During that trip, however, I found that I was very comfortable going off-plan and switching from one to another as conditions and opportunities presented themselves.
Our basic plan was to paddle up Goletas Channel towards Cape Scott, the far end of Vancouver Island, and down the west coast to Quatsino Sound ending in Coal Harbour. Conditions and whim would determine our exact path to Cape Scott and our daily distance, overall. We weren’t pressed for time as we had three weeks. We could finish early or afford to get pinned for days somewhere with no way to get off the beach.
Ultimately, tides, winds and sea state would dictate progress and we could choose to cross Goletas Channel to the God’s Pocket complex, Nigei Island and Hope Island areas to just poke around and hide from high winds and weather or just hang out. We could also choose to benefit from the favorable morning ebbs that should push us up the channel and on our way. Current in Goletas Channel runs up to 3 knots with intersecting currents running to 5 knots providing an environment where rips and ragged water can be generated. Throw a west wind against the ebb and progress could become arduous and busy.
Between Vancouver and Hope Islands Goletas Channel escapes into the open Pacific where Nahwitti Bar rises up from the depths to confound and anger the current, winds and swell. Vessels of all size consider conditions on the bar and it can go off.
With the timing of the ebb we could be staged to round Cape Scott within a few days of leaving Port Hardy. Cape Scott is a serious open ocean objective and most uneventfully rounded during slack with no wind or swell. It sticks a long way out into the path that the tidal stream would like to take and whenever that happens the water expresses its displeasure in some fashion. Best to sneak around.
Swells traveling from Alaska, Asia and the south-eastern Pacific can bring their special gifts to bear on Cape Scott and the wild coast of Vancouver Island. The 30 NM of convoluted shoreline between Cape Scott and the entrance to Quatsino Sound are guarded by shoals that recommend distance while presenting a collection of capes, points and bays that can reflect, amplify and re-focus the force of the sea while offering scant pockets of protection from it all.
Once into Quatsino Sound the open ocean experience can fade to friendly mornings on flat calm water with high winds and waves in the afternoon. The final significant objective is Quatsino Narrows which runs at up to 5 knots. Timing is the key to experiencing an enjoyable transit of a pretty cool tidal feature. From Coal Harbour we figure out a ride back to Port Hardy to retrieve our vehicle.
Port Hardy to Nolan Point
July 29, Day 1
Visibility obscured by fog. Winds Calm becoming West @ 15-20 in the afternoon. Seas Smooth with Low Swell increasing to Moderate with 3-foot chop.
We launched at 6:44 AM, high slack from Carrot Park. There was a low overcast and fog but you could just make out the lights at the Bear Cove ferry dock. Dave would be paddling his new Sterling Grand Illusion while I would be ensconced in my trusty white Tempest. The GI doesn’t have a recess for a deck mounted compass so I had lent Dave my bungee mounted Suunto Orca with the caveat that it had seemed to be off a few degrees from other compasses during our 2007 trip and hadn’t been used since. We figured that it would generally point in the right direction.
Port Hardy departure
Minutes into the trip we began paddling in different directions as our compasses gave us conflicting information and I struggled to interpret the information my GPS was providing. It had been a year since I had last depended on it and the orientation was displaying the route up rather than north up. Also, I didn’t recall that the unit had to be level for the orientation of the direction icon to display accurately so you could say that I was confused. I don’t like GPS’s. Not a great start.
Dave got me squared away on the GPS orientation, which helped, but we still paddled off in different directions. We figured that with the fog we would cross directly from Duval Point to the Gordon Islands and then bump our way west towards Nolan Point on Balaclava Island but we disagreed on exactly which way it was to Duval Point. Easy, right? The degree of our disagreement exceeded the degrees of error we assumed were inherent in Dave’s compass but didn’t exceed the number of degrees that it would take to miss the Gordon Islands altogether so we left Duval with me wondering what the issues were but assuming that the extraordinary handling of Dave’s new Grand Illusion was going to take some getting used to (for both of us).
Dave agreed that something was amiss and asked me to grab a heading of 335 degrees and hold it (a task that I dislike but excel at). As much as I hate the disorientation of flying under the hood a 335 course would insure that we wouldn’t miss the Gordons and end up out into Queen Charlotte Strait. This was the first of several blind crossings we would make.
Trying to make sense of the compass
Bumping into the Gordons we hung a left and felt our way towards Gods Pocket. Since we were going to pass by Bell Island we decided to swing by the midden campsite for a look-see as Dave hadn’t been there before. There were a couple of groups camped there. One consisted of several folks from Vancouver who had been taxied out and were using it as a base for their explorations. Another couple was on their way to Port Hardy from Kitimat. They had been out for some time and were going to meet a friend and then paddle down the west coast of Vancouver Island. Nice trip. She was writing a book on Bears and Camp Cookery. While we were chatting three more paddlers arrived from Vancouver in a single and a double. Time for us to move on.
Our course towards Nolan Point continued to bob and weave as Dave wandered a bit following his errant compass but once we sighted the southern end of Balaclava we locked on and started looking for a place to camp. A string of campsites extend from Nolan Point up Browning Passage separated by rock formations entirely given over to the largest mussels I have ever seen. Each looked like an entire meal to me. The first site was already taken and the next couple looked like they would have access issues through rocks and sharp mussels at some tide levels. The forth was empty and welcoming. A gentle shell beach that was topped with a six-foot midden and offered access a very open forest floor.
The fog was lifting so we set up camp atop the midden and went paddling up Browning Passage. The current had switched to flood and the afternoon wind was kicking in so we paddled against both and made our way up along the Balaclava shoreline. The going was slow but invigorating and it felt great after slogging through fog.
Dave in Browning Passage
Attaining the northwestern most point of Balaclava we turned and rode the wind and waves back down the passage to camp. It was a very fast return trip and after tending to boats and gear we just hung out and enjoyed the warm weather.
Afternoon wind on Goletas Channel
Image by Dave Resler
Port Hardy to Nolan Point camp ~11.75 NM
Mileage including trip up Browning Passage ~16.6 NM
Nolan Point to Cape Sutil
July 30, Day 2
Visibility Obscured by fog. Winds Calm becoming West @ 10. Seas Smooth with Low Swell becoming Rippled with 2-foot Chop.
We set off in thick fog towards Boxer Point on Nigei Island. Dave wanted to believe his compass but his wandering convinced him not to. I locked onto a heading that would be a miss to the safe side of Boxer Point and with the ebb current ended up about ¼ mile to the right of the point. I can live with a miss like that. We felt our way along Nigei’s cliffs for the next 4.5 NM to Loquilla Cove where we stopped for a break.
Cliffs of Negei
Image by Dave Resler
Image by Dave Resler
Just as we left Loquilla Cove the fog started to lift a bit so we set off across Goletas Channel for Vancouver Island and made our way up to East Cove, just shy of Shushartie Bay. East Cove is an intimate spot with a rocky beach and a nice place for lunch. Shushartie Bay is a pretty place, too.
Passing Jepther Point’s sloping shoreline we entered the fog again just in time for Tatnall Reefs and Nahwitti Bar. We were hoping to be able to see what we were doing here but that wasn’t to be. Paddling a line that followed mostly within sight of the shore meant that we were usually in the kelp-zone and all the joys that brings. Grey sky. Grey water. Grey waves. Grey swell bent by the reef and current and reflected from rocks created an odd grey environment where waves came at us from all grey directions. Nothing was big or scary but it would have been much more fun if we could have seen what was going on. Instead we just reacted and paddled. Pretty strange.
Tatnall Reefs Weirdness
Image by Dave Resler
Eventually we cleared the reef and the fog transitioned to low overcast. We rested in the eddy of Weser Islet, a foul-smelling rock covered with bird guano and Sea Lion poop. The scent added so much to the enjoyment of my Probar. That and the knowledge that we were less than 1 NM from our campsite encouraged us to push back out into the light headwind and waves. It seemed like a long .9 NM.
Cape Sutil was once the site of the large fortified Kwakiutl village of Nahwitti. In 1850 they killed three Hudson Bay Company deserters from Fort Rupert and the British Navy came after them. They wanted the individuals responsible for the deaths. The citizens didn’t rat them out so the British shelled the village. The Kwakiutl rebuilt it and in 1851 the Brits came after them again and destroyed it for good.
Dave at Cape Sutil
Today the British are gone and the spirits of the Kwakiutl walk the beach and forest.
Nolan Point to Cape Sutil 18.4 NM
Cape Sutil to Experiment Bight
July 31, Day 3
Visibility obscured by fog. Winds calm becoming West @ 10 in the afternoon. Seas smooth with low swell becoming Rippled with 1-foot Chop.
Not much to say about the slog from Cape Sutil to Experiment Bight other than it was about 17.5 NM in fog and low overcast. I think it was at this point that I started referring to this route as the "Nearly Never Noticed North Island Circle Route”. August is called Fogust up here for a reason and really, the conditions for racking up miles had been great…..if you don’t mind paddling with your eyes closed. Today, or was it yesterday, we paddled with a whale for about 30 minutes. Not sure what kind it was. Humpback I suppose but we never saw it. Just heard it breathing nearby as it became our traveling companion.
Maybe the highpoint of this day’s route would be Dave realizing that his spare fuel cartridges were stuffed in the bow hatch directly below the compass so we weren't going completely mad. After moving the fuel cartridges there was still the issue of the few degree error but it was consistent and we could live with that.
Cape Scott Chart
After hours of slogging in a grey void our GPS's suggested that Nissen Bight was an option for lunch and that the west end might provide a sheltered landing. We took it and slid up on the shallow beach. As we ate lunch in the fog and overcast we basked in the glow of the multicolored buoys hanging in the trees that marked the North Coast Trail.
Seemed absolutely festive after gazing at grey………………I guess that fog has a way of adjusting my expectations………..
The goal for the day was Experiment Bight, a large sandy beach just shy of Cape Scott and our staging area for rounding the Cape. It was another 5 NM to the west or about 1.5 hours of paddling. We were looking forward to camping there as it would give us a chance to explore the unusual sand neck that steps across the island to Guise Bay. The area was once the site of a major battle between warring First Nations tribes, later a Danish settlement and finally a World War II coastal defense site. Today it is a deserted geological oddity with few signs remaining of previous occupation.
Low Overcast on Experiment Bight Beach
Image by Dave Resler
I guess I was thinking of that instead of concentrating on making a successful landing. I got lazy about the timing of the waves and pulled my spray skirt off before beaching so the wave that I should have landed ahead of broke over my stern with a full load of sand, turned me sideways and planted me firmly in a manner I preferred to not be planted in. Water is about 8 pounds per gallon and wet sand weighs more than that. I figure that I suddenly had over 30 extra pounds of weight and was flailing. Pretty embarrassing. It’s one thing to get thrashed by killer surf but something else to geek in small waves for no reason. Welcome to Experiment Bight. After removing water and sand from my cockpit we set up camp above the high tide line and took a walk across the sand neck.
Snail Shells Sorted by Erosion
Image Dave Resler
Cape Sutil to Experiment Bight 17NM
Experiment Bight to Helen Islets
August 1, Day 4
Visibility obscured by fog. Winds Calm becoming West @ 10. Seas Smooth with Low Swell becoming Rippled with 2 foot Chop in the afternoon.
Light overnight drizzle and heavy dew made for a wet morning. I hate packing up a wet, sandy tent. Dave cheered me up by finding a trickle of water escaping from the edge of the forest that made its way down to the water’s edge over sand that had been submerged by the tide just an hour earlier. He dug a hole in the sand and diverted the trickle into the hole where it collected. A little later we were able to gather up bags of that water and filter it. It was nice clear water without a hint of salt. Nicely done, Dave
Our plan for rounding Cape Scott was to start at the end of the flood and follow a depth contour of approximately 11 fathoms around the corner. We felt that this would give us the best current scenario for the day and keep us between rocks/boomers and standing waves. With the morning fog it looked like that meant that we would paddle under the hood for 20 minutes at 340 degrees, turn west to 250 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, south at 160 degrees for 20 minutes and then turn to 135 degrees until we encountered whatever Cape Russell had in store for us. Another day on the Nearly Never Noticed Coast.
Scott Channel Chart
We started out with good intentions of honoring the route but the water was pretty flat so we never let ourselves stray from sight of the shore (shore suck) which was pretty close at times. At the northernmost point of the cape we could make out significant standing waves at the edge of our vision but the distance or height we could not discern. It didn’t look like a good place to be and I figured that our original plan would have put us in the middle of it. A short tide rip close to shore was a wiser choice so we stayed in tight. Once past that we stayed right of visible rocks or obvious boomers until well beyond that 11 fathom contour. It was nice paddling with the bent and reflected waves produced by current and obstructions. Sure are a lot of big rocks and reefs on Cape Scott.
Dave Smiling Because Cape Scott is in the Rearview Mirror
We chose to stop at Lowrie Bay for a bite. The southwestern edge of the beach is protected from surf by rocks and an islet so we slid up for a burrito stop. Since we hadn’t seen the sky for a while we were delighted to see a small patch of blue above the ridge to the east. I took a photo of the blue spot to celebrate the moment. As we ate our lunch the fog began to blow up over the ridges and the conditions changed quickly and dramatically. The clouds seemed to be moving so quickly that I feared that the wind would make rounding Cape Russell a fool’s miserable mission.
Lowrie Bay Clouds
It turned out that the wind just added a bit of texture to the water and the fog lifted to become a low overcast. Texture is good, don’t you agree? Makes me feel like I am going faster. Cape Russell gave us a pass so we rounded the south end and picked our way to Helen Islets.
Approaching the campsite, we saw three tents but no boats on the beach. Additionally, there were two sailboats anchored in Sea Otter Cove. The beach is made of rocks that are between golf ball and baseball size. Not much flat area but not a bad spot to camp. I created a reasonably level spot using sound engineering principals and available materials (driftwood). My Exped Synmat 7 took care of the rest.
Helen Islets Campsite
Soon the folks belonging to the tents returned and we were delighted to meet Oregon paddlers Bill, Lea, John and Alan. All are very accomplished boaters and super nice people to be around. They had been out fishing and had caught a Ling Cod that they took to one of the sail boats anchored in the cove. That sailboat was piloted by a South African couple who are now living in Vancouver. They offered to prepare the fish if the Oregonians prepared the fire. We were invited! SCORE!
Alan, John, Bill & Lea
Image by Alan Douglass
Image by Alan Douglass
Magnus and Ronell arrived with the Ling Cod (seasoned three different ways) and side dishes to compete the meal. They also brought beer and wine. John tended the fire and he is clearly a carrier of the Pyro-Gene. We all enjoyed the company, food and beverage in the light drizzle.
Sea Otter Cove Social
Image by Alan Douglass
Experiment Bight to Helen Islets 10.5 NM
Helen Islets to Grant Bay
August 2, Day 5
Overcast becoming Clear in the afternoon. Winds Calm becoming Northwest @ 10-15 kts. Seas Smooth with Low Swell becoming Moderate with 3 foot Chop.
We compared routes with our friends from Oregon. They were headed towards Quatsino Sound with a detour into San Josef Bay while Dave and I were off to Grant Bay.
We left Helen Islets with a heavy low overcast but visibility was fair. Passing Cape Palmerston the low overcast became even lower but we spotted our friends in close to shore.They had had a change of heart about San Josef and suggested a stop at Raft Cove.Great idea.
Dave, Alan, Bill, John & Lea
Picking our way through the rocks and reefs we entered the cove and began looking for way to shore. Out from the sandy beach swells, feeling the bottom, rose to respectable size before crashing ashore. It didn’t look like a landing that anyone was wild about making so we went back to picking through the rocks and found a protected path to the beach. Lunch and conversation was good.
Dave and I were soon off for Grant Bay and headed down 9 NM of rocky coastline that offers very few reasonable options for going ashore. The overcast lifted and the wind and waves built. From Commerell Point to Lippy Point everything was generally at our backs and life was very good. Wonderful paddling.
Rounding Lippy Point we entered Grant Bay and things took an odd turn. It’s about ½ NM to the beach once you round the point and things on the broad beach looked different than we had anticipated. From our viewpoint there appeared to be a building of some sort in the middle of the beach and the smoke from several scattered campfires rising into the air. Through-travelers seldom build fires in the early afternoon yet I assumed that the building was part of BC Park’s trail infrastructure and that the smoke must be the campfires of several groups of hikers, right?
A sailboat was anchored about 300 yards off the beach and music was blaring from the sound system. We paddled up to get the lay of the land. Two men in their 20’s grinned like Cheshire Cats from the back deck. They were very friendly and very intoxicated. Shouting over the blaring music they welcomed us to Grant Bay and owned their state of intoxication. One of them gleefully shouted that he had “killed many brain cells today”. We smiled, wished them well and paddled towards shore suddenly realizing that the “building” we had seen was a large tarped structure constructed of driftwood complete with a swing set on one end. Still we thought that we had seen the worst that Grant Bay had to offer.
Approaching Grant Bay Beach
Image by Dave Resler
We were wrong as we were about to meet the Beast of Grant Bay.
Helen Islets to Grant Bay 18 NM
The Beast of Grant Bay
The moderate sea state on the outside of the bay bent around Lippy Point and approached the beach as sets of low swells. Nothing to even think about. Conditions in the bay ranged from totally flat to long, barely noticeable swells moving towards the beach. The blaring music of the Booze Brothers was still dominant but we had moved outside of the range of eminent hearing loss. In fact, as we got closer to the beach I could hear surf over music and that surprised me. I didn’t think there should be any surf but it was making a loud ripping sound. How odd. No visual hints looking at the backs of waves just a loud ripping sound accompanied by a spray and foam appearing above the waterline. I approached cautiously to a point where I was very close to the beach. Looking up the beach I could see that the waves were dumping in about 2 inches of water and surmised that timing was crucial and that this landing might hurt.
It was then that I saw the Beast. She was dressed in bathing suit bottom and a tight waist-length top. She was shaped like a barrel (yes a barrel) with breasts. The barrel look was completed with an auburn Howie Long flattop. Think about it. She was carrying a drink in one hand and walking with purpose in my direction. Her abandoned beach chair was laying on its side next to a man who stared off into space. She was accompanied by a barking Pit Bull. She clearly had something to say and looked as questionable to me as this landing I was about to make. I had enough on my plate. Why was she here?
I paddled backwards against the waves that pushed me towards shore hoping that she had something useful to tell me but feeling that something was very wrong besides the dumping surf. Standing on the beach in front of me she started shouting out directions.
“Does she know something useful? She doesn’t look like a paddler. Maybe she does know something.”
She was shouting orders about when and where to land and gesturing wildly. She started telling me when to paddle forward and when to turn.
That’s when I realized that she was clueless. Any turning would result in an immediate window shade onto the sand. There was going to be no turning here if I could help it. I shouted to her to get out of the way. I told her that I was coming in, probably out of control and it might not be pretty. She stood her ground and continued to shout orders at me while her Pit Bull barked and snarled. Expecting the worst, I waited just a moment before paddling backwards into a sharp wave and then chased it for all I was worth. Surprisingly I held the boat in a straight line and planted myself firmly on the sand between the Beast and her dog who was immediately mere inches away from my right cheek growling and barking wildly. Saliva was flying onto my face with his every hot exhalation and what didn’t end up on me formed a frightening foam that dripped from the corners of his mouth. I avoided eye contact with him and tried to act nonchalant, like dog attacks happened to me every day. I was scared to death. The dog shifted his attention from my face to my right hand as I peeled off my spray skirt. His hot breath and saliva sprayed my fingers which were, thankfully, still intact. My hopes of exiting the boat in possession of four fingers and a thumb at the end of my right arm were in question. The Beast stared at me with disapproval that felt like a death sentence.
I was expecting her proclamation of Death by Dog.
Her attention shifted from me to Dave who was maintaining his position just beyond the break. She strode towards Dave with Cujo in tow and began shouting orders. He had seen me land successfully so may have thought that I followed her directions or maybe he just got a little sideways at the wrong time. Whatever, he was quickly broached as the wave dumped and was shocked to look down to see nothing but sand where he was going to impact. He braced aggressively into the wave hoping to bongo slide and rode the wave down onto the sand coming to a safe but abrupt stop. The Barrel continued to gesture and shout while Cujo barked and spit in Dave’s general direction.
The Barrel and Cujo walked away while Dave and I, in a state of shock, quietly congratulated each other on surviving and started pulling gear from our boats. Soon she returned with Cujo still barking and drooling and gave us each a small piece of sausage which we were directed to feed him. Once we did that he shut up and she told us that his name was “Hunter” and that we had no idea how important it was that we had become his friends. I wasn’t sure how to take that but I assumed that she meant us well after all and asked her if she had any suggestions on where we should camp.
We were at the west end of the beach where the campsite is marked in the BC Coastal Explorer. It mentions that the site is awkward but I didn’t yet know what that meant. She turned and pointed to where the stream exited the forest and ordered us to camp there but to not drink the water. She made a point of telling us that a wolf had come from there in the morning and that bear had come out just hours before our arrival and that she had the best campsite on the beach. I was happy to choose wildlife over the Beast and Hunter and started dragging my gear towards the forest.
I found that the stream was impounded and blocked access off the beach all the way to where the Beast was camped. That’s what awkward meant. Dave and I discussed our options and realized that we would have to carry our boats and gear 150 yards over hot dry sand to a reasonable place to camp. That turned into four miserable, sweaty trips that took us past the two chairs and their occupants. I swear, I could feel her staring daggers at us for disobeying her orders. On one of the trips I overheard her beau call her “Grace”. Odd, right? Grace. At least Hunter was no longer barking and spitting at us.
It took a while to do so but we set up camp within an uncomfortable proximity of Grace, Hunter and her beau who looked, for all the world, like a completely normal human being. He smiled a couple of times and then returned to staring off into space.
The Booze Brothers came ashore in their Zodiac. One brother stood at the bow with a single oar and awkwardly paddled the boat to the beach. Once ashore they conversed with Grace and then walked our way. The Zodiac was hidden from our view by the sharp slope of the beach. As they walked towards us Grace began to behave even more oddly, making gestures that were hard to interpret. Her beau continued to stare out to sea and smile.
Dave had a conversation with the Booze Brothers, who had somehow made it to dry land with drinks in hand and told him about a rave that had been recently held at Grant Bay where generators, sound system and laser light show had been carried in. The whole beach had gotten high? Due to their inebriated state Dave wasn’t sure that anything they said was true.
Suddenly we became aware of Grace shouting at them to go get their boat. It was loose and drifting away from shore. The “Oarsman” ran to where the boat had been secured, stripped off his clothes, dove naked into the cold water and swam out the Zodiac. He got into the boat about 50 yards from shore, grabbed an oar and paddled awkwardly back to the beach while Grace gestured and gyrated in some other language. Once ashore he donned his pants, spoke with Grace and rejoined us. Grace continued to dance and gesture with movements that could be occasionally interpreted as sentiments of ill-will. Her beau sat in the chair still looking normal and smiling serenely towards the open sea. The Booze Brothers took their leave and continued towards the east end of the beach.
Grace was a train wreck that I couldn’t stop watching. Something was clearly not right with her and I feared that whatever it was might end up being directed at us. While her beau sat quietly she shouted and gestured towards the Booze Brothers who were well out of earshot. Her agitation grew and she started ordering her beau to bring her the shovel. He came out of his trance and walked obediently to the campsite (that I was thinking was too close to ours) and brought the shovel to her. Before handing it over he must have asked her what she was going to do with it because after much gesturing on her part he put it behind his back and wouldn’t give it up. She demanded that he hand it over and swore at him but he held firm.
She ran to the Zodiac and danced perversely in front of it. Then she ran to her beau demanding that he give her the knife. “Give me the fxckxng knife” she shouted repeatedly. Finally, I understood that she meant to cut up their Zodiac. Was this over the loud music? The Booze Brother’s response to her? I had no idea. The beau held fast and turned no weapons of mass destruction over to Grace.
In frustration she ran to the Zodiac and tried to send it out to sea. I realized then that she had untied it pushed it out the first time. This time the dumping surf foiled her and as she struggled to push it beyond its grip her beau tried to calm her. I ran over to him and asked him if he needed help. He glanced sideways at me, shook his head, returned his focus to her all the while keeping the shovel out of her reach. She grabbed an oar and threw it as far as she could. Then she grabbed the other (like why hadn’t the Oarsman rowed the Zodiac if he had two oars?) and threw it beyond the surf. The boat refused to leave the beach so she lifted the bow and flipped it over the dumping waves. Completely surreal.
The people with the large driftwood and tarp structure had been out playing volleyball and a woman came running up pleading with Grace to stop. She claimed that the boat was hers and didn’t belong to the Booze Brothers, and that she had purchased it with her own money.
“Why are you doing this to me?” she asked.
Grace argued with her and the woman worked hard to calm her down. The beau stood out of harm’s way with the shovel behind his back. One member of the Driftwood Family ran down the beach to inform the Booze Brothers and soon they were on their way back.
The arrival of the Booze Brothers escalated Grace’s foul mood and many words were exchanged. The Oarsman turned the inverted Zodiac over and paddled out using his hands to gather the oars. Upon return many more words were exchanged and now Grace was squaring off with the Oarsman. Seriously? Are you kidding? These two are going to blows? Fisticuffs on the beach? Man against Grace? WTF? Where are we, Dave? What planet is this?
Several people had gathered and the Oarsman dropped his guard and turned to walk away, shouting insults over his shoulder. Grace never stopped shouting and gesturing. A young member of the Driftwood Family (12 or 13 I would guess) ran up and must have said something as Grace slapped her in the face. The girl walked back to her driftwood house. The Driftwood woman remained rational and continued to speak with Grace.
Eventually all members of the Driftwood Family drifted back to their abode while Grace started shouting insults to the retreating Booze Brothers about the presumed circumstances of their births. They responded with shouts about Grace’s canine ancestry. Dave and I stood aghast. We felt like strangers in a strange land. What were the rules here? Where were we? Do we radio for help? Is this a typical day at Grant Bay?
Grace retreated with her beau to their campsite but she was soon down at the Driftwood Family campsite talking with them and pointing at Dave and I. We couldn’t hear what she was saying but assumed that she was relating some Grant Bay transgression we had committed. Before she could get too worked up, though, the Booze Brothers started motoring their sailboat in circles just off the beach, their curses barely heard over the blasting tunes. Grace rose to the challenge, ran to confront them and returned their profanities. She gyrated her body as though possessed by a demon who couldn’t dance. Very awkward, strange and disturbing.
Eventually the Booze Brothers left the bay while Grace performed her disjointed victory dance which she completed by pulling her tight top up over her barrel tummy and flashing her breasts.
Dave and I fixed dinner and our new “friend” Hunter came over expecting handouts. When I shooed him away he started barking and snarling loudly. I hoped that Grace didn’t hear. Neither one of us slept well as we half expected her to attack our boats with a shovel during the night.
On a trip like this there are many objective dangers that you plan to accommodate. Five days into our wilderness trip on the Nearly Never Noticed North Coast Circle Route we were wondering how we ended up on a beach experiencing the objective dangers normally found in the inner-city. We determined that if lived through the night we would sneak away at first light.
Grant Bay to Kwakiutl Point
August 3, Day 6
Overcast becoming Clear in the afternoon. Winds Calm becoming Northwest @ 15-20 kt. Seas Smooth with Low Swell becoming Moderate with 3-foot Chop.
Neither of us got much sleep so we were up and on the move pretty early. Tear down and breakfast was done in stealth mode. Didn’t want to wake up Grace or Hunter.
Leaving Grant Bay
Before we got all of our gear to the water’s edge she stumbled out of her tent and started stoking her campfire. She never looked our way but fired a last parting shot when she bent over the fire and her bathing suit bottom slid down in back. Now I knew that Grace was a plumber by trade.
Image by Dave Resler
The temperature was wonderfully cool and an hour of paddling brought us to Cape Parkins marking the northern entrance to Quatsino Sound From there it was a 5 NM crossing in smooth seas to the protected cove south of Blue Cod Islet where we stopped for something to eat. There is a cabin there that was occupied and a boat anchored out front with a couple of kids playing on the beach. I felt like we were imposing on their paradise so we ate our salami and cheese burritos and set off for Restless Bight.
Crossing Quatsino Entrance
Exiting the cove we were greeted by rising winds and seas. It’s about 2.5 NM from the cove to Kwakiutl Point. A string of reefs and rocks stretch that distance across Restless Bight and really lit up the water. Beam seas in Force 5 conditions meant that I had to pay attention and it was a very enjoyable paddle. These were our first really wet conditions and Dave had a big grin on his face as he realized how much better his Grand Illusion handled this stuff than his Explorer. Our charts and GPS showed a passage through the rocks at about the 2 NM mark so we stayed mostly outside of them until that point.
Quatsino Entrance from Kwakiutl Point
I was looking at a large grassy area near the point that I thought looked interesting but I could see large waves breaking on rocks in front of it. No place to land. Continuing on towards the south end of the bight we spotted a protected opening in the rocks and paddled in. It led us to a lovely sand and gravel beach on the back side of the grassy island. Too nice to pass up so we landed and set up camp.
The wind and waves were driving directly into the gap between our island and Kwakiutl Point creating organized 6-foot seas with very little reflected interference. Dave was dying to get back out and smile some more about the rough water handling of his new GI so we jumped into our boats and headed back out. It took some doing to push out against the wind and waves and when Dave was ahead of me I would look up from the trough to see him diving over the crest and hear his helmet, strapped to the back deck, banging around. Reminded me that I should have had mine on. Turning around was a treat and the ride back into the gap went way too fast.
Image by Dave Resler
After six days I was ready for an appointment with Dr. Bronner. My dislike for being immersed in cold water was outweighed by my hatred of smelling the way I did after living in a drysuit for nearly a week. Daily “baths” with no-rinse cleaning wipes just never cut it for me. Cold as that water was it felt good to be clean.
Grant Bay to Kwakiutl Point 10.6 NM
Kwakiutl Point to Heater Point
August 4, Day 7
Clear. Winds Calm becoming Northwest@ 5-10 kt. Seas Smooth with Low Swell.
We woke up to a beautiful clear morning and took our time eating and breaking camp. We left the beach at 9:45 AM and rounded Kwakiutl Point. Swell was kind and would have allowed us to easily pass inside of the rocks and islets between Kwakiutl and Lawn Points but we stayed outside. It’s a shame because that stretch of shoreline looks pretty interesting and I suspect that conditions don’t normally favor intimacy.
Morning at Kwakiutl Point
An hour after leaving Kwakiutl Point we were carefully picking our way between the rocks and the south side of Lawn Point. Dave was leading the way through the rocks taking what the swell allowed. It was a gift to be there with a good friend on a gorgeous morning and get such a close look at this beautiful and iconic landmark on the wild coast.
Dave off Lawn Point
We followed the shoreline into Newton Entrance and on to Side Bay. We landed where the mouth of the stream would have been if it hadn’t been impounded by the beach. The beach was steep with fist sized rocks. Steep enough that our boats would slide back into the water if we didn’t drag them to the top of the slope. There were a few campers there and some vehicles parked that had boat racks on them. We walked upstream to the bridge, pumped 20 liters of water and ate lunch in the shade. We took a very leisurely break.
Getting our boats into the water was easy as they were happy to slide down the rounded beach rocks. Then it was a 3-point-something NM crossing to Heater Point in friendly conditions.
We landed at Heater Point around 3:00 PM and found it lovely and welcoming with the exception of a strange and enormous hanging platform that someone had felt compelled to construct. It was awkward for any purpose and hung from ropes where you might want to set up a tent. I’m guessing that it was constructed to serve as a cooking surface when something 1/8 the size would have done the trick. It promptly collapsed when I touched it. Might have been that the most danger I faced on this entire trip was that yard art that someone left behind.
Image by Dave Resler
Once camp was set up and our gear squared away Dave suggested that we try to find the trail that crossed the point to a beach and a cave on the south side. We found the trail easily as it was marked by a buoy but it was rough. While effort had been made to mark it well we lost it at times and in places found the going over and under fallen trees tough. Bear scat was evident. The Huckleberries growing out of reach of the bears were outrageous and we gorged on them.
The beach on the south side was wild, topped with tall grass and made of millions of the most perfect, polished, skipping rocks you have ever seen. I wanted to fill my pockets but realized that carrying a bunch of rocks wasn’t the best choice. I now knew where to get them if I ever needed any.
South Beach at Heater Point
While exploring the rocky beach the ground vibrated oddly, my foot sunk a bit and there was a strange “hollow” sound. I stopped and stepped on the spot several more times trying to recreate the sound and feel. It was like I had stepped onto a bubble that was covered with these perfect skipping rocks. I guessed that they must move in a different way. I asked Dave if he had heard the noise or if the rocks felt OK to him. He probably thought I had lost it. I kind of thought that I might have. In less than 24 hours we would learn that I had felt an aftershock following the 5.5 magnitude quake that was centered southeast of us and that we had slept through that morning.
Returning to our campsite we sat in the sun and studied charts, GPS and the BC Coast Explorer. Lovely after noon and absolutely stunning sunset.
Kwakiutl Point to Heater Point 9.4 NM
Heater Point to Crabapple Islets
August 5, Day 8
Visibility obscured by Fog becoming Clear. Winds Calm becoming Northwest @ 5-10 kt. Seas Smooth with Low Swell.
A foggy departure for Crabapple Islets made our shore-close route a bit interesting and slow as we had to pay attention while threading our way through the rocks and reefs. Rounding the point, we hung a sharp left and stayed just outside of anything we deemed dangerous. Paddling in fog can be really boring, though, so we found ourselves getting closer and closer to the sounds of waves crashing on rocks. We had no reason to make good time so it was a great day and great location for picking and poking about.
Dave was finding his Grand Illusion ridiculously comfortable so he was happy to sit, hands off, in sketchy conditions and utilize his new camera. In situations where he would have been unwilling to put his paddle down for more than a few seconds in his Explorer he was taking as long as he wanted to frame shots and recording 5-10 images where he would have only been willing to take a couple before. He got some very good shots.
Image by Dave Resler
As the fog lifted the light got magic and the North Brooks revealed itself. What a wonderful morning to be at such a spectacular place. Swell was jacking up near the rocks, crashing and reflecting back out creating thick foam and agitated sea state.
Image by Dave Resler
Approaching Crabapple Islets, we could see a large blue tarp and as we neared the beach we saw that it was the roof of a large structure at the south end of the beach. At the north end of the beach we saw three sea kayaks being tended to. We landed between them in the middle of the beach.
Since the swell had been friendly I got careless landing, removed my spray skirt too soon and allowed a wave to break over the back of my boat with a full load of sand. Being suddenly “heavy” I stuck with more waves following and took on many more pounds of sandy slurry before I could get out and up in an ungraceful manner. If there were judges rating me they would have given me a 3.5 (out of a possible 10) for my half-assed attempt. Dave, having watched my landing slid up in a flawless manner and never said a word. Good friends accept imperfection from one another.
We set up camp in the shade at the back of the beach. There was no upland camping to be had. It was wonderfully cool and pleasant in the shade of the forest. A couple of guys from the blue tarp camp came walking by and Dave talked to them. They said that they had been coming together to Crabapple Islets for 25 years. They mentioned that there was a water source at the far end of Ambrosia Beach that they had repaired. Huh? Repaired?…...I dubbed them the Forever and Ever Boyz.
The four folks at the north end of the beach were from Victoria. They were retired couples who had been kayaking together for years, veterans of many extended trips.
Tony, Earl, Victoria & Jacquie
We were chatting with them when Tony warned us to watch our step. There was a juvenile Cowbird that had adopted them and was running around underfoot snagging insects.
Ricardo the Cowbird
This bird was not afraid of us and wandered around in our midst picking tiny bugs off the sand. Occasionally he would see a flying insect and leap into the air to grab it. Tony slapped a large fly that had landed on his neck and flicked it towards the bird who caught it in mid-air and started chomping on it. To show his appreciation he flew up and sat on Tony’s head. I had never experienced a bird like this before but it turns out that it is common behavior among the juveniles.
When Dave and I returned to camp to fix dinner the Cowbird, that I had named Ricardo, followed us and made us his new best friends.
While we ate dinner we watched him chase these tiny bugs around and wondered why he didn’t go down to the water’s edge to score some of the fat sand fleas that inhabit that zone. One sand flea would easily equal the mass of 10 – 15 of these tiny bugs he was chasing. Since he was following us around we took him down towards the water but he wasn’t interested. Dave thought that maybe they were too salty. Never ate one so I can’t comment. After dinner Ricardo took flight and went to wherever he felt he needed to be.
I was feeling pretty beat and asked how Dave felt about taking a day off. He was fine with it so I turned off my alarm.
Heater Point to Crabapple Islets 7.8 NM
August 6, Day 9
Slept late. Not in a hurry to get out of bed Snoozing…………..At some point in time I stuck my head out of the tent to look around and was surprised to see Dave on the beach hurrying back towards camp. He never wakes up first so something was up. He said that there was some excitement down the beach. One of the Forever and Ever Boyz had caught a large Halibut and was just bringing it in through the surf. He wanted to take a photo of it. I grabbed my camera headed up the beach.
The Forever and Ever Boyz
Butch, Dave, Mike, Dave & Dan
Dan had hooked a 42 pound Halibut while fishing from his kayak. He couldn’t bring it into the boat so he carefully paddled to the beach and then shouted for someone to bring the gaff. The surf was low but not a gimmee for a guy who was too busy to paddle so one of the boyz ran out into the water with a gaff while another took control of the kayak. Dan started wading in dragging the large flopping fish while his pole and boat were tended to by friends.
Dan with 42 Pounds of Halibut
Image Dave Resler
The fish produced way too much meat for them to eat so thick Halibut steaks were distributed to everyone on the beach. Dave and I don’t travel to accommodate such fine dining so the folks from Victoria said that they would prepare our fish and invited us to have dinner with them. They also told us that they were going to go to a stream down the beach to take a bath. They gave us detailed directions. It was only a mile away and featured a walk through a “Hobbit-Forest”.
Trail to the Creek
After they left Dave and I looked at each other and wondered if that was a clue. When someone invites you to dinner and gives you detailed instructions on where to take a bath, what are they saying? I sniffed the armpit of my 9 day old long underwear top and remarked that if it wasn’t a clue it was still a good idea so we waited a couple of hours, asked Ricardo to watch our stuff and headed that way with Dr. Bronner and our dirty laundry.
The Banzai Bog
The Hobbit Forest turned out to be a bog with stunted trees, odd moss and colorful lichen. Very interesting and unexpected. Well worth a visit. The beach near the mouth of the stream displayed the comings and goings of cougars and wolves.
Spiffing up for Dinner at Menziesia Creek
The Victoria folks were leaving as we arrived and I suspect they were pleased to see us there. Menziesia Creek really relieved the authentic scent of our travel and made us much more presentable for a dinner that was fabulous beyond any expectations. Tony’s cooking was fantastic and the company was so enjoyable. Ricardo joined us for dinner and cleaned the beach of bugs. Such nice and interesting companions.
Out and Back to Cape Cook
August 7, Day 10
Visibility obscured by Fog becoming Clear. Winds Calm becoming Northwest @ 5-10 kt. Seas Smooth with Low Swell.
We wanted to paddle out to Cape Cook at the end of the North Brooks and beat whatever conditions might develop so we were on the water early in fog.
Morning on Brooks Bay
Sea state was very calm and during the hour and a half it took us to get there the fog dissipated.
Morning on Brooks Bay
We hung out with a couple of Humpbacks for a while and then headed back picking our way along close to shore.
Humpback off Cape Cook
A pocket beach had been recommended by one of the Forever and Ever Boyz so we wove our way in through the rocks to refuel. It was a nice spot that a large wolf had been enjoying until we landed and he/she quit the beach for the forest in protest of our incursion.
North Brooks Pocket Beach
Dave wanted to pick up water at Menziesia Creek so we paddled up to the mouth for a look-see. Swell was low but still making things a little interesting as a bar running parallel to the beach was tripping the waves and some wrapped around the end and ran along the beach creating a zipper effect.
The Brooks Range
Image Dave Resler
Dave went first riding expertly over the bar and got smacked broadside by a zipper wave running along the beach. He braced into it and then got smack by another wave over the bar. He pin-balled around and into the narrow mouth of the creek, paddled around the corner and out of sight.
I figured that I would do the same but got stuck on the bar and took wave after wave over the stern that just wouldn’t quite unstick me. Eventually I timed an exit that got me out of the cockpit but filled my boat with sand and water. I waded into the chest deep water of the stream mouth dragging my boat and once out of the mayhem dumped much of the water out and continued upstream. We beached near the spot we had bathed and done laundry the day before.
Water Stop at Menziesia Creek
After filtering water we returned to the mouth of the stream and were greeted by a much stronger inflow current. Exit was interesting but made without mishap and we continued back towards camp.
On the way back we met a couple of paddlers who had left Side Bay for Fair Harbour. They had planned to camp at Crabapple Islets but had been dismayed by all of the campers and were pushing on. They had camped there before and never encountered anyone. We told them that everyone was quiet and respectful and if they changed their minds they were guaranteed all the Halibut they could eat. They followed us back and camped next to the Forever and Ever Boyz. I’m pretty sure I know what they had for dinner.
Ricardo, relieved of his watch, volunteered to guard the wet gear that we had shed on our return and hung to dry among the driftwood. Marauding insects were outmatched by his sharp eyes and lightning responses as he tirelessly killed and killed again. He struck with a vengeance and accuracy that was inspiring and insured the security of my drysuit from any targeted insect attack. His courage and resolve was such that I admiringly traded the stains created by the contents of his bowels for whatever evil damage those insurgent insects would have caused. A clear case of acceptable collateral damage.
The Forever & Ever Boyz brought us more Halibut to eat. They admitted to being totally OD’ed on fine fish. Breakfast, lunch and dinner had consisted of Halibut for them and they were ready for something else (like Salmon). The fine folks from Victoria offered to prepare the fish for us. How fortunate we are. Scenery, friendship and fine dining.
Out and Return to Cape Cook 11.8 NM
Crabapple Islets to Gooding Cove
August 8, Day 11
Visibility obscured by Fog becoming Clear. Winds Calm becoming Northwest @ 5-10 kt. Seas Smooth with Low Swell becoming 1.5 meter rippled with 1 foot Chop.
We were up and loaded early on this foggy morning. Ricardo, not known as an early riser, supervised our activities and followed us on each trip as we carried loads of gear down towards the waterline. I was delighted to see that that he had developed a taste for sand fleas and was busily bingeing while we loaded our boats. The Forever & Ever Boyz showed up to see us off and offered knowledge gathered from their 25 years of crossing Brooks Bay. We thanked them for everything and left Crabapple Islets on a heading of 335 degrees for a blind 6.5 NM crossing.
2 Hours at 335 Degrees on IFR
After a couple of hours of paddling under the hood and cheating a bit to the right of 335 degrees the shoreline shy of Heater Point was heard and then came into view. Not much stood out in the grey as we felt our way northwest towards the point and a refueling stop.
Energy restored we left Heater Point for a 5 NM mile leg to Lawn Point and beyond. Visibly improved as we left Heater and we had an uneventful crossing. The outer rocks guarding Lawn Point urged caution, though, and we picked our way into the beach for another quick break.
Lawn Point Beach
Leaving Lawn Point boomers forced us back the way we came before we felt safe in hanging a 180 right and rounding the point towards Kwakiutl Point. Conditions kept us on our toes and away from shore and, while I wanted to go in closer, careful study made it clear that going inside might redline our tolerance for adventure. To be frank, it would have been a bad idea and Dave was kind enough to let me come to that conclusion on my own rather than slap me for suggesting it.
We picked our way in to our Kwakiutl campsite for lunch. Calories were needed but we were enjoying the water and the rocks so we didn’t waste any time. Tortilla, salami and cheese. 600 calories. BAM! Tanks were filled we were outta there.
Swell had increased a bit but only manifested itself on the rocks, reefs and shoals that stretch from Kwakiutl Point to Gooding Cove with an impressive show on an otherwise passive sea. It was good clean fun picking our way up to Blue Cod Islet, especially through the northerly end of Rowley Reefs where the rocks and associated boomers were much more numerous and pronounced.
Tucking in to the campsite behind Blue Cod Islet we left that all behind and found gentle waves wrapping around and running up on the gravel beach. The site didn’t appeal to us, though, so we were back out in the rocks and reefs for a short hop to Gooding Cove.
Butch, of Forever & Ever Boyz fame, had described landing at the left end of the beach and advised against it. His description of his experience was comical once we got a look at the beach we could see why. Waves were crashing on the steep gravel making a graceful exit very unlikely. Looked like an awkward beat down looking for a sucker. Sweeping to the right the gravel gave way to sand and the slope of the beach lessened. We landed at far-right hand corned and found a wonderful flat and clean place to set up camp. Had we been interested in building a fire the previous campers had left plenty of split Alder.
There was lots of fresh bear and wolf sign. Wolves don’t bother me but I do admit to a fear of waking up with a bear outside my tent. Dave and I practice clean camp etiquette and certainly will choose to camp where we think that bears aren’t. In the case of Gooding Cove it’s their beach so we hoped for the best.
We noticed a tent set up at the opposite end of the beach and soon saw a couple of guys walking our way. They turned out to be from Bainbridge Island. They were on their first trip to Vancouver Island having read about fishing out of Winter Harbor and had decided to take the path less traveled. They saw that there was road access to Gooding Cove so they loaded their fishing kayaks on the Subaru and found their way. It was their tent at the other end and they had come to offer us a Salmon they had caught. It was surprising to run into someone who lives within twenty miles of you in a place like this. We passed on the Salmon. They confirmed that the bears owned the entire beach. They also confirmed that launching and landing had been an adventure. They planned to stay and fish for two weeks.
Crabapple Islets to Gooding Cove 19.5 NM
Gooding Cove to Drake Island
August 9, Day 12
Clear. Winds Calm becoming Northeast @ 10-15 kt. Seas Smooth with Low Swell becoming Rippled with 1 foot Chop.
No bears visited us during the night (thank you) and the wolves were characteristically polite. As we ate breakfast we could see the Bainbridge crew fishing off the north entrance of Gooding Cove. They headed south across the entrance and out of sight. We tore down camp, packed our boats and launched for our next to last day on the water. Rounding the point at the north entrance we looked back south but the Bainbridge Crew was nowhere to be seen.
This would be the third fog-free day we experienced on this trip. VFR in the morning is a gift. The 3.5 NM to Cliffe Point, however, was punctuated by the sounds of distant chain saws and dynamite. Quatsino Sound was announcing its identity as a busy commercial place. Many sport fishermen were trolling just off the steep shore and we exceeded their pace of 3 knots between Harvey Cove and Cliffe Point.
Rounding Cliffe Point we left most of the powerboat traffic behind and angled across the sound towards a gravel beach between Nordstrom Cove and Bedwell Islets. It had been a couple of hours since we ate our oatmeal so this beach was a fine place for an early lunch. Closer to neap tides it would make a decent campsite and would get full afternoon sun.
Our plan was to paddle another 3 hours to our last camp at Ildstad Islets. The air was warm and still while the water was smooth and sticky. Not the conditions I favor but a Humpback was traveling our way and provided ample distraction from the discomfort. Typical of the species it spent several breaths at the surface and made us smile before diving for five minutes at a time and subjecting us to the heat, sticky water and noise of logging trucks grinding up and down the adjacent peaks. Dave and I would both check our watches and I would remind myself that, while Quatsino Sound didn’t compete as a wilderness experience when compared to the north, central and sections of the west coast of Canada on almost any day of paddling in Puget Sound experiences matching it would pass for excellent kayaking. About the time our efforts would begin to feel like work five minutes would expire and our large black friend would surface again to make us smile. Alas, we outpaced him and his breaths could be heard behind us as we continued on.
Ildstad Islets turned out to be not to our liking. While our decision to not camp there was ultimately based on me reading the tide charts incorrectly and predicting trouble during the night it would be an OK campsite at best. Pamphlet Cove on Drake Island was only 30 minutes away and we figured we could always return if it didn’t pan out so we set off for Drake.
Looking up the sound you could see the water darkening with the approach of a northeast wind. It was on us very quickly and felt really good. It cooled us down and “unstuck” our boats by ruffling the water that opposed it. Wind in the face can be wonderful or wicked. This breeze had a good spirit.
Entering Pamphlet Cove was odd. There were three boats anchored that hadn’t seen use for a while. I suspect that they belonged to folks whose homes, across the sound, lacked protected anchorage. If you looked closely the shoreline of the cove showed signs of abandoned development. It was hard to tell what you were looking at, though. A three story hotel once stood on the waterfront but was now just a section of forest taken over by mature Alders. The hand built rockery defining a waterside walkway could be seen or missed altogether. A wooden frame, trellis, arch, not sure what to call it marked the spot of……….what? No idea. It just stood there above the high tide line. This had been a resort in the early 1900’s and now you could miss it altogether. The jungle takes back its own.
We paddled past a mostly submerged floating dock structure-thing of some sort and slid up onto a grassy “beach” dominated by a rocky and treed prominence that would withstand any tide. We weren’t sure if it had any flat spots that would be both dry and accept a tent but it looked better than Ildstad. It was an island connected to the forest by a tombolo covered with intertidal grasses. Probably not a true tombolo as it was not sandy but mostly fractured rock and mud. The tide was high on our arrival and there was room for two tents to be pitched on level dry grass. Amazing! This might be the sweetest campsite I have ever found on the Canadian coast. No sand. No gravel. Natural windbreaks. What could be wrong? What’s that sound?
High Tide at Pamphlet Cove
We quickly changed out of our paddling gear and laid it out to dry on the sunny rocks. Our boats were tied to the islet’s trees, tents were set up, sleeping pads inflated, sleeping bags pulled from compression dry bags and hung over the tents to fluff and defunk. Warm breeze off of the sound blew through the trees and the long, shaggy moss hanging from the branches relented and streamed downwind. What is that buzzing sound?
I pulled our dinner choices from the dry bags and hung the rest from the trees. Probably no need but a habit ingrained from previous camping experiences. I noticed lots of Bald Faced Wasps working close to the ground. I had never been stung by a Wasp and had little experience with them. Were they responsible for the buzzing sound?
At some point I noticed a large number of Yellow Jackets mingling with the Wasps and my heart sunk. I’ve been stung by Yellow Jackets and had to flee from them more times than I cared to remember. Now the background sound I was hearing made sense. They were everywhere. What to do? Crawl into my tent and assume the fetal position? Accept my fate of death by 1000 stings? Here I was in this almost perfect campsite and it was infested with Yellow Jackets.
“Yellow Jackets. Why did it have to be Yellow Jackets”
A scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” came to mind that characterized how I felt.
Dave mostly ignored them and excitedly gave me a natural history presentation of Wasps that was worthy of a National Geographic article. He was enthused to be surrounded by them.
Me – “What about the Yellow Jackets?”
Dave - “Are they bothering you? They aren’t bothering me”.
Me - “Yeah but………..they are everywhere and they might”.
Dave – “But are they”?
I had to consider that I might have been pre-judging the Yellow Jackets and Wasps of Drake Island. I mean, just because they were yellow and black and looked for all the world like the stinging insects whose angry behavior I had suffered through for my entire life, these might be friendly. Right? Maybe they wanted to be my friend?
I tried to ignore their incessant buzzing noise and constant presence around my bare feet. I sought inclusion which meant that I needed to give them a chance rather than assume the worst. I took a walk into the forest and the sound of the wind through the trees was overwhelmed by the sound of their buzzing around the ground. They were everywhere. I finally figured that if the day was going to end badly it was going to end badly no matter what I did and I started to relax. When one Yellow Jacket hit me hard in the cheek I thought, “Oh boy. Here we go”, but he just flew around my face at a respectful distance in a non-aggressive manner as though to say, “Sorry Dude. You OK? My bad”. And then he went back to whatever he was doing and he wasn’t concerned about me at all.
Pamphlet Cove Campsite
I had to admit to being out of my element as these Yellow Jackets and Wasps were no more menacing than Ricardo and seemed to either mean me no harm or just not care about my presence. I leaned back against a rock and started reading surrounded by their buzzing. The smell of the water, grass and trees plus sound of the wind through the branches and the drone of their wings conspired to get me to put the book down and take a nap. Being careful not to lay on any of them I stretched out, closed my eyes and went to sleep surrounded by Flying Death. As I drifted off I marveled that I had never before encountered a Yellow Jacket who hadn’t been intent on being a complete asshole. Here I was surrounded by them, at their mercy and they accepted my presence.
We ate an early dinner of freeze-dried Beef Stroganoff. The Death Brigade was still hard at work and not once acknowledged that we were eating something that they might be interested in. Very strange.
You should have seen the stars that night. Mind blowing.
Gooding Cove to Drake Island 16.3 NM
Drake Island to Coal Harbour
August 10, Day 13
Clear. Winds Calm. Seas Smooth.
We left Pamphlet Cove about 1 ½ hours before low slack. We wanted to enter Quatsino Narrows just before the change to flood and it was about an hour’s paddle to Quattische Island where we would stage. The narrows is about 1.5 NM long so figure 30 minutes to pass through it. Enough water goes through this narrow pass on each exchange to warrant paying attention and timing the passage intelligently. Current can ramp up pretty quickly in 30 minutes, hence the stop at Quattisiche Island.
Near low tide the landing on the protected side of the island wasn’t threatening but was shallow, rocky and slippery. A great combination for hull and ankle damage. Dave and I took some time to refuel and kick back. Too bad that this wasn’t a comfy beach for kicking back. At the appointed time we launched and paddled towards the narrows. The shoreline is Indian Reserve and showed signs of habitation, both current and past. A First Nations cemetery sits at the mouth of the narrows.
The trip through the narrows was uneventful and we hugged the western shore looking for the burial caves we had heard about. Any caves we passed would have been inundated at high tide so I’m not sure that we ever saw them but the geology was interesting. In spite of our timing there was a bit of interesting water exiting the narrows. I suspect that on a 9 knot flood it would be a handful with an expedition boat. Probably fun in a playboat.
In spite of the karst caves along the cliffs of Stewart Point the last hour of our trip was unremarkable and within view of the Island Copper Mine on Rupert Inlet and fresh clearcuts along Holberg Inlet.
Stewart Point Caves
We landed at the concrete ramp that dominates the waterfront of Coal Harbour. We unpacked our boats into beach bags and Dave went into the large WWII sea plane hanger to borrow their phone and call a taxi.
Welcome to Coal Harbour
After living out of our boats to the rhythm of winds and sea it all came down to catching a cab ride back to Port Hardy to retrieve Dave’s truck? The rhythm of Port Hardy meant that the cab driver was at lunch and not answering his phone so we hung around and watched the giant forklift drive around putting sea planes into the water and taking others back out while a stream of power boaters launched and landed their boats at boat ramp. The scents of boat, car, truck and forklift exhaust assailed our noses. A very large and angry man assailed our ears by asking us loudly if we were the fxckxng xsshxlxs who were blocking his truck in. I was very pleased let him know that we weren’t those xsshxlxs. He asked everyone in sight if they were the xsshxlxs who were blocking him in. He might have been Grace’s Father as there were definite similarities. Welcome back to civilization.
Dave finally got a hold of the cab driver who came and took him to Port Hardy. He returned an hour later, we loaded our gear and drove back to the C&N Backpacker’s Hostel for the night where we were told that BC Parks had shut down the park due to a Rainbow Family gathering at Raft Cove. While the number of participants expected for the month long gathering was estimated near 2,000 the group reported that no more than 125 were ever on the beach before being ejected. It’s hard for me to imagine what 125 people on the beach would be like let alone 2,000. I read reports of trench toilets being dug and ground cover cleared in preparation of the gathering. I hope that signs of the preparation are taken back by the forest soon.
Drake Island to Coal Harbour 8.5 NM
Maybe it’s just me but it seems like the last day of every trip is a day that we somehow wish we didn’t have to experience. We are ending an adventure and we are re-entering civilization where we are going to have to fit in again. On the outside our Sea Brothers and Sisters accept our flaws because we all share the same disease. Re-entry usually happens quickly and while it’s a shock to the system we start to deal with it as soon as we land. While paddling up Quatsino Sound the discomfort seemed accentuated because we were within signs of civilization for a few days but don’t get to “land”. Pent up bad ju-ju, me thinks. Wind still blows and current still flows but it isn’t wilderness.
The Vancouver Island experience seems different to me then the North and Central Coast experiences. When the shoreline wasn’t obscured by fog we were always aware of commerce and development. Clear cuts, old or new, logging roads are everywhere and further north you don’t see as much of that. The waters of the west coast of Vancouver Island are spectacular. Absolutely alive and magnificent. I know that some folks have successfully transited this coast without a clue but it seems to me like a place where sound decision making and execution is very important unless you are lucky.
We paddled 171 NM in 12 paddling days averaging 14.3 NM / day
Shortest day just 7.8 NM from Heater Point to Crabapple Islets
Longest day was 19.5 NM from Crabapple Islets to Gooding Cove
The most enjoyable paddling for me was going out to play in the wind and waves at Kwakiutl Point, the morning that we paddled from Heater Point to Crabapple Islets and the short stretch from Kwakiutl Point to Gooding Cove. Both the water and company were great!
I really dislike paddling by IFR. It’s hard to focus and makes my head hurt. In spite of my grousing about the fog it was only a factor on 9 of 13 days. Yes, I do wish that we had experienced more visual stimulation on each and every day but, overall, the weather was fabulous for paddling.
Temperatures were usually in the 50’s to mid-60’s. A couple of times it crept into the 70’s. Mostly very nice with just a couple of warm episodes.
We experienced no rainfall. There was some drizzle at Experiment Bight and Helen Islets and very heavy dew on other nights but this is a coastline that normally has plenty of real rain. We learned that there hadn’t been any rainfall for over 30 days. The forest was dried out and vulnerable. Neither Dave nor I possess the pyro-gene so we can take or leave fires campfires. We left them.
Biting insects, normally an issue, were practically non-existent. Almost zero no-seeums and maybe 200 mosquitos over 13 days. Do the math. That’s nothing. Unreal! I got one mosquito bite the whole trip and never used insect repellant. I suspect that the dry weather had something to do with it.
Those Pamphlet Cove Yellow Jackets and Wasps are still a mystery to me. While I have a well-earned fear of them, in reality, they were less threatening than the King Fishers that were out in ample force.
I was all psyched up for potential bear and whale encounters but we didn’t see a single bear and few whales. No Orcas at all. One solitary wolf. Lots of tracks but not many animals.
Ricardo was cool.
We had three weeks to complete our trip that we did in two. Paddling was good in Seattle when we got back. It was nice to be in the Illusion again.
Winter Harbour to Port Angeles?
Juneau to Prince Rupert?
Prince Rupert to Shearwater via the outer coast?
So many choices………………………….