Friday, December 1, 2017

Klemtu 2 Port Hardy 2017



I had been two years without time off from work and was desperate to return to the coast.  Dave wasn’t going to be able to go and Greg was a “maybe” but then became a “99% for sure” so I started planning a 2-3 week trip for the two of us.  I had unfinished business on the outside of Aristazabal and Greg wanted to fish Camaano Sound and the outer coast of Athlone Island.  He preferred to be gone just two weeks while I felt that I needed more time than that to get my head right.  We agreed that the route would allow him to break off for the Bella Bella ferry at any point after Athlone Island while I continued south to Port Hardy.  It was a really ambitious route with a tight timeline, had quite a few moving parts, some unknowns and would require a precisely-timed window of perfect weather.  It would force me to average 16+ nm each day rather than the 13 nm that I seem better suited for.  No real rest days were included.  It would be a continuous grind. 

Original Route

A couple weeks prior to departure Greg was forced to withdraw to attend to some critical family needs so I revised the route and the timeline by cutting out the time built in for fishing.  That increased the daily mileage requirement by a couple of miles each day.  I wasn’t sure that I was up to it.  After all, I was on vacation.



International Relations


The ferry ride from Port Hardy to Klemtu was an interesting exercise in international relations. 
As one of the very first walk-ons I made my way up to my favorite seating area on the starboard side just outside of the Aurora Lounge.  Being first in gave me my pick of seats so I chose a highbacked seat front and center to a set of tall windows.  Soon others filed in and a tall European man asked me if the seats were taken.

“Only this one that I’m sitting in” I responded with a smile.


Soon he returned with an older, entourage who I believe were speaking German.  They quickly snapped up all of the seats except for the one beside me.  Several walked up to the seat and looked down at me as if to say “If you move somewhere else we can sit here”.  I was wearing my best welcoming face because I was really looking forward to the company but had no plans of moving.  The group in the adjacent trio of seats had an animated conversation that was interrupted only by glances at me and the seat next me.  It was as if they were trying to figure out whether to ask me to move and failing that which among them would be so unfortunate as to sit next to me.  Finally, a fair-haired woman sat in the seat sideways with her back to me. 

I still had hopes for some friendly conversation over the next 8 hours so I extended my hand and said, “Good morning.  My name is Jon Dawkins.  What is your name?”.

She hesitantly looked at me and took my hand with the same expression and enthusiasm you would expect if she were being forced to pick up a turd.  She said that her name was something that started with a “D” had three syllables and sounded like she was clearing her throat.  I asked her to say it again so that I could get it right, which she did, but that didn’t help me in the least.  I made my best attempt at saying her name and told her that I had never heard the name before and to please be patient with me as I might have trouble getting it right but assured her that I would be able to say it correctly before we arrived in Klemtu.  I was certain that my attempt to say her name and establish a relationship had fallen far short of expectations when she stood up sneering and vacated the seat. 

More heated internal discussions ensued within the group accompanied by glances in my direction.  I had no more idea what they were saying than what my attempt at pronouncing the woman’s name had translated to in German.  Finally, a large woman from the group sat down and did her best to ignore me.  I’m still not sure if she had drawn the short straw or was hoping that I would do something that would give her justification to beat the shit out of me.  She was large enough to do it.  Clearly my wishes for conversation were at risk. 

Our awkward silence continued and when Humpbacks were seen breaching outside of our windows she and everyone else in the seating area stood and camera mayhem reigned.  With every splash she pointed and shouted “Da!  Da!  Da!” Whenever she pointed and said “Da” the group aimed their cameras and fired off a succession of photos in that general direction.  The breaching whales were followed by a pod of Orcas and lots more “Da! Da! Da’s!”.  Too soon, however, actual mammal sightings were replaced by splashes from waves breaking on reefs and rocks and still she shouted “Da!  Da!  Da!” ordering cameras to click and whir.  I left to go walk the deck.

When I returned she glanced at me and said “Mein Gott!”.  I don’t know who she was saying it to but it was clear who she was saying it about.  I went into the restroom and checked myself over to be sure that I didn’t stink (I didn’t) or that my fly wasn’t down (it wasn’t).  I was wearing my favorite Icebreaker wool top which I would be wearing for the next week and a half and it had small holes in the shoulder and one arm.  Could this have been my transgression? 

I paused in the aisle behind the three rows of window seats steeling myself for a return to the breach.  The European folk were deep into an animated conversation and my new best friend was gesticulating wildly.  I walked up to my seat and all conversation abruptly ceased.  I glanced across the group and all eyes were quickly averted.  Not a sound.  No eye contact.  WTF?

The last actual wildlife sighting (a leaping Salmon) occurred in Lama Passage.  After that distant rocks, reefs and shoals produced splashes and an occasional boomer which elicited Frau Blucher’s orders to the troops of “Da!  Da!  Da!” to which they would salute smartly and charge up the hill with cameras clicking.  Once into Milbanke Sound Susan Rock, Vancouver Rock and Fellowes Rock all put on spectacular shows.  Their black backs glistening and flukes stretching up to touch the sky they frolicked and cavorted, all the time never taking a single breath. 
“Da!  Da!  Da!  Click, click, click!”


Groups of animals and sea life have peculiar names.  Consider a pod of Orcas, a school of fish, a galaxy of starfish, a parade of elephants, a gaggle of geese, an army of frogs, a murder of crows.

A group of rocks, reefs and shoals is something else, though, and Frau Blucher insured that her group of friends went home with pictures and pictures of “Shit-loads of Rocks”.


Klemtu to Tombolo Camp
July 29 / Day 1
Clear, Overcast with light showers changing to overcast then broken clouds, Winds calm changing to W @ 15 knots / Swell .5-meter, wind waves to 2 feet, Seas rippled

I had chosen Klemtu over Bella Bella as my starting point for a couple of reasons.  It would save me about a day and a half getting out to Aristazabal and unlike Bella Bella once you clear the end of the ferry dock you are gone.  You seldom see any other boats and other than the Boat Bluff Light Station, no buildings.  You simply slip into the water and are gone. 


The Klemtu launch isn’t without its challenges, however, as the rip rap beneath the ramp is large, sharp and covered with fiberglass-eating barnacles.  The path (generous description) from the concrete pad to the water is treacherous and uneven.  The trick is to keep your boat in one piece while moving it under the ramp then setting it on chunks of driftwood that you have gathered and positioned strategically so that your hull protected and is above the waterline.  Timing is key as you want to have the rising tide float your boat when you are packed, suited up and ready to paddle.  Yeah, that means that you have to select a date when you will have at least 2-3 hours of flood remaining after the ferry docks. 


While the Northern Expedition runs every other day it only stops in Klemtu one day each week so your 9 choices for the months of July and August are cut to just 4 days.  Meyers Passage ebbs west from Split Head and the game is to ride the last of the flood north from Klemtu to Split Head arriving just as the tide turns to ebb in Meyers Passage.  My experience has been that the current changes to ebb in Meyers Passage / Split Head at some time after high slack at Klemtu.  I don’t know what time that is though as I’ve never gotten it quite right.  Suffice to say that your 4 choices are reduced to 3 and I wish you luck.  I chose July 29th as high slack in Klemtu was at ~6:00 PM.



Negotiating launch was a nightmare as I was the only paddler to disembark and I had been hoping that other paddlers were aboard who would help.  I found that the usual supply of driftwood had been burned up in a community bonfire that had been held under the ramp.  A large tree had drifted onto the rocks and all of the appropriately sized limbs had been cut off and burned.  I broke out my saw and cut what I could but it wasn’t much.

Getting my Tempest down from the concrete apron onto the creek and rocks without damage was a difficult affair.  I was aware of passengers standing on the back deck of the ferry watching my struggles and wondered if my German friends were among them.  This went on for some time and finally one of the ferry hands came off the boat and helped me.  He was a God send. 


Expecting calm and sheltered conditions at launch I was dismayed that as departure time drew near the rip rap was being washed with windwaves up to 2 feet that were wrapping around Wedge Point from Finlayson Channel and jostling the boat on the barnacled rocks.  At last I got into the boat, backed it out through the waves away from the rocks and was finally on my way north at 3.5 kt, then 4.5 kt, then 5 kt, then 5.5 kt and finally 6 kt without working.


I arrived at Split Head early and it was still flooding from Meyers Passage into Tolmie Channel.  I pushed against a 1 knot current all the way to Tombolo Camp where I found two cleared and leveled spaces for tents and a track leading to an adjacent stream that was strong and looked like a dependable water source.

7.8 NM


Tombolo Camp to Milne Island
July 30 / Day 2
Clear, Overcast with light showers changing to overcast then broken clouds, Winds calm changing to W @ 15 knots / Swell .7-meter, wind waves to 2 feet, Seas rippled

It rained off and on overnight and into the morning.  I waited until there was a break in the rain that felt like it might hold.  I hate packing up wet gear and a real break in the weather would at least mean that I could shake it off good before stuffing it into the hatches.  I still hate that.  Low energy and uninspired so I didn’t get on the water until about 10:00 AM which was nearly 4 hours into the ebb in Meyers Passage.  That was fine because once into Laredo Sound I was hoping to ride the flood up to Monk Bay or beyond.  It looked like it might eventually clear. 


Any current that may have been ebbing in Meyers Passage wasn’t reflected in my average speed and I had a relaxing but slow paddle to the western entrance to the passage.  I stopped to take a close look at the pictographs along the Princess Royal Island side and get some better photos than what I had recorded in 2007.  A mild success.


It had changed to flood when I rounded Hartnell Point for Monk Bay and I gained about ½ kt to Milne Island where I stopped to fix lunch.  Pushing on from Milne to Monk Bay I encountered a 15 kt south wind on Laredo Channel with .7 m swell and 2-foot windwaves dead on my port beam.  A dark squall had blotted out Aristazabal and was pushing some air.  Not big water but exceedingly disorganized and awkward.  It kept me busy staying upright and I was surprised that something so ordinary in size could be so uncomfortable and troublesome.  It’s about 4.5 nm to Monk Bay and I decided to return to Milne see if conditions would change.  



Back on Milne I listened to the weather and heard that a ridge was strengthening off Haida Gwaii that would bring winds building to N @ 35 – 40 kt and continuing through the week.  With the standard “Canadian Discount” of 5 kt it was still way too strong.  Even if the winds were ½ the forecasted strength they would be too strong for what I had in mind.  I would get to my first camp site on the western side of Aristazabal just in time to get pinned down by the wind and seas so I decided to spend the night on Milne and check the weather again in the morning. 

11.2 NM


Milne Island to Higgins Passage
July 31 / Day 3
Clear, Winds calm changing to S @ 12-15 knots, Low swell with wind waves to 1 foot, Seas rippled

At 4:30 AM the weather forecast called for winds N @ 15-25 kt increasing to 35-40 kt Wednesday and Thursday then “moderating’ to 15-25kt through the rest of the week.  Not what I wanted to hear.  I decided to cut the loop around Aristazabal out of the plan and run for protection in the lee of the Bardswell Group.  If I could get there before it started to blow on Wednesday I could pick my way around in the lee and continue on south to Port Hardy.  I would have to hustle, though, and I couldn’t be lazy.

Looking south 3.5NM to Wilby Point

The day dawned brilliantly clear, calm and warm so the waters of Kitasoo Bay felt sticky and slow.  I had only paddled this stretch of coastline once before in a complete white-out so it was nice to have a visual.  The western-most point of Swindle Island is behind the Ahrams Island light and it looked pretty interesting to me so I paddled in for a look-see.  I found an area of shallows that dry and create camp-able space but could be problematic at some tide levels and higher winds.  A buoy hung from a tree marking a weak but useable water source.  A wolf disturbed by my presence jogged along the beach until he came to his familiar break between the rocks and disappeared from sight. A good high tide spot for lunch and a dry spot for camping during low or neap tides but also a spot to get grounded by the retreating tides so I didn’t hang around.  


Entering Higgins Passage from the north on a clear day is an exercise in patience and confusion.  At least it is for me.  The western shoreline of the outer BC coastal islands trail off into the Pacific as a complex and confusing mass of broken islets and exposed rock.  Navigation, by chart is difficult and GPS improves the process by only a small margin.  In 2007 Greg Polkinghorn unerringly led Dave Resler and I down this stretch and into the passage with zero visibility by compass, chart and wristwatch alone.  At the time, I didn’t realize what a feat of intellect and discipline that was as he put us exactly in front of our desired campsite.  Thirteen years later I had 15-mile visibility, a good chart, a wristwatch and a GPS and I wasn’t where I thought I was by over a mile.  That realization was a harsh toke and while I struggled to orient myself I couldn’t help but be distracted by remembrance and questions of self-doubt.  Do I lack Greg’s intellect, discipline or both?  I try to navigate by chart, compass and wristwatch using GPS to record position and provide speed calculations.  Maybe Greg has a better wristwatch or maybe he is just smarter than I am.  The smart money is on the latter.


By cheating with GPS and still getting the maze wrong I eventually stumbled my way to the island where Kayak Bill Davidson built one of his primary and strategic camps.  



This was an important camp for Bill.  It not only allowed him to sit and watch conditions on Laredo Sound before committing to a crossing to one of his camps on Aristazabal and beyond but also provided a comfortable base of operations midway between Aristazabal and Dallas Island.  Armed with Bill’s charts I looked for this camp in 2007 but didn't find it.  Within the last year my friend, Glenn Lewis, confirmed that he had encountered a paddler at Higgins Passage who had met Bill and visited that camp.  I was certain that I could paddle right to it.  Wrong again.

The island wraps around a protected lagoon that can only be accessed at mid to higher tides.  I entered with a 2.1-meter tide and barely got in.  The tide was ebbing so I didn’t have long to explore.  The shoreline is rocky and fairly steep.  The area that I had marked had a so-so looking landing that would be available at higher tides but low tides not so much.  I was running out of water quickly and had to leave but I did find a clam garden tucked into the farthest reaches of the lagoon which Bill, no doubt, benefited from.  The village site and IR of Goo ewe is just a mile to the west and I believe that this “lo’hewae” was part of that aboriginal village infrastructure. 


Short on fresh water, I escaped the drying lagoon to visit the strong stream at Goo-ewe.  The IR straddles the stream that drains a complex of lakes and ponds including the largest body of fresh water on Price Island.  It runs strong with just a hint of tannin.  High quality water for the coast.  

Goo-ewe was the site of a seasonal food harvesting village that housed between 5 – 10 families.  Folks lived there from early Spring to late September.  The site was chosen primarily for its proximity to seaweed bearing rocks, a nearby salmon stream and numerous clam gardens.  Seaweed would be harvested, dried, chopped and ground for mixing with other foods.  Since it grows fast they could usually manage two harvests each year.  The people of Klemtu still harvest seaweed, dry it, chop and grind it, however, dehydrators are often used today instead of drying racks.  I filtered 16 liters and paddled  west back to the campsite.
   

The beach fronting the Higgins campsite isn’t “clean” as it is shallow and has lots of barnacle-covered rocks but it definitely has the finest tent sites on the coast.  The sites are up into a second growth forest with an open understory of low green ground cover.  It has always had a Hobbit-Forest feel to me.  The slight rise into the forest and the existing beachfront trees block the wind off of Laredo Sound making it a comfortable place to sleep while the tempest rages.  You feel removed from the weather and the second growth trees are resilient and pose little risk of falling limbs.  While there are stumps that testify to the logging that occurred here one misshaped giant remains, probably due to loggers realizing that it wasn’t suitable harvest for dimensional lumber.  Surrounding it “Widow-Makers” littered the forest floor warning me to set up my tent elsewhere. 


14.5 NM


Higgins Passage to Dallas Island
August 1 / Day 4
Clear, Winds calm changing to S @ 15 knots, Swell to 1 meter with wind waves to 2 feet, Seas rippled


The study of charts and sea floor depths in preparation for a trip reinforces the shoreline changes that this coast has experienced.  With post Ice Age sea level change it is hard not to view routes through a historical lens.  Clearly Swindle and Price Islands were once part of one mass and dodging rocks while slipping through the narrow passage between the south end of Lohbrunner Island and Price Island brings that home. 


Once past the Lohbrunner Island complex the passage was clear with manageable current and glassy smooth sea conditions.  Just a scenic slog squinting into the rising morning sun.  I was looking forward to landing at Pidwell for a change of scene and maybe some textured water.  That wasn’t the case, however, as Pidwell is well protected by Pidwell Reef and was flat and unexciting.  Paddlers had camped there recently and high tides hadn’t yet removed their footprints.  I ate lunch and walked the beach looking for clearings in the uplands.  I saw none.  There is a good water source at the west end of the beach. 


The crossing of Milbanke Sound to Dallas Island via Keith Point exposed me to the 15 kt southerly and associated textured seas as the building winds leaked around the south end of Price Island from Hecate Strait.  Things got pretty chunky before I slipped into cover near Dallas Island. 

At low tides the approach to the Dallas Island beach is blocked by exposed rocks and not at all obvious when coming in from Milbanke Sound.  I poked around going left and right and eventually found the approach wide open from the east.  A total no-brainer that I struggled with for no particular reason.  The landing was about 50 yards from the edge of the forest and looked like a long carry.  The beach was hot so I stripped off everything I was wearing and started carrying gear to the uplands.


This was my third visit to Dallas Island.  Bill Davidson had established one of his primary camps here and when I first saw it in 2007 it had been just 3.5 years since his passing.  At that time I had been stunned by the boardwalk that extended across the island and impressed by the overall comfort of the camp.  When I returned in 2009 I was incredibly disappointed in how the site had been destroyed by power boaters and thoughtless campers.  Photos posted by Freya Hoffmeister last May on her trip around North America (Freya's Photosindicated that the camp was still trashed and that was what I expecting.

I was surprised to find that the camp had been cleaned up.  Much of the windscreen remained upright and large loose components had been neatly stacked against a tree.  Looking through the lumber I identified two boards that had once been the surface of Bill’s bed and some sectioned logs that had been bed and bench supports.  The fire stand had been destroyed in 2009 and replaced with a fire ring which remained while some of the flat granite slabs that had lined the firestand’s box had been tossed out of the area that had once been his shelter and was now marked by the shelter’s frame.  About 15 meters away behind a fallen tree I found the junk that had collected at the camp over the years.  Digging through it I found some bits and pieces that I recognized as Bill’s. 


Somebody put a tremendous amount of work into this effort and returned what had become a junk yard into a really nice camp site that still honored Bill's occupation.  While I personally mourn the removal of some of the original artifacts I realize that there was no way to leave parts and pieces without inviting more garbage.  My hat is off to whoever cleaned this up.  It was definitely time for it to be returned to something that can be enjoyed by all so that we can see what drew Bill Davidson to this spot in the first place. 


The south wind blew through most of the night.

14.9 NM


Dallas Island to Cape Mark
August 2 / Day 5
Clear, Winds calm changing to W @ 18 knots, Seas calm changing to 1.5 meter swell with 2 foot windwaves, Seas moderate

At 4:30 AM the weather radio was still calling for winds N @ 35 - 40 knots in Hecate Strait.  Being behind Aristazabal, Price and Swindle Islands I wasn’t expecting to see anything that high but I did expect for rising winds to make conditions challenging if caught out in the open.  Paddling outside of Athlone Island was one of the objectives of this trip and I wanted to get that done before the winds and seas built.  Before reaching Athlone I would cross the mouths of Mathieson and Seaforth Channels and I wanted to have them behind me before the flood turned to ebb around 11:00 AM.  Totally do-able.


I left Dallas around 8:30 AM.  I knew I that I was cutting things pretty tight and I really should have gotten out of camp an hour earlier but I wanted a second cup of coffee.  My bad.  Conditions were smooth until I reached Blair Inlet near Ivory Island where things started to change.  The wind had increased to W @ 10 kt countering the building ebb at Blair.  Friendly swell became more evident as I started across Seaforth Channel.  Textured patches began to show the effects of mixing currents and from mid-channel to Cape Swaine the ebb was on with swell being bent and gaining height while windwaves were tickled to attention by interaction with the opposing current.  I ducked into the gap behind the island that terminates Cape Swaine for a brief rest.  Looking at conditions to the south it was clear that there would be no place to take another break until I made the cover of Wurtele Island so I took the opportunity to fuel on a ProBar, check my chart and try to interpret the sea bottom profile that my GPS displayed on its magnificent 1.5” x 2.25” big-screen.  Maybe I could have seen it better if I had covered one eye and taken out my contacts.

During the next 1.5 hours that it took me to reach the cover of Wurtele Island the west wind gradually built.  Swell was pretty consistently 1.5 meters but the windwaves increased to 2 feet.  Since much of the shoreline is rocky and abrupt reflected waves (clapotis) were added to the mix.  Sea state was “moderate”, required active paddling and was a lot of fun.  The entrance to St. Johns Harbour got a bit snotty so I was pleased to pull in behind the rocks that extend north of Wurtele. 

While eating lunch in a rocky cove I studied my chart and GPS to determine the character of the shoreline and sea bottom profile outside of Wurtele.  I had planned to paddle that shoreline but it turns out that the near-shore profile is different than what I had just managed along Athlone so whatever I had just experienced would be amplified and I felt that the wind would continue to build.  I figured that it would take a minimum of 45 minutes to run from my current position to the end of the island.  Run?  I’m on vacation!  It was an easy decision. 

The narrow channel that separates Wurtele from Athlone turned out to be a scenic and enjoyable paddle.  I hugged the eastern edge of the island to escape the west wind that leaked through saddles and cascaded over the trees to create rotors that slammed the water and created dancing cat paws.  The end of the island trickled off in a series of islets that culminated at Cape Mark.  I was surprised at how windy it was between those islets as I made my way to the Cape Mark campsite.

Image by Bill Porter

What a pleasant surprise to find three notable Puget Sound paddlers in residence.  Rob Freelove, Chris Smith and Bill Porter had arrived the day prior and made great camp companions.  Chris had worked with me at a WKC pool session years before and it was good to see him again.  Bill and Chris went out for a paddle but soon returned after finding conditions not to their liking.  I was glad that I had gotten behind Wurtele when I did. 

16.6 NM


Cape Mark to Islet 48
August 3 / Day 6
Clear, Winds W @ 15-20 knots, Swell 1 meter with 2 foot windwaves, Seas moderate at times

The wind blew through the night confirming that I had made it to the lee of the Bardswell Group in the nick of time.  I planned to work my way across the north end of Queens Sound by staying up tight against the Bardswells and scurrying like a rat from cover to cover.  I knew I could safely use this strategy to get to Cree Point and beyond even if it meant turning north and using the Backdoor to Quinoot Point then reversing direction to travel south in the cover of Potts and Stryker Islands.  That would be a long detour but I didn’t have to be anywhere anytime soon and that is a very pretty route. 


Chris helped me slog my Tempest down to the water’s edge then he, Bill and Rob donned their helmets, wished me luck and went out to play.  I loaded up and headed east between islets.  It was pretty windy but the fetch was short so waves didn’t have much of a chance to build, however, directional control was challenged from time to time.  To the southeast I spotted Fingal Island which is omnipresent when paddling in Queens Sound.  You can paddle the Sound for days and never be out of sight of that damned island. 


About two years ago a friend gave me a couple of old charts that he had picked up at a garage sale.  They were from an 1866 British Survey and corrected in 1916.  One was of Seaforth Channel and the Bardswell Group.  I noticed the “Indian Village“ of Tingees shown in a bay on the northeast corner of Princess Alice Island.  I had asked some locals about it but nobody I asked knew that a village had every been located there.  I did a best guess of where that would be on my current chart and marked it as a waypoint.  I had hoped to take the time to look for it but thought that I would be short of time and have to pass.  With the Aristazabal loop off the table I had time to spare and Tingees, if it existed, was nearby. 

Clearing the east end of Waskesui Passage I handrailed along the shore of Princess Alice Island hoping to find the village site.  After 15 minutes I entered a NE facing cove with a protected beach.  An obvious site to live shielded from all typical west coast conditions.  The beach where the canoe run would have been was choked with large drift logs and at that tide level I didn’t see any opportunity to land without risking damage to boat or body.  I sat in the calm water just off the beach, thanked Chad for the chart and listened for the voices and sounds of daily village life while gathering strength from their spirits.

From Tingees the only thing standing between me and my next waypoint, Islet 48, was 3NM of open water on Thompson Bay.  Fingal Island lurks like the Dark Lord of Mordor over the northern range of Queens Sound.  Travel within the realm is at Fingal’s pleasure and constant glowering observation.  Thompson Bay opens to the south and the only thing standing between the head of the bay and Antarctica is The Dark Lord.  Fingal endorses whatever one encounters between Princess Alice Island and the broken trickle of islets that extend south from Potts and Stryker Islands.  Islet 48 is one of those islets and Thompson Bay has always had my number.  I've learned to never take it for granted as it provides a little somethin' somethin' on every visit.



The general conditions were winds 15 - 20 kt with combined seas to 5 feet.  I was able to hide from Fingal’s wrath in the lee of Princess Alice and the Houghton Islands for a while but eventually had to cross Thompson Bay for my planned campsite at Islet 48.  Fingal saw me break cover and run, acknowledging my presence with a directional shift of a few degrees that was just enough to count coup and cause the sort of discomfort that I have come to expect.  The last half-hour to cover near Islet 48 was wet and busy.

Islet 48 showed unfortunate signs of recent use through beach architecture.  A well-supported vertical pole held a line for hanging a tarp above an area where the drift wood had been moved to create a place for cooking, hanging out, whatever.  I know that it is just me but I so wish that people would practice “leave-no-trace” ethics and remove the signs of their passage. 


Fingal snarled and growled through the night.

8.9 NM


Islet 48 to Cultus Sound
August 4 / Day 7
Clear, Winds and seas calm changing to SW @ 12 knots with swell 1 meter with 2’ chop

Prior to leaving on this trip I studied the area long and hard and a satellite photo showed the roof of a structure on an island at the south end of Stryker Island.  I wasn’t aware of a cabin there and determined that if time allowed I would check it out.  It was only 2 NM away and on my intended route so that was my first action item of the day. 


A cluster of islands form a confusing maze between Islet 48 and the cabin and shortly after leaving the beach my GPS battery died so I was trying to find my way by chart and spider-sense.  I didn’t feel like I was having much luck as I wound my way into a narrow passage that dead-ended on a muddy beach.  I took the opportunity to change the GPS batteries.  With a fresh set of batteries I would be able to find the cabin.  With batteries changed I waited for the unit to boot up and when it did I was confused by what it told me.  According to the GPS I was at the cabin and it was just over my left shoulder.  Turning around I saw the roof peeking through the trees just 30 yards away.  It’s amazing the way things hide in plain sight on this coast.



The cabin turned out to be in bad shape with the roof mostly gone, wood stove and flue were shot and the door lying flat on the ground.  What had once been the front deck/porch would be a good spot to set up a tent.  There were two graves near the porch honoring the remains of Pauline and Walter Jackson.  I would love to know the history here.  I rested a bit then pushed on. 


In need of water I set off for Iroquois Island 3 NM to the SE.  Nice paddling through these islands.  Not what I usually do but I understand why folks come here to experience it.  Approaching where I assumed the creek would be I encountered 4 paddlers from Alberta who had been out for nearly two weeks.  They led me to the stream on Iroquois that would be very easy to miss.  It is marked as a camp site but I couldn't imagine where it would be.  It must certainly be unconventional but the water was decent.   

It was just under 10 NM from Iroquois to Cultus Sound so I spent I next 3 hours slogging to and through the Simonds Group to my next camp site.  Very nice scenery!  When I arrived, there were several tents set up along the beach.  A beautiful First Nations woman approached me and welcomed my arrival.  The tents belonged to members of her family who lived in Bella Bella but who had come to Cultus to escape the smoke of the Prince Williams fires.  I met the rest of the family and we talked about Heiltsuk culture, growing up Heiltsuk, the wreck of the Howard E. Stewart, the effect on Band’s shellfish fisheries and the BC Government.  They asked me if I was a Seattle Seahawk fan so we talked football and I was invited to a fresh salmon dinner.


16.4 NM


Cultus Sound to Triquet Island
August 5 / Day 8
Overcast changing to low overcast, Winds calm increasing to SW @ 15 knots, Seas calm increasing to swell at 1 meter and 2 foot chop

Smoky Morning Sky from Prince William Fires

It was a short paddle from Cultus Sound to my next camp on Triquet Island.  Even with a couple of stops I wouldn’t spend much more than 2.5 hours paddling.  There was no reason to be on the water early so I slept late, lounged around camp and ate a leisurely breakfast. 

I didn’t have any lip balm so after a week on the water my lips had large chunks of skin peeling off that were still, somehow, hanging on and distracting from the business of eating.  How could I be without lip balm when it lives in my PFD pocket?  The undeniable truth was that I had forgotten it or lost it and I was paying the price.  Then one of my Heiltsuk neighbors came over and, with much embarrassment, admitted that he had forgotten to pack the coffee and asked if I had any I could spare.  Due to my route change and less than anticipated caffeine consumption I had 8 Vias that I wouldn’t need which he was delighted to receive.  Packing the coffee in Bella Bella had been his responsibility and he was taking a beating for forgetting it.  When he asked me if there was anything he could give me I ran my tongue over my ragged lips and asked if he had any Chap Stick in his pocket.  What a random request, right?  He said that he didn’t but would check and went back to his camp returning with a tiny tube of Blistex that Grandma had in her purse.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  Blistex is the Holy Grail of lip balms and my lips needed more than scented petroleum jelly.  I immediately slathered it on my lips and went over to thank Grandma.  She was very pleased and we both agreed it was a good trade.


I left camp a little after 10:00 AM and pulled into Swordfish Bay after a leisurely hour of paddling.  I like this spot and Kayak Bill had a camp here at one time.  After four visits, however, I have not been able to find anything other than one of his “bucket wells”.  He would drill some holes in the bottom of a plastic bucket and bury it in the ground.  Rain water could enter the top and ground water would seep in through the bottom.  I spent about 30 minutes searching for indicators that I had overlooked before and found some medium-sized pieces of wood that had been stacked just off of the beach but no infrastructure that I could definitely recognize as Kayak Bill’s.  Empty handed again.

Another hour and a half brought me to Triquet Island.  I had camped there six nights in the past 12 years and since my last visit I had learned about the discovery of an ancient village site dating back 14,000 years and the research being done by the Hakai Institute.  I had been following the dig and was really looking forward to revisiting the island and viewing it in that historical context.
(Triquet Dig)

I set up camp in the clearing above the beach and started looking for the dig site.  A ribbon tied to a salal branch led down a narrow trail that degenerated into a tight tunnel and finally into a game trail tunnel that I could only manage on all fours.  Definitely not a trail that researchers had been using. 

The tide was fairly high so I got into my boat and paddled west towards the shallow area where I suspected the village had been and where the clam gardens and fish traps must be.  The white beach that stood out so plainly in satellite photos turned out to be light colored sand and not midden but the shallows were rich in shellfish.  At times I glided over rock clusters that seemed unnatural but nothing grabbed me as “Hey look at me!  I am the result of ancient aquaculture”.  It was a very rich and verdant environment. 

Paddling over to the beach where Randel Washburne built his first coastal cabin in 1977 I was greeted with a ton of beach debris hung from trees surrounding a folding chair.  So disappointing to find abandoned beach architecture left as a memorial of someone’s visit.  The antithesis of “Leave no trace” ethic.  Why folks feel compelled to leave these eyesores insuring that all who follow know that they were there first confuses me. 


Above the beach Randel’s cabin still stood.  Worse for the wear but still recognizable.  It was being used for storing beach garbage.  I slept there in 2005.  Wouldn’t do so now. 


A muddy “platform” had been hacked out of the slope above the beach that would accommodate a couple, maybe three, tents and the upper clearing had been improved.  The “Gone Fishing” sign from 2005 had been replaced with something new and relocated. 

Returning to camp I found that I had a new neighbor.  Don Griffiths from Vancouver had paddled in from Goose.  So nice to have another solo traveler as a campsite companion.  Don was on a pretty ambitious 50 day trip.  After 25 years of kayaking some of the most remote sites on the coast he was revisiting his favorites.  I was fortunate that Triquet was on his route as I learned so much from him regarding routes, humility and family.  Thank you, Don.


Don set up on the sand under some trees.  Leading up the hill from his campsite was a muddy trail that accessed a large level dirt platform that had been excavated into the slope.  Above the platform the muddy track continued up the hill and was blocked by a sign asking folks to stay out as it was being replanted.  Clearly this led to the dig and the similarity of this platform to the one at Randel’s Cabin Site indicated that a good sized team from the Hakai Institute had been on the island using both campsites.

6.8 NM


Triquet Island to Wolf Beach
August 6 / Day 9
Low overcast at 100’, Winds calm increasing to S @ 10 knots, Seas calm to 2 meter with 1 foot windwaves, Seas Moderate

Low slack was around 7:00 AM with high slack about 1:30 PM.  Hakai Passage is about 3 hours from Triquet and I make it a habit to cross Hakai Passage on a flood as I want to avoid a wind against current situation there.  A 4 knot ebb clashing with swells and/or west winds can make this a bad place to be. 

  • ·       Plan A was to go direct from Triquet to Calvert Island and cross Hakai at the end of the flood. ~8.5 NM of open water.
  • ·         Plan B was to go east to the Serpent Group and then work my way south down Stirling Island.  Depending on conditions I would cross to Calvert (~3 NM open water) or paddle east on Hakai to the shelter of Edwards Passage.
  • ·        Plan C assumed the worst and I would go east to the Serpent Group then continue east to Nalau Passage, then turning south at Edwards Passage and camp on Stirling Island close to Hakai Passage ~ 2 NM open water. 


I employed Plan B and the crossing of Hakai Passage was mild with 2 meter swells and occasional rips.  Visibility wasn’t very good so it took me a bit to figure out where I was when I entered the Choked Passage complex.  There was a fair amount of confused current mixing in there and I didn’t fight it.  I just let it take me where it wished.  No big surprises just a mystery tour of sorts. 


I headed for the west end of Wolf Beach where there were few signs of recent traffic.  Storms had been unkind to “The Wolf” and had eaten the beach all the way back to the forest creating a tidal channel against the trees almost the length of the beach.  My favorite campsite was still there but teetered on the brink of a 6 foot bluff that was eroding as I watched.  I set up in another spot nearby at the crest of the bluff that would disappear with the next storm.  The beach mice seemed overly curious and oddly brave.  That is never a good sign.


I hung my food but kept a single package of beef jerky in my net beach bag that was vacuum packed and had never been opened.  A friend had given me a special package of jerky for the trip and I was keeping it close.  Too close it turned out.  I stuffed the beach bag under the vestibule of my tent and went to sleep.  At some point I woke up to lots of rustling noises coming from the vestibule.  I donned my headlamp and was surprised to see little black mice coming and going from my beach bag.  They had eaten a hole through it and were going large on the package of special beef jerky.  It took more “convincing” than you would expect before I could get them all to leave.  Not sure what language they spoke but it wasn’t English.  I had to physically expel them and then they only moved out of range. 
I opened the beach bag to assess damage and found that they had breached the vacuum packed bag and had their way with it. 

Bastards!  Bastards!  Their little beady eyes reflected the beam of my headlamp from 10 feet away.  They were laughing at me.  Little furry bastards!  

I opened the bag and tossed the pieces of jerky far away from the tent.  Little Bastards!  I hoped that the sodium ratcheted up their blood pressure to the point that they died!

11.8 NM


Wolf Beach to Nucleus Reef
August 7 / Day 10
Overcast, Winds calm increasing to W @ 10 knots, Seas calm to swells to 1 meter with 1 foot windwaves, Seas rippled

I was wakened by the words of a Raven from the top of the trees bordering the west end of the beach.  Then, a response from the opposite side of my tent.  Again the tree Raven klocked and whistled and was answered by the Raven outside my door.  They chattered back and forth for quite some time and finally I unzipped the tent to find the bird on a log just 5 feet away.  He looked at me and then at my PFD that I had left on the log.  No food in it so I wasn’t concerned.  Mostly I was pleased that he was so close to me and not showing any fear.  The two birds talked a bit more while I watched and then the bird on the log flew away. 

After eating breakfast and packing my boat I was doing my “pre-flight”.  Checking that everything was where it should be, as it should be  Hatch covers secured, drysuit zippers zipped and suit burped, flares zipped inside the left shoulder pocket, Spot turned on, sending signals, secured to its tether and zipped inside the right shoulder pocket, PFD donned, buckles snapped and zipped closed, Hammer Gel jug full and zipped into the left pocket with a ProBar, EPIRB, ProBar and Protein Bar zipped into the right pocket, VHF radio secured to its tether, radio check by accessing weather frequency and buckled into its pocket and WTF? 

The rubber antennae covering was frayed and the metal spring exposed!  That Raven had been chewing on my antennae and had eaten the rubber off the end of it!  Bon appetite.  Just one more use for duct tape.


The overcast was low with patches of fog creating a soft and fuzzy maze.  The day was grey with a dreary feel to it and not a lovely “Silver Morning”.  I knew that I was going to be crossing Fitz Hugh Sound before the end of the day so I tried to tune my VHF in to Prince Rupert Traffic.  No luck.  I could get WX but not traffic.  I hoped that when I cleared Kwakshua Channel I wouldn’t be flying IFR.  I launched and made my way out of Choked Passage.
  

Along the western shore of Kwakshua Channel is a shallow bay where researchers have excavated the beach accumulation down to a clay layer and have found the impressions made by the feet of three individuals ~13,200  years ago. 

I eased my way into the bay avoiding the worst of the barnacle covered rocks.  Directly in front of me was an obvious dig that had been covered up.  A faint track led up the slope into the forest.  The track showed that this was midden material that leveled out about 20 feet above the beach where a few ribbons marked Culturally Modified Trees and other excavations that had been covered up. 


I knew that the “footprint dig” was on the beach and not 20 feet above it.  I walked the beach looking for a site that resembled the photos I had seen and found the spot marked by a tiny ribbon.  The beach showed no sign that a dig had ever happened.  It had been excavated and covered a few times and without the ribbon on an overhanging limb there was no sign that anyone had ever been interested in this very spot on the planet. 

Two hours of slogging brought me to the end of Kwakshua Channel and Fitz Hugh Sound.  The overcast remained but I could see far down the sound past Addenbroke Lighthouse.  The sea was absolutely flat with zero wind.  I called Addenbroke to check in and maybe get invited to stay but my radio wasn’t sending.  Surprise!  My path took me across the wakes of a few fishing boats that were heading south.  The calm surface felt like I was paddling in pudding and the scent of a fried fish dinner trailed behind the fishing boat that I crossed closely behind.  Made me hungry.  I needed water and a place to camp. 

I paddled just a few feet off of the rocky shore of Addenbroke and rounding the southernmost point of the island I met a roadblock.  A Humpback was blocking my path just a few yards off the shore and only about 20 feet in front of me.  I stopped and waited for him move but he didn’t so I sat and waited.  I ate a ProBar while the beautiful mammal stayed at the surface and moved slowly from right to left.  I talked to him.  I didn’t need to speak loudly because he was so close.  I could have backed up and paddled out around him but this was special and I wasn’t in a hurry.  After about 5 – 10 minutes it was time to go so I signaled my intent by tapping on the sides of my kayak.  He took a breath and slowly dove.  The underside of his tail was white with a black margin.  Magnificent. 

I needed water and a place to camp.  I had both marked along a narrow inlet in Blair Island.  I found no place that looked like a campsite and the stream where I expected to gather water was dry.  It was a waste of time so I headed south down the shore then east towards 13.8 Beach, a place that I was loathe to see it again. 

13.8 Beach is a miserable place that Dave and I camped at in 2009.  It is so named because it won’t survive another inch more than a 13.8 foot high tide which we experienced and I ended up sleeping on top of a floating log.  The predicted tide was 14.1 feet.  Not a happy place so I was hoping against hope that I could find an alternative. 

I paddled straight towards the mainland past Nucleus Reef and found a boulder covered beach with a 5 foot-wide gravel slot where I could land without damage to my boat.  I pulled my heavily loaded boat up onto the rocks and looked for a place to camp.  



What a great place!  It turns out that landing at a lower tide is a no-brainer but I was lucky to have even considered landing here.  The south end of the beach is protected by an islet that connects to the mainland by a rocky tombolo that you don’t want to mess with.  Approach from the north side of the islet and watch for gravel. 

Smoky Sun Over Calvert Island

I set  up my tent on top of shattered barnacles and muscle shells against the forest.  I would be dry this night.  I left my boat 100 meters down the beach up on some logs and tied to a tree in the uplands.  I noticed that with some work clearing fallen branches space could be made for several tents.
 

18.9 NM


Nucleus Reef to Fury Cove
August 8 / Day 11
Overcast clearing in the afternoon, Winds calm increasing to W @ 10 knots, Seas calm to swells to 1 meter with 1 foot windwaves, Seas rippled

I was going on to my 11th straight day of paddling and I was feeling it both physically and emotionally.  I considered taking a day off and spending it sleeping late, finding water, drinking coffee and watching whales but I felt compelled to move south a few miles to Fury Cove.  At Fury I would be in a better position to set up for crossing Queen Charlotte Strait.  If I paddled beyond Fury my next camp site would be Open Bight and there are Brown Bears there.  I didn’t want that drama.  From Fury I could bypass the Cranstown Point wildlife issues and camp at Red Sand Beach where the wolves rules and bears are nervous.  I have never seen a single bear track at Red Sand Beach. 


I started south and entered Philips Inlet to paddle about .5 NM east in search of a stream that showed on my chart.  It drained a decent sized lake so I expected it to be reliable.  It wasn’t.  It was dry so I backtracked and headed south towards Penrose and Fury Cove.  My water supply was very low and I wanted to have enough water to get to Port Hardy.  I needed water. 

Arriving at Fury Cove I was pleased to see 13 pleasure craft at anchor.  Pleasure craft boaters tend to be incredibly social and helpful.  Seeing those boats, I knew that if I donned my best “pobrecito face” I would have all the water I could possibly use.  I didn’t want to play that card but I was in crisis.

Shortly after landing a zodiac launch pull up to the beach.  The middle-aged couple from Anacortes walked up and asked me where I was coming from, where I was going to, did I have enough food to eat, was there anything that I needed.  I didn’t have to put on the face, I just said that I was low on water and needed to find a stream.  They told me that they “made water” and asked me if I had any empty containers for them to fill.  Feeling very grateful with the knowledge that I would be able to have coffee and oatmeal in the morning I handed over a 10 liter and 6 liter Dromedary bags.  They took them and returned with both full plus an ice cold can of beer.  God bless them. 


We discussed plans and they said that they were going to cross the QCS on Friday.  It had been blowing all week and very rough but was expected to be calm on Friday morning and then pick up again late in the day.  They said that all of the southbound boats at anchor were waiting for better weather Friday for their crossing. 

I had been paddling for 11 days without rest and had planned to take a day off before making my crossing to Port Hardy.  I planned to lay over at Kayak Bill’s Camp at Extended Point and then use 3 days to stage at Shelter Bay which would be a nice relaxed pace but would have me crossing on Sunday but the weather forecast was calling for high winds after Friday continuing well into the next week.  Friday would have to be the day.

Later while preparing dinner a couple of guys on a sailboat from San Francisco showed up.  They were sailing north to Sitka and making a documentary about their journey.  They told me that they were recording interactions they had with “interesting” people they met along the way.  I’m thinking that I am going to be interviewed as they set up their camera equipment and poured me a glass of wine.  Then they filmed themselves playing bouche ball on the crushed barnacle beach while I drank my wine.  I guess I wasn’t that interesting after all. 


Just before sunset a thick fog bank rolled in from the north reducing vision to 300 meters.  I crawled into my tent and went to sleep.


7.2 NM


Fury Cove to Red Sand Beach
August 9 / Day 12
Heavy fog to low overcast, Winds calm increasing to W @ 15 knots, Seas calm to swells at 1.5 meter with 2-foot windwaves, Seas moderate at times

Some days on the water are perfect and some are less-so.  Sometimes those less-so days deteriorate in downright sucky and no fun at all.  Foggy days often fall into the less-so category for me. 

I awoke to fog with visibility of about 200 meters.  Not bad if staying close to shore but I would be crossing Rivers Inlet and Smith Sound with a combined total of ~10 NM of open water.  I delayed my departure until an hour into the flood knowing that it would take me another 45 minutes to reach Karslake Point where I would start across Rivers Inlet.  If it was to be a blind crossing I wanted to avoid currents that would drift me out towards Queen Charlotte Sound but I hoped that the fog would lift so I could see what I was doing.


The fog thickened and at Karslake Point I accepted that the crossing would be blind, set a course at 170 degrees and paddled off into the grey weirdness.  Right off the bat I could see that my speed was all over the place fluctuating from 3+ kt to .5 kt.  There was lots of confused water as currents mixed so for an hour and a half I struggled to maintain the 170 degree heading while being pulled one way and then another.  Several times the sound of chattering rips permeated the fog.  Some I crossed while others passed by in the dense fog.  The swell met opposing current and jacked up into menacing standing waves.  If there had been visibility this would have been an interesting leg but it was just no fun at all.  Finally, a bit of shoreline appeared and I cheated right knowing that it led to Cranstown Point.  I stayed within 200 meters of the shore from Cranstown Point to Lucy Bay where I pulled in for lunch.  

Lucy Bay is on the north side of Extended Point where Kayak Bill had a camp.  On two previous trips I had stopped at the pocket beach on the end of the point and searched for it without success.  Glenn Lewis had visited the camp with friends a couple years prior and Geoff Mumford had provided me with photos of their visit.  One of those photos showed the beach pretty well and another showed the view looking out.  I had those images burned into my mind.  I would find the camp by matching Geoff’s photos and Glenn’s description with what I was seeing.  By thoroughly searching Lucy Bay I could eliminate its two coves as the camp site and then focus on a more rigorous search of the beach behind Tie Island where I had looked before. 

Lucy Bay definitely wasn’t it though it did have some endearing features and a couple of interesting beaches.  Exiting the bay and paddling around to the end of the point I found the view that matched Geoff’s photo and it was where I had been twice before.  Google Earth shows that there are three tiny beaches separated by rock spines and all three beaches were absolutely choked with large floating logs that jostled and banged about in the surge creating a menacing cacophony of wood against wood and wood against rock that spoke very clearly and told me to stay away.  All I needed was to get ashore and search the two tiny scraps of beach that were within 50 meters of where I had looked twice before but there would be no landings made on Extended Point this day.  I wouldn’t be camping here after all.  I bobbed safely around just beyond the banging logs and wondered how much time Bill Davidson spent keeping his beach clear.

Plan B called for crossing Smith Sound and camping at Red Sand Beach.  Facing another 4.6 NM of blind open water I consulted my chart that showed that if I maintained a course of 123 degrees I would go right to it.  I was torn between confidence and dread having just endured the distasteful blind crossing of Rivers Inlet.  Here there was no concern about missing the far shore and being swept out to sea.  I would find the far shore, figure out which way to go then handrail my way along the rocks to Red Sand Beach but I really didn’t want to squint through another grey crossing filled with grey sounds and oddly-textured grey water. 

Smith Sound wasn’t so bad.  It didn’t jerk at my boat and paddle.  It didn’t make my compass spin or my hair stand on end.  Somewhere along the way I did encounter a westward flowing current that deflected my path to the right so that I missed the beach by .7 NM.  I had never seen the shoreline from that angle and it was very disorienting paddling back looking for that obvious red sand strip through the fog.  Eventually I rounded a point and spotted it.  So nice to know where I was.

Red Sand Beach sits a little over .5 NM behind that point and is normally well protected.  This time, however, there were random sets of waves dumping on the beach.  That wasn’t what I was expecting.  Some of the 1.5-meter swell was sneaking past the point and finding its way onto the beach.  I sat out from the break and tried to understand the timing but it wasn’t making sense.  Some of the sets swept from right to left while other left to right and then there were periods where the water flattened out completely and the beach was silent.  After watching for a pattern and not recognizing one my need to urinate overcame my patience and willingness to engage further in physical oceanography analytics.  I told myself that I was feeling lucky but in retrospect I was just desperate to pee. 

Waiting out a larger set I took off on the back of a wave and rode it in.  My timing was imperfect and I didn’t get as far up the beach as I should have.  Popping the spray skirt, I was working my arthritic and uncooperative knees out of the cockpit when I heard a wave approaching.  It crashed over my shoulders, loosened me from the cockpit and filled my boat with water and fine red sand.  My paddle was gone, too.  Catching a glimpse of it washing past I stretched out and almost captured it before it was swept just beyond my reach as the next wave crashed into me and completely extricated me from the boat, tossing me head over heels.  In spite of being full of water my boat window-shaded a couple of times in the surge.  I tried to run after my paddle but my knees were having none of it and another wave knocked me down.  I stayed down on my hands and knees chasing my paddle through the soup and catching it just as another wave pounded me and rolled me over.  Crawling away from the surf I willed my knees to work and was finally able to stand and stagger back to my Tempest.  I tried to pull it further away from the water but it was so heavy I lost my grip and fell over backwards.  “Fuck!  Is this happening?” 

Nothing was working right other than my bladder and it was demanding immediate attention.  I started feverishly working on opening the relief zipper but it was coated with fine wet sand and didn’t want to budge.  Multitasking now I continued to coax the zipper open little by little while walking towards the tree line and examining the beach for animal tracks.  Still struggling to unzip I was pleased to see a ton of fresh wolf tracks including the largest pawprint I had ever seen.  The wolf presence would keep Brown Bears away and then……………………..I tripped on a stick and went down hard and fast on my face.  “FUCK!” 

I hit so hard that the wind was knocked out of me and I felt like I had been punched in the face in a bar fight.  I rolled over on my back and gasped for breath.  Clearing out the cobwebs I was surprised to find myself lying flat on a beach that had always seemed so friendly yet had just kicked my ass.  Red sand was packed in between my left eye and the lens of my sunglasses.  My left nostril was clogged and there was sand packed in my left ear.  My yellow drysuit was covered with sticky fine sand and I still had to pee.  Struggling to my feet I took care of business and when done found that the drysuit’s pee zip was hopelessly jammed open by that infernal red sand. 


At the conclusion of a “less-so, sucky, no-fun-day” I sat on a log and reflected on what the wolves must have been thinking.  How did they interpret the spectacle that had unfolded before their eyes?  From the moment my hull touched the beach they watched as I acted the part of a blindfolded man running away from a firing squad.  Falling, crawling, getting up, falling down and ultimately being shot dead.  If that wasn’t personally humiliating enough they were now watching me clean the sand out of my pee zipper with my toothbrush.




16.9 NM


Red Sand Beach to Shelter Bay
August 10 / Day 13
Heavy fog to low overcast, Winds calm increasing to W @ 15 knots, Seas calm to swells to 1.5 meter with 2-foot windwaves, Seas moderate at times

It was another foggy day.  The task was to set myself up for crossing Queen Charlotte Strait during the weather window on Friday the 11th.  The crossing from Shelter Bay is about 5 NM less than crossing from Skull Cove but would make for a longer day today.  I was 12 days without rest and feeling it.  I wanted to go no farther than Skull Cove though I dislike camping there.

When setting up for crossing the Queen you must address a couple of significant objectives.  I believe that the best strategy with winds from the north or west is to round Cape Caution shortly after the turn to flood.  This takes the wind against current issues out of the equation and ensures you have time to cross Slingsby Channel well before it starts ebbing.  Slingsby is a place that you really do not want wind against current as on a strong ebb it is a firehose that drains the majority of the Seymour / Belize Inlet complex into Queen Charlotte Sound. 


I left the beach at a little after 8:00AM with about 2.5 hours to paddle to reach Cape Caution.  Visibility was poor but sea conditions were benign so I stayed in close and mostly maintained a visual with the shoreline.  I passed very close to Cape Caution and then angled out to the south to avoid the giant eddy that forms past the cape and well into Silvester Bay.  Currents conspire to pull you in their counter rotation and it took a conscious effort to avoid it.  Fog lifted to form a solid overcast down to about 100 feet which made it difficult to identify shoreline features so I was guessing where I would find Wilby Point.  I was ready for something to eat and I prefer Wilby over Burnett Bay as a rest stop. 

Fog returned and I made my way across Burnett Bay by IFR.  Soon enough I approached Slingsby Channel under ideal current conditions.  Ideal conditions at Slingsby doesn’t mean flat water.  Even with low wind and a flood current the surface gets odd as waves and swell bend and collide creating a texture that can be fun if you can see it but not fun if you can’t.  I spent 20 blind minutes of weirdness crossing the mouth of the channel.

Nearing the southernmost end of Braham Island, I reassessed my options of camping at Skull Cove or Shelter Bay. 
·         Skull Cove was only 1.7 NM.  I would get to Skull close high slack of 4.1 meter but would be leaving in the morning at 2.5 meter.  Never having seen the place at low tide I didn’t know if it would allow me the luxury of leaving when I needed to.
·         Shelter Bay was about 7.2 NM away but would require a 2.8NM blind crossing.  I didn’t really think that I had another 2 hours of paddling left in the tank and I wanted to be done with blind crossings…..at least for the day.
·         If I went to Skull Cove and it wasn’t viable I would have a 2NM blind crossing to make while paddling another 6.5NM to make it to Shelter Bay. 
I was beat, hoped for the best and reluctantly chose Skull Cove.  It was a bad choice as even at 4.1 meters it is very boney and at 2.5 would have be pretty awful.  I toured Skull Cove looking for a better, steeper beach.  Finding nothing I tried to get my mind right, ignore the pain and started for Shelter Bay. 

I chose a course of 120 degrees that I felt would get me safely across and north of Southgate Island.  From there I would simply follow the coastline that would lead me to the channel between the Southgate Group and the mainland and continue down the coast to Shelter Bay.  Foolproof. 

The wind had picked up and the conditions were getting somewhat snotty so when the tall rocky shoreline emerged from the foggy gloom I was looking forward to  it leading me to shelter behind the Southgate Group.  What I came to realize was that I had almost missed Southgate Island altogether and was on the westernmost and outside end of it.  I hadn’t anticipated the effect of the current flowing southward out of Schooner Channel which drains the remainder of Seymour/Belize pushing me so far off course. 

The texture of the water was making more sense to me now as it was colliding with the current in Queen Charlotte Strait and both were bucking the 15 kt wind.  If I had been able to see anything on my way across it would have been easy to interpret but here I was on the wrong side of my intended cover.  The ragged water became more so as the swell reflected off of the steep shoreline and progress slowed significantly.  Enjoyable water under other circumstances but I was tired and visibility very limited.  A white pleasure cruiser appeared out of the fog headed north and we passed in opposite directions about 40 meters apart.  He was pitching, yawing and rolling all over the place and I felt fortunate to be in the craft better suited to the conditions. Rounding the point of the island the passage between Southgate Island and its neighbor, Stevens Island, angled back towards cover.  Here there was less clapotis and well organized standing waves were struggling against the stiff current that was flowing between islands.  It took a while to surf my way upstream to cover but I wasn’t getting beat up any more. 

It took another 1.5 hours for me to slog on to Shelter Bay.

27.4 NM


Shelter Bay to Port Hardy
August 11 / Day 14
Heavy fog to low overcast, Winds calm increasing to W @ 15 knots, Seas calm to swells to 1.5 meter with 2-foot windwaves, Seas rippled

It was hard to accept another day of paddling in fog but this was my one weather window to cross Queen Charlotte Strait.  If anything, the fog seemed even heavier than the past two days.  It is about 5NM from Shelter Bay to the Deserters across a major shipping lane and enormous tidal passage.  I would be making the crossing in a complete whiteout and with no radio for alerting shipping traffic of my whereabouts.  At 7:30 AM I left for Port Hardy on a heading of 180 degrees. 


Things got pretty strange from the very beginning and I struggled to maintain my heading and reconcile it with the constantly changing bearing.  I can hold my focus on the deck compass and maintain a heading for hours but when I look down at my GPS for the speed and bearing I get dizzy and it takes a bit for my eyes dial it in.  In the meantime, my heading changes, repeat, repeat, repeat.  I was pretty sure that my course was not straight. 

Several times I heard powered craft making the same crossing.  Only once did the fog and their close proximity allow me to actually see a boat as it motored past.  The rest of the time I listened carefully and tried to located them by sound. 


The leg from Shelter Bay to the Deserters should have taken a little under 2 hours.  When my time en route passed the 3-hour mark it was my second clue that my course was far from ideal.  I gave up on worrying about my bearing and just paddled a 180-degree course knowing that whatever the current did with me I would eventually bump into a shoreline and I could figure out a course correction at that point. 

Suddenly my desired waypoint emerged in the distance.  I was on track!  The fog was lifting!  I didn’t have to stare at my compass any longer!  I couldn’t wait to be done and give my mind and body a rest from paddling.


It was another 4 hours from the Deserters to Port Hardy.  During that time the fog lifted to form an overcast and then dissipated altogether giving way to a bright sunny day.  The westward flowing ebb that had confounded me changed to flood and a west wind began to build in Goletas Channel providing a bit of a nudge on the final push.

It wasn’t until I downloaded my GPS track that I realized how much the current and zero visibility had messed with me. 






17.1 NM





Epilogue

This was a different trip and certainly not my favorite.  All aspects of it were harder than anticipated.  I use the word “harder” to describe it rather than the phrases “more difficult” or “more challenging” because, to me, the word “harder” connotes physical discomfort while “more challenging” of “more difficult” suggests the testing of one’s skills.  Not that there wasn’t some that. This was about discomfort.


I was crystal clear on my dependence upon perfect weather for parts of the outer Aristazabal section but I figured that if the weather wasn’t perfect I could still get out to Clifford Bay, Weeteeun Bay and Lombard Point.  However, I wasn’t expecting to encounter the sort of winds that forced the complete abandonment of that section and my ensuing run for cover in the lee of the Bardswell Group.  That put everything into fast forward and removed the hope of relaxation for the first 6 days.  I never got out of that mindset and found myself deep into it again at Fury Cove.  I haven’t gone that many days without taking or being forced to take a day off before so I was really dragging and my boat, gear and paddle seemed to get heavier and heavier. 

The route covered 196.4 NM (226 miles) in 14 days
The shortest day was 7.2 NM (8.3 miles) from Nucleus Reef to Fury Cove
The longest day was 27.4 NM (31.5 miles) from Red Sand Beach to Shelter Bay
Average time in the cockpit was 6.7 hours.
Longest time in the cockpit was 10.9 hours
Overall the weather was dry.  Very little rain and what rain I had was light.  The first week was mostly clear while the second week was dominated with low overcast and heavy fog.
Average daily winds 14 kt.
Average combined seas at 5 feet



The daily temperatures were always pleasant and conducive to paddling without overheating. 

Beautiful Humpbacks shared the waters with me on most days.  The encounter near Addenbroke Light Station was remarkable and very, very close.  I wish that I had taken some photos but as I have mentioned before whenever I try to capture a whale encounter with a camera I miss out on the moment and end up with boring photographs.  This “moment” was much longer and more intimate than others.  He/she was aware of my presence and chose to stay with me for a while.  I could have come away with magnificent photos but those images will, instead, live in my mind.

This solo experience again reinforced my preference for flexibility and self-determination but solidified the fact that solo travel is physically much more taxing.  Managing a boat and 130 pounds of gear twice a day for two weeks on the beach is really hard work.  Harder than it was 5 years ago.  I fear that it is a young man’s game.