Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Never Turn Your Back on the Sea

 

Honolulu’s own Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku is recognized as the  Father of Surfing and during his life gained worldwide popularity as an Olympic swimmer, all round waterman and humble philosopher.  Many popular quotes track back to him during his 77 years and maybe the most famous is “Never turn your back on the ocean”. 

Duke Kahanamoku
1910 - Library of Congress - 10653

The late, great Eric Soares was a spectacular modern-day waterman in his own right.  Co-founder and Commander of the Tsunami Rangers he and his crew introduced the world to a gonzo sea kayaking discipline that is called Rock Gardening.  While Eric departed this plane in 2012, he left us with his Ten Commandments of Sea Kayaking.  Knowing a good idea when he heard it he borrowed from Duke and his First Commandment is “Never turn your back on the sea”. 

Eric Soares
image Michael Powers

In the early 2000’s my trip partner, Dave, was studying under the tutelage of Leon Sommé and Shawna Franklin, BCU Coaches and co-owners of Body Boat Blade International.  Their teachings resonated with him and reflect in his paddling today.  One of the things that really stuck was them saying “Never turn your back on the sea” and that became a part of Dave’s psyche and a bit of a mantra.  

 Shawna and Leon
image Justin Curgenven


Fast forward to 2023

In August we were feeling our way south along the BC coastline in thick fog making towards Indian Cove.  Visibility was less than 100 yards.  Scary stuff, as far as I was concerned, as we were paddling by chart and sound alone hoping that we were interpreting the sounds of surf correctly.  The too-close sounds of Milthrop Point brought us out of our compass-focused state and we shifted to Squint-and-Listen mode.   Feeling our way along that convoluted shoreline was nerve wracking as we tried to stay close enough that we had some hope of visual reference yet far enough out that we wouldn’t enter a trap.  For over an hour and a half we poked and prodded our way along, straining to see and hoping that we were interpreting the sounds of crashing waves accurately.  Bumping into the Neck Ness complex was a scary godsend as it forced a 90 degree course change amid boomers, both seen and only heard, but located our position with an absoluteness that we had been longing for.   After that it was a matter of clearing “the Neck” and searching for the entrance to Indian Cove, which was the next nut to crack. 


Once we were, audibly, past the Neck Ness weirdness we angled back in and started squinting really hard.  A slightly darker grey shape began to emerge out of the grey background where we reckoned the entrance to Indian Cove should be.  It was only slightly darker than the fog so detail couldn’t be discerned, nor could I judge the distance or scale.  It looked like it might have the right shape and be guarded by the same rocky guardians that showed on our charts.  Creeping closer we could see large swell crashing on rocks that restricted entry.  Sound intensified.  We were pretty sure it was the entrance to Indian Cove but it didn’t look friendly.  Swells to 2 meters crashed against the rocks and pushed us forward.  At the crest of the swells we could see a mess of clapotis and white water but not much more.  We both felt that this had to be it.

Google Earth

Recalling Leon and Shawna’s advice, Dave squinted over his shoulder at the approaching waves.  Sensing a lull, he went first disappearing in the troughs and then emerging on the crests but, visibly blending with the grey background until disappearing altogether. 

My turn.  While the entrance was about 50 yards wide it looked to me like much less than half of that was viable.  I watched as three kings in a set passed and took off on the back of the third.  Pretty invigorating stuff that required some technical paddling.  Lots of ups, downs, sideways, forwards and backs.  The white water stretched about 100 yards towards the beach.  It amazes me what capable little craft we paddle.  

Once past the weirdness I was able to make out Dave’s yellow drysuit near the shore.  As I approached, I saw that he was standing in knee-deep water hanging on to the stern toggle of his boat to keep the surge from taking it into the scattered rocks.  His other hand was occupied with the business of urinating.  Standing there with his relief zipper open and both hands holding precious possessions he didn’t notice the larger waves approaching. 

Dave doesn’t swear but when he suddenly experienced a couple of gallons of cold sea water in his drysuit he loudly expressed his displeasure. 

All I could say was “Never turn your back on the sea, Dave”.

 

Monday, September 11, 2023

Klemtu 2 Port Hardy 2023


After six years of retirement preparations, Covid restrictions and the business of selling our house, buying a new one and moving to Everett it was time to return to the BC coast and the Great Bear Rain Forest.  It had been even longer for my paddling partner, Dave Resler, who made it clear that he was going, no matter what.  All he asked me to do was all the planning and preparations.  Piece of cake, right? 

Honestly, I wasn’t convinced that he would really be able to go so I put off planning longer than I normally would have and when I did start I found that all of my nautical charts and charting tools had disappeared in our move.  Unbelievable!  I bought enough replacements to cover the waters between Port Hardy and Caamano Sound as I figured that I could come up with something interesting there but then found that Garmin had discontinued support for Homeport, the charting program I use.  Double unbelievable!  I had lost significant functionality in their decision to cast me aside but figured out enough workarounds to where I could get by. 

With my new charts and crippled Homeport application I decided to create a trip that would be familiar yet have enough new twists and turns to be interesting.  I felt that it would be most efficient (and fun) to ferry up to Klemtu and paddle back to Port Hardy by whatever route struck our fancy and that the conditions would accommodate.  Most of our “planned” campsites were just options and not hard and fast daily destinations.  Heresy, for some, but that's how I roll.  It would be a vague route that would allow us to change with the wind.  The chart work took me a couple of months of consistent work to complete. 

After losing all of my charts, finding my charting program “broken”, several of my dry bags delaminated, battery cases rusted shut, some safety gear expired or worn out and other key gear missing in action I shouldn’t have assumed that I was through the “broken phase” of the trip.  And I wasn’t. 

Dave had a new Garmin Mini 2 that would allow limited texting.  Since this brought a new expectation to our trips and because I was sensing that there might be some communication issues regarding conditions, movement, etc. I asked local paddler, mentor and all around good guy, Bill Porter, to act as our interpreter when and if a message really needed clarification and the guy who would handle things if we really needed help. 

This is the story of the Carhartt Duct Tape Tour.


Drive to Port Hardy

July 28 / Day 0

Drive to Port Hardy

Upon arrival in Port Hardy we suffered our first equipment failure when the adhesive holding one of the anchor tabs for Dave’s North Water Underdeck Bag came loose.  No worries though as we had a couple of hours before we could check in at the North Coast Backpackers Hostel, it was a lovely day and Carrot Park offered us a pleasant workspace for open air repairs.


At 4:00 PM the proprietor of the hostel showed up but suggested that we walk down the street to watch the arrival of the Hōkūleʻa and crew as they were welcomed to Port Hardy by by the local Indigenous people.  The Hōkūleʻa, a 62 foot Samoan sailing vessel is on a trip to circumnavigate the Pacific Ocean and the three local First Nations people, Kwakiutl, Quatsino and Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw were onhand for the traditional welcoming ceremony and it was a moving display.  We were fortunate to be able to witness that tradition.



Klemtu to Tombolo Camp

July 29 / Day 1

60˚, Overcast

Winds light and variable / Seas calm


There were a number of paddlers aboard the Northern Expedition who were bound for Prince Rupert or points beyond.  Only three paddlers disembarked at Klemtu.  Dave, me and 2015 R2AK race veteran and Anacortes resident, John Strathman.  We helped him move his craft, an Easy Rider OC1, beneath the ferry dock where he set up quickly and was on his way north long before we launched.

The put-in treated us to all of its usual charms including scraped gel coat, bumped forehead, bloody knuckles, banged up toes and twisted knees.  A stellar time was had by all.  Some folks think that expedition style kayaking is dangerous, but it is what we expose ourselves to on shore that threatens us most.  


Once afloat we paddled just 6.1 NM to Tombolo Camp in Meyers Passage and called it a day.  Dave’s camera started acting up and his cockpit leaks were still evident.  My paddling shoes let me know that I should have bought them a size larger. 


6.1 NM / 2:12



Tombolo Camp to Milne Island

July 30 / Day 2

60˚, Scattered clouds to Overcast with showers

Winds calm changing to S @ 15 gusting to 20 knots / .7 meter swells with 3 foot windwaves, Seas moderate

 

Tombolo Camp is set just above a clamshell beach that was created long ago by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais or their ancestors.  They built “walls” of boulders between two sides of a wooded islet and the adjacent shore where silt and sand collected to create an environment where clams flourished.  This traditional aquaculture is still obvious all along the coast and harvested in the traditional way. 

Tombolo Camp also features a good stream with acceptable quality water.  Good water is not a gimmee on the coast.  The stream here doesn’t have too much tannin so we gathered, filtered and stocked our full 30 liter capacity. 


The weather started out beautiful but quickly changed to rain as we explored McRae Cove and Jorgenson Harbour.  Within 3 NM of Milne the strong south winds from Laredo Sound found us and turned a pleasant paddle into a slog.  At Hartnell Point it was full-on and partially abeam with .7 meter swells and windwaves to 3 feet.  Holding a course cross to these conditions was tough but Dave made the best of it by hiding below the crests and running the troughs for all they were worth.  The lee of Milne Island was a comfort. 


The stitching holding one fabric cuff on Dave’s dry suit failed.  We considered duct taping it in place but ultimately got over it and let it flop.  Also, his camera breathed its last and has crossed the Rainbow Bridge.  My Spot device failed to send tracks.

11.2 NM / 9:39



Milne Island to Higgins Passage

July 31 / Day 3

65˚, Scattered clouds to Overcast with showers

Winds SW @ 5 – 15 knots / Low SW swell with 2 foot windwaves, Seas rippled

 

Heavy showers darkened the sky to the east and pushed winds and waves across our bows while we covered the ~3.2 NM from Milne to Wilby Point.  It made the crossing of Kitasu Bay somewhat of a sporting event and kept us on our toes.  As if conceding the round to us the winds abated once we landed. 

Kayak Bill had a camp here at one time and I thought that I would have a look-see.  Dave and I split up to broaden our search and within 15 minutes he called me on the radio telling me to come have a look. 

Billy Davidson

There were the remains of a camp set back from the west facing beach marked by a buoy.  I’m not convinced that it was Bill’s, though, as it had several architectural elements that weren’t part of his prototype.  However, the granite shards of the firestand and several other signature pieces suggested otherwise.  This structure was made of the usual materials but the shape of the walls and flat roof were both atypical.  This structure seemed to be “L-shaped”, which I had never seen before, and Bill had mostly settled on at structure with a pitched roof rather than flat.  On his charts he had carefully marked the location on the east side of the point but this was on the west side. 

Navigating the western entry to Higgins Passage has always been tough for me so for fun I assigned that task to Dave.  He was confused but did better than I ever have.  He even found the entrance to the  lagoon where Kayak Bill’s “Higgins Pass Camp” molders away in the forest.  Unfortunately, the tide was too low to allow us linger so we left and moved on. 

Entry to Lagoon in Background
Image by Billy Davidson


The Higgins Passage Campsite exhibits the scars from heavier usage than past years.  Some cardboard garbage was left on the beach, the ground cover is completely gone in places, a fire ring was built in the uplands and some “anti-Leave-No-Trace / Look-at-Me” nimrod left his/her/their failed Bear Grylls merit badge project standing in the forest.  I won’t dignify the eyesore with a photograph but it is an A-frame-style-too-small shelter with a windscreen erected where the wind never comes from.  The roof is made of sticks and ferns so you know how well it sheds the rain.  It is basically nothing other than a monument to Nimrod’s visit.  So glad that he/she/they left it for all to worship. 



We discovered some holes in the body of Dave’s new Hubba Hubba NX.  We patched them with Tenacious Tape.  My “land” camera started calling for constant battery changes, freezing or shutting off.  What’s with that?   My Spot device checked in and out reporting position about half of the time.  I put in a fresh set of batteries.

11.5 NM / 6:38



Higgins Passage to Pidwell Beach

Aug 1 / Day 4

65˚, Clear

Winds light and variable / Seas calm

 

Higgins Passage narrows and gets very bony at the south end of Lohbrunner Island.  Even with the best of tides there are still large barnacle covered rocks just beneath the surface waiting to snack on your gel coat.  You really have to pay attention and go slow.  No paddling in straight lines here.  Even when you are well east of Lohbrunner you can’t let your guard down.  I was nearly 2 NM beyond the narrows and feeling like I was in the clear when I ran solidly aground.  I wasn’t even that close to shore.  First there was water and then there wasn’t.  Be careful out there.



At one point we stopped at a creek to filter water.  The stream banks and intertidal grasses were covered with headless Salmon. We started to count them but there were too many. We estimated ~200 freshly killed Salmon.  Blood was still oozing from some of them. 


The BC Coastal Wolves eat only the nutrient-rich heads. Good caloric economy and it allows them to avoid ingesting a parasite present in raw Salmon that is potentially fatal to canines. They had started their feast at high tide and worked their way down stream until we arrived. We never saw a single wolf but they saw us.  How many wolves does it take to eat 200 Salmon heads?


Pidwell Beach was our planned lunch stop and it has some charm.  It is protected from nasties that blow in from Milbanke Sound by Pidwell Reef which sits about ¾ mile offshore.  There is a good stream at the west end of the reddish-brown sand beach.  The forest descends right down to the water which means that there is no upland camping.  All camping is on the sand or in the logs.  It’s special and I’ve never missed a chance to stop and visit. 


Dave suggested that we stay the night, but I knew that at 16.7 feet we were in for the highest tide of the month.  No way.  Dave walked around looking at the previous night’s high tide (16.4 feet) and identified three tent-size spots in the logs that should be above the next high slack.  I’ve always wanted to camp at Pidwell and Dave is seldom wrong with tides.  It seemed to me that we should stay dry and if the tide turned out to be higher than forecasted there were logs that we could throw our stuff on top off.  We set up, lounged around, ate dinner and eventually turned in. 

Since high slack was at 1:32 AM I set my alarm for 1:00 AM.  Throughout the night the surf sounded uncomfortably close so when my alarm went off, I was ready for a look-see.  I awoke to a spectacular evening with the huge yellow full moon blocked by only strips of scattered clouds.  Loud surf was surging around both sides of my tent but was still more than a foot below my pad.  Dave had been up for two hours watching the show because he had forgotten what time high slack was and didn’t want to disturb me.  When I told him that we only had 30 minutes to go he did the math and relaxed.  In the morning we saw that every section of beach other than our three small tracts had been inundated.


Outages by my Spot device continued throughout the day.  I put in a fresh set of batteries.

8.5 NM / 7:14



 Pidwell Beach to Gale Passage

Aug 2 / Day 5

65˚, Clear with areas of thick fog

Winds SW @ 5 – 15 knots / Low swell with 2 foot windwaves.  Seas rippled

 

There is a point with fog where the thicker it gets the easier it is to follow a compass course.  It can be deep fog extending high above the water or shallow fog that is still thick but shallow enough that the sun penetrates it to some degree.  With deep fog you can’t see one damn thing and have to rely on sound, smell and your compass.  With shallow fog you get distracted and chase light, distrusting what your compass is telling you.  I do pretty well in deep fog but shallow fog gives me navigation conniptions and my course looks like a river winding through the flatlands. 

On this day the morning started clear but soon the eastern shore of Milbanke Sound was obscured by shallow fog.  Southwest swell with windwaves caught us on our starboard beam and made it tough to hold the 120˚ course to Keith Point.  Add to that the shallowness of the thick fog and my dumbassedness for being easily confused and chasing light and we found ourselves a mile north of where we intended to be.  The flood current slowed us to a crawl as we struggled south back to our intended course.  Eventually we had lunch at Kayak Bill’s campsite on Dallas where we explored his amazing boardwalk in 2007. 


The slog to Seaforth Channel and across to Gale Passage seemed longer and harder than I remembered it from 2017, 2009 or 2007.  Once we entered Gale Passage we found that the tide was so low that it was hard to wind our way in and once we were in front of the cabin there was a ton of steep rocky beach with no place to gracefully exit our boats.  I just sat in my boat and waited for the tide to rise a bit.

My GPS burned through another set of batteries.  I loaded another set and switched to battery save mode.  Dave’s GPS would not find satellites.  Fresh batteries didn’t help. 

16.8 NM / 8:02

 

 

 Gale Passage to Cape Mark

Aug 3 / Day 6

65˚, Clear

Winds SW @ 5 – 15 knots / Low swell with 2 foot windwaves.  Seas rippled

 

Very nice day on the water.  We paddled west from Gale Passage to Cape Swain where the coast of Athlone Island turns south.  The wind and waves were mostly in our faces which made for pleasant paddling.  We watched as one helicopter after another flew into St. John’s Harbour.  Within 15 minutes of each landing a high speed sport fishing boat loaded with recent arrivals motored out past the buoy marking the end of Rage Reef.  It was a constant line of boats leaving wicked wakes for us to manage.  It was really fun.  We likened it to the Montlake Cut on Steroids. 


The camp site at Cape Mark was in good shape with little sign of recent use.  Due to the current high tides the beach would be inundated so we happily made use of the cleared tent spaces in the forest.

9.0 NM / 4:41



Cape Mark to Sneaker Cabin

Aug 4 / Day 7

70˚, Clear

Winds light and variable / Seas calm

 

Low tide at Cape Mark always shocks me because when the tide is low the water is GONE.  It looks like the surface of a different planet so we just waited until we had water to enough to float our boats.  That meant that we didn’t launch until nearly 2:00 PM which led to a hot and nearly windless paddle to the labyrinth of islands that trickle off the south end of Stryker Island. 



Sneaker Cabin was so-named because it was one of those places that nobody seemed to either know or talk about.  I had stumbled on it through Google Earth.  I spotted the roof profile while searching for possible campsites seven years ago and visited it on a solo trip in 2017. 

It is hard to find and barely qualifies as a cabin now due to its state of decay.  The path to the cabin has become overgrown and treacherous but there is an area about 150 feet away that survives most tides and that is where we set up our tents. 


The stitching of the security harness for my Spot device failed so I couldn’t secure the device.  I sewed it up using needle and thread from my repair materials.  Also, my GoPro froze up and stayed that way until it burned through the battery charge.  I found that I had brought the wrong charging cable so camera number 3 out of 4 was DOA.

9.3 NM / 4:20

 

 

 Sneaker Cabin to Cultus Sound

Aug 5 / Day 8

60˚, Clear with areas of thick fog

Winds light and variable changing to W @ 5 – 15 knots / Seas calm increasing to 1 meter swells with 2 foot windwaves.  Seas calm increasing to moderate at times

 

Low tide kept us from launching until 1:00 PM and then we were off to Iroquois Island to gather water.  I spent an hour and a half filtering water while Dave watched the boats.  There isn’t a good place to get out of your boat or to get back into them there so Dave spent much of that time in waist deep water keeping the boats safe.  I definitely had the better job.


The fog set in as we started across Queens Sound for the Simonds Group.  Sea state was 1 meter swells with 2 foot windwaves.  It kept us busy.  We agreed that if we cheated to the left whenever we encountered islets or rocks we would be fine.  Due to the thick fog most of the rocks and islets were heard rather than seen so cheat, we did.  It seemed that the sound of waves crashing was becoming constant, pushing us further to the left of rocks that didn’t appear on our charts.  Finally, with the sounds right on top of us we saw that we had been skirting a large tide race for the last half hour or so.  Lines of noisy standing waves extended as far as we could see, which wasn’t far, but we spent quite some time managing that unexpected challenge.  

When we finally entered the “Simonds Group” we were happy for the cover and to actually know where we were.  I turned on my GPS to confirm our location and was very surprised to see that we had entered a dead end passage in the McNaughton Group and were 2 NM ESE from where we had reckoned we were.  We’ll catch the Simonds Group next trip. 


Another surprise awaited us as we finally entered Cultus Sound.  Another tide race had set up with 2+ foot standing waves created by currents clashing midway through the flood with only a 10 foot exchange.  I’ve been to Cultus Sound half a dozen times and never encountered that before. 

The final surprise was finding Barb and George Gronseth of Issaquah’s Kayak Academy camped on the beach with several friends.  The day was complete!


13.8 NM / 11:18



Cultus Sound to Triquet Island

Aug 6 / Day 9

65˚, Clear with areas of fog clearing by noon.

Winds light and variable / Low SW swell.  Seas rippled

 

Our friends left Cultus Sound northbound for the clamshell beach on Soulsby Point while Dave and I wandered south without a particular destination.  We stopped in Swordfish Bay for a snack and a look-see.  While we were there a pleasure boater anchored nearby paddled up to chat.  He asked if we had heard the latest weather update which called for strong SE winds of 40-45 knots arriving in the evening.  He said that the new forecast called for it to hit with great force and suddenness, be short-lived and move on.  That was new since the 4:00 AM report so we decided that we needed to choose suitable cover to ride it out and Swordfish Bay wasn’t it. 



We considered stretching for Calvert Island but didn’t feel that we had the time to make it work.  We considered the Serpent Group, too, but were both concerned that it wouldn’t provide the cover needed for the predicted blow.  Triquet would work, however, the Heiltsuk were requesting that it be considered off limits.  I knew of a campsite in the Edna Islands but had never been there.  We decided that we would head there and if it wasn’t suitable we would seek shelter on Triquet.  Understanding the sensitive nature of Triquet these were special circumstances where safety was our primary concern.  Edna proved to be unacceptable since it faced directly into the predicted southeasterly with only beach camping available so an hour later we drove our bows ashore at Scuzzy Camp on Triquet. 

Scuzzy Camp has been a heavily used site for many decades and is home to Randel Washburne’s first cabin built in 1977.  Aside from that dilapidated cabin it was fronted by an ever-expanding display of garbage that folks felt compelled to hang from the trees that lined the beach.  I first stayed at Scuzzy Camp in 2005 and it was a mess back then.  Subsequent visits confirmed that the site continued to entertain too many uncouth campers who were the antithesis of Leave-No-Trace advocates. 

2017 image

I had mixed feelings about finding that Randel’s cabin had totally collapsed and was just a pile of wood.  Other piles of garbage strewn about (broken lawn chairs, ice chests, fishing floats, piles of rope, etc) were an eyesore but sometime between my 2017 visit and this writing I’m pleased to say that somebody cleaned up the garbage that was displayed along the beachfront.  You are welcome. 


We set up our tents under rain tarps and called it a night.  I was laying in my sleeping bag listening to the waves on the beach and the light rain on the rain tarp when a sudden strong wind slammed into trees and down onto the tarp.  BOOM!  Just like that we went from no wind to high winds with rain that continued through the night. 

7.3 NM / 5:55



Triquet Island – Weather Day

Aug 7 / Day 10

55˚, Rain

Winds SE 15 – 20 knots / Seas moderate 


The next two days brought stout winds and rain.  Travel on Kildidt Sound and Hakai Passage was a bad idea so we gathered water from our tarps and bagged it.

 

 

 Triquet Island – Weather Day

Aug 8 / Day 11

55˚, Rain

Winds SE 15 – 20 knots / Seas moderate

 

 

Triquet Island to Wolf Beach

Aug 9 / Day 12

60˚, Overcast with low clouds

Winds S @ 5 – 15 knots / Swell to 2 meter with 2 foot windwaves.  Seas moderate

 

While preparing to launch Dave found that his primary paddle (Werner 210cm Cyprus) was broken.  The shaft end of the male half had broken off when he took it apart but he hadn’t noticed.  Another equipment failure.  Luckily, he had a fine back up blade in his Werner Ikelos.  

The paddle out across Kildidt Sound towards Stirling Island was a bit rowdy.  The high winds and rain were past but the sea state carried the scars of weather near and far.  It was sort of like showing up late to a house party where all of your friends had already left.  The house is trashed and the only ones left are some angry skinheads in their jackboots, greasy jeans and tank tops.  Neo-Nazi tattoos abound, and they are just glowering at you.  You will be able to get out alive but they are going to rough you up before you escape.  That is the sort of a go we had all the way to Calvert Island. 

We settled in at the west end of Wolf Beach and pondered our next move.  Both of us were desperate to paddle the outside of Calvert but conditions were expected to feature our skinhead friends for a few days and the outside of Calvert doesn’t need their help to be big and rowdy.  There is also the issue of Blackney and Grief offering only beach camping up in the logs, which isn’t a great place to hang out in the rain. 


Then, as Dave was pulling off his drysuit he tore a wrist gasket.  That gave us purpose for the rest of the day.  Dave dug into his well-stocked repair kit and extracted a replacement gasket, Aquaseal and duct tape.  We found that my Jet Boil stove with the neoprene insulation removed was the perfect size “tool” for that repair. 


Not ready to put the tape away Dave turned to his sandals that were delaminating front and back.  It should be noted that he purchased these sandals in 2004 and that this pair is the very definition of “worn out”.  He was on a repair roll, so to speak, so he taped them back together.

11.5 NM / 7:26



Wolf Beach – Equipment Repair Day

Aug 10 / Day 13

50˚, Fog and Rain

Winds S @ 5 – 15 knots / Swell 1 meter with 3 foot chop.  Seas moderate

 

Dave’s gasket repair was a success and we were suiting up for our yet to be determined route when I noticed a tear in my neck gasket.  Oh, crap!  Well, I did have a replacement gasket in my kit and since Nazis were in the forecast, it wasn’t going to be an “outside” kind of day, so we agreed to take a day off to repair my drysuit.  The tear was in the body of the gasket and not from the top.  It was about an inch long and I wanted to try to patch it instead of replace it. 

We used more of Dave’s Carhartt Duct Tape, which was turning out to be a fine product.  We taped the edges together and cut a patch from Dave’s failed wrist gasket.  Next came Aquaseal and the patch was covered with another layer of tape. 

The day was young and the duct tape was plentiful so we tried sealing up the joint between Dave's deck and cockpit combing where water may have been entering. 


We both read and wrote for the rest of the day.  



Wolf Beach to Safety Cove

Aug 11 / Day 14

50˚, Fog and Rain

Winds S @ 5 – 15 knots / Swell 1 meter with 3 foot chop.  Seas moderate

 

I was hesitant to find out if the repair was a success.  I was afraid that the tape would be glued down with the Aquaseal but was pleased that it peeled cleanly from both sides of the gasket.  Next I had to find out if I could get the suit on and off without more tearing.  SUCCESS!

Since Nazis still abounded in Queen Charlotte Sound we wisely chose to go inside through Kwakshua Channel and cross Fitz Hugh Sound to Nucleus Reef.  In Kwakshua we stopped to gather water and had lunch before poking our noses out into Fitz Hugh Sound. 



As soon as we were out in the open I had serious concerns about that crossing.  Since the wind was solid and from the south all windwaves were crossing from the right.  Those 4 NM to Addenbroke looked to me like a bad bet and at best they would be slow, technical and not fun at all.  I felt that the smart choice was to turn north and let the conditions push us ~5 NM to Goldstream Harbour where we would be out of the wind and rain.  Dave felt that north was the wrong direction as we wanted to go south.  He suggested that we push ~8 NM against conditions to Safety Cove which is a place that I have never heard anyone speak an encouraging word about.  I thought that maybe he knew something that I didn’t know and with a name like Safety Cove how bad could it possibly be?  After 5 hours of grinding against the wind and waves we found out. 

After touring the cove we found that the only obvious place to camp was the clamshell beach at Safety Point located at the north entrance.  After 8 1/2 very tough hours in our boats we were ready to take it.  Lots of rocks but do-able.  It was questionable if there was going to be room for a tent and if it would stay dry so we elected to string a tarp between two large logs and spend the night in our drysuits.  Paddlers do that all of time, right?  Probably no big deal, right? 


The space between the logs was sloped and about 3 ½ feet wide.  By taking the foam seat out of my kayak I had something soft and insulated to sit on.  Dave sat in his Thermarest Chair.   Both of us had our backs against one log and our feet against the other.  Our knees were bent at about 90 degrees.  PFD’s and spray skirts provided additional insulation.  We shared another tarp as our blanket.  I think I might have gotten 30 minutes of sleep. 

19.4 NM / 8:30



Safety Cove to Cranstown Point

Aug 12 / Day 15

60˚, Clear with fog developing

Winds light and variable increasing to NW @  15 knots / Swell to 1.5 meter with 2 foot windwaves.  Seas moderate

 

The morning dawned clear and calm but the low tide didn’t allow us to launch until after 10:00 AM.  The crossing to Penrose is about 6 NM and took us nearly 3 hours as we were slowed by developing fog and flood currents.  The currents built to a ridiculous level when we were within a mile of the lagoon entrance.  It was crazy!  No signs of moving water other than not being able to make any headway.  Maybe the toughest mile of the trip. 



The lagoon anchorage at Penrose had signs all over announcing that the park was closed due to Covid restrictions.  Folks seemed to be taking it seriously as we had the lagoon to ourselves.  We ate lunch and moved on another 7 NM across Rivers Inlet to Cranstown Point.  The winds and combined seas built during that crossing and kept us busy.


The cabin at Cranstown was in great shape.  The cabin journal indicated that a party had spent some time there just three days prior to our arrival and that the cabin was seeing about two parties per month.  Since the conditions stayed larger than we wanted for the next leg which included the crossing of Smith Sound, negotiation of the Kelp Head complex and finding a strategic staging site near Cape Caution we waited for a break in the NW winds.  For two days we did boat repairs, read, wrote and worked on trail maintenance.  Dave also did a “permanent” sandal repair using Aquaseal and fresh duct tape. 


“Seriously Dave.  Pitch those 19 year old mothers and get yourself some new ones”.

19.1 NM / 10:42



Cranstown Point – Weather Day

Aug 13 / Day 16

70˚, Clear

Winds NW @ 15 - 25 knots / Swell to 2 meter with 3 foot windwaves.  Seas rough

 

 

Cranstown Point – Weather Day

Aug 14 / Day 17

70˚, Clear

Winds NW @ 15 - 25 knots / Swell to 2 meter with 3 foot windwaves.  Seas rough

 

 

Cranstown Point to Indian Cove

Aug 15 / Day 18

60˚, Clear with fog developing

Winds light and variable increasing to 15 knots / Swell to 2 meter with 2 foot windwaves.  Seas moderate




On August 15th the winds dropped to 15 knots and seas moderated a bit.  We found that a few skinheads were hiding in the near shore rocks and shoals but we made a clean escape.  The crossing of Smith Sound started out perfectly with light and variable winds and glassy smooth swells. 


We explored the waters around Table Island and spotted some curious deer.  To the south a deep fog bank slowly enveloped the cape above Hoop Bay and adjacent shorelines that forced us to navigate by compass and sound, once again.  

After an hour the sounds of Milthrop Point brought us out of our compass-focused state and we shifted to Squint-and-Listen mode.  Feeling our way along that convoluted shoreline was nerve wracking as we tried to stay close enough that we had some hope of visual reference yet far enough out that we wouldn’t enter a trap.  For over an hour and a half we poked and prodded our way along, straining to see and hoping that we were interpreting the sounds of crashing waves accurately.  Bumping into the Neck Ness complex was a scary godsend as it forced a 90 degree course change amid boomers, both seen and heard, but located our position with an absoluteness that we had been longing for.  After that it was a matter of clearing “the Neck” and searching for the entrance to Indian Cove, which was the next nut to crack. 



Once we were, audibly, past the Neck Ness weirdness we angled back in and started squinting hard.  A slightly darker grey shape began to emerge out of the grey background where we reckoned the entrance to Indian Cove should be.  It was only slightly darker than the fog so detail couldn’t be discerned, nor could I judge the distance or scale.  It looked like it might have the right shape and be guarded by the same rocks that showed on our charts.  Creeping closer we could see large swell crashing on rocks that restricted entry.  Sound intensified.  We were pretty sure it was the entrance to Indian Cove but it didn’t look friendly.  Swells to 2 meters crashed against the rocks and pushed us forward.  At the crest of the swells we could see a mess of clapotis and white water but not much more.  We both felt that this had to be it and Dave went first disappearing in the troughs and then emerging on the crests but, visibly blending with the grey background and then disappearing. 

Google Earth

My turn.  While the entrance was about 50 yards wide in those conditions it looked to me like much less than half of that was acceptable.  Pretty invigorating stuff that required some technical paddling.  Lots of ups, downs, sideways, forwards and backs.  The white water stretched about 100 yards towards the beach.  It amazes me what capable little craft we paddle. 

14.3 NM / 6:31



Indian Cove – Weather Day

Aug 16 / Day 19

60˚, Clear

Winds NW increasing to 15 – 20 knots / Swell to 2 meter with 3 foot windwaves.  Seas rough

 

Indian Cove is primarily beach camping but there is a cleared area above the beach that will accommodate two tents.  That is where we spent the next four nights as NW winds increased to 20 knots with combined seas to nine feet.  Capable craft or not, those conditions were too big and our next move needed to count.  We were next door to Cape Caution and 8+ NM from Slingsby Channel.  The next attractive campsite was Shelter Bay where we would stage for crossing Queen Charlotte Strait.  Skull Cove was a reasonable distance away but I consider it a miserable place to camp.  We were going to need a good day to get to Shelter Bay but conditions were forecasted to stay strong for several days, possibly moderating at the beginning of the week. 

And then there was the matter of the Brown Bear. 

We had spread our damp gear all over the beach to dry and air out.  Dave’s sleeping bag and long underwear hung from logs about 20 yards from the tents.  I was sitting against a log reading when Dave said something.  Not sure what it was but there was a Brown Bear walking towards us on the beach.  What to do? 


Dave grabbed a big stick that was about 8-10 feet long in order to look big, I guess.  I had a better idea.  I donned my red Strutter and PFD in order to survive the pending direct attack.  Jamming my Bear Spray cannister in my pants pocket I tried to look as threatening as possible while holding the poop shovel in one hand and my Gerber River Shorty in the other.  Shouting bear obscenities and brandishing my weapons I must have been a scary sight.  It got his attention and he stopped moving and focused on us.  Maybe that was a bad idea.  Since we were about to die I figured that I should document our last moments on this earth so that whoever found our bodies would know that we went down fighting. 


Finding a pile of seal bones, he flopped down on the beach and started snacking.  Snacking??!!  Oh crap!  We hadn’t hung our food.  Dave dropped his stick and ran to gather the food and his hanging kit.  Nothing like the fear of becoming a meal to make you become hurried, clumsy and irritable.  I kept shouting at Dave to hurry up and he kept shouting back at me demanding status updates. 

Finally the bear had his fill and got to his feet.  Listening to my commonsense instructions for what he should do next must have made an impact as he started walking our way again.  He walked on the logs with a sure-footedness provided by claws that evolved to rip open whatever he chose and here he came.  Dave was busy being clumsy, dropping rope, pulleys, and food bags into the salal-choked forest floor all the while demanding constant updates as to what the bear was doing.  I thought that he was being unreasonable as I couldn’t figure out what he was doing.  I wasn’t in the frame of mind to calmly say “Gee Dave, he is just taking a stroll down the beach and is now 30 or 40 feet from you”.  It wouldn’t have gone well but once the bear got to Dave’s laundry and sleeping bag he took a whiff, turned sharply, and walked into the forest.  All I could think of to tell Dave was something like “You should probably come out of there now”. 

We wore our armor and carried our weapons for the rest of the afternoon.

As if that weren’t enough we realized that we wouldn’t be able to cross Queen Charlotte Strait for the next few days and we were running low on food and water.  We went on bear watch plus half rations for food and no coffee for me.



 

 

Indian Cove – Weather Day

Aug 17 / Day 20

60˚, Clear

Winds NW increasing to 15 – 20 knots / Swell to 2 meter with 3 foot windwaves.  Seas rough

 

What a great day!  Dave found a source for water at the far end of the beach.  Groundwater seeping out of the forest was collecting in rocky depressions above the high tide line.  We gleefully gathered a lot of it and took it back to camp to filter.  In celebration I made and enjoyed several cups of coffee.




Indian Cove – Weather Day

Aug 18 / Day 21

60˚, Clear

Winds NW increasing to 15 – 20 knots / Swell to 2 meter with 3 foot windwaves.  Seas rough

 




 Indian Cove to Shelter Bay

Aug 19 / Day 22

60˚, Heavy fog clearing in the afternoon

Winds NW increasing to 10 – 15 knots / Swell to 2.5 meter with 2 foot windwaves.  Seas rough

 

The 4:00 AM forecast was calling for winds below 20 knots for the first time in days.  We needed to move south in order to stage for crossing Queen Charlotte Strait, but our route had some serious objectives. 

  • We would round Cape Caution during an ebb and with unsettled seas.
  • We would cross Slingsby Channel with NW winds and swell.
  • We would cross the south Braham Island complex with NW winds and swell.
  • We would do it all in fog.

Cape Caution doesn’t need any help being tempestuous.  Throw in an ebb current against wind and sizeable swell and it can be challenging.  Slingsby Channel can be a bone a chew as it inhales and exhales the waters of Belize Inlet.  Currents can be strong and confusing long past slack tides.  My experience is that it is always weird there.  The waters south of Braham Island are dotted with rocky islets and shoals.  Schooner Channel is Slingsby’s ornery little brother and while its currents aren’t as strong, they are persistent and far reaching. 


After several days of being out of the boat exiting Indian Cove was nearly as invigorating as our entrance had been.  Tide was pretty low restricting the width of the entry and enhancing the already sizeable swell.  My plan to paddle away from shore for 30 minutes before turning south for Cape Caution was a good plan but we both discarded it for no apparent reason and ended up passing the cape with visual reference in spite of the significant fog.  Crawling against the ebb was discouraging and physically taxing as the sea state was moderate to rough.  Very sporty paddling. 

Once we were finally past Cape Caution and across Silvester Bay the fog cleared ahead as far as the south end of Burnett Bay.  We remained a mile offshore and could clearly see mist from the sizeable surf rising ~100 feet above the beach.  Not the day to visit Randel Washburn’s Enchanted Cabin.  Well before reaching Bremner Point we were engulfed by thick fog and navigating again by compass.  Between Bremner and Buccleugh Points the grey water became confused by clashing currents and rising wind.  Several boats were fishing the area and would appear and disappear in the fog and swell..  As we were right at low slack we chose to land at the beach behind Buccleugh and give the flood a chance to establish before crossing Slingsby Channel.  Facing into the NW winds and swell Buccleugh gave us a semi-spicy welcome.

Leaving Buccleugh we started across Slingsby Channel in the fog on a 120-degree heading.  Seems like water at the mouth of Slingsby is always in motion and lumpy in a disorienting fashion.  Swell gets bent to varying degrees creating weird crossing patterns.  After an hour of navigating in moderate seas and fog I lost confidence in my ability to figure out where we were and turned the task over to Dave. 

The next hour was one of the most enjoyable periods of the entire trip for me.  The fog became shallower, creating a brighter environment, a little more visibility but still magic silver light.  Since I didn’t have to be glued to my compass (like Dave) I could just follow along and take the ride.  Swell height had increased and they were bending again creating huge reflective lumps moving in two directions all topped with windwaves.  The swell and combined windwaves that encountered opposing current would steepen and spill creating more reflective surfaces.  A humpback could be heard approaching from out of the fog taking three big breaths before I spotted him about 40 feet away.  His body, encrusted with barnacles, moved in slow motion and glistened in the magic silver light.  Rivulets running down his back added more reflective interest.  His tail rose, dripping water, and then slipped beneath the surface.

At that point, Dave had had enough compass crawling and begged me to take over again.  Following a compass in those conditions for hours at a time is really hard to do and he was spent.  Soon enough the course he had held for us intersected with the north end of the Southgate group, the fog dissipated, and we entered a different world. 

For hour number nine we paddled in sheltered waters but hour number ten was back out in the wind and waves again until we rounded the point and pulled into Shelter Bay.  We were pretty wasted.

 

21.1 NM / 12:25



Shelter Bay – Weather Day

Aug 20 / Day 23

60˚, Clear

Winds NW increasing to 10 – 15 knots / Swell to 2.5 meter with 2 foot windwaves.  Seas rough

 

The 4:00 AM weather report called for NW winds 10-15 knots with westerly swell to 2.5 meter and 2 foot windwaves.  Hearing that a crossing of Queen Charlotte Strait would involve managing combined seas to 9 feet made it easy to go back to sleep.  Maybe tomorrow. 

A 40’ sailboat motored in and anchored off the beach.  Soon the owners rowed ashore to gather wood and visit.  Andrea and Kai had been living aboard the Black Witch for 25 years.  Currently berthed in Port McNeil, Kai is a shipwright with more work than he has time for.  The couple is from Germany, I believe, and have traveled the BC and Alaska coastlines extensively.  They know everything.  They know the three indigenous families who make the best Ooligan grease and they know the stream where the Wolves catch the fish, eat the heads and leave the fresh kill for them to clean and eat.  After several hours of visiting they bid us fair travels and rowed back out to the Black Witch



Shelter Bay to Port Hardy

Aug 21 / Day 24

60˚, Overcast

Winds light and variable. Seas rippled

 

The 4:00 AM weather forecast called for winds to be Light and Variable.  By 6:40 AM we had dumped our excess water, eaten the last of our rationed oatmeal and headed across Queen Charlotte Strait for Port Hardy.  Skies were overcast and visibility was unlimited.  After three weeks of bad weather and drama it felt odd to have such great conditions for crossing. 


The first 6NM to Shelter Passage took 2 hours with very little current encountered. The crossing of Gordon Channel to Bell Island was the opposite as we were immediately countering a 3+ knot ebb that ripped us off course before we knew what had happened.  That turned into a real grunt as we made nearly zero headway against it.  Once onto Bell Island we stopped for our last lunch.  It took 3 more hours to get to our takeout at Bear Cove. 

By 3:15 PM the truck was loaded and we started our drive home arriving in Everett at 3:15 AM.

17.2 NM / 7:33


196.1 NM / 113:06


Epilogue

This was an interesting trip that was planned to be laidback with days off whenever we felt like taking one.  Neither of us were in paddling condition and expected to hurt.  It turned out that we took more forced weather days than in all of my eight previous BC coastal trips combined and conditioning wasn’t an issue.  All days off except for one were due to high winds and seas. 

Mileage:

  • Total mileage 196.1 NM / 363.2 KM
  • Total number of “Trip-Days” 24 days
  • Total number of paddling days 15
  • Average daily mileage 13.1 NM
  • Shortest daily mileage 6.1 NM
  • Longest daily mileage 21.1 NM
  • Average time in cockpit 6.5 hrs
  • Longest time in cockpit 11.6 hrs

 

Weather:

  • During our 24 days on the coast:
  • average temperature was 61 degrees
  • Average Peak winds 18 knots

 

Seas:

  • Average swell 3 feet
  • Average windwaves 2 feet
  • Average Combined Seas 5.4 feet

 

On the 15 days that we traveled:

  • Average Peak Winds 16 knots
  • Average Swell Height 2.4 feet
  • Average Windwaves 1.5 feet
  • Average Combined Seas 3.9 feet