Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Beatdown at Red Sand Beach

Originally published 10/13/2019

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, Combined seas to 6 1/2 feet, moderate at times

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

At Karslake Point I 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 and 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 managed while others remained hidden and jeered at me from the cover of the dense, thick, opaque air.  Smooth swell met opposing currents and jacked up into menacing standing waves that appeared suddenly out of the gloom.  If there had been visibility this would have been an interesting leg but, in these conditions, it was just tense and no fun at all.  Finally, a bit of shoreline appeared in the distance and I cheated right knowing that it led to Cranstown Point.  I stayed close to shore from Cranstown Point to Extended Point where I pulled in for lunch. 

The three tiny beaches where I planned to land 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 called me by name and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was to stay away or suffer damage to boat, body and blade.  Facing another 4.6 NM of blind open water I consulted my chart that showed that if I could maintain 123-degree course I would end up at Red Sand Beach.  I was torn between confidence and dread having just endured the distasteful yet successful 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 at my deck compass through another grey crossing filled with grey sounds and oddly-textured grey water. 

It turned out that 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 through the fog looking for that obvious red sand.  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, though, and I didn’t get as far up the beach as I should have.  Popping the sprayskirt I started 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 filling 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 beyond my reach.  Just then 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 was 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 I didn’t get to my feet before another wave knocked me back down.  I stayed down on my hands and knees chasing my paddle through the soup like a dog after a stick and caught 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 laying flat on a beach that had always seemed so friendly yet had just totally 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 I was 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 condemned, blindfolded man running away from a firing squad.  Running, tripping, falling, crawling, getting up, running, 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.

Friday, April 8, 2022

The Faces of Type III Fun

Having spent the majority of my life at REI I have been surrounded and inspired by young-at-heart, active people who have a taste for living life to the fullest and well-practiced risk management skills.  Not a sedentary group of folks and our activities of choice have often been viewed as fringe sports or sports participated in to the fringes of sanity.  For us the “Three Types of Fun” are nothing new and probably learned as adventurous children.  For those who have never heard of this system of rating fun I’ve listed some things below that can potentially define a “Type” as relates to my reality.  It goes something like this:

  • Type I Fun – Blue skies, isolated puffy Cu’s, winds 5-10 KT’s or whatever it takes to keep you cool, feeling strong, skills are right-on, friendly surf-free beaches, currents are favorable, campsites are plentiful with highbacked beaches and tent-sized clearings, no bear sign, whoever might have been there before left no beach architecture or other sign of their passing, your camping gear is all dry and only gets damp from the evening dew.  These are the sorts of things that you enjoy as they are happening and would gladly repeat. 
  • Type II Fun – Tired but happy, weather is within reason, rain might be involved but you are dressed for it, small craft warnings might be issued so you have to pay attention and active paddling is required, beach surf is spilling and not dumping, camping above the next expected high tide can be managed, currents are mixed but manageable, there is bear sign but more recent wolf sign, thoughtless beach architecture left as monuments to the previous paddler’s passing can be easily taken down and scattered, camping gear may be damp but still functions as required, tent and contents stay dry if it rains.  These are the sorts of things that may not be enjoyable as they are happening and may take you from your comfort zone but add to the overall fun and though they cause some angst to think of doing them again you are willing to repeat the experience.  
  • Type III Fun – Worked to near exhaustion, feeling ill, hard rain driven by near gale to gale force winds and associated sea states, difficult conditions requiring regular bracing to stay upright, surf is high or dumping, adverse currents, campsites are scarce, hard to find with no tent-sized clearings or available places to hang a hammock, obscene beach architecture so massive and involved that there is no way to remove it, previous visitors left obvious poop and toilet paper, all gear is soaked and it dumps rain throughout the night.  These are the sorts of things that are not fun at all as they are happening, maybe dangerous, you wouldn’t wish them on anyone, creates an overall miserable experience and you never, ever want to repeat them.     


We were nine days and 130+ NM into an outer coast jaunt from Bella Bella to Prince Rupert.  It was day 2 of 4 days that we would spend on Banks Island, the coast of which is festooned with all sorts of confidence-inspiring place names.  Calamity Bay, Terror Point, Grief Point, Foul Bay, Junk Ledge and Wreck Islands to name a few.  As we ground against the current and quartering wind I pondered how all of those features ended up being named after bad experiences.  Little did I know that I would soon be adding to the Banks Island Collection of Nightmare Names.  

We were into what has probably been my least favorite day of kayaking ever and it was followed by what was certainly my least favorite kayaking night, period.  The paddle up island was just a raggedy, grey wet slog.  Low grey clouds, heavy grey rain, endless grey water and a battering grey gale.  A very tough day paddling in rain and moderate to strong west winds with associated sea state.  Awkward wind direction, adverse currents, bent and reflected waves.  Staying upright took concentration.  Staying warm was more difficult.  No place to land, let alone camp. 

About 1.5 NM south of Kelp Point we entered a narrow tapering cove to get out of the conditions and found a beach-of-sorts that was choked with large drift logs.  While it would be inundated by the evening’s high tide it was out of the wind and we had been in our boats for five hours so we landed to see if camping was possible.  Everywhere, rivulets carved streams in the sand beneath the confusion of large logs and anyplace we stepped immediately filled with water that didn’t soak in but pooled in our footprints.  The steeply ascending forest that backed the beach was impenetrable.  

There was one tiny place at the base of the rock-lined forest where Dave’s two-person tent could be crammed in to accommodate one person.  Then, we found a small sloping spot for me to jam in up against the rocks that bordered the beach.  It took a lot of clearing and laying of sticks and still wasn’t nearly large enough for my tent but it looked like someplace I could maybe seek shelter from the rain.  Greg was screwed as there was no room inside our tents and I had taken the last possible spot.  He vowed to sit, watch the tide and move below the logs after the tide retreated.  He placed all sorts of small flotsam in front of the logs that would make noise if they moved and woke him up.

I stripped out of my dry suit inside the tent and noted that the floor was already soaked as water moved beneath it.  I had to be careful about letting anything touch the floor as it would immediately be wet and I was already cold.  My sleeping bag was damp and didn’t provide the insulation I needed so I kept my neoprene helmet liner on, changed into my last clean and dry long underwear, put on my last dry socks, wrapped my jacket around my feet, zipped up my bag and attempted to stay on top of my air mattress which provided a tiny island of sorts.  If I could keep everything dry by staying on top of the mattress, I had a chance to warm up and get some rest.  That was a fool’s mission, though, as the “ground” sloped significantly towards the water so I continually migrated down the mattress and had to wriggle back up.  The wetness on the tent floor increased and by the light of my headlamp I could see water pooling beneath it while air bubbles migrated upwards.  Just as I would start to doze off, I would feel the end of the tent with my feet and do the uphill wriggle again.  At least my feet and legs were warming up. 

About this time, I was figuring that there wasn’t much else that could go wrong when between wriggles I received an unwanted visit from the Gastro-Intestinal Fairy.  “Wait-what?!”  I had been bothered by odd rumblings for a few days but had been able to keep things in check.  Now the GI Fairy was calling checkmate and it was time to get out of the tent in a hurry.  Like about 5 minutes ago but I was zipped tightly into my bag with my legs zipped tightly into the sleeves of my jacket.


No time for a zipper to get stuck but in my haste, I jammed it up good.


Doing the uphill wriggle to exit my bag while struggling to accomplish a favorable outcome I quickly abandoned any attempts of keeping things dry.


I had to get the damn insulated jacket off of my legs.


Next came unzipping the tent but in my panicked attempt I grabbed the upper zipper instead of the lower.


Time was up and I had to be outside.  I didn’t have time to zip it back up and grab the lower zipper so I negotiated the partially open tent door with as much care as was possible, which under the circumstances was to say none at all.  At the point of exploding I threw the vestibule door up over my head and rapidly crawled out into the driving rain in my last clean and dry long johns and socks, the very same ones that I had worked so hard to keep dry.  On my hands and knees I aimed away from the tent and paid homage to the GI Fairy. 

I didn’t sleep that night as I was soaked, cold, fixated on the water in my tent, the migrating bubbles, worried about another visit by the G.I.F. and wondering whether it was worth trying to stay on my “air mattress island” or just roll over and die of hypothermia.  Death would have brought relief but after much consideration I chose to live. 


So, on a 238 NM, 15 day trip that was one of the best experiences of my life there wasn’t a ton of Type I fun to be had.  Lots of Type II experiences and one totally Type III day and night.  Would I do it again?  Damn right I would.  In a heartbeat.  The unnamed beach on the Nightmare outer coast of Banks has been appropriately named “Crap Camp” and I’ve replaced my soiled long johns so I’m good to go.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Blue Highways of the Inside Passage - Part I

Originally published 11/30/2016

Paddling the Inside Passage changes people forever.  Attempting it is bold.  Completing it is remarkable.  I stand in awe of those who have attempted or completed that task.

Living in Seattle I have the good fortune of being just a day’s drive from Port Hardy which is located at the north end of Vancouver Island.  That allows me access to the Canadian Coast that most North American paddlers would die for.  While I have paddled parts and pieces of the Inside Passage I lack the commitment that is required to do it from start to finish.

The planning and logistics of a trip of that magnitude are daunting and the time requirement can be tough to accommodate with our busy lives.  The Canadian and Alaskan Pacific Coastline is probably a long way from your home.  It certainly is for most North American paddlers so just getting to and from your put-in and take-out isn’t easy for most.   It takes tremendous commitment from beginning to end and I suspect that this combines to make the Inside Passage trip a one-and-done sort of experience for many paddlers.

The IP is well established and serves as the primary route for all water craft with only minor variations that are focused on efficiency of staying on task.  Little is mentioned about what lies just off the route by a day or of lesser-used parallel routes and from an efficiency standpoint that seems wise.

In 1982 William Least Heat Moon released the book “Blue Highways” which was his account of traveling around the United States using lesser used roads which, in the days of paper road maps, were blue in color.  Avoiding the interstate highways/established routes his experience was enriched by traveling the “road not taken”.  since it may be hard for you to return to this remote paradise consider incorporating some “Blue Highways” into your route planning. .………..just in case you don’t get back that way or you need fodder for planning another trip.

As Robert Frost once said:

I shall be telling with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Breakfast with Kayak Bill - by Colin Lake

Originally posted 12/22/2019

Image by Colin Lake

In the fall of 1994, I got a job with a small logging outfit on British Columbia’s mid-coast.  Rather than felling live trees like most loggers do, we made our living by salvaging trees that were floating in the ocean or deposited on shore by high tide.  This method of logging is known as “hand-logging” or “beach-combing”.  We would collect timber from the myriad inlets and channels using a small tugboat, and construct a large floating raft, or ‘boom’ of logs that would be picked up every couple of months by barges travelling up and down the coast. 

Image Colin Lake

Our floating camp was nestled in a sheltered inlet roughly midway between Klemtu and Bella Bella, in the Finlayson Channel area of northern Milbanke Sound.  We were about a three-hour tug boat ride from town, so supply runs were only made every four to six weeks.  The camp consisted of several trailers on top of a barge measuring approximately 10 x 30 meters, with the deck sitting about 2 meters above the water.  Long lines, the thickness of your forearm, ran from each corner of the camp to the shore, maintaining the barge’s protected position at the back of the inlet while still allowing for rise and fall with the tide.  It was common for several weeks to go by without seeing anyone, with the possible exception of a prawn boat or salmon fisher who would unexpectedly tie up at our camp for the night to get out of a heavy sea.  We didn’t punch a clock or work regular hours; available daylight, weather conditions and tides determined where we went and what we did each day.  I was in my early 20’s, and recently graduated from college.  I grew up in a small town in eastern Ontario, and this was the first time in my life that I had spent any amount of time on the ocean - the scenery, weather and wildlife all seemed exotic and overwhelming. 

About a month after I started the job, my boss had to fly down to Victoria for some meetings.  Camp could not be left unattended for the three weeks he would be gone, so I stayed alone to ‘camp-sit’.  There was no telephone, satellite, television or electricity (aside from a generator).  My daily routine was to wake up and turn on the VHF radio in the kitchen to monitor channel 16 for weather forecasts and Coast Guard notices to mariners.  Then I’d fire up the large gas-powered pump to empty out the barge that the camp sat on – it was always taking on water, and would sink if left unattended for more than a couple of days.  Once the camp chores were done, I was free to go hiking, fishing, or exploring the various islands and passages around camp. 

During my solo camp-sitting stint, ‘Kayak Bill’ dropped by for a visit.  I had been told a little bit about Bill – he tended to keep to himself, lived largely off the land and travelled everywhere in his kayak.  My boss seemed to know Bill to some extent, and in hindsight I wonder if he had arranged for Bill to drop by and check on me and make sure the ‘new kid’ wasn’t having any difficulties while alone at camp.  Whatever his motivation, Bill paddled into my camp one morning and introduced himself.

My first impression of Bill was how incredibly weathered he appeared – it was hard to even guess his age.  His skin was very deeply tanned, with lots of wrinkles around the eyes resulting from so much time on the water.  He had a long grey beard, and wore lots of wool – not a scrap of nylon, gore-tex, or neoprene.  He looked like a rugged, outdoorsy homeless guy.  I don’t recall him being a large man, but he gave the impression of being pretty wiry and tough – capable.  In such an isolated and remote setting, it’s a little awkward to suddenly have a conversation with a complete stranger after not speaking to anyone at all for a week.  However, Bill wasn’t a big talker, and I’m not either, so we seemed to get along alright.  I invited him in, then made us omelettes and put the coffee on – both were luxuries that Bill said he didn’t get often while paddling.  I puttered around the kitchen, and Bill smoked hand-rolled cigarettes, consulted his carefully-annotated, well-worn navigational charts, and we chatted.


I’ve always enjoyed camping and paddling, so I was interested in all the details of how Bill managed such long solo trips in a challenging and often hostile environment.  He told me he could go six or seven months without needing to get essential supplies from town (ammunition for his .22, tobacco and rolling papers, garlic, rice, flour).  During these extended trips, he packed his two-person kayak full of supplies, while all of his fresh food was obtained from the land.  He described shooting waterfowl and seals, setting hook-lines for fish, and eating lots of shellfish.  He told me that he was surprised to find that the first seal he shot immediately sank to the bottom – he assumed that they would float like a cork when dead.  Bill was unwilling to lose the hard-won food, so he jumped into the ocean and swam down to retrieve the dead seal.  As a result of this experience, he only shot seals that were basking on shore so that they were easier to retrieve.  Bill didn’t romanticize his lifestyle, nor claim to know everything - he struck me as very pragmatic and well aware of the challenges that he faced.  He mentioned that he was considering having all of his teeth pulled and replaced by dentures, so that dental self-maintenance would be possible if issues arose while paddling in remote parts of the coast. 
I asked him if he was camping nearby, and he was somewhat vague, describing a series of camps that he used depending on the weather and season, and how many tourists were around.  During the time I was alone at camp, Bill dropped by two or maybe three times to say hi – he must have been in the general area at that time (within paddling distance), but I never saw one of his camps.  I assumed that Bill would not be willing to pose for a photo (I should have asked - I may have been wrong), so I surreptitiously snapped a photo of him paddling into our camp.  Once the film was developed, I discovered that the quality of the photo was pretty poor.  I think my camera lens was suffering from the seawater and moisture that was so punishing on all of our gear.  At any rate, the grainy, blurry quality of the photo I snapped of Bill has always seemed somewhat appropriate to me for some reason.

 Image by Colin Lake

Bill was well-known locally (by reputation, if not personally), but there were also others from the ‘outside’ who knew of Bill, and he seemed to have attained folk-legend status in some circles.  On two occasions while doing fuel runs into Bella Bella, I ran into kayakers who were looking for Bill.  These folks had taken the ferry up from Vancouver for a paddling vacation, and were decked out in the latest high-tech paddling gear with high-end boats, clothing, navigational gear, etc. – the very antithesis of Bill’s well-worn kayak with the home-made sailing mast and his wool clothing.  The visiting kayakers approached me while I was on the fuel dock, and asked if I knew ‘Kayak Bill’ and where he might be found.  Secretly pleased at being mistaken for a local, I played dumb, and said that I’d heard of Bill, but had no idea where he was or where his camps were.  Bill didn’t seem to want to talk to a lot of people while he was out on the water, so I didn’t feel that I should encourage anyone looking for him.  It wasn’t like I could really give any useful information on his whereabouts anyways.  Anyone that wanted to keep a low profile could easily do so in the thousands of kilometers of coastline and intricate network of channels and fjords of the mid-coast.  Perhaps that was part of the appeal that this area had for Bill. 

I met Bill again that December, when my boss and I went home for a Christmas break.  Since the camp couldn’t be left unattended, arrangements were made for Bill to camp-sit.  When we returned to camp after a couple of weeks on the mainland, everything was fine, and the camp dog by this time was absolutely devoted to Bill.  Apparently, the store-bought dog food had run out, and to the dog’s delight, Bill had switched his diet to seal.  By the time we returned, the dog had put on a considerable amount of weight, and his coat absolutely glistened – he looked like a hair model from a shampoo commercial.

The year I spent on the coast was one of the important formative times in my life, and I think of my experiences there frequently, including meeting Kayak Bill.  I am not claiming that I knew him well – we only met a couple of times.  However, the impression he made on me was disproportionate to the short period of time I spent in his company.  Aside from being an interesting person to talk to, I liked the ‘idea’ of Kayak Bill – the willingness and ability to live outside of society to a certain extent and slow down the pace of life and live much more simply than most of us do. 

You don’t meet people like Kayak Bill often.  In fact, most people never meet someone like Bill.    

Colin Lake – November 2017

Friday, October 15, 2021

Kayak Bill Camps

Originally published October 3, 2012

At one point or another every paddler who travels the BC coastal waters hears about Kayak Bill Davidson.  For me it came on August 4, 2005 in the Shearwater bar at the culmination of my first coastal kayaking trip with Dave Resler, Keith Blumhagen and Larry Longrie.   Having run out of food we had cut our trip short and paddled in from Quinoot Point.  We were feasting on pizza and beer when a dark haired, sunburnt man walked up to our table and sat down.  He smiled and introduced himself as Keith Webb.  We poured him a beer.

He had something to tell us that he simply had to get out.  He began recounting the trip that he had just completed following in the wake of Kayak Bill.  He told us how Bill had established camps at remote locations on the coast while living a semi-hunter/gatherer life style for 28 years and how he had just returned from visiting some of those camps.  We poured him another beer.  He talked for hours about Bill’s journals, charts, windscreens, fire stands and many camp sites.  Keith’s friend Brian Clerx showed up so we poured him a beer, too.   Brian lived nearby and talked about his friend, Bill Davidson.  He told us how Bill had spent a couple months each year painting in a cabin on his property in order to finance his next ten months of living off the grid.  He told us about the boardwalk and trail that Bill had built through the forest for his daughter and invited us to his home to view one Bill’s paintings. I was intrigued.

Fresh from his trip Keith submitted an article about Bill to Sea Kayaker Magazine where it was posted online.

Over the next two years Keith and I stayed in touch and I learned more about Bill Davidson and the life he lived.  When Dave Resler and I returned to the coast in 2007 we had eight Kayak Bill camps marked on our route that would start in Klemtu and end at Shearwater.  On that trip we discovered that what Bill labeled as a “Bivi Camp” on his charts was not always a desirable campsite and contained no obvious infrastructure.  In fact, some the spots he marked as Camps took a vivid imagination, lots of determination to find and showed little if any signs of his passing.  Often there was nothing to see and in most cases there were much better, albeit, well known and obvious places to camp.  Many were just sites he used as stopovers on his way from one real camp to another.  Some camps we could not find at all.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Klemtu 2007

Originally Published 3/16/2008

When Dave and I started talking about a trip for 2007 we didn’t have approved time off from our jobs.

We didn’t have a route.

We didn’t have a plan, really.

We were inspired to get back to the coast and do something a little more ambitious than we had done before.

The 2005 trip introduced me to the area and convinced me that I had to return again and again and again until I could say that I had paddled the West Coast of Canada. Bumping into Keith Webb at the conclusion of that trip in the bar at Shearwater was amazing fortune as he introduced us to the legend of Kayak Bill and planted some seeds for this trip. His on-line article for Sea Kayaker Magazine fertilized those seeds. We walked into that bar motivated by pizza and beer and walked out inspired by the legend of a dead man.  If you are unfamiliar with Kayak Bill read Keith's excellent online article here: Kayak Bill - A Requiem
John Kimantas, a Canadian author and sea kayaker, had quietly released a book called "the Wild Coast" which covers kayaking the west coast of Vancouver Island. When I received the book for Christmas I hadn’t seen or heard of it before. What a surprise. Detailed routes, great photos, good natural history. Dave and I were inspired to start planning our next trip.

Work kept me close to home in 2006 so I wasn’t able to travel but Dave did go back to the Central Coast and spent a rainy week at Cultus Sound with Larry and Connie Longrie. During that time John Kimantas released the Wild Coast 2 which covers the coast from the north end of Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert. John’s descriptions of campsites that Dave and I had stayed at were spot-on and gave us confidence in using the Wild Coast 2 as a planning tool for the 2007 trip. We wanted to spend as much time as possible “outside” and finding information on the Outside Passage was not as easy as the Inside Passage. The Wild Coast 2 filled in lots of blanks.

Dave and I both wanted to explore the area between Banks Island and Milbanke Sound but recognized that we were challenged by logistics. We needed to try to fit our trip into a two week window if we were going to persuade a third person to join us. We felt that we needed a third partner to share this trip with and, as you know, finding the perfect adventure travel companion is tough. We wanted the safety and strength that a skilled and level-headed partner would provide.

I knew Greg Polkinghorn a bit from work and had paddled with him a few times. I knew that he was stronger than most paddlers had reason to be and had more experience on kayaking trips than I had. Smart guy, strong, no hidden agenda. I had shown him photos of the Bella Bella trip and knew that he was interested but he had lots of competing priorities. I threw it out there to see if he would consider it and to our delight Greg signed on!

Dave, the best qualified to design a trip plan assigned the task to me. Not sure why he did that but I shared my ideas with Keith Webb and John Kimantas. Keith was very generous and spent time on-line and on the phone candidly discussing his experiences and learnings chasing “Kayak Bill”. He also shared copies of Bill’s charts along with GPS coordinates of campsites that worked and didn’t work at spring tide levels. John Kimantas encouraged me where I wavered, confirmed the validity of some thoughts and suggested that I re-examine my plan where it didn’t pencil out for him. Eventually I submitted a plan to Dave who did the preliminary chart work and made a few suggestions. That plan, for the most part stuck and that was what we showed to Greg. Nothing extreme or crazy. Bigger crossings than I had done before. Reasonable exposure with bailouts. Three Kayak Bill campsites with the possibility of more. Maybe see a white bear. Ton’s of new territory. A bit of time in familiar haunts. Sounded like a great trip.

In the wee hours of July 14 Dave Resler, Greg Polkinghorn and I piled into the truck and traveled north arriving in Port Hardy, BC that afternoon. Port Hardy is close to the northern tip of Vancouver Island.  In Port Hardy we would board the Discovery Coast Ferry and sail north through the night arriving at Klemtu, BC at 2:15PM on Sunday, July 15. As the eagle flies Klemtu is about 440 miles NW of Seattle. From there a route was planned that would allow us to catch the return ferry from Shearwater, BC in two weeks, however, we knew that weather would dictate how much of that route we would actually achieve. Our route allowed us several “outs” which provided security in inclement weather while allowing us to catch that boat home. 

Map from Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas

We planned to leave Klemtu as soon as we could pack our boats, which we figured would be around 4:30PM-ish, and travel north up Tolmie Channel against an opposing ebb tide.  That meant a tough 6 miles uphill to the northern extremity of Swindle Island where we would hang a left into Meyers Passage and catch the ebb current flowing out towards Laredo Sound.  Meyers Passage separates Princess Royal and Swindle Islands and bears south another 6 miles or so to a sharp westward bend.  That bend is forced by Saunders Point, the southern-most extremity of Princess Royal Island.  We expected to find our first campsite at the outside of that bend, about 10.5 NM from put-in at Klemtu.

The next morning, we planned to paddle west out of Meyers Passage for a short 7.7 NM to Milne Island near the north end of Laredo Sound,  Laredo Sound is a body of water about as wide as Puget Sound and open to the south.  Milne would provide a good campsite above high tide and offer an excellent springboard for our next day’s destination.

Weather permitting, we would paddle northwest up Laredo Channel to one of the best preserved First Nations cultural sites on the coast.  Disju holds the remains of a Kitasoo longhouse that was in active use 400 years ago.  The Kitasoo Xai’xais have inhabited this coast for 10,000 years.  Their pictographs, rock art and middens document their presence in the area thousands of years before Christ.

Traveling south down Laredo Sound we would enter Higgins Passage which separates Swindle and Price Island and bears east to Milbanke Sound. Cultural sites exist there, both aboriginal and European, and somewhere in that area we planned to spend the night.

 An early crossing of Milbanke Sound would be advised as it is a sizeable body of water open to the south and we wanted to travel 14 – 15NM to Dallas Island located near the entrance of Moss Passage between Dowager and Lady Douglas Islands.  Noted as a great campsite by all who have stayed there it offers comfort in weather and access to sheltered routes should weather dictate.  This site holds one of Kayak Bill’s camps where we expected to spend the night. 
Map from Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas

South of Bardswell Group is the McMullin Group, a cluster of small islands that are remote enough to discourage the casual paddler and always described by visitors in glowing terms.  Dave had been here before and knows the area.  We planned to spend a night.

South of McMullin is the much larger and more remote Goose Group,  Goose sees a limited number of kayakers and offers great campsites with an inexhaustible store of firewood.  I saw Goose as a thin horizontal line off shore two years ago and swore to visit someday.

Traveling east we expect to cross Queens Sound early in the morning before the wind builds. In 9.5NM we will end up at Cultus Sound on Hunter Island,  a beach where I have spent a few wonderful nights.

This will leave us two days to travel north to Shearwater where we catch our ferry back to civilization.  It’s just 20-some NM from Cultus to the ferry but if we take our time there is a wonderful campsite just 8NM away at a tiny island off Soulsby Point.  We call it Shell Beach and it was our first campsite traveling south 2 years ago from Bella Bella.  It’s fabulous but may seem mundane at the end of trip filled with great beaches.

We will be back in Port Hardy on the morning of the 28th.  From the time we sail north until we arrive at PH there would be no cell coverage but we were carrying marine radios.

Seattle to Port Hardy
 7/14, Saturday, Day 1
Overcast with Clearing at times

Greg showed up a bit before 2:00 AM while Dave arrived exactly on the appointed hour.  Nice to be traveling with folks who are punctual.  We loaded up, kissed Jean and Koda and hit the road headed north with Greg wedged in the “backseat” of my truck.  Other than missing the Nanaimo ferry by four cars there was nothing extraordinary to report.  The drive from Nanaimo to Port Hardy was, likewise, unremarkable and including our stop in Campbell River for fishing licenses took about five hours to complete.

Greg and Dave on Nanaimo Ferry

We did have a great meal at a restaurant in Port Hardy whose name escapes me at the moment but if you are traveling that way and want a reference, I can give you directions.
Once on board we spread our gear in the solarium and awaited departure.  At 9:30 PM the “Queen of Chilliwack” blew her horn and we left the dock for our nighttime trip to the Central Coast.

Leaving Bear Cove

We wasted little time settling in for sleep as the drive had been tiring and tomorrow promised to be a long, hard day. 



Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Port Hardy to Klemtu
July 15, Sunday, Day 2
Mostly overcast with clearing at times, light and variable winds

We awoke to the stunning scenery of Fitz Hugh Sound.  As the sun rose the visuals intensified and were punctuated by a pod of porpoises that pursued the ferry, jumping and dashing around the boat, surfing our wake and generally having a great time.  Dave pointed out a Humpback Whale about 100 yards from the ferry traveling in the same direction and close to the same speed as the pod.  Eventually it sounded and we watched its great tail slip beneath the surface.  

Morning on Fitz Hugh Sound

The ferry stopped in McLoughlin Bay, where we had started our trip two years ago, and again in nearby Shearwater.  During this stop we met Ned and Nan from Sedro Wooley, a couple who have been exploring this coast for many years.  Our routes were similar and their knowledge of the area vast.  They showed us where to find good water and which sources to avoid.  They knew where lesser-known campsites existed and what tides they would survive.  Nan carried those numbers around in her head and could spit out what level flood covered which campsite.  In their relationship that was clearly a responsibility that she had assumed.  Ned would suggest a campsite and say “Hon, what tide will that that one tolerate?”  She would quickly respond, “It will take a 16.2 maybe a 16.4 depending on wind and barometric”.  When they learned about our plans to paddle Gale Passage they told us exactly when to enter the rapids in order to ensure success.

After passing Dryad Point on Seaforth Channel the bridge announced that the ferry was slowing down to avoid a Humpback that was traveling ahead of us.  I looked out the windows and saw the great animal initiate its long dive, signified by its tail rising high in the air then slipping beneath the waves.  Greg remained glued to the charts spread out on the table measuring and marking the critical legs of our route.  Dave continued to grill Nan and Ned and fleshed out portions of our route that were, to us, like those blank areas on charts that you will transit but haven’t yet been surveyed.  Greg continued to scribble notes and incorporate newly gathered information onto the charts.  I knew this was going to be a great trip.
Seaforth Channel opens onto the southern end of Milbanke Sound which is about eight miles wide.  As the ferry made a gentle turn to the north it began to buck and roll.  The Sound is open to the Pacific and Hecate Strait which some meteorologists view as the third most dangerous body of water on earth. If you took a course due south from this point the first landfall would be Antarctica.  Looking at Price Island across the Sound was daunting as I knew that we would be crossing this body of water in about a week and the scale of things made me uneasy.  It’s big water.  Closing towards Klemtu didn’t erase my concerns.  The country is so vast with few people and lots of open water.  Rain came and went, never hard, but always threatening.

Greg looking NW on Milbanke Sound with Swindle Island in the background

Soon we passed Jorkens Point, the southernmost tip of Swindle Island and entered Finlayson Channel.  The channel narrows to about 2 miles and maintains that dimension north past Boat Bluff.  About this time the southern tip of Cone Island, which shelters Klemtu, came into view.

 Cone Island on the Right

The ferry traveled counter-clockwise around Cone Island, approaching Klemtu from the north.  The channel narrows here to a comfortable scale and the town lies at the base of the mountains along the right shoreline.  The clouds were breaking up and bathing the area in sunshine as Klemtu came into view.  I was being reintroduced to the Central/North Coast weather.  The day had started out very cool and damp with low clouds and fog.  The sun had peeked out from time to time but had mostly remained hidden as had the peaks of the islands.  Now, it was turning into a brilliant day and would warm to near 70 degrees.  The thing about the weather here is that it constantly changes and would change again before the day was done.

Approaching Klemtu

The “Queen of Chilliwack” docked at 2:15PM and we waited about an hour before being allowed to disembark.  I hadn’t anticipated this wait as I knew that we had a strong ebb tide to buck leaving town and I was hoping to be ready to leave by 4:00PM which was one hour into that ebb.  Basically, we would be paddling against a current for the first 7 NM on our way to the first possible campsite.  The current was predicted to be 3 kt.  A normal traveling speed in a kayak is 3 kt  Do the math.  The longer we waited to start the stronger that current would become.  I was growing nervous by the minute.

The dock here was not a typical ferry dock with the straight-on approach and large bundles of pilings tied together with cable but rather an “L” shaped affair where the boat tied up along the inside leg of the letter and nestled it’s bow into the “foot” of the “L”.  Exiting the ferry required a sharp right turn onto the wooden dock.  No big deal on foot but might be interesting for a passenger vehicle.

When we were able to disembark we walked off the dock and started looking for a good place to launch.  Because of the extreme high tide the normal launch in town was not a good choice.  The public dock was not going to allow an easy load or a graceful entry either. Dave had pointed out a dock nearby that looked OK and we asked around.  A Kitasoo elder gave us permission to use that dock so we moved our boats and gear.  Dave went to fill water bags while Greg and I moved all of the equipment down the ramp onto the floating dock where we would begin paddling.  Ned and Nan chose to launch from the rocky public area so we wished them a safe trip and got to the business at hand.  After driving 350 miles and being on ferries for 15 hours we were ready to get on the water and get out of Dodge. 

Point of Departure

Klemtu to Meyers Passage
July 15, Sunday, Day 2
Mostly overcast with occasional clearing, light and variable winds, rain at times

Map from Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas

Looking North from Klemtu

With our boats jammed full of gear we left the dock and headed north.  Each of us carried a minimum of 100 pounds of gear consisting of food, water, clothing and shelter for the next two weeks.  Our boats were sunk to the shear lines and some handled it with more grace than others.  Because of the delay in disembarking we were at least two hours into the ebb and could expect little mercy from the current.  We also had one less hour of daylight to work with in navigating to our campsite.  It was invigorating to be on the water at last.  Surprisingly we were not yet experiencing any negative effects of the predicted current.  In fact, for the first mile we just breezed along enjoying the show.  I was suspicious at the ease of our travel and figured that it couldn’t last but what did I really know?  This was nice.

Low Riders in Klemtu Passage

After months of planning we were finally on the water and entering into the Great Bear Rainforest where one-in-ten black bears is white. Where ten thousand years ago the original people followed the retreat of the glaciers and established villages on land that is still rising through isostatic rebound.  Where you walk into a forest and find 400-year-old remains of a native longhouse.  A place of magic.

After 20 minutes of easy paddling we came to the north end of Cone Island where Jane Passage connects Tolmie Channel to Finlayson Channel and provides an “easy out” for the escaping tides.  It was here that we encountered the opposing current and the chatter of the rips began.  They were still out away from the shore so we stayed in close hoping to work back eddies against the flow that was now clearly not in our favor.  The shoreline offered some relief as small sections protruded further out into the flow and we could make decent headway or rest behind these points of rock.

Resting in an Eddy
Image by Dave Resler

The current wasn’t yet oppressive but was becoming more work.  Between Swindle Island and Jane Island it upped the ante as the standing waves spread most of the distance from shore to shore.  At the 2 ½ NM mark Sarah Passage separates Jane Island from Sarah Island and the light station at Boat Bluff comes into view.  It was here that the current really picked up and progress became a chore.  The shoreline is pretty straight here so there wasn’t much to work with in terms of back eddies.  If you could stay right in against the rocks it was easier, but my Chatham 18, loaded to the gills, wasn’t very responsive and wherever I got in close I felt at risk of kissing granite.  Greg and Dave worked where I didn’t dare as I moved out a bit.  The current was stronger here but I could make headway by picking a path of reduced flow through the boils.  At one point Dave and I were close and both paddling very hard, unable gain and only able to maintain our position against the current, when we took advantage of the slope of a small standing wave to give us just enough of a boost to move forward.  This was fun but very taxing and, now, there was no place to rest.  If you stopped paddling you would just be flushed back south on Sarah Passage.

Boat Bluff Light Station
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Split Head is the northernmost point of Swindle Island and it marks the entrance to Meyers Passage which theoretically should provide the 3 kt ebb from Tolmie Channel another route to the open ocean.  I was counting on this to give us a well-deserved free ride the final 5 NM to our campsite.  While rounding Split Head did provide relief from the chatter and angst of Tolmie Channel it was very discouraging to find that the current was still flowing against us.  As we continued our uphill paddle the noise quickly faded behind us to be replaced with only the sounds of our hulls moving through the water, our strokes and my occasional cursing at the tides.

Meyers Passage

It was really a pretty magical transformation from one “place” to another as the water was suddenly glassy smooth (albeit moving in the wrong direction) and the light was oddly filtered by the moisture in the air.  The mountains on both sides of the passage plunged steeply to the water, their peaks just lost in the clouds.  Rain could be seen approaching from the southwest while the sun, low on the horizon, peeked under the cloud deck.  This change from sun to clouds to rain to clearing would become the norm and would make each hour of most days different from the last.

A large group of Sandhill Cranes called loudly from the Swindle Island shoreline.  Their easternmost representative would issue a loud call and the group that was scattered for ¼ mile along the store would erupt in response as if acknowledging our entry and progress through their domain.  Their song was amplified by the otherwise silence of the scene that our breathing and “boat/water” music didn’t eclipse.  They would raise a stink, settle down and the easternmost hell raiser would stir them up again.  The sound was welcome yet surreal.  Almost too intense as it made me forget, briefly, about how pissed I was at the fact that we were still pushing against a current that, in my mind, owed us a free ride.  Their calls were reflected off of the mountains of Princess Royal Island and returned to remind me that we weren’t in charge.

After several hours of hard paddling we pulled up onto the shallow, slimy “beach” at the elbow of Meyers Passage.  It had been raining for the past hour and we were all ready call it a day.  We hung our sprayskirts and PFD’s on a stump that was washed up on the beach, pulled our boats up into the woods, tied them to a tree, found clearings for our tents and braved the mosquitoes and no-seeums that greeted us.  Dave tossed some odds and ends behind a log that had washed up tight against the edge of the forest.  We each fired up our stoves, boiled water and picked our freeze-dried poison.  The promise of a dry tent and a warm sleeping bag called us.  While a campfire would have felt nice none of us wanted the deal with the responsibility of a fire and it didn’t take long for us to drift away to our tents.  Before we did, though, I had to inhale a lungful of blood-thirsty flying insects, go into a coughing/gagging frenzy, recover and then do it all over again.

Around 3:00 AM I awoke to the very different sound of water lapping near my tent.  I listened to it for a while trying to determine if it was a bad sound and finally decided that I had to check the gear.  I put on my headlamp and sandals and stepped out into the rainy night.  My headlamp penetrated the darkness to reveal that the tide was up flush against the forest.  Dave’s gear was awash behind the log and our stuff hanging on the stump was hanging in the water but still secure.  Knowing that this was the high slack I tossed Dave’s gear higher for security and chose not to move the sprayskirts and PFD’s as I had checked them before inhaling the bugs and knew that they were secure but wet.  I went back to bed with dry feet.

Klemtu to Meyers Passage Camp – 10.5 NM

Meyers Passage to Laredo Sound
July 16, Tuesday, Day 3
Cloudy in the morning with light rain, clearing by late afternoon, light and variable winds

The goal for this day was a short 7.8 NM jaunt through Meyers Passage to Milne Island.  The low slack was at 9:16 AM and we were up and fed long before that time.  In spite of bug bites, we were in good spirits.  Some of our gear was wet from the previous evening’s high tide but none of it was missing.  As the tide was still falling on our shallow “beach” the packing routine went like this: carry gear from tent site to boats across mucky beach, load gear in boats, move beached boats into deeper water, repeat, repeat, repeat.  Eventually we were loaded and on our way.

Loading Boats at Meyers Passage Camp

Expecting a free ride through the passage on the falling tide we were discouraged to find an opposing current.  Nothing strong, just a little annoying.  I was wondering when we would catch a break with the tides.  Within 1 ½ NM we passed through Meyers Narrows where the current was a touch stronger and the shoreline was insane with the color of starfish, sea urchins and anemones.  The odor of life and death at the tide line was pungent and I couldn’t decide if it was wonderful or repugnant.  A reddish colored Mink ran up the rocks from the water, paused to look us over and vanished into the forest.

About this time, we came upon the first of the Kitasoo Xai’xais pictographs that were “painted’ on the rocky bluffs.  At first glance the orange color appeared to be a lichen or oxide on the rock but this wasn’t a natural occurrence.  Upon closer examination the smudge revealed a detailed figure that was very important to someone once.

Orange Smudge
Image by Dave Resler

Upon Closer Examination
Image by Dave Resler

Once you “see” it you start looking for it and can recognize it from a distance.  We found another pictograph a little further along.

Milne Island lies along the edge of Laredo Sound just a little north of the west end of Meyers Passage.  Rounding Hartnell Point we skirted the shoreline of Princess Royal Island approaching Milne from the southeast.  Photos of Milne depict tents set up on a sandy beach but we found the campsite nestled in a small rocky cove.  Two deer watched from shore as we carefully exited our boats.  Once they determined that none of us were going for a swim and that little gel coat was being sacrificed they slipped into the forest.  A clearing set in the trees just above the high tide line held our three tents.  We hung our wet gear on a log, set up the parawing and carried our boats into the woods where we tied them safely to a tree.

Milne Island Camp “Beach”

Dave was lulled to sleep on the beach by the chatter of the Ravens while I read and Greg went exploring.  Shortly Greg was back to show me a trail he had found that led to the far side of the island.  It wound through the trees and bushes and emerged on a small beach that was jam-packed with driftwood and other debris.  It’s amazing what washes up in an otherwise pristine environment.  Where do all of these athletic shoes come from?  Seems like they are always cheap but new.  Not somebody’s well-worn kicks that were washed from a deck but shiny new cheap shoes.

We gathered up all of the handy sized firewood that we could carry and started back to camp.  Greg is an unrepentant yet environmentally conscious pyromaniac, a combination of characteristics and attendant skills that proves valuable on all trips.  He was much happier now that we had something to burn.  His day was looking up.

Before we reached camp, we spotted some Abalone shells just off the trail. We assumed that a River Otter had gathered them up and carried them to the shelter of the forest to be eaten.

Abalone Shells in the Forest
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Next, we noticed that sections of bark had been stripped with surgical precision from several trees.  These were Culturally Modified Trees (CMT’s) or, as many of the First Nations people call them, “shaped trees”.  A horizontal cut marked the beginning of the strip which tapered up as much as forty above the ground. For thousands of years the original people have used the bark of Western Red Cedar for fiber, food, medicine and even harvested planks, leaving the trees standing and healthy.  Spruce and Hemlock have traditionally been stripped for their edible inner bark.  Looking around we saw some much older trees that bore the marks of their symbiotic relationship with the indigenous culture.  With new eyes we would see these trees in many campsites through the remainder of our trip.

Culturally Modified Trees

Aside from being an unrepentant yet environmentally conscious pyro Greg is an avid fisherman and will drop a line in the water at every opportunity.  He also brought a small collapsible crab trap that stored nicely up against his front bulkhead.  In the evening he paddled out to set his crab trap and do some fishing.  The real catch of the day, though, were the gorgeous photos he took of the sunset.

Milne Island Sunset
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Meyers Passage Camp to Milne Island Camp – 7.8 NM 

Day Trip to Disju
July 17, Tuesday, Day 4
Cloudy in the morning with light rain, clearing by early afternoon, Winds NW to 17 with 2 ½’ wind waves changing to light and variable.

Morning on Laredo Sound
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

This was the day that we paddled to Disju (pronounced Dit-soo), the historic Kitasoo village site that holds the remains of the best preserved First Nations longhouse in the world.  The longhouse was in use before the Europeans founded Jamestown.  Over 400 years ago the Kitasoo had established a village where all of their food and clothing needs were satisfied.  They built the longhouse to serve as the heart of their community and today it is protected as a World Heritage Site.  Its location is not marked on any public maps.  Dave and I had heard about it from a fellow paddler, Don, who we had met on our trip two years before.  He knew the status of the site and that its location was protected by the Kitasoo but he had not been there himself.  

Don was right about the existence of Disju and its status but wrong on its location.  Internet research offered little information on the site but one account described the amount of time it took to reach it by kayak.  Dave did some math and calculations on a chart and pointed out a place that made more sense.  It was about an hour away from where Don had located it.  I hoped that Dave was right.

The morning sky was very dark and dramatic but showed signs of clearing.  It just depended which way you were looking.  If you were looking east back towards Milne it looked anything but inviting but it had rained only lightly and briefly at that.

Laredo Sound
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

The west wind began to freshen during our 3 ½ NM crossing from Aiken Island to Dallain Point.  The sea state became more animated and “noisy” making communications tough but provided some very invigorating paddling conditions.  I was really looking forward to surfing all the way back to camp but before we reached Disju the tide changed and the sea laid down. “That’s OK”, I thought, “We’ll still get blown all the way back to camp”.  About that time the wind started to drop and stabilized at westerly around 5 kt.

From far off we spotted an eagle high up in a snag where we expected to find Disju.  It watched as we skirted the shoreline beneath it and continued to watch us silently as we rounded the point and let the breeze blow us into the sandy shore.  Greg asked if I felt like we were being watched and I said that I did.  It was suddenly very quiet and still and we felt that we were entering a sacred place where we didn’t belong.  I hoped that the eagle, or whoever he was wouldn’t object to our visit.

 Approaching Disju
Image by Dave Resler

We exited our boats and began searching the  tree line for a way “in”.  There were no obvious trails and the trees were thick right up to the sand.  Maybe this wasn’t it after all.  Then, a branch was pulled aside and the forest allowed our entry.  After a couple of steps, there it was!

Two huge 40-foot-long logs were suspended horizontally atop four 10-foot-tall cedar posts.  They defined the sides of the longhouse and had been the main supports.  Between the supports the rectangular “floor” was about 15 feet lower and accessed by regular “steps” on each of the four sides.  Had the steps been benches that the villagers had sat upon around a fire pit?  A theater for conducting potlatch ceremonies?  A classroom where oral traditions were passed down to younger generations?  We didn’t say much as we were pretty overcome by it all.  We were definitely in a place that wasn’t ours and had to just wonder what had gone on here over the past 400 years.  I felt that we were intruding, being watched but allowed our visit.  Odd, I know, but that’s how it felt to me.

 Longhouse Supports

Once out of the forest Greg turned to me and said, “I never had much religion before but I’ve got something now”.  I knew what he meant.  A deer exited the tree line nearby. It walked along the rocky rise, noticed us, then trotted back into an invisible opening in the woods and disappeared.  This place felt special and powerful.  Maybe a little spooky.

“I never had much religion before but I’ve got something now.”
Image by Dave Resler

We took our time leaving but we didn’t feel that it was the place to eat our lunch.  That might have been pushing it.  We paddled out of the bay, around the point and into Laredo Channel, all the while under the watchful eye of the silent eagle (or whoever he was) atop the snag.  We had passed a nice beach a mile or so east and chose that as the place to eat our lunch and discuss the experience.

I called this Lunch Counter Beach and wondered to myself what the inhabitants of Disju had called it.  At this tide level it was very sandy with huge rounded boulders and a jumble of logs to sit on and relax.  A pair of deer tracks led from the water’s edge up into the woods atop the beach.  The wind was down, the water flat, the sun was breaking out and it was warming up.

Lunch Counter Beach on Laredo Channel
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

On the 2 ½ hour paddle back to Milne we did not benefit from a tail wind or favorable current.  It seemed as much work going back as it was coming out but it turned into a beautiful day and it was great to be on the water. 

Greg in Laredo Channel
Image by Dave Resler

We passed Aiken Island just before arriving back at Milne.  Aiken hosts a campsite that is viable with all but the highest tides but it isn’t readily evident.  All “beaches” looked very rocky and uninviting but Don had camped here before and didn’t complain.  Maybe we just didn’t see it.  We did see some wildlife, though.  Lots of birds and some Sea Otters that are re-establishing themselves along the coast.  The otters were wiped out by the fur trade and considered beyond endangered.  They were just plain gone and the ecosystem of the sea had changed.  Now, they are making a comeback in selected areas and these would be the first but not the last that we would see on the trip.

Aiken Island
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Back at camp we stripped off our drysuits and turned them inside out.  Off came our sweaty clothing and everything was hung out to dry in the sun.  The adjacent beach was sandy at this tide level and offered a nice place for a cold but much needed bath.  The rest of the day was spent exploring the island, reading and napping.  It was nice not to stink.

The evening promised another beautiful sunset and didn’t disappoint.  Dave got some spectacular shots.

Sunset on Milne Island
Image by Dave Resler

Milne Island to Disju and Back – 18.2 NM 

Milne Island to Higgins Passage
July 18, Wednesday, Day 5
Fog in the morning clearing in the afternoon. Winds calm rising to 18 kt with higher gusts.

Map from Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas

On this day we were paddling to a campsite at the west end of Higgins Passage.  We didn’t really know what to expect as none of the descriptions we had found confirmed that it was viable with the predicted high tide level.  We figured that we would find something in the area as there was a Kayak Bill camp shown on the copies of his maps that I had had gotten from Keith Webb.  Also, settlements, both First Nations and European had existed in nearby Grant Anchorage so we would be fine or at least dry.

Dave and Greg had drawn our course out in three legs.
From Milne we would make a 3+ NM mile crossing of Kitasu Bay continuing south (191 degrees) past Wilby Point.

At the 4.2 NM point we would alter our course (to 152 degrees) for 2.6 NM at which point we would be 2.7 NM (on a heading of 102 degrees) from our campsite.  We had figured that the headings on the chart were nice to have but that we would basically cross to Wilby point and follow the shoreline to Higgins Passage using VFR.

Greg Studying the Chart

The fog was a rude surprise with visibility very low.  We had Dave’s GPS just in case but Greg stepped up and wanted to use the IFR conditions as a learning experience.  He took the chart, checked his watch and led us away from Milne into the surreal world of the white-out.  We decided that since missing Wilby Point by one degree to the west would lead to a place we didn’t want to be we would cheat a bit to the east of the original heading so that we “should” encounter the shoreline of Kitasu Bay.  We figured that the crossing would take one hour of blind paddling.

It was an interesting experience as I felt that I was paddling in circles while constantly chasing a compass heading.  We learned that my compass varied from Greg’s by two degrees as I was repeatedly veering off to the left of our intended path.  Maybe it was my survival instinct kicking in as I knew that making a mistake to the left would only lengthen the number of miles I had to paddle while missing to the right would make for a very un-fun day.  Nothing much positive can be said, though, about the accuracy of a bungee mounted deck compass.  Mine was obviously at fault but what I couldn’t understand was how Greg’s compass, identical to mine but mounted on top of a deck bag that was velcroed to his deck lines, could be more accurate than mine.  Dave’s GPS confirmed that Greg’s was true so we followed him.  I tried to learn from the white-out paddling experience and stubbornly followed my compass with my head spinning until I found myself embarrassingly to the left of Greg and Dave when I would regroup with them again.  It was a pretty odd experience to be on slick flat water with a couple of friends and see absolutely nothing.

After one hour of weirdness we were really wanting to see the shoreline and squinting very hard to make our eyes work better when suddenly, about 100 yards ahead something seemed to darken about where we imagined the horizon should be.  As we paddled on it became more defined, individual trees beginning to show and then we saw a figure walking down the beach towards us.  Sliding up onto the sandy beach we found Ned who said that they had been listening to us for some time while had we discussed the blind crossing and I cursed my compass.  Funny how sound travels in those conditions.  Soon, Nan came down to join us and the five of us compared our experiences.  They had chosen this campsite so that we wouldn’t impose on each other’s evenings.  They had stayed on a tombolo short of our camp in Meyers Passage and had chosen this site knowing that we would be on Milne.  Here we had run into them again in a total whiteout in Kitasu Bay.

Taking our leave, we followed Greg out around the reef that extended far beyond Wilby Point and back into the whiteout.  The water surface was a slick, greasy-grey merging with the sky at about 100 feet in any direction.

Greg Navigating Blind

The reefs, normally a problem, gave us contrast, comfort and a sense that we were still of this earth.  The kelp beds that we paddled through confirmed that we were paddling against the current.  Occasionally a salmon jumped and broke the trance.  At some point in this grey, featureless space Greg stopped paddling and leaned over his deck to study the chart.  He looked at his watch and returned to the chart.  He looked in all directions, in vain, for any kind of a sign that would confirm his mental calculations that we were at a specific point on the earth where changing our heading to 102 degrees was the right thing to do.  I looked at Dave with a raised eyebrow and he turned on his GPS.  Once it had acquired satellites he smiled but didn’t say anything until Greg was disappearing into the fog and then whispered “I can’t believe that he is doing this. He changed course exactly where he was supposed to and he did it without visual clues.  Amazing”!  We followed him in the fog for another 40 minutes when bits and pieces of shoreline and islets started to appear.  My chart was not as detailed so I wasn’t sure what I was starting to see.

After leading us by his compass and watch for 3 ½ hours Greg stopped paddling and leaned over the chart, read his watch, squinted into the fog for anything that would act as a landmark, read the chart again, looked at his watch, squinted into the fog and finally said, “I may be completely wrong but according to my calculations this is the mouth of Higgins Passage.

Fog Lifts at Entrance to Higgins Passage

Dave turned on his GPS and after a moment started laughing.  Greg had nailed it.  We were exactly where we wanted to be and as if to celebrate Greg’s success the fog suddenly lifted.  Our destination was within sight and Dave led the way.  We paddled up to the rocky beach, exited in knee deep water and tied the boats together.  I attached the boats at the bows to a large rock while Greg tied the sterns to another rock that he threw out into the water, firmly anchoring the boats and protecting them from the sharp rocks.  We pulled lunch from our day hatches and waded ashore.

Kayaks Anchored at Higgins Passage
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

The beach backed up to a steep 8-foot bank that rose into the trees.  This spot hadn’t gotten raves reviews as a campsite so we didn’t go explore the forest but sat on the beach and ate lunch in the sun.  It was a lovely but rocky beach surrounded by islets and blue water.  Up against the bank was a small pebbled area that could hold a tent but we were unsure if it would be dry during the predicted 14-foot flood predicted for the night.  Dave and Greg scrambled up the bank and disappeared into the woods.  They were soon back.

“Jon, you have got to come look at this”.

Higgins Passage Campsite

I climbed the bank and saw the most beautiful tent site I could imagine,  A large level area was covered with some sort of plant that grew about 8 inches tall.  There were large stumps indicating that the area had once been logged but the loggers had left any tree that wasn’t straight so there were some misshapen giants back here as well as many healthy, slender and tall second growth trees.  The sunlight filtered through and cast a green luminescence on the area.  It was flat, soft and sweet smelling.  A sleeping pad wasn’t needed.  This was deluxe!

Dave in Higgins Forest

Once camp was set up Greg was hot to fish and I needed to go find a source of water.  A creek was shown on the chart about ¾ NM east at the site of an Indian Reserve at Goo-ewe.  I announced my intention of paddling to get water and to look for an old village site.  The tide was rising and we waded out to our boats that were now in chest deep water. Before we could leave, though, a lone paddler approached from the east.  He said that his name was Chuck Curry and that he was paddling solo from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.  We invited him to stay with us but he wanted to get further up the coast.  After ½ hour or so of chatting we bid him farewell and he disappeared to the west.

Dave and Greg readied their fishing rods and lures and headed outside to Kipp Islet which guarded the entry to Higgins Passage.  Greg said that the area looked “fishy” to him as he pointed out the rocky prominences and steep drop offs on the chart.  The wind had picked up now and made my short jaunt to Goo-ewe effortless.  I couldn’t find any sign that a village had ever been along that shoreline and the creek where I had hoped to filter some water was foamy brown from tannin.  I paddled up the creek until it was too shallow to go further then drifted slowly back into the passage.  It was very warm and sunny and it felt great to just drift, feel the wind, smell the air and relax.

Searching for Kayak Bill in Higgins Passage
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

My trip back towards camp was against the tide and wind and was a bit of work but it felt so good.  I radioed Dave and Greg to check their location and Dave said that they were out near Kipp Islet.  Between myself and Kipp were a number of other islets, one which held a Kayak Bill camp.  I told Dave that I was going to try to find it and that I would stay in touch.  The convoluted cluster of islets was a pleasure to explore but I never did find the camp.  Eventually I left my protection and headed out towards Kipp.  It seemed a bit rough after zigging and zagging around rocks and reefs and eventually I saw Dave and Greg bobbing in the waves.

Greg Catches Dinner
Image by Dave Resler

Dave wasn’t fishing but Greg was.  Dave was “standing watch” while Greg calmly fished in 2 ½ to 3-foot waves that were occasionally breaking.  The wind was up to 18 kt and without cover it was rough.  When Dave saw something coming that looked like trouble he would alert Greg who had already put a Rockfish and a Ling Cod in his boat.  He had released a 15 pound Ling shortly before I arrived and almost capsized in the process.  He had brought the fish to the surface and was working to release it, all the while balancing in wind waves.  Holding a 15-pound weight over the side of your boat while trying to shake it free isn’t easy in the best circumstances.  Now add conditions and you really have to pay attention.  When the fish unexpectedly came loose Greg almost rolled right into the water.  I wonder if he could have rolled up using his fishing rod instead of his paddle?

Greg Cleaning Dinner

Back at camp Greg prepared a dinner of perfectly seasoned Ling Cod and Rockfish with rice pilaf.  Dave and I fixed a freeze-dried Raspberry Crumble for dessert.  After dinner we cleaned up and basked in the warm evening sun.  Greg paddled out to set his crab trap and enjoy more time on the water.

The evening just kept getting better.

Boats on the Beach

And better…….

Boats on the Beach

And better…….

Sunset at Higgins Passage

Milne Island to Higgins Passage 10 NM
Milne Island to Higgins Passage plus exploration miles – 15 NM

Higgins Passage to Dallas Island
July 19, Thursday, Day 6
Overcast with rain, heavy at times. Winds SE 15 kt with higher gusts. Seas 3 foot swell, wind waves to 2 feet.

Map from Wild Coast 2
Copyright John Kimantas
Wet weather for a slog to a Kayak Bill Camp on Dallas Island.  Today’s route would take us east through Higgins Passage to Pidwell Reef where I would load up on some much-needed fresh water.  My freeze-dried breakfasts were taking about a cup more water per day than Dave and Greg’s oatmeal.  I was really going through it and needed to top up.  Leaving Pidwell Reef we would make our first serious crossing on Milbanke Sound to Dallas Island.  The weather wasn’t looking like fun.
We left camp on a falling tide with a need to clear the south end of Lohbrunner Island.  Lohbrunner is about 1 NM mile long and is oriented north/south in a passage that runs east/west.  It’s south end forces Higgins Passage up against Price Island into a pretty narrow and shallow channel but presents the most direct route.  It closes at very low tides and dictates a route up around the north end of the island where the passage is wider and deeper.  That adds a couple more miles to a day that we hoped to keep to about 14 ½ NM.  We paddled carefully through the shallow passage against a bit of current while dodging barnacle covered boulders above and below the surface.  We zig-zagged in single file as the leader pointed out and avoided submerged obstacles.

The rain started shortly after leaving camp and was constant through Higgins.  As the passage became straight and broad the funneled winds off of Milbanke Sound became a dominant factor.  We were paddling against the wind and, according to the kelp, against the current as well.  We each just closed ourselves off and paddled without commentary or conversation.  Grey was the overwhelming color of the water and the sky as the mountains of Swindle Island disappeared in the clouds a couple of hundred feet above the water.  This was just a wet, windy slog.  We tried to hide by tucking close to the south side of the passage while observing the wind’s effect away from shore.

After something over 2 hours we had reached the last point of land on Swindle Island that offered shelter from the 15 kt. south-easterly.  Anchoring ourselves to a kelp bed by pulling it up over our decks we steeled ourselves with energy bars and GU.  From here it would be 2 NM of open water to reach the shelter of Pidwell Reef.  Out in the open the swell was 3 feet with 2-foot wind waves.  Our heading allowed us to encounter the waves at a slight angle.  That made for some really enjoyable paddling as the sea was textured but consistent and our boats rode up and over the waves instead of plowing into them.  As the crossing progressed the wind dropped to 10 kt and sea began to soften.  Sliding into the shelter of Pidwell Reef the rain stopped and wind dropped even more.  The water behind the reef was completely flat.

We headed for the obvious beach and the reliable water source that Ned and Nan had told us about.  After a windy and “noisy” crossing the quiet luxury of Pidwell Beach was almost shocking.  Shorebirds followed the tiny waves in and out along the sand, chattering among themselves but completely ignoring our sudden presence.  On a sunny day this would have been spectacular.  Today it was a needed fuel stop on the way to Dallas Island.

Greg and Dave at Pidwell Beach

We sat on the wet beach and made lunch.  Dave ate his Buffalo Cheese and spiced salami with Pita bread.  Greg ate tuna and cheese.  I had cheese and beef jerky on Pita with coffee.  Lunch done, Greg went out towards the east end of the reef to fish and we agreed to meet him on the water.  I took my water filter to the stream and found a pocket behind a rock where I pumped 10 liters of tan but fresh water.

The sea state outside of the reef was now nearly as flat as inside.  There was some low southerly swell but it was mostly flat.  Grey, wet sky merging with and grey, glassy water.  Our boats and gear offered the only color in sight.

Grey Sky Merging with Grey Water
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

The crossing from Pidwell to Dallas was uneventful but tiring.  At 5-plus NM it took a bit over 1 ½ hours and we saw no other traffic.  Just big empty water.  It was raining again.  I had hoped that we had seen the last of it for the day but that wasn’t to be.

Approaching Dallas, we started looking for Bill’s Camp with its signature windbreak.  It didn’t take long to find it tucked just inside the woods above the beach but the landing in front didn’t look like it would work in all tides.  Dave continued around a point of rocks and called out that he had found the access.  Greg and I quickly followed and slid ashore behind him.

The camp was just as Keith Webb had described it.  A wind-block of driftwood tied up with rope that had been collected from the beach.  The rest of the shelter was sort of an A-frame, constructed of driftwood.  Long branches had been gathered from the beach and the smaller limbs cut leaving supports for other structural members to be tied into.  The roof was made of blue plastic tarps that allowed one to stand erect only under the center pole.  The bed was a wooden platform and the signature stove stood to one side.  Firewood cut and split precisely was stacked where Bill had left it four years before.  An odd collection of “things” was piled around that Bill had found and saved because he might someday have a use for them.  Much of it consisted of broken plastic crates.  What could these have been for?  Other plastic pieces shaped like small rollers of some sort were piled in a corner. I couldn’t figure out what they were.  Maybe something to do with fishing nets?  Piles of plastic rope and sections of fishing nets were stacked against the wind break.  Fishing floats of all description were piled together.  Beside the shelter was a kayak rack and leading off behind the camp was a trail that disappeared behind a large tree.

Looking West from Camp on Dallas Island

We chose our tents over Bill’s four 4 year old plastic tarps and tried to tuck them up under the trees for shelter from the rain.  Dave settled into his chair under the Parawing with a book and was soon sound asleep.  I sorted through my food looking for a freeze-dried meal that sounded appealing while Greg disappeared into the woods.

He was back soon : “Jon, you’ve got to come see this trail”.

 Greg on Bill's Boardwalk

I followed him around the big tree and into the forest.  The trail wound and twisted and turned and didn’t follow a route focused on efficiency but one inspired by whimsy.  It turned where no turn was necessary and would detour around an interesting tree or pass between a pair of trees just because they were there.  After a short distance we came to a fork that was marked by a vertical post capped with a colored plastic “roller” from camp and two carved arrows, each pointing the way.  The way to what?

Greg looked at me like “WTF?” and I just shrugged my shoulders.  He chose the fork to the right and I followed.  The trail wasn’t exactly overgrown but it hadn’t seen any trimming for the past four years.  It passed over the moss and fern covered forest floor surrounded by culturally modified trees.  I wondered if Bill had harvested cedar bark as these didn’t show the practiced skill that marked the trees of Milne.  At times the trail descended into boggy areas covered with skunk cabbage and was “paved” with planks elevated above the bog by end cut sections of logs.  All had been carried up from the beach. Hanging from branches at intervals intended to provide visual guides when needed were yellow and orange bits of the plastic grid or fishing floats from the piles back at camp.  After many unexpected turns the trail ended on a slick wooden plank suspended over a tannin-browned pocket of fresh water. This was where Bill collected his fresh water.  We followed the trail back to the fork and struck off the other direction, eager to find where this one led.

This fork was much more adventurous and a greater engineering feat.  The ground was more uneven with hills and ravines.  End cut sections of logs that could have only been carried one at a time were set into hillsides to provide stairways.  The use of plank boardwalks became more the norm.  Twelve foot planks that had washed up or been found floating had been carried or drug along this trial in order to extend it another twelve feet.  Where a forest giant had succumbed to a major windstorm and blocked to way Bill had cut steps into its sides to enable passage.  A handrail of driftwood set into the surroundings provided a source of security.  At one point we descended on slippery end cut steps down a hillside to a tree that had fallen across the ravine. It was about six feet off the ground and while a fall wouldn’t have hurt you it would have inconvenienced you significantly.  The log was sloped at about 15 degrees off of horizontal and Bill had sliced the top of this tree off in order to make a smooth, flat (narrow) surface to walk on.  After four years in the rainforest it was very slippery from moss and disuse and it’s thirty-some foot span was kind of scary to cross.  We continued on carefully watching for the floats and colored plastic grid that hung from the trees and marked the way.  When the trail disappeared, we just looked in all directions until we saw a flash of color.  The trail clung to the side of the hill above a rocky pocket beach that was packed with flotsam.  Rope, crates, floats.  We continued through the wet jungle as the trail led up to the island’s crest.

Pyro-Meister Greg and Dave on Dallas Island

We had been eagerly following the trail and had not taken measures to stay in contact with Dave.  We had left camp without a radio.  Dave had been sound asleep when we left and we had been gone for a while.  If he was awake he might be concerned.  We chose to turn around and return to camp.  That thirty foot log bridge was much worse to cross on the way back.

Once back to camp we found that Dave had just awakened and had not had time to wonder where we were.  Greg started a fire in the light rain and we prepared dinner.  It rained hard during the night and sound of the pounding rain made me worry that I would wake up with a tent full of water.
Dallas Island Camp

Higgins Camp to Dallas Island 15.1 NM

Dallas Island to Gale Passage
July 20, Friday, Day 7
Overcast with rain, heavy at times. Winds SE 10-15 kts. Seas 2 foot swell, wind waves to 2 feet.

It had rained consistently through the night and was still coming down in the morning.  We prepared and ate breakfast in our drysuits under the Parawing.  After breakfast we broke camp.  I had passed a dry night inside my tent but the rainfly was soaked and the tent body got wet taking it down.  I hate packing wet gear in a dry boat.  Reluctantly, I wadded up the sandy, soggy mess and stuffed it into the rear hatch.  Since I had eaten a week’s worth of food there was some space in the boat and I could get away with such sloppiness.  A few days ago, it wouldn’t have been an option.

The day’s goal was the Heiltsuk cabin inside Gale Passage.  It’s about 12 NM from Dallas and involved crossing Moss Passage, traveling outside of Salal and Lady Douglas Islands to a 2 NM crossing of Mathieson Channel followed by another 2 NM crossing of Seaforth Channel.  Dave cautioned that there was no place to land once we committed to the outside route but the weather report sounded wet and settled so we pulled our rain hats down snug and headed outside.

A Rainy Start, Grounded Barge on the Rocks
Image by Dave Resler

Tucked in close to the south end of Lady Douglas Island is tiny Roar Islet and the site of another Kayak Bill camp.  While we didn’t plan to camp there, we did want to visit and figured it would be a nice place to have lunch.  From there we could evaluate the conditions on Seaforth Channel and choose to cross or hole up at Roar Islet and wait until morning.  We weren’t in a huge hurry as our window for transiting Gale Passage would open in late afternoon and the next preferred campsite after the cabin made for a long day.  We weren’t sure what to expect from the tidal rapids in Gale.

The trip to Roar Islet was wet and uneventful.  The seas were without much personality and everything was grey and wet.  After two hours of paddling we forced our way, against a mild current, into Blair Inlet that splits Cecilia and Ivory Islands.  Another 20 minutes brought us to what we figured must be Roar Islet.  It matched the point on Bill’s Map and looked right.  We slid up onto a shell beach, grabbed lunch from our day hatches and walked up to the tree line.  No obvious campsite here.  We poked around looking for an overgrown camp and Greg beat his way around the island but no camp was found.  We sat in the open under the light rain and ate our lunch.  Not really what we had in mind.

Looking Across Seaforth Channel
Image by Dave Resler

We left whatever wet islet we had just had lunch on and made a beeline for Gale Passage which was about 3 NM to the south of our position.  Crossing Seaforth Channel was uneventful with 2 foot wind waves and not much current.  The tide was still ebbing so our drift was to the west and as we got closer to Gale Passage the opposing outflow current became more noticeable.  It was never more than slightly annoying.

Entering Gale Passage

Once into Gale we began searching for the cabin.  We knew that it was on the east side and were hugging that shoreline when we spotted a Wolf trotting along the beach with something in its mouth.  It disappeared around the corner that hid the cabin.  The cabin is made in the same style as the one that we had stayed at on Joassa Channel two years prior.  No boats were on the beach.  None pulled up into the trees.  We had it to ourselves.  We quickly hung all of our wet gear anywhere and everywhere to dry.  The inside and outside of the cabin were festooned with wet gear.  We really took the neighborhood down a notch or two.  Greg started a fire in the wood stove while we pondered the Wolf’s destination.

 Drying Gear at Gale Passage

After resting a bit and starting to dry out we were once again in our boats and off to scout the first rapid to the south.  The northern portion of Gale Passage varies from as wide as 1/4 NM to as narrow as 30 feet and the moon’s pull on the water flushes the current back and forth through the pass.  The first rapid is about 1 ½ NM from the cabin and at this tide stepped down between large rocks on both shores.  We tested the current above the drop to try to determine if we could paddle back up it and get to camp.  Greg got bored with our caution and just ran it, exiting into an eddy about 30 yards downstream.  Dave and I soon joined him.  Now we had to paddle back upstream through the gap.  It took some determined paddling but we all made back and felt better prepared for the next day’s task.

Gale Passage Narrows

Back at camp we kicked back, napped, wrote, read the cabin’s log, and relaxed.  It was nice to be inside even if the flue for the wood stove was falling apart and constituted a safety hazard.  The smoke mostly went up the chimney. Our gear was drying out and we were warm and comfy.

Greg Reading the Cabin Log in Mid-Afternoon

Dallas Island to Gale Passage including exploration 14.3 NM

Gale Passage to Joassa Channel
July 21, Saturday, Day 8
Overcast with rain, heavy at times. Winds SE 10-15 kt. Seas to 2 feet

Gale Passage Chart

Ned and Nan had told us to plan on transiting the passage 2 hours before high slack.  High slack was at 6:49 PM. That gave us all day to do chores and relax.  We needed fresh water and there was a stream near the cabin that wasn’t too awfully brown.  It would do just fine.  Dave passed the morning by patching a hole that he had found in one of the socks on his Goretex drysuit.  After that he took a nap.

Dave Napping In Gale Passage Cabin

Between downpours we gathered several bags of water from the stream for filtering.  Greg and I pumped a couple of bags, waited for a break in the rain and dashed out to gather more.  Dave woke up, tested the Aquaseal goop that he had used to repair his sock and deemed it dry enough for paddling.  We weren’t used to sitting through the morning and were all suffering from Cabin Fever.  Greg and Dave couldn’t stand it anymore so they suited up and went out into Seaforth Channel to fish.  I was more interested in staying dry while I could so I stayed behind to filter water and listened to the rain beat on the roof of the cabin.  It dumped rain and set the roof to roaring.

The Hunter/Gatherers returned fishless so we decided to pack up and started through the passage even though it would put us two hours ahead of Ned and Nan’s recommendation.  We just couldn’t sit anymore and besides the weather radio was announcing the approach of a storm that would bring even more rain with high winds.  We rationalized that the extra two hours would give us more time to exercise our options once we cleared the passage into Thompson Bay.  It was sounding like we were going to lose Sunday to weather and wanted to find a sheltered spot to sit out the storm.

We paddled south with the flood and just prior to the first rapid saw a cabin cruiser at anchor.  As we got closer it started looking more familiar.  The Seattle area-based “MV Dirona” looked in life at it did on the website that Dave and I had used as a resource to plan this trip. (http://www.mvdirona.com/)  The smell of fresh coffee that drifted from the galley was intoxicating and drew us like flies to a flame.  James and Jennifer Hamilton stepped out on the deck to greet us.  They seemed pleased to know that we had used their cruising website as a resource for our kayak trip.  We chatted a bit before bidding them bon voyage and entered the first rapid.

Jon in Gale Passage
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

There were two short drops of little consequence but more water was moving faster than the day before.  I couldn’t have paddled back against it though Greg might have been able to.  The narrow passage dropped us into the shallow end of a large lagoon.  It took us about 20 minutes of paddling in a hard rain to reach the far end where we would climb back out.  We were all expecting to find a narrow slot with current that matched what we had ridden down but as we drew closer to the end we noticed some floating trees and decent sized logs.  The rocky shore was home to some seriously large stumps and wood debris that had washed up on the bank.  None of it would have made it down through the north end so it was a bit disconcerting to ponder how it was that they ended up here.  The current increased significantly as we rounded one last corner and saw the ingress route of the large debris.

A noisy drop was bordered by ragged rock and topped with trees.  It was a bit broader than what we had descended and looking up, it seemed higher and steeper but that couldn’t be, right?  It had to be an optical illusion.  The current was faster, for sure, and we nosed up against it to test the strength.  Dave attempted to climb it and made little headway before losing his momentum and washing back down.  Greg (the Beast) charged into it and flailed away, madly paddling at a comical cadence while inching slowly uphill.  Sometimes he would gain a bit of ground and then be stopped dead against the current still paddling like crazy.  It seemed to take forever before he had finally climbed far enough that he could eddy in behind a boulder and rest.  I knew that there was no point in me even trying to push the Ugly Sister upstream since Greg had barely made it after such a determined effort.  After a bit he peeled out from behind the boulder and continued his climb.  He came to a steeper, faster section close to the top that he couldn’t conquer, though, and retreated to his eddy.  After that Dave and I were content to poke around in the lagoon and wait until the levels equalized a little more.  What was it Ned had said about timing?  Two hours before slack flood?

Over the noise of the falling water we couldn’t hear Greg as he shouted to us but I did understand his gestures that we should look to the right of the drop.  I paddled along the bank and discovered that the shoreline was part of an island that split the passage.  More debris and obvious current was soon visible.  Greg was showing us another way up.  The stream here was much wider, deeper and unfortunately much swifter.  There were few rocks near the surface to disturb its green flow and looking up it was like looking up a long, green slope that stretched for about 50 yards. I pulled into the current to see if it was as strong as it looked and was quickly spun around and sent packing.  Discouraged at the realization that I wasn’t going anywhere for a while I pulled some kelp up over my spray deck as an anchor against the current and settled in to wait it out in the rain.

I looked across the lagoon and saw that Dave was out of his boat and on the shore. Paddling over to see what his plan was I pulled up on the rocky beach and asked what he was thinking.

 What are you thinking, Dave?

“I think we should have waited, like Ned said” was his reply.  “Let’s relax, have a bite and see what it looks like in an hour.  Besides, my ass is killing me”.

Now Dave’s Explorer is a great boat but the seat isn’t user friendly and he was realizing that once out of the lagoon we were facing some potentially long time in the saddle.  He couldn’t see any point in getting a head start on his hurting.

Sitting in a downpour isn’t really relaxing but our drysuits made it bearable.  We just sat and watched the water rise.  The sound of the rapid was becoming less obvious and suddenly, there was Greg.  He had come down the far passage after another unsuccessful bid against the final rise.  He said that he just hadn’t been able to overcome the last little bit but he thought that the current might be lessening some.  After a while we got back in our boats for another try.

Greg went first and climbed up the initial section without too much drama.  Dave went next and I followed.  It was hard work but do-able.  The current was definitely reduced now and the climb not as steep as an hour before.  We all rested in the eddy behind a large boulder where the stream split around the island.  The slope of the stream was very evident from here as we were sitting in the only “level” spot in sight.  Anyplace else that you looked was either uphill or downhill.  A sharp eddyline peeled past the prow of our boulder and threatened to grab our hulls and sweep us down the wider, faster stream if we challenged it.

Ironman Polkinghorn went first with a full-frontal assault.  As Dave and I sat in the calm of the eddy Greg charged across the eddyline and began flailing away just a few feet from us.  The current tugged at his chines and attempted to pull him off of the course that he was trying to hold but not making progress on.  He pounded away with that paddle for a long time and moved very, very slowly forward.  Finally, the current released him and he pulled up over the mild transition.

I was discouraged that it had been so hard for Greg because I knew that I was a slower paddler/boat combination and not nearly as strong.  I told Dave that I didn’t think that I could repeat Greg’s feat.  Dave said that he was going to try something else.  He explained that from the back of the eddy he would paddle right at the edge of the rock with as much speed as he could muster in a few short strokes, sweep the bow just to the right of the rock and cross the eddyline with a very sharp angle.  As the current attempted to turn the boat downstream he would plant a strong left stern rudder and ferry across the stream to climb the slope 30 yards away.  And, that’s just what he did.  Once across that eddyline he was just screaming sideways across the current until tight against the far shoreline.  He made it up with some difficulty and then ferried back across the top to join Greg.

I yelled up to him that his approach had too many moving parts and asked if he had another idea.  He paddled back down with one.  This time everything would start the same but the stern rudder would quickly progress into an aggressive sweep stroke to face the current and then a straight ahead climb, which he did.  It looked do-able but I wanted to watch it one more time so he came back down and showed me again.  After that I followed his example and soon joined them at the top.

It was another 1 ½ NM against the lagoon-filling current to reach Thompson Bay.  Thompson Bay greets the ocean to the south with open arms.  With a serious storm coming we needed a good place to shelter for a day or so.  We were interested in camping on Islet 48 at the south end of Potts Island but once into Thompson Bay we would have 3 ½ NM of exposed paddling to a campsite that we had never seen and didn’t know what kind of a shelter it would provide.  Nearby Cree Point had been recommended by others.  It sits on a rocky bluff and is accessed by a sheltered cove.  We stopped and looked at it but the trees there showed the ravages of life on a windy point and would have provided little shelter from the coming wind and continuous rain.  We weighed the exposed run to Islet 48 and its uncertain shelter with Cree Point’s guarantee of misery against the luxury of another night in a Heiltsuk cabin that lay less than 2 NM to the north on an islet north of Quinoot Point.  The Heiltsuk cabin won hands down.  Dave and I had stayed there two years before and remembered it to be in much better condition than the one on Gale Passage.  We paddled for 40 minutes to reach that cabin on the last smooth water that we would see for 24 hours.

Joassa Cabin

Happy to be done after a hard and wet day, we drug our boats up into the woods above the beach and hung our wet gear from the cabin’s rafters to dry.  Greg chopped wood for the stove, I fixed freeze dried spaghetti with meat sauce for all and we read the cabin log while we ate.  There were a couple of entries by Ned and Nan and another that I had written two years before.  Many of the entries referred to the resident mouse, “Joey”, who had left signs of his ownership in various places throughout the cabin.

The rain began in earnest and beat on the metal roof.  The spaghetti with meat sauce contributed to the evening ambience in a most vile fashion.  I had read a cautionary review on this stuff but had not taken it seriously.

Hear me now! Never eat Backpackers Pantry Spaghetti with Meat Sauce!

Gale Cabin to Joassa Cabin 8.5 NM

A Forced Day Off
July 22, Sunday, Day 9
High winds with heavy rain in the morning. Clearing in the afternoon with diminishing winds

Windy Joassa Channel
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

I awoke during the night and listened to high winds and heavy rain beat on the cabin and surrounding trees.  Snug in the dry shelter I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of night we would have spent at Cree Point or Islet 48.  When morning came the worst of the rain was past but the wind remained strong.  We knew that we weren’t going anywhere for a while.

As Greg was preparing his breakfast, he noticed that Joey had left a calling card in his oatmeal bowl.  Kind of disgusting but pretty funny for Dave and me.  We chuckled as Greg scrubbed out the bowl and laughed out loud when he discovered that his plastic coffee cup held another prize.  Somehow, Joey had climbed into his cup and left a solitary turd nestled there in the bottom.  Dave and I roared with laughter while nervously checking the integrity of our own eating utensils.  Greg was ticked and amused at the same time.  How did a mouse crawl into a lightweight plastic cup, crap and then back out without knocking it over?  Why did he defecate only in Greg’s cup and bowl when there were others to choose from?

With breakfast dishes cleaned and made “Joey safe” we ventured out into the wind.  It was blowing hard and felt really good.  Too windy to paddle, but perfect for filling our lungs with fresh air.  Dave and I reminisced about our years of sitting on hang gliding launches, waiting for the wind to moderate and here we were, 30 years later, waiting for the same thing.  It was clearing up nicely.

Jon & Dave at Quinoot Point
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Returning to the cabin Greg began digging through a drybag for a goodie to eat.  He pulled out the plastic bag containing his snacks to find that it had been compromised.  Putting two and two together he quickly flipped the drybag over to find that Joey had struck again.  The Rogue Rodent had chewed through the drybag to get to the Power Bars.  Dave and I laughed while quickly surveying our own gear for damage and finding none.  So far Dave and I were golden.  Greg was dirt.

Joey just seemed to have a thing for Greg.  Maybe it was all coincidence but it had to feel personal and Greg was ready to waste him at his first opportunity.  Joey had made a couple of brief appearances as the morning progressed but we didn’t get a good look at him.  Just a little brown streak dashing here and there.  Greg headed out the door threatening to “take care of Joey” when he got back from the outhouse.

Quinoot Point Outhouse

Wilderness travel offers new and enriching experiences, startling revelations and drastic change to our mundane day-to-day routine.  Mostly these changes are good but sometimes they are not-so-good.  Take indoor plumbing, for instance.  You won’t find that in the wilderness so you make do.  When you do find some sort of a commode in the wilderness it can range from a wonderful luxury to a deeply disappointing experience.  The outhouse at the Heiltsuk cabin is somewhere in between.  It is extremely civilized given its location yet it has a certain “funhouse” aspect to it that is disquieting.  It sits about 20 yards away from the cabin beneath a large sheltering cedar.  For those who seek privacy during their outdoor experience, it has a blue tarp that hangs in front and serves as a door.  For those who prefer a view it flips up out of the way.  The structure lists oddly to the left as you approach it or to the right if you are, uh, seated.  It’s 10 degree tilt imparts a mild bit of vertigo as you anxiously draw near (toilet paper in hand) and escalates once you are ensconced within.

Questions that come to mind as you try to clear to your head include:

Why is this thing leaning to one side?

Is this about to tip over?

Is this about to tip over with me in it?

Wait a minute, is this tipping over right now?

What will happen if it does?

These are the very questions that Greg, no doubt, was struggling with when Joey or one of his relatives decided that this visit was negatively impacting a favorite family hang-out and burst out from beneath the box, passing like a brown RPG, between Greg’s feet.  Reacting to being startled with one’s pants around one’s ankles can’t have a good outcome and didn’t.  This was really beginning to feel personal and was the last straw for Greg who came back from the outhouse with a “Joey Must Die” point of view.

He took up a broom that was leaning against the wall near the corner that Joey had been frequenting and waited.  Soon, like a gunslinger called out into the street Joey emerged to face his challenger.  Greg took a couple of half-hearted swings at him which Joey easily dodged but he acted a bit odd.  I’m no expert on rodent behavior but this mouse seemed “wrong” to me.  He could have hidden, but didn’t.  He could have run but didn’t.  He could have been out of there but wasn’t.  Was he counting coup?  What’s with this mouse, anyway.  Was he possessed?  Was he the spirit of a Heiltsuk departed?

Great White Hunter

Greg put the broom down as we figured that this mouse had something going on.  With one more night to spend in this cabin we decided that we had better just make sure that our gear was safe and do our best not to piss him off any more than we already had.  Joey casually climbed the wall and sat up in the corner watching us.

Joey (Walks-with-White-Feet)

Satisfied that our gear was safe we went outside to enjoy the windy day.  The sun was breaking out and the wind was very slowly diminishing.  We considered paddling out into the wind in front of our point so that a mishap would just blow us back to shore but the shore was lined with razor-sharp rocks.  Instead we hung our wet clothing to dry and chased the garments that blew off of the limbs and clothesline that we had strung.  Dave and I read (napped) while Greg pondered his strange connection with the brown mouse.

By afternoon the wind had dropped off and we considered packing up and running towards Islet 48 but we were too far from Thompson Bay to know what was really going on out there and didn’t want to have to retreat and unpack.  Instead, Greg went fishing while Dave and I continued to read (nap).  By late afternoon it had turned into a beautiful day.

The Calm After the Storm

Joassa Channel to McMullin Group
July 23, Monday, Day 10
Calm winds and seas in the morning, increasing in the afternoon 10 – 15 kts, a few showers.

The Bardswell Group

The Bardswell Group, like the rest of the coast, exhibits a general north to south orientation in land features and waterways.  These coastal “scars” were roughed out by the advancing sheet ice during the last ice age and exploited by fluctuating sea levels and isostatic rebound which have destroyed and created a maze of pathways for tidal streams.  While Seaforth Channel marks a clear boundary from the island groups to the north, the extremities of individual islands tend to either trickle out into the open Pacific as a series of diminishing islets, or blend with other islands of the group at high tide.  At ¼ and ¾ moon tides this island remains its own entity by virtue of the water surrounding it.  At full or ½ moon low tides (approximately 5 feet lower) Potts rejoins Dufferin Island while adjacent Stryker Island forces a longer paddle for those bound for Queens Sound through the eastern Joassa Channel / Boddy Narrows route or a schedule accommodation through the “back door”.  Departing the cabin, we chose to slip through the back door where a narrow crack between Potts and Dufferin allowed passage near high tide.

Leaving Quinoot Cabin Through the Back Door

The trees closed in overhead while mild opposing current was evident.  Just more water going in the wrong direction and that seemed to be the theme of our trip.  The “back door” quickly widened and we were no longer forced to dodge rocks that set just below the surface and defined our pinball course.  Within 40 minutes we were passing the cluster of islands that protected the passage from Thompson Bay.

Approaching Thompson Bay 

We enjoyed calm winds and seas as we traveled the length of Potts Island on our way towards the McMullin Group where we planned to spend the night.  Dave and I wanted to visit Islet 48 for a look-see.  Such a cool place-name with good reviews.  Greg was more interested in doing some fishing as ¾ NM south of Islet 48 the area was closed to fishing and would stay that way until we reached Cultus Sound, two days hence.  Greg has got to have his fishing.  It’s in his blood and his pole is always within reach.  It had been a couple of days since his line was last in the water and the thought of going two more days was too much for him.  Dave wanted to get out of his boat and give his butt a rest while I was content to sit and drift a while.  We agreed to stay in radio contact.  Greg would meet up with us on the crossing to McMullin while Dave and I would meet at Islet 48.

Greg and Dave shrunk as they opened the distance between us. I closed my eyes and leaned back against the coaming.  When I opened them again only Greg was visible ½ mile away.  I closed my eyes again and when I opened them Greg, too, was gone.  I sat on the glassy water and bobbed on the low swell.  Alone, I leaned back, dipped my hands in the water and closed my eyes.  The ever-present scent of off-shore salt water life flavored each breath.  My lips had a mild salty taste.  Perspiration or salt water?  The sound of the swell meeting the rocky shore a few hundred yards to my left was distinct while the sound returning from 1 NM to my right reverberated as though as though produced by a sub-woofer.  My hands, freshened by the cold water, began to tingle and then ache.  I pulled them out of the water and concentrated on the feel of them warming in the cloud-filtered sunlight.  The crackling of my radio and Dave’s voice brought me back.  Dave was on the beach and would meet me there.  Reluctantly, I gathered my wits and made my way to Islet 48.

Islet 48

Islet 48 is one of many islets at the mouth of Louisa Channel which splits Potts and Stryker Islands.  They were all one once and figuring out exactly which is which can be challenging.  I poked around looking for Dave in a wonderful little group and was surprised when I saw his boat at the water’s edge between two forested bumps.  Landing here could be interesting, depending on the tide, as the tombolo that blocked the Pacific breakers would yield at higher tides.  Waves would wash though creating two separate islets.  Sand interspersed with boulders.  It could spell bad news for fiberglass but on this morning it was a lovely little beach.  The back side of the tombolo looked 2 NM across open water to the McMullin Group where we planned to spend the night.

McMullin Group from Islet 48

Dave had been exploring and showed me around.  The “bump” on the left held a few nice tent sites with tables and benches made of drift wood.  The taller and larger “bump” to the right held more isolated tent sites that were inter-connected with a winding trail that climbed up the hill.  They all offered shelter from wind and varying degrees of protection from rain.  A nice place to camp, for sure, but we had made the right choice to hole up with Joey.

We hailed Greg on the radio to tell him we were leaving Islet 48 for the McMullin Group and would meet him on the crossing.  He had made good use of his time fishing on the edge of the Restricted Zone.  He threw this one back.

Image by Greg Polkinghorn

We spotted him about ½ NM away and as we crossed our paths converged.  The water was a bit choppy and as we drew closer to McMullin an opposing current became obvious.

Dave & Jon on McMullin Crossing
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

The last ½ NM was hard work as the current increased to about 2 kt making headway very slow.  Even as we drew near the islands the current butted against us and it felt as though we were barely crawling towards the large sandy beaches that beckoned.  Once fully inside the group the current relaxed and Dave led us to a large white sand beach where we would camp.

If it had been warmer you might have thought that you were on a tropical island.  When the sun broke out from behind the clouds the sand was very light in color and the water a brilliant blue.  As the tide dropped the nearby islets and rocks became one, connected by the white sand beach.

McMullin Beach
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

We walked the beach to choose tent sites.  There were some spots cleared out up in the trees but on such a nice beach a sandy site was preferred.  Since rain was still threatening some coverage by overhanging trees was desirable.  The wind was picking up and not expected to go away so driftwood that would allow the solid anchoring of a tent while providing some windbreak was a consideration.  Dave claimed his spot first by “throwing his stick” on a level, tent-sized area.

It works like this; you walk along with any stick that you have picked up and if you want to claim a spot you have to be the first to throw your stick on it.  It’s sort of like licking a cookie that you don’t want anyone else to eat.  If you later come across a place that you prefer and nobody else has thrown their stick on it you can retrieve your stick to claim the new spot but it frees up your old one.  You can’t un-lick a cookie but you can un-stick a tent site.

After setting up camp we ate lunch and relaxed.  Dave crawled into his tent to nap while Greg and I read and napped on the beach.  When I woke up Greg and Dave were suiting up.  Looks like we were going to go paddling.

The sky was mostly overcast, though clearing to the west, with fast moving clouds and sun breaks.  It would go from very dark and cool to a warm, brilliant blue and back again in minutes.  It was beautiful to watch as the water reflected the changes and shifted from dull grey to tropical, transparent blue in the blink of an eye.  The SW wind at the surface was about 10 kt and as we rounded the end of our island we encountered swells that broke unexpectedly on submerged shoals.  We picked our way through the small boomers, zig-zagging around some and timing our passage through others.  There seemed to always be a wave breaking over a shoal ahead of us and it felt like we were looking uphill at the horizon.  We paddled towards the blinding reflection of the sun on the open Pacific. 

Outside McMullin
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

At some point it seemed to me that we were charging west without a plan and no visible end to the breaking waves.  I suggested that we turn north and circumnavigate our island.  Heading north we encountered an odd sea state that must have been influenced by the southwesterly swell, west wind, a tidal current, shallow water and reflected waves from the rocky shore.  It was active paddling for about ½ NM until we turned the corner and were sheltered from the confusion.  Continuing around the backside of the group we found lots of sea otters floating in the protected waters.  I headed back to camp while Dave and Greg continued their exploration.

Once we were all back at camp it was time for dinner.  After 9 days, freeze-dried meals were beyond getting old.  There were a couple of my selected meals that I could barely consider eating.

Northbound Outside McMullin
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Joassa Cabin to McMullin Group including exploration 12.2 NM

Outside Goose 
July 24, Tuesday, Day 11
Clouds in the morning clearing by afternoon. Winds SW at 10 kt

The Goose Group

As the McMullin Group is an ancestral remnant of the Bardswell Group so, too, is Goose the ancestral body of a peninsula that once stretched out into the shallow sea that has become Queen Charlotte Sound.  The shelf that defines the Ice Age sea level is about 6 miles west of McMullin and 2 miles west of the current Goose shoreline.  That means that lots of shoals and shallows affect the sea state for many miles along this stretch.

On the ferry to Klemtu Dave and Greg had charted out an exposed 13 NM route around the outside of the Goose Group.  Beginning at McMullin it tracked south to the end of Duck Island, east beneath the tip of Gosling Island and north along the eastern side of the group to Goose Anchorage, a protected bay surrounded by Goose, Gosling, Snipe and Gull Islands.  People who have visited Goose always remark about how the entire west coast of the island is driftwood and sand stretching for miles.  Actual accounts from people who traveled the outside are hard to find but somehow, all of these folks who camped at Goose saw the western shore and it was all good.  I was nervous about making the commitment to the outside but the weather sounded settled and we agreed to reassess once we were closer.

Queens Sound
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

The 2.1 NM crossing of Golby Passage to Goose was uneventful though I suspect that it could exhibit lots of current during peak tidal exchanges.  We discussed the pros and cons of a direct route of only 5.9 NM along the eastern shore or the longer, more adventurous route down and around the outside.  The sky was much like the day before, changing by the moment from very dark to sun breaks and back but the weather forecast was not calling for increasing winds.  As we drew closer to Goose my comfort level on the outside route rose and fell depending on how scary the sky looked at that particular instant.  At ½ NM offshore a route had to be chosen and we opted for the outside.

Decision Time
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Goose stretched out for miles ahead of us as a low, rocky shoreline topped with weather-beaten trees and dark sky.  I didn’t see the “miles of sandy beach” that everyone talked about, just lots of rocky shoals tripping the swells into offshore breakers.  After about 20 minutes of southward paddling we finally saw a sandy beach set back in a bay about ¼ mile wide and protected by more reefs.

Dave’s NDK Brotherhood of Pain seat was already causing him problems and he was making noise about his butt hurting.  About two miles ahead we could see a light band of color set back in a small bay that might be a protected beach that would offer a place to land and relieve the pain.  I think that he had figured out that we were in for a long haul and that there was more discomfort in his future.  The chart had a notation that said “SG” which we interpreted as “Sand / Gravel”.  Sounded welcoming, right?  Not exactly a sandy beach but fine overall.  In honor of Dave’s aching butt we dubbed it Boo-tock Beach and Boo-tock Bay, set that as our goal and forged ahead.  We were doing a lot of paddling but not passing a lot of shoreline.  Dave’s GPS confirmed that we were only making 2 kt and once again paddling against the current.

Goose Boomers
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

It took us a solid hour of ducking behind reefs and bucking the flow to get close enough to realize that the light band of color wasn’t a sandy beach.  In fact, it looked like a bad idea to even get very close as it was a jumble of large white boulders.  Maybe “SG” stood for “Scratches / Gashes”.

It turned out that Boo-tock Bay was very shallow for several hundred yards and the clear water allowed us to see that the bottom was comprised of rounded, medicine ball sized boulders that extended up into the treeline.  We paddled very carefully towards shore just barely clearing those rocks.  Finally, it was too shallow to go further and we exited our boats. Because the bottom was made up of large round rocks there were no graceful exits as footing was desperate at best.  A curious deer watching from the shore was the only witness of our flailing attempts to land with dignity.  I ended up sitting in water up to my chest with my cockpit full of brine but with both ankles intact.  I considered it a win.  Amused or bored, the deer, unencumbered by difficult footing, trotted off into the trees.

So far, this was shaping up to be a tough day.  The water, though not difficult, wasn’t smooth and the current and wind were both against us.  Here we were resting after just a few miles with many more to go.  Even on dry land the boulders made footing difficult. Boo-tock Bay definitely wasn’t a Club Med destination.  None of us really relaxed even though we could have used it.  I pulled out my JetBoil and made a quick cup of coffee.  We each ate a snack and pounded GU as we knew that this might be our last chance to exit the boats and rest until we got to Goose Anchorage.

Suddenly, Dave was yelling something about the tide and the boats.  Moving as fast as possible across the rocks we saw that the tide was retreating quickly from the shallows of Boo-tock Bay and our boats were all grounded.  The shallow water that we had carefully negotiated had become a trap.  I hadn’t considered that and kicked myself for not thinking of it.  Of course, this shallow bay would dry at low tide.  We had arrived near high slack and now the water was receding fast.  Could we move our heavily laden boats to deeper water without damaging them?  How far out was deeper water?  Just wading through the slippery medicine balls was treacherous and I found myself falling and rolling in the water while searching for secure footing.  Avoiding a broken leg was much more important than remaining upright.  Greg’s poly Tempest slid across the rocks pretty well while Dave and I struggled to find footing, lift and slide, find footing, lift and slide, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.  Finally, we moved our boats into water that was deep enough that they could float with our added weight and not hang up on the rocks.

Once we had made our escape we reflected on the experience and felt that this seemingly benign shallow water rest stop had presented the greatest real danger we had faced on the trip.  A badly broken ankle here would have required a helicopter evacuation by the Canadian Coast Guard and the temporary abandonment of a kayak and gear.  The abandoned kayak and gear would have to be recovered and the cost would have been high.

Leaving Boo-tock Bay
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

The way south was beautiful yet boring.  The relentless opposing current and headwind required constant effort to keep progress at 2 kt and it dulled the mind.  We were somewhat fortunate in that the wind and swell was off starboard bow so we were air conditioned and could see waves approaching.  The highlight of the next 1½ hour workout was watching an eagle diving at a fish.  We watched for several minutes as we slowly drew near.  It would dive and disappear behind the swells only to pull up and dive again and again.  I must say that it was entertaining and took my mind off of the painful progress.  Finally, when we were about 40 yards away the eagle went behind the waves and didn’t re-emerge.

I had read accounts that said that once an eagle was in the water it couldn’t take off but could “swim” using its wings.  We were pretty far out and I didn’t imagine that it could swim that far.  I figured that we would have to go try to rescue the bird.  How was that going to work?  Would it let us paddle up, scoop it up onto someone’s deck (not mine!) where it would dry its wings and take off?  Would we have to paddle it to shore?  That would be interesting.  This is a shoreline bereft of beaches and easy landings and one of us (not me) was going to be the designated driver for a wet eagle and take it in and set it loose on dry land?  Now, the designated driver would be endangered and if the other two of us had to perform a rescue against the rocks we would also be endangered.  And why?  Because an eagle had been a dumb-ass and taken a swim.

I quickly figured it this way:

Greg is Mr. Nature and would want to be the designated driver.  I was using the largest bladed paddle so I would scoop it up onto Greg’s deck and quickly back out harm’s way.

Next, Greg would paddle the wet and totally pissed-eagle who would be content to stand quietly on the very furthest reaches of his deck while he was being delivered to a hostile, rocky, breaker-beaten shoreline with no possible place to safely land.  (Did I happen to mention that there are no sandy beaches on the outside?)

This is where Dave’s practiced rescue skills would come into play.  He would zip in, attach his static tow line to the Tempest and pull Greg (assuming he is still in his boat and breathing) off of the rocks while the grateful eagle steped lightly ashore.

I’m not proud of it but I think that I did a realistic skills/conditions assessment and the value of this eagle’s life was in question.  I wasn’t sure what was going through Dave and Greg’s mind at this point in time but I figured that we were going to paddle up to a flailing eagle and have to make a decision as to whether to try to rescue it and place ourselves at risk or paddle away and leave it to its fate.

We glanced at one another as we worked against the wind and current, trying to read each other’s thoughts.  The bird had been out of sight for a significant period of time when suddenly it struggled above the waves with a good-sized fish in its talons.  Bald Eagles run 7 to 15 pounds and are capable of lifting approximately ½ of their body weight.  Somehow this wet bird figured out how to take off from the water with a load.  I figure that it used the lift on the face of the combined swell and wind waves to get aloft.  It was barely clearing the tops of the swells as it struggled to stay aloft and I feared that a large wind wave might clip the prize and pull it down again.  Somehow that bird managed to stay just high enough to make it back to shore.  What a drama.  Much better than the movies.

The narrow gap between Goose and Swan Islands was not visible from the water and the “shortcut” between Swan and Duck Island wasn’t a reasonable option.  It was protected by breaking waves that swept through the gaps.  On a flat day it could have shortened our paddle by several miles.  We were tired and fed up with the headwind and opposing current and continued south, looking forward to reaching the end of Duck Island where we would head east towards the south tip of Gosling Island.  From there it would be less than 2 NM to Goose Anchorage where we would camp.  It had been a strenuous day and in case you are interested it is a fact that there are not miles of sandy beaches on the outside of Goose and that the western shore of Goose is, in fact, rocky and uninviting.

Reaching the southern extremity of Duck Island, we were all dismayed to see that shoals and boomer fields ran south for another 3 NM into open ocean.  I was crushed because I didn’t feel like I had another 3 miles of opposing wind and current in me.  In my head I was prepared to work hard for another 4 miles, not another 10.  Two NM to the east were the bluffs that marked the south end of Gosling Island and the protected home stretch into Goose Anchorage.  We sat outside the line of boomers that barred our progress and studied the pattern looking for a safe slot.  Finding none we moved a bit further south and were tempted.  It looked like this area was never completely closed out but if you watched long enough there was no place that didn’t break at some point.  I was seriously tempted as I figured that safe water was just 50 yards away. I could pick a line and paddle fast.  I was surprised when Dave wouldn’t hear of it.  I had to respect his opinion as he had made many more of these choices before.

He and Greg rafted up and studied the charts and GPS while I sat dejected and watched the breaking waves that blocked our progress.  They determined that there might be a spot a bit further south and they were right.  A little encouragement was all I needed and turning east it felt great to have the swells and wind waves giving us a push instead of slowing us down.  Another hour and 20 minutes found us throwing our sticks on the beach at Snipe Island.

Entering Goose Anchorage
Image by Dave Resler

The Goose Group, while remote, shows the signs of traffic.  The area is pristine yet somehow scarred.  The whole trip down the outside was remarkable in its “wildness”.  No signs of humans anywhere.  Once into Goose Anchorage that all changed.  I felt like we had entered the suburbs as we passed the remains of an enormous driftwood structure on the beach where we would eventually set up camp.  When we came upon the powerboat pulled up on another beach with the sunbathing couple and their two barking dogs, I knew that we had crossed the “Goose City Limits”.  What a shock.  Greg and Dave pulled in to talk with them while I kept paddling to a large deserted beach across the way.  Several steps brought me to a much larger beach at the head of the bay between Duck and Gosling Islands with Goose defining its northern boundary.  As far as the eye could see was an east facing, sandy beach with tons of driftwood.  This was clearly the legendary beach on the “outside of Goose” that people referred to.  It was beautiful and would have been well worth paddling a long way to reach if we hadn’t spent the last week in areas that folks didn’t frequent nearly as often.

Crowded Goose Beach

The visit with the power boaters concluded, we all paddled back to Snipe Island to set up camp.  It was a very nice and sheltered west facing beach with the remains of a giant structure that had been constructed of driftwood and ropes and was far too involved to have been made by one group on a weekend trip.  Either the weather or vandals or both had conspired to bring about its destruction and it was now nothing more than an eyesore.  In its best day it couldn’t have looked better than a Hunter S. Thompson-esq binge.  The backing forest was crisscrossed with trails and lots of tent sites.  A box toilet was the crowning jewel overlooking the back bay.  On any other kayak trip this would have been heaven.  Coming from where we had been this seemed to me to be an Animal House party site.

Kayak Bill’s charts showed a camp to be ¼ NM to the south on Gosling Island.  We could see the driftwood windbreak and a hint of a blue tarp.  Dave stayed in camp while Greg and I paddled over to pay our respects.  It was on this beach where, after 28 years of solitary camping, Bill’s life ended.  He was found in March of 2003 among the logs that lined the beach and protected his campsite.  His shelter stood on the soft, mossy ground at the edge of the Hobbit-like forest with sunlight filtering down through the trees.

Kayak Bill’s Last Camp
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Bill’s neat piles of organized artifacts had been scattered and were intermingled with empty potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers.  This desecration wasn’t the work of kayakers.  Inside the shelter we found that his signature stove, bed and bench were intact but the details that we found on Dallas were missing.  Too much traffic.  At the foot of a tree near the entrance to the shelter I found a single piece of footwear.  A rubber pack boot had been cut down to oxford height with a V-shaped notch cut over the instep.  A single hole on each side of the notch had been made to accept a shoe lace.  Bills shoe?.

It was odd to look through the estate of Kayak Bill, a man I had never met, and try to recreate an accurate picture of the man, his life and his values.

McMullin Group to Goose Anchorage via the Outside 17 NM

Queens Sound
July 25, Wednesday, Day 12
Calm winds and fog in the morning. Clearing with winds SW at 10 kts

Queens Sound

The morning brought thick fog and the promise of a very long, blind crossing.  I was ecstatic!  What could be more fun than doing the “Blind Boy Boogie”, AKA “Kitasu Bay Times Two”?  A real adventure in disorientation.  I couldn’t wait to chase my compass in vain.  Who wouldn’t sign up for two hours of weirdness?  Move my name to the top of that list!  Don’t consider other takers!  This pleasure must be all mine!  Memories of the “Sky River Rock Festival” of 1968 crowded my psyche and produced an uncontrolled “tick” that manifested itself in verbal outbursts of obscenities.

We had drawn out a couple of routes.  The shortest crossing (5.2 NM) was on a heading of 060 degrees to the Purple Bluffs in the Simonds Group.  The direct route to Cultus was on a heading of 078 degrees and would be 7.5 NM.  Both presented plenty of exposure but the direct route would have us in open water for another 40 minutes of fun.  Depending on the sea state that 40 minutes could be significant.  Since we were starting without visibility we opted for the short crossing.

For the first 10 minutes we could only see each other in the grey gloom but then a thin line of light began to emerge and my heart soared.  The fog was lifting and soon we could just make out the lower elevations to the east.  After an hour the fog had given way to low clouds which, in turn, began to dissipate setting the stage for a remarkable event.

Pondering the Crossing

At a distance of ½ mile on our 2 o’clock position we spotted a humpback whale that surfaced several times.  As we continued on our course, we noted that its route was similar to ours and it looked as though its speed and heading would have it crossing our path ahead of us.  We didn’t expect to be anywhere close.  When it was something less than ¼ mile away it altered its course by 90 degrees and came in our direction.  Greg was about 50 yards ahead and Dave and I decided to raft up and see if we could get a decent picture.

”Hey Dave. We are going to get a really good look!”
Image by Dave Resler

The whale kept coming in our direction and it appeared that we would get a good look.  Soon it was obvious that we would get a VERY good look as it was coming straight at us.  When it surfaced about 100 feet away and was still on a collision course, I became agitated and began to speak in tongues but Dave reassured me that it meant us no harm.  Not totally discounting his show of confidence I began planning for how to climb onto the back of his deck.  When it surfaced less than a boat length away and it's back passed me within a paddle's length, I was shocked and could only utter a single expletive that I will leave to your imagination.  It had no sooner passed us when we heard an exhalation on Dave's side and another Humpback passed within 20 feet. With that, the second whale's tail came up and it sounded.

Really Close!
Image by Dave Resler

Dave and I looked at each other in disbelief and called out to Greg to see if he had seen it.  He confirmed that we had all just had an out-of-body experience.  Neither whale made enough of a ripple to rock our boats and, other than the sound of their breathing, there was only the hissing of the tiny surface bubbles generated in their passing.  I followed Dave as he drew his boat over to the smooth, silent boil where the second whale had sounded.  We sat in silence on the passage-slickened surface and considered our good fortune as the water roiled around us.  Until the second animal surfaced next to Dave, we hadn't even been aware that we were watching a pair.  We didn’t see them again.  They came over to check us out and, having done so, went on their way.

That really livened up the conversation for a while and when we saw the splashing and plume of more marine mammals about a mile or more on a straight line towards Cultus we altered course and Greg took off like a shot determined to have a close and personal encounter.  Our 5.2 NM crossing turned into an 8.5 NM crossing just like that.  We didn’t have a chance of catching them and we soon settled back into a more sensible cadence.  The water was flat and the sky almost clear.  It had turned into a lovely day.

Turned Into a Lovely Day
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Greg’s sprint, coupled with the emerging sun had conspired to make him overheat and he needed to remove a layer.  I rafted up with him while he removed the top of his drysuit in order to take off his sweater and suit back up.  Dave, in the meantime, had used his GPS to locate a favorable eastward flowing current and was making very good time towards the entrance of Cultus Sound.  By the time Greg and I were ready to start again Dave was a distant spec on the water.  We started paddling and we paddled and paddled and paddled.  We expected to close on Cultus quickly, as Dave had, but it didn’t go that way.  It seemed to take forever to draw close and, then, even longer to actually get inside the mouth of the sound.  Whatever flow Dave had found we didn’t find and bucked a current all the way into the mouth.  Satellite photos on Google Earth show large eddies in Queens Sound.  Dave had found a favorable flow and we hadn’t.  That last mile was tiring.

Sport fishing boats were working the cliffs and rocky points as we approached.  When we rounded the last point and came in sight of the beach, we saw Dave chatting with another camper.  It turned out that a nice kayaking couple from Vancouver had been camped at the beach for a day or so.  We quickly threw our sticks and set up camp.

Cultus Campsite

Greg was hot to fish and Dave was game.  I wanted to explore Swordfish Bay which is about 2 NM south past Superstition Point.  I had read a report once about a couple who came upon a “Kayak Bill” camp in or near Swordfish Bay.  Bill’s chart shows an “L” inside a circle with an arrow pointing to the bay.  I didn’t have the page with the legend that referenced point “L” but I figured that I should be able to find it.  The seas were reasonable for a solo foray and after a radio check and promises to stay in contact I left them trolling for salmon in front of the big cliff on the south edge of the entrance to Cultus Sound.

Looking NW Towards the Simonds Group

The sea had a bit of bounce to it as I rounded Superstition Point.  A fairly abrupt underwater ledge can make even boring waters interesting along this section so I was paying attention and watching for changes.  The vertical shoreline reflects whatever the ledge excites and the resulting clapotis should surprise no one.  I was wishing that I hadn’t taken my water bags out as the added weight tends to settle the ride.  Small bays and narrow slots in the rocks looked interesting but were showing confused water and closing out with breaking waves.  No place for me to go into solo.

I continued down to the Swordfish entrance and was discouraged with the waves breaking over submerged shoals.  I checked in with Dave by radio to report my location and reception was not great.  I sat and bounced in the reflected waves for about 10 minutes while studying the water at the entrance.  There was one section about 50 feet wide that never broke.  Reassured, I paddled through without drama and was immediately into a very calm and quiet place with no sign of swell and almost no wind at all.  I called Dave on the radio.  No response.  I called again.  No response.  Why would there be?  I was in a fairly confined space surrounded by rocky shorelines and tall trees.  I felt that I should leave and regain contact but I had wanted to see this place for so long.

The quiet, clear water was unruffled by breeze and it allowed me to steer clear of the rocks just beneath the surface.  My stone enclosure radiated the sun’s stored heat and without the wind I began to get really warm.  I followed the shoreline into a narrow cove with steep rocky cliffs.  It was very close and warm.  The sun was scattered by the salt spray on my sunglasses making it difficult to see.  I sat in the boat, closed my eyes and enjoyed the feeling of the rising temperature.  No wind or noise other than a soft and low frequency vibration made by the crashing swells outside the bay that reverberated in this stone enclosure and could be felt deep inside my stomach.  Oh, God.  The sea smells so good.

I sat there for about a minute before placing my paddle down across the cockpit coaming so that I could drape both hands in the water.  When I did I was startled by a loud seal bark and sudden splashing all around me.  I had drifted into a sunny seal haul-out but hadn’t noticed them.  When I set my paddle down it spooked them and they all took off.  It scared the heck out of me, too.  Good thing that they weren’t Stellar Sea Lions.  They could have had their way with me

Feeling a bit shaken and guilty for being out of contact with camp I was headed back outside when I noticed a brilliant white beach off to my left.  Paddling in I found a wonderful sheltered shell beach between the main body of Hunter Island and a small island that joined it at low tide.  It was beautiful.  I scanned the tree line for a buoy that would mark Bill’s camp as I felt that this was surely it.  Exiting my boat, I walked up the slope of the tombolo and was greeted by the squawking and honking of some large birds that I had disturbed.  Protesting my presence, they took to wing and flew away, their voices fading with distance.  At the top of the beach I looked south towards the entrance to Spider Channel and saw that the southern approach was hampered by large barnacle covered rocks.

I searched the Hunter Island tree line for an entrance into a camp.  Finding none I crossed the crest of the tombolo to the small island.  The southern edge of the island soon discouraged my exploration with tall jagged boulders and vegetation so thick that entrance seemed impossible.  Landing on this margin wouldn’t be more than a desperate and misguided option.  Simply walking here was ill-advised.  Backtracking towards the northern end of the island I found a single rectangular clearing cut out of the forest.  It was just above the high tide mark and no larger than a two-person tent.  The short vegetation stood straight, testifying that no one had been there for a while.  The shell beach showed no footprints since the Spring floods two weeks prior.  Continuing around the edge of the island I came upon a small grassy area where I found a white plastic bucket set into the ground.  Its placement wasn’t random as it had been fitted into a hole. This must be a “well” where Kayak Bill collected dew and rainwater.  But where was the camp?  I never found it or maybe I did and didn’t know it.  Maybe “L” was a bivi-camp.  Whatever, I will return to this spot and camp in 2009.

The paddle back took a bit of attention and bouncing around Superstition Point I spotted Dave and Greg trolling in front of the cliffs.  Dave had a Salmon in his cockpit and Greg had a rockfish.  
We would eat well.

Gosling Island to Cultus Sound 8NM

Cultus Sound to Shell Beach
July 26, Thursday, Day 13
Clear and calm in the morning becoming overcast with rain in the afternoon

Sunrise on Cultus Sound

Other than Dave’s solid week of rain in 2006 it seems that everybody who camps at this beach comes away with great sunrise photos.  It is so still, quiet and gorgeous in the morning.  Nice day for a short paddle to Shell Beach near Soulsby Point.

Nothing much to report on the paddle to Shell Beach.  We traveled north on Sans Peur Passage, chatted, and stopped on a rocky shore so that Dave could strip a layer off from under his drysuit.  Having only paddled this route heading south I was still surprised that it didn’t look familiar heading north.

Sans Peur Passage

The island that holds Shell Beach is visible from about 3 NM on this route but the beach is not.  I quit guessing where to head after a while as I knew that we could locate it on the GPS and somehow, I wasn’t looking forward to finding it.  I really wanted to keep paddling and Shell Beach was just another signpost pointing the way back to reality.

We could see rain north of Hunter Channel and somewhere mid-channel it moved far enough south to touch us.  Dave and I donned our rain hats.  Greg wasn’t fazed and paddled on in his orange ball cap.  Honestly, I was just along for the ride and sort of hoped that we would miss our beach and have to spend some time looking for it.  Backtracking maybe.  I didn’t care but I just didn’t want to arrive at Shell Beach in the rain.

Well, Dave and Greg are good navigators and they paddled right to the beach through the backdoor.  I didn’t even realize that we were there until we were 20 yards away.  We landed in a light drizzle.

Drizzly Arrival at Shell Beach

Two years ago this campsite had been my initiation to the Central Coast experience when we had arrived on a brilliantly warm day on our way outbound.  Keith had fired up the Dutch Oven and made chili and cornbread for lunch.  For dinner Larry had produced and broiled the best steaks that I have ever eaten while Keith prepared fresh clams with butter sauce.  We sat around the fire sipping bourbon.  Today we were arriving during the rain with prospects of dehydrated food for dinner.  We had spent the past two weeks at campsites much finer than this one.  Shell Beach just wasn’t the same.  Maybe a big part of my disappointment was the general melancholy that creeps in as these trips wind towards a close.  I know for a fact that the Backpacker’s Panty Chili Mac dinner that I made was so vile that I couldn’t decide which chemical it was trying to taste like.  It was nothing like food.  That was discouraging and on my third bite I threw it all away and opted for some other meal choice from my drybag.

Cultus Sound to Shell Beach 6.9 NM

Shell Beach to Shearwater 
July 27, Friday, Day 14
Overcast with rain, heavy at times. Winds south to 10 kts

The Red Men Suiting Up

We tore down camp in a light rain.  The last thing to come down was the parawing as we wanted a dry place to eat breakfast and don our drysuits that were still clammy from the day before.  Not much conversation as I suppose we were all dealing with our feelings about this trip coming to an end.  Something that really irks me is packing up a wet tent so I had one more thing to feel moody about.  It’s about 13 NM to Shearwater and the prospect of paddling it in the rain wasn’t very appealing.  Not today, anyway.

Morning at Shell Beach

Hunter Channel floods to the north so we did have the current in our favor.  The passing shoreline didn’t look at all familiar even though I had seen it in 2005.  After about 40 minutes we came to the narrow entrance of a tidal lagoon on Campbell Island.  On my first trip here, we had paddled into this rocky crack to the foot of a six-foot waterfall.  With the current tide level, the water was flowing in, not out of the lagoon and no waterfall existed.  Very strange.  No wonder nothing looked familiar. We were being drawn in by the flow so we played a bit with the current but none of us wanted the complications that being sucked downstream into the lagoon might bring us.  We dug our way back out into Hunter Channel and continued on.  The good news was that we had picked up a nice tailwind and the current was still in our favor.  We were traveling along at 5 kt without really trying.  Was this the first time that we had current working for us?  It might have been.

Lama Passage

We stopped at Dave’s Walker Island campsite near the intersection of Hunter Channel and Lama Passage.  It seemed like a fairly desperate place to camp but I tucked it away as a possibility for another trip.  Not much to see in the way of scenery.  The only excitement came with the passing of the Prince Rupert ferry and our ineffective attempts at surfing its wake with our heavily loaded boats.

Soon enough our free ride was over and as the ebb commenced our progress slowed.  The rain came and went.  More signs of habitation dotted the shore and waterway.  Bella Bella appeared out of the rain and fog, Shearwater was right around the corner.

Bella Bella in View

Sooner than we liked the luxury yachts tied up at the Shearwater dock came into view.  A hot shower at the Laundromat followed by a beer and pizza was sounding better all the time.

We arrived without fanfare on the concrete ramp at the Marine Center walked away from our boats and rejoined society.

Shell Beach to Shearwater 12.8 NM


When you are out you adopt a routine and when you land after a day on the water you go through your process of securing, unloading, setting up camp, preparing a meal, checking that your gear really is secure and going to sleep.  When a trip is over the routine is still there but it no longer applies.  Instead of landing on a beach we landed on a concrete ramp.  Instead of the sound of Eagles and Ravens in the trees we were greeted by the sound of a loud grinding wheel and the hiss and snap of an arc welder from the Marine Center.

While Shearwater isn’t exactly a bustling town everything seemed loud.

We carried our dirty clothes to the Laundromat and the machines seemed loud.  While the other patrons spoke above the sound of the dryers we spoke softly.

We took showers and the shower seemed loud.

The TV in the bar seemed loud.

The conversations of others in the restaurant seemed loud.

The voice of the French speaking man on the pay phone next to me seemed loud.

It was as if after living out we were struggling to find the skills for living in.

We were reunited with Ned and Nan at the ferry dock and recounted our adventures.  We met a group from France who had paddled from Port Hardy to Shearwater and another group from Vancouver who had been out for a week.

Greg, Dave & Nan (Guess who needs to shave?)

As soon as it was dark, we curled up in our bags and went to sleep.  During the night I awoke to the slow rocking of the ferry as it rode the swells in the unprotected waters of Queen Charlotte Sound.  I listened to the air shift back and forth between the cells of my air mattress as I rolled from side to side.

Arriving at the Bear Cove terminal in Port Hardy we wasted no time loading up the truck and hitting the road for the long drive home.  At the southern edge of Port Hardy, a bear rambled across the highway and disappeared in the forest behind the city limit sign.  Greg assumed his “astronaut” position in the jump seats of my truck that were not meant for adults but not bad enough to garner his complaint.

The drive to the Nanaimo ferry was long but allowed the hope of an afternoon departure and an early evening arrival back home.  The ferry lines moved at a tantalizing pace.

“We’re going to get on this boat!”

“No, we’re going to miss it!”

“No, we’re going to make it!”

We missed the 2:15 PM sailing by zero cars.  We were the car that didn’t make it.  Everyone else was behind us.  Oh well.  Nice try.  Bad luck.  We’ll be the first on the next boat in 2 hours.   We had missed the Tsawwassen Ferry by four cars and this one by zero cars. Tough re-entry.

It turned out that the next boat was delayed by a bomb threat.  We didn’t know if we would end up camping here at the ferry terminal or catch the next boat whenever that would be.  People in line were angry and threatening the ferry officials, as though it was their fault.  Loud voices filled with angst.  Very tough re-entry.  I reverted to my comforting routine, got out my stove and fixed a freeze-dried meal.  I thought I was done with these…………..

The bomb dogs finished sniffing the cars and cleared the ferry at the Tsawwassen dock for sailing.  Eventually we were able to load at 10:20 PM after eight hours in line.  BC Ferries felt so bad that they offered free meals to everyone on the boat.  Since we were the first in line to load we were very nearly the first in line for free food.  It was free “ferry” food so nothing was exceptional but it was a very nice showing by BC Ferries and much appreciated.  The line for free food stretched the length of the deck and many of the passengers were compelled to order way more food than they could possibly eat.  The BC High School soccer team was a particular offender.  I hope they lost their asses in the tournament.  Their pure greed meant that the people who loaded the boat last and waited in the food line for most of the Georgia Strait crossing were told that there was no food left and went hungry.  Very, very tough re-entry.

I arrived home around 3:30 AM, helped Dave and Greg load their gear and went to bed.  I was happy to be home but feeling oddly out of place.

Coming back from life on the coast is hard to do.


In reflecting back on this trip, I am so pleased in how it turned out.

Dave and Greg are great trip partners and both are such good paddlers.  I will gladly go paddling with them for a day or a month or for whatever period of time that they will have me.

We worked well as a team and with the help of Greg and Dave I was able to accomplish some things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.  I hope I didn’t drag them down.

The route was a good one and the conditions allowed us to accomplished the whole thing plus more.  Many thanks here go to Keith Webb, John Kimantas, Ned and Nan for their input and advice.

While we didn’t find them all but we did visit two of Kayak Bill’s camps and got to see more of the workings of his mind.  The Dallas boardwalk needs to be seen before it is overcome by the forest.

We paddled 146.9 NM or 169 miles total.

We averaged 12.24 NM or 14 miles per day.

The weather was very good to us.

The temperatures averaged between 50 and 65 degrees F.   Ideal paddling temperatures.

Of 13 days spent on the water there were:

• 3 days without precipitation
• 6 days with clearing
• 4 days with showers
• 5 days with rain that could be described as heavy at times.
• Only one day was blown out and kept us ashore.

That probably sounds awful to some folks and if you are among them, I discourage you from planning a paddling trip to this or any other coastal rainforest.  If you need warm temperatures and sunny skies to feel like you are on vacation a rainforest is not the place for you.

This was exactly the right place for us to be in July of 2007 and I look forward to visiting again.  Maybe I can talk Dave and Greg into paddling from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy with me in 2009. 

Revised 11/13/1019