Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Marcel Speaks


On my second day of skiing I participated in a series of bad decisions that nearly cost me and my friends our lives.  Being in high school at the time when bad ideas and bad decisions were a way of life the only thing that is surprising is that we survived.  Without belaboring details let me just say that we had gotten lost and were suffering from hypothermia.  We were rescued by three remarkable men, two of whom told me years later that when they found us, we had maybe 2 hours to live.  Two of those men were very kind but the third was a beast.  

The beast was a German expat named Marcel Schuster who had served on the Russian Front in WWII as a Nazi Mountain Trooper.  He was captured and spent three years in a POW camp which didn’t make him a nicer person.  He was entirely unpleasant and totally unsympathetic to our situation.  During our rescue the only six words he uttered to us were “You Stoopid Boyzzz” and “Learn or Die” followed by another “You Stoopid Boyzzz”.  After eight years I was reunited with the three men who I owed my life to and Marcel didn’t smile and wouldn’t shake my hand.  All he said while looking at me with a cold and bitter stare was “You Stoopid Boyzzz”.  

I’m going to get to the kayaking part in a minute but before I do I want to mention what a strong influence Marcel’s message has had on my life choices.  Though I have met no one who knew him who would describe him as a nice guy he spoke to me in a way that got my attention and that I understood.  

I think that many of us choose our activities, boating or otherwise, where we accommodate objective risks and plan for what subjective risk / rewards we may or may not be willing to consider.  Since that cold Winter night in my 17th year when I had 2 hours to live but was snatched from death by two nice men and one acerbic ex-Nazi with a short temper and no tolerance for the dumb-assery of youth I have heard Marcel speak to me a number of times.  When he speaks I listen. 



I was 2 days into a 2 week solo kayaking trip on the BC coast when my weather radio told me that an intense ridge was setting up over Haida Gwaii and that it would bring 40 kt winds to the area.  That made my intended route and my current location untenable.  I had two days to seek a sheltered route, which was doable, but I didn’t want to go where the easy and safe routes would take me.  There was a 6 mile stretch of coastline on Athlone Island that I wanted to see and if I hurried, I could paddle it and get into the lee of the Bardswell Group before the winds arrived, but just barely.  Once sheltered by the Bardswells I could scurry from here to there like a mouse evading a hungry cat, safe as long as I didn’t get caught in the open.  So, for 2 days I monitored weather and hustled towards safety.  

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

Those 3 miles to Wurtele Island presented intensifying conditions that were ragged and snotty but still manageable.  Achieving Rage Reef at the north end of the island I sheltered in the lee of the boomers to reassess conditions.   Looking south and then scanning back north the way I had come the thin layer of haze clinging to the water told of frothy wave tops torn from breaking waves.  I really wanted that next 3 miles.  The outside of the island would be rough and probably getting more so but it would only be another hour to Cape Mark.  I can do that. 

Moderate Seas
Image by April Benzce 

And then Marcel spoke to me as loudly and as clearly as he ever has since that cold night in the snow and he said “You stoopid boyz!


That was all it took and I ducked behind Wertele island without further discussion.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Harvey Island Camp

March 7, 2020

I’ve been holding off talking about Bill’s most remote camp out in Hecate Strait for 15 years.  A friend first told me about it immediately after returning from his visit there in 2005, just 2 years after Bill left the camp for the last time.  About then there were spoilers published by Neil Frazer in Sea Kayaker Magazine (, John Kimantas in “the Wild Coast 2” and Ian Mcallister in “Following the Last Wild Wolves”  but they flew under the radar or maybe nobody cared.  Probably the latter. 

Shortly after Bill’s wake in 2004 my friend was given copies of Billy’s journals and charts by one of his childhood mates from the Wood’s Christian Home orphanage outside of Calgary where the two had spent their early years.  Using this information, he undertook a solo mission to visit some of the camps marked on the charts and mentioned in the journals.  Those resources led him out into Hecate Strait ~11.5 NM west from Aristazabal Camp III to the Beyers-Conroy-Harvey-Sinnet Islands Ecological Reserve and the site of Bill’s most remote and comfortable camp on the coast.  It was a camp less reliant on tarps for protection from the elements.  Almost a shack rather than a shelter. 

My friend paddled west from Weeteeum Bay into a fogbank on a compass course of 270 degrees, located the islets by sound and arrived on a high tide which happened to be the right answer.  His account was published online by Sea Kayaker Magazine and is available here:

On a 270 course out of AIC III
Image by My Shearwater Bar Friend

The Harvey Islets Group is one of the two groups of four in the conservancy out in the middle of nowhere that allows reasonable, albeit conditional, landings.  From the water you wouldn’t consider it advisable as the Harvey camp lies in the center of a maze of islets and is completely invisible from the perimeter of the group.  The area surrounding Harvey is shallow and the anchorage is foul.  Boomers are the norm which caution against approach by watercraft of any type.  At low tide the drying is extensive which further complicates approach and discourages exploration. 

Harvey Islets Group

In 2002 Neil Frazer learned from the Bonilla Island Lightkeeper that Bill had a camp on Harvey so he landed to look for him.  He found no sign that anyone had ever been there before.  Rather than camp on the islet he and his partner chose to anchor in the surrounding kelp and spent a cold and wet night in their kayaks.  Later he learned from Stewart Marshall that they had walked within meters of Bill’s camp. 

Nearly a decade ago, I met a paddler in Port Hardy with extensive knowledge of the coast.  He had an interest in Billy Davidson and had been to some of his camps by choice.  He described to me an encounter that he had with a man who had dropped by his campsite at the west end of Higgins Passage.  The visitor had spent the previous 25 Summers cruising the coast on his yacht which was anchored a bit east near the abandoned village site of Goo Ewe.  He told my friend of coming across Kayak Bill nearby while he was busy dressing out a freshly slain deer.  He told of visiting Bill’s Higgins Pass Camp and described its location and layout.  We used that description to narrow down the camp’s location but still couldn’t locate it until 2019. 

Further, he described a conversation where Bill had expressed interest in getting some plywood transported out to Harvey Islets where he was establishing a camp.  The online Sea Kayaker Magazine article said that the camp had plywood walls and roof. 

It turned out that the yachtsman’s timeline conflicted with other known events so the exact date of the establishment of the Harvey Camp is in question.  Personally, I think that it was established between 1995~ish and 2000.……………I’m not really sure though as some evidence is missing and I’ll update this document as information is received. 

In 1994 Bill told Colin Lake that he was thinking of establishing a camp on Goose to get away from tourists.  That makes me think that Goose must have been the most remote outer coast-type place he had been to at that point.  A place so removed that no “tourists” would intrude.  If you have been to Goose, though, you know that it can be a busy place with lots of coming and goings.  In 1994, however, Bill thought of it as “remote” so I can’t reconcile the thought that the Harvey Island Camp existed at that time or was even considered by him as a possibility because Harvey is so much more remote than Goose that it is ridiculous. 

  •  It is out in Hecate Strait where any sort of water travel has greater potential consequences than on Queen’s Sound. 
  •  The shortest approach is long and exposed.
  •  The Group is foul.  Tides and winds have greater consequences.  Objective near-shore risks are significant and require consideration.
  •  It is an Ecological Reserve so you are not supposed to be there in the first place.  

In 2017 my Port Hardy friend paddled out to Harvey and spent a couple of nights.  He had researched the approach and chosen his weather and tides.  Arriving at a reasonably high tide level allowed him to paddle up within meters of the shack which featured a standard driftwood windscreen, plywood walls and roof. 

Harvey Islet Camp 2017

He found it somewhat overgrown but definitely more comfortable than the remains of Bill’s other tarp dependent camps and still a very suitable and dry shelter.  The large fire stand was in good shape with a supply of firewood that Bill had left when he stepped out the camp on September 23, 2003. 

The planks that made the bed and various bench surfaces were in place and still serviceable.  A packet of Zig Zag rolling papers (Bill’s Signature) was still pinned to the board that topped the fire stand. 

A yellow Marmot rain shell (inadvertently left by the guy who introduced me to Billy’s story at the Shearwater Bar in 2005) hung from the wood forming the peak of the shelter.  A candle lantern made from an aluminum can was tacked to the shack wall.  My friend cooked dinner, warmed the space using the firestand and spent a comfortable night on Bill’s bed.

He described the firestand construction this way:

“Bill’s shelter was placed more or less on a line northwest to southeast.   This would put the fireplace in the most southerly corner.   Behind the fireplace Bill used cedar, like long split shakes for the wall and also for part of the roof that was most exposed to smoke.  There was a gap where the end wall met the roof of an inch or two which didn’t seem to let any rain in (it rained hard when I was there) but when there was any wind from other than the south or east the roof seemed to create a kind of venturi effect as it passed over the peak of the roof and this sucked the smoke out through the crack.   Given the placement of the shelter and the topography, most of the time the wind was funneled in from the west though the channel.   So, except when there was a storm bringing SE wind the smoke was drawn out of the shelter quite effectively.  I am not sure how it worked with a SE wind but I can speculate.  Bill had a window to the right of the door going in that was covered with an adjustable tarp. The bottom of the tarp had a long pole attached with on end of the pole through a hole in the back wall of the shelter and the other end appeared to be able to open and close the ‘window’ hole in some way. When I was there the tarp was badly torn and deteriorated and I couldn’t quite figure out how it worked.  I think when the wind was from the south most of it would be stopped by the wind break but what got through would create a similar venturi effect in reverse and take the smoke out the top of the door or maybe out the peak of the roof at the back.   The effect in this case was that if you remained sitting down, you were below the smoke and I think if it was set up properly most of the smoke would be no lower than about 5 or 6 feet.” 

Harvey Islet Camp at High Tide

Additionally, he reported that while he was there, he saw no sign of mice.  This may seem like no big deal but during Bill’s last stay in 2003 he reported 62 mouse encounters in a little over two months.  Mice really pissed him off and he reported mouse encounters in his journals at all of his camps and kept track of his successful kills.  Mice, Mosquitoes and Black Flies.  They were all dead to him.  With no fresh water for Mosquitoes or Blackflies to breed on, Harvey provided relief from them.  His fresh water came from his bucket well buried in the ground on the adjacent islet.  But mice?  They haunted him on Harvey.  How do mice get out there and why were they so prevalent during his last visit? 

Harvey Islet Camp at Low Tide

Bill Davidson described Harvey as a “Garden of Eden” where “time was way different”.  Each day he could gather what he called “wild peas, wild carrots, Goose Tongue, Sea Asparagus” and Crab Apples in minutes.  Huge Mussels and Gooseneck Barnacles were just outside of camp. His chart marks areas surrounding the islets as good for jigging.


He brought flour, and sometimes rice, from Shearwater to mix with sea water and seal oil to make chapatis and stew.  When needed, he would shoot a seal to render down to blubber that he would melt to make oil and after the meat fell off of the bones he would knead it, mixing it with sea water, forming it into patties that dried over the fire stand.  Dried Seal Burger.  When meat was on the menu, he simply soaked the dried seal burgers in sea water to mix with rice, chapatis or to eat by themselves.  

Life was good on Harvey.

On September 23, 2003 Bill left his Harvey Paradise for the last time on his way back to Shearwater.  He reported a “Very Hard Paddle” on Hecate Strait to Aristazabal Island Camp III with strong E to SE winds.  From there he took his time and didn’t get back to Shearwater until ~3 weeks later.  Weather was a factor but he was not in a hurry to get back to civilization.

After three and a half weeks in Shearwater he set off on his last trip choosing Goose over Harvey as his Winter Camp.  Why did he choose Goose over Harvey?  We assume that it was because:
  • With a hard push he could get there in one long day.
  • The approach to Goose was less exposed.
  • The Goose Camp faced north with great natural protection from southerlies.  This allowed him to get out in his boat to fish in the lee of large islands. 
  • The Goose Camp was slightly higher above sea level.  Its elevation and surrounding protective islands virtually eliminated the dangers posed by storm surge which he had experienced once on Harvey. 
  • Goose supported a deer population that would provide another food source. 
  • He could get away from camp and really walk around which he couldn’t do on Harvey.

Or he might have known that his trips were coming to an end and if this was to be the last one, it would be at a comfortable place that had played such an important role in his coastal journey.  

Back to Introduction

Revised March 21, 2021

Kayak Bill Camps - Gosling Island

September 27, 2017

In 1991 Audrey Sutherland reported that she had run across Kayak Bill on her way north to Alaska.  He told her that he had wintered at Goose the previous Winter.  He told an acquaintance that he had built it to get away from “tourists”.  It was both a natural and unfortunate choice.  Natural in that Goose is very remote and requires a committed crossing that limited traffic and unfortunate in that he initially built it on a reserve near the north end of Duck Island.  The reserve marked the site that had once been a seasonal harvesting village and the Heiltsuk took exception to it.  After finding it destroyed twice he moved from Duck Island to Gosling Island and it was there that he would spend the last days of his life.

The access to the Goose Group filtered out most casual visitors by requiring a significant crossing of Queens Sound or a northern approach with a crossing of Golby Channel.  A typical crossing of Queens Sound is between 7 – 8 NM.  Crossing Golby from the McMullin Group sounds pedestrian at 2 NM but the water through Golby can move surprising fast during medium to large exchanges and the addition of a typical wind component can make for a challenging transit that some may look at and choose to forego.  Most of the traffic into Goose Anchorage consists of pleasure boaters passing through or locals from Bella Bella / Shearwater who motor out to camp and fish.  During the ‘90’s there just weren’t that many kayakers out there.

Bill had his camp at Swordfish Bay which required a 7.5 NM crossing and a camp somewhere on Horsfall Island that he described as a “Good complete camp (wet spot in rainy season)”.  It doesn’t show up on the materials that I have gathered so I don’t know how distant it was from Goose but it would have reduced the exposure to ~5 NM.  When he was on the move he favored his own camps but wasn’t tied to them and would use common camps when they made sense.  

On October 12, 2003 after four months away Bill Davidson paddled in from Cockle Bay to Denny Island and immediately started preparing for his final trip.  He painted ~1/2 of the 29 days before departure and in the end had a $500 grubstake.  He spent about half of it on debts, tobacco, supplies and $50 for a meat grinder.  He had $260 left over and on his final evening “in town” he dined with his friends Brian and Andrea Clerx. 

Bill had his camp at Swordfish Bay which required a 7.5 NM crossing and a camp somewhere on Horsfall Island that he described as a “Good complete camp (wet spot in rainy season)”.  It doesn’t show up on the materials that I have gathered so I don’t know how distant it was from Goose but it would have reduced the exposure to ~5 NM.  When he was on the move he favored his own camps but wasn’t tied to them and would use common camps when they made sense.  

Over the next two weeks he encountered two separate groups of hunters and saw a number of deer near camp.  He built a trail to the SE beach, hunted deer and engaged in standard camp improvements.  The weather was typical and borderline nasty for the next four weeks with strong winds, showers, freezing rain and hail. 

On December 6th he reported overcast skies with moderate to strong east to southeast winds and light rain.  Also of note were “Lower back & stomach pains”. 

Bill Davidson kept track of everything that affected him on any particular day.  He religiously recorded the wind, rain and changes of both.  He recorded any meaningful activity that he undertook, every out of the ordinary encounter, if he read, if he painted, how much money he received and what he spent it on, the number of candles he had left and what color they were, what the level of the water was in his wells, how many mice he saw raiding his camp, how many he eradicated, how many and what type of bugs were bothering him, what he ate, if he burnt garbage, what animals he saw and in many cases what time the moon rose or set. 

On Sunday December 7th Bill made his last entry when he journaled that the conditions were “overcast with light rain showers and light & variable winds.  Fog & drizzle with light north to northwest winds by noon.”  After that there was nothing more.  There was nothing about winds in the evening, whether the moon was visible, what he did or what he ate.  Lighthouse weather reported 6.1 C with winds N-NW @ 11kt gusting to 24kt.  That afternoon, evening or perhaps the next morning the things that had mattered to Bill no longer did and he opted out. 

I have visited the Gosling Camp on two occasions, once in 2007 and again in 2012. 

Gosling Beach at Low Tide

Both times I was struck by how remote the Goose Group seemed and yet what a toll traffic had taken on the group.  There were regrettable signs of heavy and careless usage everywhere.  Four years after his death the windscreen was standing and was clearly visible from our Snipe Island beach. 

Windscreen 2007

His shelter stood with both tarps in place along with most major elements, including the firestand, in a mossy, shaded Hobbit Forest just above the beach. 

Shelter 2007

Bits and pieces of his life were scattered about by people who had indiscriminately picked through Bill’s estate and discarded what they had no use for.  The order that was displayed on Dallas was absent on Goose.

 Shelter 2007

In 2012 I returned for a couple of days with the intent of camping nearby in the Hobbit Forest. 

Shelter 2012

I found that the windscreen was gone.  It had been removed and used for firewood in the many large bon fires that had scarred the forest with charred wood and fire rings.  The camp was trashed to the point that if you didn’t know what you were looking at you would never guess that it had once been someone’s home.  Empty beer cans, whisky bottles, jackets, socks and general garbage littered the woods. 

Shelter 2012

I combed the area looking for some personal item that might have been his and finally found a whisk hanging from a string that had most likely been used to whip up chapatis using flour, sea water and seal oil.

I left it hanging and hope it is still there. 

Harvey Islets


Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Side Bay 2 Tofino 2014

Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Paddling the west coast of Vancouver Island, in one trip or in many, can be complicated.

There are few hard surfaced roads that cross from the inside to the outside of the island.  Owing to the extensive logging that has been undertaken there are a number of gravel roads that provide access but their condition varies and they are subject to closures.  They can also take their toll on your vehicle. This seriously complicated the Point A to Point B route that we were going for.

The route is exposed and subject to changing weather.  Conditions can get very large and you have to pay attention and stay within your skill set.  Some stretches of the coastal route can be long, requiring extended periods of cockpit time and potentially difficult surf landings and launches.  Many of the places that make sense to land were First Nation village sites or fish camps hence Maa-nulth Treaty lands that require prior approval of the local band office prior to entering.  For the most part if there is a good beach it has First Nation’s historical significance and should be treated as such.

Enter my friend and Nanaimo area paddler Glenn Lewis.  He offered to ride with us from his house near Parksville up island to Port Alice and out 60-some miles of bad roads to Side Bay where he dropped us off and then delivered the vehicle to the Ucluelet Campground where we hoped to finish in 2-3 weeks.  His knowledge of the logging roads out of Port Alice proved invaluable as we made all the correct turns and arrived at Side Bay around 4:00PM.  Oh yes, his wife Joan then drove the 2 hours out to Ucluelet to pick up Glenn and bring him back home.  Amazing, right?  On the way up he provided weather and site-specific data that helped us solidify our route.

Side Bay to Mayday Island
July 26, Day 1
Overcast, Wind SE at 10 knots, Low swell with 1 foot chop, Seas rippled

Side Bay

What a pleasant surprise to find the Forever and Ever Boyz staged at Side Bay for their annual encampment on the Brooks Peninsula.  Such a great bunch of guys.  I was hoping to see them but hadn’t counted on it.  They helped us move our loaded boats to a safe place to launch and bid us a fair voyage. 

Jon, Dave & Greg

Having been up for over 36 hours we were ready to crash but were all feeling strangely invigorated being on the water.  I was thinking that I could sell a leg to Heater Point but found myself speaking in tongues and lost my resolve.  Instead we bee-lined just over one nautical mile for Mayday Island and were there in no time at all. 

The beach at Mayday is on the north side of the island and faces the First Nations reserve where the village of Telaise once stood.  The island features great old growth trees and head high salal.

While setting up camp and fixing dinner we each had an “Oh Shit!” moment.  Greg hadn’t checked his tent prior to the trip and found that the adhesive holding the window on his rainfly had failed and it had fallen off.  Not a good thing for a coastal climate known for heavy rainfall.  Luckily, I had experienced this very same failure two years prior and knew what would work and the multitude of things that wouldn’t.  Greg’s repair turned out much nicer than mine had.  Mine eventually worked but clearly documented many failed attempts.  Greg’s was clean and neat.

Next, I realized that I had not brought my insulated coffee mug which meant that the bottom cover from my Jetboil stove would be doing double duty.  No big thing but definitely not the best tool for drinking any hot liquid.  Hard to hold when full of piping hot coffee and cools so quickly that you end up burning your hands and tongue and then drinking it cold.  No in-between. 

Then Dave flashed that he had left all of his lunch food at home in the fridge.  Three sticks of hard salami, as many blocks of cheese, several packages of soft tortillas and a lot of fruit and veggies.  I knew that we had enough to share for at least a week and that would get us to Kyuquot where there is a store.

None of these issues were deal breakers but we realized that we had all made careless mistakes.  Some of the objectives we would face could require our “A-game” and we were looking like rookies.  In spite of these wake-up calls we went to bed early and slept like babies.

1.1 NM

Mayday Island to Crabapple Islets
July 27, Day 2
Clear skies, Wind west to 15 knots, Swells to 1.5 meters, 1-2 foot chop, Seas rippled.

Morning on Side Bay


Morning on Side Bay

We were on the water at 9:30 AM and off towards Heater Point.  The winds were calm and water smooth with a low swell.  Passing Heater Point we paddled close to the rocks hoping for more rebound than the rocks offered.  Nice shoreline here with a couple of very large caves and lots of pocket beaches.  I came across an account of some paddlers who got blown off Brooks Bay and spent a few days camping in one of those caves.  The caves are accessible from a beach opposite the Heater Point campsite. 

Crossing Klashkish Inlet
Image by Dave Resler

On the way to Crabapple Islets we decided to see if we could get into Cape Cook Lagoon without a lot of drama.  Depending on the tide level and sea state the entrance can be messy with breakers but we had a good water level and mild seas.  The larger waves were amplified by the bar but didn’t break so we rode them right into the lagoon.

Cape Cook Lagoon

I suppose that at low tide the lagoon goes dry but we found it full of water and a beautiful spot.  Each of us went our own way and explored whatever we found interesting.  I went ashore and found evidence of previous campers atop the dune and the remains of a large shelter in the forest.  The tarps used for roofing material were in tatters and, while it had once been a serviceable shelter, it was past its prime.  Plenty of room to set up tents in the forest and I could hear a stream running into the lagoon nearby.

Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Soon we were back out and around Lagoon Peak to Crabapple Islets where the beach was without shade and unmercifully hot.  The Forever and Ever Boyz were already well on their way to getting their shelter, shower, etc. assembled for the coming weeks and had been hauling water from the stream at the north  end of the beach.  They told us that the stream was running strongly enough that we could take a shower.  Was that a hint?

While Greg went fishing I investigated the stream and took a shower.  Returning cool and fresh I told Dave about it and he was soon on his way.  Greg returned, cleaned his catch and took a shower.  Crabapple Islets is a wonderful place.  Great company.  Great fishing.  Great amenities.  Great stars at night.

Sunset at Crabapple Islets
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

12.4 NM

Crabapple Islets to Nordstrum Creek
July 28, Day 3
Overcast with mist clearing in the afternoon, Winds SE to 10 knots in the morning backing to NW to 10 knots, Swells to 1.5 meters, 1 foot chop, Seas rippled

My alarm went off at 4:30 AM.  We had broken camp, eaten breakfast, loaded our boats and were on the water at 6:30 AM.  It was a foggy morning with limited visibility for our trip around Cape Cook.

In 1778 Captain James Cook called the Brooks Peninsula “The Cape of Storms”.  It’s a big chunk of real estate that sticks about ten miles out to sea, is topped by the Refugium Range that features peaks to 3700 feet and is guarded by rocks and reefs that stretch for over a nautical mile offshore.  Accounts of rounding the Brooks Peninsula by any water craft are full of warnings and frightening experiences.  Wind, current and sea state can combine to do some not-so-fun stuff here so we approached this part of our route with due respect.  Mariners recommend staying outside of the 100 fathom line which puts you at least 3 NM from land.  Our course was closer to the 20 fathom line but would still put us 1.5 NM offshore at Clerke Point and as we were traveling with a falling tide we would tend to cheat to the right to avoid surprises.

Predicted wave height is a funny thing and it can lull you into dropping your guard and not thinking about the occasional wave that will exceed that prediction by a significant amount.  Combine that wave that is 2/3 larger than the rest with an uneven ocean bottom and you can be surprised or worse.  The two hours that we spent getting to Cape Cook were punctuated by one large wave that came out of the fog, crested and broke just after passing beneath us.  A morning Yahoo-ride and impetus for us to move out a bit.  Between the Cape and Solander Island the water took on that odd texture you experience when currents collide.  Not at all big or threatening just a noticeable change.  The fog started lifting, too and provided us a nice ride down the coast with a light SE headwind. 

Dave at Cape Cook

The approach into the beach at Nordstrum Creek requires that you paddle a little past the beach and then cut back in as the creek mouth is very bony.  The best landing is at the east end of the beach and as you approach care has to be taken to avoid some rocks but the gravel beach had no surf and just a bit of surge.

Approaching Nordstrum Creek
Image by Dave Resler

I set up my tent on some semi-flat gravel behind a log while Greg opted for a nook near the outcropping and Dave went for the shade of a tree.  A path led uphill out of Dave’s campsite and it showed the unmistakable signs of very recent bear traffic.  Dave retired to his tent to snooze while Greg crawled under another tree and went to sleep. 

I was on my own as far as entertainment went so I climbed up through the forest on game trails.  Some of those trails were ridiculously steep or maybe I was just crawling along up very steep slopes where I thought the trails should go.  Not sure but it was interesting coming back down and when I got to the beach my legs were bleeding and my pants were ripped to shreds.  I think I used to make better decisions about stuff like this or maybe it just didn’t hurt so much.  Whatever, I got out my first aid kit and tended my wounds.

I grabbed my Dr. Bronners and waded a considerable distance up Nordstrum Creek looking to see what I could find.  It’s a really nice creek with holes that you can get into and swim, which I did.  I also washed my clothes, bathed and laid on the warm gravel bank.  Almost zero insects, just the sound of the water, the wind in the trees and the sun.  Take me now.  I admit to falling asleep. 

Nordstrum Creek

On the way back to camp I noticed lots of fresh bear and wolf tracks plus drag marks made by kayakers as they pulled their boats out of and then back into the water.  Looked like two, maybe three paddlers had left in the morning.

Greg and Dave were awake by the time I returned.  Dave admitted that his sleep had been disturbed by the sounds of me flailing around on the steeply forested slope up above his campsite as well as the loud expletives I uttered as flesh and fabric were torn.  Guess it sounded like a typical day so he tried to pay me no mind.  I told them about bathing in Nordstrum Creek.  He thought it sounded like a good idea so we walked back up the creek. 

Nordstrum Creek is a magic place.  The stars were magnificent.  I highly recommend it.

Late Afternoon at Nordstrum Creek
Image by Dave Resler

9.5 NM

Nordstrum Creek to Checleset Bay
July 29, Day 4
Overcast clearing in the afternoon, Winds SE 10 knots changing to NW at 25-30 knots, Swells to 1.6 meters, 1-2 foot chop, Seas rippled changing to 2 meter swells with 3 foot chop, Seas moderate.

Image by Dave Resler

We were on the water at 6:30 AM and grinding out of Nordstrum Creek towards Clerke Point against a 10 knot headwind.  The 20 fathom line is at least 2 NM offshore at Clerke and we could see boomers far out to our right as we approached.  Move right.  Move right some more. 

Off Clerke Point
Image by Dave Resler

Finally rounding Clerke Point we turned north to follow the south Brooks Peninsula shoreline and stopped to rest and explore caves near Quineex.  The low tide was exposing lots of rocks and reefs along the shore.  Thick Eel Grass made landing slippery but offered some protection against barnacles.

Rest Stop at Quineex

Continuing on to the “fabled” Jackobson Point beaches we saw that a large group was camped next to the outcrop that provides a surf break so, not wishing to intrude, we bumbled ashore through a strange and awkward break at east end.  Landings were successful but nobody was awarded style points. 

Once out of our boats we could see that the entire massive expanse of sandy beach (~1 kilometer) appeared to have been taken over by “driftwood architecture” and “beach decorations”.  Very few tents were set up yet it looked as if each party that had camped here in the past year had felt compelled to outdo the rest of the structures that had been built and then abandoned.  I wish folks would either use existing structures or tear the ones they built back down when the left.  It’s the antithesis of “leave no trace” ethic that creates a wilderness ghetto.  Sorry.  My rant.  My issue.

We sat on some poorly constructed ghetto benches to eat our lunch and plan our next move which was a crossing to the Acous Peninsula where we would start searching out a campsite. 

The crossing was wonderful as the fog cleared, the clouds lifted and the winds remained light.  The sweeping panorama from Clerke Point to the Bunsby Islands was almost too much to take in.  Practically everything we could see was Muquin / Brooks Peninsula Provincial Park, Checleset Bay Ecological Reserve or Big Bunsby Marine Provincial Park.  Magnificent and mostly unscarred.

There was a group camped on the first islet we checked out so we continued on to the next which proved to be an interesting campsite with two beaches and a rock promontory.  We set up in the lee of the rock but got pummeled as that promontory somehow funneled and amplified the building NW wind directly onto our tent sites.    Dave and I had to anchor our tents down solidly with large chunks of driftwood and boulders attached to every guy line available and even at that we were rocking and rolling.  Greg set his up in an unappealing-looking spot at the base of a cliff and escaped the drama.  

Two-Beach Islet Camp

We met the group “next door” when they paddled up to say “Hello”.  They were from Bellingham and Anacortes.  Nice group of folks.  The fellow who seemed to be in charge did some guiding for Ginni Callahan in Mexico.  He told us that a paddler from Norway had come around the Brooks the day before.  He would have been just ahead of us and it might have been his “drag” marks that we saw in the sand at Nordstrum Creek.  Later a solo paddler from Victoria stopped by and chatted.  He was coming from the Mission Group and headed for Jackobson Point where he would be picked up and water-taxied back to Fair Harbour.

Greg went out to fish in the wind and moderate seas and provided a couple of Rockfish for dinner.

We were treated to a spectacular sunset over the Brooks Peninsula.

Sunset over the Refugium Range

12.4 NM

Checleset Bay to Cautious Point Islet
July 30, Day 5
Clear, Winds NW at 5-15 knots, Low swell, Seas rippled

It was a beautiful clear morning on Two-Beach.  After putzing about camp, drinking coffee, having a leisurely breakfast and finally packing our boats we paddled towards the Acous Peninsula for a  “lisaak” look-see.  

Morning on Two-Beach Islet
Image by Dave Resler

The beach at Acous is classic low-friction-to-drag-dugouts gravel and looks directly towards Hub-toul.  Stepping into the forest you come upon a carved house post that toppled long ago and now serves as a nurse log.  Acous was a Summer village site.  The closest fresh water is about 3/4 mile away.  There are clear signs of First Nations history at that fresh water source IR inside Battle Bay.  Was the “village” site of Acous just where they came and went by canoe?  Did the village stretch from Acous to the Mahope River?

Acous House Post
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

A power boat arrived and anchored nearby so we paddled over to say hello and see if they knew anything about the store in Kyuquot.  We had heard that the store was only open certain days and certain hours and we wanted to time our arrival around our ability to replace Dave’s lunch food.  The owner of the boat said that the store’s hours were timed around the arrival of the Uchuck III and was mostly, otherwise, closed.  The Uchuck III was due there in two days which would work out great for us.

With one day’s paddle and two days to accomplish it we set out to poke around and enjoy the scenery.  Greg wanted to fish and Dave and I wanted to explore the coastline of Battle Bay so we agreed to meet somewhere in the Bunsbys. 

 Our shoreline paddle was very relaxing and enjoyable.  Maybe too relaxing as we were tuned for something a bit more up-tempo.  Still it was a very nice tour of Battle Bay in conditions that a novice would have been comfortable in.  This is a very nice venue for a kayaking trip.  Beautiful place.

Quitting the Muquin / Brooks Peninsula Provincial Park coastline near Theodore Point we crossed towards Big Bunsby Island and called for Greg on the FM.  He never came back on the radio (time for a new radio, Greg) but we spotted his red boat in the distance and as we got closer we started to see flashes around him.  Turned out that he had a salmon on that didn’t want to die, however, the flashes (splashes) stopped and when Dave and I approached I noticed that Greg was using his spare paddle. 

When Greg fishes he uses a paddle leash so that his paddle won’t float away when he gets busy with a fish.  For whatever reason he didn’t this time and when the fish broke the line he found himself with only his deck paddle.  He had just retrieved his primary when Dave and I arrived.  Can you access your deck paddle when you need it?  Greg can. 

Bunsby Islands Beach

He was pumped and smelled blood.  He wanted to fish some more so Dave and I told him that we were going to find a place to eat lunch and then paddle out around Mahope Point to Green Head and we would meet him somewhere near Cautious Point Islets.  Deal! 

 After lunch we paddled to the iconic Green Head, posed for photos and continued through a shallow and sheltered passage between the islands.  Pretty and intimate but not what we really came to the coast for.

Image by Dave Resler

Greg showed up on queue after taking a totally different route through the islands and we continued on to our desired campsite………which we found occupied.  There are three obvious campsites on three islands within several hundred meters of each other and we found the one closest to Cautious point unoccupied.  Architecture left by many previous parties dominated the site but at least the benches and table were solid and not a danger to collapse under weight.  

Prior to visiting Acous, Quineex or any other Checleset First Nations Reserve one should obtain permission by contacting the Band Office at:
General Delivery
Kyuquot, British Columbia
V0P 1J0, Canada
Phone: 1-250-332-5259
Fax: 1-250-332-5210

11.3 NM

Cautious Point Islands to Gross Point
July 31, Day 6
Clear, Winds NW to 10 knots, Swell to 1.5 meter, Seas rippled

The primary objective for the day was to get to the store in Kyuquot and get lunch food for Dave.  Dave figured that each day that Greg provided fish was a freeze dried dinner that we could split for lunch.  These trips are all about space in your boat and resources but we never planned to have fuel for hot lunches so………maybe there really is no free lunch. 

Thomas Island

We were up at 4:30 and on the water at 6:30.  Winds were light and the Barrier Islands were providing good cover so we headed ESE to Thomas Island.  It has a cave all the way through it that sounded interesting and it was on the way to Kyuquot so about an hour later we were there.  Greg was more interested in fishing than spelunking and since we weren’t assured that the Kyuquot store would be open we agreed that him fishing within sight of us was a good idea. 

“See you a little later, Greg.  Catch a big fish.  Keep your radio on”.

An hour later we met up and Greg’s cockpit was bereft of anything of nutritional value.  Bummer. 

We paddled through some kelp-tangled shallows to check out a couple of campsites we had in our GPS’s.  Both looked like campsites that we would only choose if you were desperate or coming and going at high tide. 

While I appreciate kelp when it is knocking down swell and making an otherwise dangerous beach survivable I detest dragging myself through it with my paddle.  It puts me off my feed and makes me hard to be around so before we finally cleared McKean Island I had separated myself from Dave and Greg so that they weren’t subjected to my vile mood and vitriolic comments on the nature of the green vegetation.  In a mood I followed them into Walters Cove. 

We entered Walters Cove between 10:30 and 11:00AM.  The First Nation’s village of Houpsitas is located on the north shore (historic tribal village site and current IR) while the south shore is the non-IR site of Kyuquot Village.  The only activity we saw was on a single boat at the end of a dock on the north side.  Dave approached and asked where the store was and their hours of operation.  He was told that they had been open the day before and would be open again tomorrow.  Not what we wanted to hear.  They did point out the store as the blue building with the long dock.  

Crestfallen and dejected we paddled to the other side of the cove and noticed a man working on his boat a couple docks to the right of the “blue building”.  Dave talked to him and learned that the owner of the store, Susie, monitored a particular VHF channel.  He suggested that we try to contact her.

"Sometimes she'll open the store if you are really in need".

We felt that we met that qualification so Dave hailed her on the radio but got no response.

The guy on the boat did point out Susie’s house so the next desperate option was to knock on her door and beg for help.  Dave accepted the role of ambassador as he knew that if I went to the door chances of a positive outcome were bleak and if Greg went he would be told that the store was closed until Fall.  Few people can resist Dave’s natural charm.

Suzie met us at the store and we all shopped for snacks and staples that Dave needed and Greg and I craved.  For Dave it was tortillas, cheese, salami and a coke.  Greg and I went for chips of all varieties, soft drinks, Red Bull and apples.  Funny what you crave on these trips.  Red Bull isn’t something that I indulge in.  I hadn’t had one in years and yet here I was slugging it down with some sort of bizarre potato-ish-type chips.  I bought two big bags.  Dave’s cheese turned out to be very tasty and I stashed the apples away for later. 

With supplies replenished and a Red Bull buzz going we left Walters Cove crossing Crowther Channel for Union Island.  We were planning to camp beyond Rugged Point near Kapoose Creek.  Greg was getting the urge to send Scout down and we all agreed that fish for dinner would be nice.  Dave and I wanted to check out a campsite in Kyuquot Bay so we planned to meet up a White Cliff Head, the southernmost tip of Union Island.  A radio check later and Greg was off and running while Dave and I skirted the shoreline towards Kyuquot Bay.

Union Island Shoreline
Image by Dave Resler

The campsite marked in BC Coast Explorer turned out to be pretty nice.  It looks a bit small and unappealing from the water but the upland clearings in the forest provide a great deal of space for setting up tents.  Might be a bit buggy as it is shaded most of the day but it wasn’t on this day.  Very nice spot.

The entire shoreline of White Cliff Head is steep and dominated by cliffs and caves.  Extremely scenic and the seas were so flat we were able to paddle right next to shore with little surge or reflected waves.  Greg had found the shoreline to his liking as he hooked a 15 pound Ling Cod and was bringing it up as we arrived.  A fabulous meal was assured. 

Greg Provides
Image by Dave Resler

We continued on to Gross Point and found an obvious campsite that clearly got regular traffic.  A sandy slog at low tide.  Nearby Kapoose Creek offered an interesting experience and access to a lovely meadow.  We topped off all of our water bags but upon returning to camp found that we should have paddled further upstream.  It was very brackish and imparted an authentic flavor to the instant mashed potatoes that we prepared to go with Greg’s Ling Cod. 

We totally pigged out on some of the best tasting fish ever.

19.2 NM

Gross Point to Islet 40 South
August 1, Day 7
Clear, Winds NW 10-15 knots rising to 20 knots in the afternoon, Swells to 1.5 meter rising to 2 meter in the afternoon, 1-2 foot chop increasing to 2-3 feet in the afternoon, Seas rippled changing to moderate in the afternoon.

We were on the water at 6:30 AM and traveling down Clear Passage.  Winds and seas were mellow but the forecast was calling for things to pick up.  We wanted to get past Tatchu Point before it woke up.  Consequently we passed by some shoreline that begged to be explored.  Maybe next time. 

We swung wide of Tatchu Point and back in close to Yellow Bluff.  Since the Kapoose water was nasty we needed to find a source to resupply and a sizeable creek enters Yellow Bluff Bay.  The beach is rocky and the surge tried to be troublesome but we all managed to get ashore without damaging our hulls.  We took the time to fill all of our bags with filtered water, eat lunch and Greg took a freshwater bath. 

Crossing towards Catala Island we stayed along the south shore and passed between it and Twin Island.  There is an interesting feature between Catala Point and Twin Island that shows very clearly on Google Earth but didn’t call out to me on the chart or my GPS.  With a low enough tide I suppose that the ~300 meters between the two dries but as we approached it was submerged.  Westerly swell was following us in and breaking along both shores simultaneously.  The break raced along the shores at an amazing speed and then ran along the bar colliding in the middle of the passage.  It was quite a sight and we watched it for some time before crossing that bar.  Timing was key as the thought of being in the collision zone didn’t appeal to us.  When crossing over it was clear what was going on.  I’ll bet that on a big day it is something to experience. 

Nuchatlitz Looking Northwest
Image by Dave Resler

Crossing Gillam Channel we entered Nuchatlitz Marine Provincial Park on the Northwest tip of Nootka Island.  A stunning area and a world-class kayaking destination.  We saw many kayakers and found many of the camp sites occupied, however, continuing on we came across Islet 40 South and claimed it as our own. 

Nuchatlitz is such a magnificent place that we decided to take a day off and bask in the beauty.

Nuchatlitz Sunset
Image by Dave Resler

16.5 NM

Islet 40 South Rest Day
August 2, Day 8
Clear, Winds NW 10-15 knots rising to 20 knots in the afternoon, Swells to 1.5 meter rising to 2 meter in the afternoon, 1-2 foot chop increasing to 2-3 feet in the afternoon, Seas rippled changing to moderate in the afternoon. 

Lazy day.  No 4:30 alarm.  Laid in bed and snoozed.  Eventually I got up, made coffee and ate oatmeal.  We spent the day reading, studying charts and napping in the shade. 

Rest Day

Islet 40 South Campsite

Islet 40 South to Bajo Point
August 3, Day 9
Clear, Winds NW 5-10 knots, Swells to 1.5 meter, 1 foot chop, Seas rippled.

We left Islet 40 South at 6:30 AM crossing Nuchatlitz Inlet for Ferrer Point. The sun rose on another morning in Paradise.  Clear skies, light winds and gentle swell.  There were quite a few sport fishermen trolling just inside the point and we wove our way through them. 

Another Morning in Paradise
Image by Dave Resler

With all the time we spent reading and route planning we had looked past Ferrer Point and rounding it (a crux move on the outer coast) proved to be a grunt as the swell was jacking up pretty high on the shallow sea shelf and getting very steep.  Some considerable banging around here while climbing over steep waves and slamming down on the other side.  Active but fun.  It didn't let up for a few miles and remained pretty disorganized before backing down to a smooth 1.5 meter.  The current was definitely against us as we traveled south down Nootka Island's outer coast. 

Off Ferrer Point
Image by Dave Resler

Prior to reaching Bajo Point we were surrounded by seven Gray Whales.  They were scary-close, clearly aware of our presence and very much at ease.  They just lolled around gently on the surface and kept us company for 30 minutes.  We all had our cameras going and Dave shot a lot of video.  We didn’t get a single good frame during that time and none of Dave’s video turned out.  How strange.  Maybe they were aliens.

Bajo Point was the site of a major village named Aass.  Oral tradition credits the people of Aass for inventing the “art of whaling” and of receiving the Shaman’s Dance from the Wolves.  Perhaps the Grays were reminding us that the whalers of Aass are gone but they still remain…..”and by the way, we trashed your photos”.

Pumped up with whale endorphins we happily continued past Calvin Falls towards Bajo Point.  Though the coast is exposed Bajo Point is fronted by extensive kelp beds and a low reef.  Both provide shelter for landing on the thick eel grass that covers the shallows.  We experienced no surf and only mild surge.  A group of backpackers were surprised to see us come ashore.  They were doing the Nootka Trail. Two had traveled from Amsterdam to do the trail.

Bajo Point Campsite

The forest is fairly open behind the point and house depressions from the village are still obvious. There is a major game trail that Greg Polkinghorn referred to as I-5. Sign of recent bear and wolf traffic was evident. One of those bears paid a brief visit late in the day.

Afternoon at Bajo Point 

13.3 NM

Bajo Point to Burdwood Bay
August 4, Day 10
Clear, Winds NW at 5-15 knots increasing to 20 knots in the afternoon, Swells to 1.5 meter with 2 foot chop increasing to 3 foot chop in the afternoon, Seas rippled increasing to moderate in the afternoon.

I awoke to another crystal morning at 4:30 AM and stuck my head out.  Greg spoke softly from his tent telling me that prior to my alarm going off he had been watching a large wolf sniffing at my tent.  I wish I would have been awake to experience it.  I suspect that he was there to teach me the Shaman’s Dance. 

Morning Light off Bajo Point

Just outside of camp a Black Bear was checking through the high tide detritus for treats. The weather radio was calling for NW @ 15-20 knots with Gale Warnings, 25-30 knots in the afternoon. We needed to get around Maquinna Point and across Nootka Sound before it got “busy”.

Bajo Bear
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

A collection of sport fisherman trolling between Beano and Callicum Creeks convinced Greg that he needed to wet a line.  About the time he started the boats all pulled in their lines and raced out to sea to the next hot spot.

Callicum Creek

We took a break at Callicum Creek and then headed off towards Maquinna Point and Nootka Sound.  The shoreline beyond Maquinna Point is pocked with caves and the mild sea state allowed us to get in close and stay close all the way to Yuquot and the Nootka Island Lighthouse.

Nootka Island Lighthouse

We hadn’t determined where we would camp but the wind and sea state was increasing and we either needed to stay put or get across Nootka Sound before the inflow winds created problematic conditions.  Staying put didn’t appeal so we struck out for Burdwood Bay across 15 – 20 knot inflow winds and moderate seas to 1.5 meter with 3 foot chop.  That was a really wet and enjoyable 2 NM paddle.  The textured water was a beautiful shade of blue.  

The “BC Coastal Explorer” cautions of underestimating the surf in Burdwood Bay and that was on our minds as we sat off the beach trying to get the feel for the place.  We all got ashore just fine but learned what Kimantas was warning us about.  Again, no style points. 

Looking Across Nootka Sound from Burdwood Bay

12.7 NM

Burdwood Bay to Homais Cove
August 5, Day 11
Overcast in the morning then clearing, Winds SE 10-15 knots changing to NW 5-10 knots, Swells to 2 meter with 2 foot chop increasing to 3 foot chop, Seas rippled increasing to moderate.

Estevan Point is the southernmost tip of the Hesquiat Peninsula.  It’s another crux move with shallows extending far offshore where winds and significant currents clash.  It isn’t a place that we wanted to experience with a topping of afternoon winds so our goal was to establish camp as close to the point as we safely could and round it in the morning before Estevan had a chance to get its bitch on.  Barcester Bay seemed a good option on the chart as it would stage us within two hours of Estevan.  The second and perhaps more desirable option was Homais.  A scant 30 – 40 minutes from the point.  Homais, however, is Hesquiat IR and we hadn’t secured permission to camp. 

There is a trail (Hesquiat Trail) that follows the coast from Burdwood down around and past Estevan Point so there are a number of campsites used by backpackers.  Backpackers don’t have to land and launch, though, and for paddlers the options are very limited.

We were off the beach at 6:30 AM and working our way around Burdwood Point.  The breeze was picking up against us and packing fog against the shoreline.  The water was rippled but was not showing much personality yet.  We had been seeking more interesting water close to the shore, near reefs, rocks, etc. and as we progressed towards Escalante Point we started finding what we were looking for.  Lots of fun.

Morning on Burdwood Bay

The breeze and sea state continued to build until we came even with Split Cape and then started moderating.  The swell remained but the wind backed down to nearly nothing.  The sound of the Sea Lion colony on Perez Rocks at the far end of Barcester Bay became audible and their stench was obvious.  We were looking forward to 2.5 NM of sensory overload unless we could get off the water and in spite of the diminishing wind Barcester’s beaches appeared to be closed out by surf.  Nothing friendly so we moved on in the stink and the swell. 

The chart was telling Dave that we could go inside of Perez Rocks and my GPS suggested the same.  Since the wind and chop had diminished we were looking to get knocked around a bit so we started scouting for a way through.  Greg (a realist) quickly started questioning the wisdom of the plan.  Dave and I were still pretty sure that we could get through.  Very soon, though, we were in a dead end and the only way out was either the way we had entered or through a couple of lines of breaking waves.  The tide was falling so our situation was changing rapidly and not for the good.  I came around to Greg’s point of view and we started backtracking.  Dave chose to break out through the surf and as Greg and I started looking for a route around Perez we found ourselves climbing over 8 foot cresting waves.  Again and again and again and again before we were clear in deeper water. 

Greg and I were in relatively safe water again and began to paddle further and further out around the weirdness.  We could see Dave picking his way out and kept our eyes on him until he could join us.  Just a walk in the park in his Grand Illusion.  Now it was just the unbelievable stink of the huge Sea Lion colony and our hopes that they weren’t overly aggressive as we slowly bucked the current through their “hood”.  The cacophony of their barks and growls was unnerving and the smell was overpowering.  I have never liked Sea Lions.  Several followed and mocked us but never charged and we wound our way into Homais Cove where we found a safe gravel beach to camp on at the abandoned First Nations village site. 

Had we planned on camping at Homais we would have sought permission to do so by contacting the Hesquiat Band Office at:
P.O. Box 2000
Tofino, BC VOR 2Z0
Campbell River Radio Operator
(250) 724-8570/9807 Ch. 466
Hesquiaht Boat Basin

FAX 724-8570 

First European contact occurred off Langara Island, Haida Gwaii in July 1774 between Spaniard Juan Perez and members of the Haida Nation.  About three weeks later Perez was anchored off these very rocks to trade with the Nuu-chah-nulth when a storm blew up.  He had to run but was unable to raise his anchor.  He cut it loose and it’s still out there somewhere in the rocks that now bear his name.  Four years later Captain Cook “discovered” the coast and claimed first contact.  He also named Perez Rocks "Breakers Rocks".  Cook was wrong on his claims but right on his name for the rocks. 

13.5 NM

Homais Cove to Halfmoon Beach
August 6, Day 12
Fog then clearing, Winds SE 10-15 knots changing to NW 5-10 knots 

We were up and on the water for a foggy departure at 6:30 AM.  Greg led us out with very limited visibility.  The Sea Lions barked loudly somewhere off starboard.  Our plan was to paddle a course of 175 degrees for 35 – 40 minutes before feeling our way around Estevan towards Matlahaw Point.

Morning on Homais Cove

The water quickly started showing signs of mixing currents colliding with swell.  Waves were standing up quickly but seldom breaking.  If you stopped paddling you started moving backwards at 1.5 – 2 knots.  Interesting, I suppose.  Sort of like Tatnall Reefs, Cape Scott, Slingsby Channel with zero visibility.  Keeps you guessing at what else is coming that you can’t see.  From time to time one of our Sea Lion buddies paid us a visit but didn’t cause trouble.  We were happy to clear Estevan Point and hang a left.

We paddled in fog from Homais Cove to the shoreline east of Hesquiat Point where we started looking for a place to take out and rest.  The gravel beaches there were not well suited for landing with the tide level we had as they were steep with lots of surge.  We found a narrow opportunity to exit near the brown outlet stream from Kanim Lake. 

Following lunch we paddled in tannin-colored sea water along one of the most remarkable coastlines I have ever seen.  This is 4.5 NM of caves and tiny protected coves.  At one point Dave and I figured that we were looking at 12 caves along 100 meters of shoreline.  Some were very large and others small but all looked incredibly interesting.  A stunning coastline that I had never heard a word about before. 

Image by Greg Polkinghorn

At last we reached the entrance to Hot Springs Cove and it was made clear that we were back in the real world as a bright yellow boat with a large logo printed on the side bearing a group or poncho-clad clients pounded around Sharp Point and into the cove.  Whoa!  And then another.  Different logo this time. 

The fog cleared as we started across Sydney Inlet towards Halfmoon Bay.  Stunning scenery with power boats to the left and the right and the drone of sea planes overhead.  Wind was picking up just a bit imparting texture to the water.  Glenn had recommended a small-ish beach south of Halfmoon Bay but we could see several tents set up so we continued on. 

Entering Halfmoon Bay we saw that many folks were already camped there but we were “done” and weren’t about to extend the day for the sake of solitude.  We slid ashore between two groups of tents.  Dave and Greg got out and explored the tree line while I sat comfortably in my cockpit.   Soon they were talking to a woman who recommended that we camp at the extreme north end of the beach.  I pulled my gear, packed it in beach bags and slogged 150 meters to our campsite.  Dave and Greg both paddled around some rocks that cut 100 meters off of that distance.  I have to learn to be more patient.

It turned out that the woman who recommended our campsite was Beverely from Nanaimo and she knew Glenn from Nanaimo Paddlers.  Her two companions (Sister Laura and friend Gloria) had gone off to Hot Springs Cove and I had paddled briefly with Gloria during my solo trip  ( in 2012.  Beverly explained to us what all the vertical sticks in the beach meant.  Thank you, Beverly.

Greg had gone out to fish and Beverely assured us that he wouldn’t catch anything.  She had been out earlier, was familiar with the area and had gotten skunked.  Dave bet her that Greg would come back with fish in the boat and she took the bet.  She bet a pot of delicious soup that she had prepared for dinner that Greg wouldn’t provide a meal.  Needless to say Greg returned with two large Rockfish and a Snapper.  Too much fish for us to eat so he gave Beverley a fish and one of his lures (Scout) in return for the soup.  It was a good trade and a great meal. 

Chez Greg Prepares Rockfish, Snapper & Beverely’s Soup

That night the six of us sat around the fire, told stories, joked and laughed.  Very good company.  As Americans we didn’t clearly didn’t quite measure up and were schooled by Beverely on most everything from Greg's fire building skills (which are above reproach), the garbage we burned to the amount of flesh left on the bones of the three fish that Greg filleted.  She did not school us on fishing.  Greg made us proud………..and very full.

Beverely, Laura & Gloria
Image by Dave Resler

19 NM

Halfmoon Beach to Cow Bay
August 7, Day 13
Fog in the morning then clearing, NW winds 5-10 knots increasing to NW 10-15 knots, Low swell with 1 foot chop, Seas rippled

It was the usual off-the-beach-at-6:30-and-into-the-fog routine.  Not a lot to look at during the 1.5 hours it took to travel to Rafael Point other than sea planes flying overhead.  Quite a few of them.  The fog cleared at Rafael Point and we could see a seaplane circling over a few boats a little over 2 NM ahead.  It didn’t take long before the plumes of the whale breaths were visible but it took a while to get to them.  In the time it took to paddle to the boats we saw the whales come and go a couple of times, tour boats change shifts, one plane leave and another arrive to circle overhead.  The rhythm, dance, process of whale watching. 

The tour boat with clients in matching ponchos was the only boat that was maintaining the required 100 yard distance from the whales.  The private boats were all inside that zone.  Seeing those boats and having spent time among the group of seven a couple days before we approached one of them and Dave said to the skipper “They are putting on a good show today”, and the skipper responded, “They were until you showed up”. 

Really?  What a pompous ass!  I hope he runs his boat aground and his insurance doesn’t pay.  Time to go.

There was a long line of breakers stretching out from shore that blocked our path near Siwash Cove.  We worked our way along the line until we found a narrow spot where the waves were peaking but not breaking and rode over the reef. 

Near Siwash Cove
Image by Dave Resler

We didn’t have a particular destination for the day.  We planned camp somewhere near the south end of Vargas on our last night of the trip as it would set us up pretty well for the final push to Uclulet but no specific plans until then.  We didn’t want to get there too soon, though, before we had a chance to see a bit of what Clayoquot Sound has to offer so we figured to look around and camp where it made sense.  Dave wanted to surf at Ahous Bay so we would do that tomorrow.  We just poked along the shoreline and dodged rocks, stopped at beaches, took our time. 

Near Cow Bay we encountered a kayaker from Vancouver.  He told us that he was camped with his extended family around the corner and that we should join them.  Nice guy so we rounded the corner and saw a multitude of tents and over 20 people near Cow Creek.  Not what we had in mind but the bay was spectacular and we saw an adjacent beach that was separated by a rock outcrop.  Dave thought that the surf might come up in the bay and the small beach looked pretty nice so we decided to go in close for a look. 

Swell was small but we were thinking about the surprise that we had experienced landing at Burdwood and didn’t want to experience it again.  Dave and I were sitting close together with our backs turned to the sea and Greg was a bit behind us.  Suddenly Greg shouted “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” and Dave and I instinctively back paddled while Greg shot between us towards the beach on the face of a cresting wave.  Dave and I continued to back paddle watching as Greg did a great job of surfing towards the beach.  The next wave was larger and slapped us strongly in the back but we rode over it.  Greg, meanwhile had broached into a bongo slide and was bracing nicely on the foam pile.  As it passed under him he started to square himself towards shore but the next wave took him out.  In water too shallow to roll so Greg exited and drug his boat to shore.  It was hilarious to watch and we howled with laughter while performing our own landings and watching diligently over our shoulders.  

Cow Bay Campsite

The campsite turned out to be a very nice one with shade up close to the uplands and a sun drenched outcrop to provide privacy and to dry our gear on.  It was at this site that we began to discuss our dwindling desire to subject ourselves to that final leg from Vargas to Uclulet.  Greg clearly wasn’t interested in doing it.  Dave was on the fence but maybe leaning slightly towards finishing in Tofino.  I didn’t think it would be fun at all but we had everything in place to be able to accomplish it and it was a leg of the bigger goal and had to be done at some point.  We were here now.  Not sure when we would be back.  On the other hand……WE WERE HERE NOW, not sure when we would be back and this place is gorgeous.  We agreed to consider it for a day.

9.7 NM

Cow Bay to Ahous Bay
August 8, Day 14
Fog in the morning then clearing, NW winds 5-10 knots increasing to NW 15-20 knots, Low swell with 1 foot chop increasing to 3 foot chop, Seas rippled changing to moderate

Sunrise on Cow Bay

Wonderful sunrise as the fog cleared along the shore.  It persisted over the water and we paddled a compass course of 124 degrees past the east end of Cow Bay and shifted to 105 degrees through the Garrard Group to Whaler Islet.  It was fun picking through the Garrard Group in the fog and we were fortunate that the sea was still sleeping. 

On a 124 out of Cow Bay

Photos and descriptions of Whaler Islet had always intrigued me and it didn’t disappoint as it appeared out of the lifting fog.  Lovely muted colors tinged with silver and grey.

Whaler Islet

Knowing that the trip was winding down and not wanting it to end, being in such a beautiful place with a short mileage day and thinking about the last leg had us dragging.  Not out of fatigue but just trying to make it last.  Dave had been looking forward to surfing near Acous Bay so that was on the agenda and would extend the day.

Pondering our next move on Whaler Islet
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Greg was done pondering days ago
Whaler Islet 

Under clear skies we struck out for Blunden Island and bounced along its outer shoreline in building NW winds.  On the northeastern corner are a couple of campsites that we wanted to peek at.  One is on an islet that is fronted with a shell beach and crystal clear water.  We stopped and ate a leisurely lunch.  A bit of discussion on whether to push for Uclulet in the morning but no decisions were made.

Crystal clear water near Blunden Island

Crossing from Blunden to Dave’s Surfing Paradise was pretty wet and lumpy with the afternoon blow fully developed and wind and seas on our port beam.  We could see a few tents above the Vargas beach plus some kayaks and campers who seemed interested in what we were doing.  The water was really messy and the backs of the breaks looked unhealthy so we ran with it down around the point and tucked into a quite cove with a nice beach, a pit toilet and a food locker.  The pursuit of surfing was abandoned and we basked in the shelter of the rocks and trees while the wind whipped the water off our shore.

With camp established Greg and Dave set off in different directions.  Greg, in search of the perfect firewood and his quest took him through the forest to the beach we had hoped to surf.  Dave got out his sewing kit and neoprene goop and set about repairing some holes that had developed in his gloves.  I stretched out against a log to read and nap.

At dinner we discussed the prospects of paddling 25 NM against the consistent up-island current while a 20+ knot northwesterly blew against it, navigating past the late afternoon blow weirdness in Carolina Channel and then beating a couple of NM up Uclulet Inlet against the full ebb and afternoon wind. 

I wasn’t looking forward to it.  Greg, flat out, called it a bogus plan. 

Dave knew it was coming but didn’t want to do it.  He suggested that we call it a trip at Tofino and nobody complained.  We were all totally in to finish at Tofino, have a good lunch with a beer, cop a cab ride to Ucluelet, retrieve Greg’s car, drive back to Seattle and sleep in our own beds.  What a concept.  That means that next year we start in Tofino and do the ugly leg on day one.

Decision made we went to our tents and slept soundly

10.6 NM 

Ahous Bay to Tofino
August 9, Day 15
Fog in the morning then clearing, Winds light, Low swell, Seas smooth

There was no need to hurry as we had less than two hours of paddling and we wanted to catch the flood that swept through Duffin Passage into Tofino at 11:00AM.  Still, I woke up early and caught a beautiful sunrise. 

Sunrise on Ahous Bay

While rounding Ahous Point towards the La Croix Group we encountered the first of several whale watching boats as it sped past towards wherever the Greys had been spotted.  With the exception of their wakes the water was glassy smooth.

Greg off Vargas Island

Too soon we were coasting with the current through a last farewell rip and around a rocky point into town.  We almost blew past the take out which is a bit on the bony side.  I think I did the most damage of the whole trip to my boat on that beach.

Take out in Tofino

We pulled the boats up onto the grass and Greg took off to see if he could hitch a ride to Uclulet.  No luck after an hour so he returned to get some more money and call a cab.  An hour and a half later he returned with the FourRunner, we loaded up and went for a burger and beer.

6.5 NM

The theme of last year’s trip seemed to be fog and the coastline that we paddled but didn’t see.  This year there was some fog but it was never a dominate factor.  It was mostly here and then gone, yielding to sunny skies.  This year clear skies and friendly seas prevailed and we didn’t have a single day of rain.  It did spit some drizzle rounding the Brooks Peninsula but that was a gift compared to what can go on there.  Fabulous sunrises and sunsets.  

We paddled 168 NM in 14 days averaging 12 NM/day.  That average is 2 – 3 NM less than previous trips.  The shortest day was 1.1 NM and the longest was 19.2.  Total Leisure Class numbers.  Must be getting soft or maybe it speaks to the numerous camp sites that we had to choose from.

Temperatures were typically between 50 – 70 degrees.  Some nights got cooler but some evenings we slept without a rainfly and there was no dew in the morning.

Dave Resler
Image by Greg Polkinghorn

Bugs were not an issue.  A few mosquitos but zero no-see-ums.  Tons of bugs in the dried Eel Grass but they stayed there and didn’t bother us.

Fresh water sources were never a problem and we became very fond of Greg’s MSR Autoflow Gravity Filter.  I have to get one of those.  I may have to name my MSR MiniWorks the MSR TooMuchWork.

We didn’t see many Humpbacks but the Gray Whales more than made up for that.  Most every day there were Grays around and that group that surrounded us near Bajo Point was epic

In all the trips that I have taken to the BC coast I had never seen a bear until this trip.  We had one Black Bear in camp at Bajo Point and saw several more along the shoreline while traveling.

Greg Polkinghorn
Image by Dave Resler

I didn’t see any wolves but one saw me and Greg saw him.  Pretty cool to know that he was checking me out while I slept.  

We saw a ton of Sea Otters and Greg took many photos of them.  Hard to think that they were gone from this coast not that many years ago. 

Our route passed through several kayaking destinations that we got to see but not fully experience.  Each of them is a gem and I understand how folks go to one and spend a week or more.  Brooks Bay, Checleset Bay, Kyuquot Sound, Esperanza Inlet, Nuchatlitz, Nootka Sound, Hesquiat and Clayoquot Sound.  

Unfortunately, in my opinion, there is not enough “leave no trace” ethic being practiced as many beaches and campsites are developed beyond reason.  Kayakers have been traveling this coast for decades so the standard sites will show some use but I believe that folks should make more of an effort to cover their tracks rather than memorialize them.  The Forever and Ever Boyz have been camping at Crabapple Islets for over two decades and each year they create a sophisticated infrastructure to support their visit but when they leave there is no trace that they were ever there.  

I was surprised by the beauty of Nuchatlitz.  The area is busy but spectacular.  Easy to see why so many paddlers make the pilgrimage.

Jon Dawkins
Image by Dave Resler

Clayoquot Sound is interesting.  When we arrived at Hot Springs Cove it was like we had walked through a door that led from wilderness to the bustling city.  Boats running here and there, seaplanes constantly droning overhead and somebody on almost every beach.  It is still one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  Magnificent and busy. 

A huge thanks to Glenn Lewis of Nanaimo who has been providing me with hard-to-find route information on the BC Coast for several years now.  He is incredibly generous with his time and has shared specific location, tide, current and weather information that would have, otherwise, eluded me.  The amount of work that he and the Nanaimo Paddlers put into the field guides for Banks, Estevan, Aristazabal, Price and Calvert Islands help open isolated stretches of coast to paddlers and protect the coast from exploitation and destruction.  I can’t thank him enough for doing the driving for us from Side Bay to Uclulet. 

I’m always thankful to John Kimantas for the work he has done with “the Wild Coast” series of guidebooks and “The BC Coast Explorer”.  He has always been responsive to personal queries about route choices and BC coast politics.  Buy his books. 

So what to do next year????????????
Juneau to Prince Rupert?
Tofino to Port Townsend?
The outside of Porcher, Banks, Estevan, Aristazabal, Price, Athlone?

So many choices……so little time.

Revised 12/19/2019