Sunday, February 19, 2006

Bella Bella 2005

Seattle to Port Hardy
7/23,  Saturday,  Day 1

Traveling from Seattle to Bella Bella, British Columbia takes about 25 hours. Some of that time is spent waiting for ferries but you won’t get there much quicker than that.  Maybe you can take a later Tsawwassen ferry and wait in a longer line.  Your call.  I hate being late, though.  That’s my personal problem so 25 hours it is.

Dave and I left Shoreline at 2:30 AM on Saturday the 23rd of July.  We stopped briefly at the rest stop short of Arlington to meet up with Larry and Keith who we would be paddling with.  All three of them are veterans of numerous kayak trips, with Larry and Keith having visited this area at least four times in the past.  Dave had been to the region once.  This was my first overnight kayak trip, period.

Dave explained to me how each of us had particular job responsibilities to perform:
Keith enjoyed cooking and had done all of the meal planning so he had procured the food and would prepare the meals.
Larry, having a pyromaniacal bent, would build and nurture the fires.  Any food prep done over an open fire was also his responsibility.  
Dave’s job, he claimed, was to clean the fish that our meal plan dictated we provide by hook or by crook (more on that later).  
My job was to clean up after the meals.  I inherited that responsibility from Dave who considered cleaning fish a major step up.

Leaving the Arlington rest stop we caravanned to the international border where we were “greeted” by a singularly humorless Canadian border guard.  Think of a young Randy Newman with a short early-70's Caucasian Semi-Afro receiving a failing grade at UC and you have a visual of this guy in his glass booth.  We guessed that his demeanor was due to his disappointment in not being a part of the big drug bust on the BC-Bud-Smuggling-Tunnel under the border the week before.

Picture him in a cold booth and uniform
Photo of young Newman, early 1970s - Getty Images

Or maybe he had been a part of it yet now found himself back in his cold, dark guard shack reviewing passports of kayaking reprobates.  A bitter pill to swallow.  I should mention that one of us had been denied entry into Canada twice for a “crime” that had since been de-criminalized.  I will say no more about it other than to say that it wasn’t me.  We didn’t know what the computer records told him and weren’t about to ask as he had the look of someone desperate to get even.  He didn’t keep us long, though, as he was clearly too depressed to concentrate or have a meaningful conversation so we were off for our rendezvous with the 5:15 AM Tsawwassen ferry to Nanaimo.

That is a two-hour crossing and it gave us an opportunity to chat.  Larry and Keith needed some time to size me up as we barely knew each other.  I had met them both a year and a half before at a rolling class but hadn’t seen Keith since.  I had paddled a time or two with Larry but Dave was the only trip partner that I knew well.

After driving for two hours we entered the town of Campbell River where Keith, Larry and Dave bought fishing licenses and some miscellaneous fishing stuff tackle.  From Campbell River to Port Hardy it was another two-and-a-half-hour drive.  Port Hardy, itself, isn’t much to look at.  Like most of these northern fishing towns it’s been rode hard and put away wet.  Everything had a certain patina imparted by weather and hard work.  Keith decided he needed a haircut and wandered into a “solon”, Dave departed to find a bank to exchange money while Larry and I headed for the waterfront to find a bar and get a beer.  Keith showed up a bit later sporting a respectable look and reported that he had seen no sign of Dave.  Dave showed up later with an interesting story.

He had been walking around looking for a bank when he noticed the smell of Marijuana.  Standing on the corner, in plain sight, was a young fellow about 19 or so smoking dope.  Dave was shocked and asked him if he was afraid of being busted for the public demonstration.  The young fellow said, “No, the police don’t bother users and 50% of the public falls into that category”.  At that point he offered some to Dave who passed with a “Thanks, but no thanks”.  He did continue around town with him and asked him more about the dope scene in B.C.  The young fellow claimed that B.C. Bud was the country’s largest export and supported a great deal of the B.C. economy.  It couldn’t be legalized because the U.S. would get ticked so as long as you were a user and not a seller the police just looked the other way.  He said that a couple of nights before he had been searched by police when the car he was riding in was stopped for a moving violation.  His stash fell on the ground and when the officer was done frisking him he politely pointed out he had "dropped something” and walked away.  He did say that while the local police treated you with respect and dignity the Mounties were just plain mean and looked for any opportunity to mess you up.  Interesting perspective from a Canadian citizen.

With the ferry scheduled to sail at 9:30 PM we had some time to sample the “fine” cuisine that Port Hardy offers and then drove to the ferry terminal where we parked our cars.  Our boats were loaded onto carts with kayak racks and our gear was locked into other carts that were pulled onto the ferry.

We walked on carrying only our sleeping bags, sleeping pads and toiletries and hastily made our way to the solarium where we hoped to claim a sleeping spot for the evening’s voyage.  Keith preferred the comfort of the heated cabin with its reclining chairs and quickly staked his claim.  Once our gear was set out we convened on the deck to meet and greet other passengers.
Sleeping Arrangements in the Solarium
Image by Dave Resler

It was on the deck where we met Don Wahl and his paddling partner from Seattle.  Their plan was to paddle from McLoughlin Bay back to Port Hardy.  Both were experienced paddlers and familiar with the area, still, their plan seemed ambitious to us.  We had mapped out a route of just over 100 NM and had two weeks to accomplish it.  We didn’t have to be anywhere at any particular time and could stay in protected waters if we chose.  Their route, on the other hand, was around 130 NM and they had one week to pull it off.  They were not going to have the luxury of discretionary protection and would be exposed to the full force of the Pacific for much of their trip.

Nice guys. Experienced, smart and strong. They would be fine.

At 9:30 PM the Discovery Coast ferry, “The Queen of Chilliwack”, left Port Hardy bound for the Central Coast.

Port Hardy, Time to Sail
Image by Dave Resler

McLoughlin Bay to Shell Beach
7/24, Sunday, Day 2
Morning low clouds then clearing

I awoke around 5:00 AM and went out on the deck.  It was a beautiful morning.  The ferry was making its way up Fitz Hugh Sound and the sun was trying to peek under the low morning clouds.

Morning on Fitz Hugh Sound

We ate breakfast on the ferry and watched the wild shoreline pass by.  I could see why there weren’t many campsites shown on the map as the inter-tidal zone was comprised of steep, fissured and broken granite rock, topped with a thick growth of trees.  Not a beach in sight.  There were very few places that would have made getting out of a boat more than an unpleasant experience.  As our 7:30 AM arrival at McLoughlin Bay grew near we gawked from the deck and soon, our destination came in sight.  It wasn’t much to look at.  Just a dock and a few buildings but this is where we would start paddling.

McLoughlin Bay in Sight

Our gear was off-loaded and we carried down to the rocky shoreline.  The rocks were sharp, slippery and potentially damaging to our hulls and ankles which made loading the boats go slowly.  Keith brought very little personal gear but a ton of community gear and his boat would not hold it all.  We split up the excess between the three of us so that I took the 10 pounds of potatoes between my knees and the 5 pounds of onions and garlic at my feet.

Dave and I had originally planned on going light on extra water and he had marked numerous water sources on his GPS.  We planned on filtering water but Keith and Larry felt that a ready water supply was a priority.  Larry had stocked his boat with 10 gallons while Keith had clearly stashed a 55 gallon drum somewhere in his boat.  Keith is a good northwesterner and a serious coffee drinker.  He had planned to bring enough coffee for 40 pots and didn’t want a lack of water to create a decision between having a caffeine crisis or actually rehydrating.  I had three 10 liter Dromedary bags of fine Seattle water in my boat and was barely above question.  Dave was guilt tripped into filling his two clear 2.5 gallon water bags at the ferry dock’s faucet and when the first bag came out “WHITE” with floating things in it he was about to take his chances drinking salt water.  After letting the water run for a while it became “clear” enough that I would have washed my salt encrusted paddling jacket with it, but little else.  It was good enough for Dave.  Water crisis averted so we were ready to shove off.  At 9:00 AM the four of us, all sealed tightly in our boats, headed south down Lama Passage on a rising tide.  
Within ten minutes it felt as though we had left civilization behind.

At 10:00 AM Larry drew our attention to some large splashes far to the south.  We figured that it must have been Orcas breaching but they were too far away to tell for sure.  We took it as a good sign and the water remained flat and the winds calm.  It warmed to 70 degrees and was an absolutely stellar morning.  Bearing right into Hunter Channel we took our time exploring the shoreline and paddling up a stream that entered the channel.  The BC Coastal Rec Map indicated that there was a campsite on the lake at the head of the creek, but clearly, that campsite could only be accessed at high tide.  Better leave that one to some other party.  The mouth of the stream was wild with sea urchins, starfish and minnows, so we spent some time just poking around and marveling at the abundant life.

Our destination for the day was the fine campsite on an island near Soulsby Point, sometimes referred to as Shell Beach.  As we pulled within a mile or so we saw that Don and his partner had passed us on the far side of Hunter Channel and were crossing towards the site and arrived just ahead of us.  We slid in to a muddy, low tide flat covered with clam shells set beneath a blindingly white beach and after a relaxing 12.2 miles called it a day.

Any paddler can tell you of the joy of pulling back that spray skirt and basking in the scent of a mildewed bilge sponge, decaying organic matter and stinky neoprene booties as hours of being locked in an airtight hull with no circulation will make those air molecules emerge bearing smells that even a dog wouldn’t roll in.  Never the less, I was not prepared for what happened next as I was nearly knocked out of my boat by the smell of those onions.  It completely caught me off guard and in spite of the immediate tears they brought to my eyes I wasn’t unhappy about the deodorizing effect it had on my booties.

Larry and Keith built a fire for lunch while Don and his partner snacked and studied their charts. Their destination for the day was Triquet Island which meant several more hours of paddling before they were off the water.  A long day for them and a short day for us.  Keith soon had a chili and cornbread lunch prepared in the Dutch oven which we devoured while the other guys continued on.  A cup of coffee sounded good so Keith looked through his boat for the drybag holding the coffee.  No sign of it so it must be in Dave or Larry’s boat.  No big deal. “We’ll have coffee later”.

Shell Beach is a beautiful campsite noted on the BC Coastal Rec Map.  Larry and Keith had stayed there before and looked forward to another night.  Like many beaches in this area its character completely changed between low tide and high tide.  When we arrived the beach and campsite seemed spacious and luxurious but as the tide rose it became very compact and intimate with the beach disappearing altogether.  There are four tent sites that I noted, three back in the woods and one right above the beach.  

Shell Beach Campsite
Image by Larry Longrie

After setting up our tents Keith and Larry went fishing while Dave and I went exploring.  We found more of interest than they found fish which turned out to be OK because Larry surprised us with some huge frozen steaks and Keith gathered a batch of clams from the beach to go with them.  That meat cooked over the open fire was the very best tasting steak I ever eaten in my life.  Seriously!  The clams dipped in melted butter added a very nice touch.  I suppose we got lucky with the clams.  Nothing toxic.  We all slept very well.

Shell Beach to Cultus Sound
7/25, Monday, Day 3
Light fog in the morning.  Clear and warm

The plan was to travel south across Hunter Channel then SSE down Sans Peur Passage to Cultus Bay and a campsite that Dave, Larry and Keith had stayed at two years previously.  A very short 8.4 mile paddle.  By stopping there, we could stay at a world class beach next to some really fine fishing.  Cultus Sound offers great exploration and is mostly protected unless it really blows.

The day greeted us with fog that restricted horizontal vision yet promised the warmth of a sunny day by allowing occasional peeks of the blue sky above.  There was no wind and the water was absolutely flat.  Keith made pancakes and eggs for breakfast and we looked through Dave’s boat for the coffee.  No sign of it.  No big deal, it’ll show up.  I only had a slight headache from caffeine withdrawal and Keith wasn’t commenting on how his head felt but he seemed a bit edgy.

 Morning Fog
Image by Dave Resler

We struck out into the magic of the grey morning following the course dictated by Dave’s GPS.  Horizontal visibility was limited to 50 yards yet the grey clouds above were only thick enough to color the sky to mottled bright blue/grey.  As the fog thinned and allowed occasion bursts of sunlight to penetrate, the water turned from a slick steel grey to a brilliant blue and we erupted in color. Fabulous visuals!

At the entrance to Sans Peur Passage we deviated from plan and followed Dave’s lead through a twisted and narrow tidal channel that led west behind Latta Island. Why not?  “We were on vacation!”  His GPS was leading us down an opening that would show us a campsite we had marked on our chart and might come in handy on the way back.  Surprising current and eddylines greeted us but no sign of a campsite.  I had read a trip report about what a nice site it was yet we could find no visual confirmation of its existence.

The channel continued to become more restricted with boulders and kelp and the ragged rocks just below the surface hungered for a taste of our hulls.  Soon we were at an impasse after “prying” our way forward using our paddles to leverage progress against the heads of floating Bull Kelp.  We all started in verbally abusing Dave about being such a fine route finder until he consulted the tide charts in his GPS and calmly announced that we would have clearance to pass within 15 minutes.  With that he opened his deck bag, and paying no more attention to us, dug out an energy bar and ate it.  I looked over my shoulder at Larry who was nonplussed.   Keith’s shot back “Nice work, Dave”.  So, we had a snack (cheese stick, Balance Bar and water) and within 10 minutes the tide had filled just enough for us to make progress again.

McNaughton Group
Image by Larry Longrie

We were traveling south through the McNaughton Group.  The low, wooded islands with rocky inter-tidal zones seemed to characterize this area.  Our channel now averaged about ¼ mile in width but varied from ½ mile to as little as 40 feet with current varying accordingly.  The channel filled from the south but eddies along the shore and behind islands could be used to our advantage as we worked against the flooding tide.  Breaking out into Cultus Sound we could see our destination about ¾ miles away.  The light sand beach in the distance seemed brilliant in contrast to the rocky shores with its dark green vegetation and as we started across the Sound the first hint of Pacific swell passed beneath us from the west.

Entering the small bay, with its rocky islet, we approached the sandy beach stretching 200 yards between ragged borders.  We landed, started unloading our gear and setting up camp.  Soon enough the boys were ready to head outside the Sound to a favorite fishing spot and catch some dinner.  What a great destination.

Approaching Cultus Beach

The southern end of the mouth of Cultus Sound is marked by a rocky headland that tumbles vertically into deep water.  The Pacific swells topped by wind waves find this cliff a nice surface to reflect off of so it can get interesting here.  Salmon seem to like this spot, though. I escorted the guys as they trolled through the area and it seemed a bit un-nerving to me to think of attempting to land a fish in those choppy waters but I really enjoyed bouncing around in it.  Keith ended up catching a salmon while Larry snagged a rockfish.  The rockfish went back in the water and the salmon went into our stomachs for dinner.  Nice job, Keith!

It was while Larry was splitting firewood prior to dinner that the only injury of the trip occurred.  A large piece of wood bounced off of the log he was using as a base and hit him in the mouth.  It was an impact that would have totally taken me out.  We all saw it happen and were shocked that he didn’t go down.  He just grabbed his mouth to do a damage assessment and was surprised to find all of his teeth intact.  None were even loose and his nose didn’t seem to be broken but a fairly significant piece of skin was missing from the area between his upper lip and his nostrils.  He was bleeding but he was fine and went back to splitting wood.  His face would exhibit some swelling and a bit of bruising but he ignored it.

Sometime during the night Larry or Keith suggested that maybe we should plan on staying another night at our deluxe beach.  I mean, it was sweet.  Good visuals, great fishing and no place we had to be tomorrow.  Why not? Stuffed with fresh salmon we crawled into our tents knowing that we didn’t face a forced march in the morning.  Life was good!

Cultus Sound
7/26,  Tuesday, Day 4
Clear and warm

We were up at around 6:30 AM and went fishing.  When I say “we went fishing” I want you to interpret that as Larry, Dave and Keith went fishing and I just sort of paddled around in their general vicinity.  We went to the usual spot just outside of Cultus Sound and the water was pretty mellow.  I poked around by Superstition Point, which is just south of Cultus, and scouted out the narrow passage behind it.  There is a shelf off of Superstition Point and the combination of its topographical prominence, the sharp upslope of an underwater shelf and tidal currents earns an official warning on charts as a place to pay attention to.  Since our route south would pass this spot I was interested to see whether we could sneak behind it if conditions warranted or be forced to address it’s “personality” head-on.  On this morning, at this particular tide, I couldn’t pick my way through that passage.  There were too many rocks poking up and the swells would sweep through it in a disturbing fashion.  The only way to go south at that moment was to go around the point.  Right then, it would have been a walk in the park and good information that I filed away.

Morning at Superstition Point

Keith, Larry and Dave all provided.  Each brought back a salmon and a few others were caught and released.  In fact, some really nice fish were returned to the sea.  Since we didn’t have any way to freeze fish, anything beyond what we would eat in the next 12 hours or so would have been wasted.  Once our next meal (or two) was in the boat the rest of the catch was for sport and returned.  Paddling back to camp we saw a pair of kayakers heading west.  Dave approached them and chatted briefly.  They were a Canadian couple traveling by sailboat and anchored somewhere nearby.

Back at camp Larry and Dave cleaned and filleted the fish.  Keith got potatoes and onions going on the stove and built a fire for the salmon.  We had a great breakfast and the local ravens cleaned up the fish guts.  About this time we found that Dave’s water containers had emptied themselves into his boat.  He was going to need to replenish that water or face the humiliation that Larry and Keith dealt him for losing it.

Dave had read an account on the internet of a reversing tidal rapid off of Cultus Sound that accessed a lagoon.  A lake drained into the lagoon providing a source of fresh water.  Since we had our fill of fish and a day to burn we decided to go find it.  Dave had the coordinates in his GPS so off we went.  After 1.5 miles of following the GPS, we entered an area of islets close to the primary shoreline.  At one point we could hear water running but could not see it.  We entered a fairly narrow, rock lined inlet topped with trees and since there was a bit of current present we figured that we were close, and pressed on.

Dave and Jon at Lagoon Entrance
Image by Larry Longrie

In a deep, shadowed pool we found ourselves atop a slight drop into a large lagoon.  We couldn’t see the drop, only the top and the lagoon below filtered by the mist of the rapid.  Spooky.  We weren’t sure of what lay below, nobody was jumping up and down for first crack and we couldn’t get close enough to scout it without being swept over the top.

At some point Keith just decided to go for it and over he went.  The stern of his boat looked pretty cool sticking up in the air after the rest of it had gone over the edge.  He pulled out below the current and fumbled for the radio strapped to his deck.  Larry took off immediately and joined Keith.  Dave went next and I followed.

It wasn’t a huge deal (2’ drop, whoop-dee-do) in the big scheme of paddling but it was a pretty cool first for all of us in sea kayaks, though I was really surprised to see an enormous rock just below the surface at the bottom of the drop that had to be avoided and that rock was why Keith was fumbling for his radio.  Larry didn’t have a radio, Dave had one but didn’t have it on and mine was such a major pain that I had turned it off so Keith was warning only himself after the fact.  We all got the same rude surprise.

Invigorated by the new experience we played in the current and found the source of the “sound” we had heard before entering the rock lined inlet.

Noisy Rapid
Image by Larry Longrie

A rocky rapid ran down to meet us and joined the current of the drop we had just experienced.  Realizing we would be here a while as the tide filled our lagoon we set off in search of a fresh water source that Dave had programmed into his GPS.  It led us right to the boulder strewn mouth of the creek where we gently pulled our boats up above the rising lagoon and started up the creek bed.  After only 50 yards of scrambling uphill we were there.

Keith at Water Source

It was a beautiful spot with ground cushioned by thick moss but the water was the color of weak tea.  Dave had to get these guys off his back, though, and had to endure their taunts while he pumped away with his filter.  He tightly secured the lids on his water bags and, with good-natured barbs still flying, we started back to the boats.  If this unappetizing brown water served only as ballast for the rest of trip it would be good enough for Dave.

We paddled back to the inlets that accessed the lagoon and tried to paddle up the drops but it wasn’t going to happen yet.  We were going to have to wait for the tide to fill the lagoon more and equalize the height between the two bodies of water.  Not being sure how long that would take, we spent an hour just poking around in this peaceful, isolated lagoon.

Jon, Larry & Keith Lagoon Lounging
Image by Dave Resler

We really wanted get out into the open Sound again so we went back to the rapids and tried to figure a way out.  The drops had lessened but had not equalized.  The “noisy” way was too rocky and swift.  We eddied up to the steepest part and there was going to be no escaping that way.  The way we entered was showing more promise with the rising tide but still presented a pretty significant obstacle.  Getting out of the boats and “lining” them up either drop didn’t look like a reasonable option, so we took turns working up along the edge of the flow and probing the drop for weakness.

After a long period of testing Keith pushed his bow into the cascade and started paddling furiously up the watery slope. His stroke and cadence was short and fast on flat water yet here he was furiously pounding his way uphill.  We were cheering him on and laughing at the same time.  If he lost his fight he would be coming down backwards or sideways and certainly out of control.  A swim was the likely outcome.  Fighting his way to the top he paused ever so slightly and losing forward progress began pounding away, more furiously than before, making very slow progress past what we had assumed was a safe area.  Using his rudder to nudge himself out of the strongest current he won his battle and continued out of harm’s way.

Larry went next.  He is a powerful paddler and, rudder down, he made the first part of the climb look almost easy.  At the top, however, he began to waver and progress against the current creased.  He increased his cadence, exceeding Keith’s effort, yet still hung on the brink.  We cheered, yelled encouragements and laughed as he fought against the current.  His paddling continued and still he hung there, not going forward yet resisting going backwards.  His strokes began to look a bit ragged and Dave and I both began to lose hope.  Finally, he eased himself just a bit to the right, as Keith had done and into a current that could be defeated.  Ever so slowly, he progressed away from the drop.

Clearly the strongest current was not where it was steepest, as we had assumed, but just above that point and the trick was to get into that area bordering the tongue of water that fed the drop.  Keith and Larry had been able use their rudders to slide over but I didn’t have a rudder so I couldn’t count on that technique.  I eddied up to the drop and pushed my nose into the descending flow.  I held that position by paddling consistently while feeling the current’s effect and moving ever so slightly from left to right to left again.  Once I found what felt like a sweet spot I increased my cadence and moved forward slowly against the current.  Climbing at a very slight angle towards the “safe spot” to the right of the stream I gained the top and was surprised at how the current now increased.  Having the benefit of watching Keith and Larry I picked it up and moved cautiously to the right then forward to join them.

Without hesitation, Dave began his escape.  He moved steadily up the drop, and gaining the top broke into a huge grin and seemed to relax, not realizing that he had just entered the strongest current.  I shouted “Paddle Dude!  You aren’t done yet!” and he got back to the business of escape.  Smiling again, he joined us and after reliving each other’s experiences we set out for camp.

Keith prepared a dinner of potatoes, onions and fresh salmon tacos.

Cultus Sound to the Serpent Group
7/27,  Wednesday,  Day 5
Overcast and cool morning, warming with clearing in the afternoon.  Light winds

We planned on working our way south towards Calvert Island.  We didn’t have a particular destination, just a general direction and a vague route.  There are a couple of hot fishing areas that Dave was interested in and we figured that we would pass through both of them and fish, choosing a campsite in their general vicinity.  The “fabulous” BC Coastal Rec Map marked a campsite in the Serpent Group and another on the west side of Stirling Island, both within a few miles of The Gap which is noted as one of the top salmon producing spots in the vicinity of Hakai Passage.

Keith prepared a breakfast of potatoes, onions and salmon.  We all ate huge portions as there was plenty of fish and we didn’t want it to go to waste.  Leaving our beach we set off for Superstition Point.  The tide was too low to sneak behind it so we passed around the outside in small swell with wind chop.  Approaching Spider Channel we saw several small sport fishing boats crossing our route into and out of Spitfire Channel.  It was odd to see so much traffic.

We were choosing a path that offered protection from Queen Charlotte Sound so it led us towards a gap between Manley Island and some unnamed islets that comprised the Kittyhawk Group.  From our boats we couldn’t see an opening, just the rocky shore exposed by the low tide.  Dave’s GPS insisted that there was a passage, though, so we continued on cautiously.  Without that GPS I wouldn’t have even considered paddling that way as there was no visible hint that it went through, but Dave was leading and so we followed.  Eventually it became so narrow that we couldn’t turn around and so twisted that backing out would have been a grim task.  Dave disappeared around a corner while Keith, Larry and I hesitated.  I shouted to Dave, asking if it was clear.  He shouted back that it wasn’t exactly clear but that he was feeling some current so it must go through.  With some reservation we continued on.  The way became even narrower and more twisted yet the current was pulling us along.  We just had to avoid the rocks and suddenly we were out in the open again.  What an interesting short cut.

Now we were out in Queen Charlotte Sound so we made for the lee of the Serpent Group.  This is where the BC Coastal Rec Map really earned the caveat printed on it, “Not for navigational purposes”.  It placed the campsite between the two large, westernmost islands of the Group.  I had read several accounts by kayakers who could not find campsites marked on this map and this campsite in particular.  The passage between the islands was clearly visible from over a mile away but it looked as though swells were crashing right through and the sides of both islands were very steep.  I was making for that passage but Dave insisted that the campsite was further to the southeast, nowhere near my passage.  Again, he had programmed the coordinates into his GPS and it didn’t come close to agreeing with my map.

We followed Dave along the rocky lee of the group and around one point after another.  I couldn’t imagine how a decent campsite could exist there as the shoreline was all near-vertical rock topped with wind tortured trees.  We reached the end of a nameless point and Dave announced that it was right around the corner but as soon as we rounded that corner he said that we had passed it.  We backtracked about 30 feet and looked for a campsite.  There was no place to even get out of a boat except maybe a little patch of sand back against the rocks.  We paddled towards it and as we got closer that little patch began to unveil itself.  It was larger than we had thought but this was close to low tide and there was no visible place to camp that would be dry at high tide.  Oh well, might as well pull up and rest on the beach.  Have a bite to eat.

Serpent Beach

Exiting our boats, we could see that it extended back at least 75 yards bordered by steep rock.  Nice place to take a break.

Serpent Beach
Image by Larry Longrie

Walking back into the gap between the rocks we discovered that this became a shallow passage at high tide and could hear surf crashing beyond.

Empty Serpent Lagoon
Image by Dave Resler

Suddenly the passage stepped back on the right side to reveal a beautiful little beach that faced the rock wall on the left.  Seaweed on the beach showed the most recent high tide mark and told us that there would be adequate dry space for us to camp.  After some discussion we decided that after only 9.7 miles this (Hole in the Wall) would be our campsite for the night.

Hole in the Wall Campsite

As we set up camp a beautiful orange throated hummingbird approached and hovered at arm’s length.  It zipped between us, pausing, curious, sizing each of us up.  After we had been thoroughly introduced it shifted its interest to the red trim on Larry’s Marmot tent.  Then, as quickly as it had approached it disappeared.

It was really interesting watching the tide cover our landing beach and creep towards our tents.  The area in front of camp became a lagoon that pulsed with swells that broke against the western end of the gap.

What a strange and beautiful place.

Serpent Group to Wolf Beach
7/28,  Thursday,  Day 6
Overcast and cool morning, warming with clearing in the afternoon.  Light winds

We left Hole in the Wall destined for Choked Passage at the extreme northwest corner of Calvert Island.  It would be just over 10 miles. Our route would take us past The Gap and across Hakai Passage where tidal currents can reach 4 knots.  A strong ebb flowing west against a west wind can really stack the seas up here and make for a bad 2 ½ mile crossing.  Today we had a weak ebb and light winds.  We were hoping for the best.

Seas were pleasant with 1.5-meter swell and the travel from the Serpent Group to The Gap was relaxing and beautiful.  Anticipating the ebb, we edged easterly up Hakai Passage and, making one last assessment before committing to the crossing, slipped in behind the Breaker Group.  No scary rips, breaking waves or whitecaps so off we went.

Establishing a slight ferry angle to counter the current Larry and I pulled ahead.  Eventually Larry reached for that other gear that only he has and opened up his lead showing us the way to Choked Passage.  This crossing was one of the most stimulating bits of paddling I can remember.  The swell grew to 2 meters plus topped with wind waves and our boats, laden with gear, rode through it all like luxury cars on the freeway.  I know that I was grinning from ear to ear just soaking in the smell of the sea, the wind in my face, the salt spray and the view of my buddies bobbing in and out of sight on the pulsating swell.  Fantastic!  I was really kind of sad when we left the influence of the Pacific swell for the protection of Donald Island.

Entering Adams Harbor was a bit of a shock as we hadn’t seen any other boats since Spitfire Channel.  Here, though, was a floating dock with seaplanes coming and going with fishing guests of the Hakai Beach Resort.  A few large pleasure boats were anchored nearby.  The folks at the float asked if we needed any water.  What they didn’t know is that when you travel with Larry and Keith you had better not need any.  Just ask Dave.  We thanked them and continued south down the passage where we passed one gorgeous beach after another.  We chose a white sandy swath that was over 1/4-mile-wide, littered with driftwood and about a mile past the float.

 Dave at Wolf Beach

It offered a fabulous view past the protective islands out into the wild Pacific.

Wolf Beach
Image by Larry Longrie

We quickly set up camp and gathered wood for a fire.  Keith whipped up something in the Dutch oven for lunch.

Wolf Beach Campsite

Keith Hard at Work Preparing Lunch
Image by Dave Resler

After lunch we all napped for a bit and did some exploring.  We noted the tracks of two Wolves that had patrolled the high tide line and made several passes through our camp prior to our arrival.  It was interesting to follow them and see where they had chased something or dug in the sand.  At times their tracks reflected focused intent and at other times, distracted play.  The tracks entered and exited the beach in the forest behind camp.  We named this Wolf Beach.  Turns out, that is the name of the beach.

We went fishing late afternoon at nearby Odlum Point. No salmon were caught so the guys jigged for bottom fish and we had white meat for dinner.

The sunset was spectacular but the weather radio talked of high winds and rain that threatened to descend on us soon. It sounded like we might be in for a bad stretch of weather.

Choked Passage Sunset
Image by Dave Resler

Wolf Beach
7/29,  Friday,  Day 7
Overcast and cool morning,  Occasional showers, heavy at times.  Light winds

The wolves had visited the beach before we got up.  High tide had been at 5:00 AM and they had foraged the detritus that marked the maximum height of the flood and had passed just behind our tents while running their morning errands.

The weather reports continued to be pretty grim.  They were calling for gale force winds and rain.  It wasn’t windy yet but rain was a definite possibility.  With that forecast we would have been more comfortable on the north side of Hakai Passage.  On the north side we could work our way through protected waters to our rendezvous with the ferry.  Down here we were faced with a crossing that required consideration in good conditions and offered the prospect of 35 to 50 mph winds with driving rain.  We had a great campsite with lots of fire wood so we decided to stay put for the day and fish if weather allowed.

It wasn’t a terrible day.  It did rain and it got breezy in the afternoon but not too bad.  During the rainy periods we sat around under Larry’s MSR Parawing, replenished our water supply by catching the runoff and kept a fire going all day.  We all napped at some point, read books or walked the beach.

Larry brought four paperbacks to read and was into his second.  Whenever he wasn’t building a fire, helping Dave clean fish, Keith cook or me wash dishes he was reading.  The scab below his nose was getting loose around the edges and he wouldn’t feel bad saying “Goodbye” to it.  Dave had brought several Sea Kayaker magazines and had immediately donated them to the kindling supply in the yellow drybag but he and Keith read and reread them until, page by page, they were sacrificed to start a fire.  I brought an old friend along. Thomas Berger’s “Little Big Man”, always a favorite, and I hadn’t read it for several years.  I wanted something that I didn’t have to pay too much attention to, could randomly crack it open, read any paragraph and be entertained.  I had obtained this copy at a yard sale in the 70’s and it showed it.  As I read and turned a page it would fall loose from the binding. I kept the stack of loose pages together with a rubber band.  I wasn’t willing to commit them to kindling.

Sitting Out a Shower
Image by Keith Blumhagen

Dave Pretending to Read (Sound Asleep)
Image by Larry Longrie

Late in the day the clouds started to clear up a bit so we fished.  We went out to the north end of Choked Passage where some islands partially blocked the wind.  Once again, fishing wasn’t good and Odlum Point did not live up to its world-class reputation.

 Keith Returning from Odlum Point

The guys provided a couple of bottom fish that Keith prepared with potatoes and onions.  These fish weren’t anyone’s favorites.  Over dinner we decided that we would get up early, eat a Power Bar breakfast and, weather permitting, make a break for the north side of Hakai Passage.

In spite of the unsettled weather the day held some pretty good visuals.

 Wolf Beach Early Evening

Choked Passage Early Evening

 Choked Passage Sunset

Wolf Beach to Triquet Island
7/30,  Saturday,  Day 8
Cloudy and cool - Rain, heavy at times.  Calm to breezy

We dismantled our camp and packed the boats.  We weren’t sure where we would end up, we just wanted to get across Hakai Passage before it got too nasty.  My map showed the location of several possible campsites that would provide protection and allow progress in a storm.  Dave had more programmed into his GPS.  We each scarfed down a couple of energy bars and a packet of GU, topped it with water and we were off after the most unsatisfying breakfast ever.  This was not going to be a good day.  In our haste to depart we barely registered the calling cards that the wolves had left during their morning ritual.

It was just starting to drizzle a bit but the wind wasn’t a problem as we started across Hakai Passage.  The plan was to make a bee-line for Edward Channel on the east side of Stirling Island.  We anticipated some current issues but were confident that we could deal with them.

Hakai Passage
Image by Larry Longrie

We passed east of the Breaker Group and continued pulling until we were safely within the arms of the Planet Group.  Those rocky, sorry looking excuses for islands did little more than shelter us from the building chop and swell.  I guess that was worth something but about that time the rain began in earnest.  We all felt that a cozy warm fire out of the rain would be nice now that we were safely across Hakai so we followed Dave’s GPS to a campsite not marked on the “unquestionably accurate” BC Coastal Rec Map.  We took a left into Nalau Passage and left again into an unmarked, narrow bay.  Paddling south now, we came upon a wet beach with a wooden ladder and rope leading up a steep bank into the woods.  Under other circumstances this might have been a welcome stop but we wanted a fire and a spot large enough to set up the Parawing.  This wasn’t it so we continued on to campsite #2 which was another GPS site off the internet and just across Nalau Passage.  It proved to be very dismal.  It would have been a sodden, mosquito infested bog on a nice day but the rain had already turned all life forms capable of flight into pedestrians. Mosquitoes were grounded. Still, no thanks.

Heading west in a downpour out of Nalau Passage towards Queen Charlotte Sound we passed the “Union Jack”, a luxury commercial tugboat with its 4 sport fishing boats trailing behind, as it headed east seeking a place to ride out the storm. Westwind Tugboat Adventures  The guys had met up with the Union Jack’s sister ship the “Parry” two years before and had shared a meal and good times in Cultus Sound.  Now, the weather radio warned of the winds arriving at any time so we weren’t in the happy way being out here and we wondered if they had a better idea.

Two years before Keith, Larry and Dave had been pinned down on Goose Island in similar weather.  They had waited 5 nights in the wind and rain for a chance to get back to the protection of the passages.  They had a ferry to catch in Shearwater so when the weather first began to break they made a run for it.  It was a harrowing 5-plus NM crossing that Keith referred to as the “Ghastly Crossing”.  They were all changed by the experience.

As we sat there and considered our options it was only Dave who was advocating a direct six mile run for Triquet.  He reasoned that we would pass the Spider Group in two miles (40 minutes) and could hole up there or continue on.  If it stayed flat we could be setting up camp in two hours.  I was strongly against being out in the open at all.  I thought that it limited our options.  We were being hammered by the rain and I was feeling very dispirited and somewhat intimidated.  The rain wasn’t only hammering us, it was also beating the water into submission.  The swell, which would normally approach us wearing a wind ruffled attitude and pass with the sneering, “Who’s your Daddy?”, was reduced to a slick, grey, apologetic mass covered with clear, roiling ball bearings and an “Uh, excuse me, please”.  It creeped me out.  Wasn’t right at all.  If that wind was behind this rain the water would quickly regain its confidence and we would be in trouble so I argued for going north across Leckie Bay to a campsite noted in the “stupendously dependable” BC Coastal Rec Map.  We went north.

The rain was relentless.  We entertained ourselves by watching how the drops of fresh water bounced and then beaded up on surface of the salt water, rolling around before mixing.  Dave and I had some comfort in our drysuits but I could see by the way that Keith’s well-worn anorak and Larry’s paddling jacket clung to their arms that they were getting wet.  Keith and Larry are so stoic, though, that they just soldiered on without complaint.  The “campsite” turned out to be one of those places where you could get out of your boat but you really didn’t want to.  It smelled of decaying life forms and the streams that ran out of the forest colored the sea water to a dark brown.  That place was yucky.  It might have looked nice on a sunny day but today it was just plain nasty.

We now knew that we were headed for Triquet which was further than any of us wanted to go on such a day.  It was another 6 miles as the Raven flies but we would be adding more miles to that total as we weaved our way through numerous groups of islands.  We took another Power Bar break to steel ourselves for the final push and it was at that time that Keith drew our attention to his hands.  While unwrapping his “lunch” he was shocked at how wrinkled his hands had become.  Larry and Dave both looked at their own hands and held them up in surprise.  My God!  Six cadaver hands!  I pulled my blue paddling gloves off to reveal a shocking pair of BLUE cadaver hands.  Oh. Man!  We were wet!  I noticed that Larry’s scab had been washed away by the deluge leaving a bright pink blemish in its place.  Depressed, we scarfed down the nutrition and paddled on towards our GPS shortcut behind Manley Island, and still it rained.

Triquet Island did hold some promise for us as we knew that it had real beaches.  It was always referred to as a favorite camping site in paddling accounts and was well marked on the “Lying SOB” BC Coastal Rec Map.  After so much shock and awe we were ready for some good news.  At the risk of over sharing here I do have to admit that I was looking forward to using the “pit toilet” and the “well-developed campsites” that are mentioned on the map.  My knees are not good and they were killing me after eight days of squatting over a sandy hole in the beach and clinging to a shovel handle for balance.  How undignified is that?  If nothing else I envisioned the roof of the toilet providing a welcome relief from the rain and said as much.  Larry asked me, “What will you do if it doesn’t have a roof”?  I said that “I would be delighted to simply sit there and shit like a man”, but inside I didn’t even want to consider that possibility.

Eventually we approached Triquet which was just another grey blob in a sea of grey blobs.  This was going to be our salvation, though.  Developed campsites and a pit toilet.  At this point in time we would have welcomed a crowded KOA Campground.  We would have been happy to have seen a line of Winnebagos and family camping tents, hot showers and a Laundromat.  Instead we slid up onto a very modest tree lined beach in a shallow bay at the northeast corner of the island.

We stepped out and sunk into soggy sand over our ankles.  It continued to pour rain.  As we pulled our feet out of the sand and walked forward our vacated footprints quickly filled with water.  We silently walked the campsite and checked out each open area in the woods.  The beach held no promise as a place to set up tents and the “established” tent sites in the forest offered absolutely no protection from the rain.  Another campsite was shown to be on the north shore which was right around a point that helped define the bay we were rejecting.  Another 15 minutes of paddling revealed a beach with more promise.  After 24 miles of paddling on Power Bars and GU we were ready to claim it.

 Soggy Triquet Beach / Submissive Sea

This was one of those beaches that sees way too many visitors and it was littered with beer cans and food wrappers.  No less than six blackened and charred fire “pits” scarred this site.  Just above the beach sat a dilapidated wooden shack measuring about six feet wide by 10 feet long.  No time to be picky, though, we needed a fire and we needed it now.  Wood was gathered and Larry sorted through it looking for chunks of cedar to split for kindling.  It was mostly all wet, however, and if it wasn’t already wet it got that way in the downpour.  Larry attempted to produce fire but, further sabotaging our efforts, the pit filled with water.  Dave and I held a tarp over the pit while Larry and Keith worked furiously at what proved to be a futile effort.  After 45 minutes of hard work we declared our patient D.O.A.  There would be no comforting fire this day.

Larry and Dave scrambled to set up their tents in the forest and Keith and I went to the shack.  The shack had openings for windows and a place for a door.  The door and windows were empty like eye sockets on a skull.

Overused Triquet Camp
Image by Dave Resler

The shack had seen better days (Randel Washburne Cabins ) and the inside roof profile was lined with what had once been clear visqueen but was green with some sort of vegetation that prospered in the wet environment. There was a gaping hole in the roof where a flue had once allowed a wood stove to exhale but had become a point of entry for the falling rain.  On the floor was a wet green Astroturf carpet.  It smelled pretty ripe.  A large white square of plastic flotsam leaned against the shack’s largest window opening to temper the wind and rain.  A mouse-eaten and rain swollen paperback copy of Mark Twain’s, “Roughing It” balanced tenderly on the window sill. One end of the structure supported a bunk of sorts.

Keith Snoozing

The top bunk was stuffed up into the visqueen but was dry as was the lower bunk that was broken and missing critical parts.  The lower bunk was only four feet long and sloped down to the corner of the shelter at a 20 degree angle.  Keith threw his gear on top, claiming it as his own and I glommed on to the lower shelf, accepting its shortcomings over the strengths of my tent.

Jon’s Bunk
Image by Keith Blumhagen

We were all hungry and it wasn’t long before someone asked Keith what he planned on fixing for dinner.  When he replied that that he wasn’t cooking we all accepted that.  Instead we sat in the shack and ate a dinner of Gorp and mixed nuts which we washed down with lots of bourbon.  When Dave and Larry left for their tents they didn’t know what they would find.  Would their gear be wet or dry?  I assumed the fetal position inside my bag (the only position the short bunk would tolerate) and held on to the edge in hopes that I could keep from sliding downhill.  I may as well have hoped for clear skies.

Hotel Triquet
7/31,  Sunday,  Day 9
Cloudy and cool - Rain, heavy at times.  Calm to breezy

Welcome to the Hotel Triquet.

’relax”, said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!

I awoke to a sound that I couldn’t identify.  The pounding rain on the roof registered but this was something else.  A flapping noise?  Sitting up now the flapping sound was suddenly in my face.  A bat had come in through the window and was surprised to find me there.  Somehow he never touched me but it really took some effort on his part as he squealed and fought to stay airborne in the close quarters.  I shouted some expletive that woke Keith up.  The bat returned the sentiment and flew out the door.  Keith just laughed and said that he had been visited during the night by what he took to be a mouse.  Triquet wildlife, I guess.

It was raining lightly while Keith set up the kitchen and prepared a breakfast of potatoes, onions and garlic.  It beat the hell out of what we had eaten the day before.  We needed fish but there would be no getting out today.  The parawing provided shelter from the showers that continued throughout the day and we passed the morning by sitting beneath it and talking or reading.  As the morning passed to afternoon Dave and Larry both retired to their tents to nap,  Keith and I to our bunks in the shack.

Hotel Triquet

Sometime between naps and “Little Big Man” the rain let up and I stepped outside to explore.  Up the hill from the shack were the remains of a wooden platform.  Had it been the floor of a structure?  I got to thinking that if a dwelling had been here then maybe this would be the site of the infamous “pit toilet”.  I searched the wet forest for an outhouse but found nothing.  This preoccupation with the toilet got me to agonizing about how my remaining supply of toilet paper wasn’t proportional to the days remaining on the trip.  What I was facing was a serious budget deficit.  Maybe the illusive “pit toilet” had a ready supply.  I just had to find it.

With that as my motivation I increased the radius of the search.  The good news was that the strategy paid off and I found it just above the far edge of our beach.  The bad news was that it lived up to Larry’s prediction and had no roof.  What was worse, was that it consisted of a sodden wooden box with a couple of loose pieces of driftwood laid across the top to sit on. The final insult was the number of “no-seeums” that joyously swarmed up out of the pit to greet my arrival.  They exhibited their delight in having a brief window of “flying weather plus fresh meat delivered to their doorstep.  I realized then that this was our KOA from Hell.  This was the “Pseudo-Bogus-to-the-Max” BC Coastal Rec Map’s idea of a “developed campsite” and a “pit toilet”.  This was Hotel Triquet.

I knew what I had to do.  I resolutely walked back to the shack and picked up the Mark Twain paperback that still sat on the window ledge.  Ripping out the 50 or 60 pages that the mice had been chewing on and placing them in the drybag of kindling, I slipped the remainder into my pack of personal gear.  “Roughing It” had just taken on a new meaning and, just like that, the budget was balanced.

During the afternoon two kayakers approached from the north.  It was the couple from the interior that Dave had talked to at Cultus Sound.  They had sailed south and had sought the relative protection of the islands to ride out the storm.  Finding a brief break in the weather they had jumped in their kayaks to circumnavigate Triquet.  They sat at our beach and chatted until the rain started again and then set out to accomplish their goal.

Dinner consisted of the same thing we had for breakfast.  We had plenty of potatoes and onions left.  “Yummmmm”.  We all retired early to the shack as it was the only place that was reasonably dry where we could all sit and talk.  Unlike the night before, our mood was buoyed by nutrition and we enjoyed the evening joking, laughing and listening to the weather report every 20 minutes or so.  Sitting around hoping for a new story but hearing only more of the same.

Happy Hour at the Hotel Triquet

Triquet Island
8/1, Monday,  Day 10
Clearing in the morning then showers heavy at times, clearing again in the evening.  Winds 5 to 15 mph

We awoke to some surprising patches of blue sky.  No time to waste as providing meat was the priority.  We scrambled for our boats and were soon winding our way out through the rock gardens and Bull Kelp into the wild Pacific swell.

Clear in the Morning
Image by Dave Resler

The water was unsettled as though it, too, had been awaiting a respite from the rain and didn’t quite know what to do with itself.  I felt like I had to pay attention but enjoyed the escape, nonetheless.  Keith went out quite a ways and soon landed the largest salmon of the trip.  It was a really nice fish.

Keith Provides
Image by Dave Resler

Dave and I had gone in closer to the rocks when I heard a loud exhalation of breath, saw a plume of spray and an arching back as some large mammal dove beneath the waves about 100 feet away.  I shouted to Dave that I had seen a whale and he yelled to Keith and Larry that there was a whale nearby.  It surfaced again, exhaled and disappeared but this time we saw that it was brown, not black and didn’t have a blowhole.  It did have a really big mouth with large white teeth.  Dave and I both recognized it as a Stellar Sea Lion which range up to 2800 pounds and are quite territorial.  It’s best to avoid them.  We got the heck out of there.

Back at camp Dave cleaned Keith’s fish while Keith got potatoes and onions going.  It was wonderful to have meat again and we had enough left over for lunch and dinner.  After breakfast the nasty weather returned with more wind than before.  Luckily, we were on the lee of a point that offered protection from the wind but not the rain.  We napped, read, relaxed.

By afternoon the rain had slackened but the wind continued.  Dave and I decided to go paddling.  I wanted to see what the area was like over by Edna Islands so we set out into a stiff breeze that spit occasional passing showers.  Entering the Edna Group we spotted a couple of boats at anchor.  One was the tug “Union Jack” sans its fishing boats.  We approached it to say “Hi”.  The skipper’s name was also “Dave” and he greeted us and asked us if we needed water.  We thanked him and told him that we had plenty of water.  “How about food? Do you have enough to eat?”

Again, we thanked him and told him that we had enough for the time being.  Larry and Keith had gone off to gather some clams and I told him as much.  He asked us to wait a minute and disappeared into a hatch in the rear deck.  Appearing from the chest up he asked, “Could you use a couple of halibut steaks?”

Wow!  Those were tough to turn down.  Two large halibut steaks frozen and sealed.  “Yes. Thank you very much!”  What else can you say to an offer like that?

Next he asked, “What else can I get you?”

“Uh, nothing. Thanks, this is too much already.”

“No” he countered, ”You need something to go with that”.

Disappearing again and reemerging this time with two bottles of wine he commanded, “Here.  Take these, too”.

What was I to say?  Dave and I were simply dumbstruck.  We had gone over to say “Hi”  and suddenly we were flush with food and wine.

“You must need something else. What is it?”

Feeling awkward in the face of such generosity yet seeing an opportunity I told him that we had lost our coffee and if they could spare a few grounds we would really be grateful.

With that he dropped below once again and returned with a week’s worth of coffee for us.  What incredible generosity he displayed to a couple of guys they had never met before.  Thanking him profusely we took our leave and paddled off towards the other boat at anchor.  It was 30-ish foot sailboat with two kayaks tied to its stern.  We recognized the kayaks as belonging to the couple who had dropped by camp yesterday.  They saw us coming and came topside to chat.  They said that they had completed their tour of Triquet the previous day but had endured rain, wind and 12 foot seas on the outside.  Pretty exciting stuff.  Lynn and Steve Ama are from the BC Interior where she is an artist. (Fireweed Art Studio ) They were spending a few months aboard the sailboat, “Erika,” with kayaks in tow.  Steve told us of a cabin that they had happened upon near Joassa Channel, which was in the general direction that we were headed.  They described it as clean and dry with a wood stove.  It wasn’t shown on any of our maps so Steve showed Dave exactly where it was on his GPS and he programmed it in for future reference.  With every stitch of clothing we had being damp, someplace dry and warm sounded like a welcome change.

Dave and I were headed back to camp when we got to thinking about playing a trick on Keith and Larry.  They all used a single lure hung below a flasher.  The lure is called a “Hootchie” and it looks like a plastic, colored squid type thing.  A few trips back, Dave had bought a little book about how to find success fishing with a Hootchie.  Now, whoever catches the largest fish gets the “Hootchie Book” as a trophy.  Dave decided that we would make up a story about catching a large halibut while we were out paddling and would tell Keith he had better get ready to give him the Hootchie Book.  It seemed like a more dignified description of how we came by the steaks then telling them that “Jon begged them from the Union Jack”.  It would be good for a laugh.

When we found them they were deep in mud digging clams on a messy flat that was protected by sharp, barnacled rocks.  We carefully picked our way in closer then Dave started in on them.  He maintained that he had “the giant fish in his hatch”.  It had been too large to land so he had paddled to a beach and dragged it up onto the rocks.  They weren’t in a good mood and weren’t buying it but it was fun anyway.  What was really fun was the look on their faces when the steaks were produced along with wine to wash them down.  When we gave Keith the coffee he wasted no time firing up the stove and brewing a pot.  He and I had missed our caffeine.

Larry Grills Halibut
Image by Keith Blumhagen

The evening turned out to be beautifully clear and cool.  Larry did the halibut over a grill on the first fire we had had since we landed on this wet, forsaken beach.  Keith mixed the salmon in with potatoes and onions.  We feasted!

Clear Evening on Triquet
Image by Dave Resler

The weather radio indicated that we could expect clearing and light winds for a couple of days.  That was all the encouragement we needed to vacate this place so we made plans to leave in the morning for our safe haven in Cultus Sound.  It would be a short 9 mile paddle and if the conditions were nice we would go the outside route.

Dave and Larry
Image by Keith Blumhagen

We ate, drank wine and talked around an open fire.  It seemed like such a treat after being cooped up in the shack.  Keith and I stayed up late and watched the stars.

Sometime during the night I heard a rustling sound coming from the floor of the shack.  I grabbed my headlamp and illuminated the smallest mouse I have ever seen.  It looked to be about the size of my thumb.  It was trying to jump up on top of a large open bag of trail mix.  The little guy would leap and make it nearly to the top only to slide back down the side.  I thought these guys could jump but this one hadn’t figured out how to yet.  That trail mix was the one I had brought and it had yogurt covered things in it.  Not my favorite.  I turned off the light and left him to his problem thinking that I had to remember not to eat any more out of that bag.

Triquet to Cultus Sound
8/2,  Tuesday,  Day 11
Clear.  Winds to 10 mph

I awoke to the sound of, of, uh, is that Dave chopping wood?  Keith and Larry have a practiced cadence to their efforts.  It’s neither one of them.  Dave’s chopping isn’t as confident as theirs and mine is terrible.  “Hummm”.  No rhythm to it at all.  Sounds more like me than Dave, but I’m here in the shack, so who the heck is that?

I crawled out of “bed” and went down to the beach. The sun was just peeking over Edna Islands with the promise of a spectacular day.

Triquet Sunrise

The beach was deserted yet there was this chopping sound.  My God, was this island haunted, too?  Rain, rats, bats and disembodied wood choppers?  I have got to get out of here!  And then I saw the source of the sound.  The beach was lined with tall conifers and the one that towered directly over the parawing was shedding its seed cones.  They were falling from that single tall tree and when they struck the parawing they made a loud sound like someone chopping wood.  I couldn’t believe it.  I don’t know if it was the rain or the temperature or the alignment of the planets but something told that tree to let loose of its cones and it was following orders.  I stood there and watched those cones fall for about 30 minutes before anyone else came to the beach.  By that time the beach was littered with cones and the tree was done for the morning.  What a great experience to be there and watch that natural window open and close.

We were all hot to leave Triquet and move north.  We had to be moving back towards Bella Bella as we wanted to make it Shearwater sometime Thursday.  We were all tired of being cooped up on this beach and looked forward to some time in the saddle.  As grim a face as Triquet had shown us over the past few days it put on an awesome display of beauty in our last few hours there.  While Keith prepared breakfast I wandered around and got a sense of why this place was so highly thought of.

 Triquet Tree

Morning Light
Jon Dawkins and Dave Resler

After pancakes, halibut and coffee we cleaned up, broke camp, packed the boats and quietly slipped into the welcoming morning sea.  Passing the sheltering rock gardens on the outskirts of Triquet we sampled the outside.  If it looked good we would stay out there all the way to Cultus Sound, otherwise we could slide back into the protection of Edna Islands and Spider Channel.  If we stayed on the outside it would be a little over 9 miles to our next camp.  If we went inside it would be a little longer but either way it was a short day and we weren’t in a hurry.

What a morning to be on the water.  The temperature was around 60 degrees and the wind was calm.  Just right.  The swell approached 1 ½ meters and we just cruised along off of Typhoon Island at a very relaxed pace.  We had all day to cover a short distance and we wanted to enjoy the experience.

 Larry Outside Typhoon

Approaching the south end of Spider Island the guys decided that they might as well fish.  Yeah!  Their trolling speed would drop us back about a knot.  Get a little more relaxed?  Sure, why not?  Catch some fish now rather than later?  Heck, yes.   They popped their spray skirts, let their Hootchies out about 20 pulls and dropped the speed a bit.

The swell increased to 2 meters as we neared Spider’s western face.  That stretch of shoreline runs straight for about ½ mile then stops abruptly at Breadner Point.  The inter-tidal zone is characteristically steep, much like the entrance to Cultus Sound.  The swells reflect off of those rocks and add texture to the surface of the ocean.  It was along this stretch coastline that Dave first spotted the Orcas.

He alerted us to a single, tall, slightly bent dorsal fin that appeared about 100 yards ahead.  It was moving our way and looked as though it would pass a bit outside of us.  I was stunned.  This was my first encounter with Orcas and I didn’t want to miss anything.  Larry then shouted that there were others closer to shore.  The guys quickly reeled in their lines and we sat and watched as the small pod materialized around us.

We were going north and they were headed south.  “Bent Fin” looked as though he was on a collision course with Keith.  We watched as the big mammal passed 30 feet from his boat.  In towards the sharp, rocky shore two adults accompanied two young ones as they cruised along the surface.

Image by Dave Resler

In all, I could count seven at any one time but none of us really knew for sure how many there were.  We sat and watched as they moved south for 100 yards and then back north to the point.  Back and forth they swam for about 25 minutes with us in the middle.  “Bent Fin” always swam alone on the outside as though riding shotgun with us between him and the shore.

 Larry and “Bent Fin”
Image by Dave Resler

All of the others stayed inside of us.  We never felt any concern for our wellbeing.  In fact, if you want to feel really, really well sometime I would suggest doing whatever you have to do to get in the water with these beautiful animals.  OK, I know that people do stuff like this all the time but it was a first for me and I came away feeling very happy and at peace with the world.

“Bent Fin”
Image by Keith Blumhagen

Eventually the pod continued south and we continued north and the guys went back to fishing.  Rounding Breadner Point we were greeted with a swarm of sport fishing boats all trolling around in a tight circle.  I’m thinking that there were eight or nine boats in a very small area and while Larry and Keith and I continued on Dave slid right into the circle and joined them.  I paused to watch.  All of these fishermen were maneuvering their boats in this small area and there was a clear formation and pattern.  It didn’t seem to matter to them that Dave didn't have an engine.  As long as he could maintain the formation and speed he was welcome.  Everyone just continued to fish and talked across boats.  It was interesting to watch as people were catching salmon left and right and conversations between boats never missed a beat.  There was no conflict at all.  Dave, being the relentlessly friendly social butterfly that he is, fit right in and would probably have been content to stay and fish with all of his new friends if Larry and Keith hadn’t kept heading north.

The thing that stuck me as so odd about the situation was that we had hardly seen another boat since leaving Choked Passage on the 30th.  We saw the Union Jack twice and the Erika once but we had felt pretty isolated and now paddling up this lonely coast we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of this swarm of friendly fishing boats.  Very strange.

Two miles in the distance we could see Superstition Point and standing behind it, the headland that marked the entrance to Cultus Sound.  Before we would reach it, Keith and Dave would each have a salmon in their boat and Larry would catch and release one.  As we drew closer, though, the combination of the swell, tidal current and the shelf extending out from Superstition Point showed why it had earned the warning on the map.  This was a very mellow day with light winds yet waves crested and broke far out from the point.  If the narrow passage behind the point was closed we would either have to pick our way through the boomers or detour far out into deeper water.  The texture increased as we came closer with waves reflecting off of the steep rock walls and we found the passage was wide open.  Rounding the headland we entered Cultus Sound bound for our deluxe beach.

The rains had beaten the beach up.  Lots of water had flowed out of the forest and cut small streambeds into the sand that were now dry.  We each claimed our old tent sites and set about drying our gear.  While the temperature in the shadows was cool it was warm and toasty in the sun.  We set our tents up and moved them to where they would dry more quickly.  Four sleeping bags were hung wherever we could find a sunny spot.  Long underwear, shirts, socks, jackets were laid out to dry.  Our gear was spread from one end of the beach to the other.  Anyone approaching from the water would have thought they had wandered into Appalachia.  I took the Campsuds down to the water for a bath.  My first in 10 days.  Dave and Larry were soon taking brisk soapy swims.  Keith had cleaned up at Hole in the Wall and didn’t feel so inclined.

We were just settling in for an afternoon of relaxation when the “Union Jack” came around the corner and pulled into our little bay.  We were delighted to see them and hoped that it meant they were planning a beach party for their guests.  The boys had been present for a similar event hosted by the “Parry” a couple of years before.  A good time had been had by all.  I jumped in my boat and paddled out to greet them.

Dave was just dropping anchor as I pulled up.

“Hey Jon! You guys camped here tonight?”

“That would be a fact, Dave.”

“Well, I have some good news and some bad news, then.  What do you want first?”

“Give me the bad news first”

“OK. We are staying here, too.”

“That’s not bad news.  That’s very good news”.

“Well, since this is our last night out we have to run the generator.  I’m sorry if we disturb you.”

“No problem.  We’re delighted to see you again. What’s the good news?”

“Well, I’ve got a problem that I’m hoping you can help me with.  We have a hold full of beers from all over the world and none of the guests will drink the Molson Ice. I don’t know what to do about it”.

“Dave, it’s my professional opinion that you need to get it off the boat somehow.  What role can I play in bringing this crisis to a peaceful conclusion?”

“I was hoping that you could dispose of it for me.”

I agreed to help my Canadian brother in that dire time of need as it was a safe assumption that there were Americans on his guest list.  That made this an international problem and neither Dave nor I wanted to see Canadian-American relationships damaged over some skunky tasting, green-bottled Canadian beer.  He dropped below the deck to return with a cold case of 24.  Three were missing.  He handed it down to me and just like that, an international crisis was averted.  When his guests returned to the tug they would find that offensive beer was gone and life would return to normal.

After many thanks, I returned to camp with my prize.  This life as a diplomat was growing on me.  It was tough, but someone had to do it.  While it’s true that Molson Ice isn’t, nor should it be anyone’s first choice when selecting a cold beer it tasted just fine relaxing in the sun there on Cultus Sound.  It also tasted just fine with Keith’s cuisine which was (what else?) salmon.  Seems like maybe we had salmon tacos or salmon burritos or salmon something-or-other. Guaranteed, though, it was another great meal accompanied by potatoes, onion and garlic.

Keith’s Cultus Kitchen

After dinner we decided that, come morning, we would make for the cabin that Lynn and Steve Ama had told us about near Joassa Channel.  If we spent the night there it would make our last day of paddling to Shearwater about 16 miles.  We had wanted to pass north through Gale Passage which is one pass to the west of Joassa and features tidal rapids but it would have added considerably to the length of our last day.  The thought of staying in a clean, dry, warm cabin also had some appeal.

Cultus Sound to Quinoot Point
8/3,  Wednesday,  Day 12
Clear morning becoming overcast in the afternoon.  Winds calm building to 10 mph

I heard the Union Jack weigh anchor around 6:00 AM.  I peeked my head out and saw that the guys were getting their gear together to go fishing.  I wasn’t ready to get up yet, told Dave as much and zipped my tent shut.  I got up an hour later and made coffee.  I filled Keith’s travel mug and set off in my boat to take it to him.

Cultus Morning
Image by Dave Resler

It was a very still morning. There was no wind and no swell. The Pacific was absolutely flat.

Flat Pacific

I have an equilibrium issue in smooth, glassy water like that.  I think that it may be the way flat water reflects light but I get to feeling a bit queasy and have the sensation that I am going to slowly roll over.  Had there been a swell I would have been OK but there was nothing, just a bit of boil from the current.  The Pacific shouldn’t be this laid back.  This wasn’t right.  I saw the guys out by the headland and they were moving my way.  Rather than sit there feeling strange I paddled out to meet them.

They all seemed strangely subdued as if they felt that something was out of kilter but couldn’t figure out what it was.  I asked them why they were coming back in.  They didn’t know.  It just felt kind of weird.  I agreed and we headed back to camp.

Flat Cultus Sound

As Keith made breakfast the rest of us broke camp.  Breakfast complete, (potatoes, onions and salmon) we pushed off and headed outside for the cabin that awaited us near Joassa Channel, 20.6 miles distant.

Our route took us northwest between the McNaughton and Simonds Groups on smooth, smooth water.  Exposed while crossing Lilooet Passage and to the west of the Prince Group we followed Keith into a narrow passageway through the Admiral Group.  The transition from open water to this close, intimate environment was strange.  Our view of the sky was reduced to a 90 degree slice directly overhead.  The restricted and quiet waterway reminded me of the Jungle Ride at Disneyland without the fake animals or waterfall.  So far, this day was kind of playing with my head.  Where I expected a sense of power from the water I got nothing at all.  Where I expected to be bounced around in reflected swell I got that still-water-queasy feeling.  Not another watercraft sighted since the Union Jack weighed anchor.

 Passage Through the Admiral Group
Image by Larry Longrie

Popping out the far side was equally disorienting.  Suddenly there was unlimited sky and lots of open water.  Immediately in front of us was Tide Rip Passage that had to be crossed to the Tribal Group.  We experienced a current of about 3 or 4 knots that wanted to take us out to sea but we crossed the worst of it in about 100 yards.  From that point on we would be paddling against the current and were only halfway to the cabin.

Dave used his GPS to locate the most favorable, or should I say the least unfavorable currents to paddle in.  Along Athabaskan Island there wasn’t much of an advantage in working closer or further from shore but as we entered Brown Narrows and the current increased those little variations started to make a difference.  The sky was lightly overcast now and a breeze had picked up to about 10 mph.  The wind’s interaction with the surface current offered us clues as to where the most favorable route lay.  After a PowerBar / GU break in an eddy behind some small unnamed islet we put our heads down for a tough 5 mile, uphill push into Boddy Narrows.

There wasn’t any conversation on this leg and each of us pretty much made his own specific route against the current.  Dave paddled steadily with his eyes on his GPS.  I knew that he would be maximizing his performance by using his 3 knot benchmark.  Larry and Keith took the lead while I hung back choosing my own way by studying their efforts, comparing my speed to Dave’s and searching the water’s surface for instructions.  The eddy we hoped to catch a free ride on at Kingcote Point wasn’t there.  Bummer!  I was looking forward to conserving some energy.  The eddy behind Gow Island wasn’t as strong as hoped for and didn’t help much either.  The next 1 ½ miles would be the toughest.

Raymond Passage runs north/south from Seaforth Channel down to this point.  At its narrowest, it is twice the width of Boddy Narrows. And offers the waters of the Pacific a thoroughfare during tidal exchanges but the south end of the passage is constricted a bit by several islands.  Those islands create a venturi of sorts and the current accelerates through the widest gap.  Those obstacles stood between us and Boddy Narrows where we hoped for diminishing current.

We had three narrow gaps to cross before we got to the big one.  Eddying up the shore we would gain an advantage and then lose it ferrying across to the lee of the next island.  Three times we did this.  As we came to the big gap the current was obvious.  The breeze against the flow forced the water to rear up into modest standing waves.   Larry and Keith still led the way and as the current took them I could see they were countering heavily with their rudders.  Without a rudder I knew that I would have to take a different approach so I eddied up a bit further then they had and set a sharper ferry angle into the flow.  Still, the water tried hard to turn me around and as I looked over my shoulder I could see Dave crossing over downstream.

We paused only briefly behind Kingsley Point and didn’t really speak much.  We still had distance to cover and we were all looking forward the end of the day and one of Keith’s meals.  The last 2 1/2 miles were traveled on smooth water with little current and calm wind yet it seemed to take a long time.  We had the coordinates for the cabin that was built on an island owned by the Heiltsuk Band.  Would it be occupied when we arrived?  We hoped not as the thought of that cabin had kept us going all day.  If it was in use we looked forward to a campsite noted on the Rat-Bastard BC Coastal Rec Map at nearby Quinoot Point and we all know what great luck we had been having with those.

The GPS led us right to it but without knowing it was there we might have paddled right on past and noticing.  Lynn and Steve had stumbled on the cabin while exploring.  Without their help we wouldn’t have known of its existence.  Tucked around the wooded point was a small cove that was the obvious place to take out.  We walked up the bank to the porch and found nobody home.  Perfect!

 Heiltsuk Cabin

The spot where this cabin was nestled commanded a view north to Joassa Channel and southeast down Boddy Narrows.  Behind the cabin was a shallow channel that led to Cree Point at the southern extremity of Dufferin Island.  The cabin was built by the Heiltsuk Nation for use as a Rediscovery Camp.  When not being used by Heiltsuk youth it is open to anyone who would respect the property.  No problem there, as after staying at the sodden Hotel Triquet we truly appreciated this luxury.  Keith had a “stand-up” kitchen for the first time on this trip.  Every other meal he prepared was done bent over.

 Keith in Heiltsuk Kitchen

What deluxe digs.  The wooden floor was swept clean.  The “kitchen” counter was clear and there were cooking utensils in the event you needed them.  Some canned goods were lined up along a shelf.  There was a wood stove with dry wood and kindling.  Bunk beds for four adults and two kids.  A ladder that led to a loft large enough for another eight people.  A table with benches.  A door that opened and closed plus four windows that did the same.  A guestbook revealed that the last visitors had been through a week prior and they complained about the rough accommodations.  I can’t imagine how they could find fault with this gift from the Heiltsuk People.  For sure, they hadn’t stayed at Hotel Triquet.

The wood stove kept the temperature in the cabin from dropping below 60 degrees ( mid-40’s outside) and it dried out every wet thing we owned.  The mouse that lived under Dave’s bed only came out very late and didn’t wake Dave or me up at all.  Larry and Keith heard it scurrying across the floor of the loft and later watched it clean salmon grease off of the Coleman stove.

Quinoot Point to Shearwater
8/4,  Thursday,  Day 13
Overcast with light rain, heavy at times.  Winds calm building to 10 mph

The day’s plan was to paddle 16 miles to Shearwater.  Getting to town would give us a chance to do laundry, take a shower, sleep in a real bed, have some pizza and a beer.  The ferry didn’t come through until Friday night so we would have at least 24 hours of civilization before heading home.  I think we all had mixed feelings about that.  It was great being out here yet we looked forward to seeing loved ones and not sleeping on a Thermarest.  Add to that the fact that our food stocks were depleted.

For breakfast, Keith used up the last of the pancake mix and a big bunch of something that was supposed to be dried eggs.  It would be charitable to say that they resembled scrambled eggs and just as accurate to say that their taste was reminiscent of gritty wallpaper paste.  Not Keith’s fault.  He did the best he could with what he had and we mostly choked it down without comment.  I’m being critical of that particular dish now for the first time and have to say that I feel a certain twinge of responsibility.  You see, before we ever got off the ferry at Nanaimo Keith had complained to me that REI had been out of his favorite (Wakefield) dried eggs.  I knew the supply and demand story about that particular product and shared it with him.  The realities of the free market didn’t save me from having to eat the yellow substitute that glowered up at me now, though.  No indeed.  In fact, before it passed my lips the idea of scrambled eggs had been so appealing it had stirred up my digestive juices and whipped my taste buds into a frenzy.  I was plum excited at the prospect.  So excited, in fact, that I had piled the big yellow mass on my plate that after one bite perplexed me so.  How was I to get out of eating it all?  I couldn’t put it back.  I didn’t want to complain.

“Hey Dave.  I kinda hogged the eggs.  You want some of mine?”

“No thanks”


“No thanks, Jon”.


“No. I’m cool.  Thanks.”

Well, the pancakes were really good so I ate as many of those as I could and then said that I was too full to finish my eggs.  Keith did a great job of meal planning, providing meat and cooking for us.  If after two weeks the only complaint I had was about some dried egg mix on the last meal of the trip then I call that a job very well done.

We cleaned up the cabin really well and left a complimentary note of appreciation to the Heiltsuk People along with the remaining canned food that we had.  Packing up and leaving that cabin felt like we had been on a family vacation in the mountains and were now loading up the trunk of the car for the drive back home.  The paddle to Shearwater would reinforce that feeling.

Slipping away from the beach at 8:10 AM we entered glassy Joassa Channel.  It was about ½ mile in width yet would narrow to about 35 feet in a 1 ½ miles or so.  The reflection of the sky on the water was so detailed and clear that I started in with my queasy feeling right away.  It wasn’t the eggs, it was the glassy water.  Boats pass though water like that with a completely different sound.  The sound of our paddles entering and exiting the water became almost unbearably loud.  My head started to spin.

Joassa Morning
Image by Dave Resler

Keith in Joassa Channel
Image by Larry Longrie

Dave Reflected
(This photo is upside down)

You could say that my equilibrium was a little messed up paddling through this.  I felt like I was in a fun house with mirrors.  I was paddling through a maze where some passageways dead ended in Dave’s reflection, or Keith’s, or Larry’s or a rock wall.  Which way to pick?  How close is that rock?  How big is it?  It was hard for me to sort out where the water started and where it ended.  What was real and what was reflection.  We were all moved by the beauty of the morning and the reflective nature of the water but I think I was the only one suffering from vertigo.  I felt like I couldn’t rely upon my eyes.  After all the time that I had spent paddling this boat, though, I could rely upon my paddle in the water and the feedback that I got through my seat and knee braces.  “Just keep padding, Jon.  Stay close and keep paddling.  This won’t go on forever.”

Will it?”.

Joassa Totem Pole

About midway through the channel it opened up briefly to a cluster of islets which changed the whole look of things just long enough for us to wind our way between them and then it slammed shut again as we entered Rail Narrows where the width decreased to 35 feet.  Larry and Keith had camped in here once before.  That must have been a very strange night.

Rail Narrows opened out into a decent sized bay that sits back from Seaforth Channel.  Anchored in that bay was the “Parry”.

The Parry
Image by Larry Longrie

Having sent his guests out fishing, the skipper was happy to see Keith, Larry and Dave who he had met two years before in Cultus Sound.

Skipper of the Parry
Image by Dave Resler

We visited for a while and then the Chef came out with a bag of treats for each of us.  We each received a ziplock bag with a fresh cinnamon roll, a muffin and a large cookie.  What a great bunch of folks.  I would love to spend a week as their guest sometime.

Chez Parry
Image by Dave Resler

The Parry and the Union Jack had played such key roles in this trip and in the guy’s adventure two years before that it was hard to leave them astern and paddle out into Seaforth Channel.  Saying “Goodbye” was tough.

Leaving Joassa Channel for Seaforth Channel was like coming to the junction of a deserted and winding mountain road that led from a place of high adventure to the four lane highway that you had to take to get back home.  You still had some miles to go and plenty to see but each paddle stroke would bring you closer to the end of the trip and the water and shoreline increasingly reflected civilization.  Navigation markers, logging scars, the nature of the flotsam, increasing boat traffic, occasional aircraft overhead.  Make no mistake, Seaforth Channel is a beautiful place to paddle but it definitely felt like it was on the way home.

 Seaforth Channel
Image by Dave Resler

Not only did the traffic increase but the nature of that traffic changed, as well.  Further south and on the outside we saw mostly smaller aluminum sport fishing boats zipping from one hot spot to another.  Here was a cruise ship, a container ship, a tug with barges in tow and many large luxury yachts pulling their own deluxe personal fishing boats behind them.  Their fishing boats seemed really big to me and luxurious in their own right.  The yachts moved swiftly with engines that rumbled low and loud and remained in the air long after they had passed from sight.

The ebb was against us but not strongly so.  Each stroke came without enthusiasm and seemed to move the boat forward less than the last.  One of the thick clouds overhead decided that it was time to rain and poured on us for a solid hour.  That rain was not like the Day of the Cadaver Hands, though.  This one seemed appropriate for our mood and provided a change of pace.  It flattened the ripple that had built, beat on our decks and sent watery ball bearings skittering across the surface.  The din was comfortably loud and cancelled out the static of civilization.  I didn’t mind the drenching as I knew that later in the day I would take a hot shower.  On the Day of the Cadaver Hands there had been no promise of warmth or comfort and there had been none.  Tonight, though, I would sleep in a bed.  That made the rain OK.

We decided to take a break at Kynumpt Harbour, a bay that stretches back about ½ mile from the channel and the “Shit-Heel” Coastal Rec Map marks two campsites on its shores where there would probably be places to get out of the boats.  Larry and Keith pulled out at the mouth of the bay while Dave and I continued in.  We each chose a different place to pull out.  My rocky beach at the back of the bay exhibited the passing of many people and was depressing.  I didn’t want to be there.  I didn’t want to be on the way home.  I wanted to head back out.

Joining up at the mouth of the bay we started on the last stretch.  Paddle strokes came with more reluctance and our boats moved sluggishly through the water.  We didn’t speak until we saw the Dryad Point lighthouse.  How many weather reports had we listened to that told of conditions at Dryad Point?

Dryad Point Lighthouse
Image by Dave Resler

Pausing for a joyless group photo a loud power boat passed by spewing a choking trail of exhaust.  Time to get this over with.  We paddled on and rounding the point were surprised with the abruptness of Bella Bella’s appearance.  Just like that.  Not a welcoming sight for me.  It meant that this trip really was almost over.  We were on the freeway now.
Bella Bella in the Distance
Image by Dave Resler

Our destination was about a mile east of Bella Bella at the resort of Shearwater.  Keith, needing a bit more time to get used to the idea led us away from the sight of town and behind some islands where we got to avoid our inevitable re-entry into the hustle and bustle of the real world for just a little bit longer.

When we could avoid it no longer, we passed around Meadow Island and started across the bay for town.  The noise of the boat engines seemed really loud.  A seaplane made its final approach behind us getting louder and louDER and LOUDER.  We never looked back.  “Just kill me now”!  Touching down close behind us he taxied past towards the fuel docks.  The shuttle boat left the dock for Bella Bella and hurried past going the other way.  Coming close on our left they blew their horn and waved at us.  Their wake rocked us and seemed like the final slap.  “Welcome to Shearwater, Fool”!


We passed by the end of the visitor’s dock with it’s large, shiny yachts each tied to its own spot and rounded the weather-beaten pier where the working class moored their working class boats, tied together there eight a beam.  Six local grade school kids in a discolored skiff, three wielding oars and each paddling with a different intent noted our arrival and summoned up enough cooperation to follow us in.  Sunburned faces appeared in windows of the well-worn, rusty and dented boats and silently witnessed the last fifty yards of our trip.

The steep concrete boat ramp towered above me as I watched Larry, Keith and Dave each drive their bows gently up onto the slope, step out and help each other carry their craft up out of the way.

“Maybe I’ll just sit here a bit”, I thought.  I considered all the beaches that I had slid up on in past two weeks.  I relived the feeling and sounds of that first slick boulder strewn put-in below the ferry dock, the crunching, muddy clamshells at low tide on Shell Beach, the welcoming soft sand of Cultus Sound, the louder gritty nature of the crushed barnacle sand at Hole in the Wall, the fine white grains of Wolf Beach, the annoying grating of the wet, dark rocks of Triquet and the slippery angular fist sized stones belonging to the Heiltsuk Chief.  In the end it was going to come down to grinding ashore on a concrete boat ramp in the middle of a schizophrenic settlement that didn’t know if it was a ritzy resort or an economically depressed fishing village.  What was real here besides the ramp?  The Visitor’s dock with its sleek luxury liners or the blue-collared flotilla beside me?  Was it the visitor off of the yacht from La Jolla walking his boutique dog in his $90 blue jeans and $75 sweatshirt or the shirtless Heiltsuk man nailing boards to the new soffit on the mercantile?  Was it the manicured green grass overlooking the dock or the pot-holed track that led to the ferry dock?

What I did know to be real was:

Dave’s relentlessly friendly manner that relegated all people to one of two categories.  Friends of his or people he hadn’t yet met.

Keith’s toughness and stoicism resulting from years of climbing, bike racing and figure eight auto racing.  Going into the wall real hard in a race car probably made sleeping in wet clothes seem like a walk in the park.  Never a complaint out of him and he cooked just fine.

Larry’s good-natured barbs that he dished out to Dave but could also take with dignity.  His ability to start a fire from nothing (Triquet excluded) and willingness to pitch in and help wherever he might be useful.  Don’t forget that extra gear of his that he uses to find a pace beyond mere mortal paddlers.

And of course, those dreadful eggs this morning.  They may have been freeze dried but they were definitely real once they hit my mouth.

Floating there with my bow about a foot away from the shore and pondering what was real and what was not I heard Dave say “Welcome to Shearwater, Jon”.  I looked up and he smiled as he grabbed the toggle on my bow.  Lifting it up a bit he pulled my boat forward until it was mostly clear of the water then set me down gently on the ramp.

Route chart
We had that pizza and beer.

Keith Smiling Over Pizza
Image by Dave Resler

We did laundry, took showers and slept in beds.  We spent a day in Shearwater waiting for the ferry.  We took the shuttle to Bella Bella for an enlightening visit to the Heiltsuk Cultural Center and a sobering walk through town.  We spent a night sleeping on the “Queen of Chilliwack” and another day traveling.

Aboard the Bella Bella Shuttle
Image by Dave Resler

We got back to our homes and loved ones on the evening of Saturday the 6th, two days after arriving in Shearwater, but in my mind the trip was over at the moment that Dave helped me ashore.  All the rest was just “on the way home”.

Shearwater Harbor
Image by Dave Resler