Image by Dave Resler
McLoughlin Bay to Quinoot Point
July 27 / Day 1
Overcast with showers, Winds calm raising to SW @ 12 knots, Calm to 1’ wind waves, Seas rippled
Launching from the rocky beach adjacent to the ferry dock took me back 10 years to my last visit to McLoughlin Bay and first trip to the BC coast. Dave and I had been drawn together during the ‘70’s by our love of hang gliding. I had sold him his first glider and we had shared many thermals, windy launches and LZ’s but Dave’s move to Idaho had separated us geographically and we hadn’t stayed in touch. Then in 2004 Dave contacted me. He was back in town and it turned out that we shared an interest in paddling. He had taken a couple of kayak trips with Larry Longrie and Keith Blumhagen and wanted to share the experience with me. He had brought me to this very beach in July 2005 and introduced me to the magic of the Wild Coast.
By 2007 we had convinced my co-worker, Greg Polkinghorn, that he should come along with us, which he did, and he was returning now for his 4th trip. This was my 7th and Dave’s 9th.
Inspired by Washington paddler Chuck Curry’s accomplishment of paddling the outer coast to Sitka, we set the modest goal of paddling the outer BC coastline between Prince Rupert and Victoria. We would do it in bits and pieces. Emboldened by the “Outer Coast Guides” published by Glenn Lewis with the help of Harriet Rueggeberg, Reale Emonds, Karina Younk, Geoff Mumford and Ursula Vaira we felt the time was right for us to take a sizable bite out of the elephant and paddle the outer coast of Athlone, Price, Aristazabal, Estevan Group, Banks, Porcher and Stephens Island. I liked the fact that we were starting this trip where my BC coastal explorations had originally begun.
We shared the beach with two Canadians who were bound for Port Hardy in a double. Their plans called for spending the night, close to Shearwater, on Rainbow Island so that they could start their trip after an evening of pizza and beer. I suspect that their double, like a good horse, knew its way back to the barn and could deliver the cowboys safely to their camp. Sounded like a decent idea to me but we were off to the Heiltsuk cabin on Quinoot Point for the first leg of our journey.
McLoughlin Bay to Quinoot Point Chart
Temperature was a comfy 60-ish degrees combined with a nice SW breeze and a waning ebb pulled us past Bella Bella into Seaforth Channel. There the current switched to flood and progress slowed to a semi-slog. Then the rain began but it didn’t dampen our spirits and soon enough we entered Joassa Channel for the final push to Quinoot Point.
Approaching Bella Bella
We were passed by a few large pleasure boats in Rait Narrows and found many more at anchor in the inlet that punches east into Horsfall Island. The breeze continued to build and the final 2 NM to the cabin was directly into a 12 knot breeze. Those miles didn’t exactly fly by. Greg had separated from us to fish a bit but was uninspired and losing ground in the breeze. He caught up and joined us shortly before we pulled into the protected cove at the point.
Rain in Seaforth Channel
These First Nations cabins are wonderful coastal sanctuaries but are so often in disappointing condition. Owing to the nature of the garbage that is often left by previous visitors it is clear that it isn’t kayakers who aren’t cleaning up after themselves. The vegetation surrounding the cabin was badly overgrown and the steps leading up to the door in poor shape. Inside were the remnants of a religious retreat held for local youth complete with a Spiderman blanket, small socks and the remains of at least three New Testaments that had had been ripped up and tossed about. The “kitchen counter” was piled high with three damaged two-burner camp stoves, broken radios, a CD player and collection of discs by some singer I had never heard of. Greg took one look around, pronounced a state of emergency and announced that in spite of the rain he was going to spend the night in his tent. Dave and I looked around for signs that Joey’s spawn (remember Joey?) still owned the cabin but found nothing. We figured that he/she would show up during the night to kick ass and take names.
During the night it rained and blew hard. Joey never showed. It seems that even he had given up on the cabin or, his penance served, moved on to enjoy life in a form more to his suiting than that of a rodent.
Joey Walks-with-White-feet 2007
Quinoot Point to Cape Mark (CM1)
July 28 / Day 2
Rain, SW at 15 knots / Swell 1 meter, wind waves to 3 feet, Seas moderate
It rained hard off and on all night and I wondered how Greg was faring but he showed up at the appointed hour claiming that he had stayed warm and dry in his new tent. After our customary breakfast of instant oatmeal and Starbucks Via we cleaned up the cabin as best we could, carried our boats down to the guesstimated tide height of departure and set about loading them up. This early in the trip we hadn’t eaten through much food so fitting it all in still required discipline. It usually takes about a week before undisciplined boat packing is successful. Packing your boat in the rain, at any point in a trip, is such a treat.
Quinoot’s “Back Door” opens just a crack though islets and inter-tidal zones to allow entry into the NE fork of Thompson Bay. Thompson separates Princess Alice and Athlone Islands from Potts and Stryker. The north end of the bay forks at Cree Point which is the southernmost tip of Dufferin Island. The south end of the bay opens at 183 degrees and if you paddled at that heading your first landfall would be French Polynesia. Needless to say southerlies aren’t what you hope for but if the back door isn’t open you have to paddle all the way around Potts Island, requiring an additional 4 NM of cross-condition paddling. This was my 5th trip through Thompson Bay and I had learned that it is never a “gimmee”.
Quinoot Point to Cape Mark Chart
“I’ll take the Back Door, please.”
We hadn’t gone 200 meters before gel-coat-eating-barnacle-covered-rocks postponed our exit. Turned out that the tide was too low and the door wasn’t yet open. Dave and I sat patiently in our boats waiting for the rising tide to fill the passage while Greg, beating his plastic Tempest like a Government Mule, got out and drug it across the barrier. It sounded like a road grader on concrete but he was free on the other side and back in his boat waiting for us. Dave and I waited another 10 minutes before stepping into the shallow water and genteelly floating our boats to the other side. Dave and I are not savages. Greg? Clearly, “the man ain’t got no culture”.
Crossing the western fork of Thompson Bay to the protection of Waskesui Passage was raggedy but fun and gave us a taste of what was to come. We put our heads down and ran for a little over an hour across the SW end of Athlone Island in the open and beam seas to the protection of the north-south channel that separates Wurtele Island.
Our intended campsite was AT2 in Yaaklele Lagoon. It was the same distance downwind as the Cape Mark site was upwind but Cape Mark promised tent sites above the spring tide which counts for a lot on the coast so we clawed our way upwind to Cape Mark. Entering the cove from the north put us on the wrong side of a sand bar so Greg did his uncultured-plastic-boat-thing and drug the mule over the shallows while Dave and I paddled around to the south entry and beached just below camp.
Greg expressed a desire to go fishing. The west coast of Athlone was an area that had been posting glowing catch reports and he was dying to fish it. He requested permission to wet his line. I couldn’t imagine trying to do anything other than paddle and attempt to stay upright in those conditions so Dave agreed to go along and watch his back. I stayed at camp and monitored them on VHF.
Pounding Rain at Cape Mark
Image by Dave Resler
The rain was pounding loudly on the MSR Parawing making it sound like I was surrounded by four microwave ovens full of popping corn. Dave and Greg were having trouble responding to my queries which I, correctly, took as meaning that they were too busy to talk. I hoped I didn’t have to go look for them. Eventually Dave reported back that it was too rough to fish (duh!) and they were heading back in. When they returned to camp Dave described difficult paddling conditions exiting the south channel and more difficult conditions coming back in. Not a good day to fish from a kayak.
Rainy (popcorn) night at Cape Mark
Cape Mark (CM1) to Price Island (P1)
July 29 / Day 3
Overcast and fog then clearing / Light winds / Swell 1 meter with wind waves to 1 foot, Seas rippled
I awoke at 4:30 AM to find Greg out walking the beach. He announced that we weren’t going anywhere for a while as there was no water in sight. No kidding! I had heard that this wasn’t a low-tide kind of site but wasn’t expecting to look out and see the surface of the Moon. The tide was going to drop for another 2 hours to .7 meters and all we could see was rock and gravel. No point in waking up Dave so we made coffee and waited.
We started the boat-loading routine around 6:00 AM. The retreating water was well over 100 meters away and each of us had over 100 pounds plus boats to carry requiring 3 – 4 trips each. I took comfort knowing that we had planned the trip to utilize the morning floods to push us on our way and this discomfort was a necessary evil.
Cape Mark to P3 Chart
We launched at 8:00 AM and set off, in fog, across Milbanke Sound on a heading of 310 degrees towards Day Passage at the southern tip of Price Island. I was rewarded the task of leading since I am able to paddle while keeping my eyes glued to a deck compass without puking. God help me if I get bored and want to look around. I get dizzy and might fall over. I only had to fly under the hood for about an hour before the fog started lifting and Aristazabal came into view. We had another 2 hours to go before we could close out our first major crossing but I could look around and enjoy the view without hurling.
Foggy Crossing Milbanke Sound
Greg streaked ahead to fish the edge of a shelf that runs along the eastern shore of the island and met us, sans fish, at the entrance to Day Passage. We split up again near the site marked as P3 in Glenn's Guide. I wanted to take a serious look at it. Dave and Greg paddled ahead to our rendezvous point on the west shore of the island.
P3 is a campsite that needs to exist. Being at the southern tip of Price (N52 17.128 W128 41.141) it has strategic value for any paddlers crossing Milbanke Sound. Unfortunately, it has some challenges now. While there is a nice clearing that would accommodate upland tent sites comings and goings are best made at tide levels exceeding 4 meters. I would guess 4.5 meters would be OK. Lower tides bring a paddler to a boulder-choked beach that might not be acceptable for a casual paddler. I would have to want it really badly to land and leave from that site. Maybe some serious work creating canoe runs at low tides would make this site go. Call me casual.
I met up with Dave and Greg at the west end of Day Passage. It opens to a gorgeous coastline sheltered by rocks and islets. Very pretty. Nice paddling. We knew that Glenn Lewis was out here on a solo mission with the intention of establishing P3 and improving other Price Island campsites so I made several attempts to contact him on the VHF. I had no luck and was really surprised when he casually showed up in the middle of our snack break. It’s a big and convoluted coastline and solo paddlers are easy to miss yet there he was.
He reported that he had spent a very rainy night at P1 (N52 23.206 W128 45.265). I gave him my report on P3 and he said that he needed to go see it for himself and that maybe he would paddle back to P1 and join us for the night. We headed north while Glenn paddled off to the south.
Price Island Chart
We decided to have lunch at P2 (N52 19.192 W128 43.503) which is described as a “protected cove” in Glenn's Guide. I led us in through a conglomeration of boomers, reefs and floating logs to the adjacent, but wrong, cove. It was an exciting ride with a landing on a somewhat steep boulder “beach”. Not realizing that I had missed the cove by ~100 meters I figured that if it was good enough to be called a protected cove and campsite by the Outer Coast Crew it was good enough for us to have lunch at. It didn’t occur to me that the cove didn’t match the benign description in Glenn's Guide and figured that I just needed to toughen up if I was going to hang with the Nanaimo Crew. I had paddled a bit with them and they didn’t strike me as folks who were bent on seeking the sort of rush that I experienced picking my way in. Honestly, I would have paddled less aggressively and chosen a much more conservative line if I had known that I was going into a different place.
After lunch we traveled another 5 NM up-island to P1, a lovely protected sand beach choked with drift wood that we came to name “Careless Cove”. Examining the high tide line it was clear that there wasn’t going to be room to camp below the logs so we looked for a clearing in the forest above. No luck at all as the upland was disappointingly thick. Where the hell had Glenn camped? We pulled our boats up onto some logs above the anticipated evening high tide and I tied them securely to a log 20 feet closer to the forest.
P1 aka Careless Cove
We found Glenn’s campsite a bit to the south of the beach up under a couple of Alders. He had cleared some of the lower limbs to allow access and leveled a nice tent site. He had also done some serious drainage work that had been prompted by the heavy rains the day before. Greg was inspired by those efforts and cleared a space under another Alder that accepted his single person tent. He created channels to divert the water coming out of the forest and lined them with rocks. Some impressive engineering on par with the Roman aqueducts……….sort of…….I was impressed, anyway.
We had a warm, sunny afternoon to work with and spread our gear all over the beach to dry. Dinner was a treat prepared by Chez Dave. Full belly and dry gear is so nice.
Careless Cove Sunset
It was a quiet windless evening with a wonderful sunset.
Price Island (P1) to Weeteeam Bay (A6)
July 30 / Day 4
Clear, Light winds to NW @ 10 knots / Swell 1 meter with 1 foot wind waves, Seas rippled
Price Island to Aristazabal Island Chart
We faced another 9 NM crossing to the south tip of Aristazabal and intended to launch at ~7:00 AM (low slack). We were up at 5:00 AM, had breakfast and started carrying our gear 75 meters over the rocks from our campsite to the adjacent cove where we had secured our boats. Dropping the first load I looked 100 meters up the beach and saw that our boats were no longer on top of the logs. They were still there but Dave’s Grand Illusion was against the logs pointing north, Greg’s Tempest was against the logs pointing south and my Tempest was between them, sideways with the stern up on a large rock! It was obvious that we had miscalculated the evening's high tide.
I went to investigate and realized that I had neglected to put my cockpit cover on. The cockpit was full of water and wet sand. I was relieved to find my paddle halves and chart case still in the cockpit and poking through the wet concrete. My helmet was packed with wet sand and weighed as much as a bowling ball. I hoped that my hull wasn’t cracked. Greg’s boat was full of water and sand (no cockpit cover) and tipped on its side. His chart case was hanging from the deck lines like a water balloon full of tan confetti. He had most of Dave’s charts and they had spent some time in the washing machine……as did Greg’s GPS……... Dave’s boat was fine with the cockpit cover in place. Nothing missing. Cockpit clean.
I had tied the boats together and secured them to another log with my tow rope. My knot had done its job but how did we miss this? Together we had examined the previous night’s high tide line and thought we had taken the increase of 1/10 meter well into account. We had pulled the boats up onto the logs with the sterns on a log that was at least 1/3 buried in sand and above where we thought the water could possibly reach. Even if it did touch that log it couldn’t float it……….Yet it had. The tide had somehow moved it out of the way, pulled our boats off of the other logs above the tide line and sent them on a yahoo-ride. This was with totally calm seas on a protected beach. Pretty sobering.
Dave had lost seven charts costing $140 USD. We gently emptied the water out of the case, pressed the confetti flat and strapped it back to the deck intent on salvaging some of the larger pieces. Greg’s GPS would no longer acquire satellites so it was toast. The good news was that I had brought my back-up GPS which worked fine but would no longer download data to Map Source or Home Port. I gave it to Greg. My hull was fine and all my gear intact but cleaning the wet sand out of the cockpit, helmet, etc. took a while and continues to this day.
Eventually we were ready to launch and it was then that Greg realized that his graphite Werner was MIA. He had propped it between some logs near the bows of our boats and hung laundry on it to dry. It was gone. We spent about 45 minutes combing Careless Cove for that paddle before giving up, tucking our tails between our legs and accepting that the $800+ lesson we had just experienced was a cheap slap in the face that we had well deserved. While Greg’s spare paddle could best be described as a heavy, blunt instrument Dave’s Ikelos filled in nicely.
We set off across Laredo Sound for Kayak Bills Camp (A8) near the south end of Aristazabal Island. Bill referred to this as Camp I on his charts. It was another 9 NM crossing, but this time, without fog. Just a 3 hour walk in the park. Approaching Aristazabal Greg asked if he could separate from us and fish, staying in touch by VHF. We agreed and Dave and I set out for the A8 coordinates provided by Glenn's Guide.
Kayak Bill's Beach Camp I
We poked around on a beautiful section of seldom-seen coastline before landing at Bill’s Beach and found it choked with large drift logs. The signature windscreen was easy to spot above the head high vegetation that filled the forest floor and I had to bushwhack back to the camp. I found a partially collapsed windscreen and all of the classic elements that characterized Bill’s camps. This camp had benefited from a wooden center ridge tarp support instead of the usual rope.
Camp I Windscreen
Greg met us as we were coming out and we continued together through a cluster of rocks and islets that mark the south end of the island. What a wonderful place with a very wild look and feel. Gorgeous rocks and brilliant blue water. Like the south end of Price, this place begs to be explored.
Kayak Bill's Chart of Aristazabal
The coordinates in the Glenn's Guide made locating Bill’s Camp III (A6) an easy task. The camp is just above the edge of the beach and the windscreen was visible from the water. There was adequate clearance for us to set up our tents on the sand with the 4.8 meter high tide.
Kayak Bill's Beach Camp III
Camp III is marked with a buoy and is fairly well preserved. All of the classic elements are on display. I found it most remarkable that his wood supply was perfectly dry after all of these years. I don’t believe that he had been to the camp in the two years prior to his death in 2003. That meant that his perfectly split and precisely cut firewood had been sitting there for at least 12 years.
Kayak Bill's Firewood Stash
After dinner we gathered wood from the beach and built a fire. As a tribute, of sorts, I took a single stick from Bill’s supply and we split it three ways. Each of us placed our piece onto the fire with a “Thanks” to Billy Davidson:
Dave: “Thanks for getting us out here”
Greg: “Thanks for the adventure”
Me: “Thanks for the inspiration"
Each piece burst into flames and burnt with a strong cedar scent.
Weeteeam Bay (A6) to Islet 145 (A4)
July 31 / Day 5
Overcast with light rain , NW @ 10 knots, Swell 1 meter with 1 foot chop, Seas rippled
Due to the short route we had planned for this day we chose to sleep late, ate a very leisurely breakfast and spent a relaxing hour or so filtering water. Bill had a water hole above the east end of the beach that he had spanned with a wooden plank. The plank is no longer trustworthy and the water hole has silted up to the point that we couldn’t skim anything worthwhile out of it but it seeped out onto the beach where we dug a hole in the sand for it to collect and skim.
We loaded up our Dromedary Bags and launched at 10:30, midway into the flood cycle.
Filtering Brown Water
It rained off and on but never hard and the short trip from Weeteeam Bay to Clifford Bay was uneventful but we would have never looked for a campsite (A4) on the north end of Islet 145 if it hadn’t been noted in the Glenn's Guide. We arrived about 45 minutes before high slack of 4.8 meters and there wasn’t much evidence that a beach existed. We sat in our boats and looked around the cove for something that we felt we must be missing but seeing no other options we landed.
Aristazabal South Chart
The forest came right down to a narrow flat grassy ledge that offered space for two tents. Behind that ledge the forest opened nicely to a soft mossy space surrounded by very large CMT’s. An animal trail pressed into the moss led across the clearing from a tunnel under one fallen giant to a cozy den under another. I set my tent up in the clearing and wondered if I would be visited during the night.
Grassy Ledge Camp A4
Greg went fishing south of Benney Islets. Surprisingly, he came back empty handed.
A4 is a very nice campsite.
Islet 145 (A4) to Rennison Island (R1)
August 1 / Day 6
Overcast then clearing in the afternoon, NW @ 12-14 knots, Swell 1 meter with 2 foot chop, Seas rippled
We planned a 21+NM day and wanted to have as much current in our favor as possible so we launched at 7:46 AM. That was about an hour before low slack. The drawback to A4 is that the little bay that fronts it is quite shallow for some distance so when we packed up our wet gear and started carrying it to the water’s edge it was close to a 100 meter slog. By the time we actually launched the water had retreated another 100 mucky meters.
Aristazabal South Chart
Once into open water we picked up some current and traveled for about an hour at near to 4 knots without trying. Our lunch stop came early at Kettle Inlet (A1) and after 40 minutes we were back on the water. Our plan was to paddle direct across Beauchemin Channel from Wriglesworth Island to the large island in the Anderson Group and make a decision there whether to stay or push on to Rennison. If the weather called for rain we would stay at Anderson’s shelter. Wherever we stayed we would start our crossing to Dewdney Island in the Estevan Group from Rennison so R1 was the better choice. No rain in the forecast so we set our sights on Rennison.
Dave off Aristazabal
The fog set in while crossing Beauchemin Channel and Anderson was lost from view so we went back under the hood on a 310 degree course. We passed through a few enjoyable sections of the channel where current was running and producing loud standing waves. Once the fog cleared we rafted up for a fuel break and while sitting there doing nothing I noticed that my GPS indicated that we were drifting at 2.8 knots in the desired direction.
The day turned into a cloudless 55 degree sparkler with a favorable push and we achieved up to 5.8 knots without working at it. Rather than race with it we adopted a very relaxed cadence and took the ride. A Humpback surfaced off to our left and kept us company for a while. The NW wind carried his breath and stunk the place up.
About ½ NM north of Tuzo Islets we crossed a line of floating debris and hit a wall. We didn’t realize it, though, as nobody had their GPS on. The wind picked up which added texture to the water and made it feel like we were still flying. Greg was far out ahead as usual while Dave and I paddled together with the mistaken idea that we were mainlining the secret truth of the universe. Sky Bros, once again.
Aristazabal North Chart
At some point it occurred to me that I had been looking at the same rocky point for too long so I turned on my GPS. While it was booting up Dave said that we were “just screaming along”. Once it booted up and told the truth that we were nearly standing still I broke the news to Dave that we were below 1 knot. I headed towards shore seeking shallow water, increased friction for the opposing current and less resistance. Dave stayed out in the channel with Greg and slogged on. The NW wind and current wasn’t allowing for much progress towards shore but little by little I gained bits and pieces until I was close enough to shore that the island blocked some of the wind and the shallower water reduced the current. The ability to make 2 knots was a major victory and once back to 3 knots I watched Dave and Greg drop behind out in the main channel.
2.5 NM after hitting that wall I pulled into a shallow protected cove to wait for Dave and Greg. The cove was covered with black rocks that heated the cold water to a very comfortable bath-like temperature. I laid in the warm water until Dave arrived. We figured that the flood flowing north up Laredo Channel must wrap around Aristazabal and collide with the flood entering Beauchemin Channel from the south. Whatever, it was a grunt.
We stopped at a cove about ½ NM shy of our intended campsite (R1) to check out a stream. It’s a good one and surprisingly strong for one located on an island the size of Rennison. Additionally, the uplands are open enough that it wouldn’t take a lot of clearing to create tent sites. It could be a very nice place to camp.
Greg & Jon in Caamano Sound
Image by Dave Resler
We continued on to R1 and judged that the evening’s high tide of 5.4 meters might not allow room for beach camping. Retreating back to the beach just east of R1 we found room for a couple of tents in the uplands on the point that separates the two beaches and quickly cleared enough Salal to accommodate a few more.
A small cabin cruiser was anchored just off our beach and the pilot came ashore with his dog to offer us some salmon. Seems that he had been catching way more than he could eat or keep. We were appreciative but too beat from paddling and clearing tent sites to cook a real meal so we thanked him and turned him down. This clearly upset his dog who went off on us. Jeez! Sorry! I think that dog was a little high strung to begin with. We boiled water, poured it into a bag, waited 8 minutes, stirred it, ate it and crashed.
Rennison Tent Site
While the rocky access to the uplands is a little ragged the spaces we cleared offer very nice camping and a good night’s sleep surrounded by CMT’s.
Rennison to Oswald Bay
August 2 / Day 7
Overcast turning to rain / Winds light NW, Seas calm
Our day started with another 9NM crossing. This time it was Caamano Sound from Rennison to Dewdney. The morning was definitely right for us as winds were calm and seas flat. The guy who had offered us Salmon the night before was off shore fishing and Greg approached and asked him how the fishing was. He responded that it was “stupid good”. Greg gnashed his teeth hearing that and would have put off the crossing for the opportunity to wet his line. The fisherman’s dog smiled knowingly and growled.
Rennison to Dewdney Chart
The crossing to Dewdney took just over three hours. We rafted up and refueled for the final push to Oswald Bay.
Another three hours found us off the rocky shoreline south of Le Jeume Point where Greg wanted to fish. I was eager to reach the campsite in Oswald Bay and get out of the boat. Dave stuck with Greg for a while and I continued on. Greg provided.
Image by Dave Resler
It took me another hour to find the campsite that was only 2.5 NM away. Oswald Bay confused me and in spite of using my GPS I took some wrong turns and ended up on the wrong side of shallows that required reversing my track. The beach is a decent cobble / gravel mix with open areas for tents in the uplands.
Dave radioed me asking for directions and, he too, took some wrong turns. Once he landed he told of a very large Ling Cod that Greg had landed. We were going to eat well.
Radio reception with Greg was poor and we finally made out that he was coming in. He had a GPS so the campsite should be easy to find. Turned out he paddled right past the beach without seeing us, got confused, turned around and started blowing his whistle. We signaled back and he eventually found his way in. While we made it an adventure to find this campsite it is really straight forward. Just some group-hysteria I guess. The bay does dry extensively at low tide and that creates some pitfalls. Very good upland camping, though.
Oswald Bay Tent Site
It rained off and on. Dinner was great.
Oswald Bay to Wolf Meadow
August 3 / Day 8
Rain, W to 15 knots, Swells 1 meter with 3 foot chop, Seas moderate
When planning this trip we had viewed the 2 NM crossing of Otter Passage from Trutch to the south end of Banks as a crux move. Nautical charts indicate max currents run at up to 6 knots through the Block Islands with a slack lasting only 11 minutes. The passage is littered with rocks, islets and shallows with contrasting depths of up to 400 feet. It has all the makings for complex, technical water and Google Earth shows some wave patterns that support that train of thought. We definitely wanted to avoid a strong ebb against a west wind and with our low slack occurring at 10:11 AM we wanted to use our slack window wisely. The wind usually doesn’t start building before 11:00 AM but still it was a crossing we were normally more comfortable doing earlier than 10:00 AM.
Our campsite in Oswald Bay was 8 NM south of the passage which meant that we had about 2.5 hours of paddling to do before starting the crossing. Dave suggested that we make a longer crossing west of the congestion of the passage and take advantage of deeper water. That would mean breaking away from Trutch earlier but would make the timing less crucial.
Estevan to Banks Chart
Shortly after 6:00 AM we left the beach and headed NW up the island. We never got much above 2.5 knots as we were paddling against the ebb current and as we neared the end of Nichol Island and the opening of Langley Passage our speed dropped even more as the contrary current increased. The outflow from Langley Passage pushed us a bit further offshore and the surface texture showed the results of swell bent and reflected by current.
At 9:00 AM and a little over 1 NM south of our originally planned crossing point we struck off across 5.7 NM of open water for a large rock face on Banks Island midway between Calamity Bay and Terror Point. For 20 minutes the Otter Passage ebb pushed us strongly off course to the west but released us after 1 NM. For the next 1.5 hours we encountered occasional mild rips marking conflicting currents but little else. During the crossing the west wind had begun to build to 15 knots contesting our progress. Rain picked up and battered our faces and eyes. A shelf that runs for over 1 NM off the south end of Banks reduces the depth to less than 100 feet and creates some dynamics that made achieving Banks a little more work than expected. Swell and wind waves jacked, bent, crossed and reflected combined with unexpected current to make for an enormous playground but offered no easy opportunity for progress. Making it past the rock face we had been looking at for the last 3 hours took some time.
We ground along between <1 knot to <2 knots for over an hour, at times paddling hard but making no headway at all. We were 7 hours into the day’s objective and just a little short of going backwards. We were getting banged around, rain was increasing and conditions were deteriorating. We had a ways to go.
Grinding along at 2 knots we turned the corner near Terror Point and our speed picked up a bit. So did the texture of the sea as swell and wind waves reflected off the steep face of the point and reached well overhead. Lots of fun but we were tired and ready to rest. Rounding the point we pulled hard for the north entrance of the shallow channel between Banks Island and the two islands that create Terror Point.
The shell beach that provides camping in that channel was easily located and we landed to take a break. It’s a nice beach but lacks shelter from any sort of wind real wind. It is backed by a rocky bluff that limits access to the uplands. Looks nice but really didn't seem so friendly. Greg climbed the bluff and disappeared into the thick forest for 15 minutes. He finds a way to bushwhack through the most difficult conditions but upon his return said that there was no way to clear tent sites or haul our boats up the bluff.
I saw a spot across the channel that looked promising and Greg struck off in his boat to explore a small cove to the south. I found that the gravel beach was topped with large black boulders that would limit comings and goings at tide levels above 4.8 meters, however, there was room above the beach beneath large trees that would allow two small tents. The site could be improved and definitely offers shelter from the elements that the shell beach does not. Greg found the forest behind the cove to the south small-ish and in need of improvements in order to accommodate any upland camping at all. Maybe better than the shell beach for high tides or weather.
We all wanted to end our day but Terror Point didn’t look like the answer we wanted to hear so we continued on in the rain for another 5.3 NM before turning north and entering the inlet where were expected to find the “Grief Point” campsite described in the Glenn's Guide.
While it’s a relief to be able to relax in the sheltered water of an inlet I find that it is also a bit of a let-down. Active paddling switches to relaxed paddling and the water feels sticky and slow. I see and feel the rain that was overshadowed by the demands of technical paddling only moments before. Hard-worked muscles start to cool and cramp up. Fun VS Un-fun. Time to find a campsite.
My GPS started acting up just before the batteries died and I interpreted its last gasp incorrectly and led us into the wrong cove. Dave looked around, knew that it wasn’t right and continued on. Greg and I landed and quickly realized that there would be no camping at this site with the next high tide.
Meanwhile, Dave had continued on in search of something better and eventually radioed that he had found a place that looked reasonable. We followed his instructions further up the narrowing inlet that ended with a strong stream flowing from a tidal lagoon. A wide canoe run sloped up from the water to a forest-backed grassy meadow.
Canoe Run Wolf Meadow
A small stream flowed out of the meadow and at its mouth was a stone fish trap. We were clearly in the right place.
Fish Trap Wolf Meadow
Access to the uplands was visible beneath heavy tree limbs and we found ample space with minimal improvements needed to accommodate our tents. The remains of some sort of structure poked out from the overgrown forest floor. We pulled our boats up into the edge of the forest and tied them securely above the inter-tidal grasses.
Investigating the meadow we found that it extended about 60 meters back from the shore and was about 30 meters wide. The tall grass was beaten down except for sections along the edge where some of it still stood. There were deposits of wolf poop every square meter over the entire meadow. Here and there small game trails entered the forest. We wondered if the wolf pack was watching us and thought us cheeky for setting up camp at a site that clearly belonged to them.
They didn’t visit us during the night or bless us with their song.
Wolf Meadow to Kelp Point
August 4 / Day 9
Rain showers , W @ 15 knots / Swell 1 meter with 2 foot chop . Seas rippled
Though it rained all night we were sheltered by large trees and stayed dry inside our tents We ignored the morning alarm and stayed in bed late as low slack was at 10:55 AM giving us no reason to get on the water early.
The outside of Banks Island is littered with all sorts of confidence-inspiring happy place names. We had already enjoyed Calamity Bay and Terror Point. The route from Wolf Meadow would take us past Grief Point, Foul Bay, Junk Ledge and Wreck Islands not to mention the site of the Banks Island Gold Mine that had been shut down for polluting the environment. Our concerns with pollution from tailings forced us to carry water from well before Foul Bay to well past. You have to wonder why someone named these places after bad experiences.
Wolf Meadow to Crap Camp Chart
Once on the water I was in to what may be my least favorite day of paddling ever. It was followed by what was certainly my least favorite night. The paddle up island was just a grey wet slog. Low grey clouds, grey rain, grey water, grey wind. No reflections to brighten things up. A very tough day paddling in rain and 15 knot west winds. Awkward wind direction, adverse currents, bent and reflected waves. Staying upright took concentration. Staying warm was more difficult. No place to land, let alone camp.
After three hours we pulled into the Wreck Islands campsite described in the Glenn's Guide as “the sort of place one would seldom choose as a goal”. That pretty well summed it up for us and we pushed on in the wind and rain for what the Guide describes as “by far the best site in this area”. It is 1.5 NM south of Kelp Point and sets back in a narrow tapering bay. We would have never found it without the guide and we were desperate to get off the water. It looked welcoming…….at first
It was 4:00PM and we had been having a “wonderful time” for the past 5 hours. High slack was an hour away and that would show us how much beach we had to work with. The MSR Parawing was put up for shelter from the rain and we started looking around to see what areas might be large enough to fit out tents. The beach was packed with large drift logs that wouldn’t budge and beneath all of that heavy wood rivulets of water ran down towards the sea. If you made any sort of a depression in the sand it quickly filled with water. We didn’t like the place at all but we had to take it.
Me to Dave and Greg: "Dudes! Are we screwed?"
Greg: “I think we may be screwed”. (Note that long after landing he is still wearing his spray skirt for warmth.)
Dave: (The despondent guy in red) “We are totally screwed. Get ready to swim”.
Dave set up on the best looking spot just above the logs. It wasn’t quite large enough but it was flat and looked like the sand would percolate and help his tent floor stay dry. We found a small sloping spot for me jammed up against the rocks that border the beach. It took a lot of clearing and wasn’t nearly large enough for my tent but it looked like someplace I could possibly seek shelter from the rain. Greg waited until the tide started going down and claimed a place on the sand below the logs. He placed all sorts of small flotsam in front of his tent that would make noise if it moved and wake him up. He set his alarm so that it would go off before the next high tide at 5:20 AM.
Dinner was disappointing under the Parawing as the tide came up into our seating area and when it retreated the sand remained wet and sloppy. If you dropped or set anything down it was immediately soaked. We just wanted the day (and night) to be over with so we turned in early.
Happy Campers (NOT)
I stripped out of my dry suit inside the tent and noted that the floor was already soaked as water moved beneath it. I had to be careful about letting anything touch it. I was cold. My sleeping bag was damp already and didn’t provide the insulation I needed. I kept my neoprene helmet liner on, changed into my last clean and dry long underwear, put on dry socks, wrapped my jacket around my feet, zipped my bag up and attempted to stay on top of my air mattress. If I could keep everything dry by staying on top of the mattress I had a chance to warm up and get some rest.
That was a fool’s mission, though. The ground sloped significantly towards the water so I continually migrated down the mattress and had to wriggle back up. The wetness on the tent floor increased and by the light of my headlamp I could see water pooling beneath it. Just as I would start to doze off I would feel the end of the tent with my feet and do the uphill wriggle again. At least my lower extremities had warmed up.
About this time I was figuring that there wasn’t much else that could go wrong when between wriggles I received an unwanted visit from the Gastro-Intestinal Fairy. I had been bothered by odd rumblings for a few days but had been able to keep things in check. Now the GI Fairy was calling checkmate and it was time to get out of the tent in a hurry. Like about 5 minutes ago but I was zipped tightly into my bag with my legs zipped tightly into the sleeves of my jacket.
No time for a zipper to get stuck but in my haste I jammed it up good.
Doing the uphill wriggle to exit my bag while struggling to accomplish a favorable outcome I quickly abandoned any attempts of keeping things dry.
I had to get the damn insulated jacket off of my legs.
Next came unzipping the tent but in my panicked attempt I grabbed the upper zipper instead of the lower.
Time was up and I had to be outside. I didn’t have time to zip it back up and grab the lower zipper so I negotiated the partially open tent door with as much care as was possible, which under the circumstances is to say none at all. Throwing the vestibule door up over my head I rapidly crawled out into the driving rain in my last clean and dry long johns and socks, the very same ones that I had worked so hard to keep dry. On the verge of exploding I turned away from the tent and paid my respects to the GI Fairy.
This had all the fixings for a long and miserable night.
Crap Camp to Larsen Island
August 5 / Day 10
Clear, Light NW winds, Seas calm, rippled
All three of us had spent the night in wet tents and all of our gear ranged between being damp to soaked. We couldn’t wait to leave the beach and were off before 7:40AM. Crap Camp may be the best place around and good in dry weather but it’s a place I hope to never see again.
After an awful night we were gifted with a beautiful morning. Clear skies with light winds for the long-ish paddle to Larsen Island. After being wet, cold and awake all night I was hoping that I wouldn’t fall asleep in my boat or have the GI Fairy count coup. We were paddling against the ebb which kept us well below 3 knots but the weather and sea state were what we needed and after 4 hours we entered Kingkown Inlet.
Banks Island North Chart
Kingkown Inlet is a lovely place that should be explored. I suspect that it is rich with First Nations history as its many nooks and crannies would make excellent village sites. We stopped at one such cove for lunch then picked our way out through a complex series of rocks and reefs. Exiting past one large sheltering reef the crystal clear water offered us views of hundreds of multi-colored sea urchins. Sea Otters would eat well in Kingkown.
Jon in Kingkown Inlet
Image by Dave Resler
From Sneath Islands to the north end of Griffith Harbour we were alternately awarded and punished by fast moving currents. Greg glommed on to one particularly fast moving, narrow stream that took him away like he had been shot out of a cannon. He followed it for a while and wound up far off shore before returning with big grin.
Greg in Kingkown Inlet
Image by Dave Resler
Larsen Island forms the northwest end of scenic Griffith Harbour and the Larsen camping beach is on the outside sheltered from Hecate Strait by a group of islets and rocks. Landing on the warm and sunny beach near high tide we wasted no time spreading our wet gear over every limb, log and rock in sight. My sleeping bag almost dried completely. What a wonderful change from the day before.
Larsen Island Beach
High slack of 5.9 meters was at 5:58 and left enough beach for us to comfortably set up our tents. As the tide receded we could see that lower beach was very rocky suggesting that comings and goings at lower tide levels might be troublesome.
Larsen Island Beach at Low Tide
Weather radio predicted a rough night and a bad day coming but the sunset was lovely.
Larsen Island Sunset
Larsen Island – Weather Day
August 6 / Day 11
Overcast with showers, SE @ 35 knots, Blown out!
Our route off of Banks Island would take us 3NM across Principe Channel to the westernmost point of McCauley Island. The 4:00 AM radio weather was calling for southeast winds at 35 knots. Principe floods to the north and high slack was a bit after 6:00 AM. We definitely didn’t want to be out there with beam winds against beam current and even if we got up really early to catch the flood it was still going to be blowing too strong. We had great shelter in the lee of Larsen Island and were in a good spot to take the day off. We went back to bed and were lulled to sleep by the sound of the wind howling over the trees.
Larsen Island Beach at Low Tide
Greg stayed in the sack until afternoon while Dave and I walked the beach and puttered around camp. As the tide receded throughout the morning we got a good look at how rocky and difficult the lower shoreline could be, however, there were a number of canoe runs that had been cleared through the boulders at some point in the past. It had taken a lot of work as the boulders are quite large.
Got me to missing my Sweetie
Larsen Island to Joaquim Spit
August 7 / Day 12
Light rain, overcast then clearing, winds light NW, Seas calm, rippled
Foggy Morning Start
Image by Greg Polkinghorn
We launched through the First Nations canoe runs and left the beach at 8:05 AM in light rain and fog. Both dissipated within an hour and we crossed Principe Channel for Hankin Point on glassy seas with an overcast sky and good visibility.
The Hankin Point cove seemed smaller than I remembered it. (The Outside Passage 2009). Funny how that is. A good place to take an early lunch and relax a bit. The falling tide had yet to uncover the well-preserved fish trap that crosses the cove and I thought of my Parents and the day that I scattered a portion of their ashes here.
Larsen Island to Joachim Spit Chart
We had 5 hours of paddling to our next campsite so we set off across Beaver and Schooner Passages with the intent of following the shorelines of Dolphin, Prager and Goshen Islands to a campsite just inside Joachim Spit on Freeman Passage. I can’t imagine a more benign day on the water. Light to zero wind. Light to zero current. Light overcast to zero overcast. Pleasant temperature. We made better than 3 knots all day.
This may sound odd but I would rather be blown around a bit, go too slow and way too fast, get precipitated on and be too cold or too hot than have a perfect day for traveling like this one was. Call me crazy.
On rounding Joachim Point and turning into Freeman Passage the partially submerged spit was obvious but far enough away that it was hard to tell what the right line might be. GPS didn’t help as the whole spit is inter-tidal. The chart shows what may be a pass if you have a magnifying glass handy and your chart case doesn’t have any moisture in it. We did our best and paddled up to the shallows with exposed rocks on our left extending north towards the channel marker. Sharp and barnacle coated rocks lurked just beneath the surface and smiled as though they hadn’t eaten gel coat for a while. While we sat with just inches of clearance, and griped about our distaste for paddling another mile out and back to round the spit or portaging our heavy boats over anything, the outflowing current pushed us back and west and presented us with a better option. We passed over the rocky spit with an inch or two to spare.
Joachim Spit Beach
The gravel beach was fairly extensive with the 2.2 meter tide that we landed with. We carried our boats up enough to buy us ½ hour and took a look at our surroundings. Like many gravel beaches this one was topped with a fairly flat “bench” that accommodated our tents very well. This was a good looking beach with possibilities back in the forest for Spring tides (you might have to clear some branches and underbrush). I considered it a gift after a 20+ NM day.
Joaquim Spit to Welcome Harbour
August 8 / Day 13
Overcast then clearing, Light NW winds, Seas calm, rippled
We left the beach at 8:00 AM crossing Freeman Passage for the south end of Porcher Island and within the first hour we passed a sizeable Sea Lion colony. They were noisy but not threatening.
Joachim Spit to Welcome Harbour Chart
The coastline of Porcher was interesting and invited exploration. While Dave and I paddled point-to-point Greg added some mileage by hugging the shoreline. Fan Point brought us back together and we worked through the thick kelp beds until we came upon a pair of Grey Whales. They bobbed, blew and rolled around in our midst. Amazing how vile whale breath can smell and there was no escaping it. Dave took some video while Greg took stills. None of it captured the intimacy or magic of those 30 minutes we spent together.
The 4NM across Oval Bay to the entrance to Welcome Harbour was a long slog and our speed averaged well below 3 knots. We passed an intriguing beach as we rounded Welcome Point for the campsite documented in the “Wild Coast 2”. The passage was alive with bait balls and Greg developed a nervous tick. The WC2 campsite looked underwhelming so we returned through boiling bait balls to the interesting beach at Welcome Point.
We landed at low slack with a 2.5 meter tide and the steep loose-gravel beach was protected by large rock formations that reduced the surge making landing a no-brainer. Carrying gear up that gravel beach was tough, though, as we sunk in to our ankles filling our shoes with “marbles” and it was one step back for every two steps forward. Greg didn’t bother dragging his boat up to the top of the beach as he had some fishing to do. He simply unloaded some gear at the top of the beach and was gone.
High Tide at Welcome Point Beach
Dave and I selected tent sites, set up and kicked back to relax. Meanwhile Greg was in heaven casting into one ball of swarming minnows after another bringing in a fish with most casts. They were all released. A Humpback joined Greg and cruised back and forth between schools of small fish feeding at his leisure. This was heaven for any fisherman.
Entrance to Welcome Harbour
Image by Dave Resler
After a few hours Greg returned to camp with a broken fishing pole and fresh Halibut steaks that some fisherman had given him. He made short work of preparing the fish (fresh Halibut is so-o-o good) and after a fabulous dinner he repaired his fishing pole using a plastic spork, an aluminum tent stake and duct tape. While not as good as new it would prove to be good enough.
Halibut Steaks at Welcome Point
After a great afternoon of fishing Greg lobbied for a day off so that he could spend a day at his favorite pastime. It suited us all as this was a great campsite and all we needed to do was find one more water source for the remainder of the route. Greg would fish and Dave and I would get water.
Late Afternoon at Welcome Harbour
We watched a beautiful sunset and listened to strange distance booms that sounded sort of like gunshots, but not quite.
Welcome Harbour (Rest Day)
August 9 / Day 14
Clear, winds and seas calm
I awoke to the sound of Dave walking on the gravel beach. He said that he had heard Greg get up before dawn and go fishing. The marks on the beach confirmed that Greg had drug his Tempest down to the water’s edge. I looked off shore and saw a bright flash from his headlamp about a mile out. By 8:00AM he was back without a single bite. We prepared oatmeal and coffee and enjoyed the fine calm morning.
Greg's Gone Fishing
Henry Island forms the northern edge of the entrance to Welcome Harbour and the chart indicated that a lake-fed stream emptied into a cove about 2.5NM away, just south of Hermdon Point. Greg was going to spend the day fishing while Dave and I went to get water.
The stream manifested itself as a damp spot on the beach in the small cove. I thought we were in the wrong place but Dave went ashore and found a small trickle of water back under the trees. He crawled back under the brush and filled a couple of 10 liter Dromedary Bags that we took back to camp for filtering. We figured that we were 3 days out of Prince Rupert so 20 liters should be enough.
Morning at Welcome Harbour
Greg returned to camp without any fish. He reported that the bait balls were nowhere to be found and short of one good sized salmon that he brought to the boat before losing he hadn’t gotten a single strike. He did solve the mystery of the “gunshots” we heard the night before when a Humpback surprised him by breaching 20 yards behind him. He said that the sound of that whale re-entering the water was the source of the “gunshots” we had heard.
Welcome Harbour to Philips Island
August 10 / Day 15
Clear, Light NW winds, Seas calm, rippled
Welcome Harbour to Philips Island Chart
We were on the water at 7:00AM and looking forward to a short 11NM day. Water was glassy, current not an issue and the 4.5NM crossing of Edeye Passage presented no drama but stunning visuals. Paddling was too easy.
Morning on Edeye Passage
We arrived at the Philips Island campsite within a few hours and it did not disappoint. This campsite is about 30 NM miles south of Alaska and a stunning locale with a strangely tropical feel. One of the nicest campsites we had experienced on this route.
Philips Island Canpsite
It is south facing and warm so we spread our damp gear out on every log and rock in sight. There goes the neighborhood. Dave and Greg set up on the beach while I chose the crest of the small ridge backing the beach. Dave and I took saltwater baths while Greg followed fresh wolf tracks that led east towards some interesting inter-tidal areas.
Hot Sunny Beach 30 NM South of Alaska
Leading from my tent I found a faint track towards the forest to the east. Following it I found a large clear area that could hold a dozen tents or more with some minor clearing of downed branches and brush. It looked like it had seen some campers and I suspect that groups out of Prince Rupert use it.
During the night I was roused from a deep sleep by a strange “scream”. I wondered if I had really heard it or if I had been dreaming. Then I heard movement in the bushes just below my tent. Something was coming up the hill and when it sounded like it was a few feet away I kicked the tent a couple of times to discourage whatever it was and laid still listening for movement. Suddenly the high-pitched screaming started up again. Two animals this time and more movement in the brush. I had never heard anything like it. I grabbed my headlamp and looked outside. I could see light inside Greg’s tent and then his tent door opened.
“What the hell was that?”
Greg suggested River Otters though I didn’t know that they made noises like that. From the sound of the movement in the brush I’m guessing it was an animal around 15 – 20 pounds. A young Otter, perhaps? I’ve since learned that River Otters are capable of producing a scream so loud it can be heard almost a mile away.
Dave sleeps with ear plugs to drown out our snoring and has to be woken by us because he can’t hear his own alarm clock. He slept right through the screaming. Never heard a thing. I’m pretty sure that my snoring isn’t audible from a mile away.
Philips Island to South Rachael Island
August 11 / Day 16
Overcast with rain, SE winds to 10 knots, 1 foot chop, seas rippled
We left camp at 7:00AM with a 1.3 meter tide. With the shallow beach it amounted to a 200 meter carry. The morning was overcast and cool with a nice SE breeze. Good paddling weather and we made good time along the deserted western edge of Stephens Island. Nearing the northernmost point of Stephens we started seeing some commercial and private fishing boats and once we rounded the point we found ourselves surrounded by sport fishermen. They were everywhere. Current was with us and we passed through the gaggle towards Avery Light.
Philips Island to South Rachael Island
Now we faced a 7 NM crossing to Rachael Islands that would take us halfway across Chatham Sound and position us for a short final shot into Prince Rupert. We had a ferry to catch on the 13th and we didn’t want to spend a whole day and two nights hanging around in Prince Rupert. It did force us to paddle the next day or be late to work coming back from vacation. Weather looked OK for the 12th and we figured we would get to Rachael and decide whether to stay or go.
The sky not looking friendly but the weather radio was forecasting SE to 10 knots as we set off for South Rachael. With a long fetch the SE wind and seas can be a bit awkward while maintaining an ENE heading. It was wet and pushy but not a big deal. About midway to our goal I realized that we could surf downwind to Lucy Islands but that would have meant a very long upwind leg tomorrow.
Avery Island to South Rachael Island
Image by Greg Polkinghorn
We arrived at our islands 2.5 hours after leaving Avery Light. It seemed like a tough crossing to me and I wanted it to be done. Greg asked if we minded if he went fishing for a while. We didn’t care. Greg fished while Dave and I went ashore.
There is a very nice shelter provided on South Rachael for mariners in need. We were expecting to camp and sleep in our tents on a wet beach and yet here was this cabin. Dave and I were dripping wet and hesitant to step inside so we took our dry suits and paddling shoes off outside in the rain before stepping in.
Luxury Digs on South Rachael Island
What a gift! A dry cabin, wood stove, kindling, lantern, food, LP stove, two dry beds, a kitchen table at the east-facing picture window, books, stuffed teddy bear and cabin log. Outside was a luxury outhouse with a real porcelain commode that actually flushed due to a water collection system on the roof and some sort of backwoods plumbing that wasn’t obvious. I didn’t question where it flushed to. Luxury!
Boyz With Their Toyz
So nice to sleep on a bed. I woke up a few times and listened to the wind and rain. Sometimes I could look out the window and see the glow of the lights from the Prince Rupert grain terminal 8 NM away.
South Rachel Island to Prince Rupert
August 12 / Day 17
Rain and fog, Winds SE 15 – 20 knots, windwaves to 3 feet, seas moderate
The pre-dawn forecast didn’t waver from last night and still didn’t sound good to me. We had a short discussion around go-no go and decided to push our departure to see if conditions moderated. It was still dark and we decided to wait until we could at least see the water and judge the sea state.
South Rachael Island to Prince Rupert Chart
We launched at 10AM and figured that we had about 2 hours of ragged paddling to the cover of Kinahan Islands. Ragged it was but consistent as we had judged. Conditions were cross from the right, wet and required active paddling. Wind and waves took us north of our intended path and we ended up having to beat about 1 NM into the wind to achieve a place to rest in the lee of East Kinahan.
South Rachael Beach with Cabin
Visibility improved as we rested and it looked like a relative no-brainer to cross the shipping lane to Lima Point at the south end of Digby Island and execute a graceful entry into the Port of Prince Rupert, however, once we left for Lima Point it disappeared in driving rain and fog. We couldn’t see anything but wet and grey.
I could tell by my GPS that we were going in the right general direction but Dave and Greg were flying blind. While I allowed the 20 knot wind waves to push me on my way they maintained a longer crosswind track in the direction of the Ridley Island Grain Terminal. At times visibility would improve just enough that the relief from the rise of the southern end of Kaien Island would peek out and I think they thought they were looking at Lima Point. They would push harder to the east while I allowed the conditions to push me on my way. I didn’t notice that we had separated, not that conversation was possible if we had been within 100 feet. A nice rip had built along my path and I took the ride.
Welcome to Prince Rupert
Image by Dave Resler
Once Dave and Greg could make out the grain terminal and determined where they were they turned downwind and quickly joined me in the relative shelter between of the channel between Digby and Kaien Islands, We paddled together past the busy container ship dock and into the Port of Prince Rupert, landing at Fairview Floats and completing our Outer Coast Route from Bella Bella.
Once we had our boats unloaded and on the dock Greg and I started carrying them to the BC Ferry terminal and making arrangements for the next morning’s sailing to Port Hardy. Dave was busy calling around town for an inexpensive room. Our choice was the Black Rooster Guesthouse (http://www.blackrooster.ca/) but they, like every other hostel in town, were full. No luck, what to do? We were all convinced that Dave would be able to charm his (our) way into a cheap room somewhere in town and encouraged him to keep trying while we kept carrying gear. Eventually the owner of the Black Rooster relented, took us to her house and put us up in the basement apartment. Dave’s charm came through again!
Prince Rupert to Seattle
August 13 / Day 18
The sailing back to Port Hardy started out wet but quickly turned into an absolute sparkler. It was warm on the deck and puffy white cu’s adorned the higher peaks. Upon arrival in Port Hardy we found no beds available in the C&N or North Coast Hostels so we drove all night arriving at Duke Point in time for the first sailing to Tsawwassen. We were home and putting away gear before noon. That has to be some kind of record.
Eight years ago I became interested in paddling the outside of the islands that define the outer coast of British Columbia. Information was available on Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii but little to none on the west coasts of Calvert, Price, Aristazabal, Estevan or Banks Islands. What was available seemed anecdotal and lacking any sort of detail that helped in risk assessment and trip planning. I posted requests for information on message boards and received very few responses. What did come back was not encouraging. Most folks who responded suggested that from what they had heard Banks Island was too risky to consider. Two paddlers who had been there gave accounts of long and unrewarding days with little to recommend from a scenery standpoint.
I received only one response to my queries regarding the west coast of Calvert Island and that came from Nanaimo paddler, Glenn Lewis. He provided in-depth information on weather, wind and currents. Additionally, he and friends were planning to paddle the outer coast of Banks Island with the intent of demystifying the route and documenting campsites . That resulted in the publication of “The West Coast of Banks Island-A Field Guide for Paddlers”. Since then the group has documented the outside of Aristazabal, Price, Athlone and Calvert Islands creating two more field guides, “The West Coast of Aristazabal & Price Islands- A Field Guide for Paddlers” and “The West Coast of Calvert Island-A Field Guide for Paddlers” all readily available for free download.
We used these guides extensively in planning our route and would never have found some of the campsites without their aid. They are all available for download here: http://issuu.com/glennlewis/docs/banks_island_paddlers_field_guide
This route was one that I had been “needing” to do for a long time. Now that it’s behind me I can say that I’m glad that I did it and that I won’t repeat it. It was a lot of work and I found it physically and emotionally draining. The long crossings wore on me and, while my Tempest is extremely comfortable, the extended periods of cockpit-time without any opportunities to land took a bit of shine off the apple.
I will definitely return to Price and Aristazabal. Likewise for northern Banks Island to explore Griffith Harbour and Kingkown Inlet. The rest of it, though, seemed like a lot of work with low reward. That’s just me, though.
We covered 238 NM in 15 days. Our shortest day was 9 NM and the longest 23 NM. Our average day was about 16 NM.
We were out 17 days, taking one weather day and another day to fish. Ten out of 17 days we had rain, heavy at times. Most previous trips have seen little to no rain, however, this trip we were reminded that we were paddling in the largest temperate rain forest in the world. The temperatures were generally cool and suitable for mileage. I was never over-heated.
Image by Greg Polkinghorn
Face-to-face wildlife encounters were limited to Humpbacks and Grey Whales. Wolves were ever present but not seen. Likewise for whatever was screaming in our campsite at Philips Island. Maybe a River Otter?
Image by Dave Resler
Tofino to Port Angeles?
Prince Rupert to Juneau?
Image by Dave Resler