Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kayaking Johnstone Strait, British Columbia’s Paddling Paradise

Sept 2010: Vancouver Island, off the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, offers some of the best sea kayaking in the world. One kayaking destination, Johnstone Strait, on the northeast shore of the island was our goal in September of 2010. The area is remote, replete with native history and home to one of the largest gathering of Killer Whales on the west coast.map1

Five of us, David, Jeff, Lorena, Kathy and I left Seattle, crossed into Canada, took a two hour ride on BC Ferries and then drove four hours to Port McNeill, near the north end of the 280 mile long Vancouver Island. The 360 mile (plus ferry crossing) journey took nearly twelve hours because we built in potential border delays and a cushion to insure we made the scheduled ferry crossing. (We made the return trip in only ten and a half hours.)

There are a number of lodging and dining choices in Port McNeill and it is within 30 minutes of Telegraph Cove, our launch site. We stayed at the comfortable Beach House B&B and dined at the Sportsman Steak and Pizza House.

Wednesday: The next morning we drove to Telegraph Cove where you are welcome to launch your boats and leave your car. There is a fee for both but the facilities are great and the fees manageable; $6 per kayak to launch and $25 per week per car.


Rather than launch there we hired a water taxi to transport our group across the strait and deposit us deep in the islands across two mile wide Johnstone Strait. At $450 for the three kayaks and five people it was no bargain but it allowed us to go deeper into the islands during the five days we had available and eliminated one crossing of the strait. We had used a water taxi on a west coast trip years ago and found we could see more new ground than was possible with an out and back paddle.

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After crossing the strait and weaving through the fog shrouded islands the taxi deposited us at a campsite on Owl Island, eight miles, as the crow flies, from Telegraph Cove. It was a small, easy-to-miss beach but there were perhaps ten reasonable tent sites up in the woods and an excellent “kitchen area” made up of planks and timbers by earlier campers. We quickly erected our tarps over the kitchen, set up our tents and made plans for an afternoon paddle.

As the day progressed the fog thinned a bit but never lifted. The air was so moist the trees dripped as if in a light rain and you could see johnston strait 2010 (10) the moisture in the air. But we had expected rain and knew the weather was “normal” for the area so had no complaint.

At noon a tour group pulled in to “our” beach for a lunch break. We said “hello” and then pushed off for an area tour. Our course was southeast along the shore of neighboring Midsummer Island. We considered rounding the island but wisely thought better of it (it’s a big island!) reversed course and instead rounded Owl Island before returning to camp.

From that first paddle we learned that beaches are in short supply. The islands are characterized by steep rock walls and few beaches of any sort. Potty breaks and firewood gathering became real challenges, particularly since the tide was very high. Jeff took a near dunking walking on floating logs in one inlet.

We returned to camp to discovered a bonus. The tour guide had forgotten a bottle of Scotch and several personal items behind a log on the beach. Not sure if he would ever return we placed the items in a safe place, sampled the Scotch for quality and settled in for the evening. (He returned the next morning to recover the lost items and most of the Scotch!)

Using the fire ring someone had constructed on the beach and Jeff’s wood gathering skills we had a lazy evening in our Owl Island camp. The moisture was so thick you could see the water droplets in the beams of our headlamps as we moved around the camp.

Thursday: The day dawned dryer and more promising than the day prior. We could actually see across the channel and there were hints of sun from time to time. We packed our lunch and headed down Knight Inlet to Village Island and the First Nations village of Mamalilaculla. David and Jeff recalled the village from visits a decade prior with its carved totems and massive ridge poles from great lodges.

The water was calm and currents favorable for the paddle down but the village itself was a great disappointment. It is not being maintained and is being taken over by dense vines, blackberry bushes and the forest. Someone (a bear perhaps?) had cut narrow, head high paths through the vines but you could be two feet from a relic and not see it. We found the ridge pole and a fallen totem but little else. The more modern buildings, homes and a school are in the process of rotting away and collapsing. In a few years there will be little left to identify the place at all.Scan 102600002

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Mamalilaculla-10Mamalilaculla-12  But the sun was out, weather fine and lunch simple but filling. Following lunch we made the seven mile return trip with slight changes from the course on the trip down to the village.

Friday: Since camp sites were scarce, the one we had a good one and the fact that taking down and setting up camp is a pain we decided to spend one more day on Owl Island exploring the area. The previous paddles had been more east, southeast so we decided to head north and explore new waters.

Setting out through a narrow channel between Cedar and Midsummer Islands we were surprised to come across a large fish farming operation operated by Marine Harvest. We paddled up to the pens and spent some time speaking with two employees who were working with the Atlantic Salmon which were maturing there. It was a most thoughtful and impressive operation and, the crew was kind enough to fill a few water bottles for us. (During our five days in the islands we did not see a water source. On Saturday we could have refilled all our bottles with rain runoff from our tarps but we didn’t know that at the time!) johnston strait harrison photo (26)johnston strait harrison photo (28)

Armed with a new understanding fish farming and regretting that we didn’t have any fresh salmon in our coolers we continued counter clockwise through the small islands north and west of Owl until we stumbled onto a narrow beach suitable for lunch and little else. (Did I mention there are not many beaches?) More wandering after lunch before returning to the camp to think about a Saturday departure.

Saturday: When we began our trip the forecast was calling for rain every day but one. We’d missed the rain for the first three days. On the fourth it found us. It was a steady Pacific Northwest rain driven by a moderate but annoying southeast wind.

We packed our gear and were surprised at how full the boats were despite the fact we had consumed three days of food. We were not sure we could have even made it to Owl Island the first day if we hadn’t had the taxi to haul gear. Clearly our packing skills had grown a bit rusty.

We headed east and then south between Swanson and Crease Islands. It was a good paddle but the drizzle was unrelenting. Found a campsite with a covered eating area on the southwest side of Compton Island. The site wasn’t as nice as Owl but served as a lunch spot and would have been fine if a camp site was needed.

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Out next challenge was crossing Blackfish Sound. At that point the crossing was less than two miles but the rain was still falling and a moderate breeze was blowing up the sound from the southeast. The waves looked “OK” so we launched toward Hanson Island, across the sound. By mid channel the swells were rising and we were surrounded by whitecaps. The ladies in the bows of the double kayaks, who met the waves first, were not happy with the conditions but they paddled on knowing a return to Compton would be no better and into the wind.

Rather than head straight across we eased our course to bring the swells more astern giving us a safer but slightly longer ride. Still, we arrived at Hanson with a feeling of relief. In my view crossings are never much fun. They are either boring, since there is no shoreline to observe, or too exciting, because the weather doesn’t cooperate.

At Hanson Island we were unable to locate a camp site we had been assured was there. We paddled west, northwest along the north coast checking every inlet to no avail. If the beaches were there they were well concealed by the high tide and dense forest. Reaching the end of the island we turned south, between Hanson and the Plumper Islands, with an eight knot boost from a retreating tide. David recalled a camp on the southwest side of the island which proved to be a wonderful discovery.

A commercial tour operator conducts summer tours from this base camp with the permission of the First Nations People. They had constructed a dozen raised wooden tent platforms and a covered area that could be used for a kitchen and dining. A sign indicated we were free to use the camp when they were not there so we made ourselves at home. By then the rain had let up a bit but the wind was blowing through the kitchen area right off of Johnstone Strait. Our tarps took care of the wind and soon we were settled into our new home, peeling off wet gear and digging through bags looking for that special dry thing we had been saving for a special occasion.

We were glad to be settled in and out of the rain, more or less.

Sunday:  Sunday morning we discovered our mistake from Saturday evening. We had camped within sight of our final destination, Telegraph Cove. Like a horse that spies its stable, there was no restraining us from leaving a day early after a night of rain, whatever the Sunday weather prospects were.

We could have spent Sunday exploring the small islands northwest of Hanson but decided there were good reasons to leave while the weather and water would allow a crossing of Johnston Strait. So we packed our wet gear and headed across.

Like Blackstone Sound, Johnstone Strait lured us in and then tossed a little wind and wave into our face. It’s only about two miles across but, with the wind and tide things can change. I took the lead with a Telegraph Cove GPS bearing and no chart on the deck. The others had charts and suspected I was leading them astray but silently followed me toward the wrong inlet. As we approached the other side the current began to set us to the northeast and we had to struggle to make the inlet I was seeking. But it was not Telegraph Cove!

My waypoint was ok; Telegraph Cove was on my bearing. But the entry to the cove was about one half mile further up the coast. The Cove itself curved inland, behind the inlet I reached but we couldn’t get there from where we were. Oh well….johnston strait harrison photo (45)

My paddling companions were kind and didn’t actually say what they had likely been thinking. We backed from my inlet, headed along a coast a short way and then made our way into picturesque Telegraph Cove.

At the time we were in no hurry for we planned to find a motel near the ferry and board an early boat on Monday morning. We had a leisurely lunch at the Killer Whale Café on the pier. It is to be recommended. Then we headed south toward Nanamio and the ferry, four hours away planning to spend the night. The further we traveled the more appealing a Sunday ferry appeared. We made an early evening boat and just kept going, arriving home after 1:00A.M. Monday.

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The mystery (for us) of Johnstone Strait had been solved. It is a wonderful kayak haven provided you know where to camp and where to find water. It is to be recommended partially because it is a challenge to get there. Maybe we will go again….someday.

Photos by: David Harrison and Kathy Dennis (double click on the photos to enlarge them)

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Inside Passage; Alaska to Seattle

Looking for adventure? Few accessible routes pack the kind of adventure you can have on a trip down the inside passage from Alaska, through coastal British Columbia to Seattle , on Puget Sound. Weather, currents, bears and open water all are available to test the hardy paddler.

Colin McDonald, a freelance writer, made the trip and reported on his success in a recent Seattle P-I story. Click here to read the story of his trip that began with three people and ended with one. It was quite an adventure.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Canoe the St. Croix River, Maine

David and Judy Harrison, long time paddlers and veterans of such rivers as the Back and Yukon, recently completed a family trip on the St Croix River in Maine. If you click here you can view a slide show of the trip complete with music.

(Be patient. Dave did the program on a Mac, which he swears by, and some PC users will need to download a free version of "Quicktime" to view the show. But it's worth it.)

Here is Dave's description of the trip:

Five days in next-to-last week of May, 2008, daughter Julie and her two kids joined Judy and I for a guided trip on the St Croix River. Fully outfitted, primitive campsites, with whitewater, wildlife, fishing, swimming, and just beautiful floating. A dream-come-true for me to paddle with the grand daughters, Juli and Judy. The kids really grooved on the fishing and seemed non-plussed by the whitewater. Two of the drops we ran were water that Judy and I (with our kids) would have walked in the "old days." But having experienced guides, all but "guaranteeing" a correct line through the drops, gave us the confidence to "proceed onward" -- as Merriweather famously said. Judy did, in fact, choose to walk, readily offering to be the photographer, and a good one, as you will see.

Enjoy their trip.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Baja: A Gray Whale and Sea Lion Adventure

(revised 3/27/08 with a link to Rob and Kay's slide show. See end of blog)
The desire to visit the California gray whales, swim with the California sea lions and escape winter weather in the northern U.S. brought ten experienced paddlers from the cold northeast and the wet Pacific Northwest to sunny La Paz on Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. They were drawn by the prospect of what amounted to back to back trips in very different climates and conditions.

The first segment, whale watching in Magdalena Bay on the damper and cooler Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula, was more boat riding than kayaking. The second segment, in the Sea of Cortez, promised more kayak time and warmer, dryer weather.

La Paz, with good connections to Los Angeles, was an ideal starting point for both legs of the expedition. Ground and sea logistics for the trip were handled by Baja Expeditions (BE), an experienced outfitter with offices in La Paz and San Diego, California.
The group, four from Seattle, two from Vermont, two from Maine and two who can’t decide whether they are from Maine or Vermont, gathered at the Hotel Los Arcos on a Saturday in late February of 2008.

On Sunday morning, promptly at 0730, the BE van and guides J. J. Puebla and Anibal Lopez rolled up to the hotel. After a quick breakfast and briefing at the BE offices the van headed north for a three hour drive to a campsite near the town of San Carlos on the northerly portion of Magdalena Bay.

Magdalena Bay is a 50 km long bay along the western coast of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. It is protected from the Pacific Ocean by the sandy barrier islands of Isla Magdalena and Isla Santa Margarita. The bay is noted for the seasonal migration of the California Gray Whales that go there during the winter to mate. Nearby mangrove swamps provide sanctuaries for sea birds.
Our van was met by two pangas, all purpose utility boats powered by large outboard motors. Gear went into one and the guests into the other for the short run down a narrow estuary to the base camp.

The camp consisted of about ten, ten foot by ten foot tents, large enough to stand in. Back from the beach two larger tents served as the dining room and kitchen areas. The area proved to be windy much of the time and the sturdy tents offered good protection.

The beach and camp area rested on some of the finest and most pervasive sand many of the guests had experienced. It snuck into every opening and quickly recoated the canvas tent floors despite frequent sweeping. But, except for the sand, the camp proved to be very comfortable.

An ample lunch appeared shortly after our arrival and by early afternoon we were settled in, fed and ready for the first whale spotting trip. We joined the guides and panga driver and headed south into the bay in a heavy, consistent chop. The windward side of the panga proved to be a wet spot when we moved at any speed but most were properly dressed and the weather was not too cool so we all survived with a minimum of chill.

In mid-bay spouts appeared as the big mammals rolled slowly along, rising to breath and announcing their presence with a water spout and hearty gush of air.

That night, following dinner, J. J. gave a lecture on “whale behaviors”, which was informative and alerted us as to the types of movements we could look for on future spotting trips. On the way to the sleeping tents the stars put on a spendid show against the jet black sky.
Monday the wind persisted, but so did the guests. Kayak trips to the mangroves were offered at 0600. That was the only time kayaks were used in the camp due to the distances that needed to be covered to view the whales. Hot drinks were available at 0630 and breakfast was served at 0730. By 0700 most of the guests could be seen wandering around the camp with a hot drink in the official BE thermal cup. By 8:30 the panga was loaded heading down the long bay in search of the whales.

As predicted by J. J. we saw breaching, spy hopping and extensive mating behaviors. The mating ritual was the most surprising. One female and one or more males would roll and twist on the waters surface like a giant water ballet. Unlike many species the males tolerate each other and show little competition for the females.
One whale bravely slowed near our boat and then drifted over to a point where he could be petted on the rough snout by the panga skipper. He then rolled away and passed under the boat with shear grace. A most impressive spectacle.

The wet, wind blown whale watchers returned to camp at 1330 for a late lunch and then returned to the open water for an afternoon of whales. The panga bristled with cameras and hundreds of pictures were taken. But, except for the mating ballet, the whales never exposed much of their massive bodies and then they were often some distance away. Perhaps clever editing by the photographers will bring the whales in to better view but it is likely many of the photos will show only open water.

Following a late dinner our guides provided addition information on types of whales and their living, traveling and eating habits. Most interesting.

After just two days a camp routine had been adopted by the guests, anchored by the meal and panga schedule. The tents proved very comfortable, no one was going hungry and even the sand was becoming tolerable.

Tuesday dawned calm. What a nice break after the constant wind of the first two days. The morning panga ride began with a slow cruise through a nearby mangrove swamp with its varied and abundant birds including herons and ibis. A fat coyote was spotted dozing on the sunny shore. That was followed by more whale watching, which was much easier on the flat, calm waters.
Following lunch we again boarded our faithful panga and headed due west to a narrow sandy neck on Isle de Magdalena, the barrier island that defines the westerly edge of the bay. Landing 100 meters from shore we waded the shallow water to the sandy island and then walked over an amazing sand dune landscape another 100 meters to the westerly shore and the pounding Pacific Ocean.

After a short morning panga ride, that was rewarded with the discovery of a mother with calf, we returned to camp, loaded our gear and retraced our Sunday path down the estuary to the waiting van for the return trip to La Paz and the beginning of the second phase of our combo trip.

Upon arrival the van swung by the BE offices so the guests could be fitted with wet suits for a future swim with the sea lions in the chilly winter waters of the Sea of Cortez. Then it was off to the hotel to shake off the last of the sand and wallow in the hot showers.

At 0730 the van returned to transport us to the BE offices for a quick breakfast and allow us to store unneeded luggage and gear. We then covered a short route to the docks where the dive boat “Rio Rita” was waiting to carry us north to Espiritu Santo Island where we would find a new base camp.

During the two hour, 25 mile ride it was decided to pass by the camp and go directly to the Los Islotes sea lion colony and do our snorkeling, taking advantage of the good weather and calm water.
Los Islotes is a busy place with boats arriving regularly from La Paz carrying divers, snorkelers and just plain sightseers who were wise enough not to get into the water. Swimming with the sea lions is an unforgettable experience. You can be up close and personal with a fast moving, at times, curious mammal. While relatively safe you must remember you are in their water and that they are a wild animal.

The group wasted no time getting suited up and into the water. The sea lion experience lived up to expectations. Several of the guests took wonderful movies of the fast moving sea lions that will be enjoyed by the “folks back home.” The four Seattle swimmers lasted only a short time in the chilly waters. They were followed shortly by most of the New England contingent, leaving just two of the men to enjoy the nippy water and the cavorting mammals. Those two, apparently impervious to the chill, stayed until they ran out of camera memory or batteries for their cameras.

Mid afternoon we arrived in camp and hauled our gear to shore. The Rio Rita stood off in deep water while we transferred gear and guests to a waiting panga for the short trip to shore.

The new camp was a bit more primitive than the last, though still very comfortable. Instead of walk-in tents with cots the guests moved into nice dome tents set along the beach. A large sun tarp provided an escape from the hot sun near a single large tent that served as the camp kitchen. Perhaps best of all, the fine clingy sand of Magdalena Bay was replaced by a coarser type that, while still easy to walk in, didn’t cling nor blow nearly as much.

Following lunch the guests joined the guides for a wet exit drill with the kayaks. BE insists its guests know how to get out of a boat in the event of a capsize. Not wanting to get wet again the guests mounted a feeble protest to what was viewed as an unnecessary immersion but, in the end, all participated and likely enjoyed the experience. Fortunately the shallow water in the bay was much warmer than at the Los Islotes sea lion colony.

The bay in front of our new camp was alive with sea birds, particularly the California Brown Pelican. All day long they smashed headlong into the water in pursuit of the small fish in the bay. They look so clumsy but seem to be good fishermen.

Finally the day arrived when we would actually go for a kayak trip. The disadvantage of base camp kayaking is that you basically have two paddle choices; leave camp and turn left or right! We went left, or south, and took a slight detour to an offshore island before exploring several coves and ending up on a beach three coves south. After a stretch the guides led a climb up the north ridge to the site of caves inhabited by ancient people of the area. The walk was accompanied by a brief history of native cultures delivered by the two guides.

After lunch back in camp the group split up. Six took an afternoon paddle with J. J. and four took a hike up the narrow gully east of the camp. When the groups returned most took advantage of a nearby fresh water well to scrub off the sweat and grim of the day. Having the well was a distinct advantage for the camp site.

The warmer nights at this camp, as opposed to whale camp, allowed the guests to enjoy the wine, the beach, the stars and good conversation well into the evening.

Saturday we went north, to explore the coast and get even more exercise. We shore crawled past nearby coves, watching the ever present pelicans and their other feathered fishing friends. We passed through the shallow channel that separates Espiritu Santo from its northern neighbor, Isla Partida. Fog enveloped us as we made our way north, along the Partida shore creating a surreal atmosphere.

Returning to the channel we returned to the west side of Partida and settled into a west facing cove for lunch. BE went all out for the affair, even transporting the white plastic chairs from the base camp to the lunch beach. It was a little embarrassing for the hardy paddlers but we used them and hoped no one saw us luxuriating on a remote Mexican beach.

Our lunch took an ironic turn when the squid salad was unveiled. By coincidence a dozen squid had committed suicide on the beach and offered up quite an aroma if you were caught down wind. Eating squid on a beach covered with their cohort's carcasses seemed strange. But our BE supplied squid was actually quite tasty!

After lunch a wind had kicked up giving the group a wet but safe crossing back to the shelter of Espiritu Santo but no wet exits were required and the group returned invigorated from a good paddle.

Sunday was moving day once again. We rose early, packed, cleared out the tents and then were offered two choices; a panga hunt for whales in the Sea of Cortez or a lazy morning in camp. Six chose the panga and four stayed, exploring the canyon east of the camp just south of their own.

At noon the Rio Rita returned with a new group of campers and loaded us up for the return trip to La Paz and the bustle of normal living. The ride south was highlighted by a dolphin escort we picked up just outside the La Paz harbor. Twenty or more cavorted in the Rio Rita’s wake for ten minutes giving everyone a memorable show. They are remarkable and very entertaining creatures.

Once ashore it was back to the BE offices for a farewell margarita, some tee shirt shopping and a hardy thank you to our guides, both of whom did a wonderful job herding the group and answering an endless stream of questions. They clearly love what they do and the environment in which they operate which made the trip even better for the guests.

Overall the trip to Baja was a success and it conclusively proved two things. First, if you want warm weather in the winter, go to Baja. Second, if you want to travel with a fun, compatible group, go with a bunch of kayakers. Most of the group had not met before the trip nor had they done any “adventure” travel together. Travel can bring out the best and worst in people. This group was great! There were no whiners. Everyone took the sun, sand, spray and other outdoor indignities in stride while contributing to a healthy and entertaining conversation. It would have been hard to vote anyone off of that island!

Baja Expeditions deserved high marks for the talent and dedication of their people, and the efficiency with which they ran the trip. Vans showed up on time. Boats showed up on time. The food was varied and good and they were able to accommodate any special food or beverage requirements of the guests.

La Paz proved to be a perfect jumping off point for the trip. While it is growing rapidly and risks being overtaken by the pressures of tourism it has not become a tourist mecca like Cabo San Lucas. No one tried to sell us a time share. Souvenir shops are hard to find. Good restaurants are plentiful. It is hard to find Mexico in Cabo. La Paz has found a way to retain its charm.

So, if you want to be warm and make new friends, gather a group of kayakers (canoeists might do) and head to Baja.

It has been asked, “if everyone was such a great kayaker why didn’t they kayak out to see the whales?” The answer is simple. It’s against the law. Our guides advised us that kayakers are not allowed on whale watching trips. Only licensed and trained operators can get up close the Magdalena Bay whales and then, only if they obey a strict set of rules designed to protect the giant mammals. So while kayaking was allowed in the past, that is apparently no longer the case.
(To view Glen and Sarah's slide show of the trip click here. To see Rob and Kay's slides, click here.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ocean Paddling from Bella Bella

Part II: The Adventure Begins; Ocean Paddling from Bella Bella

Arriving in Bella Bella in late afternoon we packed gear and paddled north, then west, looking for a camp site for the night. We wanted to get far enough from the village to feel secluded but get set up by dark. We found a quiet cove, on the north side of Campbell Island, sharing it with a southbound kayaker, one of two we would see for ten days.

The next day we continued our western heading with Horsfall Island on the left and wide Seaforth Channel on our right. As the main route to Alaska a steady stream of commercial and cruise ships passed in the distance, none close enough to be an annoyance. Camping options were limited on the north shore of Horsfall so we settled on a clear cut coastal cove on the next island, Dufferin. Not pristine, as we’d hoped, but firewood was plentiful and, without the shade, the sun was warming in the camp. We were awaken by a gaggle of Sandhill Cranes on their way to nesting grounds in the north. They were most impressive.

At this camp we made a decision. We could continue west, round Athlone Island, and head south along its exposed ocean side or swing south through narrow channels that lie east and west of Durrerin that lead to more protected waters in the islands. The channels were tempting. They are narrow, scenic and must be run with the tidal current. But the weather was favorable and the ocean tempting so we took the outside or ocean route.

Coming through a narrow passage at the NW corner of Athlone we were greeted by the exhilarating ocean swell, blue sky and clusters of sea birds who, like us, were just riding the waves in the morning sun. There was no going ashore on the rocky coast so we were delighted to come across a small sandy island off the SW corner of Athlone where we could go ashore, stretch and grab a snack

NOTE: Always keep food and water handy above the spray skirt or, at least accessible in the cockpit. You may not be able to get ashore for long periods but need an energy boost. Lack of nourishment can be a problem if conditions turn foul.

The next days were a series of wonderful camps in the islands. Water was scarce so we took advantage of every seep or stream we came across and gave our filter a good workout.

The next big decision was, do we cross to Goose Island? Goose is the western most island of the group and is reached from the north or east via a three mile crossing. We wanted to go because “it was there” but feared getting stuck there by a weather change. With a favorable forecast (a good weather radio is advisable) we made the crossing and set up camp. It was worth the effort as Goose offers some good paddling on all sides.

On departure day we began to question our Goose decision. The fog was complete. The good news was that few boats ventured into the rocky islands so chances of being run down were slim. Still, it was eerie leaving the Goose behind as we descended into the utter and complete fog. The water was so still only passing seaweed on the surface indicated forward motion. After an hour we made landfall and, as soon as we entered the island group we burst into blue sky that we perceived as just reward for our ghostly crossing. Goose was worth the effort.

It took several more days to complete the circular course, arriving back at Bella Bella from the south, in time to stow gear and wait for our ferry.

The Bella Bella area holds many charms.
· It is accessible but not too accessible.
· You can chose from multiple courses as you weave through the islands.
· You will likely have the place to yourself. Power boaters tend to avoid the rocky inlets and channels.
· Wildlife adds an extra bonus; birds, seals, sea otters, killer whales. The majestic ravens put on a show many evenings. They are very smart birds.

But there are cautions as well so study your charts and guidebooks:
· Campsites are limited by the rugged coast.
· Water is hard to find. Fill up at every opportunity and, if you get rain, catch it!
· You will be on your own. Don’t expect to be rescued from some mishap by a passing boat. One solo kayaker we met had filed a “float plan” with the Canadian Coast Guard; a sensible precaution.
· Don’t miss your ferry!

But, cautions notwithstanding, the Bella Bella area take you back in time to a quiet and simple place, free of modern life’s intrusions. Try it.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bella Bella, An Little Known British Columbia Destination

Part One: Getting to Bella Bella

Bella Bella; an Italian kayaking destination? No, it’s a village on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, that is a study in contrasts as a kayak destination. Remote and accessible; challenging with benign options; rugged and beautiful; protected or ocean paddling. The Bella Bella area is worth the trip.

Located on Campbell Island, the village of Bella Bella is less a destination than a starting point. As the raven flies the village lays 100 miles north of Vancouver Island and getting there takes planning and ferry schedule coordination.

Load everything you will need, including food and a few days water, before heading for the ferry. You can purchase supplies along the way, on Vancouver Island, but who wants to go shopping on the travel day. There is a village store in Bella Bella but, after that, you are on your own. Cross the Canadian border and head for the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen, south of the City of Vancouver. The ferries are often busy but they do accept reservations; a nice feature ( http://www.bcferries.com/ ).

A two hour ride across the Straits of Georgia will take you to the bustling city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, the starting point for your four and one half hour drive north to Port Hardy, your jumping off place. It’s a long drive so enjoy the experience. It’s a beautiful island and don’t get all worked up about the clear cuts you will pass. Logging is a part of the island culture and there are plenty of uncut areas to gaze at.

Depending on arrival time and the ferry schedule you may have to spend the night in Port Hardy. You can dig out your camping gear or settle into one of the fine motels in town ( www.ph-chamber.bc.ca ). I recommend the motel option. Kayakers have a reputation for being cheap so it’s nice to leave a little money in the local economy, which depends heavily on tourism for its survival. It will be your last shower for a while so enjoy it.

The ferry to Bella Bella sails only twice a week. Check the schedule to plan both your northbound and southbound sailing. A schedule reading error will cost you a couple of days. The system runs a boat tailored to this run, the Queen of Chilliwack. If you make the ten hour sailing at night reclining seats are available. We skipped the chairs, pulled out our pads and sleeping bags and slept on the carpeted floor. An informal atmosphere prevails and the crew is very accommodating. Food is available on board.

Upon arrival you simple carry your kayaks and gear to the nearby beach, pack and prepare to launch. Since you will need to haul your kayaks and gear both on and off the ferry, mesh duffle bags are useful. Small items can be stuffed in the bags, minimizing the number of trips required. Since the ferry crew is anxious to stay on schedule a quick unload is encouraged (though it is unlikely they will assist you.) You’ve arrived and are ready to paddle.

Next post I’ll tell you about our trip that included sea otters, whales, ocean paddling and running a rapid.

Key Words: Vancouver Island, Bella Bella, Ocean, BC Ferries, Port Hardy

Monday, January 28, 2008

Get Warm; Try Loreto Mexico

Tired of cold weather? Consider a fall or winter paddle in the Sea of Cortez, south of California. Loreto, on the east coast of Baja, is serviced by several experienced kayak tour operators and can be reached from the USA via Delta and Alaska Air flights. It still has a small town, undiscovered feel though development is beginning to change that.

Popular trips travel to and from Loreto along the Baja coast or off shore to one of several large islands in the Sea of Cortez. You’ll camp on sandy beaches and see a range of stark, desert like scenery. Water and air temperatures are very comfortable in the fall. From January to spring the water can be too cool for comfortable swimming without a wetsuit and evening air can warrant a light jacket. But, at its worst, it’s balmier and dryer than northern destinations that time of year.

The following services can help you plan your trip:
Sea Kayak Adventures: http://www.seakayakadventures.com/

Miramar Adventures: http://www.miramar-adventures.com/

Prefer to use your own kayak? You can do it if you don’t mind the hassle factor. Loreto is over 700 non-freeway miles from San Diego. Once you get there you will be on your own for maps, park permits, finding water sources and all the other things we take for granted in Canada or the USA.

On your own or with a tour you will find the Loreto area a warm, dry alternative to the winter north.

Click here to find the map to Loreto