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.

No comments: