Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sea Kayaking in British Columbia - July 12th

Sunday, July 12th
Kim, who checked us into the motel last night is manning the desk again this morning, but passes off the duty to someone else to drive us in the motel van out to the airport to pick up a rental car. On the way, she entertains us with tales of spending seven months on a fishing trawler modified for pleasure use.
She and her husband cruised from the south end of Vancouver Island up the inside passage all the way to Alaska with no particular destination in mind, stopping in out of the way harbors and villages. She recalled vividly pulling in to one northern anchorage. He husband, a former member of the Canadian Coast Guard, contacted the local Coast Guard station and discussed the weather forecast with them. He was advised that a series of severe storms was sweeping in from the northwest, and that if he didn’t leave immediately there was a very good chance that he’d be stuck there until spring!
The left right away, but the first of the storms caught up with them anyway. The winds reached hurricane force and the seas built until the wave heights were more than twenty feet. Her husband, an experienced seaman stayed at the wheel, and sent her below where she’d be safer. Kate told us that she spent the better part of a day and a night in a lower bunk with her back on the mattress and her hands and feet braced against the wood framing of the bunk above to keep from being tossed and slammed around inside the heaving cabin. She obviously survived to tell the tale and the boat proved itself to be very seaworthy, but she did confess that she and her husband have given up cruising!
The drive north on Highway #19.Vancouver Island’s main road from Victoria to Port Hardy is a long one. The most spectacular overlook along the way was out across the Seymour Narrows of the Discovery Channel. The distance across the narrow channel is only about 700 yards, and much of the entire tidal flow from the Georgia Straight rushes through here at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour! Ripple Rock used to be submerged only 9 feet below the surface at one point, creating enormous whirlpools over 30 feet in diameter which could, and did swallow whole boats. Over the years 119 boats were lost here, and several unsuccessful attempts were made to dynamite the top off the obstruction. Finally in 1958 tunnels were dug under the seabed and up into the rock and more than 1300 tons of explosive were placed to blow up the rock.
Today the narrows is navigable, but care must still be taken by smaller boats to avoid the still wicked currents and eddies.
There are high mountains in middle of island, a few with patches of snow lingering in late July. Far up the slopes there are large sections where lumber companies have done clear cutting of all the trees. Reseeding has been carried out in those areas, but the result is a patchwork quilt effect of trees of different heights and different shades of green. In places on the steeper flanks of some mountains you can see avalanche paths through forests on steep terrain.
As you approach the north end of Vancouver Island the high rocky mountains give way to foothills with gentler slopes, in some places with second growth forest and in other places covered with older cedar, hemlock, spruce and alder. Port Hardy is a small town with a tripartite industrial base of fishing, logging, and mining.
This far north in July the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon until almost 9:00 p.m. so I had time to go for a three mile run before dinner. The motel was directly across the street from a swath of grass and a narrow rocky beach. Off to the right several piers jutted out into Port Hardy Bay. Rusty fishing boats and a 35 foot long Athabascan cedar wood canoe repeated themselves in the dark slow ripples beneath them. A paved path led along the waterfront and through a small park where tall cedars cast long shadows in the setting sunlight. I jogged slowly uphill through a neighborhood where many residents were out and about, chatting with each other on sidewalks or sitting on front porches. Most of them were First Nations people, the term that now describes better than the word “Indian” the people who have lived here for thousands of years. I saw some beautifully carved totem poles in front of the elementary school and the community center. A bit farther up the hill the pavement stopped and the unpaved one-lane washboard road curved off into the dark woods, so I headed back to the motel and a delicious dinner of cedar planked salmon.

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