Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sea Kayaking in British Columbia - July 13th

Monday, July 13th
The sun was up at 5:30 a.m., long before we were. We walked a short distance along the waterfront to a local coffee shop for breakfast at 7:30, and back a block to the government dock by 8:00. The 20 foot tide was close to its lowest point, so the metal ramp down to the floating dock was steep. The aluminum hulled 60 foot motor launch Hurst Island was waiting for us. The crew of two plus the twelve passengers made short work of carrying boxes of food, supplies, and personal luggage down to the boat where it was passed from hand to hand aboard and stowed below decks.
By 8:30 the big twin diesel engines were pushing us slowly away from shore, turning the reflections of the shoreline trees and grey overcast sky into undulating green and silver abstract paintings. Once clear of the inner harbor the engine sound rose to a throaty roar and the wind across the open deck increased to gale force as we went ripping across the still surface. Small islands loomed in the distance and scrolled past in rapid succession. The huge propellers slashed the water into a churning turmoil of spray and whirlpools that were quickly sucked into the bubbly wake streaming out behind us, but out to the sides the sea was so calm that it bounced back the grey-silver sky like a pool of cliquid mercury. Float bulbs of kelp we saw bobbing on the surface were easily mistaken for the heads of harbor seals at a distance. The occasional real seals we did see ducked out of sight quickly as the sped closer.
Forty minutes later several bald eagles watched us warily from the tops of spruce trees as we rounded the point at the end of Hurst Island. The engine roar subsided to a low rumbling as the God’s Pocket Bay came into view. The rock walls of the cove drop sharply into the water on one side of the densely forested island. A hundred yards away the other shore slopes more gently toward a tree covered rocky outcrop. Some of the rustic buildings of the resort are perched over the water on pilings the head of u-shaped bay while others cling to the slopes above, connected by boardwalks and steps.
The tide was just starting to flow in, and the ramp connecting the walkways with the floating dock descended to it at a steep angle. Everyone pitched in to unload the supplies and baggage. Boxes of food disappeared into the cook house, and we hauled our suitcases and backpacks to our assigned cabins.
After lunch we gathered on the dock for an introduction to the tandem kayaks, the thick lifejackets with multiple buckles, the spray skirts that keep water out of the openings, and exit strategies to be followed in the unlikely event of a capsize. Dan and Mike, the two guides provided by Sea Kayak Adventures assisted in sliding the kayaks one at a time off platforms that were only a few inches off the surface of the water. Easing down into the kayak’s two openings and checking to make certain that the spray skirts were stretched securely over the rim of each cockpit, one by one we paddled out to cluster at the opening of the bay.
Dan and Mike herded us into a side-by-side line not much more than a paddle length apart and told us to remain in this “sandwich formation” while we crossed the mile-wide
Christie Passage to the next island. In case strong winds or currents moved us up or down the channel at unexpected speeds, this formation would guarantee that we’d stay together as a single group.
We paddled along rocky shores and once in awhile through thick beds of kelp as we skirted the west shore of Balaklava Island. We watched lots of eagles watching us pass while they perched on bare branches keeping an eye out for salmon swimming too close to the surface. Although the air was a chilly 55 degrees I found out quickly that a warm flannel shirt and a windbreaker were way too much clothing! As we approached the Christie Passage on the way back we could see that the wind had picked up quite a bit, raising moderate waves and small whitecaps. Once again back in sandwich formation we all made the crossing without incident, but were very happy to have the spray skirts when small cold splashes sloshed across the tops of our kayaks.
Everyone was happy to have the luxury of hot showers and clean clothes waiting. The sun was hanging just above the ridges of Balaklava and the air was cool so we all crowded into the cozy meeting hut for a few glasses of nice red wine before the dinner bell clanged a summons to a mouth watering dinner of fresh caught salmon in the dining hall.

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