Monday, August 10, 2009

Sea Kayaking in British Columbia - July 16th

Thursday, July 16th
This misty morning we had a strenuous pull across the Christie Channel and up along the eastern shore of Balaklava. The lighthouse at Scarlett Point came into view as we neared the northern end of the island. It perches on a promontory at the top of steep cliffs close to a small indentation in the shoreline that leads to a cleft in the rock only a few feet wide.
Spanning the gap of the small bay, a thick cable droops its catenary curve toward the kelp floating below, and at the low point, an attached rope with a bulbous float hangs to within 20 feet of the water. High on the lighthouse rocks above a cable and pulley with a winch attached stands ready to be lowered, spider-like to pick up cargo whenever a supply boat stops below.
We string out single file and paddle one by one under the cable lift and through the narrow opening into a small shallow lagoon. Scattered along the wooded shore are old channel marker buoys, a barnacle-encrusted marine railway, several ancient outboard motorboats sleeping on cushions of old tires, and a boardwalk leading up the slope into the trees. We lift the kayaks carefully only a little way onto the rough shore, since the tide is ebbing, and walk along a path into the woods.
Walking in the temperate rainforests of British Columbia you can still believe in magic. The forest floor is springy underfoot where thick layers of moss cushion each step and mute all sound. The grey misty daylight struggles down through branches of close growing cedar and hemlock, and you feel compelled to tiptoe, talking only in soft voices, half-expecting wood-nymphs to peek from behind moss covered tree trunks or to duck behind tangled windfalls.
A short climb brought us to the top of a rocky cliff at the edge of the forest to a view of the wide Queen Charlotte Channel, with other dark islands looming out of the fog in the distance. The breeze off the cold water was chilly, and we turned back into the still woods to make our way down to the lighthouse.
Unlike the United States where virtually all of the lighthouses have been automated, in British Columbia most are still manned. As we strolled out into the cleared area close to the lighthouse we were met by Ivan, the head keeper at Scarlett Point. After serving as an assistant at several other lighthouses he was certified as a head lighthouse keeper, and has been living here for the past seven years in one of two houses on the grounds. The second house is assigned to the assistant lighthouse keeper, who was presently away on vacation for a week.
Ivan obviously loves his job, and took great pleasure in telling us about the operation of the light and its equipment. He said that only a week before he had stood for several hours watching the annual return of hundreds of orcas following the movable feast of salmon that are heading in to spawn in the rivers where they were born.
Deer are frequent visitors, for they enjoy nibbling the acres of grass that cover the grounds. Several, including a doe and very young fawn, wandered along the edges of the grounds, apparently unconcerned about the presence of human visitors.
By the time we had returned to the kayaks the lagoon had drained almost completely, the tidal ebb looking like a rushing mountain stream. Ribbon and leaves of seaweed were now the only cover for rocks that had been underwater when we arrived. Every few seconds, small jets of water shot a foot or two into the air as hidden clams squirted miniature geysers from their siphons. We had to wait a half hour for slack tide to make our escape. When we observed the saltwater river reverse its direction and beginning to flow back into the lagoon we launched our kayaks, and steered a narrow winding route between rocks and through thick kelp to make our way to open water. There were strong winds and following waves at our back as we paddled down the Christie Channel, speeding us on our way back to God’s Pocket, but by the time we had finished dinner the surface was once again as smooth as glass in the low rays of the setting sun.
Bill and Anne, the owners of the God’s Pocket Resort invited the lot of us out for an evening sunset cruise, and we all trooped down to the big motor launch. As the sun disappeared behind the ridges of Nigei Island we spotted a humpback whale spouting in the distance. Bill spun the wheel and headed over to where we had last seen the whale. Everyone was watching on the port side of boat, waiting for it to surface again when there was a loud WHOOSH off to the starboard. The whale had swum directly underneath us and surfaced about 30 yards away with an exhalation of fish-breath!
After the excitement Bill took boat up the channel between Balaklava and the Lucan Islands, along the Browning wall, all the way past Point Scarlet, flashing its beacon in the gathering darkness. By the time we had sped back down the Christie Channel and had tied up again at the dock it was 10:30, and we all headed for bed at the end of a wonderful day.

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