Archive for the ‘Desolation Sound’ Category
Posted on June 8, 2012 - by Nadia
Friday, June 8
Yorke Island, Johstone Straight
Watching the ebb tide arrive with the dawn from Peter and Sarah’s bay view windows was like watching the birth of a river. At first, the bay was so still I could see the wake behind a slow moving loon. It was slack tide. Then a ripple arrived with a stream of countless ripples behind it. The stream grew wider and moved faster until the change itself was alarming, as though it might consume everything. The inner bay stayed calm, protected by a sweep in the land. The ripples unfolded across the mouth of the bay, not rushing, but steady. Imperceptibly, at the far end of the bay, the newborn river divided and a sliver of a stream bent back along the curved shore, back toward the cabin and the boat and the dock. By the time I was loaded and launched a gentle eddy had set up inside the bay, pushing water back to the start of the new tide.
I got in my kayak and paddled a diagonal out, across the gentle eddy and then with a little push, into the new river. With a flick of the paddle, I was on a commuter rail. I set my set tea on the front of the boat and let the river inside the sea work for me.
After such a lovely start, the rain and cold set in and I stopped at Shoal Bay and holed up with a fair number of others, including Meg and Andy from Big Bay.
Mark and Cynthia own and operate the moorage, pub, laundry and organic garden at Shoal Bay. The moorage makes it a stopping place, the pub – a common room that is much more living room than bar – makes it a gathering place. Most people holed up in their boats. Mine being pretty much just a hole, I showered and hung out in the pub, reading, blogging and talking with Julie and Julian, two WOOFers from France who are helping Mark and Cynthia for a few weeks. WOOFers are Workers On Organic Farms and it’s a way to travel abroad, get an extended visa in the U.S. and Canada, and meet interesting people.
The gathering was a fun exchange of information about the tangle of waterways everyone was plying and general tale telling, often about the self reliance required of the sailing set. Outstanding story of the night was about the time Cynthia’s Doberman Fannie cut her foot wide open and a sailor who was house sitting tied her into her dog bed and sewed the foot back together with his sail mending kit; put something like 13 stitches in it. Imagine a dog putting up with that.
In the morning, the race was on to Greene Point rapids, six or seven miles away with slack tide at 7. I meant to be gone at 5:15, but shoved off a half hour late into a choppy channel that slowed me down and threatened to make me miss the window of slack altogether, which would have meant sitting tight another day. I dug in and made it to the start by 6:45, then had to bear down again to get through the whole three-mile stretch before slack ended. Greene was much calmer than Yuculta and Dent, but the bubbles and smooth upheavings were little warning shots that made me worry a maw of a whorl might open at any moment and eat my boat.
If the race for slack triggered a bit of the fight response, my interrupted lunch plans found the flight trigger.
I had planned on stopping for a long lunch at D’Arcy Point to kill some time waiting for slack before Whirlpool Rapids. I was considering staying at D’Arcy overnight, even though it was only 10 a.m., because there is little camping after Whirlpool, and big winds were predicted for Johnstone Straight the next day, so I though why rush only to be trapped, windbound on a little island?
As I scouted the beach and the thick cedar forest behind it for camping potential I wandered farther and farther from my boat until I cleared a tiny rise in the beach about 300-400 yards from the kayak. And there, half that far from me, was a cinnamon sow grizzly bear and her lean young of last year. They were at the water’s edge, flipping rocks, wondering what to eat.
I turned tail and got back to the boat as quickly as neoprene booties on weedslick rocks can move. By the time I was in my boat and 20 yards off shore, the bears were where my boat had been. I stopped and took their picture. Only then did the sow see me. Then it was her turn to take off running.
I was so scared by the whole thing that I dashed across some pretty aggressive current and eddy lines to hide out in the lee of an island and rethink things. I ended up going around the island that forms Whirlpool in the opposite direction, paddling up Johnstone Straight against the current, and pulling into the exact same island I wondered about being trapped on, just in time for the wind to start blowing. It is screaming about 30 mph now, with the same predicted for tomorrow afternoon. The question is, what will the morning hold? I might be on this funny island for another day.
Posted on June 7, 2012 - by Nadia
Thursday June 7
Shoal Bay, North of Desolation Sound
If part of the definition of adventure is the intensity of experience, then navigating Yuculta and Dent Rapids, and gliding into the fairyland of Denham Bay afterward, was all one big adventure.
If I was a bit laconic entering the rapids at the end of the extremely low ebb tide, exiting the whirlpools at the end of the next tide – an extremely high flood – put me on full alert.
Between the tides, I had watched the huge whirls build and circulate 66-foot boom logs like matchsticks in the toilet. I knew there was incredible power in this strange place of converging arms and eddies. The plan for navigating these waters is to wait for the quietest time between the tides and go for it. But with the huge difference between high and low these days, there is not quite enough time for the water of the massive flood to leave and substantial current continues into slack. So it was that I sat in the last quiet, kelp-filled eddy, watching Andy gun his engine and buck slowly up the current. I knew I was in for a fight. I worked up as much power as I could hugging the north shore, but I quickly came to a point that kicked a strong stream of water – think Rattlesnake Creek in Missoula – off the shore.
I bore down, crossed the stream where it converged with the main flow – think Clark Fork River in springtime — which was headed to join the diminished, but still visible, main whirl above Big Bay. As soon as I hit the stream it shot me sideways. I set an aggressive ferry angle and paddled as hard as I could. I had to reach the calm surrounding an island in the middle of the bay without losing so much ground that I got pulled into the whirl. Few things in life inspire such focus as that single imperative.
A chain of mini-whirlpools formed where the main current hit the eddy at the island. They were about a third to half as big as my boat is long and I had mixed feelings about them. They appeared and disappeared ahead of me and beneath me and there was nothing I could do but brace and let them push me around a little bit. It felt destabilizing, but they pushed me up the chain and toward the island so I felt a cautious affection for the little whirls.
Then I was in the eddy of the island. I gasped for air and grabbed for a drink of water. Now, I knew, I had to use the rest of the slack tide to get from the island to the mainland and a tiny channel that allows kayaks and skiffs to skip the bigger, separate whirlpools known as Dent Rapids. That crossing was a simple push against straight current. Once through the channel, the ebb tide picked me up and carried me along as though it was never anything but helpful. I had had no time to be scared crossing the current but realized as I coasted north that negotiating so many fast transitions had used everything I have learned about paddling all types of boat in these last 25 years.
When I eased around Horn Point, the cheery red cabins of Denham Bay called me in. Cobbled rocks and waving kelp glistened in crystal clear water. Snow filled steep chutes from towering peaks behind the cedar forest. I sat and took it in. The soothing tones of Ray LaFontaine spilled out of speakers on a dock. I almost cried, the contrast to those 15 minutes outside of Big Bay was so great.
Sarah, the woman who had offered a place to stay, came down to meet me. She and her husband Peter had carved and sculpted this place out of the forest but they are ambivalent about the next step: Taking care of guests who come to stay. Every curve in the paths, every detail of the buildings shows the love they have put into building a paradise on this bay. It is a simple place tucked into a landscape of resorts only the very wealth can afford to visit (Dennis Washington owns “half the land up that way,” someone else told me later. His name comes up a lot here, when people hear I’m from Montana.) Sarah and Peter hope to make their place a refuge for regular folk. They just aren’t sure when to open the doors. Except to people who straggle by, including the occasional kayaker.
Sarah fed me and Peter shared some of his great experiences both building the lodge from all reclaimed materials, and working as a fishing guide in the area for the last several decades. Then they headed to their floating house closer to Big Bay and told me to close the door behind me when I left in the morning.
I nestled into my sleeping bag on one of the beds in the single, cozy room of the main house. In the indoor/outdoor room below me, a bull frog croaked out his mating calls until even he figured she might not be out there that night. I took one last look at the placid bay that filled the cabin view, and I slept with the same intensity with which I had paddled. Even paradise is part of adventure.
Posted on June 6, 2012 - by Nadia
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Northern most islet, Rondezvous Islands
Yesterday, as I entered Desolation Sound proper I understood what it was that gave Vancouver the willies about this area. Paddling across an open straight on calm waters I looked ahead a couple of miles and I could see the tops of masts – and only the tops – pass in front of me. Before me lay two small islands. In the distance, towering, snow-capped and mist shrouded mountains. Between me and the sailboats, some unknowable event horizon. Something must happen, some waterfall or rapid or hole in the ocean, that would allow me to paddle obviously downhill; that would allow boats to motor by clearly below the plane of my existence. I hesitated in my route choosing. Should I go, as planned, between these two little islands, even though something mysterious happens there? Or should I go around, even though it would be longer? I vacillated. Then I went for it.
This must be an extreme form of the foreshortening I’ve mentioned a couple of times. Or a funny way that light bends over big bodies of water. In any event, no one had mentioned the edge of the earth being on my route, so I went on faith and found myself in Squirrel Cove, learning how oysters are the grandmothers of mink.
Mink Boy found himself captive in the den of the Wolf Clan. When the fire was hot and the wolves ready to eat, Grandmother Oysters let off a tremendous amount of steam. The Wolf Clan was temporarily blinded and Mink Boy escaped. Squirrel Cove is a First Nations Reserve town, traditional oyster harvest site and now home to 90 families plus some white folks who run a store that truly has all of the essentials: groceries, hardware, alcohol, showers, laundry, excellent fig bars and hot tea.
For a while, Squirrel Cove, like Refuge Cove across the broad passage, was a busy timber town with a few hundred residents. Now, it is hometown to Alec Page, a Canadian swimmer bound for the London Games. It is also a jumping off place for intrepid souls who make the 8-hour drive from Seattle. A group of six was setting off as I arrived.
After my fig bar and tea, I paddled to Teakearne Arm, a provincial park know for its spectacular waterfall. The fall comes from a lake that is made for hot summer days of cliff diving and lounging on hot rocks. My day was a bit cooler than that, but it made me thirst for a baking hot day and fresh water to clean off in. I made camp by hauling my gear up 30 feet to a lovely bluff and tying the kayak off between two logs over a green lawn that was well underwater at high tide. These days of highest and lowest tides need to wrap it up. It makes for a lot of work.
I left Teakearne Arm early but a stiff headwind thwarted plans for an expedited run at the rapids downstream. Instead, as I pushed steadily into the wind, hugging the shore for shelter, I startled a black wolf chewing on a doe, washed up on a ledge. We both started and the wolf, a black female, I’m guessing, slunk off into the woods, but not far. A sly mink with the cutest ears looked me straight in the eye and moved in on the carcass. Grandmother Oyster is very proud, no doubt.
Postscript midday Wednesday: I Passed through Yuculta Rapids today at 1, after sitting for an hour, second guessing the time I figured was safest to go. I stuck to my plan, was right and am glad I played according to nature’s rules.
For some reason, huge whirlpools set up at several points in this curvy passage. Although I passed through spot on time for slack, a wind was blowing from the north, which meant the whirls never totally stopped. I hugged the shore but got knocked enough into the current by some power boat wakes that I thought for a minute, “Uh oh, could be a round trip on this one.”
I made it to Big Bay, safe haven halfway through the whirls. It has a dock, warm shower, and lots of renovations going on. A woman on the dock offered to let me camp on her land just north of the next set of rapids, so I’m going to go for it tonight at 7:30. Otherwise, slack tomorrow is at 6:30, which means packing up at 4 a.m., and, the way mornings go around here, in the rain. Fingers crossed that the evening slack is calmer than the midday. For now, the whirlpools are building to max and it is very nice to watch from shore.
Posted on June 3, 2012 - by Nadia
Sunday, June 3
Sarah Point, Gateway to Desolation Sound
Apparently, the unthinkably steep mountains, neurotically unstable weather and labyrinth of waterways that define the region I’m about to enter so filled Vancouver with despair and foreboding that he called it Desolation Sound. Sitting in my tent peering into the sound, I have to agree there is a sense of something out there. I’m pretty sure it is bears and pirate-spies.
Kevin and I awoke to an absolute downpour. If I haven’t mentioned it yet, that’s because there’s nothing to be done about it: Almost every morning it rains and I load wet gear into the boat. I dry it out when I set it up, then, regularly, it rains before I even get into bed. That’s the routine. So it was that he and I paddled into the very lovely village of Lund in a steady rain. We tied up at the dock and, dripping in our wetsuits, sat down for breakfast at the infamous Nancy’s Bakery. No one really batted an eye.
We both ordered the Fisherman’s Special – four eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns and toast, and split one of the best cinnamon buns on earth. Kevin unfolded his plan that had a friend of his driving from Texada to Lund to fetch him and his boat. It was a good plan. Safer than the alternatives that had Kevin paddling home, alone, into uncertain weather. It was fun to have a paddling companion for a couple of days and I’m sure that Kevin will be showing me new tricks if he spends this summer meeting the impressive Powell River paddling community. Thanks for keeping up and keeping company, Kev.
Stuffed, and having filled out my food supply to carry me to Alert Bay with just a single dependable shopping stop along the way, I headed into new territory , alone. Immediately, the islands closed in and the waterways narrowed. The wind stayed from the north, which everyone says means good weather. I think they mean the rain tends to be warm and intermittent from the north, as opposed to the windy, cold, mean rain from the south.
As I beat my way around Sarah Point, searching, as always, for the last camping spot on my map for the day, a nice wooden boat stopped me. It was kind of African Queen like, only without the boiler or Bogart.
I’m quartering a stiff breeze on a point and fighting the surge coming off a cliff. It’s like stopping someone on the on ramp to ask for directions. But the guy pops his head out the window and says, “You from around here? We’re looking for salmon. Do you know where they are?”
I suggest that a pretty big river drains into the next bay to the north, and that it seems to me salmon are all about going home. And with that, the dumbest fishermen I have ever seen chugged off.
I had seen this guy buying his fishing license at the grocery store in Lund and he seemed clueless there. And I am deeply suspicious of running into the same people twice in a world where I don’t run into anybody much. Now I noticed that the fenders were still hanging off the side of his boat. Anyone who knows port from starboard knows you bring in your fenders the moment you clear the dock. These guys were clearly not men of the sea. Furthermore, for the entire hour it took me to unload my boat, they trolled the mouth of the cover I was calling home. The one without a river. It was just creepy. I got out my binoculars and watched sneakily. There was some seriously unfun looking fishing going on. Just back and forth, back and forth, no talking, no drinking, no catching anything. I took to carrying my bear spray in case they came ashore because it was quite clear to me: These guys are Russian spies posing as Somali pirates out to plunder my Nutella stash. Or worse. I focused on the Nutella.
Of course, carrying bear spray has a way of making you think about bears. It is time in this trip that I did that, as Lund has wolves and grizzlies at its gate and bears will begin to compete seriously for campsites as the trip continues. I unloaded all the food from the boat and lugged to up to my perch as virtually everything else would be underwater at high tide. As I sorted the food into a couple of haul bags, the skies opened up. Again. I threw the rain fly on the tent – it had been drying out from the morning deluge – and chucked all the food and the haul bags under a vestibule. And there I was, violating bear country rule No. 1, no food in the tent. (Technically, it was in the vestibule, but that I suspect would fail the sniff test.)
There I sat, Nutella and everything else in front of me, bear spray at the ready, pirate-spies pretty much forgotten. And it just poured rain. For a good, long, soak. And then, as it let up, a brilliant beam of light seared into the end panel of the tent. And so it was that I saw a bulky silhouette pass the end of my tent at the same time I felt something brush the rain fly.
“Hey bear!” I huffed, as I yanked open the screen and scrambled simultaneously for bear spray and shoes. As I burst from the tent there was a moment of perfect calm before the massive eagle lift from its mossy perch not three feet from my tent, and carried away the very fish the spy-pirates had sought.
I can’t wait to see what else Desolation Sound has to offer. Sadly, though, you might have to as the camera is giving me a memory card error message. Having tried all the easy fixes, I’ll dig a new card out once low tide gives me access to the boat again. I hope that does the trick.
(Whoa, this is weird too. First of all, I think it’s odd I get a cell connection here. But I see a wireless option as well, something called “Hope.” I am going for a walk about to see who else is here as soon as I get this posted. Am taking bear spray. It’s probably a boat anchored in the next cove.)