Trip 2: Blind Weiner
“Red sky in the morning, sailors warning…”
The 30km-plus crossing looked longer than I thought. Shit. We paddled away into the surprisingly icy summer waters knowing we’d just committed to something big.
Our pre-dawn start kept the conversation to a minimum. Is that a building fog bank in the distance? How far would a two-knot ebb current push us off-course? Would my home-built wooden paddleboard, loaded with five days of wilderness camping gear really work for this? This last question had haunted me for several months and I would soon know the answer. Head down and paddle.
The more we paddled, the more our nervous energy wore off and was replaced with pure stoke. The first memorable moment of the trip was approaching the safety of Mitlenatch Island in the middle of Georgia Straight. We couldn’t believe how calm the seas were as we passed our first pod of fort-plus seals and spotted three bald eagles and one golden before even stepping foot on land.
Fully loaded, my board handled like a charm. She was a bitch to pack but glided beautifully silent in the water and was just stable enough to knee paddle. Although slightly slower than a sea kayak in calm conditions, the two boats complement each other nicely. Above deck, I was able to carry two dry bags in front for quick-access gear like water, energy bars, VHF radio, marine compass, GPS, leash, etc. A second bag carrying my foamie and fishing rod was strapped to the stern behind my feet. This left me with at least another 70L of space below deck for a tent, sleeping bag, food, more water, and clothing. Of course, it helped having Dave in a sea kayak to hold the wine, crab trap and other luxuries but I was able to carry enough to feel fully self-sufficient. The only difficulty was getting my hatches to seal properly and I dreaded the thought of my craft slowly filling with water the farther I got from land.
Georgia Straight is renowned for kicking up quick gales and in our exposed position it was vital that we kept moving. Next stop was around the south tip of Hernando Island. The tide was now low, swinging back to a flood as we paddled around the long reef to the south. Just as we rounded the tip of the reef, the current caught us and we drifted on a gentle one-knot flow above a stunning display of sea grass, white sand, crabs and schools of small fish in waters only six-feet deep. Seals were perched sunning themselves on every available rock. It was sensory overload having prepared ourselves for epic seas and instead being able to drift across this tropical heaven.
A quick lunch followed that was punctuated by butter clams spraying our pumpernickel sandwiches as the tide began moving in on our tiny piece of beach at an alarming rate. We’d debated whether lunch was necessary to recharge the sugar levels before making the last crossing for the day but luckily we’d made the first of many wise decisions.
The remaining 8km pull was exhausting. Mild heat stroke combined with a very strong localized current and a large incoming tugboat made for an exciting finish. Just as we both began to feel like we were getting pulled too far off course, we noticed a keyhole opening that appeared to drain a hidden lagoon between two small islands. We turned hard port side and found ourselves in a narrow canyon fighting an even stronger flow before landing in the safety of the beautiful Copeland Islands. It took us another hour to find a suitable campsite by which time I was well behind Dave, letting out war cries to let him know that I was fading fast. The wait was worth it though, as we pulled ourselves on to our very own private island complete with a split-level terrace and 270degree views. We’d crossed the pond in one big day and I was done.
Day two was a national holiday. The decision to stay was easy given the state of my sore arms, the setting of our private island and the correctly forecasted gale that had kicked up during the day. We passed the hours eating burritos, listening to our favorite tunes (courtesy of our solar ipod charger), fishing and watching our local eagle land on the same branch and feed twice daily at each high tide.
Day three took us to the small coastal community of Lund where we gorged on fresh baked goods and tried unsuccessfully to order beer before noon. That morning, I watched Dave throw his first fit upon getting his kayak swamped by the incoming wake of a pleasure boat as we prepared to leave. The logistics of getting two fully loaded boats into the water without leaving one unattended proved challenging.
Passing the south tip of Savory Island, we made the call to go for the next crossing. Calm seas prevailed once again. Half way across we passed Mystery Reef – a smelly speckle of land only visible at low tide and overrun by seals and rotting sea kelp. I was getting hammered by the effect of the sun by this point and wanted to keep moving for fear of suddenly passing out knee deep in seal shit. Dave appeared quite content to float about here, no doubt trying to recreate our tropical reef experience from our first day. As we left, it was amazing to witness just how far individual seals would peel away from their pod to escort us on our way – often several kilometers from their group. Dave exclaimed these were not seals but sea dogs. I agreed and we suggested this become Dave’s new radio call sign.
The beach we landed on that afternoon on Harewood Island was exceptional. White sand and perfect swimming found us naked at low tide sharing our only bottle of whiskey. Dave suddenly proclaimed that the two of us made a great team of paddlers. I laughed at the nakedness of it all; Sea Dog and Blind Wiener. What a f*&%$#ing spot!
Luckily the ocean remained glassy all night since our tent was perched on the only available campsite less than one foot above the high tide mark. Water lapped at our beds while we stayed awake long enough for the tide to turn, knowing it was finally safe to crash.
The 5am marine weather check on the radio the next morning suggested our perfect weather was changing soon. As we rounded the protection of the island, you could feel the south winds beginning to build. We decided to stop on the last outcropping of rock for one last pit stop before crossing and I startled a massive bald eagle with my pants down.
We pushed into the channel. The ebb tide was already backing against the head wind, in turn creating an awful section of standing waves that plowed straight into us and often well over my head. Here my wave breaker was rendered useless and it took a massive effort to maintain forward momentum as we pushed towards the lighthouse marking the half-way point in the channel. Luckily the seas eased back soon after and we were once again cruising in calmer waters.
Where we stopped for lunch that afternoon, we discovered a hanging campsite platform suspended between alders trees twenty feet above the beach. With nobody around, we opted for a shorter day to enjoy another stellar beach setup. I spent the afternoon fishing from the board having done some trolling already. As I jigged the ocean bottom, Dave pulled up just in time to see me bring up my first and only catch of the trip – a five inch rock cod. It looked to be smiling as I pulled the huge hook from its tiny jaw.
The next morning we both dressed again for warm weather but as we passed our first of many rocky headlands, our choice of only boardshorts became questionable. At the last moment, I’d decided to leave my full suit behind and had instead opted for an eccentric combination of neoprene booties, shorts, tops and pants that I mixed and matched with board shorts and rash guards. Once wet though it was easy to crave the warmth of my absent 4/3 steamer.
A 20+knot NW tailwind was building and creating seriously confused seas next to the rocky headlands as waves refracted into one another with building intensity. I was surprised to find myself quickly falling behind Dave and unable to keep up. To hold him within earshot and eyesight, I let out another war cry. He heard me and hesitated before maneuvering in a semi-circular holding pattern in a small bay. Before I knew it, Dave came flying past me again, screaming something to the effect of “I can’t fucking stop. I’m going down”.
We were both surfing now and fighting to keep from going over. I’d already fastened myself to my boat using my trusted longboard surf leash, having just been bucked off by two cross-waves that imploded on my stern. I held on as best I could in the downwind conditions wishing I had installed some kind of foot rudder. Wet and cold, I knew that I needed to get to land soon to put on some more rubber.
Dave and I quickly decided to make a break for what looked like a possible landing spot ahead. We pulled onto the narrow rocky beach as the two-foot shore break crashed around us. Dave sprang from his boat and exclaimed he needed to shit his pants. We took a breather and pulled on our warmest paddling gear before continuing. While Dave was relieving himself, I distinctly remember sitting on a giant red cedar log, adrenaline still pumping through me and feeling more alive than I’d felt in a very long time.
Little did we know that ten minutes later, the ocean would relax again. We slogged along for another 15 km under grey skies and past the industrial wasteland of a giant gravel pit. After a full day, we made it to our planned campsite at the Shelter Point Rec Area. Exhausted again, we were greeted with hot showers and cold beers provided by car campers taking serious pity on us.
It soon began to rain and we began to drink. God, the beers tasted good. I investigated my only injury of the trip – a two inch gash on my index finger from paddling too deep in barnacle invested water. A scar only a paddleboarder would be proud of.
We sat on our picnic table in our wetsuits as water dropped mud puddles at our feet. We commented on what a great site we had chosen and how nice it would be to sleep three feet away from the main campsite toilet (it wasn’t). A solid pacific northwest storm system had officially moved in. As we listened to the automated marine forecast, it became clear that after nearly 100 kilometers of paddling, our little trip was getting cut short. We finished the last of the whiskey and couldn’t help but laugh like dogs.
trip photos: dave (“sea dog”) yule