Saturday, September 5, 2009

Paddling the Gulf Islands British Columbia

Kayaking from Sidney to Portland Island and back has been the best paddling experience I've had in my life to date. A lot of that is due to the wonderful outfit that we rented our tandem from, A Paddle in the Park.

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Pictures: (Once the slideshow is playing, you may click on it to go to the Picasa album for higher quality pictures and more control.)

August 15, 2009 - Victoria, British Columbia
Marsha picked us up at the hotel, and she had Matt already in the car. Matt told us that four days prior, he had no idea that he was going to be in Victoria. An avid kayaker, he was invited by a friend who had plenty of frequent flier miles. We had a nice drive up to Sidney, getting to know Marsha and Matt.

Paddle in the Park is an excellent choice for paddling in the Victoria area. You are right there in the gulf islands to start with, and they have great equipment, and they are very safety conscientious, and very friendly. We set out with charts provided, a paddle float, a sponge, pump, and an extra paddle. We were also given careful instructions regarding ferry crossings, and other boat traffic. Consequently we felt very confident and safe at all times.

We made our way out past Curtis Point, and back up the coast toward Swartz Bay. Along the way Kevin spotted a seal lounging just out of the water on a rock to the right, offshore. We kept our distance, and he wasn't disturbed. When we saw the ferry terminal, I realized that we were making great time, and now I understood the scale of the map, and our potential to cover a lot of territory. We made our crossing to Knapp and Pym Islands, and half way across, we saw the ferry coming from Tsawwassen. When you hear that horn, you know it means business. It's the loudest thing I've ever heard. It was the Coastal Celebration, the same ferry we had taken to arrive in Victoria. We were already out of the ferry channel, but at the time we didn't know it and expedited our paddling. We were well out of the way of the ferry, and the giant ferry, which carries cars and buses, produces almost no wake.

The islands of Knapp and Pym are quite beautiful. Our next crossing was toward Portland Island. This was uneventful, we made our way around the right of Brackman Island, and to the beach on Portland Island behind it. There are picnic tables, and we had our lunch here of tamarind almonds, peanuts, raisins, dates, carrots and orzo salad. We made spoons out of carrots to eat the orzo by biting the wide ends of the carrots. A group of eight women arrived in a variety of singles and double kayaks, and we talked a little. I helped cast off the last double since they were stuck on the beach after getting into their boat.

We saw other kayakers pass by while we ate. Finally, we got back in our double, and paddled around Portland Island. On the far side we were approaching a kelp bed when we heard a frightening gutteral sound. We didn't see what made the sound, but as we passed we saw seals peeking out of the kelp at us. I assume we heard the seal early warning system for approaching kayaker. We explored a rock garden, and then came full circle around Portland Island. There is an option to hike on the island, and we saw many hikers, by why would you when you could be paddling? :) We went past Brackman, and around it to the left, and made another crossing of open water back to Pym.

From Pym we scoped the crossing to Coal. This is very close to the ferry terminal, and we weren't sure if the 1pm to Tsawwassen had left yet. So, we made our crossing toward the red channel marker, and just short of the channel we heard the massive blast of the ferry horn. We waited on the safe side outside the channel until we saw the ferry depart, and it wasn't the ferry that was headed our way, so we went for it aiming for the shore of Coal Island. At this point we made the decision to go left around Coal Island to see where we hadn't seen before. It was along this stretch that we saw our first Bald Eagle. We stopped paddling and the current from the ebbing tide carried us past the majestic eagle, past bending giant fronds of kelp bending with the flow. Then we rounded the island to the sunny side, and found a beach. We beached, and got out to enjoy more snacks, and plan our remaining hours when we were approached by two kayakers who turned out to be Marsha and Matt.

We visited and shared stories on the beach, then we all headed off together, and Marsha gave us a little tour. We passed through a rock garden that was home to a large family of seals with pups. We lingered there for a while and took many pictures. As we made our way back to Sidney, we passed under trees, and we heard a loud shriek that turned out to be a pair of herons flying over and away from us. Unfortunately, it was time to head in, and the memorable day goes into the history books as the best day paddling so far.