Broughton Archipelago, BC – September 2014

Lucky White Trash Kayak Hat

The one thing I can’t forget on any kayak trip is my lucky hat; or Lucky White Trash Kayak Hat: LWTKH. I wear LWTKH for kayak trips only. I don’t want to use the luck up wearing it all the time; It might only have limited amount of mystical protective power. It hasn’t let me down yet. Eight years and counting.

LWTKH in Boughton's arkipeligo.

LWTKH in Broughton Archipelago.

It’s not easy being my lucky kayak hat. It has to endure salt water, sweat, blazing sun, dirt, sand. Plus poor LWTKH gets no respect: Left outside overnight, used as a potholder, lashed to the deck of my kayak. I wash it in a stream, wring it out and leave it on the beach to dry.

There have been times over the years on trips, in dangerous situations where I have needed a little luck.  LWTKH is always there for me, protecting me from peril, harm and rogue waves.

Lucky White Trash Kayak Hat

Lucky White Trash Kayak Hat.  Looking rough, Post-trip.

After a trip it looks like crap; plastered with sand, dirt stains and it smells like a cross between campfire smoke and wet cat.  But everytime, after a couple of washes, it looks surprisingly good.

If I were to forget it on a trip, I would drive back home for it, no matter how far. Seriously!

A trip would be doomed if I were to forget my Lucky White Trash Kayak Hat.

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Third times a charm.

It was my first attempt to get to White Cliff Island that sits alone and exposed out in Queen Charlotte Straight. Because of this exposure, the water conditions can be turbulent, and that was the case on this day. The wind and waves were starting to kick-up; the sea was getting angry, so I was looking for an alternative campsite I had read of; a safe port in the storm.
I came upon a small bay with a cobblestone beach, matching the description of the camp I was looking for and so I landed. I poked around the tiny cove, but there was no area to set up a tent; this wasn’t the right beach.

I bushwhacked down an overgrown ‘path’ that led from the beach up through the dense woods. After a hard-fought hundred yards, I arrived at another beach filled with huge driftwood logs and a deep narrow bay. Behind the logs, a small area was scratched out for one tent. This was the camp I was looking for.

Port in the storm

Camp – Plan B -Port in the storm

I was feeling lazy, so even though the sea conditions were worsening, I decided to kayak the short distance instead of making multiple trips through the woods carrying all my equipment. (Plus I don’t like having my kayak out-of-sight so far from camp.) I launched and paddled out of the bay and around a point and into the wind. The wind and waves were manageable at first, but that quickly changed. The waves increased with no rhyme or rhythm; the water was foaming and the wind was gusting in my face, I couldn’t turn around even if I wanted to in this mayhem. Great; now because I was too lazy to hump all my gear, I’m going to get bashed on the rocky shore. I can see the headline now “lazy kayaker pays the price”.
I took a deep breath. It was chaotic but not catastrophic; I powered through to the calm cove. It was a tiny beach littered with massive driftwood, I dragged my kayak onto the logs to keep it out of the approaching high tide and set up camp.

Kayak on the driftwood.

Kayak on the driftwood.

The next day as I made a second attempt to get to White Cliff, it was a little choppy as I headed out. The landing on White Cliff is said to be tricky, you have to land on a rock ledge, like a granite ramp. I would only attempt this in good conditions but again the weather worsened. So I aborted the second attempt and headed for my plan C campsite.

So I landed at Owl Island; it was nice, but now I was obsessed about getting to White Cliff. I wandered the island and caught a view out into the straight, the water was calm and the wind had died. I ran back to the kayak and launched for attempt  number 3.
It was only a few miles to the island and in the calm conditions it didn’t take me long; third time’s a charm. Now I just had to figure out how to land. The shore was rocky with white vertical walls. I searched for the elusive landing site and found a sloping, off-angle ramp with a wall on one side. I paddled hard, slid up the ramp, put my hand on the wall and jumped out of the kayak; easy.

landing ramp

landing ramp

I have heard that this was a amazing place to camp and it did not disappoint. The campsite was on the top of a hill and had a 360 degree view of Queen Charlotte Straight; beautiful. I slowly unpacked the kayak and set up camp. Before long, a humpback whale passed along the shore and then another, over the course of the afternoon, ten whales in total passed by.


Camp on White Cliff

It took a few days, some bad weather and three attempts, but it was worth it; A beautiful day, a great campsite on a small island in the middle of a whale highway.

Sunset over White Cliff Island.

Sunset over White Cliff Island.

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Boughton Archipelago is where the orcas spend their summer.  One of the world’s largest salmon runs, the Fraser River Salmon travels through the area, and so large numbers of orca go to gorge themselves. I was taking a six day solo kayak trip through the area, camping on small remote islands, and I was hoping to see some of them. I have seen Orca from my kayak before, but from a distance or only a quick glimpse, so I wanted to get a closer look. But not too close; they are called Killer Whales after all.

Telegraph cove

Telegraph Cove

I launched from Telegraph Cove  and after I fought through the turbulent water west of Hanson Island I got into mellow Blackfish Sound, where the Orca frequent. It was a beautiful day: no wind, mostly sunny, calm seas. After a short rest, I started to paddle across the Sound and I kept hearing a loud, deep, hollow booming sound, reverberating across the water like a distant canon firing. What is that noise? I stopped paddling and drifted, looking for the source. Far in the distance, I saw a humpback whale breach and land with a enormous splash, followed by a loud boom that echoed throughout the Sound.  For the next few minutes whales were launching themselves into the air; something you don’t see everyday.

When the show was over, I continued across the sound, and before long I saw plumes of water and the unmistable sound of whales taking a deep breath as they surface.  I realized it was large pod of Orca slowly moving towards me.  If they stayed on course, it looked as if they were going to pass in front of me, so I stopped paddling. There were at least twelve whales traveling close together, swimming slowly  and surfacing often.

Three male Orcas came within one hundred yards from the kayak, their dorsal fins slowly rising from the water. The male dorsel fin is uncurved and can be six foot tall, an odd but imposing sight from my kayak. I was only slightly uncomfortable because the pod passed safely in front of my bow.

When the pod was in the distance, I was just about to start paddling again when a loud noise behind me. I twisted around in the kayak cockpit to see a humpback surfacing fifty yards directly astern. I spun the kayak 180 and watched a few more humpbacks with distinctive tiny dorsal fin and humped backs.

I  finally left the Sound and glided to my campsite through a maze of small islands and bays. I noticed a small splash in front me, moments later another closer; it looked like a small Harbor Porpoise. He surfaced again fifty feet directly in front of me, heading right for me, collision course.  I fumbled for my camera, as he surfaced six feet to port; I could have hit him with my paddle. I took a picture a little late, missed the shot.

Thats why I came, to see some Orca. I got my wish and then some; I could not believe my luck, a pod of orca in front, followed immediately by humpbacks behind and  finished up with a suicidal porpoice- The trifecta and it’s only day one!

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Getting there is half the battle

I was embarking on my week-long solo kayak trip to the remote and wild Broughton Archipelago, off the far north-east coast of  Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. This involved some meticulous planning and packing. I had to organize transport, menus, camping and kayaking equipment. Unfortunately, meticulous is one thing I am not, and my organizational skills are non-existent.

The week before the trip I begin piling up equipment and food in the staging area, a.k.a.the front room. All of the camping and kayaking equipment is supposed to be in neatly labeled bins in the garage. This year, as usual, things have mysteriously left the bins and scattered themselves all over the garage. This results in me digging around, last-minute, looking for crucial items in a garage piled high with crates, boxes, bins, bags and these could fall at any time causing major bodily harm.

I had to have everything set to pack the car and tie the kayak to the car roof, to leave by 7.30 am. The drive involves crossing the border, catching a ferry for the two-hour crossing and then a four-hour drive north to Telegraph Cove where I will camp for the night to launch early the following day.  And all before dark, hopefully.

So the night before I come home from work to finish packing and the list of last-minute things to do is still alarmingly long. When I go to bed at midnight, I still have a few things to do in the morning including loading the kayak on the roof of the car. But my busy mind does not let me sleep well and so I am up before five; I load up the car, muscle the kayak on the roof, and tie up the loose ends. I’m on the road by 8:00am, not too bad, I should be fine to catch my ferry.



I get to the terminal and the sign says ‘Possible Wait’; translation= the ferry is almost full and I might not make it on; if I miss this ferry, it’s two hours until the next one and that would mean arriving at the campsite well after dark. The car in front of me paying was asking lots of questions, taking way too long. Finally I get to pay, get in line and then have to wait a long half hour until the ferry arrives, with fingers crossed, hoping to make it. The ferry arrives, cars start to load and I slowly move towards the massive boat. We stop and I am twenty cars away: No!

A few moments later, I am moving again slowly; I’m going to have a coronary. I am now only a few cars away when a man in orange, with a radio to his ear, walks up the line of cars. As he passes, I hear over the radio “… Two after the kayak”; the second car behind me is stopped, I made it!  A huge relief hit me. After running around for 24 hours, packing, driving, lack of sleep, All of that was instantly forgotten, I made the ferry and will make camp by dark; the last hurdle.

The ferry always means I’m heading out on a trip; so from this moment on, I am officially on vacation.

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