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Six Days of Sea Kayaking

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Six Days of Sea Kayaking

August 23rd, 2009  · stk

Day Zero: Yellow Point to Conover Cove, on Wallace Island
1.5 miles Saturday, August 15th

We left home late today and kayaked only 1.5 miles to Conover Cove, on Wallace Island, from nearby Saltspring Island. It was after 8pm when we pulled into the campground, but hey ... we're here!

When we got up this morning, we were still having some debates about whether or not we would depart today. Scott was of the opinion, "We'll depart when we were ready, if it's today, it's today, if it's tomorrow, so be it." Rachel was more adament that we were leaving today, since, at the last minute, her night shift was covered and she was eager to get started on our adventure.

After a bacon and egg breakfast, we got busy with our preparations. Scott went upstairs to the computer to copy map pages, trim down the legend and arrange each other's waterproof map cases. Rachel stayed in the kitchen to make "Big Bear Beef Stew", for our tonight's dinner. We had no time to dehydrated it, but that's one of the nice things about kayaking, as opposed to backpacking - we can take heavier items with us. In fact, at the last minute, we packed a bunch of food that we would never dream of taking on a backpacking trip. Things like: lettuce, tomatoes, cantaloupe, cooked and shelled prawns. (Bringing these items was a last minute decision and an easy way to clean out our fridge. Why leave it to only go to waste?)

By 11am we were done with our tasks and we went outside, put the kayaks on the lawn and piled of gear on the patio. Packing rigid kayaks was new to us. We've never had to do it before. We quickly gained an appreciation for the necessity of small bags, but even then, the 10-liter dry bags that we recently purchased, seemed downright large. (We borrowed a few 20-liter dry bags from Rachel’s parents and successfully used them last year, on our Bowron Lake Canoeing Adventure, but they were too large to take kayaking). We had consulted several Internet websites, trying to quickly glean some wisdom on packing kayaks. One resource said, "Packing a touring kayak may seem like a frustrating and never-ending game of Tetris, and to some degree, it is."

We were beginning to make headway when it was suddenly time to take Alex to Nanaimo seaplane terminal, for her flight to Vancouver. (Our five-year-old daughter, flying as an unaccompanied minor, will be spending the week with her maternal grandparents, at a cabin at Watch Lake, in the Cariboo region of British Columbia). Rachel dashed off with Alex and returned with a fast-food lunch. In the meantime, Scott seemed to have worked out a system for loading the kayaks and he shared with Rachel, his newfound wisdom.

It was just after 4:00pm by the time we were ready to load up our kayaks and leave. We made our way out of the driveway, eager for a new type of adventure - sea kayaking!

We drove north, into Cedar, so that Scott could submit an "Out of District" form at his volunteer fire department, then we turned our little red Subaru south, heading to the Crofton ferry. We made a quick stop at a liquor store to purchase boxed wine (the internal bladder bags will pack well into a kayak ... another luxury we wouldn't have taken backpacking!). We didn't know the Crofton to Saltspring ferry schedule, so we skipped a mad dash into a grocery store to get Scott's "energy bars" (Snickers candy bars). It was already 5:30pm and the day was getting away from us.

Driving down the highway, Rachel poured over the maps and looked through the guidebooks, trying to identify a suitable camping destination and launching spot. We thought our decision to ferry over to Saltspring Island would buy us options upon our return (e.g., if we end up way down in the southern islands, we could land at the southern tip of Saltspring Island, in Fulford Harbor, and then hitchhike back to the car). But where should we put-in on Saltspring Island?

It was nice having three guidebooks and two maps; each had something different to offer. Nonetheless, with the limited daylight available to us, our options were limited. It became apparent that Wallace Island was our only choice, as it's only 1.5 miles from Saltspring. Still, Wallace Island has three campgrounds and Saltspring Island has two northern launch sites. Using the guidebook, we finally picked Conover Cove, with a launch from North Beach Road, near Fernwood Drive. We chose Conover Cove because the guidebooks indicated that the other two Wallace Island campgrounds are popular kayaking camps (we were worried about pulling into camp at 8pm and finding all the sites taken). Conover Cove, however, is more popular with boaters, but still has camping on a "grassy, flat and open area", which sounded favorable for squeezing in another tent, should it be filled with kayakers.

We paid the $43 for the ferry ride and twenty minutes later were driving off at Vesuvius Bay, on Saltspring Island. We followed Mary Ann Snowden's directions to the Fernwood put-in. The government wharf was easily spotted and, as indicated, a couple hundred meters further up North Beach Road, there was a steep boat launch, which led down to a flat beach. An ideal spot for launching kayaks. We unloaded the car and repeated the jigsaw-puzzle Tetris game of loading our kayaks (we weren't quite as careful as we were at home; the sun was dipping below the horizon and we were eager to shove off).

From our put-in we could see a big white yacht in the Cove, which made it easy to identify our destination. We were relieved to see only one boat. Yay! Peace and quiet, as well as suitable camping!

The crossing was calm, except for a few odd swells left by a passing motorboat. It made for a lovely crossing of the channel between Saltspring and Wallace Islands. We took our time, relishing the fact that we were finally on our first sea kayaking adventure! We were about two-thirds of the way across the channel, when we thought we heard sea lions. We couldn't see them and we didn’t hear them again. A couple hundred yards shy of the southern entrance to Conover Cove, we saw two Osprey lift off from their nest and court each other, high above our heads. They climbed into the evening sky, then swooped down to the water, recovered and climbed again.

The tranquility of the Osprey dance was soon broken by people talking and laughing on the point. As we rounded the corner of Conover Cove, we were astounded to see a wharf, with eight or so boats tied to it. There were more boats moored in the Cove and people were sitting on them. Others were on the wharf and there was much noise. People laughing, dogs barking and kids screaming. If it were not already 8pm, with nightfall rapidly approaching, we would have opted to move on. Perhaps one of the two more northern campgrounds would be quieter. Because the sun was already dipping behind Saltspring Island, we realized that we didn’t have much choice, other than to camp here. It's interesting how the atmosphere we encountered wasn't much different than campgrounds we stay at while cycle touring. But with the quiet paddle, the Osprey show and lone spotted boat, we had expected, and were hoping for, something less busy.

We pulled our kayaks on the beach and climbed up a short, steep hillside, which led to the flat, grassy camping area. There was only one tent on the edge of the field, looking out over the cove. Behind an old cabin, was a rather large open and grassy field. It was nice and level, but more importantly, it was far enough away from the dock that it was more quiet than along the water's edge. We picked a spot and then returned to the kayaks, unpacking that which we had recently loaded.

It was about fifty yards from the kayaks to where we pitched the tent, yet it seemed like a very long way, carrying our many small bags, to the campsite. We tried to select only the bags we'd need for the night, but no sooner than we thought we had it all, than we found we were missing something. Back off to the kayaks again, to find the missing item. It will take a while before we learn where we've stored things on our boats.

While Rachel set up the tent, Scott sparked up the stove and began warming the beef stew. We enjoyed an appetizer of chilled prawns dipped in seafood sauce, sipping wine from our camp mugs. By the time we finished dinner, it was nearly dark. Once the dished were rinsed, Rachel sat at the picnic table and began journaling, while Scott went back to the kayaks, to retrieve our Petzl headlamps.

As Rachel sat in the dark, blind to her surroundings by the light of the pocket computer, the bushes came alive with noise. The grass rustled behind the tent and in the bushes, she heard the staccato chortling of raccoons. It wasn't long before she heard scratching and growling noises coming from the direction of the tent.

Fearful that the raccoons were inside the tent, Rachel blindly felt her away across the intervening bit of grass to the tent, stomping her feet occasionally, in an attempt to shoo them off. When Scott came up over the rise with the headlamps, we were finally able to see all the activity going on around us. In the bushes, we saw many bright reflections of eyes. The raccoons were in the trees, the bushes, fighting each other in front of us and enjoying fruit from nearby trees. This was when we discovered that we were camping in an old, neglected fruit orchard. Raccoons weren't the only creatures. Deer were also browsing in the field as well. They were unalarmed to be within ten feet of us, as they walked around our tent. While Rachel journaled, Scott stood in the clearing, watching all the nocturnal activity. "It's like I'm in the garden of Eden," he said, at one point, since the wildlife seemed so unafraid.

After an hour of wildlife-watching, Scott retired to the tent. All is now quiet in the bay and the campground. It's time to put our heads to rest. Scott is anticipating a poor night sleep. "I always sleep crappy the first night out," he says. Perhaps we are tired enough that he will prove himself wrong.

 

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