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Six Days of Sea Kayaking

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Six Days of Sea Kayaking

August 23rd, 2009  · stk

Day One: Conover Cove to Sandstone Campground, Galiano Island
9.8 miles Sunday, August 16th

Scott began the morning by saying, "I didn't sleep very well," but as Rachel recalled, every time she rolled over, he was snoring. At 7:30am, we were rudely awakened by the sound of a young child, experimenting with the full amplitude of its vocal cords. No kidding! The screeching washigh-pitched and very loud. The child appeared to be about a year old. Unfortunately, no-one made efforts to keep it quiet. Oh well, we should probably be getting up anyway.

We were slow to get moving, but we eventually managed. We fell into our old PCT routine of stuffing sleeping bags and rolling Thermarests, before we emerged from the tent. Once we were outside, we began thinking about breakfast (cold cereal with powdered milk). This begged the question, "Where's the cereal and powdered milk?"

"Ack," said Scott, "that bag's still in my kayak!"

When Scott went down to get the bag, he stopped at the edge of the field, which overlooked the water and he began to laugh.

"Come have a look at this," he called out to Rachel.

We had been a tad worried about the kayaks washing away in the tide last night, so we pulled them up the beach, past the highest tide line. We needn't have worried. It was near low tide and the water was more than thirty yards out, on a very muddy and rocky beach. The tide differential had been nine feet, but it translated to quite a distance on the gently sloping "beach". We retrieved the cereal and milk, heading back to camp for a quick breakfast.

Once we ate our breakfast, we spent some time exploring Wallace Island, which has had a rich history Wallace Island History david and jeanne conover under Wallace Island Resort sign Wallace Island was originally called "Narrow Island", but in 1905, it was changed to Wallace Island in honor of Capt. Wallace Houstoun, who surveyed the area in the 1850's. The first recorded inhabitant was Jeremiah Chivers, a Scottish immigrant. He lived a solitary life on the island, until he died in 1927. He retired to the island after fruitless adventures chasing B.C. gold rushes. He lived on the island for 38 years and was 92 years old when he passed. Californians David & Jeanne Conover purchased the island, in 1946. David Conover, the photographer credited with 'discovering' Marilyn Monroe, used his life-long savings to purchase the island and followed his dream of opening an island resort. Originally named "Royal Cedar Cottages", Wallace Island Resort offered a well-stocked store, rec hall, boat rentals, cabins and a dock. The resort was opened in 1947 and remained open until 1966, when David sold a large portion of the island to a group of teachers from Seattle, keeping only 11 acres for himself (the only bit of private land that remain on the island). He lived on that property till his death in 1983. A dispute amongst land-owners led to court proceedings. The B.C. government purchased the land through a court-ordered sale and it became a 72 hectare marine park in 1990. Some of the buildings from the Wallace Island Resort remain standing and there are various relics that remain from this by-gone resort era. David Conover authored four books, two of which, are about his time on the island.   "Once Upon an Island", Crown Publishers, 1967 - First person account of following his dream to own and live on his own island. "One Man's Island", Crown Publishers, 1971 - Follow-up to his earlier book. Journal of a year-long sojourn on Wallace Island. "Sitting on a Saltspring", 1978 - Last of three books on island life, David returned from his dream island to civilization - joys and hazards of community living. "Finding Marilyn: A Romance", Grosset & Dunlap, 1981 - The photographer who first discovered Marilyn Monroe offers his perspectives on her life, career & death, discussing her deepest thoughts about conflicts in her life.   Click box or pop-up link for more information (and photos) of the old Wallace Island Resort . Our campground was at a narrow point of the island and it wasn't far to the east side, with views of Trincomali Channel. We didn't linger, as the tide was right out and the beach was muddy, so we headed back to camp to pack our gear and begin our day's paddle.

When we were ready to depart, we had to haul our kayaks along a slippery sandstone ridge, across the mucky bottom and down to where water was lapping up against a shallow sandstone shelf. Once we'd successfully completed that balancing task, we had to repeat it again, several times, retrieving our numerous bags.

This traipsing back and forth is very different backpacking, where one simply loads everything into a sack and trundles off from camp. Taking umpteen bags down to the low tide mark seemed like a never-ending chore. It took four trips of gear-hauling, before we had everything together at the launching spot. We loaded the kayaks and were finally on our way. As we shoved off, the boaters and kids at the marina were awake and venturing out in recreational kayaks or dinghies.

We pulled out of Conover Cove and started our way up the western shore, headed toward Chivers Point. We were kayaking along a shore made up of dipping sandstone beds and bluffs, which makes the island very skinny and long. On some of these exposed rocks, we saw seals. Scott managed to get close enough to take a couple of pictures, but they weren't really allowing us to get too close. Before long, we noticed people on the shore and realized that we were coming up on Princess Cove, another popular yachting moorage spot. We didn’t venture into the cove, as it was full of boats. Instead, we continued our trek north, towards Chivers Point.

After we passed the mouth of Princess Cove, we encountered a large rock shelf island on our port side, on which, a whole colony of seals were sunning themselves. The tide was still very low and they were just relaxing and hanging out. Scott was able to maneuver his kayak fairly close and got a few good pictures before some blubbered their way into the water.

The rest of the paddle up to Chivers Point seemed to pass by very quickly. We were so busy watching all the seals that it was almost a surprise to notice people onshore. It wasn't until we came across the second and third group of people that we realized that we'd reached Chivers Point campground. When we rounded the tip of the island and entered the small pass between Wallace and Secretary Islands, the campground became visible.

Perhaps because it was low tide, but the small cove at Chivers Point looked very muddy. There were at least ten kayaks pulled onto shore and from what we could see, the terrain didn't look very level or suitable for camping. Rather than invade the already-crowed space, we paddled across the gap, to a small beach on Secretary Island. We gently nosed into a pebbly beach, sqeezed between two outcrops of sandstone, for a snack, to survey the map and consider our options. Scott was complaining that his back was sore and wanted to get out of his boat so that he could adjust the seat.

Our day's destination was Porlier Pass, between Galiano and Valdes Islands. We were hoping to camp at one of the two campgrounds at Dionisio Park, at the very northern tip of Galiano Island. However, looking out from the southern tip of Secretary Island into Trincomali Channel, we were stunned at the speed of the currents, height of the waves and fierceness of the wind. While we ate our snack, a couple of obviously experienced kayakers pulled out from the Chivers Point campground to "play" in the strong currents and standing waves in the narrow gap between the two islands.

Scott climbed a nearby small hill, which afforded him a better view of Trincomali Channel. "Woah," he said, upon his return "The current looks really strong across the whole channel and it's pretty wavy out there!".

We weren't confident about our skills, so we decided to stay in more sheltered waters and continue up the west side of Secretary Island, to Mowgli Island. Then we'd brave the channel, heading over to - privately owned - Hall Island, before making our break across the widest part of the channel.

After our thirty-minute break, we were back in our kayaks and heading off. We were soon rewarded for our decision when we passed a huge colony of seals, hanging out on a sandstone shelf that makes up the southwestern tip of Secretary Island. We managed to get more good close-ups, but half of the seals had already disappeared under the surface of the water. There were still many, however, who were braving our closeness and they kept a watchful eye, as we slid by. At times we were within thirty feet of the them. Hopefully, we got some good pictures.

After the first quarter mile up Secretary Island, we started to see cabins and cottages crowding the shore. Although it's very different scenery, the homes were interesting. We enjoyed looking at them and commenting on the various architecture as we made our way up-island.

Before long, we were at the high-tide pass that cuts Secretary Island, but the tide was still low and we saw only a land bridge. We continued on, encountering more rock shelf outcrops and a number of seals, sunning themselves. There was one in particular, who was quite vocal, though we couldn't see it. It's hoarse barking seemed to come from between two rocks and we detoured to investigate. Upon closer inspection, we realized that it was a small seal that was stuck in the crack between two rocks and couldn't get out, because of the low water level. We watched it struggle for a while. It got it's head up above the two rocks and tried to pull itself up, but it was too difficult with the water level so low. Scott was emotionally torn. He wanted to help. While our hearts went out to the poor seal and we wanted to go over and help, we knew that rescue efforts would likely cause great fear. It was more likely that "helping" would only worsen the seal's predicament and one of us might even be hurt, or bitten, in the process. It was hard, but we left things to nature, hoping that the rising tide would cure this poor seal's ills.

The rest of the way up the Secretary Island, we admired the different cabins and houses. Before long, we were at the pass between the Secretary Islands and Mowgli Island. We were interested in Mowgli Island because one of our maps indicated a camping spot. We paddled the west side of the island, but the only plausible camping location we saw, seemed to be on a sandstone shoreline on the southwestern corner of the island, in view of a closed-up cabin.

We rounded Mowgli and pushed on towards Hall Island. The map showed a sandy beach on the southeastern side of the island, so we aimed for that as our lunch spot. Sure enough, there were a couple large beaches and one small shell beach on the southeastern side and we pulled in, right underneath one of the many "Private Island" signs dotting the shoreline.

We pulled out our lunch bags and sat on the beach, enjoying pepperoni sticks, cheese, bread and cookies. As we lingered and relaxed, we realized in the absence of cooling breezes, which we had on the open water, that it was a hot day. For once, it was Scott who called the lunch break "done" and suggested that we get moving. It was just after 1:30pm and the only thing between us and Porlier Pass was a kilometer crossing of open water, to Galiano Island.

Knowing that we would perhaps not be stopping again until we were across the channel or into Porlier Pass, we took extra precautions with our cameras and stowed them away in waterproof Ziploc bags. Slack tide wasn't until 4:40pm and we'd likely be in the pass before then. One could argue that the only way to gain experience is expose oneself to more turbulant water. Well ... here was our chance!

We pushed out from our sheltered beach on Hall Island and picked a point across the channel on Galiano Island, stricking a course for that point. The current was pushing us south, but it wasn't too bad and we compensated by using our rudders, aiming to a point slightly north of our target. There was more boat traffic in the channel that we would have liked, but it didn't interfere with us, although there were a couple of times where we changed course slightly, so we could take the wake of a passing boat head-on, rather than broadside.

It took about forty minutes to reach our objective, which turned out to be a government wharf. Once there, we changed our course northward, towards Alcala Point and the beginning of our journey through Porlier Pass. The mouth of the pass appeared to be a popular fishing spot. As we approached we noticed a lot of boats with downriggers out and later, in more shallow water near Baines Bay, we heard some boaters yell across to another boat, "Are you catching any Ling (Cod)?"

In addition to the fishing traffic, there were a lot of other boats coming and going through the pass. Because it was Sunday afternoon, many may have been returning to Vancouver, preparing for another work-week in the city.

Rounding Alcala Point, the wind and currents intensified, but despite the onslaught of waves and wind, we were still making good forward progress. We passed through Baines Bay, approaching Virago Point and its lighthouse. We thought we were doing well and that the warnings on the maps and in the guidebooks were cautiously written. We anticipated we'd experience the worst of what the Pass had to offer between Virago Point and (aptly named) Race Point.

Boy were we wrong. Virago Point and beyond was uneventful. As we neared Race Point however, the water took on a very different look. In confused anxiety, the water appeared to be teeming with fish. The waves were choppy and stood tall. The current didn't seem any stronger, but padding through this confusion was disconcerting. Rounding Race Point, the swell increased and confused waves gave way to much larger waves. They tossed us and turned us in every direction and it became a battle to stay on point. We were forced to focus on each paddle stroke and felt our way around the point. We no longer had the luxury of being able to worry about each other's location, as we becamed engaged in a one-on-one battle with the sea. Boat wake was drowned out by all the other waves. We were each struggling and the distance between us increased. Rachel stayed closer to shore and chose a direct path to calmer waters. Scott gave the rocky shoreline a wide berth, trying to buy himself time should he overturn. Rachel rounded Race Point first and breathed a sigh of relief, but when she looked back over her shoulder, she realized she'd lost sight of Scott! Wanting to keep him in her sights as he navigated the rough water, she back-paddled towards the point. As she watched him approach, the current caught hold of her kayak and threatened to pull her back into maelstrom. She quit watching and struggled to regain calmer water. Scott meanwhile, continued to make steady progress against the currents and waves.

Feeling we had passed the worst of it, we looked for a spot to break. We headed for the campsites mapped at Dionisio Point. Toward the eastern-most point in Porlier Pass, the waters roughened again. It was with a sigh of relief that we rounded another corner and caught sight of a nice, sandy beach, in Coon Bay. We pulled into the bay and then realized that the beach is a popular day-use area. There were numerous people basking in the sun. We decided to land anyway, but soon found that we weren't out of difficult waters yet. Breaking waves pounded the beach, making for a tough landing. We beached as well we could, but when we pulled our sprayskirts off, we each took a bunch of waves over the stern, filling our cockpits with water! We had made it through the Pass, but we both had to sponge out a fair bit of water when we were safely on shore.

The beach was a beautifully soft and sandy beach, which is a rarity. We pulled our kayaks far out of the water and then walked on shore, to where wild grasses were growing, just above the high tideline. The view on the other side made us regret landing in Coon Bay. On the other side was Perry Lagoon, with a pebble beach and lovely calm water. People were swimming and frolicking about. We laughed that we had landed on the side with crashing waves.

After unsuccessfully scouting the area for signs of a campground, we pulled the guidebooks out of the kayak. The books showed that Perry Lagoon Campground was off the beach by some distance, requiring a relatively long walk-in. We weren't too keen on hauling gear so far, so we looked at our options. We thought that Sandstone Campground, about a quarter-mile down the east side of Galiano Island, would be less of a walk and offer more quiet camping.

Neither of us were too eager to launch in the crashing waves and we briefly considered unloading our kayaks, carrying them the lagoon, reloading them and pushing off. It just seemed like a lot of work! In the end, we decided to brave a launch with the crashing waves, paddling around Dionisio Point and then down to the campground.

Scott held Rachel’s kayak for her, as we ventured past the worst of the crashing waves. Despite these precautions, by the time she was in her cockpit, she had taken on a fair bit of water. She plunked her butt into her seat with a splash! By the time that she had donned her spray-skirt, Scott had launch himself, also taking on an ample supply of seawater. Even so, his launch looked a lot more graceful in comparison.

Rounding Dionisio Point was rough, worse really, than it either Race or Virago Points. In a three-foot swell, we made our way, first northeast, to clear the point. We were heading directly into the tall, oncoming waves. When we'd cleared the point, Rachel yelled, "How are we supposed to turn in this stuff?"

The tall waves were coming fast and they were big. Neither relished the idea of turning sideways to them. The only solution was to grit our teeth and turn as fast as we could. In the attempt, there were a few tense moments, as we both took wave after wave over our decks. At one point, Rachel thought to herself, "This neoprene spray skirt is the best $100 I've ever spent!"

By hook and crook, we both successfully completed our turns and were now heading south, along the eastern coast of Galiano. The waves, however, were relentless in their pursuit of us and we were both tossed about and covered at times, with foamy seawater. Thought we crossed the worst of it, the waves kept us on our toes. Rachel yelled out, "I'm not having much fun." (Later, at camp, Scott said, "Although I was afraid I might tip, that was the most fun I had all day!")

Perspective, eh?

Once we passed the opening to Perry Lagoon, we kept our eyes peeled for "steps leading up from a rock shelf", that is the landmark for Sandstone Campground. The guidebook forewarned us that landing on the sandstone shelf can "sometimes be difficult", but we figured that conditions would smooth out, once we were around the point. We soon spotted the stairs leading up from the rock shelf and from the way that waves were crashing on the shelf, we knew we wouldn't be landing there.

Without discussion, we kept paddling, past the staircase, eagerly looking for a calmer landing spot. Fortunately, about a hundred yards further down, the angle of the shelf changed just enough that we thought we might be able to land. We nosed our kayaks into a narrow, short sandstone crevasse, which provide a modicum of shelter from the crashing waves. We exited our kayaks quickly and unloaded all of our gear higher on the shelf. We then pulled the kayaks up and out of the waves, overturning them on two logs, which supported the kayaks at both ends. We were dreading a trek along the shelf, to the steps, with all our gear, but then Rachel noticed a path leading up from the rock shelf and into the bushes. She scouted it out and happily reported that it was a campsite, complete with a picnic table and tent pad!

It turns out that our camp was the last campsite (Campsite #15) in Sandstone Campground. It has a wonderful view over the Strait of Georgia, towards the Lower Mainland. We set up camp and as the sun set, a haze over the mainland cleared a little and we could easily identify the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, University of British Columbia and Metrotown. Later, when darkness set in, the lights from the mainland lit up the eastern horizon with an bright orange glow, which looked rather pretty.

Tonight's camp routine included a naked Scott rinsing off the day's sweat in a rather frigid ocean. We then rubbed each other's sore shoulders for a few minutes, which helped to ease the tension brought about by five hours of paddling. Let's face it, our bodies aren't used to paddling for such long stretches.

In camp, Scott fixed a lovely dinner of spaghetti, complete with a BBQ'd salmon salad. Afterwards, we took a quiet stroll through the empty empty campground and Rachel washed dishes at the water's edge, immediately below the stairs that lead up from the rock shelf.

Later, in the tent and in the light of his Petzl headlamp, Scott poured over the maps and the guidebooks, looking for tomorrow's route. The outside of Galiano Island doesn't offer much opportunity for camping and we'd have to navigate out way through Active Pass, at the end of the day, when we would be most tired. The other option would be to head back inside, renegotiating Porlier Pass. The water would be less rough, but that option has limitations too. By the time we closed our eyes, the only decision we made, was to take a "wait-and-see" approach. Much is dependent on the weather and how sore we might feel, in the morning.

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