Taking to the Sea

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PREFACE:

In my attempt to help readers get a better feeling for my trips, to help you “live” the experiences, I may go into some details that may, or may not, be a bit graphic. Again, I do try to express myself, so that you might get a better understanding of what I actually experienced or how things were managed. If it seems wordy or prolonged verbiage, there is a method to this undertaking.

Many in this group of adventurous souls have known each other and have been active in the same exploits for several years. They all made arrangements to do this event as a group in Canada, off the coast of Vancouver Island. Kimmie, Dawn, Gail, Toni, Larry & Yoshi were that group from back East in the US. Rachel and Emily, Zac and Daniel, Tad and Cindy, also from the US, and I rounded out the group. Add the 3 guides on this trip, Colin, Rae, and Monica and our troupe was complete at 16 total.

Bright and early the next morning, Monday, August 12, we reconvened in the parking lot where a van came to pick us up. After loading in our gear, we made the short drive to Telegraph Cove.

Telegraph Cove is a harbor from which we were setting out for a six day trip. This is not a lake, rather a part of the Pacific Ocean, so, deep salt water.


Yes, we were going to be on the water, but not on a fishing vessel, motorboat, canoe, rowboat, dingy, houseboat or even a cruise ship.

This new and exciting adventure that nearly had me drowning in anxiety was a Sea Kayaking Adventure.

And it was.

One of the main draws to go out on this adventure was to see whales, porpoises, dolphins and other sea critters like sea lions, otters and seals.

Can you imagine the excitement in seeing a large Orca Whale while out on the water? Humpback whales were also in the mix and hopes were that we would see them as well. 



During our expedition, we were rewarded with Orca whale sightings, oftentimes preceded with the telltale blow spouts. We learned more about various types of whales, which are mammals that, like us, have lungs and breathe air. The “spout” you see is actually the whale exhaling air and because of the differences in temperature (water to atmosphere) that blow is condensation, just as when we “see our breath” when the outside air is cooler than that from our lungs.

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Additionally, there are whales with teeth, like Orcas, and baleen whales that have a sieve-like filter to capture food like plankton and krill. Humpbacks, Grey, Blue and Minkes are baleen types. Baleens are much larger than the other species. Orcas, with teeth, are also known as Killer Whales (yikes, thatsounds dangerous). Other toothed whales are Beluga, Sperm, Pilot and Bottlenose Dolphins.

Also, in this whale lesson, breaching is when whales surface, some practically jumping out forcefully. Personally, on this trip, I did not see any such acrobatics. The breaching to which I can attest was when the whales gracefully rounded upward to the surface revealing their dorsal fins, blew, and then dove again and again until they disappeared under water.

Orca whales can be individually identified by their dorsal fins and white saddle markings. Each is distinctive and helps researchers track pods and single ones.

If not actually seen, Humpback species could be identified by their habit of slapping their tails against the water, a loud sound that carried out over the water.

The night before in our orientation meeting we were given kayaking instructions, but now, we would need to put those lessons to use. Also we were given 3 waterproof bags that were to hold the personal belongings we intended to bring with us. Two were a bit larger and would be stored in the kayak hatches. A smaller bag with items we wanted easy access to during the day would be between our legs in the cockpit.

Additional equipment and training were given at the loading ramp. Most would wear the booties provided by the kayaking company, ROW Sea Kayak Adventures, but also splash skirts and PDF’s were included. Splash skirts are worn over the waist, suspended from adjustable straps over the shoulders and have an elastic edge that is stretched over the kayak cockpit and tucked in tightly around the edges. This keeps water out and the kayaker dry inside. The final wearable item was a PDF, a personal floatation device, or life vest.

Finally, I had my iPhone in a watertight case so that I could take pictures while out on the water. The phone was then securely attached by a substantial length of lanyard to the upper buckle strap on the PDF and tucked inside at my upper right chest. When taking a photo, I simply stopped paddling and quickly withdrew the phone/camera and did my best to shoot a scene. With the phone thus attached to me, I felt pretty confident that I would not drop it into the sea. For me, this all worked perfectly.

 

Each kayak has storage hatches, fore, aft and in the middle. Everything that is needed including each person’s water proof bagged clothing, cameras and necessities, sleeping bag, liner and inflatable sleeping pad are tucked into those hatches.. It took a lot of pushing and jamming to tuck everything in the small spaces. A larger middle hatch carried supplies including food, stove, propane, small-disassembled table, and more. Additionally, we all carried bags of drinking water to be used throughout the trip. Amongst all the kayaks, loads were evenly distributed.

With their covers put on, the hatches were watertight, as were we when we attached out splash aprons over the cockpit.

Our flotilla of 10 kayaks consisted of 4 singles and 6 doubles that transported our troupe of 16. Guides Colin and Rae, plus Kimmie and Dawn were in singles. Guide Monica was with me in a double.

The back person has rudders to help maneuver the craft, which I felt Monica was better suited to handle. Although she sometimes offered to trade positions, I chose to stay up front. Taking photos from that spot seemed the best place to be.

With all the training and verbal instructions completed it was time to put my new knowledge to the test (everyone else had previous kayaking experience). Wading into the cold water we straddled the floating kayaks and slipped into the cockpits as instructed. Once everyone was safely encased, the journey began.

The paddling was simple and repetitive with not much effort to have the kayaks gliding silently through the water. The dipping of paddles into the water from side to side was nearly the only sound as we headed out of the harbor and into the deep waters of Johnstone Strait.

The further we paddled along, the more at ease I became. 

I got this!

Following near the shore, we continued to our lunch stop along a stretch of stony peninsula beach, piles of driftwood trees lining the upper banks. Our guides quickly set up the table with all the fixings for sandwiches plus possibly nuts and fruit. 

It had been overcast all morning and then after lunch a light drizzle damped things just a bit. While on that little peninsula, Colin took us on a short hike to see a BIG tree. On the way to the tree several people were stung by some ground wasps, although I escaped any attacks partially due to my wearing long pants. Zak’s hand swelled somewhat and for the remainder of the trip it continued to cause him some discomfort. Despite the itching and swelling, he carried on and enjoyed the experiences. Part of that exploration crew opted to bush whack out to avoid another confrontation while a few of us escaped by whence we came, past the pesky insects and without further assaults.

 





After lunch, with the weather closing in and heavier rain beginning to fall, Colin, Rae and Monica herded us together where we were informed we would be paddling across the strait to another island for our first camp. It had to have been several miles across and at first blush it seemed a bit challenging, especially with somewhat choppy seas. But, it was not particularly windy, which lessened any larger waves. Having donned my raincoat, rain splashing my face, I felt snug and dry inside my kayak cockpit.

And off we went, through the rain, over the waves heading toward the distant shore, and, surprisingly enough, not really frightening at all.

Once we had reached the other side, we continued paddling down the small island coastline until we reached out first nights camp.

The first camp really impressed us. In the thick forest just off the beach were several large tents set upon raised wooden platforms. No camping on the ground for us!

 This was deluxe compared to some of the backcountry camping I have done. The tents’ sizes allowed one to easily stand up inside and were equipped with a cot and a small brush and dust pan to keep it clean while there and for the next visitors. With us we brought an inflatable Thermarest sleeping pad to make it more comfortable. In the tent a Rubbermaid container held a pillow. We supplied our own sleeping bags. To say we all were impressed would be a true statement. We all claimed our tents (most were doubles for those traveling together). Lucky me, I got a tent to myself.

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While we all were getting settled in, the guides were busy setting up the kitchen. All the supplies that we brought with were unloaded, although some larger items were permanently stored in a locked box already at the campsites. Under a tarp cover, set up rectangularly on 3 sides, wooden planks formed a kitchen area and from which our guides (now cooks) had ample food prep areas.

But before dinner, we always had appetizers to nibble on such as fruit, cheeses, crackers, mixed nuts, carrots, celery and even warm brie cheese with a selection of crackers. Bagged wine was available also. Morning coffee first started our days.

Breakfasts, lunches and dinners were exceptionally good with a variety of dishes including eggs, potatoes and meat for breakfast, pasta, stew, lasagna, salmon for dinner and always fruit, veggies or nuts. Lunches mostly included sandwiches or burritos with fruit, veggies and mixed nuts. Dutch ovens were used extensively. Although we were camping, the food prep and menu were more than one might have expected. Desserts were served also with red velvet cake or pineapple upside down cake being some that I recall. Dutch ovens in backcountry camping are an essential cooking component, and the culinary creations in them seem to be endless.

 

 

Rae, Colin and Monica in the “kitchen"


I should mention, for those who may already have wondered, we did have toilet facilities. Not so deluxe, but, nevertheless, an outhouse serves those functions nearly as efficiently as flush toilets (with some exceptions). Some of the facilities were two five gallon buckets with typical toilet seats for numbers 1 & 2, we were asked to keep our eliminations separate and directed to the function appropriate vessel. A handful of cedar chips atop the deposit would help lessen the odors of solid wastes. (I see you all scrunching up your noses). Further, toilet paper was not thrown into the pit; rather it was burned in a small metal can (and now I hear you saying “ewww, nasty”). A lot of steps to remember while our normal procedures are not so complicated. Our last camp did have a vault toilet where separation was not necessary although burning paper still was required.

The privies was located some distance from our campsites. At the beginning of the trail leading to it, was a waterproof bag that contained toilet paper and some matches and lighters. Also at that trailhead was a wash station where we washed our hands with soap and water. If the bag was not at that station, it meant that someone was already back there, whereupon, waiting in line became the norm. If I were the only one waiting to go, I would often start the walk back and intercept the bag as it was being brought back out.

For sanitation while out camping, the wash stations are necessary to help prevent any nasty sickness or contaminations. An additional wash station was always near the food prep area where we would wash up before eating. Additionally, hand sanitizer was available.

And so, there is all you wanted to know about THAT but were afraid to ask.

 

During our Happy Hour, prior to dinner, we were able to learn more about each other and share stories. Amongst other occupations, our group consisted of educators, cancer research technicians, copywriter, government employees and retirees, like me.

All are adventurers.

Kimmie leads a kayak group back East that regularly paddles on the Potomac as well as other rivers. Dawn, Larry & Yoshi, Toni and Gail are all members of that group. The rest of us ranged from Florida to Washington and in between. It was easy to form a camaraderie bond with our little band of adventurers.

Being very impressed with our camp set up, the accommodations, the beautiful outdoor setting and our guides, we could not imagine other camps being different, or better. A rocky point, a short distance to the left on the beach, allowed a slightly higher viewpoint out over the water, a good place to stand as a lookout for whales. The beach, piled with large, long driftwood trees partially covered the access to the point, but climbing over or around them presented only a little obstruction.

 

After a good sleep through the very chilly night, I was up early before anyone else was stirring.

 

The second, full day, did not start out so well for me.

kdonald940@cox.net © Donald E. Kline 2012