Wind, whales and five provincial parks
Do you remember those couple of weeks at the end of March/ early April 2020 when everything shut down and the world went eerily quiet? For me, it was a sad world of not hugging your friends or visiting places. Hunkered down at home I took solace in looking over marine charts and plotting a kayaking trip for when we can travel again.
We’ve been intending to kayak around Quadra for some time but only now we feel confident enough in our kayaking skills to make the right decisions in the area known for its winds and strong currents. Because of this I was hesitating whether to rate this trip as moderate or difficult but I settled on the latter – it’s a beautiful place but deserves a think pause and an affirmation of your ability to read tide & currents tables.
A trip with BC Ferries is always an exciting event (most British Columbians hate the ferries but I welcome any opportunity to get on one – must be the wind in my hair…) and to get to Quadra you first need to take a ferry to Nanaimo, then drive to Campbell River and then take a small 10-minute ferry to Quadra. And poof – you are magically transported into another world.
We don’t own our kayaks and always rent, saves the hassle with storage and transportation, but finding a reliable local company that offers rentals of nice sea-worthy boats is a major consideration. We’d can highly recommend these guys: Spirit of The West – professional, well organized outfitter with a great fleet of double and single kayaks.
Day 1: Heriot Bay to Yeatman Bay (20 km).
The six of us arrived at Heriot Bay on Quadra at 10 am in the morning, picked up our boats, loaded them with a pile of gear and food and off we went – into the wind! We were particularly lucky in that the weather for the following few days was supposed to be very sunny. We were also particularly unlucky that during this time it was also supposed to be exceptionally windy with north-westerly blowing down Hoskyn Channel at 15 knots. And the wind was already whipping up some whitecaps in Heriot Bay as we were launching from the beach.
Hugging the shore and taking some shelter along the more protected western shore we made headway to just north of Bold Point where we stopped for lunch at a very pretty little cove with white shell/ sand beach. Everyone was in high spirits as the sun shone and we were munching on fresh sandwiches.
The crew mood took a small turn for the worse some 1 hr later as we paddled into stronger and stronger wind. All effort was required to make any progress so we pulled into any protected cove to take a little break from all the hard paddling we were doing. Unfortunately, there are not many campsites between Bold Point and Yeatman Bay so it was either we muscle through or backtrack all the way to our lunch spot to camp.
Another consideration was the timing of slack tide at Surge Narrows. As the name suggests, four times per day water surges through a narrow passage reaching speed of ~10 knots. A kayaker can reasonably deal with a 2.5 kn current, anything beyond that is not worth the struggle. Current above 5 kn is actually quite dangerous for most paddlers. Getting through Surge Narrows at 4 pm was therefore very important. Our crew of six were all strong paddlers so we powered against the wind and reached narrows just as the current was turning.
Like as water is trying to squeeze through the narrows so does the wind and as soon as we entered the narrows it picked up to 18-20 knots. At this stage, however, we had no choice but to battle against it until, after much effort, we reached the safety of Yeatman Bay.
Day 2: Staying put, a day hike.
Yeatman Bay is not the prettiest campsite I ever stayed at but it was there when we needed it and it provided an opportunity for a day trip to Main Lake (also a provincial park!) the following day when we decided not to paddle anywhere due to continuing wind. Instead, we went for a little hike inland and had the most wonderful swim in a freshwater lake.
That evening, we huddled around the charts and re-planned our trip as going to Bute Inlet was now out of question.
Day 3: Yeatman Bay to Rendezvous Island South (20 km).
What we came up with instead was a pretty good plan still and the following day, Day 3, we left early and headed back through Surge Narrows towards Whiterock Passage.
Arriving at Narrows we were about one hour too early before slack but because it was sunny and we felt overconfident we decided to cross north of Settlers Islands anyway. Well, the current was measly 3 knots and going with us but provided for a very “exciting” ride in a channel with submerged rocks. In currents you lose certain amount of fine control over the boat and nothing pumps your heart better than being rushed, in a fiberglass vessel, against a submerged hazard.
Once out of this river we pulled out at a very pretty cove to have lunch and enjoy an absolutely glorious sunshine. Peter was the theme of the day as it was his “nameday” (ask any Slovakian) and our crew made sure he felt special by, for example, picking a handful of wild blackberries for him.
From here on we headed for Whiterock Passage, rounded Mayes Point and headed for Rendezvous Islands. South Rendezvous Island is a provincial park with a particularly pretty campsite. I’d like to say that some of the most spectacular campsites in B.C. are actually in marine parks. This one was one of them.
Day 4: Whales, whales, whales! (22 km)
In the morning we launched into Sutil Channel and what is known as a “whale alley”. Calm and Sutil Channel are important migration routes for many fish, including pacific salmon, so the waters are rich with much wildlife starting from plankton, though fish, bigger fish, birds and marine mammals. One of the channels here is actually called Whale Passage so we were all on high alert for whale water spouts as we were passing though here. Sadly, no whales, just more wind and hard work getting across large Evans Bay which receives a lot of spillover wind from Hoskyn Channel.
The wind was whipping it up through Evans pretty good that it made me wonder how BAD things must be once we round the southern tip of Read Island and head into Hoskyn Channel. Aware of how much effort it takes to paddle against the wind I was looking for a nice protected cove where the crew could get a nice long rest. Thus we landed in Lake Bay.
Lake Bay on Read Island needs to be renamed to Whale Cove right now. As soon as we landed and clambered on some rock ledges for a lunch with a view, two humpback whales entered the bay and started frolicking and diving for food right there in front of us. Excitement washed over these weary kayakers. We thought “a few flips of the tail and they’ll be gone” but nope – whatever they were finding down there below the surface was so tasty that they stayed for about an hour, providing a free-of-charge whale watching show. To say that we were stoked is an understatement. They kept diving and spouting and fluking until it was time to leave but we couldn’t because we would have to paddle right over the area where they were surfacing.
We finally left, thrilled, and as we were transiting around the entrance to Lake Bay, one of the humpbacks surfaced with a loud puff of the water spray, flicked the tail and dove less than 30 m away from us. What a great good-bye.
The unsettling suspicion about the wind in Hoskyn Channel proved accurate as soon as we rounded Viner Point at the southern tip of Read Island. Our original plan was to make it to Breton Islands but with these whitecaps the prospect of making the 2 km open water crossing but very unappealing. Luckily, along the way I spied with my little eye a nearby beach that could potentially host a campsite. It was a pretty beach and an established campsite. It is not mentioned in John Kimantas book but many people have spent many night here for sure. It had a pretty beach and several flat, cleared areas in the woods for tents. It was perfect because it was there when we needed it.
This was our last night of the trip and we were catching an early afternoon ferry the next day. Not missing it due to wind or other circumstance was high on our mind. From the past 4 days I have observed that these winds pick up quite early in the morning, 7-8 am or so, and are relentless until late afternoons, sometime into an early evening. We did not have the luxury to wait that long. (BTW – it was windy that week all over the Island and related to a high-pressure system lying offshore to the west of Vancouver Island. you might well visit Quadra next time and not have a single ripple on the water).
Day 5: Read Island to Heriot Bay
We prepared for a very early departure – 5:30 am. The alarm went off at 4:30 am, we dressed up, collapsed the tents, ate the granola bars that we kept handy, loaded the kayaks and off we went into the sunrise. It wasn’t the smooth, mirror-like water that I like but it was blowing at only 5 knots, compared to 15 kn during the day.
We made fast progress towards Breton Islands and from there a quite hop to Rebecca Spit (another provincial park!) on Quadra Island – a distance of 6 km which we covered in about 1 hour.
Much good stuff was awaiting us at Rebecca Spit – a wide pebbly beach to land on, hot coffee and a hearty breakfast as we unpacked our camp kitchen and a great feeling of accomplishment after a successful trip. Good job, skippers!