Field Notes: Going Solo In The Gulf Islands Part II

I woke up to a sea lion patrolling my beach. Sea lions are nice enough from shore, but when you see one close up from the water they can be pretty intimidating. No bother, I packed up, checked the ferry schedules and got onto the water for my first crossing from Saltspring to Pender. This was the last day of northerly winds, so it was perfect for my crossing and paddle south towards the gap in-between North and South Pender. I got a good little push down the coast along North Pender and then I started to feel some current. It was nice to have my GPS on my wrist to be able to check my speed. Light currents can play tricks on you and make you think your paddling faster than you are. I was able to check my speed and decide if I should be closer to shore trying to find eddies, or out in the main channel getting a push.
Paddling close to shore, I saw lots of wildlife on this stretch. Throughout the whole trip anyone I came across, including animals, were very surprised to see me. Seals would pop up casually right in front of me and then freak out and dive back under as soon as they saw me. I guess they don’t see paddlers in November very often.

I came around the corner and into the channel between North and South Pender. This is a really neat spot with some sheltered bays, nice beaches and The Poet’s Cove Resort and Spa, which I only paddled past this time. I stopped in for a hot lunch at the Port Browning Marina, which was very nice. “Good pub, nice facilities, quirky waitress,” to quote my notebook entry that day.

I paddled further on that afternoon and had planned on camping at the first good-looking beach I came across. I had done this in the summertime and there are plenty of nice beaches good enough to spend one night. The issue I ran into is that during the whole week of my trip we had some of the highest high tides of the year, which really limited my options. I paddled on and finally found a nice beach that I figured would keep me above the high tide line…. Just to be safe I woke up at 4 a.m., about an hour before the high tide and checked the water. I was high enough and stayed dry.

After a very early breakfast, I got onto the water at first light. I started my paddle casually out of the bay and was greeted by a small pod of orcas about 500 meters off shore. I couldn’t stop smiling as I just stood there and watched them cruise by. I could see one big dorsal fin and at least two smaller fins. Sorry but no orca photos, it was still quite dark and my camera just couldn’t capture them. This was my first orca experience on the water and it was neat to be on my own. I normally like to share things with others, but it was very early in the morning, end of November and there was a good chance I saw these whales all by myself.

I crossed over to Mayne Island and pulled into Dinner Bay to check out the Japanese Garden I was told about before the trip. It’s a very well kept garden and I hope to go back and check it out in the springtime. There is a fair bit of Japanese history in the Gulf Islands, going back over 100 years. Most of the Japanese families came over from the Steveston\Richmond area to fish and some families stayed on the islands all year-round. My Japanese Grandmother was born on Galiano and lived in the Gulf Islands until the Second World War when she and all other Japanese Canadians were put into internment camps. The park in Dinner Bay on Mayne Island has a few tributes to the Japanese families that were forced out during the war and just a few weeks ago my Grandma was given an honorary high school diploma because she was unable to finish high school due to the war—not a paddling story, but it’s a good story that is close to me and the Gulf Islands.
The wind picked up while I was checking out the garden and when I got back onto the water, the trees were swaying and whitecaps were forming. The forecasted southeast winds had arrived in full force. They gave me a good push out of the bay and a bit of a side push on my way towards Active Pass. I crossed Active Pass towards the end of the ebbing current, which made the crossing quite calm. There was still some good moving water, but few waves and boils. The ebbing tide also gave me a good push as I started my paddle along the west coast of Galiano.

The winds were at my back; I had no more big crossings, so it was time to put in some mileage. I made it to Montague Harbour—my camp destination that day—before 11 a.m. Instead of setting up camp I figured I would ride the favorable winds and keep paddling. I made a quick stop for lunch, checked in on Facebook and got back on the water. 16 km down and plenty more downwind daylight left.

Click here for Part I.

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