Field Notes: Going Solo in the Gulf Islands Part III

Doubled my distance for the day, saw orcas, paddled downwind all the way, and the sun came out to make this arguably the best day of my trip.

I paddled with a smile on my face, woohooing to nobody as I surfed the bumps all the way down the east side of Galiano Island. The wind continued to build and made for some small, perfect size waves for the board I was on.

I finished my downwind run with about an hour of daylight left, and pulled into Porlier Pass, which separates Galiano Island and Valdes Island. There was a little bit of current running through, but nothing too challenging. The sandstone cliffs and rock formations are pretty neat at this end of the island, with overhanging rock carved out by years of water, waves and current.

I camped for the night in Dionisio Point Provincial Park, which is a water access only marine park and campground. It was a great spot to spend the night sheltered from the southeast winds.
Up until this point I didn’t have any worries about camping on my own, but this night was the first time I got a little bit nervous. I began to hear noises in the woods behind me and didn’t really like it. I would shine my headlamp into the dark forest and all I could see was multiple sets of bright red eyes staring at me from the woods… Just raccoons looking for a meal, but it was enough to get my imagination running.

I managed to get a decent night’s sleep and was able to sleep in the next morning because I had to wait for the currents in Porlier Pass to switch directions before I could paddle out. My smile came back shortly after I started paddling again, as the winds from the day before had continued and gotten stronger. I am sad to say I didn’t get to experience too much of the sights on Valdes Island because I was drawn into the middle of the channel to surf the bigger waves. As the wind dropped I headed closer to shore and paddled along some of the huge sandstone cliffs at the North end of Valdes. It’s definitely another beautiful spot worth checking out if you are ever paddling in the Gulf Islands.

I came around to the north end of Valdes, paddled through Gabriola Passage and into Silva Bay on Gabriola Island. It was the last night of the trip, so I figured I would stay in the marina campground and walk over to the pub. Spent a couple of hours at the Silva Bay Pub eating some great food and sharing a little bit of my story.

After an early start the next morning, I paddled with a beautiful sunrise and some light winds. I had about 23km to the Departure Bay ferry terminal. About half-way to Departure Bay I noticed a big yellow plane flying low over the water towards me. I figured it was on its way into Nanaimo Airport, but then it did a tight turn over my head and flew away. I didn’t think much of it until it flew over my head a second time. I didn’t see any other boats on the water that morning and wondered if they were looking for me.

Shortly thereafter, the Coast Guard boat came across from Nanaimo lights flashing and pulled along side me. A concerned citizen on Gabriola Island called into the coast guard and reported somebody standing on top of a capsized boat trying to paddle to shore. Now, I would like to think that I paddle a little bit more efficiently than someone on a capsized boat, but I guess from a distance I probably didn’t look like I was moving too quickly.

The Coast Guard folks on the boat were in the middle of training exercises in Nanaimo, so there were a few people on the boat who came out to answer the call. They had a few questions for me, but were mainly just curious to hear what I was up to. They also told me that they called off the hovercraft, which was on its way over from Vancouver. I was impressed with the response speed. Based on where I was paddling from and where they found me, it couldn’t have been more than 40 minutes before the boat got to me. Not bad for tracking down a small moving target.

The boat left me for my last paddle back into Nanaimo but I was asked to then check-in with Victoria Coast Guard Radio every 30 minutes until I landed safely. Thankfully, I only had about 1 hour of paddling left and so I checked in with my VHF radio when I arrived at Departure Bay. It was a good experience for me to be able to test my VHF radio and make actual calls to the Coast Guard, and especially nice to know that someone would actually hear me if I needed help.

I landed in Departure Bay and it felt pretty good to be done. It was a really great feeling to have planned and executed a trip on my own. I covered over 120km (75 miles) in four days. My average pace for the trip was about 7km/h with maximum speeds of around 20km/h while paddling downwind. I covered most of the major islands, missing only Saturna and Thetis.

While I did the trip solo I certainly had plenty of support. I would like to share this experience with anyone who is interested so if you would like to take part in a trip like this in the spring please let me know. Paddle on! —Mike Darbyshire

For Part II, click here.
For Part I, click here.

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  • Tom

    This is a great series, and sounds like a fantastic experience. I love the capsized boat bit. Looking forward to hearing more! – Tom

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