PART 4 - ROUNDING CAPE SCOTT
June 19th and 20th - Days 21 and 22- Port Hardy and Around
I reviewed the weather forecast for the next seven days to assess when there’d be a weather window to round Cape Scott and arrive in St. Josef Bay in time to meet the group from Skills Sea Kayak on June 26th. Tuesday June 21st seemed the best day to leave Port Hardy. I would have a falling tide in the morning, and a slight breeze from the southeast. That would allow me to cover enough miles, camp on one of the north facing beaches of the island and be within striking distance of the Cape. I called JF at Skills Sea Kayak to coordinate.
“When you round Cape Scott, be sure that the tide and the wind are with you. Otherwise, it can get really choppy out there. Best to go in the morning when the winds are light.”
“That sounds good. What about the swells? I saw on the forecast that they come from the Southwest.”
“If the winds are light, you won’t have to worry. But if there’s a strong northwest wind with a rising tide, the weather might be clear, but I wouldn’t want to be out there. That’s why you should go early when the winds are most likely to be weak.”
We coordinated a few other things, including picking up my kayak dolly which I would leave in Port Hardy, to free up room in the stern hatch.
With that done, I now had two full days to spend in town.
Port Hardy is not a big town, and I think I walked down almost every street. At the waterfront is a park where there’s a large obelisk and a tall totem pole to commemorate fallen Canadians in past wars. (WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.) The inscription at the base of each read, “Brothers in Life, Forever Together in Death.” I’ve noticed that Canada is keen to honor their war dead with memorials such as this one. Nearly every town large or small has a public square dedicated to the fallen.
I walked north beyond the park, and I noticed a strange scene. A bald eagle swooped up and down from the trees while being chased by a murder of some ten crows. The eagle flew close to the ground before rising up high and followed by another dive as though it was riding an invisible rollercoaster in the air. The ravens followed the eagle close behind screaming like hounds chasing a fox, and one of them came so close it almost nipped one of the eagle’s tail feathers. The eagle, however, seemed to act like it couldn't care less, and even slowed down to let the ravens catch up. I pointed this out to a local man on the street, and he gave out a laugh.
“Ah yes… it happens all the time. He’s taunting them, just to get a raise. The eagles fly right next to the raven’s nests, and it drives them insane. They’re like kids in the neighborhood who run after they ring your doorbell; always making mischief…”
I kept walking and suddenly noticed ,familiar smell.
“There must be a wastewater plant somewhere nearby.” I thought.
Sure enough, around the corner of the street and down a hidden dirt road was a package plant with a bar screen, aeration tank, and a clarifier. It took a photograph of it to show it to the folks back at work. It’s rarely the case that a town so small can afford a wastewater treatment plant, but it seems that Port Hardy must have obtained a grant from the provincial government. This type of infrastructure investment means that the town can afford to grow and develop. Any property the switches from a septic to a sewer network shoots shoot up in value. I would have liked to visit the plant but unfortunately the gate was locked, and no one was around to show the place.
Later that night I went to treat myself to a good meal. I found a pizza place downtown and ordered a large pepperoni pizza. It was a total disappointment.. The pepperoni slices were almost a quarter inch thick and soggy. It seems like there is one thing Canadians have inherited from the British; a tradition for making nauseatingly poor dishes. Even the fish and chips I’ve eaten on this trip have been so soggy that even an Englishman would have felt embarrassed if it was served in his country. T Why the English nations have such bad gastronomical talents is a mystery. Perhaps it is because their empire was so spread all over the world that rather than develop their own native culinary talents, they just appropriated those of the locals. A friend once told me that if you want good “English” food in London, then you should eat at an Indian restaurant. When I cycled through the Dolomites in Northern Italy I stopped in a local pizzeria where the owner only spoke German. The place was a hole in the wall, but their calzones were so delicious, that to this day I regret not taking a second one to go for the morning breakfast.
The next day I went to buy supplies for the journey. Not having to carry the kayak dolly in the stern hatch opened a world of possibilities of what I could bring with me. I chose to buy twenty-four bottles of Perrier as a treat. I would not be seeing the inside of a supermarket for at least the next three weeks.
Next to the supermarket was an outdoor store where I found a bear banger for sale and decided to buy a set.. “It will make mom happy if I tell her I have this with me,” I thought. I also bought a set of replacement gear bags to help with carrying things to and from the kayak.
I read on Google that the nearby settlement of Fort Rupert had a curling club. During my college days my roommates and I enjoyed watching the women’s curling competition during the winter Olympics on TV, and I thought it would be interesting to see what a curling game looks like in person.
I called up a cab, “I’d like to go see the Curling Arena in Fort Rupert.” I told the driver.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I said, without even thinking why he would ask. We drove six miles and he dropped me off in front of a prefab metal building with a sign that read, “Fort Rupert Curling Club, GE Wilson Memorial Arena”.
“You want me to wait?”
“No worries, I'll be here for a while.” I said, and he drove off.
I walked across the dirt parking lot to the building entrance, and promptly discovered that it was locked. I saw someone on the street walking their dog.
“When do they open?” I asked.
“In the winter.” He replied.
“Oh…. I see….” I said, feeling a little dumb. Of course, they don’t play curling in the summer, why would I think that?
The rest of the afternoon was spent walking the six miles to Port Hardy.
June 21st - Day 23
The morning conditions were exactly as the forecast predicted, and I got on the water as soon as daylight allowed, to catch the falling tide and the slight tail breeze.
North of Port Hardy there are no towns or roads, and the beaches are only accessible by boat or trail. “I hope nothing happens that causes me to miss the group in St Josef Bay.” I thought. I had enough food and water with me for a bit over a week. If the worst were to happen, then I’d need to make a resupply stop in Winter Harbor on the Quatsino Sound, which is about a week’s paddle in fair conditions. The Hope, Nigei, and Balaklava islands form a narrow channel with the northern tip of Vancouver Island which is the last stretch of sheltered water before the coast becomes exposed to the swells of the Pacific Ocean. Today conditions were very benign. I barely felt the wind on my back, and the water was flat. However, I could imagine this place turning into a wind tunnel and would be completely impassable.
Halfway up the channel I met another kayaker on the water paddling in the opposite direction towards Port Hardy, and we stopped to talk for a few minutes. He was from Victoria and had been on a six-day trip around the three north islands and queen Charlotte Sound.
“The last few days have been very warm; I’d be sweating if I was wearing that.” He said pointing to my dry suit.
“Have you seen any bears?” I asked.
“Yes! I got a great shot of a black bear as he was sitting on a rock watching me pass on the kayak. I was as much of an attraction to him as he was to me.”
“Ok, I’ll keep an eye out for them. Any advice about the road ahead?”
“Yeah, don’t stop at the indigenous village on Hope Island. They don’t like outsiders. Had to get some water there, and folks were giving me the, “You’re not from here,” kind of look.”
We continued our separate ways after our chance encounter on the water. At Hope Island I noticed the first ocean swells rolling under the kayak. The swell period was very long, maybe 15 seconds, but it had a tall amplitude, and at the crest of the wave the horizon revealed other small islets far in the distance.
I stopped at Cape Sutil which marked the Northernmost point in Vancouver Island where I checked the readings on my GPS unit, “50.52 Degrees of Latitude North.” It read.
“Interesting,” I thought, “This isn’t even as far north as London. They are at 51 Degrees.”
The moderating influence of the Gulf Stream on the European coast makes their weather the equivalent of ten degrees further south. The weather here is more like what you’d experience in Norway.
My guidebook gave me a stern warning about Cape Sutil and the river estuary next to it. “Beware of the Nahwitti bar when the west wind blows against the ebbing current as it will form dangerous rips and overfalls. Only attempt to cross it in ideal conditions.”
I looked around, and the water was flat like a mirror, but the forecast called for westerly winds in the afternoon. The time was 2:00pm.
“I better not hang out here too long.” I thought.
The wind was not late for the appointment. The last six miles of the day to Shuttleworth Bight were paddled with great effort through chop and breaking swells and the rising tide.
June 22nd - Day 24
The west wind was strong the entire day, but the forecast called for calmer conditions to begin developing in the afternoon and last for at least the next three days, and I decided to take a rest day and wait out the conditions.
From here onwards there is very little to no phone reception. My weather forecasts came by VHS radio and most importantly my mom who sent me the updates through the Inreach GPS messenger. However, we should have trained how we would communicate before I left Port Hardy.
“Things will look better tomorrow.” She wrote.
“Mom, that doesn’t mean much to me. Tomorrow what time? From which direction is the wind coming, and how strong? Give me the wind forecast strength and direction for the next day from 5am to 8pm every three hours. That way I can decide if I go out on the water or not.”
“Ok.” She texted back followed by, “No Problem”
“Mom, please try to keep it all in one message as much as possible. I’m paying fifty cents per message on this thing. It adds up. Telling you this just cost me that much.”
“OK. No Problem, but don’t be so cheap, I just want to check up on you to make sure you’re ok.”
The falling tide exposed a wide halfmoon beach. At the far end I noticed the shape of two people moving near the water’s edge. I walked over to meet and struck up some conversation to pass the time.
Larry and John were two friends from Nanaimo taking a weeklong trip to hike the Cape Scott trail. They had started in St. Josef Bay and were on their second day. Larry worked as a freelance software engineer, and John worked for the BC Forestry Service before he retired.
“Those are very different professions.” I noted. “How did you two come to meet each other?”
“That is indeed a strange mix.” Said Larry with a chuckle. “Both of our wives work as nurses in the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. This is how we can take a break from them.”
“Yes, camping and fishing.” Said John. “In fact, you won’t believe what happened yesterday afternoon. We were fishing by the headland, and I caught three good sized lingcods we were going to to roast for dinner. While I cleaned the fish, I noticed a raven on the tree watching me. I put the filets in a zip lock bag and hid it under a rock in a tidal pool so the smell wouldn’t attract bears. Didn’t think much of the raven and I went to take care of other business, and when I came back for the fish, I could not believe it. The bag was out of the water, and the fish were gone.”
“Looks like you were working for the raven. You caught the fish, you cleaned the fish, and he ate the fish. You’re not the first and won’t be the last person to get outwitted by a clever raven.” I joked.
“Have you guys seen any bears on the trail?”
“Not on this trip, but I can tell you a story about bears from my years with the Forestry Service. I was working on a trail when a female black bear came out of the bush onto the trail. Usually if you are loud and talk directly to the bear, they get the point and go away. But something was upsetting this female. She started walking toward me with her head low and the ears pointed back. Right there I knew she meant business, and I made a run for it up the closest tree. She had me pinned up there for a good ten minutes, before I noticed the cub waking about. I didn’t come down till I was sure they were both gone. It's the kind of experience you don’t forget.”