First sunny day of the journey. Not a cloud in the sky this morning, and as I looked towards the southeast down the middle of the Georgia Strait, there was a tall conical mountain that rose above the horizon, which I think was Mt. Baker some one hundred miles away.
As I was paddling out of Nanaimo, I ran across a couple paddling a double kayak north of the harbor. “Did you see the bear that lives on the island?” Said the man.
“No, good thing I didn’t camp there.” I said.
“Ah, he doesn’t always hang out on the island. Sometimes he swims to the mainland and wanders into the town. He’s around for sure. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of him, maybe he is on the other side.”
I wondered if he was joking, or if someone had played a joke on him. The island had a thick forest, dense enough to lose your way in it, but it wouldn’t have taken more than an hour to paddle around, and I wondered how the bear could find enough food to live there.
“Oh, maybe curious kayakers who come snooping around.” I thought.
I continued on my way up the coast before making a ten-mile crossing to Texada Island. About halfway I stopped at a small group of rock islets. The largest of the islets had a lighthouse and a few other buildings. As I got closer, I realized that the islet was a fairly large island. A small road ran down the middle of the island connecting all the structures and made two steep switchbacks down to a loading dock where a couple of seals were sunning on the rocks. I looked at my GPS and was puzzled because it showed me over open water. I looked at Google Earth, and it was the same thing. The island didn’t seem to exist, at least not on any map.
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When I got closer to the dock, I noticed a truck parked next to it, and a man wearing military fatigues. I waved at him, and he waved back, but when I landed next to the dock, he was quick to say that I was not allowed to be there.
“So sorry but no visitors. This is a military base.”
“Can I just stand up while I am in the water? I need to pee really badly.”
“OK, be quick about it. Oh, and when you go, don’t go towards the east. That’s the hazardous area, and you will be in big trouble if someone catches you there.”
I later looked at the Google Earth image of the area a bit more carefully and noticed that the open water where the islands should have been had a different tone of blue from the rest of the ocean, as if someone had deliberately airbrushed the island group out of existence.
A google search for “Strait of Georgia BC, military base,” turned up several articles about a place called the “Whiskey Golf Hazardous Area” which is just east of the island and serves as a torpedo firing range for the American military, where some three hundred tests are done every year. When there is a test going on, the area is completely shut off to all boat traffic. A submarine, surface vessel or even an aircraft fires a torpedo, which runs along for several miles just below the surface before it lands on the sea bottom and is then retrieved by a deep diving team. The provincial government of British Columbia is apparently very unhappy about all the disruption to boat traffic. The Canadian Federal Government promised to pay British Columbia $125 million for the inconvenience, but so far only paid them $1.88 million since the 1960s.
I soon got back on the kayak and carried on towards Texada Island.
Sea kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation