Updated: Jun 13
We paddled through calm waters from the Bunsby Islands to the outskirts of a First Nation village called Kyuquot.
“The indigenous lands are still closed to outsiders due to covid.” Said Justine. “So, we will be picking up our resupplies at Spring Island. Our contact on land should be there for the rendezvous.”
When I had been planning the journey and looking at possible resupply points on the map, I had Kyuquot marked as a crucial stop, especially if I became stranded waiting for a favorable weather window to round the Brooks Peninsula. I had not envisioned however, that the entire town would be off limits.
“You would have been an unwelcome visitor.” JF said half joking. “The First Nations can be a little wary of white men who show up unannounced in need of immediate favors. In Canada they are self-governing, and each nation has the same powers as a provincial government. If it’s their land, then they make nearly all the rules. But sometimes it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. You’d have to use the lost Brazilian foreigner excuse.”
Fortunately for our group, JF and Justine were old acquaintances of the locals, and we were welcomely received. JF seemed to already know everyone intimately.
“Nearly all the folks here were students of mine at some point. Skils Sea kayak trains and certifies about four hundred guides per year all over the world.”
We did not linger around for very long, and after picking up our resupplies we continued past Union Island to Rugged Point where we would spend the next two days.
Last night I made the dire discovery that my sleeping air mattress has several pinprick punctures and a bad air valve. The last couple nights I had noticed that it slowly deflated over the course of a few hours, but now it had given up the ghost for good and wouldn’t hold air for more than thirty minutes. I don’t know how it got punctured or why the valve failed. The entire journey I tried to be extremely careful not to drag in sand into the tent or rub against anything rough. I was really disappointed; there is almost nothing I hate more than a product that fails, when used exactly as intended. The air mattress had only one job, hold air. Even worse than the discomfort is feeling that I was scammed by the manufacturer. They know their product is garbage, but they still sell it, and I’m certain the five-star reviews from satisfied customers on Amazon were either fake or were paid for. The powerlessness to have some form of justice against a scammer boils the blood and kept me awake at night even more than the discomfort.
“How much did you pay for your mattress?” Asked JF.
“About $130 American.” I responded.
“Ah. There’s your problem right there. You went cheap. You should have spent something like three hundred dollars. With camping mattresses, price and quality go hand in hand. You might have spent one hundred and thirty dollars, but you got negative dollars’ worth of value. When we have phone reception again, see if you can buy a new mattress and have it delivered to my address in Ucluelet, and I’ll hand it to you when you pass by.”
This was not the first time I’ve fallen victim to bad equipment. On my Florida journey two years before I had the same issue with another air mattress that was plagued with pinprick punctures and slowly deflated every night and left me angry and sleep deprived.. That mattress had been only thirty-nine dollars, and I’d thought I had struck a steal of a deal. Alas, I admit that I am a cow fisted miser, sometimes to my own detriment. But one hundred and thirty dollars on an air mattress seemed a fairer deal.
“Well, was it?”
“Money spent on a good night's sleep is always a good deal. That’s why good mattresses cost so much. You find out very quickly when they’re not good.”
We camped on a flat beach on the north side of the Rugged Point Peninsula on the mouth of Kyuquot Sound which is protected from the ocean swells. Not that it would have mattered. The weather has continued to be so calm that at times I have wondered if Nature lulled us into a false sense of security. Earlier this year I remember someone posting on the Strictly Sea Kayaking Facebook group an article stating that the world’s most extreme rogue wave had been recorded during a winter storm off the coast of Vancouver Island near Ucluelet. The wave was nearly sixty feet from trough to crest, and three times taller than the preceding and subsequent waves.
Rogue waves were for a long-time thought to be nothing more than tall tales of mariners who’d gone crazy from spending too much time at sea. Today, however, with the availability of sonar buoys and other instruments providing a constant stream of data, we know that they are very much real. They appear out of nowhere, and disappear without a trace, and are at least twice the height of the highest third of the average sea state. In the ocean, waves from distant storms travel at different speeds and directions. Sometimes, a fast wave will catch up with a slow one. When that happens, if the trough of one wave overlaps with the crest of another, then the sea will for a moment be calmer than usual. But if wave crest meets wave crest, or if wave trough meets with wave trough, then waves will briefly merge into a bigger wave that is the sum of the two.
When I paddled along the North Coast of Puerto Rico which is exposed to the Atlantic swells it was very common to sometimes be surprised by a sudden chasm opening in front of your kayak, or to be unexpectedly uplifted high above the immediate sea and see ships in the distance that had been hidden below the horizon. Two waves merging is a common event and happens many times a day. Three waves is much rarer, perhaps that happens once in one’s lifetime at sea, and four waves or more is the stuff of lore.
Today, however, the sea was so calm, and the air so still that a boat wake would count as a rogue wave.
Four of us trudged over the ridge behind the campsite to an ocean facing beach where we walked for two miles to find a freshwater source and replenish our supplies. We located a stream on the map called the Kapoose Creek. The water was about waist deep, ice cold, and an appreciated bathing spot. But sadly the feeling of cleanliness did not last long. Each of us carried four gallons of water, and the effort coupled with the heat from the sun meant I arrived back at camp drenched in sweat.
JF went out fishing to catch dinner once again and invited us to join him. Not wanting to miss out on the chance to bear witness to a monster catch, I went along even though I was not fishing. Sadly, great fishing tales always seem to take place when you’re not present. Phillip wasn’t having any luck this time, and Geoff was the one with the hot hands f. Over the course of just ten minutes, he caught six lingcods.
“Ok, we’re done fishing folks, any more cod and you’ll start to think the food is boring.” JF joked.
“We can always invite a bear for dinner.”
“Oh, they don’t need an invitation to show up. In fact I am surprised we haven’t run into one yet.”
That evening after we had all eaten as much cod as we could gulp down, I made another fire pit on the beach. The wood was damp, there was no trash to burn, nor empty bottles littering the beach that I could use for starting the fire. Seeing me struggle, JF gave some advice.
“You use cedar kindling; it burns really well,” he said.
The Western Red Cedar is a very special tree. It’s the wood used for the native totem poles, because it is soft and easy to carve into any shape. It splits into thin and flexible strips that make the finest wooden canoes and kayaks with beautiful orange and brown veins, and is as light as the best carbon fiber. It also, as I soon found out, burns exceedingly well.
JF pointed me to a fallen cedar log not far from the camp. It was too heavy to carry, but I managed to flake several thin strips with a pocketknife. When I set a match to the dry kindling, it caught on fire faster than a newspaper and within minutes, the pyre was burning bright and illuminating the night while we roasted a pack of marshmallows.
I was taken aback by how easily and quickly the wood burned. The forest behind us was a thick jungle of cedars and pines, and there had not been any rain for several days. A carelessly tossed cigarette bud or even a single spark carried in the wind would be enough to set the forest ablaze, and the thought of what could happen was both chilling and sobering. I poured several buckets of seawater over the hot coals and covered the entire fire pit on the beach with fresh sand before heading to bed.
Sea Kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation