Updated: Jun 13
The beach we camped was the steepest landing I have ever done. The slope was a bed of boulders that rolled and crackled with the waves. This was likely not JF’s first choice of campsite, but our seasick friend needed to stop wherever possible. After getting out, the only way to get the boats far enough up the beach where it could be safely unloaded was to time the pull ups with the incoming waves. I prayed that I wasn’t scrapping my hull too much. The paint protection tape I'd applied to the hull before the journey was already showing several rips.
“That’s exactly why you put it on,” I told myself.
The steep beach had a narrow ledge before another escarpment rose to where the trees started growing. The ledge was wide enough to pitch our tents, but they had to be in single file. I noticed the driftwood further up from the ledge and hoped that JF was more knowledgeable of the local tides than I was. I checked the moon phase; it was a waning crescent. “No danger tonight.” I said to myself remembering the last time I had put my trust on a high-water mark.
I slept well for only part of the night. I woke up at 2:00 am hearing a howling noise outside.
“God damn it. We have a snorer in the group.” We were so closely packed together to make the most of the available space on the ledge, that it could have been anyone; or a bear that had found his way into one of the boat hatches. In the morning we saw a set of wolf tracks on the beach. The paw marks were as big as a human hand and judging from their depth on the not so soft sand, it was a large and heavy animal.
“Looks like the morning beach patrol was doing the rounds.” I joked.
“Or the beach landlord came by looking for the rent,” Said JF.
“Well, it’s not the first of the month yet. We should get going…”
On this day we began what will be a regimented lifestyle necessary for living in a tight knit group. Every morning we would wake up a little after sunrise. JF and Justine are up earlier still to get the coffee boiling and prepare breakfast. We would then each get dressed in our gear, pack our kits, and store it into our kayak stern hatch (the bow hatch is strictly reserved for the food, which JF and Justine can go into and fetch what they need to prepare breakfast, lunch, or dinner). The time for each of us to get organized usually coincided with what became a familiar call from JF indicating that the meal was ready.
“Time to wash hands!”
On our first meal, JF set the campground ground rules.
“Folks, as I’m sure you’re all aware, we won’t have a meaningful chance for a shower for the whole two weeks we are together. It is, however, important that we keep a bare minimum of personal hygiene out of respect for each other and our health. That includes, washing hands before every meal so we are not eating each other's poop, and speaking of poop, please make sure you do yours below the high tide mark, and mark it with a wood stack or big rock on top so no one has the unfortunateness of digging into the same place. You should burn the used toilet paper whenever possible but be careful not to set the forest on fire.”
After each meal we selected one person as the designated dishwasher. This is not a pleasant job, but it always had to be done or our dishes and wares encrusted with food morsels would begin attracting unwanted visitors.. Depending on the food the plates, pots and pans would get very greasy and needed vigorous scrubbing with the biodegradable detergent (which is another term for not very effective detergent) with an ultra heavy duty sponge.
The meal once done and the gear packed, we got on with the day’s paddle. If the tide had been receding this invariably meant we needed to make a second carrying round of the kayaks to the water’s edge, which now loaded with gear are very heavy and require the combined efforts of four people. JF’s and Justine’s kayaks were especially heavy as they also carried all the kitchen gear including the cooker, the gas canisters, and the folding tables; their kayaks needed six carriers.
I was very apprehensive about carrying my kayak with gear inside. The boat being a sectional three piece, I did not have the confidence the hinges holding the bow and the stern to the cockpit were meant to bear the bending moment I’d stressing them. In fact, I'd replaced all the hinges once with a sturdier set as the originals got bent out of shape just from normal use.
“Folks, can I have six people to carry my baby as well? I’ll do two rounds of dishes when it’s my turn.” That was judged to be a fair compromise.
We only paddled ten miles to a southward facing beach called Grant Bay. The forecast called for the winds to shift and begin blowing from the southwest which indicated bad weather was on the way.
I have noticed that the weather follows a cyclical pattern on the west coast of Vancouver Island. When the wind blows from the northwest and north, it means that a high-pressure system is moving through. That makes the mornings begin with fog which then transitions into clear sunny afternoons. Over the course of a few days, the high-pressure system moves from west to east, and the wind shifts from northwest to northeast. Eventually, the wind will come from due east, signaling that the high-pressure system is now past us. The east wind from the land can be particularly treacherous as it blows against the prevailing swells and bunches the waves together making them steeper and more likely to break. Then about a day after that there’s a sudden calmness to the weather, the wind dies down, and the water flattens, and you can even hear birds chirping in the forest.
“That is when you need to be most vigilant.” JF noted.
“It means there’s a low-pressure trough out there in the sea moving in. You’ll notice a slight breeze from the south which slowly turns southwest. At first, you’ll think, that’s a refreshing waft, but then in a few hours, you’ll be like “hmmm, it’s getting quite rough now,” and when you see the cloud ridge over the ocean you better know where you’re landing because the storm front will be breaking over you soon enough.”
When we rounded the headland into Grant Bay the I caught sight of the cloud ridge behind the Brooks Peninsula some twenty-five miles away. After about thirty minutes the peninsula became obscured, and just like JF predicted, the temperature dropped, the weather worsened, and the rain began pouring with a gusting wind. Fortunately, we were all on dry land and in dry clothes.
Sea Kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation