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BC (Canada) trip report

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Hi from out here in Nanaimo, British Columbia. It’s coming up on 2 years since I left Boston and returned to my hometown in BC. And what a transition it’s been. So far, I’ve been employed only about 50% of the time and have recently rejoined the jobless ranks, so the rural lifestyle definitely has its ups and downs.

Even in Vancouver Island’s 2nd largest city, at 75,000 people, I still have to contend with deer raiding my garden. I am however, only 1-4 hours drive from some of the continent’s best paddling and wanted to share my most recent trip with you. As always, I’m hoping to entice some (more) of you out here to paddle, especially with me when I’m between jobs.

Let me also say how much I really miss you guys! The local paddling club is terribly disappointing – they’re not incorporated AND they don’t dress for immersion, even in Feb/March. So needless to say, I don’t paddle with them.

In mid-September, I joined a trip (at a discounted rate) run by a friend of mine who owns Batstar Kayaking. Vancouver Island is 500 miles long and this trip started about 300 miles north of Nanaimo near Port McNeill. Johnstone Strait is famous for its big currents and resident orca population. That said, there are strict guidelines when viewing marine wildlife, which are monitored by the local “whale police”: Strait Watch. It’s a stunning area, with almost no development as far as the eye can see.

Why did I go with an outfitter? I didn’t have a lot of time to organize my own trip and local knowledge is really key in this area where the currents reach up to 6 knots. Fortunately we were there during neap tides, so the currents and tides were minimal. That said, I found myself spinning around in my Gulfstream, with the skeg down, even at “slack” current. There are so many small islands, some private, some Reserve Land, and some provincial parks, that you can spend a day looking for a campsite if you don’t know where to look. Our guide had also forged critical local connections to water taxi service, native peoples, and most importantly to the local whale watchers. So when there were orcas coming our way, we were ready! (more later)

So within a week of being laid off, I managed to get myself far away in time and place to an unbelievably beautiful area. The weather really flip flopped during the trip – equal smatterings of rain, sun, and wind. True to my history of attracting gale force winds on a paid trip, we had a doozy on the 3rd night out, with storm force winds forecast, later downgraded to mere gales.

So yes, we did get to paddle “with” orcas, staying the requisite 100m distance. We had word from the whale watchers that a pod of whales was coming up the sound towards us. As soon as we spotted their blows, we rafted up, parallel to their anticipated course, and sat silently as they porposed past us. The whales in this area are catalogued in great detail, and we later identified this as likely the A1 pod: 6 whales, including a massive male whose dorsal fin was 6’ tall. So after they swam past us, we started paddling again parallel to their course for about 10-15 minutes, all under the watchful (and approving) eye of the Strait Watch Zodiac.

The area is also rich in Native culture and tradition. Among the sites we visited: a naturally occurring sandstone bath, used by the local chiefs (preparing for battle?), a cedar burial box (and body???) tucked discretely up in the ferns at the bottom of a cliff and “culturally modified trees”. CTMs are typically yellow cedars, which have been stripped by First Nations people of a single plank of outer bark and wood, used for making bark clothing and wooden boxes or other objects. We also saw huge sun stars (2’ wide starfish), seals, countless bald eagles, seals and marine birds. The strait itself with the backdrop of 5000’ mountains and the mixture of sun and clouds was stunning – like the cover of a book.

This was a great trip to get in before the windy, rainy fall weather arrives and to clear my head before launching into another job search. The last one took 4 months, but hopefully this will be a shorter haul.

Wishing you all the best and thanks for all the great paddling experiences with NSPN, especially Portsmouth, Boston Harbor Islands and the Graves! As always, the invitation to come out to BC and go paddling is open!


Cool links:

Batstar Kayaking www.batstar.com

Whale Watching Tours www.stubbs-island.com

Local Native Culture www.villageisland.com

Orca Labs www.orca-live.net

BC Whale Info www.killerwhale.org

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