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BC’s Central Coast Kayaking Trip Report

Central Coast trip report from Aug 2-21, 2020 by Gord Allen, Madeleine Ramsay, Doug Scatchard, and Sheldon Spier(writer)

Doug, Sheldon, Madeleine and Gord

Our preparations for central coast kayaking included a land meeting well ahead of time to plan details of our proposed route and schedule, with campsites, water sources, rescue plans, personal goals, paddling attitudes, and other. Campsites are few and far between, and, although some are quite lovely, careful planning is required. As it rains a fair bit in this part of the world, water is usually not much of an issue. Two of us had InReaches which we used daily to get detailed wind and weather reports from my wife, Cheryl Cameron. When there are 5+ NM crossings, that can be very helpful in daily planning.

map noted with campsites on the central coast of BC
GPS tracking of our route

Day 1 - Port Hardy to Klemtu

On August 1 we drove to the BC Ferry terminal in Port Hardy, placed our kayaks on the racks to load up, boarded the ferry, ate dinner, and went to sleep in very pleasant state rooms. Book well ahead for the rooms – they are worth every penny!

The ferry arrived in Klemtu at 04:45 and we efficiently moved our kayaks off the boat. This was in the middle of the Covid pandemic. Although the Kitasoo were very welcoming and friendly, they simply asked us not to go into town. No problem.

The put-in is a bit awkward and care must be taken not to hurt one’s self or gear. The only access to the water is down a blocky boulder slope under the ferry loading ramp. Some kind soul had stored some carboard pads under the ferry ramp. These were very helpful for launching and landing upon our return.

Day 2 - Klemtu to Disju

(Editor’s Note: The Disju site is now closed to public access as per Kitasoo request, please respect)

We wereon the water at 07:00. It was foggy, but we could hear a humpback. The marine life was abundant (the urchins were huge!). We were intending on camping in Meyer’s Passage after about 12 NM. However, it was rainy, and only noon at the proposed site so we decided to go on to Milne Island. There were a pair of campers on Milne already (the only kayaks we saw on the whole trip) so we went on northwest to Monk Bay in 2 metre swells, now 21 NM total. While setting up camp, a young male grizzly bear joined in the fun. He discovered Gord’s peanut butter sandwich behind the seat of his kayak, which he consumed, plastic bag and all. 

Grizzly Bear at Monk Bay

After a few moments chewing on Madeleine’s water pump he simply sat down to watch what we were up to. Pepper spray bothered him for a few minutes, but he came right back. Down came the tents under his watchful eye, and off we went to a Kitasoo campsite further north where we had permission to camp in an emergency. Quite a day it was: 26.1 NM, arriving at 20:00, quick dinner and into the tents around 23:30. Well… the next day it was sunny, and the instantaneous consensus led to a very relaxing day on the beautiful beach!

Day 4 - Disju to Sager Islands

photo of sea cucumbers and urchins under water
Intertidal life, sea cucumbers

August 5 and we’re off after a 300 metre carry due to a low tide. There was abundant colourful sea life once again. After a 15.9 NM uneventful paddle mainly along the shoreline, we found the pleasant, protected campsite on the Sager Islands. We “enjoyed” the following morning rain and 25+ kt winds in our tents. But it calmed down, and we had a very pretty paddle over to Emily Carr cove, caught fish for dinner, enjoyed the lovely sunset and prepared for a 05:00 awakening to move on to Campaña. There was a 5 NM crossing, and we wished to do it early.

Day 6 - Sager Islands to Campaña Island

There was rain, wind up and down, and some two metre waves. Humpback spouts, and one at 100 metres off brightened up the crossing. We stopped at the less attractive SW campsite to have a look, and according to information, we proceeded to the one just next door after a total of 16 NM. Magnificent!! This campsite on the west side of Campaña is famous for its beauty and its black flies. Campaña lived up to all expectations!! The beautiful sand beach was highlighted by turquoise waters, smooth granite outcroppings, and a striking granite mountain backdrop. The next day, after repairing my broken, frayed, rudder cable, we took an easy 6 NM paddle up the pretty Jewsbury Channel, and ate the fish we had caught for dinner. The next day was calm and sunny and our 15.6 NM paddle up and back down the west side was delightful. The following day’s predicted rain and wind of 15-30 knots was right on. We weren’t going anywhere.

sandy beach and campsite with rocks in the foreground

Day 10 - Campaña Island to Anderson Island North

It’s August 10, and we set off for the 7.3 NM southward crossing of Caamaño Sound.  The black flies were sorry to see us go and gave us a heartfelt, energetic farewell. It was simply windless, sunny, and peaceful. Cheryl’s weather forecasts really helped our planning. After a lunch break and water collection at the Rennison Island site, we paddled on to the Anderson site

2 kayaks on a beach with a cabin and forest behind
Anderson Island North Site
3 kayakers sitting on a log looking at a sandy beach
Taking a break on Rennison Island looking at Caamaño Sound

 The sand beach was very pretty, but it was an old industrial site of some sort and littered with large scale garbage. We set up our tents next to an old hut but it was crowded. A 7.3 NM paddle the next day around the often-protected Anderson Islands in and out of the 10 kt winds, was quite pleasant. A 2kg ling cod for dinner was an added attraction.

Day 12 - Anderson Island North to Ray Islands West

We were treated to a humpback just offshore before heading out on the 24.2NM paddle down Aristazabal to a Kayak Bill campsite. Although it looks fairly open on the chart, this is a relatively protected shoreline due to islets and reefs offshore. There was a decent, though darkish campsite after 15.5 NM. It was well worth it to go on to the Kayak Bill #3 site! There was upland camping within the confines of Bill’s open hut, or on the beach. The next day was a cloudy, restful one, fetching water 1NM away, and catching a greenling cod for dinner. The following day it poured and was miserable. Gord’s tent needed to be rescued from the puddle of water collecting around it by digging moats and rerouting the flood. The construction team succeeded. The next day was another stay put foggy, rainy, windy, very boring one. Madeleine and Gord were sharing a book (“The Death of Methusela and other stories”) left by someone who had previously camped there. I ended up reading as well…weird stories for sure.

tarps and tents on a sandy beach with forest behind
Campsites at Ray Islands West aka Kayak Bill's #3

Day 16 - Ray Islands West to Dallas Island

We’re paddling south against 10 kt winds to start the next day, but it calmed down as we rounded the southern end of Aristazabal. The 6 NM crossing in the sun to Price Island and Higgins Passage took us across a major shipping channel. At one point we waited for a large tug and motorized log barge to pass in front of us. We were in radio communication with him and described our location, but he never did see us. It was sobering to realize how invisible we were in kayaks. It would have been an uncomfortable crossing in fog. The campsite in the west end of Higgins  Passage on Price Island was quite pretty, but shady, and it being early, we decided to press on to the one on the south side of Swindle Island at Pidwell Reef in the north end of Milbanke Sound. We arrived at our hoped-for campsite and we were greeted by a pleasant family from Klemtu who were enjoying the afternoon waiting for the rising tide to float their boat. Having now been in quarantine with no contact with anyone for 2 weeks, we felt comfortable approaching them to have a friendly chat. These were the first people we had seen on our entire trip since day 1. It was a spectacular large golden sand beach, but despite its size, we found no good upland camp sites.  We estimated that the tide would permit us to camp there that night, but not the next. Sooooooo we’re off southeast to Dallas Island. The entire day was replete with nice scenery. Altogether 27.7 NM that day, but we only set up the tents once. We don’t seem to learn. On the other hand, longer paddles and setting up camp fewer times certainly had its benefits. The campsites we skipped were also somewhat dingy, or less desirable.

sunset photo showing islands and water
Sunset from Dallas Island

Dallas Island was certainly one of the nicer sites, an old Kayak Bill campsite, with a nice beach, and well placed. The sunset was spectacular. I think I camped in Bill’s old kitchen. Doug was our wildlife spotter, seeing a sea otter, and then a humpback breech. After 27 NM we needed a day off and took one. Gord and I paddle around lady Douglas Island, 13.7 NM, the next sunny and calm day. Another beautiful sunset and fish dinner.

Day 19 - Dallas Island to Rescue Bay, Susan Island

We need to catch the once-a-week ferry in 2 days, and the weather outlook is scary, perhaps 30 kt winds. We decide to go to Susan Island to get out of Milne Sound, and only have a 1.7 NM crossing of Finlayson channel on the last day. We hope we will be OK.

Its August 19, and although we were on the water at 07:30, the winds came up soon. We headed up the sound against 15kt winds until we made it to Oscar Passage. There was a favourable 2 kt current and no wind…. until… Matheson Channel where we paddled against 15-20 kt winds. Finally, we came to the Rescue Bay campsite on Susan Island. We spent a rainy, windy day on the gravel beach. There were whale spouts, seals, mergansers, sandhill cranes (with their wonderful dinosaur-like calls), and Canada geese in the protected bay. It poured +++++ at night, Madeleine had put her tent just at the high tide mark. Gord woke up at high tide at 03:30 to save her from inundation. Doug’s tent was OK, but it was over a puddle.

Day 21 - Rescue Bay, Susan Island to Klemtu

On August 21 we were expecting 20 kt winds and current in Jackson Passage. Neither happened for our final 12.2 NM paddle, and the pretty marine park there had plenty of marine life and scenery. After the 1.7 NM crossing, we arrive in Klemtu in the pouring rain. We packed our gear up and then spent a cold day trying to find a bit of shelter from the wind and rain.  There was nobody at the terminal and we were a bit worried that perhaps the ferry had been cancelled for the day. 

The ferry finally appears through the fog. What a sight!!!! Smiles on all our faces. A long hot shower (Doug says it was the best shower of his life) and a clean, dry bed for the ferry ride back to Port Hardy. I’ve never been on a trip with so much rain, but there were sunny days as well. In the end, it WAS a very enjoyable trip.

Photo of BC Ferry at the Klemtu dock
Klemtu ferry terminal