Coastal Journeys

Paddling in the Octopus Islands

The bald eagle dropped suddenly from his watch high above. A few seconds later he had snatched a seagull from mid-air and landed on a nearby rock outcropping.

I’d seen seagulls and crows harassing bird of preys on many occasions, warning the eagle to stay away. Now I had conclusive proof seagulls fell prey to them.

 Like a chicken farmer the bird plucked one feather at a time with her beak from the seagull. We were quite close to shore and this archetypal  specimen. Normally, a bald eagle would take flight because of the proximity of our kayaks, but she simply glanced about, perhaps watching the other squawking, hovering seagulls or more likely, on alert, for another eagle to steal her food.

Accompanying several members of the Cowichan Kayak & Canoe Club, we were paddling toward the snow-tipped Coast Mountain range, which towered over the Rendezvous Islands. We had left Discovery Islands Lodge on the east coast of Quadra Island mid-morning. Using a Johnstone Strait report, and halving the wind speeds to match the weather for this particular area, we felt very comfortable crossing Hoskyn Channel. A second factor we considered was the ebb or flood tide from Surge Narrows. If a strong ebb is flowing, it can draw you into Beazley Passage (I was daydreaming on a return to the Lodge a few days later and met quite a stiff wind and around two knots of current flowing into Beazley Passage—I was too close, whereas, my friend Lyle had navigated a wider berth, closer to Read Island. Needless to say, I had to paddle quite hard to overcome being sucked into the Passage.)

  Our group leisurely paddled into a bay at the entrance to Whiterock Passage. We passed a couple of funky boathouses and eventually made it to a government dock and the Read Island post office. We lingered briefly, surveying the small community, and then followed the shoreline northeast. Read Island is a long island; apparently, it takes a half hour to drive from one end to the other. Ralph, a co-owner of Discovery Lodge, drives from his second lodge to the dock and then takes a motor skiff to the Quadra Lodge, before heading back to his main home. The few times I saw him he was repairing something.

  We lunched on a beach approximately 0.7 km from the north end of Read Island. This site, hopefully, will become a future BCMTN campsite. The Discovery Islands group has been submitted to the government as well as to the Nanwakolas Council, which represents a number of First Nations bands from south of Campbell River to Cape Scott (and east toward the mainland). The BCMTN takes a cooperative and respectful approach toward establishing campsites along the coastline.

  On the return to the Lodge we played in the Surge Narrows currents for a while, before skipping across Hoskyn Channel. Our group planned a special meal each night. Tonight we would be having nicely seasoned chicken breasts with salads and other goodies. We certainly were in paradise whether we were in the lodge or on the water.

  On our third day, we had the perfect conditions to explore Surge Narrows. We gave ourselves an hour to paddle along the east coast of Quadra Island to the swifter currents. By the time we reached a side passage the current was flowing still at three to four knots. We wormed our way close to shore avoiding most of the boiling water  and eddies and parked ourselves in a small cove. A number of trails weave along the shoreline in this part of the park. In fact, an older couple were seated on a rock and watching the narrows. We waited nearly a half hour before crossing north of Beazley Passage, eddy-hopping, to explore the rocks and sea life.

  Surge Narrows can be particularly strong. The currents can flow as fast as 11.5 knots during a flood and 9.3 knots during an ebb. Many kayakers make a pilgrimage to the Narrows to play or sometimes train for an upper level kayak certification. If you decide to make the pilgrimage make sure you have had adequate training or you are a very experienced paddler before attempting a swift ride through Beazley Passage.

  Our purpose today was to explore the sea life. Surge Narrows is really the convergence of two flood tides in the middle of the park. This natural occurrence or surge gives the name to the area and park. The area is also very rich in marine life because of the flow. We made our way to the Settlers Group and explored throughout the small islets. It’s quite easy to see sea urchins, anemones and wide variety of sea stars. We didn’t see any river otters or mink, but on a later trip we saw a small pod of porpoises. On a lucky day I’m sure you would see orcas and white-sided dolphins.  There is also a pictograph on a rock outcropping likely marking the territory of a local band.

  After an hour, we paddled into the pass between Sturt and Goepel Islands. The current really wasn’t swift. We had entered it a bit early. We were spun around a tad, but nothing to write home about. Next, we played in the faster Beazley Passage currents, crossing them in different spots. Our group often had varying levels of skills in currents from Class III river experience to paddlers who had never been in rapids or currents. Like most paddling clubs, we ensured our least experienced people were well-looked after.

  DIG Francisco IslandFrancisco Island On our fourth day we had near ideal conditions to paddle to the Octopus Islands. We would need to ride through on a slack/ebb tide and return on a slack/flood tide all within the same day. In hindsight I would have camped in the Octopus group to have more exploratory time, but we were booked for a final night at the lodge. We met a light wind paddling toward the Octopus Islands Marine Provincial Park. We stopped on the water near Yeatman Bay (lat: 50° 13.897' long: -125° 10.876'). There are approximately 10 tent sites here with an easy cobble and sand beach. There is also a trail to a lake and this is an ideal staging area for Surge Narrows (This site is listed on our map).

  By the time we reached the first islets in the park we knew we didn’t have time to explore deep into Waiatt Bay. We worked our way toward a private island and an open cabin, which displayed hundreds of visitor signs, mostly from sailors. The signs hung from every nook and cranny including windows, walls and the rafters. On the floor was an octopus—a sun-drenched tree root that looked remarkably like octopus vulgaris. Naturally, it was decorated with eyes, clothing and other adornments. We snapped a group photo and ate a snack by our watercraft.

  We crossed to another set of islands toward some tents. A small group of women were camped on a very high rock island with little to no landing area. They were happy enough with their spot. You can find a number of locations in the islands, some better, or paddle over to Francisco Island (50° 17.293' long: -125° 12.47') just outside the park. It has a pebbly sand beach with three or four sites for your tent.  Humorously, I led our group across the channel to the Francisco camp and landed on a fairly nice beach where we ate our lunch. The coordinates didn’t quite make sense. I walked across an overgrown salal  trail and saw the campsite. It was in line perfectly with our crossing and 20 to 30 metres away. At least we didn’t try to pitch tents at our lunch site.

  We were running out of time. I led the group on a fast paddle back. And, of course, we ran into a fairly swift southeasterly, knocking our over-the-water speed down a knot (roughly a 15-knot wind will slow you a knot in speed). Our group split in two. One group wanted to play in the currents and the other group wanted to make it back sooner to the lodge. Lyle, my regular paddling partner, headed out with the lodge-bound group and I went to play in the currents.

  That evening we enjoyed a meal of Coho and Spring salmon. Our cook-for-the-night, Mary, had four salmon and cooked each one with a different recipe. By the time the meal was over I think we were ready to snooze. Some of us headed to bed early while others stayed up and chatted.

  The majority of the club headed to the Main Lakes Chain the next morning while Lyle and I packed our kayaks ready for a circumnavigation of Read Island (another journal). Kate  and Beth, two guides at the lodge, were excellent hosts. Ralph and Lannie, the owners of Coast Mountain Expeditions, are huge supporters of the BCMTN. If you are looking either for a lodge or a lodge with guides this is reasonable place to stay and certainly a magnificent location to explore.

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