Wolf Beach to Nucleus Reef
August 7 / Day 10
Overcast, Winds calm increasing to W @ 10 knots, Seas calm to swells to 1 meter with 1 foot windwaves, Seas rippled
I was wakened by the words of a Raven from the top of the trees bordering the west end of the beach. Then, a response from the opposite side of my tent. Again the tree Raven klocked and whistled and was answered by the Raven outside my door. They chattered back and forth for quite some time and finally I unzipped the tent to find the bird on a log just 5 feet away. He looked at me and then at my PFD that I had left on the log. No food in it so I wasn’t concerned. Mostly I was pleased that he was so close to me and not showing any fear. The two birds talked a bit more while I watched and then the bird on the log flew away.
After eating breakfast and packing my boat I was doing my “pre-flight”. Checking that everything was where it should be, as it should be Hatch covers secured, drysuit zippers zipped and suit burped, flares zipped inside the left shoulder pocket, Spot turned on, sending signals, secured to its tether and zipped inside the right shoulder pocket, PFD donned, buckles snapped and zipped closed, Hammer Gel jug full and zipped into the left pocket with a ProBar, EPIRB, ProBar and Protein Bar zipped into the right pocket, VHF radio secured to its tether, radio check by accessing weather frequency and buckled into its pocket and WTF?
The rubber antennae covering was frayed and the metal spring exposed! That Raven had been chewing on my antennae and had eaten the rubber off the end of it! Bon appetite. Just one more use for duct tape.
The overcast was low with patches of fog creating a soft and fuzzy maze. The day was grey with a dreary feel to it and not a lovely “Silver Morning”. I knew that I was going to be crossing Fitz Hugh Sound before the end of the day so I tried to tune my VHF in to Prince Rupert Traffic. No luck. I could get WX but not traffic. I hoped that when I cleared Kwakshua Channel I wouldn’t be flying IFR. I launched and made my way out of Choked Passage.
Along the western shore of Kwakshua Channel is a shallow bay where researchers have excavated the beach accumulation down to a clay layer and have found the impressions made by the feet of three individuals ~13,200 years ago.
I eased my way into the bay avoiding the worst of the barnacle covered rocks. Directly in front of me was an obvious dig that had been covered up. A faint track led up the slope into the forest. The track showed that this was midden material that leveled out about 20 feet above the beach where a few ribbons marked Culturally Modified Trees and other excavations that had been covered up.
I knew that the “footprint dig” was on the beach and not 20 feet above it. I walked the beach looking for a site that resembled the photos I had seen and found the spot marked by a tiny ribbon. The beach showed no sign that a dig had ever happened. It had been excavated and covered a few times and without the ribbon on an overhanging limb there was no sign that anyone had ever been interested in this very spot on the planet.
Two hours of slogging brought me to the end of Kwakshua Channel and Fitz Hugh Sound. The overcast remained but I could see far down the sound past Addenbroke Lighthouse. The sea was absolutely flat with zero wind. I called Addenbroke to check in and maybe get invited to stay but my radio wasn’t sending. Surprise! My path took me across the wakes of a few fishing boats that were heading south. The calm surface felt like I was paddling in pudding and the scent of a fried fish dinner trailed behind the fishing boat that I crossed closely behind. Made me hungry. I needed water and a place to camp.
I paddled just a few feet off of the rocky shore of Addenbroke and rounding the southernmost point of the island I met a roadblock. A Humpback was blocking my path just a few yards off the shore and only about 20 feet in front of me. I stopped and waited for him move but he didn’t so I sat and waited. I ate a ProBar while the beautiful mammal stayed at the surface and moved slowly from right to left. I talked to him. I didn’t need to speak loudly because he was so close. I could have backed up and paddled out around him but this was special and I wasn’t in a hurry. After about 5 – 10 minutes it was time to go so I signaled my intent by tapping on the sides of my kayak. He took a breath and slowly dove. The underside of his tail was white with a black margin. Magnificent.
I needed water and a place to camp. I had both marked along a narrow inlet in Blair Island. I found no place that looked like a campsite and the stream where I expected to gather water was dry. It was a waste of time so I headed south down the shore then east towards 13.8 Beach, a place that I was loathe to see it again.
13.8 Beach is a miserable place that Dave and I camped at in 2009. It is so named because it won’t survive another inch more than a 13.8 foot high tide which we experienced and I ended up sleeping on top of a floating log. The predicted tide was 14.1 feet. Not a happy place so I was hoping against hope that I could find an alternative.
I paddled straight towards the mainland past Nucleus Reef and found a boulder covered beach with a 5 foot-wide gravel slot where I could land without damage to my boat. I pulled my heavily loaded boat up onto the rocks and looked for a place to camp.
What a great place! It turns out that landing at a lower tide is a no-brainer but I was lucky to have even considered landing here. The south end of the beach is protected by an islet that connects to the mainland by a rocky tombolo that you don’t want to mess with. Approach from the north side of the islet and watch for gravel. I set up my tent on top of shattered barnacles and muscle shells against the forest. I would be dry this night. I left my boat 100 meters down the beach up on some logs and tied to a tree in the uplands. I noticed that with some work clearing fallen branches space could be made for several tents. 18.9 NM
Nucleus Reef to Fury Cove
August 8 / Day 11
Overcast clearing in the afternoon, Winds calm increasing to W @ 10 knots, Seas calm to swells to 1 meter with 1 foot windwaves, Seas rippled
I was going on to my 11th straight day of paddling and I was feeling it both physically and emotionally. I considered taking a day off and spending it sleeping late, finding water, drinking coffee and watching whales but I felt compelled to move south a few miles to Fury Cove. At Fury I would be in a better position to set up for crossing Queen Charlotte Strait. If I paddled beyond Fury my next camp site would be Open Bight and there are Brown Bears there. I didn’t want that drama. From Fury I could bypass the Cranstown Point wildlife issues and camp at Red Sand Beach where the wolves rules and bears are nervous. I have never seen a single bear track at Red Sand Beach.
I started south and entered Philips Inlet to paddle about .5 NM east in search of a stream that showed on my chart. It drained a decent sized lake so I expected it to be reliable. It wasn’t. It was dry so I backtracked and headed south towards Penrose and Fury Cove. My water supply was very low and I wanted to have enough water to get to Port Hardy. I needed water.
Arriving at Fury Cove I was pleased to see 13 pleasure craft at anchor. Pleasure craft boaters tend to be incredibly social and helpful. Seeing those boats, I knew that if I donned my best “pobrecito face” I would have all the water I could possibly use. I didn’t want to play that card but I was in crisis.
Shortly after landing a zodiac launch pull up to the beach. The middle-aged couple from Anacortes walked up and asked me where I was coming from, where I was going to, did I have enough food to eat, was there anything that I needed. I didn’t have to put on the face, I just said that I was low on water and needed to find a stream. They told me that they “made water” and asked me if I had any empty containers for them to fill. Feeling very grateful with the knowledge that I would be able to have coffee and oatmeal in the morning I handed over a 10 liter and 6 liter Dromedary bags. They took them and returned with both full plus an ice cold can of beer. God bless them.
We discussed plans and they said that they were going to cross the QCS on Friday. It had been blowing all week and very rough but was expected to be calm on Friday morning and then pick up again late in the day. They said that all of the southbound boats at anchor were waiting for better weather Friday for their crossing.
I had been paddling for 11 days without rest and had planned to take a day off before making my crossing to Port Hardy. I planned to lay over at Kayak Bill’s Camp at Extended Point and then use 3 days to stage at Shelter Bay which would be a nice relaxed pace but would have me crossing on Sunday but the weather forecast was calling for high winds after Friday continuing well into the next week. Friday would have to be the day.
Later while preparing dinner a couple of guys on a sailboat from San Francisco showed up. They were sailing north to Sitka and making a documentary about their journey. They told me that they were recording interactions they had with “interesting” people they met along the way. I’m thinking that I am going to be interviewed as they set up their camera equipment and poured me a glass of wine. Then they filmed themselves playing bouche ball on the crushed barnacle beach while I drank my wine. I guess I wasn’t that interesting after all.
Just before sunset a thick fog bank rolled in from the north reducing vision to 300 meters. I crawled into my tent and went to sleep.
Fury Cove to Red Sand Beach
August 9 / Day 12
Heavy fog to low overcast, Winds calm increasing to W @ 15 knots, Seas calm to swells at 1.5 meter with 2-foot windwaves, Seas moderate at times
Some days on the water are perfect and some are less-so. Sometimes those less-so days deteriorate in downright sucky and no fun at all. Foggy days often fall into the less-so category for me.
I awoke to fog with visibility of about 200 meters. Not bad if staying close to shore but I would be crossing Rivers Inlet and Smith Sound with a combined total of ~10 NM of open water. I delayed my departure until an hour into the flood knowing that it would take me another 45 minutes to reach Karslake Point where I would start across Rivers Inlet. If it was to be a blind crossing I wanted to avoid currents that would drift me out towards Queen Charlotte Sound but I hoped that the fog would lift so I could see what I was doing.
The fog thickened and at Karslake Point I accepted that the crossing would be blind, set a course at 170 degrees and paddled off into the grey weirdness. Right off the bat I could see that my speed was all over the place fluctuating from 3+ kt to .5 kt. There was lots of confused water as currents mixed so for an hour and a half I struggled to maintain the 170 degree heading while being pulled one way and then another. Several times the sound of chattering rips permeated the fog. Some I crossed while others passed by in the dense fog. The swell met opposing current and jacked up into menacing standing waves. If there had been visibility this would have been an interesting leg but it was just no fun at all. Finally, a bit of shoreline appeared and I cheated right knowing that it led to Cranstown Point. I stayed within 200 meters of the shore from Cranstown Point to Lucy Bay where I pulled in for lunch.
Lucy Bay is on the north side of Extended Point where Kayak Bill had a camp. On two previous trips I had stopped at the pocket beach on the end of the point and searched for it without success. Glenn Lewis had visited the camp with friends a couple years prior and Geoff Mumford had provided me with photos of their visit. One of those photos showed the beach pretty well and another showed the view looking out. I had those images burned into my mind. I would find the camp by matching Geoff’s photos and Glenn’s description with what I was seeing. By thoroughly searching Lucy Bay I could eliminate its two coves as the camp site and then focus on a more rigorous search of the beach behind Tie Island where I had looked before.
Lucy Bay definitely wasn’t it though it did have some endearing features and a couple of interesting beaches. Exiting the bay and paddling around to the end of the point I found the view that matched Geoff’s photo and it was where I had been twice before. Google Earth shows that there are three tiny beaches separated by rock spines and all three beaches were absolutely choked with large floating logs that jostled and banged about in the surge creating a menacing cacophony of wood against wood and wood against rock that spoke very clearly and told me to stay away. All I needed was to get ashore and search the two tiny scraps of beach that were within 50 meters of where I had looked twice before but there would be no landings made on Extended Point this day. I wouldn’t be camping here after all. I bobbed safely around just beyond the banging logs and wondered how much time Bill Davidson spent keeping his beach clear.
Plan B called for crossing Smith Sound and camping at Red Sand Beach. Facing another 4.6 NM of blind open water I consulted my chart that showed that if I maintained a course of 123 degrees I would go right to it. I was torn between confidence and dread having just endured the distasteful blind crossing of Rivers Inlet. Here there was no concern about missing the far shore and being swept out to sea. I would find the far shore, figure out which way to go then handrail my way along the rocks to Red Sand Beach but I really didn’t want to squint through another grey crossing filled with grey sounds and oddly-textured grey water.
Smith Sound wasn’t so bad. It didn’t jerk at my boat and paddle. It didn’t make my compass spin or my hair stand on end. Somewhere along the way I did encounter a westward flowing current that deflected my path to the right so that I missed the beach by .7 NM. I had never seen the shoreline from that angle and it was very disorienting paddling back looking for that obvious red sand strip through the fog. Eventually I rounded a point and spotted it. So nice to know where I was.
Red Sand Beach sits a little over .5 NM behind that point and is normally well protected. This time, however, there were random sets of waves dumping on the beach. That wasn’t what I was expecting. Some of the 1.5-meter swell was sneaking past the point and finding its way onto the beach. I sat out from the break and tried to understand the timing but it wasn’t making sense. Some of the sets swept from right to left while other left to right and then there were periods where the water flattened out completely and the beach was silent. After watching for a pattern and not recognizing one my need to urinate overcame my patience and willingness to engage further in physical oceanography analytics. I told myself that I was feeling lucky but in retrospect I was just desperate to pee.
Waiting out a larger set I took off on the back of a wave and rode it in. My timing was imperfect and I didn’t get as far up the beach as I should have. Popping the spray skirt, I was working my arthritic and uncooperative knees out of the cockpit when I heard a wave approaching. It crashed over my shoulders, loosened me from the cockpit and filled my boat with water and fine red sand. My paddle was gone, too. Catching a glimpse of it washing past I stretched out and almost captured it before it was swept just beyond my reach as the next wave crashed into me and completely extricated me from the boat, tossing me head over heels. In spite of being full of water my boat window-shaded a couple of times in the surge. I tried to run after my paddle but my knees were having none of it and another wave knocked me down. I stayed down on my hands and knees chasing my paddle through the soup and catching it just as another wave pounded me and rolled me over. Crawling away from the surf I willed my knees to work and was finally able to stand and stagger back to my Tempest. I tried to pull it further away from the water but it was so heavy I lost my grip and fell over backwards. “Fuck! Is this happening?”
Nothing was working right other than my bladder and it was demanding immediate attention. I started feverishly working on opening the relief zipper but it was coated with fine wet sand and didn’t want to budge. Multitasking now I continued to coax the zipper open little by little while walking towards the tree line and examining the beach for animal tracks. Still struggling to unzip I was pleased to see a ton of fresh wolf tracks including the largest pawprint I had ever seen. The wolf presence would keep Brown Bears away and then……………………..I tripped on a stick and went down hard and fast on my face. “FU_K!”
I hit so hard that the wind was knocked out of me and I felt like I had been punched in the face in a bar fight. I rolled over on my back and gasped for breath. Clearing out the cobwebs I was surprised to find myself lying flat on a beach that had always seemed so friendly yet had just kicked my ass. Red sand was packed in between my left eye and the lens of my sunglasses. My left nostril was clogged and there was sand packed in my left ear. My yellow drysuit was covered with sticky fine sand and I still had to pee. Struggling to my feet I took care of business and when done found that the drysuit’s pee zip was hopelessly jammed open by that infernal red sand.
At the conclusion of a “less-so, sucky, no-fun-day” I sat on a log and reflected on what the wolves must have been thinking. How did they interpret the spectacle that had unfolded before their eyes? From the moment my hull touched the beach they watched as I acted the part of a blindfolded man running away from a firing squad. Falling, crawling, getting up, falling down and ultimately being shot dead. If that wasn’t personally humiliating enough they were now watching me clean the sand out of my pee zipper with my toothbrush. 16.9 NM