The Mission: Paddle from Port Hardy to Vansittart Island and back, exploring God’s Pocket Marine Park and the other islands over seven days (camping six nights). Don’t starve, run out of water, freeze, break any bones, swim out of our kayaks, get stranded, or kill each other.
Lucie: From Vancouver via Czech Republic, technical writer, avid hiker and outdoors person
Michal: From Vancouver via Czech Republic, accountant, avid hiker and outdoors person
Ryan: Lives in Victoria, physician, former national team athlete, whitewater canoe slalom
Saidi: Ryan’s daughter, student, avid theater performer
Andrew: Lives in Vancouver, environmental project manager, former national team athlete, whitewater kayak slalom
Kate: Andrew’s daughter, student, Taekwondo black belt
We had originally planned to do a trip to Nuchatlitz via Zeballos, but due to the crazy forest fires engulfing the entire Province, we had to change plans at the last minute. Going up to Port Hardy seemed like a good option since the wind coming off the ocean and from Queen Charlotte Sound was likely to keep any smoke away. Also my cousin Heather and her husband Mark live in Port Hardy, and it would be a chance to visit with them and their daughters Laura and Claire. I had done a trip to God’s Pocket two years previous, and it had been amazing.
Sunday 26 August – Peaceful Beginnings (sort of):
Weather was calm, some fog
1000 – Launch from Carrot Park in downtown Port Hardy
1230 – From near Goodnuff Beach, crossed Goletas Channel to Duncan Island. Fog dissipating as we made the crossing. Could hear a whale surfacing numerous times out in the fog, and then eventually we could see it off in the distance. Not too bad, whale sightings on day one!
1330 – Arrived at Belll Island in God’s Pocket Marine Park. There were three other kayaks already on the beach, a few people obviously there. Thought we’d check out the situation to see if there was room to camp, if not we’d at least have lunch. Immediately accosted by a fairly aggressive woman quizzing us on details of herour trip; poor Lucie wasn’t answering fast enough and the woman was grilling her like an FBI interview! Then pronounced that the campsite was full, there really wasn’t any more room, we wouldn’t enjoy staying there as it would be too crowded. Ryan looked around and there seemed to be plenty of room, but we were definitely moving on; Hurst Island and Harlequin Bay not too far away. So we quickly had some lunch on the beach. We chatted with the other folks a bit, and Ryan recognized one of the men as someone who had solo pioneered many of the whitewater runs up in the Yukon, and written a legendary guidebook. Also was another younger guy named Joseph, from Quebec; he had apparently just finished a 27 day solo paddle from Prince Rupert!
1500 – Arrived at Harlequin Bay. Took a bit of time to find the campsite, it is tucked away pretty far in. This campsite is at least as nice if not nicer than Bell Island. Ryan made s’mores in tinfoil on his Coleman stove, they were really good! Michal saw a wolf out on the rocks on the shoreline on the North side of the island.
Weather got really windy that evening, marine forecast calling for gale force NW winds 25-35 knots that evening, decreasing to 15-25 knots overnight.
Summary: 5 hours on the water (including lunch break), approx. 10NM (18.5km)
Lucie paddling towards Bell Island
Beach at Harlequin Bay; campsites up behind the trees
Monday 27 August – Attack of the Waves:
Forecast from the night before had called for winds of 15-25 knots. Plan was to paddle northwest up Gordon Channel, along north side of Hurst Island, cross the mouth of Christie Passage, and then around the north side of Balaklava Island, then into Browning Passage to campsite on west side of Balaklava. Joseph came by in the morning to visit for a bit, and was definitely psyched to get some fresh brewed coffee!
1300 – Launch from Harlequin Bay. We had decided the night before that we would sleep in and leave a bit later. We were pretty tired from long paddle the day before. We realized leaving later would likely mean more wind; we agreed if it was too windy right away, we would instead paddle around the south ends of Hurst and Balaklava. If it was OK at first but then picked up, we could turn down Christie Passage before going out on the north side of Balaklava.
Leaving late helped with launching as the tide was halfway up. Weather was fairly calm to start, and quite foggy. Lots of kelp forest, seals, and one or two sea otters. As we headed out of the Bay we could see a “ghost island” materialize out of the fog out towards the Sound…..very quiet and eerie! Wind picked up and fog dissipated pretty quickly, bringing in 1-1.5m swell. At first it was a fairly long, smooth swell, lots of fun! But then the wind picked up and the water got quite choppy and confused as we approached the northwest tip of Hurst. For some reason Ryan and Saidi pulled away from the group, paddling straight towards the Scarlett Point lighthouse…..I didn’t worry too much, figured Ryan just wanted to keep some boat speed up, and I knew he could take care of himself. I was more concerned with keeping Kate and I near Lucie and Michal, as I was pretty sure sheLucie might not be too comfortable….sure enough I could hear her yelling “oooh oooh ooh!” as the waves got a bit bigger!
They were still paddling like champs though, so I waved at them to follow us around the point, hoping we’d get a bit of shelter there. As we rounded the point the waves were really choppy, lots of diagonals coming from all directions, but it settled down soon after. Lucie was a little, shall we say, “concerned”, but Michal was cool as a cucumber and Kate was all smiles, so good to go. There was still a good one metre chop across Christie Channel, but nice and consistent and seeming to be settling down, so we headed across….could just see Ryan and Saidi almost at the other shore already. We got across pretty quick and met up with them; apparently they had been taking on a bit of water in their Nootka Plus (they only had nylon spraydecks) and Ryan didn’t want to chance turning the boat sideways into the waves and wind, so had just elected to power on ahead. Lucie and Michal had been getting quite a bit of water in their Passat G3 also. Funny, Kate and I were completely dry; could be because we had better SnapDragon sprayskirts, but I think also it was because in our due to our Passat having the cockpits are closer to the middle of the boat (no centre hatch)…interesting. Anyway, we quickly decided it would be best to head down around the South end of Balaklava. This was fine with me, as I hadn’t gone through Christie Passage on my last trip here.
We passed a few cabins and houses on Balaklava, and could see where God’s Pocket Resort was on Hurst Island on the other side of the channel. We hit a bit more wind going around Nolan Point (not surprising), but then quickly into Browning Passage and up to the campsite at west Balaklava. This is a really nice clean pebble beach tucked in behind a small islet. There is a nice mossy area for tents and a nice beautiful grassy meadow, apparently it was historically used as a log dump. When the tide changes quite a bit of current develops between the islet and shore, and when we had stayed here two years prior we had whales swimming past numerous times.
Summary: Approx. 2.5hr paddling, 6.4NM (12km)
Michal paddling hard!
Tuesday 28 August - The Spa at Balaklava:
We had decided we would stay at west Balaklava for two nights, so this was an easy day.
Forecast called for winds 10-20 knots, but seemed more like 5-10, mostly sunny, really nice!
Ryan and Saidi decided to do a day trip to God’s Pocket Resort, Ryan was quite certain it would be the highlight of the trip for Saidi if they could get ice cream there! Michal and I paddled around the north end of the island to explore, in a mellow 1m swell and 5-10 knot winds.
Lots of kelp and sea otters around the north of the island, way more than I remembered from two years before. We paddled into some inlets at the top of the island and discovered a whole network of channels leading to a very large almost “Lake” seemingly in the middle of the island. Lots of Many previously used “secret” campsites in here. Obviously used to be used for logging, as we found an old donkey engine submerged in the water.
We paddled to the lighthouse at Scarlett Point and back, about two hours total. Lucie and Kate were happy to relax at camp. Ryan and Saidi got back a little while later, somewhat disappointed as the Resort wasn’t open! Anyway, another nice dinner at camp, some quick swims in the beautiful, crystal clear water, and another great sleep on our soft mossy tent sites, with a gentle rain pattering on the tent…
Summary: Andrew/Michal day trip approx. 1.5hr, 6.8NM (12.6km), Ryan/Saidi 6.8NM (12.7km)
View from Balaklava campsite, Kate and Saidi on the rocks
Kate and Saidi on the beach at Balaklava
Big Wednesday – 29 August - Into the Wild:
We knew this was likely going to be the most challenging day of the trip, as the plan was to paddle across the North side of Nigei Island, which would expose us to more wind and swell from Gordon Channel and Queen Charlotte Strait. Lucie was definitely apprehensive, and Ryan was also wanting to be cautious given our experience going around the top of Hurst Island.
Forecast called for Westerly winds of 10-15 knots (not so bad), with swell of 2-3m in Queen Charlotte Sound (maybe not so good!). There was definitely discussion about the importance of making good, conservative decisions. In the end we decided to give it a try, but we’d evaluate as we got to each point, and turn around if it seemed too bad, before committing to the really exposed section.
We started paddling at 10am in quite dense fog, very calm at first and then wind progressing to maybe 5-10 knots, and swell to 0.5 to 1m, really very good conditions. As soon as we encountered some swell, I hooked up a tow line to Lucie and Michal, attached to my quick release on my whitewater rescue PFD. This has worked well for me on many previous trips, as it gives the weaker (less experienced!) paddlers some reassurance that they won’t get separated, and keeps the group speed up so we can make the crossing or exposed section before the weather changes.
On our way we saw lots of amazing marine life; kelp forests, seals, sea otters, dolphins, and sea lions!
Anyway, we passed one point after another with no issue and still didn’t think we had committed to the exposed section….but then suddenly we were in sight of Greeting Point and beyond that Vansittart and Hope Islands! We had gone way further than we thought, which was a nice surprise.
As we approached Greeting Point we could see something black sticking up out of the water, looked like maybe the top of a log or something…..as we got closer we realized it was a huge sea lion! Then suddenly 15 or 20 more popped up, and they started roaring and aggressively moving toward charging us! They were really big, and amazingly high up out of the water, their heads probably higher than ours! We quickly did a right turn and started paddling directly away from the coast, not sure what these crazy animals might do! I heard an “oh, oh, oh, oh!” from Lucie as my tow rope pulled them around, and they swung within 10 or 15m of the angry animals…..they kept after us for about 100m or so, pretty surprising! Eventually they turned back, and we could all stop and laugh and try to get our heart rates down! Lucie was sure we had saved her and Michal’s life by helping pull them away with the tow line! I think we now know why they call it “Greeting Point”! And almost more funny, I remembered that the same thing had happened on our trip two years ago….but I had completely forgotten about it!
We were now quite far out into Gordon Channel, so decided to head straight to Vansittart Island across the mouth of Bate Passage. Magically, we could hear a whale off in the fog, surfacing and breathing really loudly, seemingly following us the whole way. It was a really weird crossing, as it seemed like we were sliding around on huge tilted slabs of water, that kept changing angle. Really hard to tell which way the current was going. It seemed like it took forever to get across, and Kate got really frustrated and blew a gasket, refusing to paddle the “stupid kayak on the stupid ocean” for the rest of the crossing! (I must have forgotten to keep her supplied with snacks…!)
After about 3.5hr of paddling we finally got to the campsite on the far side of Vansittart, tired but relieved at having survived! This paddle was definitely the highlight of the trip, we had gotten out into a little bit of exposed water, and seen pretty much all the marine wildlife you might hope for.
There are three campsites marked on various maps for the island – we stayed at the one on the west side, closest to the south end. On my previous trip we had stayed at the one more in the middle of the island; that one was nice as well, but did have kind of a rocky, muddy beach, not quite as nice.
Summary: 3.5h paddling, approx. 9.1NM (16.9km)
View from south side of Vansittart campsite
View from north side of Vansittart campsite, from the beach
Thursday 30 August – On Another Planet:
We had decided we would stay on Vansittart Island for two nights, so this was a nice low stress day to relax, recuperate, and maybe explore a little bit. This was our favourite spot so far on the trip; there was a beautiful, flat sandy beach protected by rock headwalls on each side, with the campsite up on the point to the south. From the south side of the point we had great views of Hope Island, and on the north side Queen Charlotte Sound. No evidence of civilization anywhere….kind of felt like being on another planet….ahhhhh! This is what I go sea kayaking for.
Out towards the Sound there always seemed to be a huge dark wall of cloud looming off in the distance, stretching from horizon to horizon….we dubbed it the “Wall of Mordor”!
The first morning we noticed some tracks around our campsite; looked like a wolf had checked things out during the night. That same morning Ryan and I paddled counter-clockwise around the island…the fog was incredibly dense on the side towards Bate Passage, may only have been 5m visibility….it was a little unnerving, and we were careful to keep close to the Island, and keeping an eye on our compasses, for fear of getting lost. We looked around for the third campsite that is supposed to be on the east side of the southern tip of the island, but didn’t really find it; one spot looked like it might have been the place, but seemed like there was a lot of fallen trees and wood.
Later in the day Michal and I paddled out to some of the rocks in Shadwell Passage; there is an incredible amount of kelp forest on the west side of the island, and we saw tons of sea otters, seals, and sea birds. It was really striking actually, the difference between now and two years ago, where we didn’t see a single sea otter. I think this was also where we saw some porpoises as well. We also had some fun playing in the strong tidal current that was streaming past the rocky islets, it was really surging with the incoming swell.
Throughout the day on the island Saidi and Kate seemed to have a great time climbing trees and singing songs….a lot of the time we could hear them but had no idea where they actually were, the forest being so dense and moss covered. Oh, and they thoroughly enjoyed the fish net hammock that some industrious person had put up!
Summary: Andrew/Ryan day trip, 3NM (5.6km). Michal/Andrew day trip 3.3NM (6.1km)
View from Vansittart Island
Rocky Islets near Breaker Reef and Shadwell Passage, off of Vansittart Island
Friday 31 August – Battle of the Channel / The Long Slog:
Well, this was the day we’d pay the piper for our lovely two night stay at Vansittart….a roughly 22km paddle from Vansittart down Goletas Channel, back to Balaklava. On our last trip we had camped halfway. However, I was sure it wouldn’t be too bad, based on the tides the current should be going with us, and the wind usually blows down the channel, so both should help….well, that was the plan. As soon as we rounded the western point of Nigei Island, we were paddling against the current and against the wind….good grief! We tried to tuck in to shore as much as we could, but as we came around each point it was like paddling uphill! By the time we got to Loquillila Cove we were pretty darn tired, wet, cold, and hungry! We bee-lined it in there and whipped up a small fire, broke out the stoves and made some hot meals and drinks for lunch. After 45 min. we were good as new.
Another few hours of paddling past the “Cliffs of Insanity!”, and we were back at Nolan Point on Balakalava. A solid 6 hour day!
The campsite at Nolan Point felt like a luxury hotel….nice big mossy camping area tucked just into the woods, then a separate entertainment and dining area, with a firepit, big table, and awesome wooden benches. Thanks to whoever built them! After some algebrae and physics we managed to get a tarp up, and thoroughly enjoyed a nice dinner with some wine. Saidi provided the entertainment, beautifully singing theatre songs, and then orchestrating a scintillating game of “Citadels”. I didn’t play, was glued to the VHF listening to the weather, worried that we might not get back across the channel. On last trip we had gotten stranded here with multiple days of gale force winds, had to call a water taxi to get us back to Port Hardy.
Summary: 6 hours including lunch, 12.2NM (22.5km)
Approaching the “cliffs of insanity” on north side of Goletas Channel
View from Nolan Point on Balaklava
“Entertainment and dining area” on Nolan Point
Saturday 01 September – A Hard Day’s Paddle:
Launched from Nolan Point around 10:30am, nice sunny day, with 5-10 knot NW wind coming down Goletas Channel. We headed straight across the channel and made it across in 25 min. After that it was really a perfect day in the sunshine, with the current and wind helping us along. We even managed to surf a few waves along the way. We took the inside channel around Duval Island which saved some time, and then barreled down into Hardy Bay with a 15-20 know wind at our back. We landed at Carrrot Park after 3 hours and 20 min. of paddling. Even with these ideal conditions, both Ryan and I were just knackered for some reason! I swear it was the most tired I’ve ever felt paddling, not sure why…..I think we might have to chalk it up to getting close to ## (not telling) years old! (Ryan now swears he was not tired at all….) Lucie and Michal, the so-called weaker (less experienced!) paddlers, seemed to be just fine!
I had called ahead and my amazing cousins Heather and Mark shuttled our vehicles down, and we headed straight to the A&W for root beer floats (cue stomach ache). After that we had an amazing dinner of barbecued hamburgers, courtesy of Heather and Mark (thank-you guys!), and a luxurious sleep in real beds (thank-you Auntie Dawneen!). A great way to cap off a great trip!
Summary: 3hours and 20 min. paddling, 11.5NM (21.4km)
Paddling back to Port Hardy along south side of Goletas Channel
GPS route map – 110km total