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Favorite Day Trip on a Longer Journey: One Hour of Bliss on the Central Coast

One of my favorite days of paddling was defined by one single hour out of a difficult 12 ½-hour day.

We needed just two decent days to get back to Port Hardy. Operating on half-rations of food and a self-imposed coffee ban, we were eager for a weather window to leave Indian Cove and continue south around Cape Caution. We’d been beached by high winds and seas for the past four days, and were already three weeks into our journey.

When the 4:00 a.m. forecast suggested conditions would back off to winds NW 10-15 knots, with swell to two meters and two-foot wind waves, we prepared to leave the beach. The tide was ebbing, which isn’t my preference for rounding Cape Caution and crossing Slingsby Channel, especially with wind against current, but it was the best we had seen for days. As is common in August, fog had been a part of most days on this journey and this day was no exception.

Looking out past the entrance to Indian Cove

We left camp and paddled out into the predicted winds and associated sea state. Paddling around Cape Caution by sound more than sight, we forced our boats forward through sheer will.  We were grinding against current and turbulence, squinting to give context to the sounds we were navigating by, until finally freed of the cape’s influence. For the next six hours we saw very little other than our deck compasses. I led across the Slingsby Channel weirdness and on for another two hours. Finally, mentally exhausted from focusing on my compass, I started losing it and chasing light. The compass couldn’t be right! My GPS batteries were too low to confirm our position. I was thankful when Dave took over from there and off we went.

Paddling in fog is exhausting!

Immediately my day improved. All I had to do was follow Dave and look around. The fog became a thick but shallow layer that restricted horizontal vision but allowed light to penetrate, painting everything in brilliant shades of silver. Two-meter swells topped with wind waves hissed but didn’t break as they passed, while reflecting light in all directions. Eventually they started crossing from two directions, signifying that we were in the outflow of Schooner Channel.  Dave and I provided the only color and when we were out of sight of one another among the irregularly-shaped colliding mounds, the light became even more intense. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we heard a humpback whale approaching out of the fog. It surfaced three times before I spotted it about 40 feet away. Its barnacle-encrusted body moved in slow motion, glistening in the magic silver light. Rivulets running down its back added more reflective interest. Its tail rose, dripping diamonds, and then slipped silently into the sea. 

I was totally blissed out, and before I came out of my magic light-induced trance, the fog lifted to reveal the Southgate Group just minutes ahead. We were exactly on course, so, slipping behind the island group, we followed the rocky shoreline south to Shelter Bay. The last mile or so we were exposed and knocked around a bit, but it was nothing that could spoil the perfect paddling day provided by that one hour. Nor could anything have made it any better.

Shelter Bay

Jon Dawkins

Growing up in Seattle, I learned to swim, walk logs, and build, borrow and steal rafts. With two home-built dinghies, a hydroplane, and a run-about, I explored the lakes and shorelines of the Greater Seattle area. When a friend introduced me to whitewater kayaking in the mid-70s, it stuck. I have spent the past 15 years exploring British Columbia's outer coast and chasing down Kayak Bill Davidson's many camps while putting together bits and pieces of a route from Olympia, WA to Prince Rupert, BC. I don't have the desire to do it in one fell swoop, so it is a trip here and a trip there. When complete, it will encompass the entire Canadian west coast. In the meantime, it is a collection of visits and learnings as time allows.