Over the years, I’ve enjoyed a lot of day paddles on Vancouver Island, but my favourite was an outing from Chemainus to Coon Bay on Galiano Island alone against the tide.
It was my first paddle of the year. While bending over to assemble my sleek red Feathercraft kayak, I hurt my back. The assembly took MUCH longer than expected which, in turn, led to a significant delay in launching. I had been hoping for a relaxed paddle – 16-km or three hours in each direction – with plenty of time between the day’s two slack currents at Porlier Pass to explore Coon Bay. Instead, I was in a race against the tide.
Canoe Pass is a shallow passage between Thetis Island and Penelakut Island that was dredged in 1905 to allow small boats to pass. I paddled as hard as I could to get there while it was navigable on the falling tide. But I arrived too late. Despite paddling furiously in the shallow water, I had to get out of my kayak and drag it in two places.
That delay at Canoe Pass put me even further behind schedule and meant that I had to paddle even faster to hit the first slack current at Porlier Pass. The pass can have currents up to 10 knots with standing waves, overfalls and whirlpools so missing the slack can have serious consequences. Despite paddling furiously, I missed the slack by an hour. Instead of the planned-for flat water in Porlier Pass, I faced an opposing current getting stronger with each minute I was late. Instead of toodling along enjoying the view, I had to paddle even more furiously.
Anyone watching from shore would have seen me tearing through the water looking like beefy Canadian kayak sprinter and Olympic gold medalist Adam van Koeverden. Or at least that’s how I pictured it. I was younger and stronger then.
After a three-hour “sprint”, I eventually made it to Coon Bay. I climbed out of the kayak with heart thumping, wobbly legs and a confused mix of feelings. Simultaneously I felt mad at myself for screwing up and proud of myself for rescuing the situation; exhausted and energized; sunburned and delighted with the sunny setting. Most of all, I felt ALIVE! After three major surgeries for colon cancer, a fifty-pound weight swing and many months of feeling fragile, it was exhilarating to feel so alive…amazing just to be alive. I lay on the beach in the sun to recover, then got up to explore the walking trails around Coon Bay.
For my return trip through Porlier Pass, I made sure to hit the slack bang on. I had exactly the relaxed paddle back to Chemainus I was hoping for, with time to stop for dinner at Thetis Island Marina’s charming restaurant patio.
In August of 2022, my wife Julee and I returned to Coon Bay for an overnight stay as part of a longer paddle in double kayaks from Nanaimo to Victoria. As the photos below attest, the beach was as wonderful as I remember. And I am fully reconciled to the fact that whatever resemblance my shoulders, pecs and biceps may once have had to Adam van Koeverden has long since passed.