It’s been said that there are three types of sea kayakers: coasters who like hugging the shoreline, crossers who like exposed jumps to offshore islands and circumnavigators who like to make it all the way around. For a May warm-up paddle before our family’s July trip to the Bowron Lakes, we wanted a route that combined all three elements. Thormanby Island was an easy pick. We could hug the coast to Buccaneer Bay, complete a crossing to Jedediah Island, and circumnavigate North and South Thormanby Islands all in the same trip. The kids were sure to love the spectacular white sand beach at Buccaneer Bay. We’d have a trial run for all our gear, improve our paddling skills, and finish the trip with smiles on our faces and ice cream on the way home!
I knew Julee would be up for the challenge. Already an experienced kayaker before we started dating, twenty years ago she had joined me for an “epic” paddling adventure from Bella Bella to Tofino. The trip had been 600-km with all the zig zags to find campsites and drinking water along the way. We had started the trip as boyfriend-girlfriend, wanting to see if we had what it took to become husband and wife. We did, and I have been counting my blessings ever since.
I knew that I too would be up for the challenge. As the strongest in the family, I planned to paddle from the rear seat of our red double kayak with my youngest son Ryden, aged 9, in front. Together we would carry our heaviest gear and most of our drinking water. My oldest son, Peter, 19, should have no problems keeping up in our red Feathercraft skin-over-frame single kayak. My biggest worry was Julee and my middle son Jamen, age 11. They would have the lightest load and be in the fastest double kayak – a yellow Passat G3 rented from MEC that we would be renting again for the Bowron Lakes. But they’d never done an extended paddling trip together. Could they handle Thormanby and the Bowron Lakes? Only one way to find out!
Day 1 – Buccaneer Bay Marine Park (Grassy Point)
We leave Vancouver early in the morning. A scenic 45-minute ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale and a 40-minute drive up the Sunshine Coast take us to our launch site at Coopers Green. Everyone pitches in carrying the kayaks and all of our gear from the minivan down to the gravel beach. It takes nearly two hours to assemble the Feathercraft, store our mountain of stuff sacks inside the kayaks, have lunch, apply sunscreen, adjust everyone’s footrests, then pull out the stuff sacks again to look for someone’s missing sunglasses. I feel myself getting more and more impatient as the time drags on but decide to take a deep breath and chill. Family trips just take longer, I tell myself. We’ll have to be faster for the Bowron Lakes, but there’s no point spoiling the mood for everyone by getting grumpy today.
When Ryden and I finally slip into our double kayak, fasten our sprayskirts and push off, the hurried feeling washes away. I enter a gentler headspace where there is no rush. Just the May sun shining above, the sound of seagulls all around, and a leisurely trip ahead. I pick the line I want to take, reach forward with the paddle blade, dig in and pull back, making small whirlpools in the water. I love being on the water again: the feel of the kayak wrapped snugly around me, the seat pressed against my back, the paddle in my hands, the rise and fall of the kayak as each small wave passes beneath, the gentle roll from side to side as I lean. Ahhhh. Water Rat nailed it when he said in The Wind In The Willows, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
“Hey boys”, I say to the others. “See the blue paddling shirt I’m wearing. It’s the same one I wore 20 years ago when your mom and I did our two-month trip down the coast. It still fits!”
“Yes, but it must have stretched a lot”, Peter responds to peals of laughter from the others. Decades working at a desk job have not been kind to my belly.
The weather today is cooperating with our plan. The wind is light and the sun is warm enough for short sleeves. A seal pops its head above the water beside us, inspects us briefly, then slides back down into the sea. A heron fishing from rocks by the shore takes little notice as we paddle silently past. To avoid potential boat traffic, we cross Welcome Passage quickly then slow down again when we reach South Thormanby. A lazy paddle north along the island’s steep rocky shoreline takes us past arbutus trees and a few houses tucked back in quiet coves. We reach the northern tip of the island and pause to watch a flock of Oystercatchers forage across some rocks, making sharp “peep peep peep” sounds to warn the others of our approach. We’re making good time so we raft together the kayaks and give the boys a chance to relax with their feet up.
“Hey boys, did I ever tell you about the floating feet?”
“What floating feet?”
“Floating human feet, in running shoes. The first one washed up on Jedediah Island in 2007. Since then, 14 more have washed up along the coast one foot at a time. How they got there is a mystery. The police think most of them are from people who drowned. After a while, the bones rot, the foot breaks free, and the shoe floats up to the top of the water with the foot inside. So keep an eye out for shoes floating by. We don’t want to bump into one while we’re paddling”
“By the way, there have been human feet here for a long time. Archaeologists on an island in Hakai Pass have found human footprints from 14,000 years ago. The people who made the footprints must have gotten there by boat. Maybe a kayak made from seal skins over a bone frame a lot like what Peter’s paddling today. Think about that for a minute. There might have been someone paddling a kayak right where we are today thousands of years ago, looking at seals and herons and oystercatchers just like we are today.”
As we round the north end of the island, Buccaneer Bay opens up to the south. Whoever named it must have a had a fascination with pirates as our marine chart shows a “pirate rock” and “spyglass hill” nearby. We arrive at the Grassy Point campsite, scramble out of our kayaks and then everyone pitches in again carrying our gear across a tidal mudflat and up to the campsite. The entire paddle from Coopers Green takes only 70 minutes. What better way to get here than in a small, self-propelled boat that lets you sneak up silently on wildlife.
Although measuring only 1 hectare above the high tide line, Buccaneer Bay Marine Park is much larger at low tide when a broad white sand beach stretches out to the south and west. The park is popular with kayakers and other recreational boaters and features tide pools, driftwood, and warm water swimming when the tide comes in over a hot sand beach. Ten or twelve tents can be pitched at five campsites with fire pits. The Park is home to a large number of bird species and visiting sea lions that occasionally haul out on the beach. There is one pit toilet adjacent to the camping area. Bring your own drinking water as no potable water is available.
On a prior trip to Thormanby Island Julee and I walked all the way around North Thormanby Island at low tide, but no one wants to today. Instead, Julee and I pitch the tents. As expected, the boys love it here, and have fun running around the beach, building sand castles, whittling, then building a campfire and poking at it with sticks. Dinner is hot dogs, with Julee’s deluxe smores for dessert, made with chocolate covered cookies instead of graham crackers.
After dinner, we listen to the weather forecast on our handheld VHF radio and make plans for the second day of our trip. From Buccaneer Bay there are three main paddling options: a 4-km coastal trip to Smugglers Cove, a 17-km crossing to Jedediah, or a 20-km circumnavigation of North and South Thormanby. We decide to leave our final decision until the morning when we’ll have an updated marine weather forecast.
Day 2 – Simson Marine Park
On the second day of our trip, the morning forecast calls for winds in the 20-knot range – too strong for paddling with kids – so we decide to walk down the west side of the island, past a picturesque sandstone cliff, to the lake at Simson Marine Park. Along the way, we meet a group out for a 6-day kayak guide course offered by Evolution Guide School.
The houses lining Buccaneer Bay are on private property with no public access to Simson Marine Park, so we have to get to the park another way. From a previous trip, I know of a trail from a chain tire swing on the west side of the island to an old logging road that takes hikers south into the park. When we come to the chain tire swing, the boys play on it for over an hour. Then we cut inland on the trail, south on the logging road and eventually reach the lake at the south end of the park. It is fun strolling around the orchard, poking at the concrete foundations where a house used to be, and wondering what it must have been like living here decades ago. After a quick walk from the lake to Farm Bay – a secondary campsite for kayakers on the southwest corner of the island – we make our way back to Grassy Point the same way we came.
461 hectare Simson Marine Park was established in 1986 through a generous donation by the family of Calvert Simson. The coastline is rocky and indented with small bays, including Farm Bay to the south and Pebble Beach further north. The island is boat access only. The main campsite used by kayakers at Farm Bay is an undeveloped site with a well protected pebble cove and a grassy upland area with room for a number of tents. Farm Bay is connected to a lake of about five hectares by a short trail. The lake was created by a beaver dam across the outlet draining an old farm and adjacent orchard. The lake and orchard attract numerous bird species throughout the year. The island is often tinder-dry and no fires are permitted.
Day 3 – Smugglers Cove
Our agenda for day three of the trip is a lazy paddle to Smugglers Cove. After breakfast, we paddle north past Vaucroft Beach and its holiday cottages with boats moored in front. It is a short hop from there to the entrance to Smugglers Cove, marked with a park sign that is hidden until you are quite close. As we paddle through the cove entrance, a river otter crosses the narrow passage just in front of us, then scampers up the steep rocky bank where perhaps it has a den and pups. Deeper in the cove a couple of sailboats sit peacefully at anchor with stern lines running to the shore. The cove is very well protected from all directions and there is almost no wind. We paddle to what used to be a small campsite at the south end of the cove (now closed), haul our kayaks up the rocky shore, and walk on the trail to a nearby beaver pond. The short hiking trail in the park is well used by locals and by boaters anchoring in the cove. After looking around, we’re happy to get back into our kayaks and paddle back to our campsite at Grassy Point where the beach and campsite are much prettier.
Day 4 – Jedediah Island Marine Park
Decision day. Julee and I are standing on the beach at Grassy Point staring west at today’s intended destination, Jedediah Island, 17-km away. Our kayaks and tents are damp with the morning dew. The wind is light from the northwest but expected to rise this afternoon. If we were to launch right away and paddle at our usual 5km/hr, we could round the southern tip of Texada Island in a little over two hours, and land on the sandy beach at Jedidiah’s Home Bay in three hours. After pitching our tent, we would have the rest of the day to hike around the orchard in the middle of the island, or perhaps summit Gibraltar Mountain and take in the fantastic view.
I had confirmed on a prior trip that the campground at Home Bay is in much better shape than when Julee and I first visited Jedediah decades ago. Someone has clearly done a lot of work clearing brush to create an appealing grassy area between the Douglas Fir and Arbutus trees. The cleaned-up site is very inviting for camping and would make a fantastic place for kids to run around and play. There is a pit toilet at the campsite, and well-marked gravel trails connecting it to the rest of the island.
On my prior trip, I had also confirmed that the orchard Julee and I first visited decades ago is still there. A herd of sheep still patrols the orchard keeping the grass down. Unfortunately, Will – the friendly horse that lived on the island when it was first made a park – died long ago. I doubt the many apples I fed him in response to his insistent head butts had anything to do with it.
I’ve always enjoyed visiting the orchard and imagining the coast as it was 50 years ago, filled with homesteaders hewing farms and homes out of a rocky coast. Wylie Blanchet’s The Curve of Time still stands the most eloquent description of this earlier time. The book describes Wylie’s travels on B.C.’s rugged coastline as a single mom in a 25-foot boat with five children and a dog. A 50th Anniversary edition of the book became a surprise national bestseller when it was launched in 2011.
I think the kids would have a blast on Jedediah. We could easily spend a whole week there, hiking the trails crisscrossing the island, playing on the beach, paddling around the island, or perhaps doing a day-paddle to Sabine Channel Marine Park on Jervis Island just north of Jedediah (a rocky island with no camping).
So what is this family paddling trip about really? Clearly, paddling with kids isn’t about rounding Cape Horn while shouting “Epic, dude!” above the shriek of the rising wind. Should we risk a hard paddle that might turn the kids off kayaking? Or should we be more concerned about planting a seed that, with careful watering, might grow one day into a love for kayaking, a love for this awesome coast we live on, and perhaps an effort to protect it? There is a longer game here to think about. Played right, I might turn the boys into adventure buddies for decades to come. Played wrong…
I turn to Julee, and ask, “should we go for it?”
On our epic paddle from Bella Bella to Tofino, Julee and I had faced this same decision many times. Should we stay or should we go? Mostly we had gotten it right. But on only the second day of our trip I had gotten it terribly wrong when I pressured an already-tired Julee to leave a “nice-enough” campsite south of Bella Bella and paddle in 25-knot breaking seas to what I knew would be a spectacular campsite with a breathtaking white sand beach in the McMullan Islands. My decision had resulted in a near death experience for both of us and had brought our expedition to an abrupt halt. After failing at the most basic task of keeping her safe, Julee refused to go further with a man she now thought of as an arrogant nutbar with an exaggerated opinion of his paddling skills and deeply flawed judgement. It was only after we agreed to defer, conservatively, to the judgement of the least comfortable paddler at all times, that Julee agreed to continue paddling south. This decision rule served us well on all our subsequent paddling trips.
Jedediah Island Marine Park
Jedediah Island was established as a Class A Provincial Park in March 1995. The island’s owner, Mary Palmer and her first husband originally purchased the island in 1949. Palmer wrote a book chronicling her 45 years on the island (Jedidiah Days: One Woman’s Island Paradise). When she and her second husband Al reached their seventies, they found the island too much to look after and wanted to see it preserved as park, even if it meant selling the island for well below market value. After turning down higher offers, Palmer sold the island to the Province of British Columbia for $4.2 million, with the Province contributing $2.6 million toward the purchase and the estate of renowned mountain climber Dan Culver contributing $1.1 million. Other contributions came from Friends of Jedediah, Marine Parks Forever Society, The Nature Trust of BC, Mountain Equipment Co-Op, Marine Trades Association, Canada Trust and others, many in response to a public plea-for-help article written by columnist Pete McMartin in the Vancouver Sun.
At 603 hectares, Jedidiah is one of the largest island marine parks in British Columbia. I consider it one of the crown jewels of the coast and agree with Mary Palmer’s judgement that it is an island paradise. It can be reached from the east via a 9 km crossing from Thormanby, or from Vancouver Island via a longer crossing or by loading kayaks aboard a passenger ferry to False Bay on Lasqueti Island and following the coast 22 km to Home Bay.
Reaching the island from either direction requires good paddling skills and a safe weather window in both directions. I once set out on a trip to Jedediah with a forecast for the following day of 5 knot winds from the Northwest, only to find the next day that the winds were from the Southeast at 20+ knots. Wind and weather can be unpredictable, and it is critical to allow for this when planning a significant crossing.
The main Jedediah campsite used by kayakers is at Home Bay. It is best to arrive on a high tide as the bay dries out at low tide with a long carry through mud to reach the tent area. From Home Bay, there is a well-marked network of trails crisscrossing the island, and an informal trail to 145 meter Mount Gibraltar, the island’s highest peak. Dispersed camping has been occurring on the island for decades, even when the island was privately owned. Most campers now congregate near one of the four pit toilets located at various bays around the island.
Circumnavigating Thormanby Island
Standing on Grassy Point with our children, part of me wants to press on to Jedediah. Author Rolf Potts encourages travellers to “bake a little fear into your trip”. Author Sarah Outen states: “If you want to do something, you have to do it now, otherwise who knows? It would be a tragedy to let your dreams pass you by without having a crack at them.”
Sure. Neither author has kids.
My sea kayaking mistakes over the years have taught me that some risks simply aren’t worth taking, particularly when children are involved. Julee and I decide that our family isn’t ready for the crossing to Jedidiah. It can wait for another day when the boys are a little older, a little stronger. So, on day four, we elect to have another leisurely paddle, making our way around Thormanby, and back to our launch site at Coopers Green. This will be a family-friendly, shore-hugging circumnavigation, not a crossing. “Epic” can wait for later.
But first some ice cream on the way home.
Paddling To Thormanby and Jedediah Island
Best time of year: Although the weather is best in July and August, finding a tent site at Buccaneer Bay can be difficult on summer weekends. I prefer shoulder season and mid-week paddles. Camping at Jedediah is rarely a problem.
Highlights: On Thormanby Island, check out the sandy beach at Buccaneer Bay, walking around North Thormanby at low tide, and the hiking trail to the lake at Simpson Marine Park (which can also be accessed from Farm Bay). On Jedediah, the grassy meadows, orchard, hiking trails and sand beach at Home Bay are highlights.
Cautions: Avoid wind-over-tide conditions in Welcome Passage which can create steep seas dangerous for paddlers. Winds can make a crossing from Thormanby to Jedidiah hazardous. Always check the marine weather forecast and tidal currents before departing. Start early in the morning when winds are likely to be lighter.
Recommended Launch Site:
Westerly Trip Launch from Cooper’s Green Regional Park, or from Half Moon Bay where kayak rentals are available. Overnight parking near Cooper’s Green can be a problem.
Easterly Trip A passenger ferry operates from French Creek on Vancouver Island to False Bay on Lasqueti Island. Kayaks can be carried aboard the ferry for an extra fee. From False Bay, it is a 24-km paddle to Home Bay on Jedediah Island.
Thormanby Island Five campsites at Buccaneer Bay Provincial Park, each accommodating several tents. Open pit toilet on site. Fires are permitted within fire rings except during summer fire bans. The secondary campsite at Farm Bay has a short hike to a pretty lake.
Jedediah Island Dispersed camping is permitted anywhere on the island, although most people camp close to one of the four pit toilets on the island. Campers are asked to go to the BC Parks website to pay a reservable nightly camping fee for anyone over 6 years of age. Home Bay is the most popular site for kayakers. Deep Bay is the most popular anchorage for boaters. Log Boom Bay and Long Bay are secondary campsites.
Smugglers Cove Provincial Marine Park Smugglers cove makes for an interesting day paddle, but camping is no longer permitted. The cove is very protected from winds and offers an interesting coastline filled with nooks and crannies and a short hiking trail.
Anderson Bay Provincial Park The protected cove on the southeast coast of Texada Island is used by boaters as an anchorage. There is an undeveloped secondary campsite on the peninsula featuring small clearings in open forest, room for two tents, and a firepit.