Part I of this article appeared in the February 2022 issue of the BC Marine Trails newsletter and is available here: https://www.bcmarinetrails.org/part-1-paddling-along-the-bc-marine-trails-sunshine-coast-thormanby-jedediah-islands/
Decision day. Julee and I are standing on the beach at Buccaneer Bay with our three boys, aged 19, 11 and 9, staring west at today’s intended destination, Jedediah Island, 17 kilometers 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 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.
Julee and I are both keen to do the crossing to Jedediah. We love Jedediah Island. Many consider it the crown jewel of British Columbia’s marine parks. On a previous trip when these photos were taken, we had walked the network of trails criss-crossing Jedediah, including a hike up to the summit of 145-meter Gibraltar Mountain to take in its fantastic view. We had picked apples in the orchard where sheep still “mow” the grass keeping everything tidy.
In the silence of the orchard, we had imagined the coast as it was 100 years ago, filled with homesteaders carving harsh lives out of a rocky coast. Wylie Blanchet’s eloquent book The Curve of Time captures this era beautifully. In 1926, widowed at age 35, Blanchet packed her dog and five children into a 25-foot boat and began cruising the B.C coast. As a single mom, she continued exploring for the next fifteen summers, creating “a little realm of our own making” with her children. The Curve of Time is the account of her travels and was published shortly before her death in 1961. A 50th Anniversary edition became a surprise national bestseller when it was launched in 2011.
On our previous trip to Jedediah, Julee and I had camped at the main kayak campsite at Home Bay. The campsite features an appealing grassy area between the Douglas Fir and Arbutus trees, an outhouse and well-marked trails connecting the campsite to the rest of the island. 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. Here are some photos of our favourite campsite at Home Bay:
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 (Jedediah 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 pre-Kickstarter public plea-for-help article written by columnist Pete McMartin in the Vancouver Sun.
At 603 hectares, Jedediah is one of the largest island marine parks in British Columbia. We agree with Mary Palmer’s judgement that it is an ‘island paradise’. It can be reached from the east via a crossing from Thormanby, or from Vancouver Island via a longer crossing. Paddlers can also load their 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. Weather can be unpredictable, and it is critical to allow for this when planning a significant crossing.
As Julee and I gaze longingly at Jedediah from the beach at Buccaneer Bay, we know the kids would have a blast IF we could make it there, and back, safely. We listen to today’s forecast and consider our situation.
The wind forecast sounds iffy. We might be able to make it to Jedediah. But Julee and Jamen are untested in our rented Passat G3 double kayak and might lack the endurance to make it. As a “crossing” instead of a “coasting” or a “circumnavigation”, there would be no bail-out points along the way, and no guarantees about wind conditions for the return crossing. On our previous trip to Jedediah, Julee and I had set out with a forecast for the following day of 5 knot winds from the northwest only to find ourselves the next day padding into a southeast headwind of 20+ knots. The return paddle was one of our least pleasant ever as Julee had come down with a nasty infection and I had a badly injured shoulder.
On our epic 500-km paddle from Bella Bella to Tofino, Julee and I had faced this same decision many times: should we stay or should we go? On the second day of that lengthy expedition, I had pushed us to go instead of stay, on a short crossing to the McMullan Islands. There were no bail out points along the way. It proved to be a spectacularly bad call and almost killed us both. You can read about it here: https://www.bcmarinetrails.org/dangerous-crossings-part-i-a-breathtakingly-stupid-paddling-decision-and-lessons-learned/ Only after we agreed to defer, conservatively, to the judgement of the least comfortable paddler at all times, would Julee agree to continue paddling with me. This agreement has served us well on all our subsequent paddling trips.
Sure, Julee and I would love to spend a whole week on Jedediah creating, like Wylie Blanchett, “a little realm of our own making” with the boys. But 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. A dangerous paddle might turn the boys off kayaking for good. Better to plant a seed that, with careful watering, might one day grow into a love for kayaking and for this awesome coast we live on. There is a longer game here to think about. Played right, the boys might become kayak adventure buddies for each other (and for us) for decades to come. Played wrong…
I turn to Julee, and ask, “should we go for it?”
Circumnavigating Thormanby Island
Sea kayaking is a great teacher of patience and humility. Standing at Buccaneer Bay with our three boys, Julee and I decide that we’re not yet ready for the crossing to Jedediah. It can wait for another day when the boys are a little older, a little stronger. So, on day four, we elect to make our way around the southern tip of Thormanby, and then back to Coopers Green. This will be a family-friendly circumnavigation of Thormanby Island, not something epic.
After pushing off from Buccaneer Bay with loaded kayaks, we make our way down the west side of the island. Ahead we spot a tangled jumble of what looks like twenty-something black flags jutting rigidly out of the water at twisted angles, each perhaps two or three feet high. Some of the black flags have flat ends while others have rippled ends. We’ve never seen anything like it before and can’t place it at all.
“What is it?”, the boys ask.
We don’t know. Garbage? A submerged shipwreck? Something that blew away from a fish farm in a storm?
We paddle closer. Two hundred meters. A hundred meters. Fifty meters and I still can’t place it.
All of a sudden, one of the ripple-ended black flags sinks below the water’s surface, and a sea lion head pops up beside it making a whooshing sound as it breathes. Then another sea lion head and another. Mystery solved! These aren’t flags but rather a group of sea lions napping (California Sea Lions, not Stellar Sea Lions which are much larger). They put their fins up in the air like solar panels to warm up blood in their flippers.
In decades of paddling, Julee and I have seen Orca many times, sun-fish twice, a washed up Humbolt Squid once, but no basking sharks (although we’re told they’re out there). We’ve been pinned against the shoreline on a desolate beach by four hunting wolves, and barked at ferociously by a herd of territorial Stellar sea lions so close we could smell their fishy breath as we paddled around Cape Scott. And now, for the first time ever, we’ve seen a group of napping sea lions sunning themselves like living solar panels. We paddle away quietly and try not to disturb them any more than we already have.
We love this coast – the wilder parts in particular – and keep going back. To us, it is the most beautiful place in the world. We’re happy to have introduced our kids to it and hope they get caught up in the romance as much as we have. What better way to experience it than in a small, self-propelled boat of a design used for thousands of years, that lets you sneak up silently on wildlife as you paddle along.
Where next with the boys? Bowron Lakes? West Coast of Vancouver Island?
We’ll decide later. 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. We prefer shoulder season and mid-week paddles. Camping at Jedediah is rarely a problem. Smuggler Cove offers an alternate campsite.
Highlights: Beach at Buccaneer Bay and hiking trail to lake at Simson Marine Park which can be accessed from Farm Bay. Grassy meadows, orchard and hiking trails on Jedediah Island, with sand beach at Home Bay.
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.
Launch Site: Westerly Trip: Launch from Cooper’s Green Regional Park, or from Half Moon Bay where kayak rentals are available. 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 22km 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. 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 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 offers paddle-in camping at the south end of the cove. The cove is very protected from winds and offers an interesting coastline filled with nooks and crannies, but the campsite is gloomy. Boats must be lifted up a2m bank. There is a pit toilet.
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.