Could not have asked for a better day to be on the water. The day was clear, warm and sunny, and there was only the lightest of breezes. The water off Willows beach was scarcely disturbed by swells and stretched off smooth and flat as far as the eye could see.
It turns out that we arrived at low tide, adn once again, it was a zero tide or close thereto; the edge of the water was fifty metres further out than the lowest tide we'd ever had before. Where we usually see otters feeding in the eelgrass fields was where we put in this morning. On the plus side, we were already halfway to Mary Todd Island before we even got the boats wet.
The tide was coming up on slack as we launched, and paddling out felt like paddling over silk; there was almost no effort involved. Paddles dipped in and out of the water barely getting wet, and the boats slid across the sea without discernable resistance. It seemed only minutes and we were already across Mayor Channel and into the Chain Islets. With the extremely low tide, there was a tremendous amount of rock exposed, and paddling through the Chain Islets was an act of joyous exploration. Our normal paddle group is six people, recently as high as eight, but today there were only three of us tripping on what has to be one of the most enjoyable paddles of the last year.
As we worked our way through the rocks and kelp beds, we kept coming across seals; rocks almost invisible under the harbour seals—whose colours kept them well camoflaged until we were quite close, and them suddenly thirty or forty seals would explode into motion, splashing into the water and, just as quickly, bobbing up to look at us. At one point we were completely surrounded by seals, heads popping up on all sides of us to check us out, and then abruptly disappearing back underwater. It was a terrific opportunity to simply listen to the sounds they made; the blowing when surfacing, the sound of them breathing or smelling for us, and the occasional big splash as they tried to keep us moving through their turf.
Since Dennis and I first paddled over to the Chatam Islands, I've been keeping my eyes open for sea urchins. That day we saw the shells of dozens of urchins caught and killed by, I believe, otters. But until yesterday, I haven't seen a single living urchin.
That changed as I took the time to look down with the sun piercing the water. As I floated over a stalk of bull kelp, I noticed a different colour in the leaves. Sure enough, it was an urchin that had apparently climbed on board with the slack tide and then been lifted by the slow return of a current. As Alison manouver4ed in to try and get a picture, I floated over to the nearby rocks where, sure enough, there were a dozen more urchins well displayed in the sunlight.
It would have been so easy to paddle across Plumper Passage and make landfall at Discovery Island, but we decided to turn back towards the beach and a hot cuppa that was waiting for us. As we passed what I think was Carolina Reef, we suprised a couple more seals, and as we passed, the baby began calling (quite demadingly, I thought) for his/her mom—sounding very like every human child I've ever met: “Mam! Mam!”
We made it back to the beach and the Kiwanis Tearoom, with a sudden stiff breeze blowing up for maybe the last five minutes of paddling. All in all, one of the best days on the water—with one of the smallest paddle groups of the year.