Sunday, August 10, 2008

Roll the Bones

Our paddle began on a sunny Sunday.
Really. It did. I have photographic proof.
But what seemed like a sure thing for a paddle became an almost constant 50/50 proposition.
The weather called for clearing skies and maybe a slight breeze. At Cadboro Bay, we found the slight breeze alright, and then some. The wind was blowing, not a gale or anything, but certainly stronger than we had been expecting. Paula, Alison, Louise, Richard and myself were hoping for a paddle out to Discovery Island, but the weatherman looked like he might be playing his usual tricks on us today. As we looked out into the bay we saw Discovery Island disappear behind a fog bank. So much for the clearing skies.
2008-08-10 Chatham Island 413

We decided to take a chance and launch anyway. We stayed along the north side of the bay, heading for Flower Island where we would reassess what the weather was doing. But we didn't get far before the fog bank rolled right over us.
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By the time we got to Flower Island the fog had pretty much burned itself off. Now our only real concern was the wind and the currents. If the Baynes Channel freight train was running, a crossing might not be possible.
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We paddled around Flower and saw the local eagle sitting in his tree. We also saw a family of three otters scamper up the rock.
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On the other side of Flower, we saw more otters. There's at least four here, maybe five, so we think this might be a second family of otters, different from the first. We were still dubious about our planned crossing to Discovery, so I jokingly said after I snapped some pictures that I could go home now, I had otter pictures. Little did I realize that a few minutes later, we would almost go home.
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We decided to roll the bones and head further out to Jemmy Jones Island. Here we could get a good look at the currents between there and Discovery. But Discovery had disappeared again. Another fog bank had rolled over it.
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We pressed on towards Jemmy Jones and soon the fog bank rolled over us. Again.
Halfway between Flower and Jemmy Jones, we couldn't see a thing in front of or behind us. We saw no visable landmarks. We were blind.
I had taken a compass heading before we started crossing (as had Paula) and it's not a long crossing by any means, but it was a little disconcerting to be paddling about blindly for a few minutes.
Despite the fog, we reached Jemmy and stared out at where Discovery should be. We couldn't see anything.
2008-08-10 Chatham Island 435

At that point, our paddle seemed over for the day, and we decided to go around Jemmy and follow our compasses and noses back to Cadboro Bay. We had started back, when I took one last look behind me. The fog had rolled off Discovery and suddenly we were in (relatively) clear skies again.
The currents had us a little worried; they seemed to be running a little strong, and certainly the weather was not behaving as forecast at all. Richard didn't wait and pressed on ahead. The rest of us hesitated for a moment, then got caught as we waited for some powered craft to pass. By then, the currents (as the current charts predicted) had died down a fair bit and the rest of us headed out too.
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It's actually a group of islands, the major ones named Strongtide, Vantright, Griffin, Alpha, Chatham and Discovery. Chatham and Discovery are the largest, and that's the shorthand name the local kayakers use for this destination. Let's face it: as a kayaker, do you really want to jinx your paddle by saying that you're going to Strongtide Island? That's just asking for fate to get involved....and probably not in a good way. And after all, that's where I went upside down.
Anyway, here Richard is going between Strongtide and Chatham.
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We decided to split up here. Richard had been around Chatham but not Discovery, and Louise and I had been around Discovery but not Chatham. So Alison and Richard decided to go around Discovery, while Paula, Louise and I would go around Chatham.
We ducked into Puget Cove on the north end of Chatham. On a good high tide you can get quite a long way in. No such luck today but I did see a heron. We also saw our third different family of otters of the day here.
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There were lots of seals about today, but we kept a respectful distance.
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It's a beautiful place to paddle.
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We went around Chatham, then down the channel between Discovery and Chatham. Here we met a couple we saw launching their kayaks off a beach. They looked as though they may have been camping, but I'm not sure. They were in short poly playboats they had rented and only had a vague notion of the tides and currents in the area. They were obviously novices; the woman was using her paddle backwards. I knew we were in a period of slack and suggested that if they were going to go somewhere, now would be a good time. The currents can play nasty tricks on unsuspecting paddlers, and even on suspecting paddlers. And it didn't help matters today that we now saw storm clouds over our launch point as we headed back. Storm clouds! It's supposed to be sunny!
The rookies headed off in the general direction the Chain Islands back towards Willows Beach.
Chatham Pano 2

We headed back to Cadboro Bay, glancing over our shoulders for signs of Alison and Richard. What we didn't realize was that after going around Discovery, they had doubled back between Vantright and Strongtide so they were going to be crossing to the north of us. We assumed that they would come around Discovery and keep going down the same channel that we had. So we were always looking in the wrong spot for them. We came out the south side of Chatham, and they came out the north side.
As we headed back, we encountered some big wake from a small pleasure craft. Afterwards, Paula said it felt she was going up three feet. I said it felt like I was falling five.
As the waves approached, I rested my paddle on my kayak and held my camera in front of me, determined to get a good shot Louise and Paula in the waves. Whenever we've encountered wave action, I've never been able to get a good picture that really looks like what it feels like on the water.
Anyway, the first couple of waves hit and they were big, but not so bad. Then I saw a big one coming and realized that I can't paddle very well with my digital camera! I dropped it in my PFD pocket and grabbed my paddle and --oh man, it felt like climbing a wall! I swear I got five feet of air! In reality, it probably wasn't nearly as exciting as I thought it was. But it was fun! We whooped and hollered!
As usual, the pictures don't do the waves justice. But you can see the pink stern of Paula's kayak pointing up in the air as she heads down into the trough.
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We paddled around Flower Island again, and the eagle had given up its spot in the tree to this heron.
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These oystercatchers went about their business as we drifted by.
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It turns out that Alison and Richard were only about ten minutes behind us and beached just after we did. Just as we never saw them, they never saw us. Although they could have sworn they heard some whooping and hollering ahead of them...
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Chatham Island
Trip length: 13.28 km
John's pictures are here.
Download the GoogleEarth kmz here.

Richard's blog report is here.
Richard's pictures are here.

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