Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Ever notice that you can learn a lot about houses, and the lives of people in them, by walking around a neighbourhood? Well, maybe not your neighbourhood. I’ve visited some places where house after house on road after road is built from the same material, with the same profile, shape and roofline. Clearly they were all built during the same summer. Sometimes I can look down a street and all I’ll see is a series of double garage doors facing the road, and recessed to one side of each garage, a solid front door with a deadbolt lock and a security company’s sticker saying “Armed Response.” It’s like a street where only cars live, and each car is holed up with a gun in case some human opens the door.

Can you blame me if I like better the houses that look like people live there?

Some houses show me what the people who live there do. The house with a basketball hoop out front, the one with a ramp added during a renovation, another with a pear tree trained to cover an east-facing wall – those are homes where people are living. I can guess at what happens there, even if when I walk by, there’s no one out in the yard. And sometimes I can even guess at the interactions between people in neighbouring homes.

There are two homes among many along a certain stretch of waterfront. I went out in my kayak on that calm water, and paddled past one small, homemade dock after another. But two were side by side, and after looking at each for a minute, I could see that something was going on here.

There were two floating docks, ramps and boathouses side by side, almost exactly the same size. The docks and ramps were obviously the oldest parts; it looked like first one had been built and then the other next to it, so each family would have its own dock. Then a small boathouse was built by the first dock, and soon after that, the other boathouse.

Perhaps the second boathouse was a little fancier or more finely made. But the first boathouse was constructed from shiplap siding painted yellow and white in a style similar to the main house, which could just be glimpsed through trees and bushes from the water. The second boathouse was in covered in stucco in a more modern style than its own main house, a style that was already beginning to look dated, like any fashion does after a few years. For instance, the glass panels around the rooftop patio positively signaled “Five Years Ago” as clearly as the two padded lounge chairs.

By comparison, the rooftop patio of the first boathouse was an addition, but one that did complement the original construction. The white picket fence around the little patio matched the garden fence. And while the seating was only cheap, white plastic lawn chairs, there were four of them.

So! Looks like an on-going dialogue here. A pair of neighbouring families, speaking slowly to one another in the pattern language of their construction work. And what have they been saying to one another? Beyond “I am here” or “This is my place” – these two sites have been saying “I use this” and “I fit well here” along with a little bit of “I am spending money on my recreation.”

Hard to tell if this was a discussion or a genteel argument. Was this a friendly contest? It may have been a conscious competition to impress each other as well as make good use of their waterfront properties. Unless I wrangled an invitation from one of them for a backyard barbecue and a cold drink on one of those rooftop patios, there was only one way to know if these neighbours were having fun or keeping up with the Joneses. I’d have to look at their boats.

Each dock had a rowboat turned turtle against its respective boathouse wall, surely the oldest boats. The stuccoed boathouse had a sleek motorboat tied up, and a kayak on the dock, a fibreglass model that looked like it was zooming at top speed while it lay still. The yellow-and-white boathouse had only two kayaks on the dock, made of rotomolded plastic. It was pretty clear who had won the contest of owning the most expensive boats.

But all three boats at the stuccoed boathouse were wrapped in tarpaulins, with a few dry leaves caught in the folds. And when I drifted closer, I could see the two plastic kayaks were wet. It was nine-thirty on a Sunday morning, and these people had already been out paddling and come back in time to get to church. Even their old rowboat looked like it had been moved recently.

Maybe I still don’t know for sure who won the contest of having more fun. What do I know? I laid my kayak (ten feet long, plastic) on the shore next to other boats (fifteen feet long, fibreglass and handmade wood) brought by other people come to enjoy this shoreline park. I envied their boats. They envied my three outings earlier that week. Even the finest boat of all can only take you somewhere when it’s in the water.

It is a fine thing, to own a good boat and to own a good place where you can enjoy your time. But it is even better to put the boat you have into the water, and to share your time with friends.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Paddle Sunday

Sunday was a bit windier than expected, so Telegraph Cove wasn't on. A strong onshore wind left the water choppier than was comfortable for our least strong paddler. We keep in mind the adage that you paddle to the conditions best suited to your least experienced paddler, so we moved across the point and back into Cadboro Bay—making this the third time out in the bay in seven days.

The wind was blowing more or less offshore in Cadboro Bay, and the natural features protected us from many of the effects the wind might produce. So, led by Louise, we set off toward the south shore to do some exploring.

The paddle out toward Cattle Point was easy—the small chop was following and the wind gave us a bit of headway even without paddling. With the firm breeze bidding fair to last the entire day, quite a few sailboats were leaving the marina and heading out into Haro Strait. And, for the first time in a couple of weeks, a harbour seal popped up to look us over. Dennis commented that “he must think we're really bottom of the barrel—we've no sails.”

Not much else in the way of wildlife greeted us; the standard contingent of mallards, scaups, cormorants, a sandpiper, and the ever-present herring gulls. I think this may have been the first day in months that an eagle didn't watch over us....

We hadn't quite exited the bay when the wind freshened and shifted slightly, and all of a sudden we were presented with wind-driven chop that had more than doubled in size, and so we returned to the beach, making our way in single file for most of the way. When he found himself at the front of the flotilla, Dennis was heard to say that “You know, I don't find this paddling in single file any easier...,” while the rest of us crowed in behind him, taking advantage of the slight shelter he afforded.

Not a bad day, but one of those when the coffee afterwards lasted almost as long as the paddle itself did.

Plan B

Not many pictures today, folks -- too busy paddling!
Yesterday's plan was to put in at Telegraph Bay, a small cove north of Ten Mile Point. However, a strong north wind was blowing straight into the north-facing cove and chopping up the water, so we decided on Plan B, a return to Cadboro Bay on the south side of Ten Mile Point and hopefully sheltered from the wind.
And at first it was. The sea was fairly flat considering the breeze. We paddled out of the bay and headed south among the rocky shore and small inlets and multi-million-dollar mansions that mark the shoreline. But the wind soon started to whip up the waves and we knew we would be fighting against it on the trip back, so we turned around and headed back.
"I'm a little confused," I shouted to my comrades as the wind whipped my boat and the spray splashed in my face, "why did we decide not to paddle at Telegraph Bay?"

Bernie using Alison's boat as we head out.

Dennis watching the sail boats sail by.

Louise heading out of the bay.

Paula bids a hasty retreat after a panty raid on an ocean-front mansion.

Friday, February 24, 2006

22 February 2006

was, as it turns out, not a half-bad day for a mid-week paddle. Paula, Lila and I met Dennis at Cadboro Bay about 9:00 and got the boats in the water. Dennis very kindly lent Lila his boat, which made dealing with the transportation issue that much easier. Paula took the Pamlico 100 and Lila paddled Dennis' Advanced Design and while they were playing about in the bay (this being Lila's first time in a kayak), Dennis and I went for coffee. When we got back to the beach, Lila and Paula were already back onshore, having spent the better part of an hour on the water. Lila was is a great mood, very excited about having tried a new sport--particularly one that had recently been described to her as "extreme" by one of the staff at Pacifica Paddlesports. She had purchased an O'Neil 3/2 wetsuit the day before at Sportstraders, so she was feeling both warm and confident. Overall, she had a blast poking around the nearshore.
Then Dennis and I snagged the boats and put out. After a bit of sprayskirt trouble , we headed out to the southside of the bay, eventually working our way around the point and into Willows bay. There was a fair bit of wind, causing me no little trouble with weathercocking (the boat turning into the wind rather than maintaining a set course). The wind seemed to be coming from our two o'clock, making the paddle an effort--no paddle-and-pause today! Just keep paddling! But once we made the point, we spun around and coasted in front of the wind back to the entrance to Cadboro Bay. We kept moving in and out of windshadows, but overall we had a terrific time.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Cadboro Bay

Last Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. Not particularly warm, the temperature managed to crawl just a few degrees above zero. Still this was a far cry from the below zero temps and even nastier wind chills we had suffered from for much of the previous week. So it was a good time for a kayak trip at Cadboro Bay! (Note that I am wearing a red sweater... there will be a quiz later.)
2006-02-20 Cadboro Bay to Chatham Island

Here's our gear lined up and ready to go. Paula had borrowed Alison's kayak. (Alison is kayaking in New Zealand for three weeks.) Normally, Bernie and Paula switch off with their kayak, but with Alison's kayak all of us could get in the water at the same time.
2006-02-20 Cadboro Bay to Chatham Island

And away we go! Here's Dennis in his inflatable kayak...
2006-02-20 Cadboro Bay to Chatham Island

...and Paula enjoying Alison's boat.
2006-02-20 Cadboro Bay to Chatham Island

We paddled out of the bay and turned north along the coastline. That's Mt. Baker, an active volcano, ahead of us.
2006-02-20 Cadboro Bay to Chatham Island

Three of us decided to cross over to Chatham Island. The womenfolk declined.
I had never been there myself, but both Bernie and Dennis had. There's some strong currents to watch out for, and the crossing of about 20-25 mins can be a little rough. You can see the bumpy water around Dennis in the picture below.
2006-02-20 Cadboro Bay to Chatham Island

Chatham Island itself was beautiful. It's actually a series of small archipelagos, and it makes for a perfect place to explore inlets and rocky shores. We were exploring a small island called Strongtide Island. I was about to find out that it lives up to its name.
2006-02-20 Cadboro Bay to Chatham Island

We found a little channel with a bit of a current in it. We decided to try our hand at running it. It wasn't a strong current, but this was our first try at something like this.
2006-02-20 Cadboro Bay to Chatham Island

The first time I went through, there was no problem. The current was strong but not rough. I paddled against it, until it spun me around and sent me back from where I came.
No problem.
But my paddle was in the water and the current caught it, and dragged it under my boat. And over I went. Potential energy and gravity worked their magic. I was upside down in the water.
As you can see, I survived. I made my wet exit, and grabbed onto the back of my kayak. Bernie was nearby and beside me almost instantly. As we organized ourselves to begin the process of getting me back in my boat, my feet suddenly touched ground, and I decided to walk my boat ashore at a small beach.
Picture 002

Out of the water but totally drenched, I took off my sweater. I was wearing my Farmer John wetsuit and that kept most of me warm, but my arms under my sweater were freezing. It was fortunate that I was wearing my wetsuit -- "goner" might be too drastic a term, but I would have been in a lot worse condition. Fortunately, Bernie had overdressed and had taken off his fleece jacket, and he lent it to me. (Quiz time - Question 1: What colour sweater was John wearing at the start of the paddle? Here's a hint: It's not the same colour as in the picture below.)
It was, in retrospect, a good thing. We were reminded that we are dealing with nature, and nature abhors cockiness. We had an emergency, and we all survived. There was no panic or hysteria. We kept our heads and did what we had to do. My kayak flipped and everything stayed attached and dry, including my digital camera.
Much to Bernie's chagrin, my glasses stayed on my head.
We re-assessed the safety equipment that we had with us. A dry bag with a towel and/or some dry clothes suddenly seemed like a much smarter idea then it did a few minutes earlier.

Bernie found the incident much too amusing (as you can see below.) However, as we left he decided to shoot the rapids again! (Okay it was only one rapid. "Whitewater" it was not.) He got caught, too, and damn near flipped. He filled up his kayak with water and he had to beach to drain it.
Bernie didn't have his skirt on. Bad Bernie.
(He didn't have any pants on either, but that's a whole other story.)

And so we headed back. We vowed never to publicly speak of the incident. ("What happens on Brokeback Island, stays on Brokeback Island," I said.)
It would be difficult to keep my adventure a secret, expecially since I arrived back wearing different clothes than what I had started with. The womenfolk cast us some wary glances.
2006-02-20 Cadboro Bay to Chatham Island

But we said nothing. At least, I didn't say anything until I noticed Bernie explaining to Paula what had happened, even using hand signals and pantomime to illustrate my story. "Bernie!" I said. "What about Brokeback Island?"
"Meh," he shrugged. "We've been married twenty years. She would have got it out of me eventually."
We survived and adjourned for some warm drinks at a nearby coffee shop. Dennis took this picture to annoy his friends back in Toronto. Blizzard, anyone?

Now that's a hot chocolate! Sure helped get the taste of salt out of my mouth.

And remember kids, don't try this at home!

More pictures are here.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Williows Beach

Today's kayak trip was from Willows Beach. We puttered around the beach, then set out for a pair of small islands. As seems to be a custom this winter, a bald eagle kept watch over us.


On the back side of the first small island, a bunch (flock? pod? school?) of seals were resting on the rock. Most dive into the drink before I could get a picture, but one brave soul stood his ground.

Wait! Come back!

John's pictures are here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

writers of the purple wage

So we went to the outdoor equipment swap at the university last wednesday, then went back later with Louise, and then again in the evening for the Iceland tour talk. We bought nothing but tickets to the talk. And Paula got a phone call on the weekend and a delivery yesterday. She's won a $70 snorkeling mask. Which is good for me--I'm the one who goes snorkeling....

Monday, February 06, 2006

Elk Lake

Yesterday's paddle was a return to Elk Lake. Bernie declined, no doubt due to the painful memories of the dunking he received the last time he was here (see the post Making a Splash below).

A large bird keeps a solitary watch.

Look out for that island!
Look Out For That Island!

John's pictures are here.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Iceland Expedition

So, spent the evening yesterday (01 February) at the University of Victoria, listening to a couple present the slide how of their trip around Iceland in the summer of 2003. After receiving an unexpected invitation from another paddler, they spent five months away from their business on Orca Island—Body Boat Blade—with three of those months dedicated to the actual circumnavigation of Iceland. The talk is fascinating, believe me. From the volcanic black sand beaches to the basalt columns, from the trolls to the fjords, it is clear that they are having a hard time keeping their talk to under thirty-two hours long. The people and culture of Iceland alone seemed suitable for a(nother) book; here is a very small population (some towns they visited were as small as fourteen people) yet everyone was tightly wired together with cell phones and internet access, and surrounded by fabulous public art. But there were also what I saw as personal contradictions: heads of local kayak paddle clubs who had never been out of their home fjord being one significant example.

But the one incident that stuck out for me happened only fifteen days out. The three of them decided to paddle the worst section of the circumnavigation first—the southern coast. The south coast of Iceland is fully exposed to the major storm tracks of the North Atlantic, with steady daily winds that are regularly in the hundred kilometre/hour and up class. This builds seas that quite frankly are seriously frightening to a newbie like me. Paddling to James Island solo, I was having a bit of a time with waves that were only sixty to eighty centimetres high. Here, the seas were regularly running six to eight metres high.

Tuesday (31 January) here in Victoria we had a storm blow through that saw winds blowing 100+ km/hr, winds that snapped trees, knocked out power to 50,000 homes, and shut down ferry traffic due to high seas. Shawna and Leon went out paddling around Victoria. Just another day for paddling (their motto being; if you can walk against the wind, you can paddle against it).

But, as they said, being fifteen days out everything has shaken down, your body is responding to the increased demands of regular seven to ten hour paddles, and you're starting to think you know what you're doing. Because launches and landings are so difficult (massive surf, steep beaches), you only launch in the morning and land only in the evening unless something really important arises. Lunch, snacks, urination, all take place on the ocean.

Leon had been having a less than perfect day—he'd been taking a whizz earlier when a wave caught him and filled his cockpit. Not the end of the world, but chilling and frustrating. When a particularly large wave was approaching one or the other of them would call “wave!” and they would turn into the wave, trying to cut up the front and beat the curl over to the back of the wave. As they said, this was standard operating procedure for them. They've spent years training and practising to make this as normal as breathing.

These waves were quite steep, and when Shawna sliced up and over, the kayak almost launched off the water—only the stern stayed in the water, and the whole boat would then come crashing down flat on the back of the wave. Again, normal, everyday activity (okay, normal for them, and repeated over and over all day long). Leon was running a bit behind Shawna, and when his boat reached the apex of its climb the stern of the boat caught in the face of the wave—essentially anchoring him in place while the wave continued to move. So yes, microseconds later the boat was standing on its stern and then the fully-loaded boat was falling backwards onto Leon, burying him in the face of the wave. For me, this is beyond scary. For Leon, just another day at the office.

As he told the eighty or so of us in the audience, this is something he practises, knowing that it's going to happen frequently enough that recovery should be automatic. Except that this wave was having none of it. He began his recovery and the wave flipped him back over. And again. And again. And again. At this point, he says, he was burning for air and realized that he was would have to wet exit. As an instructor, he teaches his students not only how to safely get out of a boat, but also the safe way to be in a boat so that you can both get out of it and back into it. And, among other things, that involves not having a lot of crap in and around the cockpit. And yes, he had violated that rule, and so had a tougher time getting out, but also couldn't get back in once he'd righted himself. He had to call for help.

Shawna had turned to check up on him, but wasn't worried; Leon always rolled back upright. She says that it wasn't until he called for help that she realized what she was seeing: Leon was out of his boat. Ultimately she had to get a line on his boat and tow him out while he cleared the cockpit so that he could get back in the boat. A process that left him in the water much longer than it should have.

And then the “fight of the day” erupted. Shawna said “land and warm up.” Leon said “no.” Ultimately he lost that fight—and a good thing too. By the time they landed and got him into dry clothes, he was shaking so hard he couldn't hold a cup of tea.

But as Leon said, they had gotten cocky. One of their sponsors was Kōkatat, so they had state-of-the-art drysuits with them. But for some reason, they weren't wearing them.

So what impressed me was that here was a couple of pro paddlers who were extensively trained for exactly the conditions they were going in to, who had all the experience necessary to handle whatever the ocean would throw at them, and they still got cocky, still made a number of small errors of judgement that added up to a major problem. And even then, Leon, an experienced paddler, wanted to compound the problem by not dealing with its results. And that, my friends, is human nature.

Leon and Shawna will be reprising their presentation tonight (02 February '06) at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel in the Oak Room following a paddle club meeting. Admission will be by donation and is open to the public.