Wednesday, October 29, 2008

J, K, L

I spent almost a work-week on the water this summer in an inflatable boat fighting seasickness and trying to keep track of the number and actions of the local whale-watching boats pursuing the local pods of orcas.
Paula got me involved with a group called Straitwatch ( which watches whale watchers (and, for some reason, whenever I try to describe what they do, Elvis Costello's “Watching The Detectives” plays in my head). Straitwatch doesn't watch whales, instead they try and educate the public on the legal requirements around whale watching, and they track the activities of the whale watching businesses on the west coast, making sure that everyone is playing by the (same) rules. The rules are pretty simple; no closer than 400 metres front and back to the pod, no closer than 100 metres at the sides. If you're getting close, slow your engines. If you're caught within the minimum distance, cut your engines until the whales move away.
Now I read a report in The West Australian that apparently there are seven orcas missing from the local waters.
Seven gone this year, and that after reports of emaciation in J, K, and L pod's whales.One was the 98 (estimated)-year-old matriarch K-7, another L-101,the six-year-old brother of Luna (the (in)famous Nootka Sound whale). What makes it even worse is that L-67 (mother of L-101 and Luna), and another breeding-age female are both also missing and presumed dead. This makes the third year of a downhill trend for the population of local orca, after topping out at 90 whales in 2005.
To quote from the article; "[p]ollution and a decline in prey are believed to be the whales’ biggest threats, although stress from whale-watching tour boats and underwater sonar tests by the navy also have been concerns." I can speak to the stress from the industry; the busiest day I saw on the water this summer, there were over 40 boats around the whales. There were over 50 boats on the busiest day in August.
It makes economic sense. That day in August there were over forty boats surrounding the whales; ranging from our Zodiac with three people in it, up to large boats carrying fifty plus people that had come over from Vancouver. Which seems crazy to me, but once you multiply fifty people by $75/head, well, $3,750 a trip buys a lot of gas and a pretty extravagant boat. Heck, even ten people in a Zodiac isn't bad—especially if you can do it three times a day.
So there is a strong economic factor in whale watching. But, watching the whales for a moment during a break in data collection, all I could think was here is a group of mammals doing what they've always done—at a minimum, since the ice last receded,—and here we are driving boats over them for the last twenty five or thirty years. To read that K-7 was almost a hundred years old,well, the change from hunted to harassed had occurred in her lifetime. How tired of people had she become? Hell, I'm half her age and I'm tired enough of people that I stay in the house for weeks on end. Bears at least kill the occasional tourist to keep us on our toes, but the local orcas didn't even nibble on the idiot who put on his wetsuit and went swimming amongst them this August. And that is the Disneyfication of the natural world; a disrespect so deep that I can only hope that the swimmer tries it again among the transient whale population. They eat animals that look like seals....

cross-posted from Fat, Old, and Boring.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

This is the Sea 4

The latest in Justine Curgenven's series of kayaking DVDs, This is the Sea 4, has arrived. This latest release is a well put together two disc effort.
Disc one is a series of shorter films, and opens with with a group of kayakers out playing in rock gardens and caves of Baja in northern Mexico. This looked like a whole lot of fun with a lot of rock hopping and beautiful sea caves.
The next segment profiles the Seattle-based commando kayaker Dubside, followed by a segment on kayak fishing in San Diego. I'm not much into fishing, but it was interesting to watch a group of sport fisherman on their fully-outfitted sit-on-tops on the water. It was even more interesting watching them land through the surf! :) At one point, one of them even hooks what looks like a giant ray, but it gets away.
Next up is an island-hopping crossing of the Bass Strait between Australia and Tasmania. There's some great wildlife shots -- I didn't know wombats are so cute!
The next segment features Canadian kayak champions Ken Whiting and Brendan Mark running the rapids of the Ottawa River in sea kayaks. They get into some gnarly whitewater and there is some great footage here, especially as Justine, far out of her comfort zone, follows the boys down the river.
A quick paddle on the Dead Sea in Israel is followed a longer sequence in Norway. First, there's profile of a Norwegian family that perform amazing balance tricks in their kayaks while enjoying the amazing scenery of the fjords. Then they go to a standing wave that's never been ridden by sea kayaks, and end with a paddle along the Norwegian coast. The disc ends with a paddle along the American side of Lake Superior. There were some amazing sandstone cliffs and sea caves in this segment; it looks like a terrific place to kayak!
Disc two has two longer expedition films, the first being a circumnavigation of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Three paddlers go around both islands in a figure-8. The second expedition is clockwise trip around the south island of New Zealand. Both expeditions feature action and adventure and terrific photography.
As with the previous 3 DVDs, all the segments contain great and picturesque footage, and there's a nice balance between flat water, whitewater and expedition kayaking. And as always, there are great stories waiting for the viewer. No doubt this will be on a lot of kayakers' Christmas lists, and well it should be.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

B.C.'s Orcas Suffer Their Worst Die-off in a Decade

British Columbia's endangered population of orcas is facing its worse die-off in a decade.
Seven orcas from the local resident population are believed to have died in the last year. This lowers the number of resident orcas to 83. Historically, the number has been around 120, until it reached a low of 71 in 1973.
What is worrying is that two of the deaths are breeding-age females. Infant mortality among the three local pods is normally around 50%. As well, chinook salmon stocks, the orca's main food source, are disappearing and many biologists are fearful for the whales' survival.
Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research executive director said, "They need to eat and that means they need chinook salmon. We have to manage our wild salmon properly and that means for the benefit of the ecosystem and natural world, rather than jobs. It's going to be at least 20 years of nail-biting to see if they are going to make it."
Howard Garrett of the Orca Network also fears for the local pods' survival. He said, "This is a drastically steep drop-off and, if the conditions don't improve, meaning more chinook, we might see this for the next few years and this population can't stand that. It's hard to imagine they could disappear."

Windy Day on The Bay

We weren't sure if we were going to have much of a paddle today as Louise, Richard, Paula and I met at Cadboro Bay beach. Wind warnings were up, and Richard's pocket weather station was picking up gusts of 15 knots on shore. Our initial idea of going out to Chatham Island was up in the air (no pun intended), but Cadboro Bay itself was reasonably sheltered so we thought we would poke our noses out of the end of the bay and see what the channel beyond looked like.
We weren't the only people out for a paddle; Ocean River brought down a bunch of kayaks for lessons, and a couple arrived with these beautiful wooden boats on their SUV.

We headed out to Flower Island, and looked out to Jemmy Jones and Chatham Islands beyond to the east. Looking north, we could also see that the "freight train" was running full bore. The flooding tide and northerly winds were kicking up a large standing wave and breakers across Baynes Channel. As the forecast was calling for the winds to increase, it was clear that we weren't going to cross today.

We decided to head north along Ten Mile Point towards the lighthouse at its tip. This was one of the few times that Richard looked at us and thought we were nuts. Usually, it's the other way around. But we assured him we had no intention of going further -- that would have put us right into the "freight train," and let's face it, we're wimpy flat water paddlers at heart.
It was a tough slog at times as the winds were getting stronger just as forecast. One of us (who will remain anonymous but her initials are Louise) was heard to remark, "I [DELETED EXPLETIVE] hate [DELETED EXPLETIVE] kayaking!" as the waves bounced her boat around and she somehow ended up with spray in her ears.
This is a small channel near the lighthouse. It's usually flat calm, maybe the occasional swell, and we've rarely seen a wave on the water beyond, but today it was a little gnarlier. The wind was not kicking up really large waves where we were, but it was coming in at close to its forecast 20-25 knots and paddling was becoming more like work than fun.

So we turned around to head back...

...and almost got run over by a flotilla of sailboats.

It was good to see that someone was enjoying the windy day!

Cadboro Bay
Trip length: 6.97 km
John's photos are here.
The Google Earth kmz is here.
Richard's blog report is here and his pictures are here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

This is the Sea 4 Arrives

My copy of This is The Sea 4 arrived, although mine came with a variant cover that I haven't seen anywhere else.
I'll post a review soon!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fatal Tide

In June of 2002, an adventure race in New Brunswick went terribly awry during its kayaking segment and one of the racers died.
David Leach's account of the ill-fated race, Fatal Tide, is a straight forward but engrossing account of the tragedy. He examines the events of the day, of how many of the racers, tired and exhausted from the running and cycling portion of the race, were at best novice kayakers. Many, including the victim, had only kayaked once or twice before they took to the stormy waves of the Bay of Fundy for the kayaking segment without immersion gear or any idea of the windy weather forecast. Dozens of single kayakers hit the water that day; only three completed the course. The rest either turned around, beached themselves before the end, or had to be rescued.
One amateur athlete named René, who had kayaked only once or twice before, was in fourth place when he launched in his borrowed racing kayak. He flipped over 100 feet from shore, righted himself with help from the rescue Zodiac and insisted on continuing, and paddled out into 20 knot winds and two-metre waves. 90 minutes later he was in the water, his head held above water by another kayaker using both hands as they drifted backwards past the starting point and towards towering cliffs. They were rescued by a passing fishing boat, but too late to save René.
Leach also describes a litany of failures by the organizers. Race volunteers had no list of competitors, or any way to communicate with each other. The organizers had failed to notify local law enforcement and emergency services about the race, nor had they informed any the racers of the weather forecast. They had only one rescue boat that soon proved no match for the waves they were facing. The organizers did supply some kayak training, but it was only a five-minute on-land demonstration of how to use the pump, the paddle float and a description of a paddle-float re-entry.
Local kayakers were aghast at the lack of preperation and the number of novice kayakers who were venturing out under such stormy conditions.
But Leach doesn't lay all the blame on the organizers. He spends a far portion of the book exploring the reasons why adventure racers want to risk their lives and the notion of "shared risk," how participants must share the blame when they proceed into dangerous conditions. Many racers continued paddling into bad conditions because of their perceived "need" to finish, even though it was obvious that the best course of action was to head for land and shelter.
The author delves into kayaking history and safety, even devoting a chunk of a chapter to Tim Ingram, the infamous Sponson Guy.
Leach also explores hypothermia. Most kayakers do not drown; they die from hypothermia or its effects, and the author offers up some surprising clues about some little-known effects of hypothermia which may killed this paddler and others.
This thoughtful and sobering book reminds us of the risk we take going on the water, and the need to be properly prepared. And that it's okay to say "No."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tabling a motion

The water was flat as a table again today, on Saturday the 18th, so I took my Eliza from Cadboro Bay out to Cattle Point and over near Jemmy Jones. Weather forecast said this would be the best day for the week, so it couldn't be wasted.
There were others on the water who thought so too, mostly people of the sailboat persuasion. But I did see a couple of seals poking their heads up to peer at me.
A marvellous, quiet outing with ripples for wakes from the few sailboats with motors engaged, and one obnoxiously loud zodiac.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Water Table

Sunday was a great day for paddling! We celebrated the Thanksgiving weekend with a number of paddle outings. Friday I went out in the Dragonfly for a while, Saturday was the trip to Portland Island for Louise and John and Richard while I just walked to the beach and thought kayak thoughts then went back to my computer. Monday I did the walk and think thing again. But Sunday, we were on for heading out from Cadboro Bay.
The tide was slowly coming in, and the currents were very mild, just 1 knot or so, and sometimes moving in odd directions. There was almost no breeze at all, and the result was terrific weather. Just cool enough to keep us from overheating, just warm enough not to get chilled.
Richard headed off towards Trial Islands, while Louise and John and I went over to Flower Island and Jemmy Jones on our way to the Chathams. We noodled along Vantreight Island there, so John could photograph some seals, then crossed Plumper Passage to the Chain Islets.
Seals everywhere.
Two eagles posed for us.
One of them was on a small islet /wet rock, just relaxing in the sunshine. He posed for John, and looked regal. When our intrepid photoaddict looked down at his lens to adjust the setting, the eagle quickly raised one clawed foot, picked at his beak, and put his foot back down before John could get the camera aimed again. Priceless.
At Great Chain we hung around, drifting on the slow current while waiting for Richard. He admitted that the current wasn't anything near slack between Trial Island and Harling Point. "It was about a high-pitched cackle on the Bernie laugh-o-meter," in Richard's opinion.
Then over to Mary Tod Island and along the Uplands shore back to Cadboro Bay.
Awesome weather, with the water flat as a table. I know the term water table means something else, but's that what it felt like on Sunday: a water table.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Silver and Gold

The sun glinted off the glassy flat sea in sparkles of silver and gold as Paula, Richard, Louise and I put in the water early on Sunday.
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The water was dead flat, practically a mirror.
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As I paused fo a moment to watch a heron, the other three had a quick discussion. Richard decided that he wanted to head south and check out Trial Island, while the rest of us would putter around and meet him out at the Chain Islands. We checked our radios to make sure they were working, and Richard headed off while the rest of us headed out toward Flower Island.
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From there, Chatham Island beckoned. The currents were mild as we paddled across under the clouds.
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We saw a few seals, but they were camera shy. After skirting the south side, we turned to make for the Chain Islands.
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When we got to the Chains, we saw more seals, and they were a little more willing to pose.
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Although the water was flat, there were currents pushing through the Chains, turning us around. This can a tricky place when the currents really get going. Then I spotted an eagle on a rock.
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I drifted in close....
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...and snapped pictures like crazy.

As we paddled around the far side of Great Chain Island (and scaring a dozen or so seals into the water as we did), we saw a speck heading our way from Trial Island. We waited for Richard, floating in the current around Great Chain. When he arrived, he said, "It was a high-pitched squeal on the Bernie-Cackle-Meter™! You guys would've killed me if I had dragged you down there! As soon as I hit the point, there was rough and confused water. The currents around Trial were crazy! I was paddling like mad and going nowhere!"
The currents where we were were not as crazy, but they were moving us quickly along. We thought for a moment that we could ride all the way back to Cadboro Bay, but we soon realized that they were taking us through Baynes Channel and out to sea. That meant that it was time to start paddling again.
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We headed towards Mary Tod Island near the shore, but I took a detour as I had spotted something perched on the navigational light.
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We headed back into Cadboro Bay, and the water was even smoother than when we left! A great paddle!
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Trip length: 12.66 km
My pictures are here.
The Google Earth kmz is here.
Richard's blog report is here and his pictures are here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Portland Island Circumnavigation

A beautiful Saturday morning on Thanksgiving weekend. The sun, the sea and Sidney's air raid siren. The siren was only a test, but the bright sun and the glassy sea were for real as Louise, Richard and I planned to paddle from Sidney to Portland Island.
Sidney Pano

As we headed out, this heron was sitting on a rock. We all whipped our cameras out and started taking pictures. The poor heron must have thought that he was sharing his perch with Paris Hilton.
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This heron seemed a lot more comfortable with ocean traffic.
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Looking out for ferries is standard procedure in this area. We're right by the Swartz Bay ferry terminal where major routes converge and we would have to cross them to get to Portland Island. We didn't have to worry about this particular vessel; it's a brand new Super "C" class ferry, and won't be in service until next month.
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We paused at Coal Island to wait for this ferry to pass.
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Louise had a moment as the ferry went by. Richard and I paddled out into the wake, but she got caught too close to shore as the wake came in, and she had a moment as she and the waves bashed into the rocks. But she survived, a little shaken, but she gamely carried on.
We quickly made the crossing to Pym Island. It's a short but vital crossing; once we'd made this crossing we could stay out of the ferry lanes.
From there, we crossed to Portland Island.
Portland Pano
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What a jewel this island is! We stopped at a shell beach on the south end. What a view!
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We hung out here for a few minutes as the ferries rumbled by.
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We put in and started our paddle around. Near the north side, we saw a seal enjoying the sun....
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...and a pair of eagles that were enjoying watching the seal.
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We put in at another beach on the north side...
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...where Richard just had to try the composting outhouse.
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Earlier as we started our way around Portland Island, we passed a couple in a rowboat enjoying the day. But as we readied to depart Portland, we saw them again. This time, they seemed to be following something that was swimming through the water. Louise moved in a little closer and it turned out that a raccoon was swimming from one of the small islets over to the bigger island of Portland. Okay, not as cool as when we saw the swimming deer last year, but it's still cool. Check out Louise's paddle report for her pictures of the raccoon.
We left Portland, casting one last look back. We'll come back to this magical place.
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We headed back, tired and bedraggled from a long paddle, but thankful for a safe and terrific journey.
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Portland Island

Trip length: 20.39 km
My pictures are here.
The Google Earth kmz is here.
Richard's blog report is here.