Saturday, January 31, 2009

Jam Tart

I have felt like such a jam tart for the last six weeks! As a paddler, anyway.
Louise made me explain that idiom the other day -- a jam tart isn't like making REAL tarts with REAL filling from scratch ingredients. Say, sliced fruit glazed with gelatin in baked pastry shells, or lemon meringue tarts or the like. A jam tart is made by spooning a little jam into the pastry shell and baking it. Quick, easy, not the real proper thing. I used to make them as a kid, re-using my mother's pastry scraps so the pastry ended up over-handled and tough too, but kids don't care.
That doesn't sound like it has much to do with kayaking, but bear with me.

Living right by the bay means that I get to see the water every day, and lately I've been jonesing to get out in one of my kayaks. Jonesing every day. What a jam tart I've been, letting a little 'flu and windy cold days keep me from paddling! And I've only been out on the water ... um, six times in the last six weeks.

My partner gently explained that many kayakers get on the water only in the summer, maybe once a week. So maybe I should stop complaining about that and see the doctor about the 'flu.

The doctor listened to my chest and took my temperature, nodded at my achy joints, and prescribed antibiotics for bronchitis. Apparently an opportunistic bacterial infection has moved in after the 'flu softened me up; and before it invites all its little pneumonia buddies to party (hard to evict those little suckers from the bottom of the lungs!) I'm supposed to take these mondo antibiotics and kick that infection's ass.

No wonder the 20-pound Dragonfly inflatable felt so goddamned heavy when I carried it at Mill Bay and Nanaimo last week. Wasn't just the addition of a full 1 litre steel water bottle (Louise's gift) and a spare air pump to the usual equipment of paddle, bilge pump and throw bag. It was the little bacteria passenger (!) hanging from my neck saying, "I'm bored, I'm tired, I wanna hot drink and a nap! Aren't you walking the long way around the pavilion?" Good thing I told it : "I'm stoked, I'm limber, I'll sleep when I'm dead! And this IS the short way 'round the pavilion."
(Told Bernie that and he said innocently, "So it wasn't the stuff I put in your bag?" and fled from my bug-eyed glare. If there are horseshoes stuffed in my Dragonfly, there's gonna be a new definition for commando kayaker around here.)

So if there aren't daily paddle reports from me about the latest otter sighting or bussing my inflatable across town, well, it's nothing anybody said. I'm just accepting that for the next couple weeks I will be kayaking only on the warmest of days.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Away from the city...why?

Our plan for the weekend was to watch our friend's daughter dance in Mill Bay, but that got cancelled at the last minute. So on the spur of the moment, we decided to go up-Island anyway.
We left about 1:30 and headed north, van loaded with a mish-mash of equipment and etc. Leaving things until the last minute always leads to poor planning. But having a Kia Sedona van, we were able to just dump a lot of stuff in and hope for the best.
The day was calm but overcast, and we stopped at the viewpoint on the Malahat to check out the view over Saanich Inlet. The last time we were here, we were over a major fog bank, looking down on rippling fields of pearl grey. Quite beautiful, but not really what you'd call a view. Saturday was clear, letting us see a lot more than a few mountain tops poking up through the fog.

Seananus Island and Brentwood Bay

It is interesting to see places we've kayaked from an overhead vantage. I got a terrific look at Saanich Inlet and Cowichan Bay from my seat the last time I flew into Victoria.

Saanich Inlet northeast from the viewpoint

This time it was the beauty of a quiet winter's day. While storms are way more frequent during the winter, many of the days rival the summer for quiet perfection. And as an added bonus, there are a lot fewer people out most winter days.
We pulled in at Mill Bay and stopped at Rusticana Coffee (805a Deloume Road, Mill Bay) both so I could get a coffee and so we could pick up another dozen eggs. The last time we were here we got some local free range eggs and they were terrific. When I opened the carton, it was clear the eggs had never been washed, and when I tried to crack one on the side of a bowl, it took two tries to get the shell and membrane to split. The yolks were well-coloured and stood high, so these really were gold-standard eggs. Regretfully, they didn't have any more on hand, but at least they hadn't run out of coffee. Then it was down to the boat launch and out with the kayaks.

Boat launch, Mill Bay

We were here about a week back because I wanted to check out a sailboat for sale (not going to happen, for many varied and good reasons. Not this boat, anyway). Today, the water was again glass-flat, the weather superb. This time I wasn't paddling Paula's inflatable (she was using it), but I'd loaded the Pamlico 100 for the weekend. Somehow the idea of lifting the touring boats on top of the van just wasn't appealing.

I've been reading Robert Morris' book on kayaks Building Skin-On-Frame Boats over the past couple of weeks (just dipping in and out--not reading straight through. The writing is clear and accessible, and the book is terrific, so I don't want to leave any inadvertent impression that its taking me forever to get through it!) and he shows how to build a couple of recovery and retrieval kayaks--one of which is almost identical to the Pam. Robert is the owner of Brewery Creek Boats in Vancouver, and his shop is definitely a stop on my next visit across the Strait.
So back in Mill Bay, just as we were getting ready to launch, this fellow popped up not ten metres off the shore:

Mill Bay seal

He (an assumption, I know, but there you go...) cruised slowly by, having a good long look at us before ducking under and going back to hunting. Having destroyed three cameras in the last 18 months by taking them kayaking with me, I (wisely, I think) decided to leave the camera behind and just be in the moment, rather than spending too much time worrying about the next shot.
It seems that the further up-Island you go, the further back in time you travel. As we paddled across the bay, we saw a couple of seals splaching away, chasing something or other. And then the heads started popping up around us, checking out who we were and just what did we think we were up to? Not just one or two seals, either. Nor the half dozen we sometimes get out around Discovery Island. At times we were surrounded by a dozen seals in Mill Bay. Once you begin to reduce the population pressure on the natural world, which happens as you go north on the island, the more the natural world seems to repopulate. And Mill Bay is not that far out of Victoria--leaving me wondering just how amazingly full of life the coast was even fifty years ago.
Once we got the opening of the bay in to Saanich Inlet, we could see that the glass-flat water stretched out north, south, and east of us as far as we could see. The water was flat enough that you could get into real trouble, lured ever outward into this Suspended World.
It seems that we weren't the only ones out at Mill Bay on saturday. As the light started to go, we pulled back in after a nice but not too-long paddle and saw another kayak crossing out at the opening to the bay. We strongly suspect it was Richard, returning to his van. He was too far away to recognize, and we were fixated on going back to Rusticana for one of their meringues (which are lovely, BTW), so we didn't hook up with him for dinner.
After loading up, we headed toward Nanaimo, where we spent the night at a (gasp!) motel. This is quite unusual for us, as we usually camp or stay with friends when we travel, but it turns out that this was our decadent weekend (meaning we slept indoors, alone, and with a tv. For us, that's decadence!). The next morning, after a quick fuelling stop at Tim Horton's, we parked in Maffeo Park and took a look around.
Maffeo--pronounced maff-eh-oh, not maff-ee-oh, as I quickly learned--is quite a bit smaller than I thought. From the local maps, I expected something about a quarter the size of Beacon Hill Park, but Maffeo is about the size of a city block once you include the parking lots. Very nice, and connected to an extensive sea-walk, there's even an artificial lagoon.

Artificial Lagoon, Maffeo Park, Nanaimo

Under the bridge there's a wall to keep the lagoon from draining, and along the sides are pumps and waterfalls to keep the water circulating. At the near end is a beach, the whole thing is meant for kids to swim in, but it looks like a great place (near the washrooms) to practise recoveries.
Down by the bridge is  where we chose to put in. This may not be the most convenient on a busy summer's day, but on a quiet winter's morning it was really quite decent.

Steps to the water's edge, Maffeo Park

The steps down to the water are broad and are really well set up for launching. You carry your boat down and put it in the water (woohoo rec boats!) and then just step in as you would at the pool.
Again, I had a mistaken idea as to how far it would be from the launch to Newcastle Island, but the actual paddle was less than 10 minutes across protected water. This is a perfect newbie paddle: you go to someplace, across what looks like real water, but you're never far from help and the waters are very sheltered. And there's a cool destination--Newcastle has trails, camping and picnic areas and gives every impression of being a great place to explore.
This launch point is next to the Newcastle Island ferry dock (that would be it just past the steps above), but the ferry is small and easy to avoid. There are also a tonne of pleasure boats in the area to keep track of, and you have to know where the seaplanes land and take-off (at the right-hand end of the bridge in the first photo), but all of these are things that can be dealt with.

Sea plane heading out for take-off

We made good time over to Newcastle and passed between it and Protection with no trouble (it was, after all, a quiet winter's day). It was not as perfect a day as Saturday had been, but we carried on out around the outside edge of Newcastle. Here the ferries get bigger:

Ferry north of Newcastle Island, Nanaimo

The wake from the ferry is pretty much just fun, although you have to remember to pull your kayak out of the water far enough that it won't grab your boat and take it away (says the man who had that happen on Moresby Island...).
We made it about a third the way around the island  to Kanaka Bay

Kanaka Bay, Newcastle Island

when we noticed the snow was now obscuring Harmac, to the south of us. We neither wanted to paddle through a snow squall, nor drive over the Malahat in a snowstorm, so we turned around and headed back to Maffeo Park. The paddle back, a bit of a breeze came up, and that's really when I missed having my paddling gloves--which were sitting safe at home in my chest of drawers. Last minute decisions make for bad planning, no suprise there. And there would have been worse things to forget--my wetsuit  or fleece underwear, for example.
The snow squall stayed south of us, thankfully, although it was plenty cold. And as we drove home we found that the snow fell about five kilometres south of where we were and stopped about Ladysmith, so the Malahat was clear and dry on the drive home. We even stopped in at the Cobble Hill Farmer's Market on the way back, which is where we picked up some more free-range eggs. All in all, a great weekend.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Dear Kayak Yak
My wife has suddenly developed an interest in tying knots. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the new "in" thing, because I've noticed our pool boy has been practicing tying knots as well. Anyway, I was wondering if you knew of any good kayak-related knots.
Clapped Out in Cloverdale

Dear Clapped
We sure do. Paula learned this rope trick at Paddlefest. It's great for towing someone.

First, you get some rope.

Then you pass the rope through the front towing hook of the kayak to be towed.

Pass through enough rope so that it goes all the way to the cockpit of the kayak to be towed.

Then you make a bunny ear.

Loop the bunny ear under the line in front of the two hook and through the circle.

Tighten it up.

Now you can tow someone. The really neat thing about this knot is that the pull of the towing kayak keeps it tight, yet the person being towed can unhitch themselves with a very gentle tug on their end.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inner Harbour and Up The Gorge

Now this is the way it's supposed to be. The rest of the country is freezing, but here on the We(s)t Coast, the sun is shining brightly on this warm January morning. Okay, so it didn't start warm -- it was bitterly cold to start the morning and my fingers nearly froze off loading up the kayaks, but by the time we got to our launching point on the Harbour, the day had warmed up quite nicely under the bright sun.
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 178

It was just the three of us today: Louise, Paula and myself. The Harbour was unexpectedly blustery, but certainly nothing that we couldn't handle. It felt good to finally be back on the water after a long lay-off over Christmas.
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 181

Today I mounted my deck cam at the stern facing forward. I ended up with 129 pictures of a bright orange PFD.
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 066

This part of the harbour is still a working harbour. We passed by tied-up fishing boats and shipyards....
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 182

...and we passed this poor ship that got caught when the tide went out.
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 188

And we also paddled past a large number of cormorants who, like this fellow, were enjoying this lovely winter morning.
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 001

We moved out of the Harbour and into the Gorge waterway...
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 194

...where we weren't the only ones along the shore.
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This heron grew a beard over the winter just like me.
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We got to Tillicum Bridge, where we turned around.
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 201

Of course after turning around, we were paddling back into the low and glaring sun.
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 139

The wind was still up, but it was really a great day for a paddle.
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 218


Trip Length: 6.83 km
My pictures are here.
The Google Earth kmz is here.

Here's some bonus pictures. After a nice nosh at Estevan Village, we drove Paula home via Cattle Point where we saw this sailboat out on the water...
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 053
..and Mount Baker looking splendifourous.
2009-01-18 Inner Harbout-The Gorge 043

Fog Rolls Back

Saturday the 17 started out as a very foggy day. But as Bernie and I drove over the Malahat that morning, we looked out from the Summit Lookout to see a sea of fog below, blanketing Saanich Inlet. Mt Newton stuck up above it like an island, and Bear Hill was doing its impression of Senanus Island (always looking just 15 minutes away). Yet, across Haro Strait we could see Mt Baker clear as a bell as the sun was coming up. And the fog rolled back from the Mill Bay/Bamberton shore. Before long, we were down at the water in Mill Bay, on a boat ramp at the end of Handy Road, enjoying clear air and warm sunshine.
We met a couple of people going out for a paddle in two nice old fibreglass kayaks made years ago by the designer from Lightspeed, up-Island. After a little conversation, we got the Dragonfly inflatable out of the car's trunk. This time, it was Bernie who took this little kayak out on the water. He went past the marina, and over to the public dock to check out a yacht that he'd seen for sale online.
It did take a while for him to get that far and come back, but it was a good morning for it. We headed back over the Malahat to Victoria, astonished at how the fog had not yet left the peninsula. Doing research for my current book at the Library, I watched billows of fog roll past the windows -- and then suddenly the fog rolled away like a blanket. In the time it took to walk to Cadboro Bay, the sky was clear as far as the eye could see.
This was definitely a cue to get on the water -- so I rolled my Eliza down to the beach in Gyro Park. On my way past the little rock garden, I spied two little Blue Herons, about half the regular size, standing side-by-side, fishing together. Odd to see any herons fishing within a hundred yards of each other...
I went as far as Flower Island, and a little past it to see Mt Baker shining white and clear. Then it was time to turn around and follow a group of kayakers back to the shore. Turns out, that was Mike Jackson and four of his friends, who had spent the day in the Chathams.
All in all, a good day for it, once the fog had rolled back.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Solo: Lost At Sea

Tonight, the CBC aired the documentary Solo: Lost at Sea about Andrew McAuley's attempt to kayak across the Tasman Sea from Tasmania to New Zealand.
I would suspect that even those of us who paddle on only the flattest of waters and only in the safest conditions have felt that feeling of wanting to see behind the next island or what's in the next cove, or to point the boat at the horizon and go and discover that place where the sea sweeps up into the sky, like we could paddle forever under a golden sun with a cool breeze on our backs under cerulean skies.
I don't think I'd kayak if I didn't occasionally feel that urge pulling at me. McAuley just followed it to the nth degree.
A tragic story. And recommended watching.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

First Paddle of 2009

It's finally a beautiful winter morning on the Bay. There's no wind, the tide's barely moving, and it's about 4°C. And so--

--it's time for the first paddle of the year. As you can see, we had to try out Paula's new set of wheels. They work really well over the pavement, gravel, and sand between our place and the water (well, after getting the bushings in the wheels--Ocean River's staff was terrific about replacing the missing bushings after the holidays).
Paula's pretty stoked about getting out on the water, particularly on such a perfect morning. She's been up to her ears, what with getting her folk's 50th anniversary party settled (finally been celebrated, so things can slowly return to normal), and having two manuscripts delivered late last week for copy-editing (with, of course, absurd deadlines).

So perfect conditions for a paddle make for a happy woman (and that makes for a happy husband!).

Could you ask for a nicer day? She should be gone for another half hour or so as I write this, heading out toward Cadboro Point, back toward Jemmy Jones, and then toward the beach. So I should have time to finish my coffee before walking back out to roll her boat home.
Don't you wish you lived here?

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday Paddle? Not.

After December turned into a near-complete write-off for paddling, what with biting cold wind storms, record snow storms and too much holiday schmoozing, we had hopes for a return to the water this weekend. But nature wasn't done with us yet, as this week we've had record rain falls which combined with the fast-melting snow pack in the hills to play havoc by flooding out roads and houses.
They've also had an unexpected consequence as noted by this story (and photo below) from the Victoria Times-Colonist.
It seems that Victoria's old sewage and storm water system is designed to overflow onto beaches when it reaches capacity. Fortunately, this doesn't happen often. But one has to wonder who thought that this was a good design concept to begin with. Anyway, the Vancouver Island Health Authority has declared that the beaches in the Victoria area currently pose a health risk to swimmers and bathers, and presumably also kayakers.
The state of Victoria's sewage system has long been a thorny issue for the region. Currently, Victoria has no sewage treatment facilities; our sewage is delivered untreated into the ocean from two sewer outfalls each about 1 km long. Some argue that the ocean currents naturally diffuse the sewage so as to be of no consequence, while others (such as Mr. Floatie) argue that it's shameful that a modern city should be dumping 120,000 cubic metres of raw human waste into the local environment every day. Currently, the province and the city have finally decided that the status quo is not acceptable and are in the planning process to construct the long-debated sewage treatment plant. Maybe in my lifetime they'll actually build the damn thing. But I digress.
So with Richard away, Paula organizing an important family celebration for this weekend, and this morning's weather looking cloudy and rainy, there's no paddle today. Nevermind that all our launch points are literally crappy.
Besides, Louise and I stayed up last night watching the great Simon Pegg series Spaced. We stayed up way too late and this morning we are in much the same condition as our beaches: pooped.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Jet-Powered Kayak

Here's a little something for the kayaker who has everything -- jet power!
The ad reads:
"Expand your horizons... Be the envy of all your friends as you zip along at 20+ mph in your jet powered kayak. 2 models to choose from, Sit in and sit on top. 9.5 HP electric start 4 stroke motor. 80 miles on just 2 gallons of gas. Get to your destination in a hurry and then paddle. In stock Now."
This looks insane, particularly the sit-on-top! Then again, our modern lifestyle is so hectic that I suppose there must be some people out there who want to squeeze a 15 km paddle into twenty minutes. Click here to make an offer -- only $2900!
These aren't the first jet-powered kayaks to be built. As reported in Popular Science and featured on Top Gear, Shaun Baker built a jet powered kayak in 2007.
What I like most is that reports on Baker's efforts with the headline: Man Sticks Jet Engine in Kayak, Somehow Survives.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Paddle gifts

On various days of Christmas, our paddle group received:
five ache-y 'flus *1
four assorted gear *2
three flashlights *3
two salvaged boats *4
and a North Water paddle float!

*1 (and a resolution to get 'flu shots next fall)
*2 (from a Mustang inflatable PFD to two SPOT personal beacons and a bottle of Mirazyme neoprene cleaner)
*3 (waterproof and strobing -- two are powered by hand-cranks!)
*4 (which we didn't keep but Bernie did post some tough hardcore photos of one salvage)