Archive for January, 2013
17 minutes to Crofton
The Vesuvius ferry from Salt Spring presented an oddity in its schedule by actually leaving on time. It putt-putted the short crossing of Stuart Channel, which separates Salt Spring and Vancouver Island, and does this many times daily. I sat in my car on what was just another ferry ride, just another lost in the pile of so many years of island living and the fact of life that this lifestyle comes with ferry travel. As routinely boring as this can be I am satisfied knowing it could be so much worse, imagining the Friday afternoon commute those poor unfortunates dwelling in cities have, week after exhaust-fuming, road-raging week. I turned the music up and began my usual morning journal scribbling to pass the time. Looking up only a few minutes into the journey between one world and the other, I saw the fog. It entwined my partly caffeinated mind into wandering away from the pages on my lap, and was an affirmation of why I live here.
The mists captured the hillsides and erased the lower half of the landscape so effectively that you got the impression of mountains in the sky rising up from the water and floating away. This would make my drive up-island somewhat more abstract. A recent dusting of snow filled in the open wide patches of fresh log-clearing on the slopes. A graying prairie of sea stretched out in both directions under the mist, held firmly flat by the increasing low pressure to a sweet and languid state. Not a ripple. No evidence of any movement at all and not a sound. That is if you manage to tune out the continuous rumbling of the engines.
Low black bowling pin profiles of Cormorants dotted the length of a floating log beneath the curtain of mill-fires blending smoke to low fog banks in a mixture of wet December air. They were just being birds. They rode aimlessly, drifting in the tide and enjoying the freedoms of such creatures. Accepting what we find so very hard to grasp and grapple our overly complicated brains around: the simple act of being. Living authentically to the push and pull of the currents of nature and of life.
Land pulled nearer, looming eerily there in the mist, incrementally growing more obvious. The shore rife with industry. Barges loaded with Cedar pulp and freighters overlooked one missing errant log and its occupants, swirling slowly northwards.
A paddler, nameless and unaware, leaves the dock at Crofton as my ferry lumbers steadily in. He turns and heads out into the channel and that long black sheet. He breaks the surface for the first time and leaves only temporary traces of ripples caused by the drippings of blades. He moves off to find his place in my scenery and his landscape. Paddling silently and slow with the natural currents and the Cormorants, headed out to the sky islands and mist.
A landscape that is not new to him, or to me for that matter, but forever seen with new eyes.
On a windy and unusually chilled day in August many years ago I counted to 30 and deliberately capsized my kayak. I did this in the center of St. Mary’s Lake on Salt Spring Island with the staff of Sea Otter Kayaking. I was the newbie, and by the time I returned to my seat with spray-skirt snugly in place the winds had blown me clear back into the reeds by the shore. The lake was green and frothing, the water was warm and the blowing air was cold. It was preferable to stay submerged and thus inspired much capsizing self-rescue practice until we all decided enough was enough, dried off and relaxed at the pub.
My wife would have a radically different first-time skills experience, not on a windy lake in bouncing waves but in the warmth of our local indoor pool on a frosty night in December. This was somewhat of a novelty to me. All my kayak play was done in the great outdoors in the salty seas. Not in a heated indoor pool with a conveniently located hot tub to soak in between dunkings, both accidental and purposeful. In the weeks leading up to this event we had sweet-talked the management of the local newly built pool into the occasional kayak practice location. They were very obliging to us but had a few restrictions. One, that we only book in during times that were free and that ended up being an hour before closing on two specific days of the week. We had to be long gone in time for the cleaning crew, but as we found out on this first session the time of our departure was a little less stringent. There would be hot tub time! The other restriction was that our kayaks had to be spotless. Clean inside and out. I thought I had washed out all the pine needles collected under my seat, really I did and got a raised eyebrow from the lifeguard on duty when the small raft of them floated under his gaze. Did I mention the cold snap? My buddy Pete had washed his kayak and brought it across on the ferry that afternoon. Water trapped in the cockpit had frozen solid and a few minutes into things he heaved out a small iceberg into the pool…another raised eyebrow from the management. We had made our mark. An unruly crew always but that first session was a success and we were invited back again.
For the first-time capsize victim getting back into a kayak is always a tremendous challenge. The ‘cowboy’ re-entry is especially difficult and cannot be described by onlookers as graceful. It is a quick solo re-entry but requires a bit of athleticism. After nearly a half and hour of wrestling a bobbing overly chubby Current Designs Pachena, my wife gave in feeling discouraged. There was no shame in the defeat. Even I had my troubles with returning to the cockpit after flipping. Imagine attempting to sit on a floating beachball. Unlike other assisted rescue techniques the solo re-entry pits the paddler against the elements and the kayak itself can be an obstacle to leap. My method of the cowboy getting back on the horse is to flip the kayak back over, forgetting the fact it is partly filled with water and make my way to the stern where I pushed down hard and leapfrogged up over the rudder assembly…boy and girls, be very careful with that. Then making my way forward lifting my legs in and lowering myself back into the seat…bailing bailing bailing until I can get the skirt back on once more. The getting back in part was not so bad. In a pool, heated and calm there is little to incentivize you to hurry. No crashing waves, howling cold winds, or a rocky shore to get the adrenaline flowing. As with the lake on a cold windy day it was preferable to stay submerged.
There is the advantage of a pool session. It is a calmer, warmer condition and there is no need to rush, and that is the point of it. To take the time to develop the basic skills of paddling. In our sessions we explore and practice different rescues, self-and assisted as well as some more advanced paddle tricks.
Contact your local pool and work out a deal for yourself and some kayaking friends. It takes a little organizing on your part but the benefits are more than worth it and the relatively small cost of renting pool time. Most pools are accommodating to this practice time, and in our case even the staff joined in for some play.
How to Build an A-Frame Kayak Rack
I watched in horror as the cat jumped onto the back of my kayak setting the flimsy pole and duct tape structure swaying sideways and back and forth like a drunken sailor after a weekend shore leave. I admit it was only a matter of time before this poor attempt at housing my kayak would fail. It now held the weight of three kayaks and was barely able to accommodate one. Made of old aluminum poles and uprights, and though heavy the thing threatened collapse each time I moved a boat on or off. It was time to construct something more permanent in the backyard to store my growing fleet of kayaks.
With a little scribbling and some head scratching I came up with a simple design that would accommodate not just one kayak, but all three of my boats. My mission was to keep the costs below $100.00 and with minimal measuring and cutting. Quick and simple!
To get my kayaks up off the grass cost $30.00 and change in lumber and took about an hour to construct.
You will need:
5 2×4′s cut to 8 ft lengths
6 1×4′s cut to 8 ft lengths
1 set of saw horse clamps
1 1/4 inch wood screws
First, organize your workspace and lay out the lumber in order of need. I attached the metal saw horse clamps to a pair of 8 ft 2×4′s, one for each end of the rack that will be the uprights. Essentially, this kayak rack is a very tall saw horse.
With them in place I made a cross-brace with 2 of the 1×4′s. Pre-drilling holes to keep the wood from splitting then finishing them with a pair of screws at each end, top and bottom. This will give the uprights some rigidity. I only attached a cross on one side of the rack. The opposite side will have a brace at the bottom to secure the uprights in place, but allowing a large area of access to the boats when they are on the rack.
Lifting it up with the top brace in place inside the clamps was extremely awkward so for purposes of lifting and spreading the legs I removed it. With some wiggling and adjusting of the uprights the top brace (a length of 1×4) slipped into place. I then added the 2×4 across the bottom of the open side for extra support.
By this time, it was pretty darn solid. I gave it a good shake as I love my kayaks and don’t wany any unhappy surprises when I load them into the rack. Satisfied that it was ready I measured and cut the cross pieces that would act as the cradle for the boats.
The bottom cross-piece I set up about 10 inches above the ground. With the rack on uneven ground it was impossible to set a level on the wood so just marked equal distances from the bottom. The top rail cut to 36 inches fit perfectly leaving ample room above the bottom rail and enough room on either side of the kayaks. This took the most time of the entire project as I wanted the boats to have some elbow room in either side while not having to do any acrobatics when loading and unloading them to and from the rack.
The rails also add stability to the structure. The next step is to add some cushioning to the rails so the wood and fibreglass does not get scratched and the boats slip in and out easily. I happen to have some red polar fleece kicking around so cut lengths of that and with a staple gun attached it to the rails. Old towels, or foam pipe insulation tubing will do as well.
The finished rack. Now I will add a tarp over the structure to keep the rain and snow off the kayaks.
With a spare hour, and under $50.00 this was a breeze to assemble and now the kayaks are in a safe bomber rack! For storing a single kayak this rack can be made smaller and that brings the costs down even more.
Check out the photo essay on building the rack on my main page.
Foggy Day Hiking on Salt Spring Island
It is a dark and grey foggy day here on the island, well at least at sea level. I decided to seek the sun above this mid-winter thermal inversion. Driving up through the fog to the trail head on Juniper Rd. was done very slowly as the road was virtually invisible by the top. However, just above the parking area the fog zone ends and the sun shone through the treetops. Taking the trail I cut across to the more traditional approach to the top of Mt. Erskine along the outer path leading to a few key lookout points. From there and at the summit the true spectacle of the day was visible. A sea of fog covered the water below and the fog horn of the ferry was heard. Squinting my eyes a little gave the illusion of ice fields rather than fog. Could I have been looking out over the Antarctic, of Stuart Channel? Hard to say.
Salt Spring Island is a paddling Mecca with world-class scenic views and ample opportunity to witness marine life and birds. I have lived here most of my life and I can say, the kayaking is good! My backyard waters are always a pleasure to paddle at anytime of year, and the islands that surround Salt Spring are just a short hop away. One of the closest is Wallace Island. It is located in Trincomali Channel, which is the body of water separating Salt Spring Island and Galiano Island and is a hot location for boaters as well as paddlers. The crossing from Salt Spring is usually calm unless the wind is up and then the channel can get, ‘bumpy’. For the most part, this is a fine paddle for novice kayakers as the distance to Wallace is short from Hudson Point just north of Fernwood Dock, or from a second launch site at Southey Point which is at the northern tip of Salt Spring.
These two launch points offer different approaches to Wallace. Leaving from Hudson Point, a public boat ramp on North Beach Rd. just north of Fernwood allows a mid to low tide access to enough shell beach to easily unload and load kayaks and gear. Parking is limited as it is a popular put-in for sports fishers as well. Leaving from this beach head straight across to Wallace and you will see a red buoy to your left as a good landmark. For those sporting a deck compass it is virtually a north/south crossing. Once at Wallace’s shores take your pick of back or front sides, but on those sunny days there is no question as to which side to travel.
Leaving from Southey Point offers a different paddling experience as you will pass Jackscrew Island first so keep an eye out for totem poles. Also you will be watched by seals, and you thought you were the one watching them. As always with encountering wildlife please remember they live there. As tempting as it might be to get a closer look, try to steer a wide berth from sunbathing seals. They are skittish and will dive back into the water. Think how you would like a cold bucket of water tossed on you if you were sunbathing. In about 40 minutes you will arrive at Chivers Point and the camping area.
Wallace Island is picturesque with a multitude of small coves and bays. Arbutus trees over-hang the featured rocky shore of the side facing Salt Spring. It takes a little over an hour for me to round the entire island. From your kayak you will be able to see seals and eagles, ravens swooping overhead and a mink or two. On the backside of the island facing Galiano Island you may get a peek at a small colony of river otters as they fish and play in the kelp and shallows. I have noticed that no one ever mentions the raccoons in any of the tourist info about the islands. Wallace has raccoons and they will try to get into your belongings especially your food, so be mindful and tuck it away in closed kayak hatches or better yet, hang it in a tree.
Camping is available at Chivers Point accessed by a small pebble beach that can disappear entirely at higher tides. Make sure you secure your kayaks. It is not wilderness camping at all. Tent pads, both pea-gravel and raised wooden platforms are provided. Each has a picnic table and a short walk up the trail will take you to an outhouse. On the Salt Spring side you will paddle by Conover Cove if coming from Hudson Pt. where you will find anchorages and a dock. The remains of the old resort (http://www.dconover.com/default.htm) still stand and you may wish to pitch a tent on the grass.
However, a favorite spot for my wife and I paddled to is Cabin Bay. Facing the cliffs of Galiano Island this campsite is limited to two pads that are nearly overlapping. Good for a close-knit paddling group. This site loses its light earlier in the evening than at Chivers Pt. but is secluded and quiet. A steep hike up to the main trail will take you to an outhouse near-by and the bay is accessed by a small cove.
While on the island it is worth the time to hike the trail that runs the entire length of Wallace. The terrain is easy to moderate and well-marked and takes you past the remains of orchards and the resort with plenty of spots to sit and contemplate nature.
A short paddle from Salt Spring Island, Wallace Island provides a unique getaway to the recreational kayaker as a terrific day paddle excursion or for the camper plenty of sight-seeing both on foot and from the kayak. Don’t forget to explore the nearby Secretary Islands and keep and eye peeled for those playful seals.
A Paddle to a Pub
One of the joys of travelling anywhere by kayak is the fact that you have arrived under your own steam. Whether it be a day paddle to a small beach only accessible by water, or exploring rugged wilderness regions, or to a local pub. From Salt Spring Island there are a few choice secluded beaches, and places, though fewer where you will feel a sense of wilderness, and of course there are a few local pubs within easy day trip distances.
One such pub is at the Maple Bay Marina on Vancouver Island, the Shipyard Restaurant and Pub offers great food and friendly service inside or out on the patio.
If leaving from Salt Spring Island you have a pair of options as to where to put your kayaks in the water. One is at a shallow beach we call Baders Beach. Leaving Ganges drive up Rainbow Road to the top of the hill and then down again, stay to your left and follow Collins Road until you reach the water. There you will find a beach that is a bit of an issue at lower tides as it is mucky, but at mid to high it is a great launch site. From there, paddle southwards towards Burgoyne Bay and cross at the over-head power lines. Stick to the shoreline as the bay itself can become bustling with incoming and outgoing floatplanes and boaters. You will pass the village of Maple Bay but keep going into the sheltered alcove of the bay and paddle by the yacht club. To enter the marina stay to the outer limits and round at the end where there are several uniquely designed floating homes. Sadly, at the marina there is little for the kayaker to land upon. There are rocks you can attempt to deal with, but we opt for the dinghy dock. Find a spot with room enough to scramble out of your kayak and there you can tie off to the dock.
The second option for the day is to drive from town southward on the Fulford/Ganges Road. So named for the obvious reason that this highway connects Fulford to Ganges. Coming down the hill into the valley with vineyards on either side take Burgoyne Bay Road to its terminus at the Government wharf. Parking can sometimes be an issue here so do your best. I often unload and move the car higher up or in the park parking area. Using this route allows for a completely dry feet experience as you will be travelling from one dock to another.
Burgoyne Bay is a gem with Mt. Sullivan on one side and the best known Salt Spring Island landmark of Mt. Maxwell on the other. Cross the bay and follow the southern shore until the crossing at the opening of the narrows. Check your tide tables and don’t enter the narrows. On the opposite shore there can be some turbulence so be mindful of your course. It sounds worse than it is. Once across it is a short paddle up the shore and around the corner to your left into the bay. Crossing from either launch takes a little over an hour with little to be concerned about other than water traffic.