Archive for the ‘Camping’ Category
Should eight dripping kayakers ever show up at my front door after dark in midwinter, without prior notice or an invite, I’m afraid that I can’t vouch for the kind of reception I’ll give them.
Thankfully, the wardens on Flat Holm Island were much more accommodating a couple of weekends back. Our thanks to them! Apologies all, next time we’ll a] call ahead and b] bring more wine and cake.
Just returned from the first paddle of the year…a trip to the Holm Islands, enjoying some fine weather and fine hospitality. More pics to follow…
This post does pretty much what it says on the tin. The ruins are remains of administrative buildings for the long defunct Lundy Granite Company, the distant horizon is North Devon and the high moorland of Exmoor.
Why am I not out paddling today, given the gorgeous autumn weather? Because my gorgeous girl (shown below, camping on Lundy) isn’t feeling too well, so nobody in this house slept much last night…
We have booked to camp on Lundy, this coming weekend and beyond. My favourite island! I’m so excited by the prospect of returning to this wonderful place, that I’m not going to get angry that my 11 week old daughter has to pay to travel on the ferry, and is also charged the full rate to camp there each night.
A few of us plan to paddle across. However, whether it will be possible to make the 21 mile paddle across from North Devon is entirely dependent upon the weather, naturally. Watching the forecast intently…very much hope that this trip will come off.
I try to find time to paddle around the Isle of Wight every year; it’s a great adventure, especially if compressed into one weekend. The variety of challenges and experiences is amazing; in 100km, you have to tackle very strong tides, cliffed out areas, large tide races, busy shipping and (at this time of year) quite a lot of night paddling.
I’d had last weekend pencilled in for quite a while, on account of the strong tides predicted. As the weekend finally drew near, it became clear that there was actually going to be great weather…yippee! Four of us launched from Keyhaven at 11 pm on Friday night. 41 hours later, we arrived back at Keyhaven, having spent about 13.5 hours paddling, of which about 8 were at night. We didn’t suffer last year’s Arctic weather or soul-destroying headwinds; it was all rather pleasant and civilised, in fact.
Heather and I had been stuck on the island of Rousay for three nights straight, waiting for the wind to drop. We were getting frustrated with our wait to head up into the North Isles of Orkney. One evening we returned to the tent and found that the wind had dropped…
Within an hour we’d packed the boats and were on the water, paddling across some surprisingly fast tides. The plan was to cross to Eday, a large island about five miles away. We pretty much continually surfed across standing waves for the first few miles. Things crept up on us; the wind cranked up behind us (against the tide), the waves steepened and roughened dramatically, and before we knew it, we were in full whitewater mode. By the time we realised how much we had extended ourselves, we were too far from Rousay to return easily, but nowhere near our intended destination. Our saving grace was a tiny uninhabited island called Muckle Green Holm which was located in mid-stream of these powerful flows. We were relieved to break out and take stock, in the huge churning eddies behind this island.
We couldn’t continue our crossing to Eday without taking on some fairly mad conditions; although it was only another mile or two, the next set of tide races (ominously known as the ‘Fall of Warness’) were frankly huge, and were surging and breaking hard. The route back was now similarly closed to us, and the tide was too strong for us to paddle north upstream against it. Escaping south with the tide wasn’t too promising either, due to the screaming headwind. On top of all that, the light was fading. We made the decision to land and camp on Muckle Green Holm, not ideal as we’d barely brought enough fresh water for a pot of tea with us! If we ended up stuck on MGH by the wind, we would be in big trouble.
Landing wasn’t straightforward, as the east side of MGH was rimmed by cliffs. We later discovered that there is a rocky beach on the NW side, but could not access this side of the island due to the strength of the tide flow. We eddyhopped up to the northern tip, where we were amazed to watch seals bodysurfing the standing wave created where the tide poured over a ledge. We considered climbing and hauling the boats up a muddy gulley from a geo, but eventually we found an better option; the rising tide made it possible to access the gradually sloping reefs on the southern tip of the island, where we were able to beach and unload.
Shipwrecked! The good news is that the next morning dawned calm and clear, so we were able to escape before our water ran out. Even so, the tides beat us again. We launched precisely on slack tide, yet still failed to make it direct to Eday, a mere mile away. Within 15-20 minutes of slack water, the tide was too strong for us to hold position, and we gave up trying to ferry across; we rode the tide north instead. We later learned that the spring flows we tackled commonly exceed 8 mph. A glance at a map of the Orkney Isles will reveal that this channel is basically a northerly cousin of the notorious Pentland Firth, but all of this wisdom was only gained in hindsight. I guess the clue was the experimental tidal power generator located in mid-flow…
Oh yes, Muckle Green Holm itself. It wasn’t ugly, and we weren’t alone. Aside from the hundreds of seals and the long neglected sheep (with ludicrously overgrown wool hanging to the ground), we were happy to make acquaintance with the innumerable shags, a small handful of whom are depicted here.
The brief few rays of sunlight shown here started off 2012 in a very fine way. The weather shortly after returned to the driving rain and wind that has characterised recent weeks…photos taken around St Alban’s Head, Dorset.
Happy New Year, all.
Pasted below are a few documents which will hopefully offer some insight into where all the money went from this year’s South West Sea Kayaking Meet. Each participant donated £30. The only outgoing cost from the money donated was that used to hire the the nasty stinky toilets. I donated £10 a head to the National Trust for each person who camped in their field. I did not realise this at the time, but it would seem that they intend to use this money to provide paddling facilities in the area (see letter below). The rest was donated to the RNLI and Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Ashburton. These are both charities who have offered direct assistance to kayakers in difficulty, in recent years.
National Trust: £750
Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Ashburton: £1000
No personal profit has been made from the event.
I hope that all makes sense; please get in touch if you have any further queries.
I do not intend to organise any further South West Sea Kayaking Meets, but I do think that they have been a success. Whilst there is clearly a market for high profile ‘Symposium’ events where paddlers pay significant monies to be led by famous coaches, low key low cost events like the SWSKM demonstrably also have a role to play in enabling paddlers to meet new peers and develop skills to paddle on their own initiative in safe group sizes and conditions. Sadly there don’t seem to be many such events at present; I really do hope that others will grab the baton and organise similar events. It’s honestly not that hard…pick an area with a range of paddling possibilities and good parking/ access, find a camping field, get some sensible mates to paddle with small groups, et voila! If you can raise some money for worthwhile causes along the way, all good.
Most of all, thanks again to all who participated and helped this year. I hope that you will be satisfied with where your donations have gone.
It’s a beautiful sunny weekend, but I’m sprawled on the sofa under a blanket, trying to shake off a nasty bout of man flu. Mrs R is upstairs in bed trying to sleep off whatever the female version is called (whatever it is, it surely can’t be as bad). What a pair. This is pretty irritating and disappointing, as this weekend we were supposed to be down in Cornwall taking part in a triathlon and also going surfing.
To assuage my boredom, I’ve just cleared my mobile phone of photos, taken in random places over recent months. I’ve spared you drunken pub shots, but each here tells a small story…
This Catholic shrine is located beside the get-on to the Torrente Ayasse, a steep and frankly terrifying looking Italian river. We looked long and hard at this creek, whilst rain visibly brought the level up. For certain, if you were going to take on the section directly below this shrine, you would be needing to spend a fair amount of time beforehand praying at the shrine. We eventually decided to give the whole thing a miss, and ran away from the valley with our tails between our legs.
This is Pendeen Lighthouse in west Cornwall, late one evening back in February. We were staying in a Coastguard cottage beside the lighthouse for a week, pretending to get some work done. As offices go, it doesn’t get much better…
This is our most unusual wild camp in recent times. The river is of course the Thames, and we’re overlooked by the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf in central London. The location was an outdoor centre from which the London Kayakathon was to be based the following day. We’re not really city people, but as places to wake up go, you could certainly do worse…
The final pics are taken at Perranporth Youth Hostel in north Cornwall. I was there for a friend’s Stag Do. The choice of location was inspired; the Youth Hostel is a small building perched atop the cliffs overlooking the Perranporth beach. We enjoyed attempting to surf the waves by day, and then spent the evening chilling out with a beer in hand watching gannets dive. It’s also where H and I are meant to be surfing today, but no worries…the summer hols are coming soon.
Magazine article from 2004…
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the Skye
You know how it is, after only one day back at work, the holiday already seems to be a distant fact, something you did years ago. So there I am, at home, on Monday evening. I am pottering around, about to fill the washing machine when a smell drifts towards my nose. Now the laundry pile is usually smelly… but this is different. I pause and sniff… wood smoke, suncream, insect repellent, perhaps a hint of whisky and of course the unmistakable odour of sweaty thermal. I am transported on a wave of odours back to the previous week. A wonderful week, a week of sea-kayaking and exploration and pleasure. I sit there amid the pile of laundry and relive the week.
Mark and I escaped from work in Dorset on Friday afternoon and hurtled North. The Isle of Skye was calling. By Saturday morning we had reached Fort William where we raided the supermarket and stocked up on a range of camping friendly foods. I really love the fact that you can carry so much food in a sea-kayak. I get so bored with the kind of tasteless rations you have to carry if you are back-packing. We wandered round the supermarket, buying everything on our shopping list and more. Pasta figured highly, as did chocolate. Lots of fuel, lots of rewards.
Then onwards to the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye bridge. As we drove across the bridge the sky improbably cleared and the sun appeared. Weather forecast be blowed, it was sunny and settled and all signs of driving fatigue vanished as we took in the glorious Skye scenery. I had been anxious about paddling in Skye; the unknown coupled with a vague idea about unpleasant Atlantic storms and the knowledge that the coast we were planning to explore was rather remote. Somehow, as we stood in the car-park at Elgol, all those worries evaporated in the hot sunshine. Looking across a glassy sea towards the serrated ridge of the Cuillin mountains, I couldn’t wait to get the boats loaded and set off.
Loading boats is an amazing piece of magic. You start out with a vast pile of kit and food and water and somehow it all disappears into the kayaks. With the boat loading done, I said goodbye to the car and set off in an altogether quieter vehicle. I couldn’t quite believe it, just over 24 hours earlier, we were still at work and now we were paddling on glossy black water towards a grand and awe-inspiring wilderness. There are no roads into the heart of the Cuillin. The only routes are by foot or by water but you are richly rewarded for your efforts as we were to discover.
I was paddling a brand new boat, never paddled before. What a christening! It sliced through the water and I soon got used to its trim and settled into a rhythm. Looking down, I suddenly realised that we were not alone. The sea was full of jellyfish! Layer upon layer of them, looking like ranks of space invaders in some eighties computer game. We spent the next ten minutes looking for the biggest one and trying not to pick one up with the paddles. Then it was heads down and pushing on to our campsite, a tiny beach tucked in below the mountains.
As we drew towards the campsite, the mountains closed around us. What a special place. Near vertical rock walls with trees and bushes clinging impossibly to tiny crevices. The silence! The solitude! “Cuckoo!” We couldn’t believe our ears. But there it was again, echoing around the rocks, “cuckoo, cuckoo.” Who’d have thought it, cuckoos in the Cuillin. But now it was time to unload the boats again, put up the tent and have some dinner.
In the morning, Mark made tea and we took it up to Loch Coruisk; a remote Loch that is only just above sea level and whose stillness and seclusion are guarded by the walls of the Cuillin Ridge itself. Of all the places I have had my Sunday morning cup of tea; this will be top of the list for a long time. Sitting on a rock at the feet of great black mountains and staring at their reflections in the water, it felt entirely unreal. We were so small and so out of place in this stillness. We lingered as long as possible over the tea but we had things to do that day. We had breakfast and loaded the boats up… with walking boots! We spent the day on Bla Bheinn; a mountain that has views across to the main Cuillin ridge, Loch Coruisk and out to sea. Well, in the kind of weather we were blessed with anyway. A walk up a mountain is always enjoyable but paddling to the start of it made it feel almost like a grand expedition. I must say however that I don’t recommend putting dry trousers on over hot ankles at the end of such a walk. Trust me, it’s not pretty.
We had company at dinner that night. A seal came and had a look at us and then went and got a friend. They spent the next hour courting together in the inlet by our campsite. A perfect end to an amazing day.
Our luck with the weather held again on the Monday, the weather forecasts we’d read had all been pretty gloomy but it was sunny and settled again. We took down the tent and headed out. It was Scotland, it was May and I had just put sun-cream on. The weather was amazing! We looked out for seals on a nearby skerry before we left Coruisk but they were all off fishing apart from one youngster who was decidedly miffed at having his sunbathing interrupted. We left him to it and started to cross to the small Island of Soay. We paddled into an inlet on Soay as the tide was running out. Seabirds were fishing all round us and one sleek white chap was so intent on catching the fish he’d seen that he arrowed into the water just to the right of my paddle.
Soay was the site of a shark fishing station at one time in its history. That day, it was eerily quiet in the harbour, the deserted building had half a roof and there was a rusted steam engine outside. We felt like trespassers as we sat and ate our lunch looking across at these ruins. After exploring further on the island, we set out for Skye again. We were aiming for a headland called Rubh an Dunain which the map showed was peppered with cairns and ruins despite its remoteness.
As we neared the headland, the wind began to pick up for the first time since we arrived on Skye. I had to push hard to maintain my pace. Mark paddles an impossibly skinny, tippy and fast boat. Nothing seems to slow him down. I was feeling quite tired as we neared what I thought was our landing spot. Mark carried on past it. I argued but he said that it would be easier to land on the other, more gently shelving side of the headland which meant another few hundred metres of paddling. He was right about the landing but I knew that the sea was lumpier round the corner. Suddenly I remembered that this was still a strange boat and I started to feel a bit panicky. We turned out into the chop and I turned into a novice. I am sure we’ve all been there, that time when we stiffen up with nerves and forget to put our paddles in the water. Of course, when this happens, the boat starts to be tippy and you stop going anywhere. At times like this, Mark used to try to give me advice which, when I’m stressed I have to say I am not good at listening to. He’s learned now, poor chap, he stayed quiet and gave me space to get my head together and start paddling again. I put my head down and ploughed on and round to the bay where we landed. I shouted a lot when my feet were finally on dry land. The waves hadn’t been that big but I was tired and it had to be someone’s fault. Poor Mark! By the time we had put up the tent, I had warmed up and calmed down. We went off to explore the ruins we were camped among. This remote and empty headland had once been very crowded indeed. There were ruined crofts everywhere and the remains of some pretty intensively farmed land. Now there were just sheep… and us, oh and the cuckoos. A romantic spot now but with a sad history common to so many parts of Scotland that were cleared by land-owners who were looking to make some money from sheep. We ate dinner watching the sun go down over the sea.
I woke up to the flapping of the tent the next morning. It was windy, the sea was lumpy and we weren’t going anywhere soon. Our radio had failed to pick up any weather forecasts but things had clearly changed. The Cuillin ridge had cloud over it for the first time since we had arrived and we watched as the peaks played hide and seek in the rapidly moving billows. By early afternoon, the wind had dropped and the sea flattened. It was a few miles up the coast to Loch Eynort but this was a committing few miles. No landings on the way if the wind got up again. I wanted to go on but wasn’t confident. Then the sun came out. I don’t understand why this tipped the balance but it always does for me. Everything seems possible in the sun.
So off we went. I found it hard work, we were paddling into the wind but were making sensible headway so we carried on. Off to the West, we could see the Western Isles and we started to see sea stacks in front of us. Eventually we were at the foot of the nearest: shaped like a bottle (three storeys high) with a hole in the middle. We stopped and rafted up to look and eat ginger cake. As we ate, I realised that we were being blown towards the cliffs. I stuffed my half of the cake into my mouth at one go and abandoned Mark. I tried to explain myself but the cake stopped me, I tried to chew but there was just too much cake. Mark thought I had gone mad. He started to paddle on through the gap between the cliff and the stack, I saw him pause as he felt the wind coming through the gap and then a cormorant dive-bombed into the water right beside him. I am sure I saw him jump out of his seat, I just couldn’t stop laughing. Not good when your mouth is full of cake and you’re trying not to be blown onto a cliff. I followed Mark through the gap, tears of laughter streaming down my face. The wind was whistling through the gap and the waves were quite lumpy on the other side. I was relaxed in the boat and I unexpectedly found just how well it handled the swell when I was loose and paddled calmly.
Mark looked relieved when I came through the gap laughing. He wasn’t sure how I would react to the larger swell but I was enjoying the way the boat was slicing through it. Besides, my mouth was still full of cake. The swell for this last mile was quite intense but I now knew that the boat and I were more than equal to it. Mark was probably having a bumpier ride in his boat than I was. Before very long, we surfed into the shelter of Loch Eynort and found a camping spot. I spent ages collecting drift wood and building a fire. We didn’t get a chance to enjoy it, because then the midges arrived. We had seen the odd one or two before but that evening, as the wind dropped, the midges descended in their millions and we hid in the tent.
We had planned to carry on up the coast past more sea stacks and high cliffs the next day, but the wind stopped us. It was in our faces and just too strong for us to commit to at least ten kilometres of exposed paddling with no landfall. We were disappointed but because our radio had let us down, we just didn’t know what the weather was going to do. We decided to head up Loch Eynort to the road and hitch back to the car. Seven hitches later, we closed the circle and picked up the car. For the rest of the week, the wind stayed too strong to head out in the boats again. We explored the island on foot but felt so blessed with the days we had spent out along the coast that we didn’t feel cheated. We didn’t go that far really in those few days, but the remoteness and the beauty of where we did go made it worth it. And the sea stacks we missed… well there’s always next year.
(Click here for more pictures)
OS Landrangers 23 & 32
Imray C66, Mallaig to Rubha Reidh and Outer Hebrides
Scotland; The Rough Guide.
The Scottish Islands, Hamish Haswell-Smith
The Isle of Skye: A Walkers Guide, Terry Marsh.
Heather Rainsley – 2004
Another magazine article, this one from 2003. Heather and I spent the summer in eastern and western Canada, paddling white water. We finished up on the Pacific coast near Vancouver, and thought that we really should do some sea kayaking, seeing how we were there…
The Sound of Desolation
…sea kayaking without anoraks, British Columbia 2003
“Mark, wake up! There’s a bear right outside our tent”.
“Don’t be silly dear; that’s just a seal snoring”.
Here in Britain, sea kayaking has a rather sorry ‘anorak’ image…we tend to associate the sport with unkempt facial hair, boiled seagulls and questionable social skills. Sea kayaking articles in the paddling press don’t help; they traditionally focus on such riveting aspects as compass bearings and the inner workings of the Trangia Stove. Whatever the reasons for this image, it does a fine sport no justice at all. My wife and I have learned not to mention our secret habit in civilised company, if we want to be invited on the next whitewater trip. UK sea paddlers for whom this all rings bells, may be surprised to learn that there is ‘another place’, where sea kayakers can be loud and proud; where ‘Ocean Kayaking’ is seen as a perfectly healthy eco-friendly lifestyle pursuit, with a multi-million dollar leisure industry built around it. Sea kayaks are sold in High Street stores alongside running shoes and bikinis, and there are more sea kayakers than mountain bikers. Paddlers arriving off the plane from the UK might think that they’ve arrived on Mars…but they’re actually in British Columbia.
A bit of scene-setting. The Pacific coast of Canada is an epic wilderness of mountainous islands and deep fjords, formed by glaciers spilling down from British Columbia’s Coast Range Mountains. So…it’s very big, it’s very wild. But…this isn’t going to be a heroic tale of half-starved heroics on raging seas. Heather and I paddled in one titchy and sheltered part of this region, known as Desolation Sound. Nobody suffered, no one even got tired, nothing scary happened, the food was actually rather decent and the distances conquered can be measured in hundreds of yards. It was all quite pleasant, just as sea kayaking should be.
Desolation Sound was named in 1792 when Captain George Vancouver sailed into the area, found absolutely nothing of interest, and went away again. The full title today is ‘Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park’, and I’m boring myself just typing it. All you need to know is that it’s a protected Park which can only be reached by boat. Designating any single part of the surrounding region as a ‘Park’ is as pointless as awarding sashes at a Miss World contest, it’s all gorgeous! We enjoyed a small snippet of the area but suffice to say, it didn’t matter too much, which direction we headed.
Heather and I had been ambling across Canada for over a month, paddling whitewater rivers large and small. We were due to jet out of Vancouver soon, but first I’d promised Heather that we’d dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean. First, we prodded a random place name on the map…’Desolation Sound’ had a certain ‘buzz’ to it. Next, an Internet cafe supplied a solution; I typed the words ‘sea kayak rental desolation sound’ into a Search Engine and up popped the website for ‘Powell River Sea Kayak Ltd.’. I wrote down their phone number and called up to book a double kayak. I believe everything I read on the Internet, but for all I knew I was giving my credit card details to a fifteen year old in Russia.
Getting there was surprisingly unsimple. We returned our longsuffering hire car and stashed our creek boats at Vancouver Airport’s left luggage office (buying new boats would have been cheaper). Next, we caught the only bus to Powell River. This took six hours including two ferries up the coast, before we were dropped off in an unprepossessing shopping mall. We were indeed in the town of Powell River. The catch was that ‘Powell River Sea Kayak Ltd.’ were based well, somewhere else. We weighed ourselves down with food supplies at the Megamart and made the next hop, a taxi ride thirty kilometres north. A night of camping, a last supper at ‘Laughing Oyster’ restaurant (bizarrely luxurious, given that it’s located somewhere off the edge of most maps) and we were finally ready to collect our kayak.
We’d booked a Current Designs Crosswind, a vast barge of a plastic double kayak. I’d heard that the North American trend was for wider kayaks, but this was practically the Ark Royal. And why not? It was slow, but hugely stable and here was a boat that absolutely anyone could hop into and handle. Here in the UK, we sneer at sea kayaks which aren’t narrow and responsive…and then wonder why so few take up our sport. Anyway, the only catch was that this double didn’t have a centre hatch for stowing gear. This was a bit of an issue as Heather is, well, a girl. She’d brought enough clothes to sink a Dreadnought and fitting it all in required a subtle combination of lateral thinking and brute force. By the time we’d cracked this puzzle, the tide had receded leaving the boat high and dry, surrounded by large jagged oysters. These, somewhat rudely, kept spitting at us. We had to get help to lift the boat to the water’s edge, these doubles weigh some! The embarrassment continued as we weaved erratically up the sea inlet, barely in control; my UK sea kayak conditioning had told me that rudders were a bad thing, so I’d disconnected it. A quick tinker on the shore and it was back in service; suddenly we had complete control and our boat worked like a dream.
We’d launched onto the Okeover Inlet, basically the back entrance into Desolation Sound. We were against the tide, ferry gliding and eddyhopping upstream until the shores opened out and we entered Desolation Sound itself. We were wowed. Blue water below, blue sky above. Trees shrouded the hills right down to the shoreline, with a backdrop of sharp ice-shrouded peaks. We headed out into open water, with a small group of islands as our target. Leaving the shore behind, something occurred to me…we’d been in the same boat for a few hours now, and we hadn’t bickered once. Weird. This state of affairs was to endure throughout our trip. Must be something in the water?
The Curme ‘Islands’ turned out to be little more than lumps of rock with high aspirations. We chose a rock ledge directly at the water’s edge as our campsite and hopped ashore to unload. Whilst I faffed about with the tent, Heather’s organisation prior to the trip now paid off; it turned out that we had food, and good food at that. If she hadn’t shopped, we’d have been surviving on a tin of curry and a large bag of wine gums. Not only this, it turned out that she’d hidden a pile of tinnies behind her seat. Truly dire Canadian beer, but beer nonetheless. Gotta love that woman.
Next morning, we had a lie-in to compensate for a lousy night of sleep. Our rock ledge had turned out to be whatever the equivalent of a nightclub is for seals. Hang about. Seals. Clubbing. There has to be a joke there. Anyway, we’d missed the tide…it was a ten foot drop to the water and loading and launching was a bit of a comedy moment. Once on the water, we crossed to nearby Mink Island and our outing practically ceased motion hereabouts. The woman in the front of the kayak studied Ecology at University and Mink Island’s coast was apparently all of an ecologist’s dreams come true at once. Every few yards we had to halt whilst Heather pointed out all creatures great and small; deer, seals, gulls various, mussels, a bald eagle, oystercatchers, whacky jellyfish, seals, sea lions, a porpoise, grebes and more seals. Flora and fauna has to try hard to get me excited, but even I was freaked by the starfish and sea stars. These were absurdly enormous, colourful and well, everywhere.
When we finally left Mink, it was mid-afternoon and darned hot. Ice cream emergency! A check of the chart and an hour later, we pulled into Refuge Cove. This was a tiny mooring hidden up an inlet with float planes being the only outside link. When we pulled up alongside the quay, we were redirected…to the kayak quay. I thought we were the victims of a wind-up, until we rounded the corner and found a pint-sized landing stage with a sea kayak already moored. Surreal. Refuge Cove basically amounted to a ramshackle store but what a store; anywhere that stocks thirty flavours of ice cream gets my vote.
The target for the evening was a campsite at the head of this inlet but frankly, we couldn’t be bothered. The sun was shining, the water was warm and lethargy hit hard after we left Refuge Cove. The first beach we saw was good enough and we sunbathed and swam until the sun went down. Ancient logged trees formed a natural table and chairs to enjoy a spectacular sunset.
The stars came out and utter darkness ensued. Something wasn’t right. The sea looked…wrong. We skipped stones out onto the water and, bloody hell! The sea lit up. Phosphorescence. We had seen this phenomenon before in British waters but only as a mild sparkling effect. Here, it was, whoa, who switched the headlights on? We hopped into our kayak and paddled out into the black. Incredible, our paddles generated luminous swirls of plasma in the water. Green, pink, blue. Most astonishingly, long glowing tunnels appeared in the water around us…fish swimming! I don’t hold an ecology degree, but I can hazard an explanation; the sea in this part of the world is warm (79F) and utterly dense with teeming life; every inch is crammed with plankton and microscopic jellyfish. When this lot lights up, you get a lightshow that makes November 5th look lame. We’ve been around a bit and seen a few things…but we will never forget what we saw that night, let alone find adequate words to describe it.
In the morning we locked and loaded, and headed out again. Our pressing need was for fresh water, and we were able to find a lone house across the way on Cortez Island with a tap and an obliging owner. Plodding back into Desolation Sound, we made an open crossing and eventually made landfall on a beach at the head of the Malaspina Peninsula. Hilarity ensued when I realised that we’d left the tent poles behind at our last campsite. Well, I thought it was hilarious. Heather seemed to believe it was entirely my fault and wasn’t especially appreciative of my ‘Blue Peter’ attempts to keep our flaccid tent erect.
Our beach was back on the mainland, but a long way from any MacDonald’s. Heather now produced a mysterious bundle from a deep recess in the kayak; it was a fishing rod, bought in a moment of (presumably) complete insanity. We paddled around in circles near our campsite. I provided the propulsion whilst Heather fumbled with the rod in the front. Neither of us had fished before (and proud of it!) so a modicum of incompetence ensued. Eventually the line went taut. I laughed my socks off…of course she had snagged the hook on the bottom. But she hadn’t. A rather peeved looking rockfish popped up and was bagged. The hook went back into the water, and another fish emerged, in under a minute. And so on. It was ludicrously easy, the fish were practically jumping into the kayak. How can this be sport? Back in camp, it turned out that knife-wielding Heather knew how to convert these unfortunate fish into food. The things I don’t know about my wife, you could write a book. Dinner has never tasted better. So, you heard it here first; fishing is great fun. From now on, you can find me on the riverbank, hurling abuse at paddlers and claiming to own the place.
Our final morning saw an early start; we were on a schedule to reach Vancouver that night. Suddenly, we seemed able to paddle like we knew what we were doing; a bit of co-ordination and we ticked off the miles effortlessly. Our barge seemed to have become a much sleeker craft (because I’d finished all the wine gums?) and we literally shot along south. We passed the length of the ‘Copeland Islands Marine Park’ in pretty much the amount of time needed to say that, pausing only to note that it was a reserve for the protection of rockfish…oops, at least they had tasted good. The scenery was grand, an open vista past innumerable islands right across to the far glaciers of Vancouver Island. We were winding up our trip, but all we could see in each direction was more trips; we’d barely dipped our toes in the region’s possibilities.
As we pulled into the harbour of Lund, we really did not want to finish. We returned the kayak to Powell River’s offices there, and stuffed our gear into rucksacks. We’d been privileged to glimpse one of the more beautiful corners of our planet. Not only that, we’d briefly existed in a parallel universe where sea paddling is…well, cool. Our fantastic voyage had ended far too soon, but now we had a plane to catch. Could we be in Vancouver before nightfall? We stuck our thumbs out and mission impossible commenced…
Mark Rainsley thanks Perception Kayaks and Nookie Equipment for their continuing support.
Further info… http://www.bcseakayak.com – Powell River Sea Kayak and Rockfish Kayak companies; they hire equipment and organise guided trips.
http://wlapwww.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/desolation.htm – Official bumf on the Desolation Sound Marine Park.
Full Gallery of Desolation Sound photos
This photo shows us camped under a full moon at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, last week. We were relaxing after a very long day paddling along the south coast, which finished long after dark. The camera was rested on a convenient post and a long exposure was used to cut through the darkness.
I’ve just finished working for the day (it’s nearly midnight) and I’m looking at a 13 hour day without breaks tomorrow. It’s good to have memories like these to keep you sane…
Under two weeks to the Easter hols, all good.