Operation Bullwinkle: Broken Group Islands, BC Day 2

28 09 2012

I’m loving the sunrise today!

Today we are to pack up and launch!

It’s going to be a sunny day. Winds SW 10-12 knots. But early this morning fog drapes everything down low. This makes for a pensive, mysterious view of the water and the kayakers packing up near the shore.

Our plan calls for departing Toquart Bay Campground by 11:00 a.m. to ensure we don’t fight an incoming tide. We fix a hot breakfast and then must pack up tents and gear and then repack into the kayaks. It’s important to note that none of these islands have fresh water available – we’ve got to bring all of it.

There are so many islands, many easily navigated by sight. But I’ve been advised August is called “Fogust” here. So prior to heading out, I’ve got compass headings between islands marked on my chart. This is kayaking – so remember, there are no chart tables here. Your chart is on the deck in front of you. We all have compasses. And back in Portland, I made reduced versions of sections of our big chart so we can see the sections we need when we are paddling those sections.

As always with these situations, getting gear to the water is a chore, to say the least. The kayaks must be brought out. The dry bags of gear. Then the various containers of food. Where will all of it fit? We see other groups getting so over loaded that it takes four people to move the kayak once loaded. How can it float?

The early morning fog lifts and we take off. The kayaks do float-fine actually.

We do not have a definite final destination in mind for today. There are several island campsites to choose from. Lisa says the furthest, at Clarke Island, is the nicest one. It’ll be about 12 miles of paddling to get there.

The initial leg of our paddling today heads about a mile southeast, threading through the Stopper Islands, and then crossing the David Channel and the mouth of Sechart Channel the open crossing is 4.5 miles.

These channels intersect at Loudon Channel, which is open all the way to the Pacific, so it might pose challenges if the wind aligns just right. Today, while the wind is coming straight out of the Pacific and making occasional whitecaps, the waves are less than two feet. While not dangerous, we begin to tire of the constant battering off the starboard bow.

After rounding Lyall Point, we stop and commune to decide where we’re going to stop for lunch. We can head to Hand Island, which has the nearest campground, or head further south, delaying lunch, and try Willis Island. Since Willis lies closer to the heart of the group – within reach of Clarke Island and Turret Island Campgrounds, we push for Willis.

As we paddle further toward the Pacific, fog begins obscuring the distant islands. It is making its way inland. We are now past the open crossing and waters calm. Willis Island’s beach is soft sand, the wavelets softly caressing. The water is warm and clear. A few campers are about. Every so often kayakers pass by. And it’s sunny. But we know the fog lies just west of here.

Where should we head next? Should we go to Clarke? Or, maybe stay at Turret Island? We decide to check out Turret Island Campground next.

The fog blows in and out. We soon realize half of the view here is underwater. We encounter our first kelp bed and we’re amazed! You can see twenty or thirty feet down – there are crabs on the kelp, fishes, starfish.

To get the most out of the underwater view, you need polarized glasses! They cut through the glare. Lisa has an underwater camera – I promise to get her underwater shots soon!

We check out the campsites at Turret Island. I’m surprised to find the campground is super full. But I do find a trail to a private, gorgeous campsite with a Lord of the Rings feel to it. We ponder and decide to push further to Clarke Island.

Pushing off from Turret Island

Once decided, we had to make our way into the fog and out into the invisible outer islands.

This required my skills in navigation. Visibility was at times maybe 600 yards or less. When this is the case, and you have navigational object on your chart, you can sometimes hear what you cannot see, and make navigational judgments based on that.

What I mean is on the chart I could see an island with a nearby shoal – exposed to the ocean. That meant surf – something one can hear. If we got seaward of the shoal and heard the surf we could plot our location and then make a compass course to Clarke Island. We did exactly this. We paddled until we heard breakers and stopped. We could not see the surf or the island nearby but I knew it had to be there. If I plotted a compass course from this spot to Clarke Island we’d be there in an estimated 15 minutes. I gave Lisa and Bill a compass course and we started paddling. Sure enough, Clarke Island came into view – which they found amazing!

Clarke island cleared later in the day, and we had a really nice sunset! It was busy with campers. Yes. But beautiful! We made it!

Fog lifts…and voila!

The Clarke Island welcoming committee.

We even had visits from island residents! A deer family.

We enjoyed a meal with sausages and pasta tonight. We’ll make Clarke our base camp for a couple of nights and explore from here.

This is a nice place to stay! It’s got a composting toilet arranged for visitors. And really choice camping.

Kayaking West Vancouver Island, British Columbia: Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Day 1

26 09 2012

Toquart Bay

I have lived in the Pacific Northwest since 1993. Yet I have never explored the big backyard to the north – British Columbia! In that time I have been to Thailand 7 times, Cambodia twice, Laos, Indonesia, Singapore twice, Hong Kong, Bhutan, Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. Yet a world class destination lay at my doorstep. I was not going to let another summer pass without visiting BC. Time to go!

Early in 2012 a bunch of my friends decided to kayak camp in and around Vancouver Island. By May, the group was whittled down to three. Myself, Lisa and Bill. Round and round we went on the length of drive (which might include two ferries) and which venues were most interesting. We settled on the Broken Group which is in Barkley Sound, on the west side of Vancouver Island.

The Broken Group consists of at least 100 undeveloped islands scattered in the sound – and it’s a national park. There are several island campgrounds. The outer islands, nearer the Pacific Ocean, are exposed and require a higher skill level whilst the inner islands are not unlike freshwater lake kayak camping, with the exception of seals, sea stars, kelp, and other saltwater fauna and flora which abound. Not to mention humpback whales, gray whales, and orcas!

I live in Portland, Oregon. To get to Toquart Bay we’d have to travel 12 hours by highway, back roads and ferry. We’d spend the evening camping there. Then launch the next morning with the outgoing tide and explore the islands.


The adventure includes a ferry from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria, British Columbia. We arrive early and wait in the staging area. Countless cars and trucks, some with kayaks like us, pile in. I’m excited for the ride! Once underway the splendor of the Pacific NW was visible everywhere!

Lisa and Bill on the deck!

Once at sea, we glimpsed the Olympic Mountains, which form a backdrop for Port Angeles.

Along the way spectacular sights abound.

Way off to the right is towering Mount Baker. In the middle sit the San Juan Islands. And directly ahead is Vancouver Island and Victoria!

The day’s weather is sunny and warm. Our forecast is optimistic – light winds with dry days ahead!

We arrive in famous Victoria Harbor. It’s busy with sea planes coming and going, ferries, yachts, kayaks and tourist boats plying the waters.


It’s really pretty. People are walking about. And the British heritage is evident everywhere.

Customs…yes…everybody’s got to wait and go through customs…yet another delay.

So we sit and wait while the agents do their thing.

But our visit with customs officials goes without rigorous inspections or interrogations.

We sail through and are on our way.

Then it’s several more hours on the road. We’ll have to pick up some supplies at a grocery store somewhere on the way, then register and camp at Toquart Bay campground.

The road is full of fantastic scenery. Countless mountains and fjords line our path. We make it to our destination about 6:30 p.m. and settle in for the night.

Toquart Bay Campground is not what I’d describe as a “communing with nature” experience. This is a spot for fishermen – period. Ninety percent of the folks here have trucks with trailered fishing boats – so fishing is their primary interest, not the camping amenities! Trucks and boxy hunting tents sit

On the beach at Toquart Bay

shoulder to shoulder along the waterfront.

We’re happy to be at the starting point for the paddling adventure.

Can’t wait for tomorrow’s launch!