Operation Bullwinkle: Exploring Barkley Sound’s Broken Group from Our Base at Clarke Island

2 10 2012

Bill & Lisa cooking it up!

Morning dawns dry and cloudy. The temperature’s pleasant. Wiping our eyes, we crank out and eagerly consume some morning nectar: French press coffee. Then it’s time to fix a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns!

Other campers are doing the same – nobody’s rushing today. There are some families with kids out here. Many are bringing their youngsters via tandem sea kayaks. Some will be heading out to the reef to try their luck fishing! I’m anxious to see what they catch.

We’re going to head across the Coaster Channel and check out Effingham Island. We pack up lunch – put our immersion gear on, and set off. We head around the back side of Clarke Island – paddling a channel between Clarke and Benson Islands. In the shallows close to shore, I can glimpse myriads of bat stars, starfish, crabs, kelp, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and fish.

The channel is not very wide, and the islands lying to our right and left block our view. They focus our attention forward. When we reach the end, where it opens to the channel, we are treated to the most amazing sight of the whole adventure.

For right there, twenty yards in front of us, a gray whale surfaces! WOW! Its entirety reveals itself – from head to tail, for a moment. It is traveling right across from right to left in front of us!

Then it dives, its tail above the surface as it goes down. Completely amazed, we try to follow its path and be near when it surfaces. This turns out to be pretty challenging! It eventually surfaces at an island near the other side of Clarke – and attracts more paddlers. But that’s the last we see of it. Somehow it gave us the slip!

Having lost our gray whale we make our way across Coaster Channel to Camblain Island, then Cooper, behind Gilbert and finally Effingham Island. It’s only one nautical mile across Coaster Channel. Conditions are benign. A mild swell coming off the Pacific. Halfway across I hear a pfffuuuufff! And looking to my right I see a whale spout – and another! It’s two whales moving across the channel – now they’re over on the ocean side of Cooper and they’re moving inward. They are going to pass in front of us. We speed up but cannot catch them. Although they appear to be lumbering they are moving along fast. Judging from the tails I know these are Humpback Whales. It’s a mother and its calf! Like the gray whale, they move off until we can’t see where they are anymore.

Once we reach Camblain and the channel in between it and Cooper, we want lunch! We spot a beach and head for it. This beach has mountains of shells. A few other kayakers land on the beach – they say they saw Orcas further out towards the Pacific! We’d love to see some killer whales!

After lunch we continue the explorations and then once we reach Effingham we turn back to Clarke.
I confess to being tired. I’m looking forward to cooking dinner, some wine, and being out of my dry suit!

Nothing like fresh Lingcod!

Back at Clarke we go about the business of creating a meal and a fun atmosphere for dinner – and a beach fire! In the midst of dinner our neighbors pay us a visit. And they have something to share – they caught a good sized Ling Cod and cannot eat all of it! Would we like some? OH YEAH! You bet!

Bill cooked the fish up in butter and within just a few minutes it was done.

This was my first lingcod and it was delicious. The flesh is white and firm. Not flaky like sole, nor steaky like swordfish. Somewhere in between. To die for! I can’t even remember what we were supposed to have for dinner.

The sun went down and it was time for a beach bonfire! I had no idea the lengths to which bill was intent on going. It was man-sized!

Then it was time for freshly prepared dessert. Bill made something called Bananas Foster…with great fanfare!

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!