Tuesday, August 22, 2017

D'Arcy Island .... All to Ourselves!

It’s the middle of summer and we haven’t gone kayak camping yet! What the heck?  So off to D’Arcy Island (Gulf Islands National Park Reserve) we went last Friday morning, ahead of the wind warning for Haro Strait that was to build in the afternoon.

We didn’t really have an on the water time but still we managed to get up early and left Amherst Beach at 9:30 am, loading on a low tide which meant that we would be paddling against the incoming flood all the way to D’Arcy. Trying to combine the perfect departure time, correct current direction and good wind conditions always seems to be a problem with one or more of these criteria not being met. In our case, it was the current flowing the opposite direction and so we started the average 2.5 kts paddle towards the island. A quick rest stop at Sidney Spit and we continued to our destination (7.65 nm) arriving at 12:30 pm.

Low, low tide at Amherst Beach. Loaded and ready to head out.

Pit stop on Sidney Spit

Little D'Arcy on the left and big D'Arcy on the right while Slogging our way down Sidney Channel

Sidebar #1: D'Arcy Island was once a leper colony for Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Just as we were landing, a couple of researchers from the University of Western Ontario were leaving the island after checking up on their deer study which involves tracking the movements of the deer on the island and how recorded sounds affects them. We were a little surprised not to find anyone else in the campsite or any other boats anchored in the small bay and we wondered if that would change later in the day.

Our favorite site #2 

And the rest of the sites completely empty!

It wasn’t long before we had our camp established and settled in for some well-deserved relaxation time.  For the rest of the day we watched the world go by on the waters between ourselves and San Juan Island (U.S.) only a few miles away. There were lots of cargo and tank ships, a few sport fishing boats and quite a few whale watching boats running at high speed.

Our kayaks were the only ones on the beach this weekend.

Sidebar #2: A typical 3-hour whale watching tour out of the Victoria Harbour costs around $120.00.

As predicted, the westerly winds did increase through the afternoon but we were sheltered on the east side of the island and felt only a slight breeze. Haro Strait was a maelstrom of dark seas and whitecaps which was probably the reason why nobody else arrived during the rest of the day. D’Arcy Island would be all ours for the first night.

Wind and current in Haro Strait Friday afternoon.

D’Arcy Island sunrises are spectacular and it’s one of the reasons why we love going there. The campsite faces southeast which means on a great day the sun bathes the beach area until around 5:00 pm when it settles in the west and the last of its sunrays sneak through the forest behind the campsite.

Goooooood Morning from D'Arcy Island. Bliss!

The wind forecast was much better for Saturday so we expected we would get some visitors either arriving by kayak or powerboats. Other than a few small hikes to a couple of vantage points we did nothing other than cat nap in our Helinox chairs, read and have a few snacks and happy hour beverages during the day. By the time the sun left the beach area and dinner time had passed so had the opportunity for visitors to arrive at our island retreat. D’Arcy Island would be all ours again for the second night.

That's the Discovery Island lighthouse in the distance

Fenced off ruins of the buildings for the Chinese immigrants leper colony from 1894 to 1924 

Sunday morning was another amazing start to the day and it looked like we were going to get all three conditions (time on the water, current direct and wind) for an ideal paddle back to Sidney. There was no rush to leave as slack before the flood was at 11:38 am so we watched the birds playing all around us in the foliage close to the beach, a family of river otters frolicking in the bay, the same four female Harlequin ducks who paddled around the waterline all weekend, a fawn that was around camp all weekend, an elusive Belted Kingfisher who wouldn’t sit still for me to take its picture and when we least expected it .  .  . a Humpback whale surfacing in our bay!!!

On of the many warblers that we spotted. Here is an Orange-crowned Warbler

A family of River Otters

Female Harlequin Ducks

A baby fawn deer

The Humpback surfaces in the bay

The Humpback in between little and big D'Arcy Islands

We kind of expected that we might see Orca passing by in Haro Strait in the distance but we never thought that a Humpback whale would appear so close to us.  We watched the whale as it made its way into our bay and through the shallow waters between ourselves and Little D’Arcy Island only a few hundred yards away. Realizing that the whale couldn’t pass between the exposed rocky islets at the low tide, it turned around and made its way back out and around Little D’Arcy Island and into open water.

While dismantling our camp we did have a couple of visitors in a powerboat on a day trip from Victoria visit us for a few minutes before they continued on their way in search of the Humpback that we told them about. All of the excitement of the morning had put our departure time behind schedule but it didn’t matter as the flood current would assist us home.

Ready to head home

As we made the crossing from D’Arcy Island to James Island we once again spotted the Humpback whale a few hundred yards away and hoped that we wouldn’t get a surprise close-up encounter on our crossing. Yeah right .  .  .  we both wanted it but it didn’t happen. Unlike our paddle to the island, the return transit back to Sidney resulted in an average moving speed of around 5 kts.

Crossing over to James Island after spotting the Humpback again.

Arriving back at Sidney wharf in only 2 hours we decided to paddle into Port of Sidney Marina and see if there was any action at the Blue Dog Kayaking dock but there was nobody around. On a nice day like today the crew was probably out giving lessons or touring a group through some of the islands nearby. We paddled to our put-in at Amherst Beach and with a rising tide it meant a relative easy unloading of our gear.

Blue Dog Kayaking's Port of Sidney operation

Sidebar #3: Robyn and I are both Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Level 3 graduates of Blue Dog Kayaking.

It was a wonderful weekend of solitude on our very own D’Arcy Island which doesn’t happen very often. See ya on the water!!

Yup! That's us!!

Distance: 15.66 nm (29.00 km)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Getting Back to Semi Normal

It's been a crazy last few weeks. Over the long weekend Robyn and I were heavily involved with the Victoria's Largest Little Airshow which the Victoria Radio Control Modelers Society (which I am a member of) hosts each year. Since its inception the airshow has raised over $289,000.00 for charity and this year we raised a whopping $24,300.00 which will be going to CFAX Santas Anonymous which helps families all year round but especially at Christmas. Last year, over 1500 Greater Victoria families received toys for the kids and Christmas hampers . The past couple of years the volunteers of the flying club and CFAX Santas Anonymous have worked hard together at the airshow so it's a great charity to support. 

On the work front, we are in a bit of a slow down for the next few months which means a shorter work week for myself. Financially it has drawbacks but on the positive side I have some personal projects to tackle and of course possibly more paddling .... maybe.

In late November of last year I had a surgical procedure done to correct atrial fibrillation (A-fib or simply an inconsistent heartbeat) which I have had for the past couple of years. It usually is considered to be successful if there are no further episodes during the first six months after the procedure which for me was in May. Smooth sailing and back to kayaking Robyn and I went. We even did a 10 day trip through the Gulf Islands in late May and had planned a trip to the Broughton's this coming September until ..... a week ago I woke up in A-fib and needed to have another cardioversion done. For those of you who don't know what that is, it is a quick 3 or 4 hour visit to the hospital emergency where they put me out and use a crash cart to correct my heart beat. Just like you see on TV ..... CLEAR!!!! And I'm back into normal heart rhythm. Other than it's inconvenient and takes a lot out of me for a few days I'm used to the procedure (8 to date) and sure appreciate the staff at the Royal Jubilee Hospital ER who look after me. Anyway, it looks like my surgery wasn't totally successful and I was warned that there was a 25% chance that it would have to be repeated and here I am today still alive. All good!!

Our kayaking multi day adventures are on hold in the meantime but it doesn't mean that I can't kayak. Robyn and I just need to manage the risks associated with having another episode while on the water so we are sticking close to home so that I can get medical attention should I need it again.

So with that Robyn and I went on a day paddle with our kayak club, the South Island Sea Kayaking Association, on Sunday to Rum Island (Isle-de-Lis of the Gulf Islands National Parks Reserve). David Maxwell was the paddle leader for this outing and as he noted the night before in his email communication, there were conflicting forecasts in terms of wind for Haro Straight. Part of the issue is forecasts tend to cover a huge area and so specific local conditions may be different that what is being predicted. We have found that apps such as Sailflow or the Big Wave Dave website are pretty accurate in determining localized conditions but a lot of the time just looking with your eyes helps.

Looking pretty nice to paddle today

Launching out of Amherst Beach at 10:00am in Sidney our group of 13 paddlers headed out past the Little Group and Dock Island assisted by a westerly breeze at our backs. I have taken this route to Rum Island several times and each time it's so unique when it comes to tides/currents interacting with the wind. As expected it was a bit chunky passing Dock Island but once we reached Domville Island the sea conditions calmed right down. 

Sidebar #1: Robyn and I arrived at the launch site a little early and paddled out to set our crab trap :-) 

Gearing up for the paddle with a nice high tide at Amherst Beach

Robyn paddling past the cliff outhouse on Sheep Island

Our group arrived at Rum Island just after 11:30am and were greeted by a couple of fellows who work for Parks Canada. To our surprise they said nobody was camped on the island so we had the place to ourselves.

Several of us went to check out the campsite and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the four tent sites all have new picnic tables. I guess they were allocated to Rum as part of the Canada 150 Parks Canada celebration. Did you know that camping in Parks Canada is free for 2017??

The group having lunch on the tombolo separating Gooch Island which is private and Rum Island

The Parks Canada skiff heading out

Nice new picnic tables!

Looking towards the San Juan Islands in the USA. Been there done that on another trip last year

Every time I think ... we should camp here. Never have yet ..... bucket list!

Michael Egilson practices his Greenland rolling during lunch

After about an hour on Rum Island we started to head back to Sidney via Forrest Island and once again encountered the chunky conditions passing Dock Island. Come to think of it... I don't think I have ever paddled past Dock Island when it has been calm LOL.

Nearing Amherst Beach, Robyn and I detoured to pick up our crab trap and sure enough there were crabs in it. A total of 5 red rock crabs and all male and all well beyond legal size but I released the smallest one anyway. Crab salad for dinner anyone???

To end the day our group gathered at The Roost and enjoyed some of their wonderful baked goods like apple pie while we did a debrief. It was then time to head home to clean our gear and cook the crab for dinner.

Sidebar #2 Many crabbers throw back red rocks in preference of dungeness crabs but Robyn and I actually think the meat of a red rock is a little sweeter although not as plentiful as a dungeness.

Sidebar #3 Arriving back at Amherst Beach we noticed very little wind but back at home 16km away it was blowing 20-30 kts. The beauty of kayaking on southern Vancouver Island is that there's usually always somewhere you can paddle even when it's windy.

Another successful crab haul. We are getting pretty good ... finally!! LOL 

Distance: 11.12 nm (20.59 km)

Monday, July 31, 2017

Pedder Bay Mini Vacation

Robyn and I were able to get away for a mini vacation at the Pedder Bay RV Resort and Marina over this past weekend prior to gearing up for the Victoria's Largest Little Airshow next weekend. Other than just taking it easy for once we planned to do a little birding, hiking, playing in our kayaks and try to catch some crabs. That's our way of taking things easy! LOL

Unfortunately the winds were averaging 20-35 kts around Race Rocks all weekend and it blew pretty hard in camp too but at least it was sunny and warm. Although we didn't get to do as much kayaking as we wanted to we did manage to set our crab trap a couple of days.

Robyn in her Wilderness Systems 155 Zephyr loving the sun.

Our Friday set produced good results with 2 very large female dungeness which were released but we also had a large male that became our dinner that night. Yum!!

Let's just say that we are getting pretty good at catching crabs from a kayak.

Our Saturday set wasn't as successful with only a couple of small red rock crabs which managed to scamper out of the trap on their own. It's not uncommon to see at least 50 traps set in Pedder Bay during the busy summer months which probably depletes the fishery too.

Birding wasn't as good as we hoped for due to the high winds but we did catch glimpses of the usual suspects such as American Goldfinches, House Finches, Chestnut-Backed Chickadees, Orange-Crowned Warblers and Spotted Towhees. While hiking one morning we tried to stealth our way closer to a couple of Belted Kingfishers but they reacted to the slightest movement or noise and flew away before I could get a good picture.

While kayaking we did come across a very friendly Pigeon Guillemot that followed close by for a short period of time. Although I didn't have my good DSLR Canon camera our Fuji XP's captured a few good shots for identification purposes.

A Pigeon Guillemot with its bright red legs 

Sitting around camp on Saturday afternoon a couple approached us asking if we were Mark & Robyn (Oh Oh! LOL) and although they looked familiar I couldn't put names to their faces. It turns out that they were Duncan and Joan Barwise who are fellow kayakers based sometimes in Maple Bay, BC and sometimes in Scotland and blog about their adventures at Oceanpax. We have been following each other on social media for the past several years but up until this day we had never met in person. It turns out that they were scouting kayak launch locations around Victoria and knew we were at Pedder Bay because of one of my Facebook posts so they stopped by to see us. Nice!! It was great to meet them in person and share stories and if your want to read about some fabulous kayaking experiences in Scotland you have to check out their blog!

On Sunday we actually did relax spending most of the time around camp reading, composing this blog post, walking to the marina for ice cream and watching the latest episode of Big Brother. Yes we lead a hectic lifestyle! LOL

Distance: 6.86 nm (12.70 km) -3 crab sets

Saturday, July 29, 2017

P&H Aries 155 – Really?

Friday July 28, 2017

I recently upgraded my play kayak from a polyethylene P&H Delphin 155 to a composite P&H Aries 155 and something just didn’t seem right with it. Other than the construction of the the two kayaks they do look similar in design but the Aries is considerably more maneuverable, comfortable and faster than the Delphin but there was always something ……..

What's wrong with this picture?
Today I figured it out when we were getting ready to paddle and  my Aries 155 was sitting next to Robyn’s polyethylene Wilderness Systems Zephyr 155. The sterns were aligned perfectly but when I went to the bow ends my Aries extended a considerable distance past Robyn’s Zephyr. Can you picture my face with that look of confusion? OK, I agree that some of you might see the confusion look a lot so stop rolling your eyes. LOL

Both the Wilderness Systems Zephyr and P&H Aries are 155's

Anyway, at first I thought that Robyn’s cheaper plastic kayak must be undersized and actually could be a 15 foot kayak. 

Sidebar #1: In my kayak world when a kayak is identified with the number 155 it means that it is 15.5 feet long. But …. hold on, that’s only my assumption!

Robyn being a smarty pants then said “do you have a tape measure?” and I did the rolling eyes as I walked to the truck thinking yeah I carry one of those around with me all the time. To my surprise inside the hidey hole of the console I found a little white unopened box and I brought it back to Robyn knowing what was inside .. 

The limited edition Hartley's
 Autobody tape measure
LOL ... Yup, a tape measure courtesy of Hartley’s Autobody that I got probably 10 years ago and totally forgot about until I found it today.

Sidebar #2: My buddy Hartley Hughson who owns Hartley’s Autobody retired today …. weird coincidence huh?? 

So anyway, we put the Hartley’s Autobody tape measure to work and sure enough Robyn's Wilderness Systems 155 kayak was actually 15.5 feet long or for those of you who still might be confused that's … 15' 6" long! Now I’m thinking WTH (what the heck) and measured my more expensive composite P&H Aries 155 and sure enough it was 485cm / 191 inches or 15'10.9452"  (so let's just say it's 15 feet, 11 inches to make things easier) so wouldn't that also make it a 159 in kayak numerology? 

191 inches or 485cm would make it 15'10.91" or maybe a 159? LOL

Now I'm thinking this is quite amusing and decided to check out the specs and sure enough the Aries is listed at 485cm in length or 15'9" imperial. LOL Really? 485cm is 15'9"? LOL You try the calculations for yourself.

In any case, I love everything about my P&H Aries 155 no matter how long it's supposed to be because size really doesn't matter. Time to go paddle!

Sidebar #3: The Hartley Autobody tape measure is now a collectors item now that Hartley has retired and so I'm taking bids for it. Shipping and handling are the responsibility of the successful bidder.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

During the summer of 2014 we saw it happening right before our eyes. Sea stars were dying off from a mysterious wasting syndrome and it was effecting every species of sea stars. The ochre star (Pisaster ochraceus), the most abundant of the sea stars along the BC coastline started to show signs of decay until they totally disappeared. Unfortunately the disease wasn't isolated to our coastline and soon millions of sea stars along the whole west coast of North America from Alaska to California died off. Although there have been similar events during the 70's, 80's and 90's they all seem to be the direct result of warmer ocean temperatures. 

Earlier this year I was paddling around Trial Island and noticed several tiny ochre stars no more than a couple inches across. I was pleasantly surprised and wondered if the sea star populations were making a comeback? This past weekend I was on Thetis Island which is located a few miles off Chemainus, BC and while there I spent some time beach combing during the very low tides of less than 1 foot. Approximately 3 to 4 feet below the high water mark I started spotting that familiar deep purple of ochre stars in every nook and cranny of the rocky terrain. Along a stretch of coastline less than 1000 feet I estimated that there were several hundred ochre stars that were about 7 to 9 inches across and they all looked very healthy. There also was a very good population of leather stars (Dermasterias imbricata) and a few large pink sea stars (Pisaster brevispinus).

Only time will tell if global warming will increase the regularity of warmer ocean temperatures and what effect it will have on the sea stars. It's a wonderful story of the sea stars recovery and hopefully the next die off event won't be permanent.  

Ochre sea stars

Leather sea star

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Chillaxin at James Island and Sidney Island

Today we decided to just chill and relax or a combination of both known as chillaxin and so we did a short paddle from Sidney over to James Island to set our crab trap. Then it was another short paddle over to Sidney Island where we found a nice quiet sandy beach to have lunch, nap and just chillax. It felt really good to soak up the warm sun and watch life go by.

Robyn hauls the "new and proven" larger crab trap out to James Island

Just a bit of wind against current action crossing over to Sidney Island

Chillaxin! Watching the crab run to our trap. LOL

Time to check what's in the trap.

It's all about location. No dungeness today but a couple of nice size red rock.
Steak and crab for dinner tonight!!

Distance: 7.21 nm (13.35 km)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Power To Go - Goal Zero

Some might think that having the ability to communicate with the outside world while doing single day or multi-day kayaking trips is just wrong. The fact is, we live in a society that relies upon the rapidly changing technology and social media that has become part of our every day lives.

Even when paddling off the grid Robyn and I rely upon devices like a VHF radio to receive weather reports and hopefully not send out a distress call. We send SPOT messages daily to our loved ones telling them that we are OK and once again hopefully not send out a distress message. We record images or video of our adventures on our multiple cameras to share with our followers. We read or listen to music on our Apple devices and we're able to see around camp after the sun goes down using our headlamps. And here is the big taboo for some folks .... engage in social media, chat or answer emails on our iPhones. Guilty as charged! LOL

The one drawback about our technology is that they all require electrical power and it needs to be rationed carefully ...... unless you have the ability to recharge! For the past 5 years we have been using a couple of 6600 mAh ProLine Universal Portable Power Bank units that I first blogged about in June 2012. They have worked great but their ability to hold a charge has decreased over time and once depleted they just become extra weight to carry around.

On our recent 10-day Gulf Islands trip where we did use social media daily to post our activities and the Power Bank units were depleted well before the last day which made me think about investing in a solar charging set up when we got home. Some of my solar charging "wants" were having the ability to charge directly to a device, charge to a battery which then could charge multiple devices at night or when there is no sun, ease of use, compact and light, expandable in terms of adding on extra features and finally something that wouldn't break the bank account. Having a couple of MEC gift cards helped in my case and so I did a little research on the Goal Zero line of products that MEC carries.

For our needs I decided on the Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus Solar Panel ($130 at MEC) that is smaller and lighter than my iPad when folded up. Some of the features listed by Goal Zero include a rugged and modular detachable kickstand providing optimum angle placement, natural shade for charging devices and a vented pocket for temperature regulation. Weatherproof layering easily sloughs rain and snow. Solar Capacity: 7W (8-9V), Power Output via USB 1.4A (7W) and weighing only 12.8 oz.

Small, light and well built the Nomad 7 Plus solar panel

4 LED's indicate solar strength and charge speed.
Another great feature is the Solar Intensity Indicator + Junction Box. This is where the brains of the Nomad 7 Plus live. The easy-to-read LED indicator displays strength of solar conditions and I receive immediate feedback on panel-to-sun placement to improve solar charging experience.

Check out a video from the guys who made it ... yup the engineers here!

I also chose the Goal Zero Venture 30 Recharger ($135.00 at MEC) which is charged by the Nomad 7 Plus. It has a battery capacity of 7800 mAh delivering 30Wh (3.6V) through (2) 4.8A USB ports, (1) Micro USB port, weighs 8.8 oz. and has an IPX6 weatherproof rating.  Being Solar Ready™ with a Built-in Charging Tip there are no extra cables to lose. During my initial charge testing it took only 4 hours from the USB on my computer and less than 9 hours of full sun for the Nomad 7 Plus to fully charge.

Goal Zero says to dunk it, spray it, use it in the rain. Power that handles whatever Mother Nature can throw at you. No rubber plugs needed. Sounds kayaker ready to me!!

Check out another video from the guys who made it ... yup the engineers here! :-)

The Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus solar panel and Venture 30 charging.

I mentioned expandability as being another "want" and Goal Zero delivers this to the end user. Having the ability to charge AA or AAA NiMh cells to power our GPS's or other cell dependent devices is a big plus. In the past we have used multiple sets of alkaline cells as back ups but we will be purchasing the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus to use with our existing NiMh cells.

Now .... all we have to do is take our Goal Zero products off the grid to do some real testing. Yes ... I will be doing a follow up blog too!