Last week I had the opportunity to paddle around Cumberland Island off Georgia’s Southernmost coast. Cumberland is an Island with lots of history and a pretty diverse set of scenery to accompany it including salt marshes, giant sand dunes, wild horses, old mansion ruins and beautiful Live Oak and Saw Palmetto Maritime forests. I checked with a few Guided trips in the week long range and altered those to make for a 3 night trip. I decided to leave from Crooked River State Park. The planned day of departure there were Tornado Warnings and 12-14′ surf so I spent an extra day getting acquainted with St. Mary’s and took a trip over to the neighboring Jacksonville to grab some last minute items from REI and Black Creek Outfitters. The next morning I took off with the tide from the Crooked River launch site. First night was the Brickhill Bluff campsite on the Northwest side of the Island. Following sand bars and salt marshes the whole way out in protected waters I was able to see numerous small sharks along the shoals and a dolphin or two.
The campsite at Brickhill Bluff offered multiple spots with great views under huge Live Oak trees with plenty of flat ground to set up your campsite at all spots. There were obvious signs of horses being in this area so I didn’t want to set up in a possible horse path. I’m glad since I was awoken in the night to three horses casually eating the grass behind my tent. I was able to hike around some of the trails in that area before cooking dinner and heading in for the night. I was anxious to see what the North side of the Island would look like the next day as that would be the beginning of the harder part of the day. The plan was to ride out the tide and that I did doing 7 miles in a hour before hitting the Pelican Banks round the Northernmost side of the Island. The tide was low enough that I had to go about 3/4 of a mile off shore and the Southwest wind was really starting to pick up and I felt it quite a bit out there.
Around the shoals I could see ominous skies matching the brutal wind kicked up in my face. This went on for another 15 miles building from 15-20 knts head on with little to no let up whatsoever. I made 2 stops to check my National Park Map to my chart to try and figure best where my campsite actually was. Huge dunes lined the Northern tip and stretched the entire 17.5 mile Atlantic coast aside from the inlet at Christmas Creek which was another haul way out off shore to get around the ever present shoals. Most of the Atlantic was smaller 2-3′ foot swell due to the offshore wind but Stafford Shoals was kicked up a bit, at least I knew the Stafford campsite could not be more than a mile away. When I finally reached the Stafford pull out, poorly marked with only a 6 foot black and white post) I walked up to the Dunes to find the inside flooded from all the previous days storms. I decided, even though not technically legal, considering I had not seen more than 1 other person the whole day to just set up camp on the beach. The site turned out to be spectacular and I had no visitors aside form one interesting hiker that gave my only conversation for the day.
The next morning I awoke to a beautiful sunrise and no wind! I made some coffee and hit the water leisurely with Sea Camp set as my destination, around the South side of the Island and in a bit. I reached the North Jetty of the entrance to Cumberland Sound which sticks out 2.5 miles into the ocean and decided to surf in to the beach to consult the chart. The tide was rushing out for another 4 hours and submarines are found to produce crazy wakes near the mouth of the Pass so I decided to portage the boat around the jetty. Adding 5 miles of questionable paddling did not seem like the best option. I pulled around to a nice sandy beach with a shady spot under some trees to relax after and easy morning but hard day the previous day. I was in no rush and was also waiting for the tide to turn around. 6 wild horses stepped out from the woods and trotted casually down the beach next to me as I watched the coast guard running drills in front of Fort Clinch in their Defenders and MLB’s. Around slack tide I took off again towards Sea Camp and had a low key paddle in to the dock. Again I had a long portage to get the boat over to the bluff where there was a path up and then about a 10′ hike up the berm. I unloaded into the carts they have there and hiked the almost mile into camp.
The next morning I spent hiking to see the Dungeness Mansion Ruins site which has Thomas Carnegie’s old estate among many other ruins and buildings from 100 years back. Horses roamed the grass fields here as wild turkey grazed as well. I was again in no hurry as I was waiting for the tide to turn again. After noon I hiked back to camp and got ready for departure around slack again. Reversed the portage of the day before and then headed off with the tide back to Crooked River for what turned out to be one of my favorite trips so far!
The surf rolled in, with a 10 second interval, gentle offshore breeze and all under a beautiful sunny day. Perfect. What further made this a perfect day was that it was the middle of February at Rhosneigr, Anglesey, North Wales. That day seems something of the distant past now, of another coast and land, as snow and Baltic type temperatures grip our coast. So lets return there just for a moment!
I’d briefly paddled the Aries before and was keen to spend longer paddling one and seeing what I could do in it. But I needed to get my hand’s on one. Olly Saunder’s was away and he had an Aries, um maybe….? With a quick text and a detour I had the loan of one, fantastic!
After 5 hours of surfing what clearly stands out for me with the Aries is that it is very forgiving. This then has a knock on effect of building confidence. Not once did I feel thrown by the kayak. Yes, I rolled a couple of times but this was more down to me, rather than the kayak, putting me in. I felt I could trust the Aries and this allowed me to take bigger waves or more committing moves. Being able to trust the Aires allowed me to experiment with moves. I could hold an edge and turn with very little effort. As I started to experiment more with body trim, pressure, dropping a shoulder and weight transfer to turn the Aries, the kayak responded dynamically. It was solid, yet responsive and was also a lot of fun.
The only problem I had, was at the end of the day I had to give it back!
Photos taken by Barry Shaw and thanks to Olly for the loan of the Aries!
The Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium organized by Matt Palmariello and Sean Morley continues to be one of my absolute favorite events to attend. It, along with other recent rough water instructional based symposiums, are continuing to grow and shape the sport in exciting ways. The students and coaches these events draw always make for a high energy and enthusiastic atmosphere that is intoxicating and contagious as hell. Safety and FUN is the name of the game and it shows. What a BLAST! Read the rest of this entry ?
Distance: 3780 miles / 6083 kilometres
The 7 rivers 7 continents project is a multi-year undertaking to make paddling descents of the longest river on each continent. 22 000 miles in total.
Amazon River(South America) – 6937 km (4300 miles) – completed 2007/2008
Missouri- Mississippi River (North America) – 6083 km (3780 miles) – completed 2012
Nile River(Africa) – 6650 km (4132 miles)
Yangtze River(Asia) – 6300 km (3916 miles)
Volga River(Europe) – 3645 km (2266 miles)
Murray-Darling River(Australia) – 3370 km (2904 miles)
Onyx River(Antarctica) – 40 km (25 miles)
My descent of North America’s longest river system, the Missouri-Mississippi River took 117 days paddling 3780 miles across the USA. The descent began at the river’s utmost source, Brower’s Spring in Montana’s Centennial Mountains. The spring lies at an altitude of approximately 2680m above sea level. In early June when I began my descent the spring was still covered by at least 1.5 metres of snow.
On the 11th June I set off from my established base camp amongst the dense pine trees towards the spring. I followed the upper most waterway known as Hell Roaring Creek; a steep narrow creek as closely as possible. After 5 hours of ascent I was forced on to snow shoes. In my hand I carried bear spray and called out to bears till my voice became hoarse. Finally, following 7 hours of hard uphill slog I reached the spring. Waypoint marked, images recorded, my descent could begin.
For several hours, Hell Roaring Creek alternately ran free and was covered by old snow and ice. At this time, impossible to run. Too much snow and not enough water. After another 5 hours of descent I stumbled exhausted into my camp, day 1 over.
As I passed the wildlife refuge office I arranged with the manager, Bill West to transport my kayak from my camp to the outlet of the lower lake. Bill was happy to do so and in his pickup we explored the refuge on the way to collect the boat. Bill dropped my kayak off and deposited me back at the office in order that I might not break my human-powered journey. With the sun setting I marched out the final 4 miles to my boat. Bill had told me to keep an eye out for a wolf pack in the area. Sure enough at dinner that evening they showed up, with little fear of my headlamp and yelling. Bigger and much more bold than coyotes they watched a while before disappearing into the night.
Piloting a near 17 foot boat round a sharp bend on a 18 foot wide fast flowing river takes some doing. It was an intense beginning to a 4000 mile journey, but the Scorpio handled it all with ease. I pulled hard on my paddle, utilising every stroke in my arsenal.
Soon enough, trees in the river became secondary obstacles. Ranchers had begun to place fences across the narrow river. At first, a few strands of wire appeared. Sometimes I could duck underneath. Other times it meant a quick exit, pushing the kayak beneath the lowest strand and submerging myself completely into the icy water. Frustrating but all part of the journey. Next, strands of electric fence criss crossed my path. Were they live? I had no plans to find out and avoided them as best I could. Barbed wire fences were next. Exiting a fast corner to see clusters of sharp wire blocking my way necessitated some pretty quick thinking. Here and there I got caught up on the strands but managed to escape the worst. The final fence variation was a hybrid of barbed wire and roofing iron completely blocking my path. It was often a case of “WTF?”, but with no one around to complain to I simply pushed on.
The near 300 miles from Brower’s Spring to Three Forks took a little under a fortnight. It was both a beautiful and isolated descent, as well as being frustrating and mundane in it’s sameness. For days on end the river sat a metre or so below the river bank, short grass and an occasional cow poking it’s nose over the edge.
Below Clark Canyon Reservoir the river became the Beaverhead. Now, less isolated and suddenly busy. Not with paddlers but fly fisherman in drift boats. So common, sitting in deep pockets of river, it was an ordeal just keeping out of their way. Sometimes a wave from an old timer but mostly their eyes never left the quivering end of their fishing poles.
Beyond the town of Twin Bridges the Beaverhead meets the Big Hole River to form the Jefferson. My spirits soared on this stretch of waterway. Clear, fast and wide it flowed. Fields of green grass, colourful flowers and groves of cottonwoods lined the banks. This is paddling I thought.
Easily the most challenging are the “Big 3”. Fort Peck Lake stretching more than 130 miles in length, it’s shores dry and bleak cover a greater distance the the entire coast of California. Little or no sign of man to be found. Multiple 3-5 mile open water crossings to be made on a lake where the wind can go from still to gale force in 30 seconds.
Lake Sakakawea, more than 150 miles long and 10 miles at it’s widest point. Less isolated than Peck it’s shores are more uniform and easier to follow. Entering from it’s western end is a game of guesswork. A muddy delta with multiple braids blocks access to open water for many miles. Maps are useless in this ever changing environment. Instinct combined with trial and error led me to the lake proper.
Finally, the 230 mile long Lake Oahe appears. Between 1 and 4 miles wide the lake has a reputation for being the most difficult to traverse on the entire river. Being windbound for 4 days or more is not uncommon. I made the crossing in 8.5 days, losing just a day and a half to wind.
My mind conjured up easy days paddling, the swift current aiding me along. The first day out of Yankton into a stiff headwind and driving rain brought me to my senses. Even though I was back to reality I was unswayed in my paddle to the ocean.
Days in my kayak were long. I tried to be on the water at 7am and would paddle till 7pm, never leaving the water. My alarm would sound like a jackhammer to my ears at 05:30 hrs every morning. Dragging myself from my warm sleeping bag I would conjure up coffee and instant oats. The task of breaking camp was smooth after a couple of months on river. Rather than stop for the toilet I carried a pee bottle and instead of pulling ashore for lunch I would chow down on chocolate bars, oat bars, trail mix and beef jerky throughout the day. As the sun began to set the search for a campsite would begin. This year, in a complete reversal to last the Missouri River is at low water. Many of the states through which it flows are in severe drought. The benefit this brought me was a plentiful supply of exposed sand bars on which to spend the night. Having found high ground, I would set up my tent and gather wood for a fire. Dinner comprised of packet rice and pouches of tuna or sardines. A fifth of the cost of dehydrated meals, just as light, if not quite as nutritious.
On a good long day of paddling between Yankton and St. Louis (where the Missouri meets the Mississippi) I could cover more than 70 miles. My cadence became so rhythmic that I could time my arrival at mile markers to less than a couple of minutes over an entire day. Some feat!
As the Missouri River mile markers ticked over and down towards 0, it signalled my approach to it’s confluence with the Mississippi River. First below 50, then below 20 and then 10. As mile 1 appeared the mighty Mississippi swung into view on river left. Before I knew it I was floating beyond the confluence point and into slack water where the 2 giant rivers meet. I looked up the Missouri from where I had come. All the way from the mountains of Montana to here. Slowly the current of the river took me in it’s grasp and the Missouri disappeared from view. My final look was one of sadness. I had met so many folk and experienced so many things up river. Now, the waterway was sure to be different. Slower, wider, busier. I plunged my paddle blade into the water and swung my boat downstream. Still well over a thousand miles remained on my journey to the gulf. I had better get going I thought.
St. Louis served well to resupply, repair and refresh me to continue on my way. I had been warned up river that the river below St. Louis flowed much more slowly than above. Navigating the Port of St. Louis took some concentration as barges and towboats chugged this way and that. Barges were parked in their hundreds on both river banks and anchored in the middle of the river as well. The wake from boat traffic and upstream wind gusts coupled with downstream water flow combined to make for an angry river. Waves came from all directions intent on upending my kayak. It took a couple of hours of constant paddle contact to clear this mess only to paddle into a severe storm. Caught unawares I sheltered behind a half sunken barge as trees were felled by the wind and sheets of rain cascaded down. By early evening the worst had passed and I paddled on to a marina whose docks had borne the brunt of the storm. Walkways were thrown askew and ropes a tangled mess. In spite of their own calamities the owners were more than happy for me to camp on their land.
A couple of days below St. Louis sees the Ohio River enter from river left. A mighty river in it’s own right, it adds to the already voluminous river I was paddling. Alas, rather than grow faster the river merely becomes wider. Old river towns slipped by. New Madrid and Caruthersville, two notable stops for resupply and a wander around for photos and a general explore. Once important stops on the river, now a viewing platform and a handful of loading docks for grain silos provide a tenuous link to the past.
It took almost a fortnight to travel the 500 miles from St. Louis to the major city of Memphis. It had become clear that my dreams of hard fought 70 mile days may perhaps be over. Once more, fortunate to have friends in these here parts I spent 3 days exploring the city and readying myself for the final stretch with food, boat cleaning and catching up on much needed sleep.
As had become the norm, I left the relative comfort of an urban area into pelting rain and strong headwind. But, all the same, in my kayak, with dry jacket and spray deck on I was shielded completely from the elements. The nose of my kayak easily sliced through the offending chop.
100 or so miles below Memphis I reached the town of Helena, Arkansas. A small town typical of this section of river in that it was in an unfortunate decline. No jobs, little industry and not much hope for the future. I stopped here in order to meet up with a friend of a friend and somewhat of a legend on the Lower Mississippi, John Ruskey. John runs the Quapaw Canoe Company and builds, by hand dugout canoes, as well as running programs for disadvantaged and at risk youth. I spent an evening with John and some friends on nearby Buck Island as they readied themselves for the weekend’s coming Bear Dance Festival.
A couple of miles past New Orleans city centre lies the inter-coastal canal. From here to open water is 2 miles. A route that some long-distance paddlers choose. Unfortunately for them it is incorrect if they wish to claim a full descent of either the Missouri-Mississippi or Mississippi alone. On the river proper still lies some 90 miles or more of slow paddling.
At first light I paddled out of the marina and on to the river once more. At Pilot Town (a scattering of buildings housing the pilots who guide the tankers from the gulf to the river) I had to cross from river right to left. By now boat traffic had been added to by crab boats, fishing boats, transport boats and more. Holy heck! I spied an opening as a tanker appeared up river a good few miles off. By the time I had paddled across the river I avoided the Goliath by less than 50 metres. A close call. Below the Head of Passes and into the South Pass and things quieted down. Here and there a fishing boat on charter would appear and I even chatted with some Fish and Game officers inquiring as to my business down in the pass.
In a few miles a lighthouse appeared in the distance. Port Eads. Flattened in Hurricane Katrina, it was just now in the process of being reconstructed. A tiny port and a couple of buildings was all there was. As I neared the lighthouse I thought I could see the flash of paddles. Couldn’t be. All the way down here? It was. Well then they must be local and decided to paddle out for a day or two down in the bayou. Closer still I could see 2 kayaks their decks adorned like my own with spare paddles, deck bag etc. I couldn’t believe it. After 3780 miles and 117 days and 1 mile from the ocean I came across Brent and Hunter from South Carolina. An hour earlier they had completed their own long distance journey from Lake Itasca to the gulf following the 2350 mile Mississippi River.
We shook hands and smiled a lot. They had secured a lift back upstream to Venice. I wanted in on that ride! I bid them goodbye with a request to wait and paddled like a madman towards open ocean. Ever so slowly breakers came into view. I paddled out of the pass and rode high over the waves. To my left nothing but water and waves, to my right the same and in front the horizon. I was there.
I had paddled 3780 miles in 117 days. By beginning at the waterway’s utmost source, Brower’s Spring, I had become the first person to make a full source to sea descent of the longest river in North America.
Additionally I had become the first person to paddle from source to sea the longest rivers in North and South America respectively.
The Lumpy Waters Symposium 2012
They came from all over the West. One by one they were checked in by Suzi Elle co-owner of Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe and her team of volunteers. The huge canopy of the standard issue commercial grade event tent we rented is flapping hard and occasionally releasing a deluge of water that pooled from the torrential downpours over night. The sea is writhing and folding in on it’s self. You can hear the waves crash against the sand from deep within the Cape Kiwanda RV resort where Lumpy H.Q. is constructed each year. Lumpy seems to have grown a little bit despite our best efforts to keep it small. Now, with over 100 students in attendance, the energy has never felt BIGGER. Enthusiasm permeates the air and ear to ear smiles can be seen all around. Perhaps they have not seen the beach yet? It may be “terrible weather” by most people’s standards, but most people are not wrapped head to toe in Gore-Tex. They don’t mind the rain and they don’t seem to mind the waves either. As the students all gather for the general morning meeting the chanting began, first only softly, then louder and louder…We want Lumpy..We want Lumpy…We want Lumpy…WE WANT LUMPY!!!!!!
Lumpy Waters is what they want and that’s what we are going to give them! Thanks to an amazing team of coaches (many of which are on the P&H team) and tremendous sponsor support, Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe is able to provide what is becoming known as one of the very BEST rough water symposiums anywhere in the world. It’s a 3 day all inclusive rough water coastal symposium with programs that range from flat water boat control and to advanced long boat surf, navigation and rock gardening rescue classes. The event takes place each Fall out at the coast in Pacific City, Oregon. Team members and ambassadors such as Sean Morley, Rob Yates, Matt Nelson, Bryant Burkhardt, Matt Palmariello, Paul Kuthe and others were there to keep students safe and get them having FUN at the coast, around the rocks, in the surf, and everywhere in between. Thule Racks, Saltwood, Werner, Kokatat, and others were also all there in support.
Events like The Lumpy Waters Symposium and the upcoming Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium in 2013 are turning heads and attracting students from around the world. They are raising the bar and taking the sea paddling community in America with them. I’ve never seen so many people excited about REAL sea kayaking. No longer do people hear the word symposium and think of testing shinny new boats in a placid pond. Sea Kayaking is all about paddling in the sea! To paddle safely at sea people need LOTS of training. Rough water events run by well trained and respected coaches and outfitters are a great way to up your game in a reasonably safe environment with new paddling friends and have a great time doing it! We hope you will join us next year.
Watch: The Video
The Gales on Lake Superior
Naturally Superior Adventures located at the mouth of the was the host for the 2012 Gale.
The event brought participants from all around the Canadian and United States shores of Lake Superior and the inland sea did not disappoint.
The three day events allowed participants to explore the rocky shores of the lake in calm conditions and also in some interesting conditions. The forecast for all three days were winds greater then 20 knots.
I was joined by several guest coaches Shawna and Leon from Body Boat Blade as well as Nick Cunliffe level 5 BCU coach from Wales as well as a number of local Lake Superior coaches.
It was a pleasure to paddle with all the enthusiastic paddles. Day one brought flurries for my group and I to start out session, I can honestly say that I have never been blinded by snow flurries why teaching a rock hopping session. Day two stated off at -5 and ice coated sea kayaks and gear. We had a great paddle brown Indian Beach back to the base. The 25 know winds from the west created a very exciting sea state for the participant, we did a great down wind run, surfed at sandy cove and then played in the tide race at the river opening. It was an action packed day. It is the first time someone has told me that it was there best day paddling ever. Not just one but three of the participant came up to Nick and I and told us that directly. It put a smile on my face. Day three brought the largest conditions of the event. Most participant had a go in the surf the retreated to the river as the condition out in front of the lodge reached 12 feet. Nick and Ryan had a go in the surf. The pictures speak for themselves.
We have been on a trip to the Lofoten Island chain in northern Norway.
The landscape is beatifully stunning, but have met the worst somme weather in quite some time, which means two weeks rain and strong wind. Just a view sunny spells. But meeting a pod of orcas payed back back one of the most fantastic paddling moment in our lives.
The inspiration for this trip came from watching P&H paddler Bryan Smith’s fabulous DVD Pacific Horizons during which he introduced the world to the remarkable Okisollo tidal rapid and standing wave. Ever since watching that DVD I have wanted to get a bunch of friends together and go check it out for myself.
Like Bryan’s crew we also planned to stay at the Discovery Islands Lodge. This remarkable place lies well off the grid on the eastern side of Quadra Island, one of the many Discovery Islands that choke the passage between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland. The islands and reefs constrict the tidal currents and at times produce some of the most fearsome tidal rapids in the world. We deliberately chose a period when the tidal exchanges would not be at their greatest – to do so would have been foolish since none of us had been there before. Instead we took the advice of the owners of Discovery Islands Lodge, Lannie and Ralph Keller and their expert boater son Albert who recommended currents not exceeding 9 knots to maximize the opportunity for wave time in sea kayaks (current speeds can reach 13knots on the biggest tides and at this speed the Okisollo wave would quickly become unrideable in a sea kayak).
The crew consisted of P&H paddlers Matt Nelson and myself and four friends; Bryant Burkhardt, Chris Kelly, Brad Gould and Nick Scoville. Four of us had P&H Aries which we knew perform outstandingly in ocean surf and figured would be the perfect craft for the Okisollo wave. Four of us made the long drive from California picking up Nick and Matt on the way north. Despite the long journey the crew was highly motivated to get stuck into the rapids and so we caught the 6.30am ferry from Campbell River to Quadra Island and were unpacked and on the water in time to catch the flood tide at Surge Narrows.
Discovery Islands Lodge is perfectly situated just a few minutes paddle from Surge Narrows which has to be one of the best saltwater locations for practicing whitewater skills in sea kayaks. Whilst the whirlpools might look intimidating at first they are not the boat-eaters you find elsewhere in this region and even if you take a swim the consequences are fairly insignificant at all but the fastest current speeds. But the volume of water, the constantly changing nature and sheer number of features make this a really fun place to paddle a sea kayak if you have a solid roll and whitewater experience. The water is crystal clear, the scenery is classic BC and you will be joined by seals and sealions in the rapids. You might even be lucky enough to see dolphins and orca in the vicinity. Eagles soar overhead and kingfishers follow you along the shore.
Four hours of play and we were ready to relax back at the lodge and plan our first trip to the Okisollo rapids the next day. The wave that draws both sea kayakers and whitewater boaters to the Okisollo Channel is found on the Upper (more southerly) rapid, approximately six miles from the lodge. Fortunately Albert had indicated the location of the wave precisely on our chart because when you arrive there at the last of the ebb it is not immediately obvious where you need to be. But as soon as the tide turns – there is very little ‘slack’ time here, the wave starts to form. It is a beautiful thing, created as the pressure of the flood tide builds up against a permanently submerged rock shelf. The wave starts as a small depression followed by a few ripples. Within half an hour the depression is deep enough to drop into and the wave steepens as the current accelerates. Within forty five minutes of the start of the flood the wave was surf-able and it remained surf-able until we had no energy left to ride it, over four hours later.
The front wave remained green the whole time, allowing effortless surfing if all you wanted to do was sit in the pit. But Matt Nelson showed us all how to dance with the wave, a flowing, weaving waltz that seemed effortless when he performed it but required huge effort on my part to prevent the 8.4 knot (@Hole-in-the-Wall) current from whipping my bow around and dumping me into the lap of the second wave.
You see, at this current speed it is not surfing the front wave that presents the challenge – it’s what’s going on behind you that keeps you focused! As you carve the face of the smoothest, best-behaved wave you will ever ride, behind you is its unruly cousin, a four foot brute that can’t decide if its a wave or a foam pile and resists any attempt to be ridden, throwing you right, out into the fastest water or left into the craziest of eddy-lines, with whirlpools that would suck your stern down, spin you around and spit you out with disgust.
We left the Okisollo wave with enough time to ride the last of the flood back south, past the entrance to Hole-in-the-Wall, another tidal rapid that needed investigating. By the time we reached Surge Narrows the flood was all but done and we glided home feeling like we had paddled many more than twelve miles.
The next day was to be the biggest tide and Matt, Nick, Bryant and myself gladly accepted the offer of a boat ride with Albert back to the Okisollo wave whilst Chris and Brad went exploring. That meant that Albert joined us on the water and he immediately showed us why he has a reputation as one of the most humble and talented boaters in the region. The walls of the lodge are decorated with pictures of Albert charging the Okisollo wave at its biggest and meanest in a whitewater boat. He transfers those skills easily to a sea kayak and showed us how he could balance his 16foot boat at the very crest of the wave, leaving both ends out of the water, using ever so subtle shifts of his hips to edge and steer his kayak side to side using the whole wave. It was clear this man knew the wave – he has been surfing it since he was a teenager and was absolutely in his element.
Bryant sacrificed wave-time to get some photos and video with some excellent results, showing once again that he is not just a talented boater but a great photographer as well. We are grateful to him for his efforts. you can see more of Bryant’s photos here.
Nick traded his 18ft boat for an Aries 155 and loved it. It really is a remarkable boat and in my mind the best surfing sea kayak that has ever existed. It seemed to fit the Okisollo wave perfectly, allowing precise control on the wave face, resisting perling even when the wave was at its steepest and threatening to collapse. But for me perhaps the most notable attribute of the Aries, (and its plastic cousin the Delphin) is how stable and forgiving it is in turbulent water. Even the whirlpools of Okisollo, the vortexes of which were big enough to drop a basketball into, were no trouble for the Aires and the boat was fast enough to punch through the eddy fence with little effort.
We decided to stay at Surge Narrows for our fourth day on the water and exploit the many features we had seen on our first visit. We were joined by local paddlers Jonathan and Brent as well as Albert, who once again showed us that there is no shortage of skillful paddlers on Vancouver Island. Surge proved to be equally as challenging as Okisollo in that it is more technical and constantly changing and more than once we were thoroughly rejected when we tried to surf the main wave.
For our last day we decided we had to pay one last visit to Okisollo but we would combine that with a 20 mile circumnavigation of Maurelle Island, which would include negotiating the Hole-in-the-Wall rapids. We rode the last of the ebb up through Surge Narrows to Okisollo. The current was down to a more mellow 7.9 knots so we rode the wave for a while and then reluctantly left before max flood to run through Hole-in-the-Wall. When we had mentioned our plan to Ralph he had been concerned. The whirlpools that form at the entrance to and inside Hole-in-the-Wall have a bad reputation for taking down large boats. But we were reasonably confident that it would be okay since the current speed was well below max. That said we were cautious and I am glad we were. Matt led us through the entrance avoiding some shoals that were producing interesting over-falls and swirls. But no sign of a whirlpool as we ran ‘river left’ close to a tasty-looking eddy-line that would have been fun to play with had we not been on a mission. It wasn’t until we were passed it that I glanced over my right shoulder and saw the meanest looking whirlpool I have ever seen. It wasn’t the sucking type – at least not at this current speed – but it was HUGE – maybe two hundred yards across and slowly spinning with real menace – like a river to nowhere. There was a very noticeable depression in the middle, perhaps two feet deep and I had absolutely no desire to mess with it.
In retrospect it would have been really cool to have eddied out and checked the whirlpool out with a view from the cliffs above that make Hole-in-the-Wall such a dramatic feature. But we were safely though and now the excitement was over it was time to grind out some miles. Another suprising characteristic of the Aries is its performance on flat water. For a fifteen-and-a-half foot boat it cruises nicely and Matt and I were easily able to keep up with the guys who had chosen longer boats for this day.
On the back side of Maurelle Island we were reminded of just how vast and diverse this region is with mountains with permanent ice-fields overlooking deep fjords, lined with lush forest, shading waters deep and pure, bejewelled with living color. Surely this is paradise? Of course paradise is only fun if you have friends to share it with. Thanks to Brad, Nick, Chris, Bryant and Matt for a really great time. And thanks to Lannie, Ralph and Albert for creating such a special place and for your wisdom.
P&H Sea Kayaks is delighted to be supporting the Surfers Against Sewage Raffle. SAS is a registered charity focussed on the protection of the UK’s waves, oceans & beaches for all to access, use and enjoy safely and sustainably, through campaigning, volunteering, conservation, education and scientific research. For your chance to win one of our amazing sea kayaks buy some tickets using the link below!