Monday, September 03, 2007

Our Kayaking Adventure

Gale force wind : Average surface wind speed of 34 to 47 knots (63 to 87 km per hour or wind force of 8 or 9 in the Beaufort Scale). -

This weekend I went kayaking. The plan was to go from Bowen Island to Gambier Island, camp one night on the shore of the latter, and paddle back to Bowen the next day. There were seven of us. Two doubles and three singles. A mixture of experience levels from beginner to intermediate. The designated course was to cut up along the west side of Bowen, make a dash across the open ocean (Howe Sound) after letting the ferry pass, and dock at a small cove that had campgrounds (Halkett Bay).

Everything went as planned on Saturday. We took our time, mooring on a stony Bowen Island beach for lunch, and paddling hard across Howe Sound after letting the ferry pass. The waves were fairly big across the open area, but not that much of a hinderance. I was in the back of our double, steering, and I got a bit wet because my skirt was of a different, more shoddy construction than everyone elses'.

Despite the waves and lots of wakes from boat traffic, it was so peaceful and beautiful on the water.. we could see the steep cliffs and luxurious, precariously perched houses on Bowen Island behind us, the zig-zagging shore of Gambier ahead of us, and the Sea to Sky highway cutting into the mountains to the right. Other little islands dotted the ocean here and there.

We found the perfect camping spot just 15 metres from where we landed, with no other campsites or people nearby. We stepped over dozens of little crabs, carried the kayaks up onto a grassy knoll and set up four tents. Later on at night we decided we wanted a campfire. The waterproof matches failed to work, so with collective brainpower and a few hours of trial and error, some flint, a knife, sparks, shredded toilet paper, and gas from a stove, we finally made a fire. I'd never seen fire made from a hand-generated spark before and we all cheered when it finally lit. Part of our group went on a small hike and found a dead deer.

In the morning it was rainy but the water looked the same, and we set off around noon, aiming to be back to Bowen before 5. The wind was in our favor this time, and we barely had to paddle.. just coasted along. We were chatting and joking, all five kayaks close together, when suddenly, the waves picked up and one of our single kayaks flipped. He was okay, and smiling as he hung on to his kayak. We circled around him. I grabbed his paddle and hat. Because the waves were so close together though, he found it impossible to get back in, even though he was a strong, experienced outdoorsy type.

The waves started to peak and grow white caps. They were meeting together from two different directions, making it impossible to angle perpendicular to them all. 'Confused water,' they call it. The two weakest paddlers, forgetting to paddle, started to drift far away in their double kayak. Luckily, a large white motor boat, which was pulling into the cove, saw our capsized member and pulled a U-turn to help. We saw him pull up close to our friend and grab a ladder. It was a struggle to stay in one place against the waves, and our double kayak started to drift away a bit too. From what we pieced together, the boat had managed to pick up our friend and tow his kayak.. but to where we didn't know.

One of the more experienced girls went off in her single kayak to chase the two weaker kayakers, who were drifting farther to the open ferry course and choppier waves. Her boyfriend who was the most experienced and thus our inofficial leader, went to pick up the paddle float our capsized friend had dropped. Then he followed us towards the shore and pointed for us to go there. But then for some strange reason we saw him change directions and head towards Bowen. We waited until we were certain he was not coming back, and satisfied knowing all four friends were continuing towards Bowen, we made our way back to Gambier to find our capsized friend and the motorboat he was on. While focusing on bracing against the waves, we had forgotten to watch where the boat went. But we were very sure we'd seen it go toward our campsite. Because of the winds, it took us an hour and a half to return.

Needless to say, we were exhausted. We had kept drifting farther west when we wanted to go east. It started raining. Salt water stung our eyes. I had to stop to pump water out of my kayak; the waves had been washing right in and I was sitting in a few inches of water. I couldn't find an ideal place to store our capsized friend's paddle. Everyone had scattered; we saw nobody. As we finally reached the little cove where a few boats were moored, we asked the only man we found whether he'd seen our friend's boat but he hadn't. I wanted to camp another night as I was too tired. Just as we were pulling up to the shore, a large white boat pulled into the cove, honked at us and a guy hung over the railing, waving emphatically.

We squinted: was it the boat that had picked up our friend, and now it was returning to get us? It wasn't. It drew closer and we saw a friendly and concerned-looking older man inspecting us and asking many questions. It was the owner of the kayaking rental place, riding in his friend's boat! They asked if we needed help. I didn't want to cause trouble so I said we'd just camp another night and take off early next day when the water was calm. I stayed quiet and let my friend do the talking because I didn't want them to see how cold I was.

On account of finding the rest of our party, we ended up loading our kayak into the boat, the end of it sticking out over the stern. My friend was a bit annoyed at having to give up our day of kayaking so early, but I was secretly relieved to get a lift back. The boat was almost yacht-like: a handsome leather-seated alternative to our wet kayaks. They gave us some jackets to wear and we set off to find our friends.

We were almost 100% certain all of our friends had reached the Bowen Island coast by now, as that was the direction we'd seen them leave. There was no way they could've returned, especially the novices, as they had been so far out. My friend and I scanned the Bowen coast, while the kayak rental owner scoured the Gambier coast and the boat owner drove one handly and binoculared ahead with the other. No more than 10 minutes had passed before we spotted a double kayak on the Gambier coast. I was shocked, having never thought the girls with the least experience would be able to get where they were. They looked very tired and were slow to respond. They might have been experiencing the beginnings of hypothermia.

We had no room for their kayak so the kayaking club owner yelled at them to meet up at the campsite in an hour or two. We motored on for another 10 minutes and saw nothing. Then another 5 minutes. Finally, the boat owner spotted what looked like two kayaks beached on a stony shore. There was only one person standing beside them and we couldn't see who it was. Finally we saw that it was indeed one of our friends; the girl in the single kayak that had gone to chase the double. But where was her boyfriend? 'Where's Chad?!' we yelled, from where the boat idled, but she couldn't hear over the sound of the engine.

More gestures and yelling. Suddenly, we saw Chad running down the stairs that led to houses up on the bluffs. We were relieved. Then another, smaller motor boat pulled up behind us and two bearded men, apparently two of the residents on the bluff, said they had come to help. Chad had gone knocking on the doors asking for help and they'd left their campfire burning to come help. But the kayak club owner said we'd be fine and he had a plan to tow all of the kayaks in a single line. There was only one dock along the rocky cliffs and it said 'No trespassing; Private Dock.' There was no way for our boat to get closer, so the kayak club owner waved to the house above and yelled ' Can we tie on for a few minutes?' He then got our friends to paddle out to the dock.

The boat pulled up beside it, and our two friends jumped in their kayaks and met us there. As we pulled up the first, he told us his girlfriend had simply stopped paddling and 'burst into tears' at one point because she was spent. Being the two with the most experience, they were surprisingly the most shaken up. Almost hysterical, but deservedly so as it's a lot harder to turn single kayaks against the wind. We pulled them out of the water, the men tied the kayaks together, and I held the rope to prevent them from banging against each other, the dock and the house owner's boat as everyone lifted our double kayak out of the motor boat and down into the water. The three kayaks bobbed along in single file behind the boat as we motored back to the campsite to find the first two girls. The girls were helped out of the water and the fourth kayak was tied onto the caravan.

It took us a long time to get back to Bowen. The boat went slowly so as not to upturn the kayaks. Still, the front kayak overturned twice, and we had to circle back to grab a cushion that fell out, the kayaking club owner leaning far off the starboard side as Chad held his legs. The whitecaps made even the 30 foot boat sway. Six out of the seven in our group had been found; the only person left was our capsized friend whose misforture had started the whole adventure. As we slowly chugged into Snug Cove in the the anything-but-snug downpour, our capsized friend waved, casually leaning against a railing in an undercover area, in warm dry street clothes, sipping a coffee.

The boat that had picked him up had turned out to be a taxi. It had, like we'd thought, gone back to our campsite cove, but then it had left and made several other stops along Gambier before bringing our friend back. So our return to the campsite had been in vain. On the other hand it was perfect because we had run into the owner looking for us there (he had immediately left when our capsized friend had returned, and told them there were six of us out there). It also kept us from reaching the 45 knot winds and waves around that troubled corner.

Our capsized friend told us a number of other kayakers had been stranded on the island because of the windy weather, which had arrived a day earlier than forecast. One was a tour group; the leader had been able to judge the waves and turned the group back early. We were the only group who had attempted and gotten separated. The kayaking company owner was so concerned about us, even apologetic for the weather, even though we thought we'd get a lecture. And the boat owner donated a lot of time, and the use of his boat to gather us all. We plan to go back and bring them a gift to show our appreciation.


Blogger Michelle said...

Wow... great story. Good to know you are ok! Sounds like the owner of the kayak company is a really good guy.

7:40 PM  

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