Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mayne Island Kayak Adventure: Guest Blog

My Partner, well perhaps she was my pre-partner at this time, I will have to find out. Anyway, she did this cool adventure to the little islands off of Vancouver BC with the OOPS crew. She had a few very interesting, exciting, and a little scary experiences. Things that make you take your rescue training more seriously and appreciate the dedicated safety orientation of the Oregon Ocean Paddling Society.

I finally nagged her into doing a guest blog. Here is the first installment. If you want more, you had better leave some encouraging comments.

View Active Pass Paddle in a larger map

Mayne Island

It's been raining for days in Portland, and I'm wondering "why are we going camping in this?" There's lots to do to get ready. I'm on the road with all my gear a half hour late, as always. My traveling companion takes my late arrival in stride. He's excited to be on our way. It rains and rains all the way up the I-5 corridor. You know, the kind of Pacific NW Rain you hate to drive in, especially on the freeways? Just North of Bellingham I see the first little sun break, and start to get excited. Maybe there really will be some good weather ahead. Missing Jon already, wish he was here.

By the time we reach the border the sun is out and we are clearly excited about the trip. We wait 30 minutes to answer our 10 questions and I bite my tongue. "Where are you going?" Mayne Island, "For what Purpose?" (Can't you see the Kayaks on top of my car?) I decide that border crossings could be like the TSA and opt for pleasant compliance. She politely directs my car pool companion to sign his new passport and lets us pass. We wisely bring no produce over the border, having been warned such behavior will cause trouble. Too bad we don't remember that on the way home, when we decide to take the red eye road trip because it will be oh so much faster.

At the Tsawwassen Ferry (isn't that the coolest name?) we are sent to lane #17 and pull in behind two boats with kayaks, Oregon plates, then two more pull in behind us. We get out and meet the new friends, all going to Mayne to paddle. Two of others are newbies, how brave of them (like me).

The ferry ride is beautiful! I want to stay on deck the whole time. Low light on the clouds, sun setting, whale breaching in the passage. This is the inside passage... where Mouse is paddling right now? I met him at a pool session last month and he was planning a big trip to paddle the inside passage, right about now.

I buy hot chocolate to warm up and stay on deck. The ferry takes us first to Galiano Island and then to Mayne. I am a little worried about how we will find our camp site and host, as we are arriving after dark. But he meets us at the parking lot just as we get off the ferry, and we follow him to Errol's place, Mayne Island Eco Camping. Errol is a long time friend of the OOPS club (the Oregon Ocean Paddling Society) and has been hosting this trip for many years. His house is right on Seal Beach. He has water front camp sites, a cabin or two, and a really cool outdoor shower in the woods.

Once at camp, we find our head lamps and grab some gear and follow Marty down the path. Like a Sherpa he leads us down a goat path, through the woods and rocks to the edge of the bay where there are some tents and hammocks and open sites. I pick a site right by the water and pitch my tent. There's some news about a bridge collapsing, on I-5 just behind us, into the river and people are hurt. We can't get any news, no internet yet and no one knows the story. It's a full moon, and I wonder, "can we paddle at night?" The bay is beautiful and I begin planning for a solo moonlight paddle tomorrow night.

The next morning is Friday, and there are no organized paddles today. I hang around with the few people I know, waiting to see what the plan is. Several people are talking about going out and I join them. There are big currents this weekend, with a fast peak flow between the islands, due in part to a full moon and very low tides. Liz shows me the laminated tide charts and maps they have for every trip leader and I get my first lesson in chart reading. She explains that the top speed water will flow between tides is 5-6 knots, much faster than usual for this trip and location.

We eventually launch at Seal Bay and group up on the water to talk about the plan, which is to paddle up the side of Mayne Island in the eddys, which will be moving in the opposite direction of the tide current and in the direction we want to go. When we get close to the point of Active Pass, we'll turn around and play on the edge of the tidal current, practicing entering and exiting the flow, and using the current to assist our return.

We paddle close to shore at a leisurely pace around into a neighboring bay, Village Bay. There is a big bald eagle on the bank eating something, and two osprey that seem to be waiting for their turn at the leftover lunch. We watch for a bit and continue along the bank. 

 Our group is large, maybe 14 people, and a few of us are interested in paddling a little faster, but the defacto group leaders keep calling us back. After about 30 minutes of this I suggest we regroup and ask about separating into two groups, so the few of us can paddle ahead. The leaders agree and five of us separate from the group. 

 We have a nice paddle along the bank, enjoying the views and paddling easily up the back eddy. The current out in the main pass is really starting to move, and we can see the flow picking up between the islands, as well as a few ferries passing along close to Galiano Island in the boat channel. We come to a place where there is an outcropping of rock that disrupts the eddy, and paddle hard now against the current to try and pass around it. I can move up the current for a bit but then fall back, and watch one or another of my paddle mates try for a different spot. The rest of the group catches up to us. Someone finds the best place to push through, and we follow suit. Then we're out of the current and back into an eddy on the far side, resting.

While we rest we spot something out in the channel between the islands. It's another kayak or two, one of the smaller groups that went out before us. We can't tell exactly what's going on, or how many boats are there, but they are definitely in the strong flow between the islands and heading down the channel where the ferries pass between the islands. It looks like two paddlers and three boats, maybe one capsized, or maybe two upside down. Several of the experienced OOPS paddlers are carrying marine radios, and they know who these paddlers are, and that at least one of them has a radio, but no one is responding. Holy Cow! they are really moving, in the wrong direction, right down the channel where the ferries come through! And here comes a ferry, it's huge, it's going to run them down?? They are so far away we can barely see them, and the ferry passes by, how close is anyone's guess, but it can't be a wide margin. This is really an emergency. Or is it? Our leaders debate for a bit about what to do. Should a few of them paddle across the channel and try to reach them? Do they really need help? Why don't they respond to the radio? Should we call the Coast Guard? Another ferry comes up the channel. Our paddlers are farther away now, and that ferry also passes them by, a near miss.

Don't want to be out in the Ferry Lanes.

After some time it's clear that many of us are not going to be helpful in resolving this situation. I've had a bit of experience paddling in mild currents in rivers around Portland, but have never been in the ocean, or in a sound, or paddled in much current, and there's no way I'm going to be helpful at all. A few of us decide to leave the rescuing and worrying in the capable hands of our leaders and continue on our way, rather than staying and watching and spending the rest of our paddling time worrying about something we can't have any impact on. My car pool buddy and I are nervous now, but the third person who joins us is very experienced. We've seen her roll her boat like a thousand times in the pools in Portland and we're sure she will keep us safe. As we return to our journey up the eddy along the shore, we do an equipment check and decide we need to take a short break and get our tow ropes out of our hatches and onto our bodies, where they might possibly be of some use to us if we need them. They are basically useless in your hatch. If you need one in an emergency you can't open your hatch on the water in waves or current. After a short break, a power bar and some water, we are more equipped and continue on. Eventually we reach the point at the tip of the island, where you can see the water really flowing through the two islands. The point has a name, which I can't remember or find on the map. After getting close and taking a careful look, we drop back and talk about how to play around crossing the eddy line and entering the current flow as we head back.

I'm advised to lean down stream as I enter the flow and do a low brace towards the current. That way the current won't grab my boat and flip me over. It's exciting and a bit nerve wracking, but I manage to get into, and back out of, the swiftly flowing current a few times. Then I hang back in the eddy and watch my buddies do the same. After a while we've traveled quite a bit of distance with hardly any effort and are half way back to our starting point. I'm starting to relax a bit and we have a lot of fun the rest of the way, playing around at the edge of the current, way far away from the max flow across the channel and the ferries.

Later back at camp we hear that the three paddlers have already arrived safely back in camp. They had floated in the channel the length of Active Pass, and then were pushed by the current back across the pass and into our bay, where they were met by others who assisted. Two were capsized and the third was in her boat for the length of the ordeal. One of the capsized paddlers was a newer paddler and was not in a dry suit. They never felt they were in real danger and said they would have called for help if they had needed it. One boat had a GoPro running on her bow for the duration and we watched it on the third day. I am glad we are paddling with the group the next two days, in organized paddles with assigned leaders. I have gained a new respect for the currents and have lost any impulsive interest in a solo moonlight paddle in the bay.

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