Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mayne Island: Part 2 of 3 (or so)

Mayne Island: Part 2 of 3 (or so)

Did you read Part 1?

We are staying the weekend in swanky camping accommodations at Miner's Bay on Mayne Island. This is a Oregon Ocean Paddling Society (OOPS) trip, one of their many big and exciting ventures of the year. My partner went on this last year by herself and had some big fun and adventure. So I was looking to her this year to take care of me and make sure that I had a good time. She did this by making sure we had a good campsite and then doing more than her fair share to carry all of my heavy camping gear the 200 yards from the car down the little trail to the site. A site with a really pretty view, but no fire pit. We were traveling in luxury, though. We had a queen size inflatabed and a power source to auto-inflate it as well as a dining fly and the usual array of Coleman stoves and lanterns. We had a little too much stuff to carry.

Trail to the campsite. Those rocks got old quick

View From Camp. Oh, look, a Ferry.

Seal Beach. Where are the Seals?

The Little Trip

But once we had our campsite set up, we still had plenty of time for a quick afternoon paddle around the bay. Just something to get our juices going. We signed out of camp for a personal paddle (OOPS is very safety conscious) and launched our matching Tempest 170s from the little boat landing on the camp grounds. The water was cold but still as we headed across the bay. Halfway out we ran into one of the morning OOPS group trips just coming back from around the point. We paddled out to say hi to them but they were in an all fired hurry to get back to camp and blew right by us with hardly a word. They almost looked like they were running from something (it turned out they were just having a friendly race to the beer, but I didn't know this at the time). So my partner and I continued West to the far side of the bay. The wind was starting to blow, it was scooping down off of the central “mountain” of Mayne Island and starting to stir up the waters of the bay. Now this bay is sort of a big jetty of that Active Passage that I told you about, and as the water swirls by in high speed out in the passage, it puts a spin on the bay; clockwise on the incoming tide, counterclockwise on the outgoing tide. Right in the middle of the bay is a little clump of stuff that is stuck there in the central spin point. Not a hugely fast spin, mind you, but you can still feel it when you kayak through.

Our boat launch. And the owners place. We don't get to go in there

Today we were kayaking out toward the edge of the bay. My partner wanted to see what conditions were like just out beyond the edge of the bay in Active Pass. She wanted us to just go around the corner. We would stay out of the fast current and eddies, probably. But the wind was blowing up swells behind us and BC Ferries were making swells in front of us and the current was starting to move and swell around us and the one place that you wanted to be to be out of the current (close to the rocks) you didn't want to be because of the swell (close to the rocks). And I finally just said “No”.

“Just a little further”

“No. No further. I am already freaked out right here. Going back now”

“Oh, OK”.

“No. NOT OK. Going back”

Oh. Two Ferris. Looking North West down Active Pass.

And so I retreated back into the bay and she came with. Once we got back over by the camp site things calmed down again and we explored a little around the point. But I still had a black feeling in my heart for the long and challenging paddles that we had planned this weekend. We were going to pass across Active Pass with the club. I was going to have to suck it up. It is extremely difficult for an exceedingly powerful, intelligent, courageous, (good looking), and independent (vane) man to get around the fact that his partner is sitting there calmly while he is fracking freaking out. It took me a long time to come down. Hard to suck it up in the midst of irrational (really? Did you see those swells?) fear. The “you should not be afraid” argument is, of course, What? You flip over and get wet? I will pull you out. Have done so before. Sigh.

Back in Calmer Waters (campsite in the background, I think)

We got back to camp just in time for me to start preparing dinner. The OOPS people (can't say the OOPS guys since the gender ratio is pretty much 1:1) have this new weekend procedure which is:
  1. Friday Night: Pot Luck Group Dinner
  2. Saturday Night: Left Overs from Friday and hors d'oeuvres
  3. Sunday Night: Dinner out.

This turns out to be a really great schedule but you sort of have to think about it and realize how it works to take maximum advantage of it. For instance, I didn't think that there would be enough food leftover on Saturday, so I had planned cooking on both Friday and Saturday. Other people knew there would be enough food and what they did was bring a premade covered dish (like Lasagna they made at home). Then they didn't have to cook AT ALL on the trip. This means they didn't have to carry a stove and pots and pans to their camp site. This is very smart. I had to do cooking for Friday (and in fairness, there were several others with this same plan). I made my camping spaghetti and red sauce (with sausage). I like to make my spaghetti sauce from individual canned ingredients (tomato sauce and sliced tomatoes) and throw in sauteed onions and mushrooms and such. It probably doesn't taste any better than a jar of pre-made stuff, but it makes me feel more authentic.

We had a very large and pleasant gathering with 30 or so other OOPS people. Plenty of food, that is for sure. Then we had a debrief of the day's trips. Talked about what went wrong and what went right. And then they talked about what trips would be offered the next day and what people would be going where.

There were two main trips offered. One would be crossing at the East end of Active Pass and exploring around the islands off the Southeast tip of Galiano. The other trip was crossing at the West end of the passage and going along the cliffs on the Southwest coast of Galiano to look at the tide pools and tide “walls” and the marine life therein. Both sounded pretty cool. I chose the East crossing as being slightly less difficult (and perhaps because it would make me retrace my path from that fiasco yesterday).

I love the summers in the Pacific Northwest. In the farther norther latitudes the sun doesn't set till.... well.... bedtime. This means that after dinner we had several hours of light to do anything we wanted (like blogging, or enjoying the sunset). One of the much enjoyed features of this campsite is an outdoor shower. It is a raised platform (6 feet) around a giant old tree. The shower head is afixed to the tree and the wooden decking goes all the way around. On the trail side of the tree the fence is 8 foot high, but on the bay facing side the fence is around waste height. This gives you this “being naked in the wilderness” sort of feeling which is extremely pleasant. And perhaps a little “oh we are being bad” sort of fun. This is a warm water shower and the water drains right into the forest, so you have to use environmentally friendly soap (which is provided). Also, since Mayne Island is an island surrounded by salt water, they don't have a lot of Fresh water. So the really green and eco-friendly and all around just concerned about the good of the planet and our fellow man type campers will insist on sharing the shower with someone. I suggest a beautiful partner. Just feels more eco-friendly that way.

OK, this is not the shower picture. Still trying to convince my partner to post that one.
Something about decency and laws and such.

In the morning the tide was high. I took some more pictures from our very wonderful campsite out on the point.

Oh, there are the seals! 

The Big Trip

So. We are going kayaking, big time, tomorrow. Perhaps we should discuss the situation a little.

View Mayne Island Paddle in a larger map

All of the kayaking around the South Gulf Islands is based on understanding the tidal flows (well, or dying) and watching and listening and talking to the Ferries (or dying). On our first club event of the weekend (we got there late) we met up early in the morning at miners bay (which happens to be where the campsite is, a happy coincidence). We were on the water at 8:15 for a 15 minute meet and greet and safety briefing. You know safety briefing? See who has tow ropes and radios, who can rescue, who brought the croissants, that sort of thing. On this particular day there were eleven of us signed up and about 5 trip leaders. (OK, 3, but it did get a little confusing).

A little calmer today

Laura Point

That is one of the big two ended Ferries out there.

The first thing to do was to get across Active Pass. Now I know what you are thinking, “Why do they call it Active Pass?”. Surely it must be because the currents and water are so “active” all of the time. It surely must be an interesting (dangerous) place to get such a name. But no, it turns out that pass namers aren't that subtle and introspective. If that had been the case they would have named it “Fast Water” pass, or “Bob died a horrible drowning death here” pass. No, the pass is named for the USS Active, a United States Navy survey vessel which was the first steamer to navigate the pass in 1855. I have a problem here. Wikipedia gives me links to more info about the USS Active, but those links claim that no such vessel ever sailed on the west coast. More study shows that it may have been a Coast Guard vessel, or at least not an USN vessel. But that may have had something to do with delivering the news that started the 1849 (49's) gold rush. Or not. So.... perhaps it is just “Active”.

Now, back to our exciting story:

We powered across miners bay and arrived at the choke point of Active Pass right at slack water. Right there where the bay hits the pass is a big eddy current loop. Right where I freaked out yesterday. Lots of flotsam gets caught in the whirl and we saw many trees along with other floating debris. We waited near the cliffs and then used VHF to contact BC Ferry control. We identified ourselves as “11 Kayakers”.

“11 Kayakers at Laura Point wanting to cross Active Pass to Burril point. Please advise on Ferry traffic.”

“North Bound traffic coming now. Clear after that” (Ok, the pretty skinny blond BC Ferry control voice said something more official sounding than that but I forget what it was. I bet she was wearing a uniform)

Powering across to Burril Point.

So we waited for the ferry, which came skidding around the bend, and then we waited for the wake to pass and then we powered across. Right at the slack tide. It was a pretty easy crossing. No wind, no current, which was the whole idea. If you go at the right time, then nothing is going to be happening and you get to have a nice day and continue that whole “stay living” thing. Good Job !!

We paddled past the Galiano Island ferry stop and around the corner and over to Gossip Island. (“You know what they say about Gossip Island, don't you?”). Here we ran into a bunch of Bald Eagles having a merry time with each other. A mating pair was hanging around (one up on a flag pole) and were rather upset at how close a pair of immature interlopers where getting. A little ariel battle occurred. One of the mature (white headed) eagles grabbed one of the immature eagles (brown headed) and they whirled around a bit over our heads. Glad they didn't come down on a kayak. I am not sure who won. The youngsters stuck around and landed on the rocks and were working on something dead they had over there.


One of the things that the OOPS organization does is to stress safety and training. There is usually a little bit of paddle or safety practice and instruction to be had on any given excursion. Today, we were doing some instruction on “Rock Gardening”. This is the practice of riding the swells and waves up amongst the rocks and barnacles near shore. I wasn't participating. I was watching and trying not to flip over. I did hear repeatedly that “The gel coat on a kayak is just a wear layer. You can paint it back on later”. Many were having none of that. I did respond that the same could be said of Skin. Now how, you may ask, does gliding up on the rocks map into my statement about safety? Well, if you are going to do anything adventurous, there is going to be a certain amount of risk. Risk mitigation becomes the key word, and for that you need training in how to do risky things with as much safety as possible. Just going out on the water is a bit risky. So we wear Personal Flotation Devices (PFD) and cold water emersion suits and practice self and partner rescues. Same for rock gardening. Do it in a relatively calm situation and learn the tricks from an experienced expert.

We had been paddling for about 2 hours and my boat was starting to fill up with water. OK, it was actually my bladder that was full, and since the rest of the group seemed to have similar concerns we pulled into a secluded beach off of Galiano and did some leg stretching and ate some food.

We were right off of this little island with this great big house on it. Now there is an expensive place. You have to buy the rock, you have to cart in all of the wood and cement and such to build the place. How do you get it there? Helicopter? Barge? Lots of people carrying stuff up the steps of the cliffs? And once you have it built, where do you get water and power? A generator, sure, where do you get your gas? All I am saying is that it must be very expensive and a bit of a hassle even to visit. You have to carry your week's food and clothes up the rocks? And I bet that sewage and trash disposal must be a problem. Oh to have those worries.

Alone on the Rock

And, of course, our children would never visit us. No Internet. (Don't be silly, Dad. Look at that mansion, of course there is internet!)

Purple Sea Stars. White Boat. Rock

Nicer Rock

Guard Geese

Back across to the main island and we have been paddling for a while now. I need another bio break but even more important, I find that my back is getting tired. And this is making me very wobbly and tippy in the water. I am sure that my fellow kayakers are noticing. I almost took a tumble when I had my camera out one time. Not good. I had felt like this before our first break, but after I had felt fine. Some of it has to do with the roughness of the water (I last longer on the flat stuff) but I think a lot of it is just being tired and not being used to my round bottomed boat yet.

Still, the rocky shoreline is very beautiful and we are seeing some interesting marine life. We saw a couple of seals (harbor seals?) and a pair of Stellar Sea Lions. The eagles I had mentioned and any number of seagulls (one apparently choking on a sea star. Unclear if it had the thing logged in it's throat or if it was just too stupid to spit it out. Either way, we saw that bird twice over a 4 hour period with the same thing stuck in its craw). The most interesting (to me) bird we saw was a Black Oyster Catcher. My memory doesn't have the bird as being solid black but the internets assure me that the American Oyster Catcher is only found on the east coast. I didn't get a chance to get my camera out and capture a picture of it (because of the aforementioned wobbles) so I am stealing one from the aforementioned internets.

But this is a referenced link. I think. Can you click on it?

At last it is time to head home. We are on a very well defined schedule here. We crossed Acitve Pass at slack tide and while we have been puttering around the islands the tide race through the passage has been going gang busters. Probably very dangerous to try and cross during that time. Last year when my partner was out there were some people that tried to cross the “eddyline” that is created by the fast water in the pass zipping past the non-moving water close to shore. When you hit that eddyline, you have to do the right things or you will get flipped over. These people got flipped and hauled out into the Ferry lanes. They were fine. Why? Because they had the right equipment and the right training. But they were capsized in the very fast moving (sort of white water river like) conditions for more than an hour. A normal boater in cotton clothing would have been in deep shit.

Oh yeah. Our schedule. We crossed at around 9:30 AM. Six hours later, at 3:30, would be slack water again. We would have around 30 minutes of close to no water movement in which to cross with the most safety. So we had to be on the point around that time and be ready to cross (and coordinate with BC Ferry control).

We ended up back at Burril point right around 3:20. We rafted up and relaxed and called BC Ferry traffic. They advised us that a Ferry was West Bound and would pass our location in 10 minutes. We said we would wait for it to clear and they thanked us for that. This controller was a little more surly than the last. When we asked for permission to cross she said something like “I can't give you permission, you have to decide if you are going to cross”. While probably the more accurate and truthful statement, not sure it was all that helpful. Perhaps it was. Perhaps being cognizant of your responsibility for your personal survival is the best thing.

Yes, I blurred the faces
While we were waiting we watched and talked to a young couple on the scenic rocks behind us. They were having their wedding pictures taken!! He was in a nice suit and she in a long flowing white dress and the photographer was doing the usual things to position them both and the beautiful (but deadly) rocks of the park that is out on Burril point. I wonder if they were pissed that their background scenery was capricously littered with brightly colored kayaks?

At this point I would like to draw your attention to the parallel of the kayakers and newly weds. Both setting out on adventures. Both taking along a partner. Which is the most dangerous? Which group had the appropriate equipment and training? Did either group have the right maps? On the times when my partner or I have gone upside down in the river (or deadly sea cave) the other has always been upright and in control and can offer assistance. I think that is perhaps not so common in marriage. In marriage it is more likely that the two will go under as a team. (well, or live happily ever after). My partner and I are going to be setting out on this adventure in a couple of weeks. I think we have better equipment and maps than last time. More safety training. More experience rock gardening.

Where was I? Oh yeah, waiting for the Ferry. Did BC Ferry control really say “west bound”? That would be from Tsawwaassen (promounced Tsawwaassen). We can see a Ferry coming from that direction, but it sure looks like it is more than 10 minutes away.

It was.

It was almost 30 minutes away. By the time it crossed in front of us we were getting toward the end of our safe crossing window (oh this is so exciting). But we were well rested and so headed across the channel with alacrity just as the ferry crossed in front of us. Everything was fine and simple until right around the halfway point I saw an eddyline. It was very clearly seen in the water. And it made me a little nervous. What was it going to do? How fast was it moving? Which direction am I supposed to lean and brace to keep from tipping over? Was it going to grab me and suck me down to a sea monster that inhabits these depths?

My partner comments, “What's up Jon? Don't worry, it is just an eddyline, it isn't going to eat you.”

Ha. She was the one that told me the story about the eddyline eating the kayakers last year.

Zip across after the Ferry. How come I have no pictures of the man eating Eddyline?

But it was nothing. Just a strangeness in the water. Didn't even push me around much. In retrospect, it may have been a disturbance in the water caused by the prop-wash of the Ferry. Or it could have been the start of the tide induced current. The trip leader timed the crossing. 8 minutes for the last kayak to clear the pass. 8 minutes. We easily could have crossed ahead of the Ferry (if we had had more accurate timing info). We did later hear that the Ferry captain was very appreciative of us waiting for him. I take it that many other groups of Kayakers are perhaps not so well trained or safety conscious as OOPS and may be out there in the Ferries way. The Ferry Captains refer to the kayakers as “sea fleas”. In this case the captain said “Tell the Kayaks thanks for us”. Good enough.

And so we returned safely to our campsite. We had plenty of “leftover” food and friendly conversation with our fellow kayakers. Then we went to bed early.

OK, there may have been another eco-friendly shower in there someplace.

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