June 21-26 2019 by Don Scott
On June 21st, Sechart Lodge was invaded by some 31 anxious, adventurous SISKA paddlers. Ray and Ed arrived early via Port Alberni followed by Vic, Barb, Edgar and Denise padded over from Secret Beach in Toquart Bay. Then the greying mob arrived onboard the Frances Barkley which was full to the brim with all our gear in big boxes on the mid-deck and some 25 kayaks neatly stacked under the fore-deck. It as a beautiful sunny day and perfect introduction to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s Broken Island Group for those who were witnessing its beauty for the first time.
Trip organizer Norm Smyth pulled the group together each afternoon at 5 PM to review that day’s paddle and to organize the trips for the next morning. These critical sessions briefed the paddlers on situations experienced (mostly wonderful) and highlights of their paddle that day and trip leaders described what they intended to do the following day so paddlers could sign up for their preferred trip. The trips were set up as relaxed paddles in quieter conditions in nearby Islands, more challenging trips to and about the middle islands and usually a trip to the outer Islands by the Lodge’s water-taxi cum landing-craft and then paddling back some 12 kn. mi. though the Islands. If conditions were favourable with no winds and low swell, this might include some exploration of the outer exposed coasts of the outer Islands before making their way back though the islands to the Lodge.
The less distance covered, the more the chance to slowly explore the rich intertidal waterways and the marvelous variety of sea life that always impresses. The Sea Stars are recovering well, especially the Ochre Stars but also the Leather Stars and Bat Stars, the latter of which did not seem to get hit as badly with the sea star wasting disease virus. Much of the rocky shoreline was covered in a wonderful variety of Giant Green Sean Anemone, Plumose Anemone and various other filter feeders. On the more exposed shoreline rocks, the Giant Mussels looked to be a meal in themselves. Perennial kelp seemed more plentiful than Bull Kelp and there were lots of rockweed.
The scenery paddling through the islands is simply calming. The coastal mountains of Vancouver Island made a wonderful backdrop.
BJ offered great hour-long yoga session after the paddlers’ return (usually by 2:30 PM) and before our debriefing and planning sessions. She had us stretching muscles we never knew we had.
After each great all-you-could-eat supper, Sechart co-manager Gord pulled out his guitar, foot drum and various rattles and shakers, got a roaring fire going in the fire pit in front of the lodge overlooking the beautiful bay and islands for an evening of songs most of us were of the era we could sing-along with.
With a tired and retiring gang, the sing-songs ended at 10 PM as the electric generator was shut down to save fuel and encourage those still up to call it a night as their great all-you-could-eat breakfast is served at 7 AM and those heading to the outer Islands usually left around 8:00 AM, the rest by 9:00 or so with Sechart’s 5 lb lunches.
Besides the Outer, Inner and close-by paddles, Lynn Beak also led a very popular trip on our last full day exploring the Indigenous history of the BIG, where human habitation has been traced back several thousand years. They visited fish traps, piles of rocks along the shoreline in a small inlet where fish would swim in during high tide and get trapped as the tide ebbed and numerous other sites where archeologists have traced the ancient history of human inhabitation. It is easy to understand why there was such early settlement in the area. Waters are generally protected; sea life is extremely plentiful, and it would take comparatively little effort to secure enough food year-round to sustain a small population.
Perhaps a valuable lesson was learning during the week as well. A group of 4 paddlers left to escort one of them back to Secret Beach on the Toquart Reserve, where some of the paddlers launched and paddled out to Sechart three days earlier. After seeing Denise safely off, the threesome left Secret Beach and made their way out a chain of Islands in the Loudon Channel. By the time they were ready to cross the channel, the winds had risen beyond expectations, and the channel became rather challenging with choppy 2’ and 3’ waves with whitecaps. They made it to Castle Rock and took some refuge from the waves and headed over to Bryant Island in the choppy seas and stopped for lunch. By this time, they had covered 6 nm., and two were feeling rather nervous about heading out into more choppy open water with a following wind and knowing that winds can rise during the afternoon, and Sechart was still some 5 nm. away. After some discussion, we decided to call Gord and have him come pick us up in the water taxi. Purely by coincidence, we had talked to Gord the night before about rescue procedures. You could radio the Coast Guard in Bamfield or you could phone Gord for the water taxi. I had put his phone number in my phone, just in case. It wasn’t an easy choice, but when you are out in unfamiliar waters and in a small group, it was one we became comfortable with, although it did cost me a bottle of wine, plus the water taxi fair, which was $75 each. Sometimes, $75 seems pretty cheap. And we had a good story.
Thanks go to Norm for organizing a fun 6-day adventure: 2 days of travel, and 4 days of great paddling thanks to our outstanding paddle leaders: Vic Turkington; Edgar Hulatt; Dave Chater; Lynn Beak & Roger Graves; Barbara McDougall, Jane Jacek and David Anderson. A memorable week to say the least, paddling in paradise. Norm will arrange a return to the Broken Group from 19 to 24 June 2020. Watch for an email in late October.