Day 2: Monday, July 26th I woke up at 4am utterly drained from my phone's antics and having slept very little. I set to figuring out a communication plan with my family should my phone completely fail. I was using my phone in tandem with an original DeLorme inReach which does not have a screen and must be paired with a smartphone for detailed communications. The device is a good one, very reliable and simple. However the tracking feature and battery life was a challenge, as a four hour tracking interval drained the batteries in just one day. In order to make my remaining batteries last for the entire trip I was forced to log my location at night without much communication back home.
I was on the water by roughly 9am, another disappointment, and decided that Lawn Point was likely my best bet as a target for the day at roughly 50 miles away. Modest by my standards.
Conditions were rough in the early morning with a beam swell, short period, and a wandering wind with lots of rebound on overhead waves. Skies were overcast with high clouds and temps in the low 60's. I quickly adjusted and found a fast pace as I set out south, averaging 6.5mph running with the current about two miles off shore and very much enjoying the cool conditions.
I greatly prefer to paddle offshore for a handful of reasons. It makes going from point to point more efficient, and greatly reduces the rebound of the sea meeting the rocky shoreline. Less rebound means more boat run, and more boat run means more speed. Another aspect of paddling farther offshore is that the capes / points can be very technical, with tricky fast moving breaking waves that zoom into shore to meet the reefs and kelp beds. At times, it was far simpler to just paddle around them on the outside then risk being thumped inside or having to pause to consider my approach. I also quite like the feeling of being alone in the ocean. It is a strange form of freedom that I found in mountain climbing that energizes me in a way that few things in life can. In our modern, hemmed-in world, being truly alone is a very fine luxury. Finally, it's a lot of fun to sneak up to a boat full of sport fisherman several miles offshore and suddenly ask "HEY GUYS! WHICH WAY TO VICTORIA?!" at the last possible moment. They really love that. Trust me.
At around noon, the current switched and my pace slowed a bit to the low 5mph range. Decent, but much slower than I am accustomed to because of the severe weight of the boat. The wind built throughout the day, and became a stiff SW breeze by early afternoon along with a south western swell. I arrived at Lawn Point at roughly 4pm, feeling strong and tempted to continue due south to cross Brooks Peninsula in the evening. After contemplating the risk of an exposed crossing at night in unfamiliar territory with a formidable reputation, I decided to call it an early day and attempt to get a better night's sleep and an early start the next day. I found Lawn Point an iconic and beautiful location, but loaded with fresh bear signs and no water. I used my desalinator to good effect.
The desalinator makes 1.3 gallons of water per hour of pumping, which with my water budget meant 2 hours per night to just make water. The device weighs 7.3 pounds. Not great. However, the act of taking water from the sea and converting it into drinkable water is right up there with human flight. I felt like I was robbing the world's greatest bank as I quietly pumped water from a tide pool in the dark of night to supply the next day's water.
Day 3: Tuesday, July 27th My phone was in a much better mood, and was able to take a charge from my portable solar charger and stay turned off. Good dog! I slept very well, and had a visit from a bear and her cubs in the early morning hours as I made my breakfast. They calmly walked by my tent and paid me no heed as I held my breath with a death grip on my bear mace while the JetBoil quietly hissed. This may be the one time in my life when I was thankful to have a simple bowl of oatmeal instead of bacon and eggs for breakfast.
At first light, a dense cloud started to form over the peninsula, making me thankful for the modern reality of GPS as I headed south in low visibility in search of the day's challenge. The swell remained south western, but had picked up significantly in size and period. It gave the ocean an erie, slow, heaving sensation. No wind. No sight of land. No sight of me. Just a crazy guy paddling in a gray, featureless room towards a place of great reputation.
I arrived at Cape Cook at roughly 8:30am, just as the morning clouds lifted to confirm what my GPS had been telling me all morning was indeed true. This is Brooks!
As is well documented, Brooks Peninsula has a strange, magnetic power and a curious rebounding wave effect that has sent many a sailor missing. I felt a bit like Indiana Jones as I committed to a center line between Cape Cook and Solander Island, and found conditions at first deceptively mild. The further I went, the weirder things got. Flat water would surge very quickly in a direction completely contrary to the swell and wind. And when that newly formed wave meets the swell, expect a fast ride upwards as the two waves throw you a party underneath your boat in the form of a pyramid shaped wave that is about the size of a modest house. It was a wild, fast ride, and this was a very mild day. This is what I had imagined, and hoped for, and I loved every second of it.
As I rounded the cape proper and faced the east, I was somewhat dismayed and amused to see a vast sweep of coastline with roaring waves closing out the horizon in front of me. The swell direction, out of the south west, was setting off waves that looked like runaway mining trucks three miles offshore that were just huge and fast. I am sure a big wave surfer somewhere in Tofino is grinding his teeth as I type this. Sorry bruh!
As my eyes worked their way down the infinite coastline the clouds parted and a light breeze picked up behind me and the swell became more westerly. It was if a spell had been broken, and my spine tingled at the hope that I might get some usable wind. I made note of the very distant shoreline, checked my GPS and decided that an open ocean crossing of roughly 25 miles in such fair weather was worth the risk in distance gains. But before I set off, I made the decision to attempt to go ashore at Nordstrom Creek to get out of my wetsuit (I was now very hot in the full sun) and change my water bag before committing to a very long, open ocean crossing.
As the big waves went off around me, I used the ski for a couple of very fast rides into the beach towards Nordstrom Creek by choosing smaller waves and riding in on the back of one of the big ones. Committing in a place like this. Yet a little surf experience at complicated shorebreaks can pay big dividends in situations where the speed and complexity of the water is overwhelming. The key for myself is to simplify the situation by only focusing on one wave at a time. Ignore the rest and do your best to get the timing right.
Once on the the inside there is enough of a reef to cancel most of the waves, but three to four footers were still coming through and dumping onshore with very fast frequency with boulders and kelp beds mixed in to keep it true to the spirit of Vancouver Island (Aka a technical, high stakes landing in the middle of nowhere that will leave you in trouble if you get it wrong and break something). I timed the last wave to perfection, hopping out of the ski and grabbing the bow and letting the wave swing the tail towards the shore so I can then run the the ski up the beach with the nose on the sand. I use this technique because the awkward moments after a surf landing are very vulnerable to rider and steed, and my ski has an extra large surf rudder under the stern that prevents a traditional shore landing.
I executed this approach like the Red Baron himself, and enjoyed a euphoric, silly moment of relief as I took a deep bow for my imaginary audience. And in a rare moment of truly divine humor, a long legged and shaggy bear casually walked out of the forest and walked directly towards me. And then it sat down and just stared at me, tilting its head sideways as we stood looking at each other for a long, awkward moment. Both of us marveling at the insanity of what was unfolding in this very isolated place. Like a Farside comic that might have a tragically dark punchline.
I snapped out of it and hustled back out into waves. Hoping the bear wouldn't be up for a swim as I calmly opened the back hatch between waves, switched the water bag and took off my neoprene paddling jacket, keeping a close eye on the shore. As I did this, the bear started to walk out into the surf towards me. I slammed the hatch shut hopped on the ski and managed to leave skid marks on the waves as I peeled out of there like a Clint Robinson wanabee. I checked the transcript from my mental tape and it reads: "SHIT... SHIT! SHIT FASTER SHIT SHIT SHIT!!!"
Once past the backline I took a deep breath, ate some lunch, and had a laugh at the absurdity of what had just happened. I also made some mental notes about being more patient on beach landings and to remember to request more prayers from friends and family because I had burned through their entire supply in one morning. I was ready to get back to work and set off towards the far skyline of Kyuquot Sound and hopefully make camp at a promising location called Rugged Point.
At some point the scale of Vancouver Island is simply unavoidable. It will confront you and break you down. I learned this repeatedly on this trip. Muscling past yet another cape, only to stare into the fading landscape as it blends into the next horizon. This time was a bit different though and after paddling for four hours against a strong offshore current towards my landmark target it just didn't appear any closer. The GPS assured me it was, but it was taking forever as I plodded along in what felt like the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I turned around to have a final look at the Brooks Peninsula, and it was still very close.
*sigh* "No one mentioned that Brooks would follow me."
It's a funny thing how temptation finds you in even in the remote places. I completed the crossing and made my way through the outer reefs of Kyuquot sound in the hot sun towards Union Island, feeling parched and tired from a long day out. A fishing boat sped up to me and came to a sudden stop. The guys said they had seen me crossing in the open water earlier, and were curious if I wanted a beer!? They were concerned to see someone that far off shore, and had kept tabs on me as I crossed. Not so alone after all eh? I declined the offer of the beer, explaining that I was on a mission around the island and could take no assistance, however frosty and lovely. The kindness of total strangers here in Canada is not lost on me.
Eventually, the miles gave way and I steamed into the white sand coves of Rugged Point, where I had hopes of finding a stream and not having to make water to save some time. Upon landing, I was simply overwhelmed yet again by the endless beauty of this great island. As I marched up the beach, dragging my poor ski by the nose in the sand, I noticed a number of footprints. In particular a set of footprints from a child that appeared just minutes old. It brought a smile to my face to think of my own children one day running around this very beach, and I made a promise to myself to return as I set up my camp for the night.
I scouted for water, and could not find the stream indicated on my map in the fading light. So after dinner I went to find a good location to desalinate water. This is a bit tricky, as on a wide beach you must be able to pump water away from the surf and waves. I found what I thought was a good rock, and started to pump water. Unfortunately, the location was not good and the desalinator intake sucked up rocks and sand, which tore the fragile membrane inside the pump and rendered it useless. I suddenly had to adjust to the reality that my trip was now entirely dependent on finding fresh water in a severe drought year. I also had the even less attractive idea set in that I now had the privilege of lugging a seven pound, $2600 paperweight in the nose of my boat for the next 500 or so miles. First class white guy problems, every last one of them.