Mikhail Belikov Photography (nature, adventures, travel)

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Kayaking North Vancouver Island Straits Solo


It was an early morning wake up, at 5:30am. While I was packing up my kayak, I had noticed a sunflower sea star in the tidal zone.

I had departed on time and shortly was heading along Blackfish Sound toward Parson Island, where I planned to cross Blackney Passage. I soon saw the OrcaLab Research Centre on Hanson Island.

Although I was still away from my crossing point, I had noticed a group of kayakers going across Blackfish Sound, not far away from where I was. The wind was light, the traffic almost nonexistent. More importantly, as far as I could see, there were no big ships in the passage.

I decided to start crossing as well, reckoning that if a big ship would show up, I would have much better chances of being spotted crossing with a group, even if some distance away, than on my own. While crossing, I saw some action farer away, possibly orcas or a humpback whale. Another group of kayakers was passing close to that place and I saw them changing the course and heading in that direction. I was too far away and tight on time if I were to beat the tides, so I kept my course. When I got close to Hanson Island, I had noticed a stellar sea lion swimming in my direction. I had stopped and got my camera ready. The sea lion was swimming in by now familiar but still a peculiar way, keeping its head a bit on the side. The animal was getting closer and I had become excited that it would likely pass close enough for a good shot.

The sea lion had also noticed me and suddenly changed its course, heading strait at me. I kept taking pictures. The animal came very close, about a boat length away, and stayed there for a while as if checking me out. Maybe it was amused seeing such a strange creature on water. Or maybe someone had fed it before, and it was waiting for a snack. To me, it was an amazing experience: being so close to a curious wild animal.

After what I felt was a minute or so, the sea lion had continued its journey. This encounter had made my day for sure.

I had turned and started paddling through Blackney Passage. When I reached Licka Point, I had an option of going around a small island or through the narrow passage between it and Hanson Island. Seeing quite a few motorboats in Blackney Passage ahead and realizing that the current was still light, I chose the narrow passage route. At the passage entrance, I had noticed a bald eagle nest with its residents sitting close by, and took this picture.

Then I saw a group of kayakers, coming through the passage toward me. To my surprise, I had recognized the group leaders from my previous encounter with them on Hanson Island, a week earlier. They were now leading a different group, likely just starting their journey. After exchanging the greetings, we had parted.

I exited the passage and continued along the southern shore of Hanson Island. Since I passed through Blackney Passage at slack, the current was now turning to flood, working against me. I still had about five nautical miles to paddle and was planning to cross Johnstone Strait a bit farer west, where the strait was narrower.

On my way, this unusual rocky outcrop had caught my eye.

Soon I could see Blinkhorn Peninsula right in front of me, across the strait; my next campsite was close by.

The day was calm, no big ships in Johnstone Strait, but I was feeling the opposing current. I had decided to start crossing, as the adverse current close to Hanson Island would only get stronger. Plus, as soon as the afternoon wind would pick up, Johnstone Strait could become a much less pleasant place to be in. Similar to Queen Charlotte Strait in summer, Johnstone Strait was usually calm in the morning, with the wind picking up in the afternoon, sometimes reaching the gale force, thanks to the funnel-like shape of  the Johnstone Strait western entrance.  I felt that the sooner I get to the Vancouver Island shore, the better my chances of reaching the destination were going to be.

I had crossed the strait with no issues and was soon heading for my campsite along the Vancouver Island shore. When I got closer, I had noticed several groups of kayakers on water. Fortunately, none of them was heading for my campsite, and the site itself was empty. While I was pitching my tent, a large group of kayakers had entered the bay and headed for the campsite. As the beach was several hundred meters long and I camped on its western side, there was plenty of space left for others.

I headed out for fishing in the bay while the group had settled for lunch. It looked like they were on a lunch break, planning to continue the journey thereafter.

I had with me on this trip two fishing rods fitted with reels. One was a heavy setup strong enough for salmon. The other one was fresh water gear for light game that I kept as a backup. Unfortunately, the almost new Daiwa spinning reel in my heavy set broke down a few days earlier. This was a surprise to me, as I had used Daiwa reels before, with no issues. So I placed the light setup in my kayak and headed out. Soon, I caught something bigger than usual, virtually in the middle of the bay. After fighting it for a while, trying to keep my light tackle intact, I had landed a large rockfish, bigger than anything that I had seen before in that area. Satisfied, I returned to my camp and measured the fish. It was 40cm long weighting around 1kg. Made an excellent fish soup.

After enjoying my lunch, I photographed ruins of a settlement nearby, among the woods, overgrown with bushes.

Upon returning to my camp, I once again saw a proof of how popular Johnstone Strait was this time of the year: the horizon was dotted with kayaks.

It was the time to start packing for tomorrow: to paddle with the tide I had to depart at 6:00 in the morning. Meanwhile, I could see lots of orca action all around me: swimming, spy-hopping and even jumping. Unfortunately, it was a long distance away; however, some kayakers got a lucky break, passing an orca moving in the opposite "traffic lane".

I kept being surprised how the life could hang on in most unforgiving places. This little shrub growing from the driftwood stump was yet another proof.

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