Mikhail Belikov Photography (nature, adventures, travel)

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Kayaking Queen Charlotte Strait Solo


I woke up at 7:00am. Everything was covered with the fog and it was drizzling. After a quick breakfast of pasta leftovers and coffee, I had checked the tidal zone for a good area to load my kayak. The tide was low and I could not depart from the same place inside the creek where I had landed the day before. Finally, I had located a relatively flat place with not too many sharp objects, out on the bay side, quite a long and strenuous walk away from the campsite. Portaging and loading the kayak had delayed me until 10:30am; the tide had already turned to flood when I departed. My primarily concern was getting through Patrick Passage, again against the tide. Once on the other side, I would be carried through Grappler Sound by the flooding tide.

Sutlej Channel was full of boats. Closer to Patrick Passage, I had switched on my GPS to see how much the adverse tide was slowing me down. Surprisingly, it had showed me moving at 5-6km/h, while my normal cruising speed was up to 4-5km/h. Most likely, I was full of energy in the morning, and the tide was virtually unnoticeable. Close to Patrick Passage entrance, my speed had slowed to 4km/h and then the GPS had died, depleting the batteries. I had replacement batteries readily available, however I had decided to press on through the passage, while the adverse tide was still relatively light. 

Once in the passage, I could feel how much the current was slowing me down: it took me a long time, at least an hour, maybe more, to pass through the narrow one kilometer-long strait. Sometimes I was making very little progress, while paddling with all available energy. I was glad that I did not delay getting through the passage any longer: I felt that even a 30-minute delay would have made my task significantly less likely to complete. At some point, while I was struggling, a man in an inflatable dinghy under motor was passing very close to me and had very kindly slowed down, minimizing the wake. This was a rare but very welcome gesture: in most cases during my trip, motorboats would roar through without reducing their speed, requiring me to turn the kayak bow up to the waves. I did not think that this was intentional: motorboat operators who had no experience kayaking  (or had not seen kayaks flipped over by the wakes or had not been cursed by the kayakers) did not realize the danger (to say nothing about the inconvenience) that sudden steep side waves posed to an unsuspected kayaker.

Once through Patrick Passage, I had started gradually picking up the speed. After entering Grappler Sound, I could finally put down my paddle and relax, letting the current carry me while I was resting and enjoying my granola bar lunch. My rest did not last long: it was a cloudy and dump day and, after sweating through the passage, I had quickly cooled down and had to start paddling again. Several seals had followed me for a while, cautiously observing from a distance. This had reminded me a documentary about the fragile relations between seals and sharks: even knowing that the sharks fed on seals, the seals would follow them at a distance, maybe observing their behavior, maybe making sure they knew what the sharks were up to. Did the seals consider the kayakers (or the boaters in general) to be the predators?

An hour later I was finally getting close to my next campsite, on Watson Island, with the sawmill ruins next to it already visible. I had landed at 3:00pm, on a broken shell beach. The recommended campsite was up in the forest. However, someone had recently created a tent pad on the beach by leveling an area big enough for a large tent and removing overhang branches.

I had left my kayak on the beach and walked on a rocky outcrop, protruding into water, to see if there was anything beyond, also suitable for a camp. Just after reaching the other side of the outcrop, I was surprised by a loud noise in the forest above, indicating that a large animal was moving through the bushes. Then a squirrel had screamed angrily, as if facing an intruder. Concerned that this might be a bear, I had clapped my hands several times to alert the animal about my presence down on the beach. The noise had stopped for a second and then resumed, moving in my direction. This was very unusual and had indicated that the animal did not care about my alert. Most likely, this was an aggressive or at least a curious bear, as all other wild animals would have stopped or run away, and I did not expect any domestic animals on this island.  I had rapidly evaluated my options. I was still on a rocky outcrop, with my kayak on a beach to my right, too far to reach and depart in time. If this was an aggressive bear, the only feasible option was to jump into the water hoping that it would not follow me. The other alternative was to fight... While I was mentally preparing for an inevitable encounter, two little squirrels had jumped on the shore from the bushes, one chasing another, ran across the rock I was standing on, the beach where my kayak was, and then disappeared in the bushes above with lots of noise. I could not believe that these two little animals could make so much commotion! I guess, they were totally consumed by the flirting or fighting for the territory, ignoring everything around them.

Relieved, I went up the shore into the forest to check the recommended campsite. It looked like someone had enjoyed a pignic there: pieces of foil and styrofoam, and an empty BBQ sauce bottle were spread all over. Definitely not a place where I would want to camp.

So I returned to the beach site and pitched my tent there.

The falling tide had left behind something that looked like a jellyfish.

Rice with canned meat and tea made my dinner, with enough rice left for a satisfying breakfast. I then warmed up sea water in a cooking pot and enjoyed a bath. The evening was approaching fast.

Before the light would start fading, I sat down to plan my next day trip to Mackenzie Sound. However, as soon as the last wind died, the mosquitoes had descended on me and I had to seek refuge in my tent, where I had finished my planning and went to bed at 11:00pm.  Overall, this was a good campsite and I could have stayed for another day to give myself some rest. However, the constant boat traffic through the Watson Point narrows, passing relatively close to my camp, made me feel as being on a display. My plan for the next day was to check out Roaringhole Rapids -- an entrance to Nepah Lagoon turning into a roaring tidal stream. Then I would continue to Mackenzie Sound, hoping for picturesque landscapes with snow-capped mountains, if the sky cleared up.

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