Mikhail Belikov Photography (nature, adventures, travel)

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Kayaking Queen Charlotte Strait Solo


The alarm rang at 5:00am, however I woke up at close to 6:00am. Despite all reassurances and precautions, I still did not sleep well, listening for the bear all night, but nothing had happened. Made pancakes for breakfast, for today and tomorrow. This had delayed my departure until 9:30am, but the fresh pancakes with the condensed milk were worth it.

One of the advantages of this campsite was its location close to the water edge -- I did not have to do long portages of my stuff, otherwise this would have postponed my departure even further.

Initially, I was planning to paddle through Nipkish Bank, as the chart was showing that it would be mostly covered with water at high tide. However, considering that the tide was already falling, I had decided instead to paddle around its edge, staying away from the busy traffic lanes and watching carefully for the shoals and other obstacles.

I had managed to keep off the main traffic routes this year, and I did not have any unpleasant encounters with the boats. Soon, I was paddling past Port McNeil and could already see the peninsula opposite to Port McNeil, where I camped last year and planned to camp again. Unlike the Port McNeil side, the peninsula shore was all covered with the forest and looked like an island from a distance.

A ferry had left Alert Bay and passed in front of me going to Port McNeil, then to Solintula and later back to Port McNeil, remaining there. The day was sunny and almost windless: only the quite unusual light easterly breeze that was gently pushing me in the right direction, and the ebbing tide that was also helping me paddle west. The visibility was great, as far as one could see, no fog issues that I experienced the year before. However, despite the following wind, I had to make an effort to keep the course. I think this was an unstable position for the kayak: it did not like the wind directly behind and  tried to use any opportunity to turn broadside. In addition, numerous boats, passing all around me, some far away, some close, were creating an unpredictable wave pattern, confusing my kayak even further.

I was finally getting close to the peninsula where my next campsite was. The wind had changed to the usual north-west, still light. The tide was very low, but it had already turned to flood: passing along a kelp field I had noticed that the leaves were floating in the opposite direction. Although the tide was now working against me, the current was still quite slow, creating no difficulties, and soon I was in front of the place where my last year campsite was.

What a change: with the low tide a vast area, covered with seaweed and rocks, had opened up. Last year, I must have arrived and departed at much higher tide, as I did not recall seeing anything like this before. I landed as close as I could to the narrow beach with the camp site, still at least a hundred of meters away, removed the two deck bags from my kayak and carried them ashore. After portaging my deck bags through the vast grounds covered with large slippery rocks, I had finally reached the gravel beach and then the campsite. Unfortunately, winter storms had deposited a couple of heavy logs exactly where I pitched the tent last year. I had to search for an alternative place, and I found it just a dozen of meters away, a gravel spot requiring some leveling and barely large enough for my little tent, but it would do for an overnight stay.

It made no sense to unload my stuff at this tide: it would have taken me at least an hour just to carry it to the shore, with an increased risk of injuries. I had decided to go fishing for a couple of hours, returning when the tide would be much higher. I had assembled my fishing rod and the net, and paddled out seeking someone fishing to get updates on the sockeye salmon. I soon located a motorboat trolling relatively close to where I was, with a young couple inside. I had headed for them, then followed them trying to ask my salmon question over the roar of their twin engines. They tried to listen, but clearly could not understand what I was saying. Meanwhile, they kept moving and I had finally realized that they were not going to slow down for a talk. After all, they were in an expensive leisure motorboat, and I was in a kayak, looking anything but expensive after a month of travel. The class difference could not be more clear. I had waved them "never mind -- please continue" and fell off abandoning my pursuit.

I soon saw a more democratically-looking boat, with a family of four or five inside, also trolling for salmon. I got closer and they indeed slowed down and answered my questions. The area limit for sockeye salmon was four per day, at least 30cm long. I had thanked them and moved closer to the shore, away from the path of fishing traffic.

The current was already quite strong and I could not fish by trolling. If I was going with the current, I was moving too fast, and if I was going against it, I was barely making any progress. I had finally decided to cast and, after 20 minutes or so, abandoned it as well: the current was pushing me too fast: a few casts and then I had to struggle back to my fishing spot, against the current. I had tried again to troll with a much smaller lure, but it caught something on the bottom, likely a rock, and no matter how hard I tried I could not get close to it against the current. So I lost it and then decided to give up on catching the salmon. I paddled back to the area where my campsite was, embedded my kayak inside a kelp field and fished with an artificial worm for the bottom-dwelling creatures. After catching and releasing a couple of small things, and changing the fishing spot a few times, I had finally caught something of a decent size, enough for a meal, a fish with quite a big head, likely a sculpin.

I had returned to my camp. With the tide by now high I had quickly unloaded the kayak and only then realized that it was already 3:00pm. My previous meal was at 6:30am: busy with the fishing I had forgotten about the snack and was now desperately hungry. I had immediately heated up water and made mashed potatoes with the last can of meat, followed by the tea. Then I tried to take a short nap, unsuccessfully, thanks to the motorboat traffic keeping me awake.

After getting out of the tent I had photographed my neighbors up on the tree: a pair of bald eagles, quite likely the same that I had observed a year before.

The shore was already mostly in shade, and I still had to do a couple of chores requiring sunshine. First, I hung the wet paddling clothes in a sunny spot, hoping that they would dry up by end of day. Then I heated two liters of fresh water (I had plenty left) and headed up the hill to a secluded sunny spot for a wash. Refreshed and wearing clean clothes, I had returned back to my camp. I was following a bear trail when going to my washing area and returning, and I could see where the bear stepped and even the claw imprints were still there. I felt privileged to walk the bear trail, stepping where the animal was stepping, likely as recently as this morning.

Back to the camp, I cleaned the fish. It had a full stomach. When I opened it, there was a whole crab inside. I found it ironic that the remains of this crab-eater, after I was done with it, would end up back in water, devoured by the same crabs that this predator was hunting just a few hours ago. I fried the fish and ate it for dinner with mashed potatoes and herbal tea. With the tomorrow coffee prepared and in the thermos, I had proceeded to shaving, something I had not done for at least five days.

I heated the water, applied the shaving cream and, after the first attempt realized that my only razor was not working at all. It must have clogged over the previous shavings and I spent 15 minutes or so trying to clean it up. It helped a little and after scratching myself for a long time on one side I had managed to shave it a bit. Then, without knowing how long the razor would last, I had decided to proceed shaving myself symmetrically, so if I had to stop it would not look completely outrageous. I cleaned the razor again and then shaved the other side. I was now left with a disgusting looking goatee. This would not do for sure! I had cleaned the razor again (a long affair involving dislodging the stuff from between the blades and the sides with a pine needle), and continued scrubbing myself. Sometime later, I was left with a mustache. The shaved areas looked like a carelessly done logging: most trunks were gone, but enough were still standing. The razor was completely clogged again and I had finally given up: the mustache and the logging area would have to stay until my return home.

The daylight had ended with a picturesque sunset, as if the Nature was saying Good Bye for now, yet reminding me to return next time and enjoy its beauty again.

By the time I had packed up everything I could for the tomorrow departure, it was already close to 11:00pm. I was ready to go to bed. The night was quiet: all like the last year, minus the orcas breaths. I started believing that the Straitwatch patrol might have been right telling me that the orcas had left the area following the salmon to Campbell River. There was no commercial fishing where I was and yet the orcas were not around. Last year, the strait was full of orcas, day or night.

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