Mikhail Belikov Photography (nature, adventures, travel)

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Kayaking Queen Charlotte Strait Solo


I have answered here the most common questions that I have been asked about my trips. If you would like to know something else, please send me a message and I will do my best to reply directly or post an answer here, if the question is of interest to a larger audience. Your question will be posted anonimously, unless you instruct me to use your name.

Q: Was this inflatable kayak up to the challenge?

A: It got me through a month of travel, sometimes through the turbulent waters. This trip has clearly highlighted its advantages but even more the limitations for the ocean kayaking. The main problem was that paddling in strong winds in a cruising configuaration, with the deck bags, was very difficult to impossible. Especially challenging was the paddling against or on a broad reach course to the wind and the waves. If facing strong front waves and winds the speed was very slow and the efforts to move forward disproportionate. In winds above 15-20 knots any reasonable progress was next to impossible. Equally difficult was paddling on a broad reach course, with the wind and the waves on the beam and slightly behind. The kayak had a strong dendency to turn broadside to the wind, the stronger the wind, the more determined the turn, until at some point keeping the kayak on the course became impossible. The large deck bags were likely partially to blame for this, as they were increasing kayak's wind profile. However, due to the limited space inside, a long trip would be impossible without the deck bags. I had also noticed the same tendencies, maybe to a lesser extend, when paddling on day trips, without the large deck bags. To summarize, the ocean
kayaking in challenging open waters can only be possible if travelling on quiet days. For more on this kayak and other equipment, please see my previous trip notes.

Q: How did your photo equipment stand up to the marine environment?

A: I have not experienced any problems yet, however I kept it well protected whenever possible. For example, while kayaking, my camera was inside the dry bag on the deck and, in addition, most of the time inside a plastic bag or a rain cover. To photograph, I would remove the camera from the dry bag, take the pictures and immediately place it back closing the bag.

The only photography-related issue that I had faced on this trip was that my solar panel stopped charging. Fortunately, I had five camera batteries with me (one inside each of my two DSLR cameras plus three replacement batteries). They were all fully charged prior to my departure. I had managed to top up one battery once, before the solar panel died, and these batteries had lasted the whole trip, although at the end I only had enough juice left for about a hundred of shots. Once back, I had shipped the solar panel to the manufacturer for testing/repairs. To their credit, Brunton sent me a replacement panel in no time.

Q: What food were you eating and haw did you manage for so long without the fresh greens?

A: I have found that a combination of the fresh air, a hunger and a healthy dosage of exersise do wonders, making even the most banale food delicious. To simplify my life during these long trips, I am only
using the basic ingredients and most simple cooking techniques. On the travel days, I also try to cook only once, in the afternoon, once I have established the camp. This is to save my time; if I was in a group, rotating cooking responsibilities and sharing other chores would have made my approach unnecessary. The main ingredients I use are the staples (rice, pasta, dried mashed potatoes, baking flour). I combine them with canned meat and freshly caught fish, or make macaroni & cheese. I also make pancakes. The fish that I catch may go into a smoker -- the most efficient tecnique of cooking, when only the gutting and no scaling is needed. The smoking also adds a unique flavor. Otherwise, the fish is fried or goes into the fish soup, thickened with mashed potatoes.

My typical routine on a travel day is to cook a late lunch/early dinner once I have established the camp. If I am planning to travel next day, I cook enough to have the leftovers for breakfast (unless I intend to have cereal). I also boil water and make the coffee for the morning by mixing the ground coffee, the sugar and the hot water in the thermos. In the morning, I finish the leftovers, or have a cereal, then coffee, and off I go. The whole breakfast does not usually take more than 15 minutes. Sometime mid-day, I have my lunch while floating in the kayak, normally granola bars with water. And that's about it. I do take with me a few onions, garlic heads and lemons. The garlic survives a month of travel, lemons and onions last less, perhaps up to three weeks. The key to longevity is to keep all of them dry, if possible, and to aerate and dry up daily, weather permitting. I also take with me trail mix, dry fruits, chocolate and other odds, however I have noticed that I can easily do without them, so these are definitely optional. Add tea, black or herbal, sugar, salt, some spices, honey for the pancakes, and that is about it.

I do miss the fresh greens, of course. Although I regularly take multivitamins while travelling, I do try to supplement with the whild berries whenever possible.

When provisioning for my trips, I try to stay under 700g of food a day, to fit it all inside my kayak and to limit the weight of my check-in bags. This means that I have to supplement my supplies while travelling and I do so by fishing. The fish is plentiful and on almost all occasions it has taken me less than an hour to get enough fish for up to two days. The fishing regulations on the Pacific Coast are complex, and there are numerous areas off limit for fishing. Some, like the marine parks, are large and some, like the rockfish conservations areas, can be quite small and patchy. So the advanced research and the printouts of rules and fishing charts are a must.

Q. How do you get fresh water while traveling?

While sea kayaking, I try to carry all the time as much water as I can fit into my kayak replenishing the reserves whenever possible. The inflatable kayak does not have much space inside, so I use a combination of 1.0 and 1.5 liter plastic pop bottles, holding around 20 liters, fitting them in all available places, and a 10 liter soft water carrier. My water consumption in warm (but not hot) conditions, paddling about four hours a day, is at least 2.5 liters of fresh water a day. Three liters a day seem to be sufficient to keep me going indefinitely. So the 30 liters inside my kayak may last somewhere between 10 to 12 days. To achieve these modest consumption rates, I mix fresh and salt water for cooking, in 3:1 proportion. The actual ratio is obviously subject to the individual taste and to the salinity of the sea. I tightly control my water consumption if no source of fresh water is available nearby. One way to know if I drink enough, as I have learned from several sources, is to watch the urine color. If it is too light, too much water is consumed. Too dark -- I am not drinking enough, but this might be all right for a while, if on a tight ration. If I camp next to a source of fresh water, it is time for an unrestricted feast.

Q: What camping gear do you use?

I have been using a very simple one-person Wenzel A-frame tent. The main reason for choosing this particular model was that I had it already. It is small, light and cheap. The BC coast summers are usually reasonably warm and dry, so I do not really need anything more sophisticated. However, the condensation is an issue, I think it is a common problem for single-wall tents. Another issue, as I had discovered over this year trip, is that the netting is not no-see-um proof. I always pitch the tent on top of a ground sheet to protect it from abrasion and punctures. If rains were a potential issue, I would have also taken a tarp for covering the tent or the cooking area.

I use a Thermarest 3/4 length self-inflating mattress, also because I already have it. It packs smaller than the full-size alternatives. When sleeping, I  keep the soft kayak seat (if it is dry) in the foot area, to cover almost the full length of my tent. If the seat is wet, I still place something in the foot area, to create an insulation layer, for example empty dry bags, my paddling jacket and pants, if they are dry, etc. My sleeping bag for this type of trips is an ultra-light Lafuma 1.2 kg mummy version, rated to +7 C for comfort. It is warm enough for me, for the BC summers. When I have felt cold on a couple of occasions, I slept in a layer of thermal underwear. The sleeping bags lose lots of insulation when washed, so I always sleep inside a cotton insert to minimize direct contacts of my body with the bag. For the pillow I use a synthetic bag stuffed with my clothes. Mine has a layer of fleece on one side, for a more pleasant feel when sleeping. The sleeping pad, the sleeping bag with the insert, the pillow and my warm fleece jacket fit in the front deck bag, with some spare space left for the hiking shoes.

I cook in two pots, 0.75 liter and 1.5 liter, with the larger pot lid used as a frying pan. I also use a portable smoker, the size of a large dictionary, for smoking fish.

Q: How safe is kayaking alone in these waters?

Overall, I do not feel that I expose myself to undue risks. The key, from my point of view, is to know what I can and cannot do with my kayak and level of skills, and travel accordingly. For example, I only cross large open areas on relatively calm days. If it is too windy and choppy, I camp for another day. And this brings me to another point: it is extremely important to have an adequate number of extra days as a safety reserve. I do not want being forced to paddle in unsafe conditions just because I am running out of time. I also rely on a portable VHF marine radio in case something bad happens. And I have with me more safety equipment than prescribed by the boating rules for the kayaks.

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