The low tide surf lanuch is very doable. We rounded Pachena Point with some boomers kicking up. One had my name on it, but I barely dodged it. It's a little unnerving getting so close to such huge breakers. We tried to stop at Klanawah River to play on the cable car, but the surf was too huge. We couldn't land at Tsusiat Falls either, although we can wave to the hikers along the West Coast Trail. We were able to land at an Indian Reserve just west of Clo-ose where a guy was living who invited us to stay and camp and have dinner with him. There were also some fishermen there who were also kiteboarders on Nitnat Lake and had come out through Nitnat Narrows for the afternoon. After some brief chitchat, we push on to Carmanah, as I've been talking up Monique's restaurant for days. Luckily, the beach is well protected behind Carmanah Point, and we had no problem landing here.
Ah, Chez Monique. This restaurant is built on the beach with logs and tarps, and is taken down each winter to protect it from the winter storms. Monique serves up burgers and beer to hikers that travel the West Coast Trail from a tiny piece of reservation land tucked in below the Carmanah lighthouse.
Day 30: Carmanah Bay to Sombrio Beach
Chez Monique is even better for breakfast than it is for dinner. We bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast and jam. More hikers come through, and there is a common bond of being way out in the wilderness that brings us all together in camaraderie. Monique's kids are taking orders and working the kitchen while she lounges and chit chats as well.
Boomers and swell kick up strongly in spots on our trip to Sombrio Beach, provoking Scott to suggest a mild earthquake, although a series of undersea shoals is more likely. The big swell is scary and steep as it careens to shore. We stopped at Carmulle(?) Creek, a pocket beach on the West Coast Trail where the surf was difficult but manageable. To get off the beach, Roy and I try a cowboy maneuver, pushing our empty boats out past the dumping wave break and then jumping onto the stern and shimmying up and in. It worked great. We also stopped along the way in a very sheltered Providence Cove and basked on the stones in the sunshine.
A lot of people are camped at Sombrio Beach, including surfers out on a small reef break. The beach is 500 meters from a road and parking lot, and has toilets and bear cans. We camp on large cobbles that clink like poker chips, away from the more established campsites. Fog and mist come in late evening. We spend some time planning our next several days. The big restriction is figuring out where we are going to camp, something we haven't had to worry about for weeks now. We elect to go with a three day plan for getting to Discovery Island, camping at French Beach and an RV Park just past Race Rocks, then zipping into Victoria for an hour or two on our way. Plans change though, as we later discover.
Day 31: Sombrio Beach to French Beach
We are not planning on going far, so we don't leave until 11am to miss most of the morning ebb. The sky is slate gray. We leave before the ebb has ended, but we catch eddies and a tailwind all the way to Jordan River, making great time. We pull up on a small beach at river's edge and cross a small road to eat at a restaurant called Breakers. Two girls who have just finished the West Coast Trail sit at the next table, catching lunch en route back to Vancouver. When we leave, they run across the road to wave us off.
Four miles on, we make a fairly easy surf landing on French Beach, only to discover that supposed campsites are 400 meters up a trail at the far end of the beach. We camp next to the "No Camping" signs back behind some trees on the hiking trail due to the winds that have picked up. The weather is very overcast and windy, so there won't be many people out on the beach anyways. The weather report says that it is blowing 30 knots at Race Rocks right now. It was a sleigh ride today, and we got off the water just in time.
As we are camped along the trail inside our tents, a boy and his father walk by. The boy asks "why are they camping here??". His father replies: "maybe they were in those kayaks and it got too rough". Good answer. Luckily, noone bothers us this evening. The urbanized world is rearing its ugly head when we have to worry about where we are going to be able to camp.
Day 32: French Beach to Victoria
We got up early and off the beach before people started showing up. It's a long slow paddle up the coast, although we make reasonable time. We look for the petroglyph that Doug Alderson mentions. We meet some hikers on a beach who point us in the right direction. There is a seal petroglyph, and there is also a thunderbird which is a recent knock-off. We make it all the way to Race Passage at 1pm, just as the flood starts. Some of the morning winds have calmed, so it is very easy and pleasant. I had suggested that we might continue onto Victoria, which is now in view another dozen miles away. After overcoming Scott's fears about not getting to the kayak shop in time for him to store his boat, we decide to go for it. Our other option is to kayak a mile down a side bay to an RV park, which is the only other place where we know there is camping. Hmmm. Living the good life in the big city, or camping in an RV park? Let's go to the city.
We catch flood and wind and cruise along across the bay at 5 knots. Today is a beautiful day, and I feel like I can kayak on forever. The harbour is alive with a cruise ship, float planes and harbour tour boats.
We stop in front of the Empress Hotel for an obligatory picture, then head up a channel to Ocean River Kayaks, with whom Scott has spoken about storing his kayak. They are extremely nice. They let us store our kayaks in locked racks and our gear in a shed overnight. Their store has an amazing selection of really good quality gear, too. I bought a new tow belt to replace the one I lost at Peddler's Cove, and chat with the store people about our trip.
We stay at the Traveller's Inn, three blocks from the kayak shop. After showers, we head for an Irish pub for pub 'n grub, then out for ice cream, then we do a little shoppping for gifts. Roy buys Cuban cigars for his girls' soccer coach. Andrew buys more tea than I can drink in a year. Victoria is a charming, bustling town that is worth a visit again sometime.
Day 33: Victoria to Jones Island
No rush in the morning, as the flood doesn’t start until afternoon. Scott leaves us early to catch the bus to Port Hardy, while the rest of us go out for omelets before walking down the street to Ocean River Kayaks to pick up our kayaks and gear. Everyone there is really friendly.
Navigating our way through the tour boats and float planes, we head out of the harbour and head east to Disco (what locals call Discovery Island). We have very favorable eddy currents the whole way, and we end up relaxing on the beach for a good amount of time while waiting for the flood to start. The flood current wraps around Discovery Island and then heads straight up to the shore of San Juan, so even though we are going to be doing a long crossing, the current is going exactly the same way we are.
The only hazard in the Strait when we push off is a tug towing a barge, but it motors on ahead of us. We bounce around a few rips going across, but with no boat traffic and little wind, the ride is quite enjoyable this time. When we start heading up along the shore of San Juan, we really catch the current, and my GPS records 7.5 knots at one point with fairly minimal paddling on my part. We average 4.5 knots from Disco all the way to Roche Harbor, where a disgruntled customs official checked us through customs. Welcome to USA he says with a frown. The flood is winding down, so we crack the whip and jump out into Spieden Channel, heading for Jones Island.There are lots of people on Jones Island. There are seven other boaters at the CMT site alone, but the people are very friendly and perk up when we say that we have kayaked from Victoria this morning. One guy has had many west coast experiences, and we swap stories about our trips. People start offering us wine, and we happily settle in for our last supper.
Day 34: Jones Island to Washington Park
We are up before everyone else and silently slip out into the water. Our latest plan is to arrive at 3pm at Washington Park. The San Juan Islands seem like home as we wander along the south side of Orcas past the ferry terminal at which I’ve spent so many hours waiting in line during previous summers. We stop in Olga for brunch, tying our kayaks up at the dock and then hiking up to the Olga Art Gallery/Café for baked eggs with smoked salmon. Roy points out a series of artwork there that Shawna Franklin (of Body Boat Blade) has done, as she is an artist when not kayaking. The west coast seems far away now that we are appreciating fine food and art a few miles from home, but we will be back again some day. A few more miles and we are out in Rosario Straight and heading home.