5 days of salty sea

after two days, my arms are a little less sore and the bugbites have subsided into dull bumps on the backs of my arms – my slight pinkish glow is mellowing into the best tan i’ve had all summer, and i’m ready to write about the trip aaron and i just completed on the sechelt inlet.

to start i should confess neither of us had any real canoe experience or knowledge before going into this. however, we both have done quite a bit of backcountry hiking, and are strong swimmers, which seemed like good pre-requisites for our first paddling adventure together – plus i picked a reasonable first trip that required no portaging and involved no wide open water. it turned out that my assumptions were correct, and this turned out as an excellent introduction to paddling and to the waterways near which i live, while also providing the backcountry experience we were both craving.

as you can see from the map i posted at the photo gallery, the sechelt inlet has two inlets which branch off of it and several marine park campsites throughout. although a lot of the land and foreshore on the inlets are engaged by industrial use (fish farming, logging, gravel mining), there are also plenty of stretches entirely unpeopled (particularly up narrows inlet). in five days of canoeing and camping we did not encounter another person save for the odd passing fish boat, and a couple of kayakers we crossed paths with – which had a lot to do with our timing (left at the end of a long weekend, returned by the friday as people were heading out again).

the one consideration on these inlets is the thermal winds which pick up between about 11 and 4 – they can range from causing minor inconvenience (difficult paddling) to being a bit dangerous (small whitecaps). our paddling days ranged from 2-5 hours, which gave us lots of time for lounging about, making camp, swimming, making fires, gathering shellfish and other things. the weather (which was originally predicted for rain) turned out to be phenomenal and sunny every day which i was very glad for, as paddling is wet business, and the sun really helps for drying out and warming up.

day 1 (monday):

our first day, we went for breakfast at the gumboot cafe to get ourselves psyched up, picked up a few last minute groceries for the cooler, and then drove to the tillicum marina to pick our canoe up from pedals and paddles, a small family-run business. the canoe rental was $190 (with tax) for 5 days which was a lot cheaper than renting two kayaks. canoeing allows you to pack more gear than backpacking, including more fresh food, and looking at our loaded canoe in the marina, it seemed like we had way more stuff than we needed – certainly more than we are used to taking out.

the first two hours of paddling was hallmarked mostly by our inability to co-ordinate in such a way as to make the canoe go in a straight line. as we zig-zagged out, leaving the last roaded community of tuwanek behind us, we realized that 1) reading a little more about how to canoe might have been useful and 2) paddling is hard on all the arm joints – but we took a leisurely pace, and stuck close to shore, and in this way propelled forward at a good clip (straight line or no). we practiced our navigation by exploring the lamb islets on our way up, peering down onto the rock shelfs to get a good look at fish, starfishes, urchins and other creatures. i had never really imagined how much more marine life you could see by small boat – this was one of my favourite features throughout the trip.

we had started out with the vague goal of paddling to kunechin bay campsite on the first day, though once we reached nine-mile campsite (after passing tuwanek point and oyster beach sites), where we pulled in to eat lunch, we decided to stay there instead. reasons for this decision included the fact we could have a fire at nine-mile (which are banned at kunechin), there is lots of fresh water there, and mostly because there is a large oyster bed, and a clam bed at this site – which added infinite possibilities to our camp menu. we spent the afternoon swimming, napping, gathering shellfish and firewood and otherwise loafing about. we ate a dinner of pasta with clams, fresh tomatos, garlic and olive oil with bbqued oysters on the side before retiring to the beach to play in the bioluminescent water and watch the sun go down.

day 2 (tuesday):

packed up camp after a breakfast of granola and strong espresso (thanks to aaron for bringing his camp espresso-maker) and headed out for our long paddling day which turned out to be around 5 hours of actual paddling (6-7 hours with breaks). our goal for the day was to start early enough to make it across salmon inlet (1 nautical mile before the afternoon winds picked up, and get up narrows inlet as far as tzoonie narrows to camp. i was vaguely nervous about the crossing, as it was our first time away from shore, and our canoe skills still weren’t that strong (in case winds did pick up or we encountered strong boat wake). it turned out i worried for nothing, as the crossing was uneventful and we dawdled enough to look at the hundreds of jellyfish floating all around our boat (not to mention the odd seal who popped his head up close by). we made good time across and passed kunechin point and then under the power lines which stretch across sechelt inlet (and where there are odd currents owing to the cliffs that drop into the water there).

somewhere about mid-day we started to realize certain things about steering a canoe and how there really is more than one way to control the boat. we also started figuring out what each person’s role in a canoe really was (in terms of direction and force) – which was all in the context of fighting against afternoon winds and cross-currents. by the time we got to lunch in storm bay, i was exhausted and blood-sugar fatigued – but a packet of smoked salmon served with avacado on crackers (with some chocolate almonds for desert) got me fixed right quick and we shortly headed back out into the winds. the trip up narrows inlet is really beautiful, shadowed on all sides by tall peaks, with lots of verdant shoreline to explore. along the way we passed an outdoor outfitters camp and an active log-staging area before we made it into the tzoonie narrows area. because we were pretty sure there was no water at the tzoonie campsite, we decided to first explore the far shore (which meant crossing some tidal rapids) to see if one of the creeks i could see on the map still had water. although we did not find water (the creek was dry), we did find an old homestead where apple trees offered ripe fruit for the picking (and quite clearly there had recently been a very large animal in there taking the fruit for herself). we rested on the shore for awhile, picked some fruit, and gathered firewood while waiting for the rapids to die down somewhat.

crossing back over we discovered a very large oyster bed at the entrance to the camp, which meant more fresh seafood for dinner to go with our couscous and daal. aaron swam while i collapsed on the grassy shore after we unpacked, and our evening went late as we sat around the fire and watched the stars come out over the mountains across from us. we had a slightly tense moment as we drifted off to sleep and heard a loud snorting noise outside our tent (narrows inlet is known to have grizzlies within it), but it turned out only to be a very loud seal huffing in the bay during his swim about.

day three (wednesday):

the third day was for all intents a rest day. we started off mid-morning with a breakfast of oatmeal with fresh apples and blackberries from the bushes near our campsite – our only real goal for the day to paddle further up narrows inlet (beyond the narrows) and find fresh water as our supplies were running low. we launched at 11 and paddled along the rocky shoreline about 10 minutes before we came to a beautiful little waterfall in a grotto of trees where aaron was able to pump some water and i got to hang out in a beautifully soft and mossy tree and take pictures. after this we meandered another hour or so up the inlet, stopping at a creek to have lunch and read our books in the sun, before heading back down to return to camp.

we had a lot of afternoon to lounge about in on this day, which we spent reading, swimming, resting, collecting firewood, taking pictures of the aging forestry equipment around the campsite, and again gathering oysters for dinner. fallen trees behind the site provided an abundance of sticks for the fire which burned late into the night, and we celebrated our newfound water abundance by making an oyster-miso stew with noodles and two pots of tea instead of the usual one.

day four (thursday):

we started out the fourth day early because to make time before the late morning winds kicked into action since we had decided to cross the sechelt inlet to camp at halfway beach. although we started out tired (the three days of paddling had now started to show in both our muscle fatigue) it was also evident we were actually paddling in a straight line and had a much better handle on navigating in windy waters. we took our time heading out of the inlet, but made up for it by not following the shoreline and taking point-to-point crossings of the bays instead.

rather than crossing at a narrow point, we decided to cross at the mouth of narrows inlet which made for a wide crossing, but by this point i was much more comfortable with more open waters. both aaron and i got into a synchronized paddling space that produced the most focussed and fastest paddling of the whole trip that was quite amazing to me and helped our crossing immensely. once on the other side of sechelt inlet, we turned southward and stayed close to the shore as the winds were picking up and causing quite a bit of chop in the water. after crossing by two fish farms we stopped for a lunch and rest break in a shady bay to wait the winds out after which we paddled another hour or so to halfway beach, pausing along the way to take photos and enjoy the mid-afternoon scenery.

halfway beach was low on shellfish, but a much better place for swimming than the other two sites, so we decided the campsite there would suffice and went for a long swim before hauling ourselves onto the pebbly beach to sun for awhile before dinner and camp set up. dinner was a chowder of potatos and tinned salmon with butterscotch pudding for dessert. although we arranged for a fire a storm front moved in fairly early with a brief but intense downpour. we went to bed early with the wind threatening to take down our tent which was held down with rocks rather than being staked out – but had a pretty peaceful sleep after the winds died down on our last night sleeping by the shore.

day five (friday):

we ate granola and packed up camp quickly upon waking as the end of trip blues settled upon us. we crossed the sechelt inlet quickly to avoid winds catching us up, and then paddled pretty much directly for the marina. within three hours we were back at our starting point and hauling our boat out of the water for the last time.

5 days of canoeing (and about 23 nautical miles covered) definitely felt like an accomplishment to both of us since we started out with no knowledge at all, and returned with a bunch (how to paddle safely and effectively, how to harvest oysters & clams, timing with and against winds, and how to load a canoe for best weight balance and accessibility) – plus much stronger shoulders and wrists. we came back with a definite sense of wanting more wilderness experiences together as well which is great because i don’t have that many people who like doing outdoors stuff in my life and he and i travel very well together in this way. we have even started talking about possibly trying sections of the pacific crest trail at some point in the upcoming years! i’m not so sure about that yet, but who knows? maybe a 3-6 month hike is in my future somewhere.

i know for sure there will be more paddling in my future and i’m so glad to have moved to this most perfect of places to enjoy that 🙂

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