North Pacific Canoeing
by Andrew Malcolm
Ocean paddling is risky business, particularly in a canoe. To prepare I brought a tarp with straps to use as a cover and a full wet suit in case I capsized. All camping gear was dry sacked and secured to the canoe. Unfortunately the straps did not hold the tarp on and the zipper broke off my wet suit. So much for preparation.
The plan was to paddle from Pachena Bay to Bamfield Inlet, but I was turned around at Cape Beale. Sitting in choppy 15 foot swells staring at waves crashing against jagged rock islands was a little intimidating, particularly without charts or a marine radio. The canoe capsized while I was paddling into Keeha beach. This would have been fine, accept I had just taken my digital camera out of the dry sack before hand and it was submerged in salt water and grinded on sand.
This was possibly an act of bad karma. Early that morning I found a group of sealís sunbathing with their pups close to my camping spot. Oblivious to what was behind them, I was able to get within ten feet before they ran away. One seal left without waking her pup and I was able to sit right next to the little guy. After I took a few shots he woke up and stared at me with huge black eyes. ĎJust a few more shots,í I thought before I backed off and let him return to mom. This is bad marine mammal viewing etiquette and I think my camera paid the price, a very expensive price.
I was also turned away on my return trip to Pachena Bay. The swells had grown quite large and seemed to come from different directions and break in random places. This was a little freaky and called for a delay. The next morning the swells had grown even larger. To get around the point I had to paddle out into the ocean, where they were at least not breaking, than back into the bay. As I sunk into the troughs and rose to the peaks of the waves the horizon vanished and reappeared. Careful navigation was required for entering the bay as the waves were breaking at varying distances away from the shore. As it happened, my canoe was pointed directly towards the blow hole of a gray whale. Ten minutes later, two of them surfaced 15 feet from my canoe and guided me home. Well they didnít actually guide me home, but its fun to romanticize things.