Sea Kayaking in Johnstone Strait
Johnstone Strait is a 110 km channel along the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. Opposite the Vancouver Island coast, running north to south, are Hanson Island, West Cracroft Island, mainland British Columbia, Hardwick Island, West Thurlow Island and East Thurlow Island. At that point, the strait meets Discovery Passage which connects to The Salish Sea. The passage is between 2.5 km and 5 km wide. It is a major navigation channel on the west coast of North America. It is the preferred channel for vessels from the Salish Sea leaving to the north of Vancouver Island through the Queen Charlotte Strait bound for Prince Rupert, Queen Charlotte Islands, Alaska, and the North Pacific Ocean and for southbound vessels from those areas bound for Vancouver. The Strait is home to approximately 150 Orca during the summer months. Scientists including Michael Bigg and Paul Spong have been researching the Orcas in the Strait since 1970. Spong established the Orca Lab, based on studying the Orcas in their natural habitat without interfering with their lives or their habitat. The strait includes the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve. Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve was established in 1982 as a sanctuary for Orca. The area, 10 km southeast of Telegraph Cove and 40 km from Port McNeil is restricted. Access by boat or land is prohibited. The total area of the reserve, including upland and foreshore, is 5,460 hectares. It is named after the late Orca researcher Michael Bigg.
Trip Details – Day 1
May 14th, 2016 – 7:20 am departure from Telegraph Cove Kayak Launch
12:45 pm arrival – Second Beach campsite, 15.9 km from launch
The waters were quite calm, barely a ripple during the entire paddle. I wasn’t even on the water 10 minutes and a baby Humpback Whale breached approximately 75 meters from my Kayak. I took an extended break on a beach just past Blinkhorn Peninsula and on a couple of other pocket beaches during the paddle. Actual paddle time is about 3.5 hours, averaging 4.4 km/hr. Best landing on Second Beach on all tides is at the north end, approximate 60 meter landing area. The beach is loose pebble, 15-20 degree grade. Lots of tinder and wood for fires and a small creek for drinking water.
Trip Details – Day 2
9:45 am departure for Robson Bight Ecological Reserve Boundary – 0.75km away
The perimeter of the Ecologocal Reserve must be respected. Environment Canada issued 2-3 day wind warnings for Johnstone Strait on the evening of May 13th, the weather system was beginning to make itself apparent on the water with some turbulence. No Orca spotted but they are definitely there! I spent some time exploring the beach just north of the reserve.
Upon returning to my campsite on Second Beach I noticed quite a large Black Bear further down the beach, approximately 200 meters away. I was beginning to wonder where all the Black Bear were? Considering 10,000 are estimated to live on Vancouver Island, I was surprised not to see any yet. Well, there one was! Luckily the Bear was only foraging for food, overturning rocks at the low tide line and moving in the opposite direction further down the beach. It was aware of my presence as it would occasionally look up and in my direction! After about half an hour it disappeared into the treeline. It’s important to allow the Bear to progress naturally and not interfere with it’s feeding. As well, a reminder that in other circumstances where an encounter may not be able to be avoided this is why you always carry Bear spray, never becoming complacent with that practice! Bears are one thing but spray is also effective with other predators such as Cougar and Wolf.
Trip Details – Day 3
May 16th, 2016 – 7:20 am departure from Second Beach campsite
The winds were high and the water was very rough between Second Beach and Kaikash Creek. Johnstone Strait is notorious not only for current but also conflicting wind patterns. I took a break on the beach by Kaikash Creek only to find relatively fresh Wolf track and scat. I was uncertain if the tracks were Wolf or Cougar, either way I didn’t spend much time on the beach to find out and carried on. After departing Kaikash Creek, the winds and water became much more calm, especially beyond Blinkhorn Peninsula. I’m always impressed at how the weather systems can be so localized. One truly appreciates this only from the seat of a Kayak. I arrived at Telegraph Cove Kayak Launch at 12:40 pm. A big thanks to Leslie at the Coffee shop for helping me load my Kayak up. As only a true solo paddler realizes, this can be the most exhausting part of any journey and the help was appreciated. I promised Leslie coffee for a week but maybe a case of beer will accomplish my sense of gratitude all the same?
One humpback, two schools of Pacific White Sided Dolphin, four River Otter, one Golden Eagle, six Harbour Seals, one Sea Lion, one Black Bear.
I was really hoping to see Orca, believe it or not I have never laid my eyes on one either in captivity or in the wild. Perhaps they will elude me much like how the Mountain Lion does? I was far from disappointed in not seeing Orca though, it was good to get back on the water and explore. I think I may have grown a little too accustomed to the tranquil sandy beaches that Clayoquot Sound offers, so some rough beach camping did me some good and everything for the most part was quite comfortable. One thing that continues to strike me after these journeys, regardless of duration is that I always come back a little bit different. Different in my sense of perspective and thought as to what matters, what does not. One thing is for sure, I always come back a little bit more inspired.