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Gulf Island Trip

Published on 9/17/2012

Report of Gulf Island Trip

Islands, warm air and water, sit-down restaurant half way through, lots of learning experiences - Steve Harris's Gulf Island trip was about as great as it gets.

 The route began at the north end of Salt Spring Island with a paddle to Chivers Point on Wallace Island.  It continued through Porlier Pass to Sandstone Campground at Dionisio Point Park; then on to Blackberry Point and Pirate's Cove.  We also took a day trip through Gabriola Pass to Silva Bay for a touch of "civilization" before heading back home.

After reviewing the itinerary at Steve's house in Seattle, including an extra day for weather and possible plans change, he gave me chart copies of the intended route.  We covered financials by agreeing to each paying the ferry fee one way and splitting the gas.

 I learned that taking two ferries, Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, Swartz Bay to Salt Spring, is more flexible than the "Reservation Required" Tsawwassen to Salt Spring direct.  In fact, there was an auto accident on the road to the terminal and making a set schedule could have been problematic.


 Steve's plan put us at the launch point in plenty of time to load boats and make the 1 mile crossing. I am still learning to pack my boat and he was very patient as I tried to fit in the kitchen sink.  


 The next day we paddled back to the launch point where I returned some items to the car and picked up a little more water – I swear, I added less than I took back.  Then we circumnavigated Wallace Island.


  The campsites at Chiver's Point are clean but raccoons were so bold they appeared before nightfall – hang your food. 

We might have saved a relationship; our good deed for the trip.  During a discussion with a kayaking couple, it became clear that they had unknowingly planned a long paddle against the current in both directions.  In addition, they had a definite time/schedule to hit on the way back.  We gave them an extra tide/current printout and Steve suggested an alternate trip route that would work with the water instead of against it.  They were very grateful.

 The water well on Wallace is quite a walk from the north camp so we used our own.

 While hiking the length of the island we passed a shack sided with drift wood testifying to owners' boat name and year. If you have a name for your kayak, you might bring a "shingle", adding to the artwork.

 The ride through Porlier's pass to Dionisio Park was "busy" despite hitting it at the correct time. I tried to remember everything I read about the Mariner's rough water handling and relax so it could do its job. Landing at low tide, in swell, on sandstone isn't the best. Thank goodness for Rhonda's keel strip.

   We had our pick of sites at Sandstone Campground on the east side; the only other couple in the park was staying at the north walk-in site.  The water pump seemed a little less than a quarter mile away.  There was a recommendation to boil the water, the camp host said it is tested every two weeks and he drinks it straight (cooties were 2 ppm instead of the non-warning limit of 1 ppm – he'd risk it).

The ride back through the pass the next day was much flatter.  Note, If it is too dicey as you pass through to Sandstone Campground, there are protected bays where you can wait for the turmoil to subside.




 The least attractive camp was Blackberry Point.  If you walked a little distance from the sites near the south end, the trail was marked with toilet paper – despite the existence of a pit toilet near the northern sites (Note to self – there was no toilet paper at the facility).  The beach is definitely 'power boat accessible'.

 We set up in a small field at the northern camp boundary.  With only one Arbutus tree, I had to make good on my claim, "If necessary, a hammock can be used as a bivi bag."  I could have lashed together some driftwood for a makeshift 'tree' but I needed to try this bivi idea out.  It wasn't pretty, but it worked. I'll just say a hammock can make a better tent than a tent can make a hammock.

After the 'tents' were setup, Steve would balance out a multi-mile paddle with a multi-mile hike.  We mostly had double digit days summing the paddle and hiking distances.  Of course the hiking was optional, but I like to explore as much as he does.

We did find a better campsite much further north, near what could be a fresh water creek.  At the time, it was way too slow for drinking, but a quick splash gets the salt off.  Previous permission from the tribe needs to be asked/granted in order to camp there.  Various guidebooks give a contact number.

The next day we left for the popular Pirate's Cove.  By this time I had a personal race with myself to get my boat loaded within at least 20 minutes after Steve was ready to go.  He was always patient as I was learning/revising what went where.

We landed in the cove and negotiated piles of drift logs on the beach.  It was easy to find a path off the beach to the campsites.  Other paddlers chose to enter the boaters' marina further north and carry their gear up a longer, flatter trail to the camp.

It was a good thing we left Blackberry Point early.  By late in the day the other Pirate Cove sites were full – with all women!  Most arrived from Cedar by the Sea, in groups of two to six, paddling doubles.

 After five days it was time for something besides camp food.  So the next day, with Slack early in the afternoon we had a lazy morning start to Silva Bay via Degnan Harbor and Gabriola Pass.

 The pass was benign compared to our Porlier experience and we continued around most of the outer islands on our way to Silva Bay.  The harbor offers showers, laundry, and a restaurant with several vegetarian offerings.  The staff was very friendly and polite – given that we'd been 'in the bush' for five days.

Though I normally just use the GPS for spot checks, I kept it on because we were curious about the mileage.  When we got back to Pirate's Cove the odometer had clocked 14 miles on the water.  Note that a trip just to Silva Bay would be shorter.  We extended the excursion as long as time allowed.  It was such a treat to paddle an empty boat for a day.


That night, about midnight a band of teenagers descended on the beach and began to scream, at the top of their voice, enthusiasm at the bioluminescence water effects.  As I, and all the other campers, listened to their ... expressions, it seemed clear that the band had no idea we were so near.  I walked down to the beach in my jammies and once they saw, 'the adult', they issued a polite "Hello".  I surveyed my response choices - like Arnold Schwarzenegger's scene in the first Terminator movie – and came up with "Do you know there are about twenty adults up there and we can hear EVERY word you say?"  "Oh, sorry mate"  was the reply, and there was an element of sincerity in it.  The noise didn't stop immediately, but it did diminish significantly and they soon took their merriment elsewhere.

Sunday morning, Steve and I – and everyone else – packed up for the push back.  By the way, the water was so warm people were going swimming.  In fact it was so warm, at least one paddlers didn't need all of her swimsuit.  Did I say this was a great trip or what!

We used our extra day to stay over at Blackberry Point and shorten the final run.  The final day brought wind waves and Steve routed us along islands that would offer shelter.

I'm sure you understand the feeling when returning to the launch point.  You don't want the trip to be over, but it is also time to get body and clothes really clean and dry.  There is a shower at Fulford Harbor but it is only for yachties.  Fortunately for us, and everyone around us, the public swimming pool offers showers (and a swim if you want more water experience) for a small fee.  It is a few miles west of the harbor, on the right side of the street down Rainbow Road.

Back in Seattle we unloaded boats and settled up on gas.  I made a small math error in Steve's favor but that's cool (I only mention it because Steve was a math teacher and I want him to know I caught my error).

The main thing I'll change in my packing is to use larger dry bags to take advantage of the Mariner's lack of bulkheads.  With my previous boat, I had to fit everything down hatches.  So gear/clothes/food needed to be distributed in smaller bags.  Smaller creates more wasted space between bags; and more trips to load/unload; even with a carry bag.  And I picked up some new gear at REI's sale – a UV water purifier for $50.00.  It is perfect for camping in places where clear water is available but with 'boil' warnings.  Saves carrying a lot of extra water (I used three dromedary bags), and saves fuel for cooking.  The UV purifier is smaller/lighter than Steve's MSR pump and it only takes 90 seconds to clean a quart.

With Steve patience, knowledge and skill, I learned about a new play area and added to my camping/kayaking experience.  At our last stop at Blackberry point, I was able, on purpose, to roll my fully loaded XL. Yes!!!

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