Sunday, December 12, 2010

Haro Strait Weather Reporting Buoy

Haro Strait

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Well thanks a lot Coast Guard Canada. This important ""automated" weather reporting buoy has been off line since the November snow storm that hit Victoria BC more then six weeks ago.

This is not a remote buoy. It sits on a reef in the middle of Haro Strait; part of the main shipping channel that links the port of Vancouver with the Pacific Ocean. It lies less then 15 nautical miles from the main CG base in Victoria and about equal distance to the CG station in Pat Bay. 

The Kelp Reef buoy is in an exposed group of rocks south-east of Darcy Island. When it's working (it frequently fails in winter gales and storms) it provides real time wind speed data which is vitally important to recreational kayakers who might be venturing out to the Discovery Island group just off Oak Bay.

Kelp Reef is totally exposed to both north winds and more importantly the south east winds that almost always accompany our worst storms. The north wind brings cold and snow but the more frequent SE storms usually cause more damage. During these storms SE winds will build large ocean swells and drive them across the east entrance of Juan de Fuca Strait into Haro Strait.

The swell and wind warps around the top end of Chatham Island races across the narrow gap and to slam into the end of 10 Mile Point. This gap is Baynes Channel the narrowest crossing to Chatham and Discovery Island. When the SE winds and swell piles up against an ebb flowing out of Haro Strait this is a potential grave yard for any inexperienced or ill informed boater.

I once witnessed a NewWest tug, pulling a barge, narrowly miss being capsized in such conditions as it struggled to get through the gap. At the other end of Haro Straight myself and a group of kayakers,, lunching on Rum Island, stood transfixed as an oil tanker misjudged the current and winds lost control and did a complete 360 before resuming its way down Haro Strait.

CG Canada is proposing that the last manned light house stations on the coast be shut down and replaced by automated units that would be maintained via helicopter and other CG vessels.

Sorry but that's a bad idea. This is a link to a short clip of a November Gale in Haro Strait. The view is north toward Haro, Dacy Island and Cordova Bay.

Monday, December 6, 2010


I recently had a custom tulik made for me and after a month of wearing it paddling around Victoria I'm glad to say I am more then happy with it.

It was made by Paulo Ouellet who is starting a small company

Paulo came by and after measuring me up, showed me some Goretex cloth samples and within a week had the tulik ready. It's both breathable and water proof, all the stitches are seam taped and the wrist gaskets are super heavy duty. I suspect they'll be far more robust then those found on typical dry suits.

Best of all is the seal around your face. Cinch it down adjust the Velcro on the sides of the hood and you have a water proof seal that does not feel like your face has been shoved through a rubber hose.

I've been wearing the tulik over my dry suit. If I didn't go swimming as much as I do I'd just wear it over a wet suit or a pair of dry pants and a sweater that Paulo also made for me. Paulo wears his over the fleece sweater and dry pants. Of course he doesn't go in the water as much as I do. The sweaters have removable hoods designed to be worn under the tulik hood. They're perfect for these cold winter days.

Here's a brief video of the tulik in action.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Big Seas!

Tuesday I was tested. In the middle of it I thought of crying out for Mummy. Glad you were not there to see it.

My good friends Paulo and Dan joined me for a circumnavigation of Discovery ahead of what was suppose to be some nasty weather but straight into the remains of Monday night's Gale. It was about 10:30 when we pushed out into the swells that were warping around Chatham Island and sweeping across the north end of Baynes Channel. The swells were only occasionally breaking but frequently exceeded two metres by a good bit.

I was feeling a little concerned about crossing Baynes. I was afraid we might get over and not be able to get back should the forecasted winds arrive early. Consequently I packed a stove, pot, water, tea, and an enlarged emergency kit etc.

The real kayaking test was off of Sea Bird reef at the south east corner of Discovery Island. We'd made our way down the west side of the island archipelago, riding the turning tide, and playing in rock gardens that were more normally dry.

At the south end of Plumber Channel we came together to make our second call of the day. We quickly decided to push on and reassess when we reached the east end of Discovery. When we got to Sea bird Reef swells having march across the entire width of Juan de Fuca Strait were steepening up into the oncoming tidal current and the shelving bottom.

Dan and Paulo stopped and expressed some concern and amazement at the size of the swell. I kept looking across the Strait at the clouds and smoke from the stacks on the American side of Juan de Fuca. Clearly the wind was picking up over in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains. Back over my shoulder along the ridge of the Sooke Hills beyond Victoria the skies were darking with the next rain front. It seemed to me it would be easier and faster to continue on around. Wrong!

Collectively we decided to push on but to swing wide around the reef. No sooner had we committed when one, two, three; endless lines of these monster swells rolled in. There was no margin for error. A mistake would have been catastrophic. It took us at least a half an hour to cover the distance from the Light House to the corner of the boat house bay - maybe half a nautical mile.

At one point we'd look over at the utility shack and we simply did not move forward. Hardest day I had paddled in a long long time; maybe ever. Dan who is very conservative about these sort of things estimated the waves to be 20 feet. I won't dispute that.

I had worked out a pattern of paddling hard up each wave face. At the top I would pause let the crest fall way then make a controlled surf down into the trough. This worked fine and I only buried the bow once right up to my chest. Once I missed a brace and thought I might loose it, but somehow instinctively recovered. I think that's when I wanted to go home to Mum.

When I could I finally took a good look back but I could see neither Dan or Paulo. First I looked over my left shoulder then my right. I was working through the rescue scenario and had decided the first step would be to call in a May Day, give our position to Victoria Rescue and head back. Just then I rode up a crest as they both reached the peak of another monster about 200 metres and two or three sets away. Nice to see them again. I was surprised to learn I had pulled so far ahead.

Paulo later suggested I either had the fear of god in me or had to take a leak. Right on both counts.

After a short beak we headed back against the building ebb through the islands and back across Baynes. Paulo and Dan choose to paddle out and drift back above the tide race that was forming in Baynes Channel. I followed until I estimated that I could slide in behind the wave train and come ashore by the Cadboro Point light. Tired but very glad to get back.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Closing Staffed Lighthouses

Canada's federal government is once again pushing to close the last staffed lighthouses on the west and coast. Surprise Surprise.

This is yet another attempt to pander to the no tax crowd from which the current version of the Conservative Government draws support.

Lets see here's $16 billion for 60 jet fighters so a couple of dozen jet jockeys can race back and forth across the country protecting us from USSR cold war bombers. Wait I just looked it up in Wikipedia and the cold war is over.

So we can throw away billions but can't spare a few million to keep lighthouses staffed.

It's been argued that our east and west coast can be protected just like our northern boarder where there's a string of automated radar huts protecting Canada's sovereignty. Those huts where built as a result of a United States initiative and were initially staffed with Canadian and American soldiers to protect us from the Reds coming over the Arctic Circle. The Grunts are gone but the sites remain.

Unfortunately because we have such an invisible presence in the Arctic the Americans, Russians, and Danes to name a few don't recognize Canada's dominion over this area. Here's hoping the Northwest Passage doesn't thaw further.

Well it occurs to me that staffed Lighthouses are remote points of sovereignty. Cue the Molson Canadian commercial. Patriotism was contracted out in the 2008 Federal Budget. Coastal Search And Rescue responsibilities of the coast guard were divested to volunteers as a cost saving move years ago.

Now staffed light houses will go. Soon those lost or in peril on our coasts will be able to count on the same world class service we provide for those lost or in danger in the remote northern regions of Canada.

Up north your emergency warning beacon sends a flash signal to an orbiting satellite which relays the signal to Canada's Command SAR centre in Trenton Ontario which is actually south of Portland Oregon.

From there highly trained and dedicated crews climb aboard their vintage 1950 four engined propeller driven planes and fly non stop for as much as 48 hours to get on site and tag your remains.

OK; on the coasts the SAR techs will show up in a 50 year old Sea King helicopter. Take comfort.

Men who go to sea in ships should not hold domain over those who stand sentinel ashore. It's bad policy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Definative Stern Rudder

Renowned kayaker and film maker Brian Smith has teamed with Leon Somme and Shawna Franklin of the equally renowned Body Boat Blade kayak school and Canoe and Kayak on line to bring us three excellent training videos. Check them out. Click the headline

Warren Williamson Owns Deception Pass

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sea Kayaker Magazine - Come On Man Step Up

While waiting for a ferry home from Orcas Island I picked up the latest edition of Sea Kayaker magazine.

The current edition includes a historical look at kayaking in the 20's and 30's. Thankfully this article was not about African Americans who might have taken up kayaking in the 1920's or 30's. Clearly if SK's accompanying explanation is followed to it's logical conclusion they would have felt compelled to use the historical "N" word.

I shudder just imagining the fall out that would have generated.

It's unfortunate that SK having recognize that at least two groups, the Inuit of Northern Canada and the Aluets of Alaska, find the term Eskimo pejorative SK went ahead and used it anyway; forgoing the opportunity to correct a term used out of ignorance or worse. Failing to correct the historical inaccuracy simply perpetuates an old mistake and fails to demonstrate respect toward the Inuit and Aluets.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Two days in Paris and I no longer sound like a rube from Purgatory Ontario. Not bad for a guy with two weeks of grade nine French. Don't get me wrong. I wanted to learn French in high school but my basketball coach told me, "you have to keep your grade average up and that Dike fails all the jocks in her French class." Just because she was Dutch was no reason to slander her. Nevertheless I left the French lessons behind to my everlasting regret.

Now when I enthusiastically greet people in Paris they don't look at me as a poor Angles, they look upon me more as the village idiot from Gaston. I'm moving up.

Our first stop of the day was the Rodin Museum, it was just around the corner and only six kilometres from the hotel - so we walked. We could have take the tube from the hotel door and got out at the gate to the museum but it was pouring rain so we walked. Once inside we picked up a floor map rented the audio guides and headed off. The museum started life as the Hotel Biron. After falling on hard times it was taken over by nuns who operated it as a school. Judging by the way they stripped the building of all its paintings it must have been a rather bleak school. Next it became an artist community headed up by Rodin himself and finally if evolved into the museum it is today.

As this was an evolutionary process there are some quirky things going on. For instance the floor map is conveniently numbered as is the audio guide. Unfortunately the exhibits and floor map numbering system are not entirely related to the audio guide. I believe this is done as a test to humble the casual tourists. Just as you begin to see what Rodin was doing to the face of that poor gargoyle you realize you are actually facing the wrong way and the audio guide is talking about the piece behind you. These French artist enjoy a clever joke as much as the rest of us.

Rodin was of course a genius. He worked on the Gates of Hell for 30 years making changes trying to get it just right. Interestingly his mistress went crazy and had to be confined for the last 30 years of her life. Hmmmm! According to my long suffering wife I too have been working towards the Gates of Hell and will have no trouble passing through them.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of the tour is the stroll through the gardens. Here the scale of the sculptures are displayed to their perfect glory. Late spring would be an ideal time to visit when the trees, shrubs and beds are in full bloom. Of course, "The Thinker," is very prominent. You come across it just before you enter the main museum. The Gates of Hell are off to the right but the sculpture that I found most intriguing was that of the Burgers of Calais. If you walk through the gardens counter clockwise it'll be the last one you see before you exit the property.

After leaving the Rodin museum we headed to the Musee d'Orsay. This is a converted railway station right along the south bank of the Seine. It is an impressive museum, very grand in it's scale. It contains works from Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh and countless others. With it's soaring ceiling this is a very impressive site and would be worthy of an extended multi day visit, but we were running short of time so we had to skip out with only a couple of Monet,s and a Cezanne under our coats.

Day Two

Leaping backward from Rodin to the the Palace of Versailles we disembark from the metro and walk 500 meters turn the corner and there's the Palace. On this cold wind swept day it does not immediately overwhelm. But as we approach the gates the sun breaks free of the clouds and the gates ignite in a wild display of golden light, just as quickly the sun retreats leaving us with only a hint of what awaits inside.

If you have an Internet ticket go to the stone outpost to the right of the gate and exchange your electronic ticket for a proper pass. Don't go directly to the main entrance without the pass. You'll end up going back for it. Do get an audio guide, again they can be quirky but with thousands of people jostling for position they're ideal - just stick the speaker to your hear and ignore the throngs.

Opulence is not a grand enough word to describe Versailles. From its beginning as a hunting lodge Louis XIV created what is one of the worlds leading heritage sites. The Hall of Mirrors, the grand canal and fountains are astounding. For me the Grand and Petite Trianon's were fascinating. Being almost a mile from the main Palace in the Marie-Antoinette's estate they were largely empty of the crowds in the Palace. Ironically that was exactly why they were built sort of a retreat from the main court and all the intrigue around the Royals.

If you go heed the advice go on less busy days and get there early. Take the metro.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Playing in tide races requires a level of skill and commitment. It also requires a level of fitness.

Unfortunately for me I've let my fitness level slip to the point that when I recently went out to practice in a one to two meter tide race I found myself doubting my sanity.

I had three objects in mind: do a little surfing, practice a few circles in the race then link two circles into a figure eight.

The surfing started out fine. I launched from Smugglers Cove or Maynard Bay and paddled up above the actual tide race in Baynes Channel. I let the kayak drift down backward onto the leading standing wave and easily caught a ride. I repeated the exercise for about twenty minutes then swung about to head directly into the heart of the race.

When I was well into the chaos of waves I started my turn. Unthinkingly I turned away from the nearest shore and toward the centre of the channel. This meant I had to fight counter clockwise through my planned circle and through the full measure of the current. If I'd turned the other way, toward the nearby shore, perhaps as much of half of the circle would have been assisted by the inshore counter eddy.

The consequence of my mistake was to be knocked about for a good ten minutes while I attempted to complete my circle. For a few moments I began to wonder about the out come. Would I be able to complete the circle? Should I abandon the circle and simply let the race carry me out through the bottom end? Should I start working out?
Was I managing the risk or was the tide race playing with me? Should I have kept that blond's phone number? Clearly I was in a confused state of mind.

Eventually I clawed my way out of the top of the race and slipped into calmer waters completely knackered. I'd had enough for one day.

Two days later I returned to the same scene but with small one to two meter waves. Surfed like a mad man, did two or three circle turns, a figure eight turn, then slid over to practice some break outs and break ins through a strong eddy line.

I've promised to get back into better shape, but have yet to start.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Birthright - Watch this Video

Nothing more needs to be added.

BIRTHRIGHT from Sean Mullens on Vimeo.

A huge thank you to Sean Mullen and Michael.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rolling Practice Smugglers Cove

Wednesday turned out to be a beautiful day on the water. A perfect day to test out the new FLIP HD camera. After six weeks waiting for a water proof case one was finally delivered through the mail slot. Alas it did not come with an external tripod mount.

The threads for the tripod are safely tucked away on the camera inside the external water proof case. So it was down to the work shop to build a Frankenstein monster device to connect the camera and the water proof case to my suction cup deck mount.

A little wood, some close cell foam, nuts, threaded rod, and a hour of puttering around and I had something workable. It ain't pretty but it worked. Dan G. calmly stood by whilst (that's for any UK readers) I set up the monster. I then shot a 50 minute clip of mostly flat water took the camera off the deck and stored it away.

We then rounded the south-east corner of Discovery Island into some really fun surge waves completely missing the opportunity to test the rig in rough water.

It got worse, as we returned to the Baynes Channel crossing the SE wind was pushing up the ebb waves into hay stacks and surf-able waves. Lots of fun was had in playing in the waves unfortunately the camera rig was still down in the hatch.

Safely back in Smugglers, or more correctly Maynard Cove, I pulled the camera out and waded out chest deep to shoot some footage of Dan rolling only to discover I have a pin hole leak in my dry suit somewhere very near the family generator equipment. In the interest of great cinematography I sacrificed a few future generations and caught the following. My apologies for the cheesy music but I could not resist.

I finished the day with my first February rolls and we retired to Starbucks for coffees, then home for a hot shower. Hours later the numbness down below was perfectly mirrored by the freezing stare from my spouse. The woman simply has no compassion.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shephard back on course to South Georgia

Haley Shephard has resumed her attempt to circumnavigate South Georgia after a replacement crew member for the rescue boat was located in Stanley on the Falklands Islands.

Shephards attempt nearly came to an end when the skipper of the Northanger lost part of a finger in an accident on-board. Shephard hopes to start paddling soon after the 21st. To learn more follow the links.

Pocession Point on Juan de Fuca Strait

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Freya Hoffmeister makes Landfall in Victoria BC

On a damp Friday evening when the whole of Canada was tuned into the Olympic Winter Games opening in Vancouver, a group of kayaking die-hard's gathered in Victoria to greet and listen to Freya Hoffmeister recount her epic journey around Australia.

Well excuse me for not jumping on the kayak band wagon, but I cannot help but think that Freya's presentation in Victoria was kind of well flat.

Granted I was at the back, where the sound was not that great, but I earnestly strained to hear something that would convey the excitement and epic nature of her trip around Oz. I think her cold or sore voice may have gotten the better of her - she seemed tired.

Sure there were moments in her presentation, but not nearly enough of them. The south coast of Australia, shark nudges to name a few. But mostly it seemed to be one day of drudgery after another. Certainly there was not enough offered up to help a person plumb the depths of one of kayaking's most remarkable characters. I came away knowing little more about Freya then was shared in her blog. Maybe that's a down side to blogging. Could blogs reveal to much or maybe they indulge us to much?

During my checkered kayaking career I've had the opportunity to paddle and share a drink with two of the most prominent women in the sport Shawna Franklin and Justin Curgenven, and now Freya. I'll take Shawna and Justin any day. Maybe it's the way they laugh and smile or see a world of colours and not just black. Perhaps they lack an obsessively driven nature or what might be a smouldering intensity of Freya.

Or maybe it's just me. I'm a parent and the most important thing in my life is my son and family. Since Freya's trip began I've been trying to understand how a parent can essentially put kayaking ahead of one's family. Freya's son is 14 years old and for half of his life she has accomplished some of the most spectacular solo trips in the world - Iceland, New Zealand and now Oz to name but a few.

Though out my son's formative years I was privilege to be a stay at home parent. During that time we shared a journey of discovery that I would not trade for all the islands and all the oceans in the world. I cannot help but think that in 30 years the colour will have faded on Freya's photos and there will little left but dusty memories. Whereas, I'll have the a living bond, love and strength of a remarkable person.

I know nothing of her family circumstances but I fear that she's missed out on lifes greatest journey. Perhaps I'm wrong, there is after all no one right way to raise a family, maybe the course she's steered will have been the right one. One thing is certain I knew little more about Freya upon leaving then I did before arriving.

Perhaps her story is like Homer's Ulysses, just too big for one sitting or one quick power point show. Maybe the book will be the ticket.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

South Georgia Adventure in Jeoprady

Late last week an accident on the support vessel Northanger has put Hayley Shephards attempt to become the first to solo kayak around South Georgia in jeopardy.

The co owner and skipper of the Northanger severed part of his right index finger while underway in Drake Passage.

After being hove to, due to the storm, for three days the vessel diverted to Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands. Short an able bodied sailor the support vessel may not be able to sail to South Georgia. Without the support vessel Hayley's circumnavigation is in serious trouble.

Saturday will be the critical day, if a replacement sailor cannot be found by then the trip will likely be canceled. Waiting longer stretches the favourable weather window just too far.

As an alternative Hayley is considering the possibility of an attempt to circumnavigate the Falkland Islands. She'd be the first female to undertake the endeavour.

To read more follow these links.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hayley Shephard off to South Georgia

I said a difficult farewell to Hayley Shephard and Beth-Anne Masselink at Victoria International last Friday. Hayley is off to attempt a solo circumnavigation of South Georgia Island. Beth-Anne is her backup rescue kayaker who will launch from the support vessel and come to Hayley's aid should it be needed.

The circumnavigation of South Georgia is perhaps the most difficult paddle in the world. Although it's not long by many expedition standards there are no days when you are not at extreme risk. It's 400 miles of deadly risk.

Saying good bye to someone who you may never see again is troubling. All sorts of conflicting thoughts run through your head. I took some comfort in knowing that well known and trusted west coast quide Beth-Anne Masselink would at least be near by.

The island lies at 54 15 S and 36 45 W. Look it up on a globe and you'll see how one could strike out sailing east from South Georgia and your first land fall would be the west shore of the island you left from. There would be nothing but wind waves and the odd iceberg on your journey. There is an old mariners saying "in the forties there is no law - in the fifties there is no god"

The follow link takes you to a 2009 Christmas Day photo of a sheltered port on the east shore. Nothing landed on Christmas Day.

The island has twice been circumnavigated by kayakers. Once by British paddlers Nigel Denis, Jeff Allen, Peter Bray and Israeli Hadas Feldman. Just prior to their trip the circumnavigation was completed by Kiwi's Graham Charles, Marcus Waters and Mark Jones.

Jeff Allen wrote: "Fur seals are very aggressive, as is the weather, very unpredictable, went from a force 4 to a force 8 in seconds today, took Pete by surprise and capsized him, water is freezing, after ten minutes hands and feet are freezing. Feet especially lost all feeling, my cockpit leaks and I am sat in 2" of freezing water most of the time.

He concluded that blog entry with a clear sign that he was becoming delusional. "All is well, spirits high, best wishes to everyone following the team."

Nigel Dennis speaking about the trip said, two would beat back the Fur Seals and Sea Lions with paddles while the others pitched tents or ate.

You can follow Hayley's trip at

Dennis, Allen and Bray are giants in the kayaking community. I know little about the Kiwi's. Hayley Shephard is a diminutive Kiwi ex pat living in Alert Bay BC who guides in Churchil Bay in the summer and sometimes works as a school teacher. Oh, and she's one very brave woman.