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.