|Rest stop- just over halfway there- looks close but never seems to get closer|
So I sat there in the morning sun completely relaxed and happy with my situation of being almost an hour's paddle away from the nearest land should something go wrong. But nothing would go wrong on this day- certainly not with the weather. I was the engine and then there was just the paddle, the board and an endless expanse of calm, sunlit sea. Life was simple. Life was good.
Another reson I was able to relax to the degree I did was that I had brought extra food, clothing and water in case I did have to spend the night on the island for some reason. I was carrrying a cell phone, a VHF radio, flares and a headlamp. I was wearing a farmer john wetsuit and friends knew where I was so I felt I'd covered all the bases a reasonable person could for such an adventure.
There were only two 'concerns' I had. One was the colony of sea-lions on the SW end of the island. It was mating season and the bulls were fighting. I'd been told this by my paddling friend and SUP mentor Darcy who had been the first one to do this trip on a SUP board a few weeks earlier.
Male sea lions are huge animals and have sometimes behaved aggressively towards kayakers- so it's best to avoid getting too close to them- especially in mating season. Fortunately, I knew where they were and so planned to go around the north end of the island and land on the east side instead.
My only other concern was transient killer whales- the mammal hunting kind. On a solo trip last May to Desolation Sound, I'd had what for me was a pretty scary encounter with a group of transient killer whales that ambushed me while actively hunting and later killed a seal (see my other blog for full account). On this trip so far from any land, I really did not want to get ambushed and 'checked out' again by a group of these whales, the largest mammal hunting predators on the planet- while I was out there alone on a tiny board. It was an unnerving experience- not at all like the friendly encounters with the fish eating 'resident' killer whales.
I was still about 3 kms away from the island when I began to hear the roaring and bellowing of the bull sea lions- they were that load. It was an awesome sound, a huge sound like that conjured up an image for me of two different prides of lions fighting over the same carcass. As Darcy had, I too ran into quite a strong current as I drew closer to the island. To keep myself on track, I lined up one of the features on the island with a prominent peak on the mainland in the background and angled my approach to keep those two points aligned so I didn't lose ground.
Plenty of seals on the north end- dozens of them and they were very curious and seemed more like a welcoming party than anything else- a dozen or so 'herding' me into the beach.
By the time I pulled into the beach, the water was almost mirror calm and I was beginning to really feel the heat. I'd made it!
|GPS watch- a great tool to have along|
What a fantastic feeling! A major SUP goal accomplished and on the most beautiful day in the history of the universe.
I wasted no time in stripping off my wetsuit and booties. Now I could dig my thermos out and have that coffee I'd missed earlier. Ahh, now that's what I mean.
Now in shorts and bare feet, I spent a really nice hour or so wandering about the island. There are many very special places in the world, but here on such a day on Mitlenatch Island on the west coast of British Columbia- there was no place on earth I would rather have been.
|Mitlenatch Island- looking east|
But this time, I needed to think about paddling back. Yes, I could have spent several more hours there but I felt that same restless energy I used to feel when having reached the summit of a hard climb. I was only halfway, I still had to get safely back down- and in this case, I still had an 11.4 km paddle to do.
|The Volunteer Naturalist's Cabin/ Emergency shelter. The apple tree is on the left (pk photo)|
I picked three ripe apples from the tree by the naturalist's hut to bring and share with Darcy and Darlene who were going to paddle out and meet me part way back, slipped my board back into the water, said goodbye to lovely Mitlenatch Island for this year and started the long paddle back.
The tide was still flooding and about 4 km on the way back my progress began to slow noticeably. That far out from a fixed reference, I probably wouldn't have noticed if it weren't for my GPS. If I'd waited until the tide changed and the ebb began, I would have had less of a workout. But this slowing didn't last too long before either the tide began to ease or I was out of the faster flow of it. I was getting really warm now so I stripped my wetsuit down to my waist and kept steadily paddling towards the point on the ridge near Mt. Washington that I'd picked out as a reference for the return while on the way to Mitlenatch.
I met up with Darcy and Darlene about 3 kms offshore and we sat out there on our boards in the sun drinking water and munching the apples I had brought back. Then, we began paddling back the last leg together- now motivated by the thought of a pub being there. Lunch and a cold beer in the sun-yes!
|Darcy and Darlene - who paddled out to greet me on the return|
|Darlene and I toasting Mitlenatch|
Fog can really be a serious issue as well and this frustrated an earlier attempt. As fog can come in very quickly, I think you really need to be carrying a GPS or compass.
Given it took me just over 2 hours to cover the 11.4 km to the NW beach, I was clearly getting some help from the flooding tide- and was working against that same current for part of the return trip- so tide times are worth noting.
The closest launch point to the island is the Salmon Point Resort which also just happens to be a pub- this can be very motivating on the return trip.
Eatmore bars are a great paddling fuel.
Mitlenatch Island is a wildlife sanctuary- a park and no overnight camping on the island is permitted except in an emergencey. There are volunteer naturalists there from May until the end of September and they stay in a well-built driftwood hut with a woodstove.
For the record: Darcy Wardrop did the first known SUP trip to Mitlenatch in September 2012 and this accomplishment was repeated a couple of weeks later by Scott _____.
Mine was the 3rd known SUP trip there- and I think this will become a classic outing for the more adventurous stand-up paddler.