Kayaking – The Complete Broughtons - only where you have walked have you been (2022)

My friend Charlie and I had just launched to start a 10-day kayak trip through the Broughtons. We were up at 3 AM, and on the road by 4:30 to drive to the Naka Creek Recreation Site south of Robson Bight on Johnstone Strait. We arrived at 7:30 to cross on the slack. There was no reason to rush. The middle of Johnstone Strait was a mass of white caps and wind driven swell. The southeasterly looked at least 20-25 knots. We unpacked the two single kayaks and all our gear hoping that the wind would die as the forecast predicted. The plan was to cross Johnstone Strait and head northwest to camp near the west end of West Cracroft Island. We had been planning this trip for several months and were excited to be on the water. At 10:30, it looked a little better out in the strait so we decided to launch into the bay. I paddled out about 50 meters trying to face into the wind waves. Out in the strait, things were no better with the wind just as strong. We returned – tt would have been very difficult at best. We settled into the cozy waterfront campsite and socialized with Edward, the host.
The boiling mass started to die down by 3 and it was calm by 4. Two humpbacks put on an acrobatic display with 10 big spy hops each, belly flopping with huge womps, followed by 5 head stands each with over half their bodies and tails out of the water. We will always be curious about why they like to play so much. Dinner: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, salad.

You will soon notice that I like good food. Eating in foreign countries for 6-7 months per year makes me crave home cooking, and I love to cook good tasting food. Organizing all the food for 10 days was daunting but I made sure we wouldn’t run out. The challenge for two 18-day trips will be sure to keep me up at nights. Thankfully Charlie likes fishing and I like to cook it. I am always curious what others are eating on longer trips, so I have included what we ate each day. Occasionally, I have included ingredients so you can figure out the recipes.

I don’t like fishing. Fishing has always seemed boring. But we have two three-week trips coming up that will require supplementing our diet with fish. I’ve procrastinated long enough and need to get out there. I’ve copied a friends kayak fishing rod made from a one foot cedar 2×4 with a handle and club with line wound around the club part. It has a bungy for attaching to the kayak. I also have a gaff, rubber gloves, a chain for dealing with all the fish, and pliers. So this 10 day trip was a chance to hone our fishing skills, hopefully even to start liking fishing. Charlie has an identical rod and is keen to catch and eat fish too. His experience is little more than mine.

After French toast for breakfast and a lazy 8:30 start, we paddled across the mirror like Johnstone Strait. With minimal wind and current, there were still 2 foot wind waves in the middle of the channel. We turned west along the south coast of West Cracroft Island paddling with the ebb current. A big sea lion followed for over an hour, coming up for air every 20-60 seconds with big, noisy breaths. Following the cliffs and numerous coves, we had lunch (vegys and hummus, Ryvita and cream cheese) at the commercial camp on the headland on the east end of Boat Bay – very nice, and eventually set up camp in the west facing bay east of the Sophia Islands in the middle cove. There was a kitchen and one tent pad. Dinner: ham and baby potatoes, salad. 18 kilometers.

The loss of the pee bottle could be a big deal. Fortunately, Charlie prefers a cup and gave me his bottle. With a 60 year old bladder, the bottle gives us the chance to not get out of the boat for many hours. Several years ago I bought a size 14 Farmer Jane wetsuit with a zippered crotch. Works great except when you go cowboy and the zipper must be done up carefully. The bottle does double duty at night. Before any trip make sure to leave with two big Gatorade bottles – besides extra water bottles, their wide mouth makes them good pee bottles too. And you never know when you might lose yours.

Our objective on day 3, our second paddle day, was to round Cracroft Point with Blackney Passage in slack. We left camp at 8:15 in perfect conditions to paddle the 6 kms with plenty of time to catch slack at 9:53 (the time of turn of Weynton Passage just 8 kms west). Against the flood current, we hugged the shore to reach Cracroft Point at 9:15 just as it turned to ebb. The current at the entrance to Baronet Passage was against us and continued past Walden Island. Five bald eagles and some ravens were working away on a seal carcass on the shore. Lunch was on Klaoitsis Island in the on a pretty white clamshell beach. There were two tent sites up in the trees. Up Beware Passage, we passed Dead Point to enter Indian Channel where we turned west to camp on the SW point of Mound Island. Dinner: ham and baby potatoes, salad. 31 kilometers.

I was enjoying my new carbon fibre Greenland paddle very much. The shoulders of the blades make a perfect stop for my hands and provide a wide surface for the push. My cadence is faster than Charlie’s and the Greenland paddle seems to function as a high cadence/low impedance paddle.

Day four saw us exploring the southern part of Broughton Archipelago Marine Park. We stopped in at Farewell Harbour Resort on Berry Island to replenish our water, paddled around the north side of Crease Island into the ebb current of Knight Inlet, and then went around the south of Maud and Pearl Island. We missed where to land at Mamalilaculia (I had phoned the band office – 250-287-2955 – to obtain permission) and paddled NW through the narrow channel between Maud and Pearl Islands. Next we crossed Knight Inlet and up Provident Passage to camp at North Owl Island. Today, I wore shorts. By 10, cold with a wet butt, I was back in my wet suit. It should be the minimum mandatory anyway in cold waters. I find a dry suit too hot when it is warm out and all the gaskets uncomfortable. Then there is the cost. Lunch: ham sandwiches. Dinner: hamburger tacos (guacamole, salsa fresca, cucumber, sour cream), salad. 25 kilometres.

Charlie and I had met in 2005 on a canoe trip down the Green River in Utah. Since we have kept in occasional contact. I retired in 2006 and we have both developed a vagabonding lifestyle. Recently, Charlie has spent most of his time long distance hiking. Before that he pursued aerial photography of Baja California and the American Southwest by powered paraglider http://www.flickr.com/photos/charleschandler/sets/. I have now traveled in warm climates for 7 winters (go to ronperrier.net). Since moving to Vancouver Island, kayaking has become a major passion and Charlie was available as a paddling partner for the summer. After this trip, we have 18 days in Haida Gwaii, and then I am on a 3 week trip around Cape Scott with two other friends. Fishing skill will be essential.

Day five turned out to be our big paddling day. Leaving at 7:15 we paddled Spring Passage aiming for the south side of Seabreeze Island. Our goal through the cold drizzle was to stop in Gifford Town in Health Bay and get some water. We pulled out on the clam shell beach which unfortunately was littered with broken bottles and glass.

A crew of 5 carpenters from Alert Bay were finishing off their 7th house in 6 months right on the water front. They directed us to Lucilles house, the only place in town to buy anything. Lucille welcomed us into her warm home, sat us down at her dining room table and got the coffee out. She sells candy and cigarettes. We both bought stuff. She lives off the sea and the little bit of cash she makes by selling items to visitors. A 16 year old girl was asleep on the couch; one of an out of town 5 member family bunking out around town. Lucille offered us some delicious left over halibut. She was a wonderful host.

Heading north we paddled through the Fox Group in calm conditions and headed for Blunden Passage. The first humans seen on the trip out in the water were pushing an aluminum skiff off the big beach and campsite at Insect Island. We pulled out and ate lunch at the supposed campsite on John Island, but found no obvious trail. Lunch: ham sandwiches. We then headed east into Fife Sound to go around the east end of Broughton Island. Two sail boats were slowly tacking SW down Fife Channel. The weather improved to mostly sunny. This is where our map ran out but it seemed straight forward enough – paddle around the east end and then up the NE shore. The map for this part was to be the large scale “The Broughtons” produced by Wavelength Magazine which disintegrated when it got wet in the capsize. There was a lovely island with a big white shell beach on the east tip of Broughton and a creek on the mainland. It was a welcome sight to see the entrance to Cypress Harbour and our campsite at the Recreation Site Campground. The campsites were comfortable with tables. Dinner: black bean quesadillas.

We have settled into a good routine. Wake up at five, pack up the tent interior and put on the wet suit. Its warmth and general comfort in the kayak makes up for the unpleasantness of putting on and taking off one that is damp and cold. Heat water for coffee. Eat homemade granola. Because the granola takes so long to chew, it is the perfect double task to combine with taking down the tent. Most of the gear packs into two large blue Ikea bags that allow for one carry to the water. Bring down the boats and we should be able to launch in 30 more minutes. The goal was 90 minutes after waking up. We never quite got there.

Day six saw us on the water at 7, our fastest start. Sutlej Channel was like a lake. 110 minutes NW to Cartwright Point, 30 minutes to Codrington Point. It was fast paddling. I am a GPS Luddite, but Charlie showed me how to find the Navigate Page and it was satisfying to know our ground speed. In these perfect conditions, I was moving at 7.2 km/hr at a comfortable pace and 9.2 briefly when paddling all out. The sun came out, I put on sunglasses and Charlie sunscreen. We were almost over warm for the second time this trip. Some big snow covered mountains appeared out of the cloud.

In Dunsany Passage, we met another kayaker. He had just finished his winter caretaker job at Nimmo Bay Heli Resort up MacKenzie Sound, and was kayaking home to see his girl friend. This was the only kayaker we saw in 10 days.

Turning NE up Hopewell Passage, cloud was back, and we were hurrying to arrive soon after the turn at the narrowest part of the passage. Arriving half an hour late, there was about 1km of ebb current to paddle into. MacKenzie Sound is scenic with steep bluffs and mountains. With low overcast, we saw little of the beauty. Rounding the east end of Watson Island, the weather had turned cold and it was back to rain. We stopped and got water (our first natural tannin stained water) from a creek draining down from a lake on the north shore of Watson Island. We passed up seeing Roaringhole Rapids coming down from Nepah Lagoon as it was so cold and uncomfortable. I was shivering as I got out of my boat to set up camp at Watson Point behind an old saw mill. It didn’t look like anyone had ever camped there before. There wasn’t even a bench set up despite all the old wood laying around. We were both cozy in our sleeping bags by 3, to read and nap. I find I get sleep deprived getting up at 5 everyday. My favourite place to sleep is in a tent and ten hours is no problem. Dinner: black bean quesadillas. 28 kilometres.

The scenery in the north end of the Broughtons was not inspiring. The forested mountains are all heavily scarred from logging. The habit of leaving isolated stands of trees gives an Iroquois haircut look to the scene. Rarely have we seen big snow covered mountains in the Coast Range. Wildlife has been sparse – no whales after the first afternoon, the occasional sea lion, some “ducks”, sea gulls and bald eagles. It was very serene with no people and total quiet. If the sun came out for very long it would be a great place to get away from it all.

Day 7 saw us turn south from the farthest north point of our trip. Again in calm conditions, we had our usual early start paddling down Grappler Sound, west of Kinnaird Island and into the flood tide of Wells Passage. West wind poured out of Stuart Narrows and Carriden Bay. It was slow going to Alder Point on N Broughton Island. The lagoon behind Lamber Island made for an idyllic rest stop. We hugged the shore southwest around Bourmaster Point to come around the east side of Dickson Island (IR). The paddling was particularly pretty along the SE shore of Dickson with its lovely little grass-covered islands and behind the three islands next to the Broughton Island shore. It was a windy crossing SW to the east of Vincent Island and the campsite on Polkinghorn Islands. It was cold again and my feet in Keens were freezing. I put on my wet socks and long neoprene boots willing to tolerate wet for warm. The forecast was for a lessening NW wind over the afternoon, it was just 11:30, so we decided to have a nice hot lunch. Hot chocolate and grilled cheese sandwiches with a lovely salsa verde (puree poached tomatillos, cilantro, 2 serranos, add finely chopped white onion) really hit the spot.

The next stretch was the longest exposed shore we would see for the entire trip, so with good conditions, a light following NW wind, light following swell and even a little help from an ebb current, we continued on to the campsite on Olden Island in Cullen Harbour. This was our most unusual campsite. On a large rock in the shallows just NE of the island, the landing was on a steep rock beach covered in slimy black weeds. We set our tents up on the rock. I was lucky to have a big log to anchor one end of my tent and use many big rocks to secure the other corners. It appeared that no one had ever camped here before as there were no rocks on the ledges. It was a very beautiful site. There are only a few, awkward tent sites above high water. I fell twice and Charlie once carrying kayaks up and down the greasy weeds. Charlie cut his hand but neither of us had a first aid kit. Duct tape came to the rescue as a bandage. Dinner: bean casserole and mashed potatoes. 31 kilometres.

Day 8 was to be another big kayak day. Just as we were about to launch, I realized I had left my new paddle on the rocks – black paddle in black weeds- and it was gone. We paddled around for an hour or so but saw no sign of it. I can be so careless some times. We paddled south through all the small islands on the west side of the Marine Park. A large colony of sea lions made a lot of noise as we paddled by. It was calm and conditions perfect. After going around the outside of the Owl Islands we headed south to travel around Swanson Island in a clockwise direction. We obtained some water in Freshwater Bay. Lunch: salmon salad sandwiches.

We were early for the ebb tide to take us across Blackfish Sound and we paddled against the flood for the entire crossing. Aiming for the NW corner of Hanson Island, the calm conditions made it pleasant. We camped at Weynton Island Point. It was very nice with good views out to Johnstone Strait. The day had been beautiful and sunny with the entire Broughtons in the middle of a gigantic circle of cloudless sky. We covered the nice gravel beach with all our wet gear and got everything completely dry. Dinner: pasta with alfredo sauce. 30 kilometres.

The weather forecast was not good for the next day with strong 15-20 knot southeasterlies in the morning decreasing late. The current changed to flood at 9:30 AM in Weyton Passage next door. Despite wild water in the middle of the channel, we loaded the boats to at least take a look. Protected by some small rocks, there was still significant wind wave. When we hit the full force of the SE wind and saw the continuous white caps, we turned around thinking that there could be worse things than a day off. We had been paddling hard, a rest was not a bad idea, and we both had good books. Unfortunately, I had run out of popcorn. While I set up camp, Charlie went out fishing. He is going to have to fish a lot to pay for his $115 BC Fishing License (he is American). I walked out to the Weynton Island Point to see the heavy whitecaps and what I guess to be 20 knot winds. A humpback performed flipper pirouettes out in the bay. Charlie caught 4 small fish and 1 good size one (I don’t know the names of any fish). Maybe I won’t have to fish after all. It was windy and cold. With all my warm clothes on, I was cold and just want to go to the tent. Thankfully there was no rain but I would imagine that will come later. The weather is different every day and Johnstone Strait seems to concentrate all the bad stuff. Dinner: vegetable tacos.

You may have gotten the idea that I like good food. I rarely miss a meal and have the growing waist line to prove it. Eating in foreign countries for 6-7 months per year makes me crave home cooking. And I love to cook good tasting food. Organizing all the food for 10 days was daunting but I had made sure we wouldn’t run out. The challenge for two 18-day trips will be sure to keep me up at nights. Thankfully Charlie likes fishing and I like to cook it.

Day 10 dawned calm with high overhead cloud. We were off shortly after 8 with the turn to flood at 10 AM in Weynton Passage and 12:30 in Central Johnstone Strait. We hugged the south shore of Hanson to stay out of the current. Halfway on, we decided to cross in calm conditions against the ebb current. At about noon, the current changed to flood and we rode it all the way back to the car at Naca Point, averaging about 6.5 km/hr. We had lunch in the boats and arrived after 6 ½ hours in the water. 30 kilometres. We loaded in 30 minutes, and were home in Courtenay in time for dinner – a big hamburger, fries and milk shake.

It was an enjoyable trip to parts of the Broughtons most people don’t get to. We paddled a lot – many kilometres in remarkedly nice paddling conditions. Wind was only an issue for two days on Johnstone Strait. The water was smooth as glass most of the time. Unfortunately the scenery was rather uninspiring and there were few animals (we were out of season). I paddle largely to be outside in the wilderness, sleep in a tent, camp, and self propel myself over another part of the world. Over ten days, we had two weather days, and paddled 244 kms over 8 days.

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