This past weekend I experienced a three day kayak trip in the Broken Islands with my friend Matthew and his friend Sean. The trip was a number of firsts: my first overnight camping trip in a kayak; first exposure to the west coast in a kayak; and first time going out with a two-person kayak. The Broken Group is a group of small islands in the middle of Barkley Sound between Bamfield and Ucluelet on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Although the islands are in direct exposure to the north Pacific ocean, the islands themselves protect each other from the large swells coming off the pacific and are thus internationally known as wonderful islands to kayak.
Broken Group on Google Maps
View Larger Map
I found this trip particularly tough, as the weather was cool, we faced a fair bit of rain and some pretty rough seas. Fortunately I had acquired a wet suit including wet boots and gloves prior to the trip. Without the wetsuit I would have fronzen completely! An alternative to the wetsuit would have been a drysuit (practically a space suit!) which would have kept me completely dry and at least once I wished I had a drysuit, although the they cost $800+.
While the broken group is fairly protected from the west coast swells, there were a number of instances where we encountered some pretty large waves. On the first day as we made the crossing to Dodd island, our intended camp, we started to come upon metre and a half swells. This in addition to some pretty intense wind which caused whitecaps and to top it off it then started to rain with the wind becaming a pretty wild ride! At the time we were quite far away from any land and I started to get really nervous being out at sea in a kayak exposed to these conditions. It was at this time we decided to duck behind an island protecting us from the wind and providing some relief. We were also fortunate to spot a grey whale at this time, breaching and slapping her tail on the surface of the sea. We finally made it to Dodd island and made camp, all a little cold, but in one piece! It took me about three hours before I could feel my toes again 🙂
At camp we were pretty much alone, which is rare in the Broken Group while in summer is teaming with visitors. We basically had all of Dodd Island to ourselves with a dozen empty camp sites. We tried to circumvent the island by foot to reach the western shores to collect mussels but found the old growth rainforest so dense that we only made about 1km in an hour and a half. We finally gave up on reaching the western shores as the forest was so impassable and we were running out of daylight. Back at camp we managed to get a fire going despite the wet conditions. The trick to getting the fire going? Cedar. Cedar burns wonderfully despite dampness when shaved thin and thus we had a lovely evening fire to dry up.
The following day we experienced some sun in the morning which allowed us to further dry up our wet suits and gear. We then made passage to Trickett Island south west of our position with intent to get to Clark Island. When we got to Trickett we shored up and could see nothing but whitecaps on the passage to Clark. So we did not make it to Clark and explored Trickett instead, finding a number of moon sail shells, some interesting sea junk washed ashore (buoys, barrells, fishing nets), we were also able to collect mussels at Trickett. I found the passage back from Tricket to Dodd pretty rough, as the waves were now at our back introducing another dynamic to the passage. We then explored the calm channels between Turtle, Walsh and Willis Islands to round out the day of paddling.
Back at camp and with a fire going we used our marine radio to listen to the weather for the region. During the broadcast we received a report of a large wind storm coming our way. Expected winds were four times the amount we had experienced at worst in the last couple days. For this reason we decided to exit one day early from our trip. We had budgeted to stay out until Tuesday but as this was the day the wind was starting we decided to exit on Monday so as to not risk being stuck on the islands till the weather subsided.
Monday’s return trip went very smoothly and the weather was impeccable with clear blue skies above. We encountered one stretch of rough seas which we had to cross in parallel and then cut into so that the waves and wind were at out backs. We spotted another grey whale breaching at this time and actually used the whale as a waypoint for the crossing, “aim for the whale!”.
I found that in large waves you pretty much have to deal with each wave independently, which requires a constant alertness and readiness to adjust as each wave rolls in. It was easier to deal with waves head on, tough to deal with them when they are behind you and really tricky to deal with waves while riding parallel. We had to deal with all three situations and while my confidence improved over the three days, I am still a little weary in big waves. You will note that there are no photos which give an impression of the larger waves, as at the time I am busy paddling and could not imagine taking photos 🙂 One thing I do note is that when the sun is shining, things are much more pleasant!
We wrapped up our day in Ucluelet first with a stop at the Pacific Aquarium and then for dinner at a brand new BBQ restaurant called Hanks. It was our first meal out of the bush but also expertly done! Highly recommend Hanks if you are Ucluelet.
I told my friends that by no means was the trip a pleasure cruise and in fact I found that it felt like a fight for survival 🙂 Despite this I have no regrets and am happy to have done it. I might reconsider going out at this time of year again but would love to get back to the islands during nicer weather and having a better look around.