It’s official that my paddling trip to the BC north coast is off for this year. Since I won’t have a new trip to report on I thought I would revisit a day from the account of my 2017 trip.
August 9 / Day 12
Heavy fog to low overcast, Winds calm increasing to W @ 15 knots, Seas calm to swells at 1.5 meter with 2 foot windwaves, Combined seas to 6 1/2 feet, moderate at times
Some days on the water are perfect and some are less so. Sometimes those less-so days deteriorate into downright sucky and no fun at all. Foggy days often fall into the less-so category for me. On this day I would be crossing Rivers Inlet and Smith Sound with a combined total of ~10 NM of open water. I delayed my departure from Fury Cove until an hour into the flood knowing that it would take me another 45 minutes to reach Karslake Point where I would start across Rivers Inlet. If it was to be a blind crossing I wanted to avoid currents that would drift me out towards Queen Charlotte Sound but I hoped that the fog would lift so I could see what I was doing.
At Karslake Point I set a course at 170 degrees and paddled off into the grey weirdness. Right off the bat I could see that my speed was all over the place fluctuating from 3+ kt to .5 kt. There was lots of confused water as currents mixed and for an hour and a half I struggled to maintain the 170-degree heading while being pulled one way and then another. Several times the sound of chattering rips permeated the fog. Some rips I managed while others remained hidden and jeered at me from the cover of the dense, opaque air. Smooth swell met opposing currents and jacked up into menacing standing waves that appeared suddenly out of the gloom. If there had been visibility this would have been an interesting leg but, in these conditions, it was just tense and no fun at all. Finally, a bit of shoreline appeared in the distance and I cheated right knowing that it led to Cranstown Point. I stayed close to shore from Cranstown Point to Extended Point where I pulled in for lunch.
The three tiny beaches where I planned to land were absolutely choked with large floating logs that jostled and banged about in the surge creating a menacing cacophony of wood against wood and rock that called me by name and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was to stay away or suffer damage to boat, body and blade. Facing another 4.6 NM of blind open water I consulted my chart that showed that if I could maintain 123-degree course I would end up at Red Sand Beach. I was torn between confidence and dread having just endured the distasteful yet successful blind crossing of Rivers Inlet and here there was no concern about missing the far shore and being swept out to sea. I would find the far shore, figure out where I was and then handrail my way along the rocks to Red Sand Beach but I really wasn’t looking forward to squinting at my deck compass through another grey crossing filled with grey sounds and oddly-textured grey water.
It turned out that Smith Sound wasn’t so bad. It didn’t jerk at my boat and paddle. It didn’t make my compass spin or my hair stand on end. Somewhere along the way, though, I did encounter a westward flowing current that deflected my path to the right so that I missed the beach by .7 NM. I had never seen the shoreline from that angle before and it was very disorienting paddling back through the fog looking for that obvious red band of sand. Eventually I rounded a point and spotted it. So nice to know where I was.
Red Sand Beach sits a little over .5 NM behind that point and is normally well protected. This time, however, there were random sets of waves dumping on the beach. That wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Some of the 1.5-meter swell was sneaking past the point and finding its way onto the beach. I sat out from the break and tried to understand the timing but it wasn’t making sense to me. Some of the sets swept from right to left while others left to right and then there were periods where the water flattened out completely and the beach was silent. After watching for a pattern and not recognizing one my need to urinate overcame my patience and willingness to engage further in physical oceanography analytics. I told myself that I was feeling lucky but in retrospect I was just desperate to relieve myself.
Waiting out a larger set I took off on the back of a wave and rode it in. My timing was imperfect, though, and I didn’t get nearly as far up the beach as I should have. Popping the sprayskirt I started working my arthritic and uncooperative knees out of the cockpit when I heard a wave approaching. It crashed over my shoulders, loosened me from the cockpit and filled my boat with water and fine red sand. My paddle was gone, too. Catching a glimpse of it washing past I stretched out and almost captured it before it was swept beyond my reach. Just then the next wave crashed into me and completely extricated me from the boat, tossing me head over heels. In spite of being full of water my boat was window-shaded a couple of times in the surge. I tried to run after my paddle but my knees were having none of it and I didn’t get to my feet before another wave knocked me back down. I stayed down on my hands and knees chasing my paddle through the soup like a dog after a stick and caught it just as another wave pounded me and rolled me over. Crawling away from the surf I willed my knees to work and was finally able to stand and stagger back to my Tempest. I tried to pull it further away from the water but it was so heavy I lost my grip and fell over backwards. “Is this happening?”
Nothing was working right other than my bladder and it was demanding immediate attention. I started feverishly working on opening the relief zipper but it was coated with fine wet sand and didn’t want to budge. Multitasking now I continued to coax the zipper open little by little while walking towards the tree line and examining the beach for animal tracks. Still struggling to unzip I was pleased to see a ton of fresh wolf tracks including the largest pawprint I had ever seen. The wolf presence would keep Brown Bears away and then………….I tripped on a stick and went down hard and fast on my face.
I hit so hard that the wind was knocked out of me and I felt like I had been punched in the face in a bar fight. I tried to express myself by shouting a four letter expletive but I couldn’t get any sound out other than desperate failed breathing noises. I rolled over on my back and gasped for breath. Clearing out the cobwebs I was surprised to find myself laying flat on a beach that had always seemed so friendly yet had just totally kicked my ass. Red sand was packed in between my left eye and the lens of my sunglasses. My left nostril was clogged and there was sand packed in my left ear. My yellow drysuit was covered with sticky fine sand and I still had to pee. Struggling to my feet I took care of business and when I was done found that the drysuit’s pee zip was hopelessly jammed open by that infernal red sand.
At the conclusion of a “less-so, sucky, no-fun-day” I sat on a log and reflected on what the wolves must have been thinking as they watched from the forest. How did they interpret the spectacle that had unfolded before their eyes From the moment my hull touched the beach they watched as I acted the part of a condemned, blindfolded man running away from a firing squad. Running, tripping, falling, crawling, getting up, running, falling down and ultimately being shot dead. If that wasn’t personally humiliating enough they were now watching me clean the sand out of my pee zipper with my toothbrush.