early September 2010
Ok, you asked for it. Here is the kayak trip story…This is a longer read than is common for this forum. I’ll tell you guys the story as long as it does not get back to my wife. She’ll start to question my sanity if she hears this one.
We had been paddling since the 18th of September and were hearing on the weather radio all week about some high winds (50+ knots) for Friday September 24th. We decided to return south from the Brooks Peninsula by making the big open water crossings to within range of Kyuquot sound and about 15 NM from our cars which were parked at the end of the road in Fair Harbor. We ended up doing a long 16 nm day past the remote Indian village of Kyuquot and on to Rugged Point in lumpy wind driven seas and rebound waves from the steep cliffs to where we thought we could make a good stand in the predicted high winds. There was no fresh water at Rugged Point camp so we set up a rain collection system with a big tarp and that provided us well as the rain began to fall in front of the storm. We were all set and could have hunkered down there with no problems. We spent Thursday the 23rd hiking along the wide open beaches on the outside of the point scrambling over the rugged headlands from beach to beach looking at all of the debris that washes in from Asia.
For some reason we all decided to bail out early Friday morning which was two days ahead of schedule. It might have been the excessive rain or the precarious possibility of having to extend the trip as we waited out the apparent large storm. We had plenty of food and could have spent an extra week if needed. The safest place is always on the beach in situations like this, I knew this. We also knew that our cars were a mere 15 nm paddle away up a fairly protected inlet, we decided to go for it. As we packed up and hit the water the winds were beginning to rise. I did not take much notice until one of our crew walked over to the open SE side of the point and came back with the bleak news. We were wet and packed so we decided to hit the water anyway. We got only about 2 nm down the coast when the first Willawa hit. It was a blast of high wind that came straight down the side of the 3000 foot mountains that forms the sides of the inlet. It hit us straight-on like a bomb and we all were flattened. Lucky none of us had a paddle raised at the time or we would have been over in a second. I could not tell if it was still raining or if it was just windblown spray. It was fierce conditions and we grouped up as fast as we could without raising a paddle to the winds. It was so noisy we could not hear each other yelling. We made the wise decision to get off the water immediately. The shore line along there was steep cliffs with no good landings. We dove into the first little “V” in the shore and headed for a creek that was coming down. We got out of the boats in the water and pulled them up into the rocks and brush that formed the shore. We did not think we would have to spend the night there when we first landed. At first we just hunkered down and waited. Alan and I hiked up the mountain to get a better view of the situation but found that the winds were only increasing and increasing and the water looked seriously dangerous.
We were faced with a night in a hasty seaside bivouac. I call it a “sea cave” but it was really just a rocky overhang cut in the rock cliff where a tree had fallen down and was wedged in a good place to protect us from falling debris. We took a frying pan and dug out a ledge wide enough for the 4 of us to sit above high tide. When the tides came in and the wind driven water levels started to rise we built a rock break wall to prevent the wave surge from reaching our feet. We got the stoves out and made tea and dinner and did the best we could. That’s when the creek started to rise. This required some creative trenching on our ledge so that we could sit there without a creek running under our seats. It was not a comfortable night but we were not in any danger.
Saturday dawned just as windy and just as rainy only now were all starting to get cold and wet. We were trying to preserve any dry clothes we could and had not yet completely run out but a 2nd night would have been the limit of marginal comfort. At first light we hiked up the steep bluff near camp and made radio contact with Tofino Coast Guard Radio but the signal was weak as the winds blew us around. A woman on a nearby island intercepted our radio broadcast and worked with us to transmit our position to our family’s and report that we were safe and waiting out the storm. She also reported that the road to Fair Harbor was washed out and worse the road between the little logging town of Zeballos and the main highway was gone as well. So even if we retreated to our cars we were stuck with no way out. By noon I was getting antsy and was starting to convince myself that I would rather get on the water and take that risk than spend another night sitting on a ledge with a creek running under me. I stripped down and tucked my marginally dry clothes into a dry bay and paddled out for a look-see. It was still blowing but I did not see the dangerous wind gust we had experienced the day before. As I sat in my kayak at the edge of the point looking at the storm driven waves washing me up and down in the backwash tumble I saw a large dark ship entering the inlet. It looked like it had been damaged by the storm and had a deck crane hanging over its side. As it got closer I realized that it was not a deck crane but instead the white stripe on the red hull of a large Canadian Coast Guard Vessel. The boys on shore were already were talking with the ship on the radio as I came back in from my “test” paddle. We made an agreement that the “Coasties” would escort us up the inlet. For some reason they wanted to make it clear that we were not a rescue operation, that they were just happening to go our way anyways. I have never packed up so fast in such marginal conditions. I was waist deep in water with the hatches open stuffing gear into my boat. I had to lift the hull up to the oncoming waves to prevent the waves from washing into my water tight bulkheads. We headed out and had a windy but safe paddle up to Fair Harbor. Right at the end a large squall hit us with winds in the 40+ knot range and tested our high wind skills. Lean forward, stay low, do not raise a blade, brace your paddle slightly aft and steer down wave. The kayaks were easily doing hull speed with no paddling at all.
The end of the story was about 2 days waiting for local logging crews to get the road passable to Zeballos then waiting for 3 days to arrange an 80 foot barge to come and take us out. By local accounts, the road to Zeballos will be fixed sometime next year. By the time we got this all arranged we had about 20 cars and 45 people that wanted out. Two other kayak parties came out of the woods to join us and there were lots of great survival stories to tell over the diminishing local beer supplies. I’ve heard said that the adventure begins when the unexpected happens!
Wind records from those 2 days at Solander Island which is off the Brooks Peninsula were 138 km/hr with total precip of 82.4mm. That’s converts to 87 mph or 75 knts.