Monday, January 26, 2009

Away from the city...why?

Our plan for the weekend was to watch our friend's daughter dance in Mill Bay, but that got cancelled at the last minute. So on the spur of the moment, we decided to go up-Island anyway.
We left about 1:30 and headed north, van loaded with a mish-mash of equipment and etc. Leaving things until the last minute always leads to poor planning. But having a Kia Sedona van, we were able to just dump a lot of stuff in and hope for the best.
The day was calm but overcast, and we stopped at the viewpoint on the Malahat to check out the view over Saanich Inlet. The last time we were here, we were over a major fog bank, looking down on rippling fields of pearl grey. Quite beautiful, but not really what you'd call a view. Saturday was clear, letting us see a lot more than a few mountain tops poking up through the fog.

Seananus Island and Brentwood Bay

It is interesting to see places we've kayaked from an overhead vantage. I got a terrific look at Saanich Inlet and Cowichan Bay from my seat the last time I flew into Victoria.

Saanich Inlet northeast from the viewpoint

This time it was the beauty of a quiet winter's day. While storms are way more frequent during the winter, many of the days rival the summer for quiet perfection. And as an added bonus, there are a lot fewer people out most winter days.
We pulled in at Mill Bay and stopped at Rusticana Coffee (805a Deloume Road, Mill Bay) both so I could get a coffee and so we could pick up another dozen eggs. The last time we were here we got some local free range eggs and they were terrific. When I opened the carton, it was clear the eggs had never been washed, and when I tried to crack one on the side of a bowl, it took two tries to get the shell and membrane to split. The yolks were well-coloured and stood high, so these really were gold-standard eggs. Regretfully, they didn't have any more on hand, but at least they hadn't run out of coffee. Then it was down to the boat launch and out with the kayaks.

Boat launch, Mill Bay

We were here about a week back because I wanted to check out a sailboat for sale (not going to happen, for many varied and good reasons. Not this boat, anyway). Today, the water was again glass-flat, the weather superb. This time I wasn't paddling Paula's inflatable (she was using it), but I'd loaded the Pamlico 100 for the weekend. Somehow the idea of lifting the touring boats on top of the van just wasn't appealing.

I've been reading Robert Morris' book on kayaks Building Skin-On-Frame Boats over the past couple of weeks (just dipping in and out--not reading straight through. The writing is clear and accessible, and the book is terrific, so I don't want to leave any inadvertent impression that its taking me forever to get through it!) and he shows how to build a couple of recovery and retrieval kayaks--one of which is almost identical to the Pam. Robert is the owner of Brewery Creek Boats in Vancouver, and his shop is definitely a stop on my next visit across the Strait.
So back in Mill Bay, just as we were getting ready to launch, this fellow popped up not ten metres off the shore:

Mill Bay seal

He (an assumption, I know, but there you go...) cruised slowly by, having a good long look at us before ducking under and going back to hunting. Having destroyed three cameras in the last 18 months by taking them kayaking with me, I (wisely, I think) decided to leave the camera behind and just be in the moment, rather than spending too much time worrying about the next shot.
It seems that the further up-Island you go, the further back in time you travel. As we paddled across the bay, we saw a couple of seals splaching away, chasing something or other. And then the heads started popping up around us, checking out who we were and just what did we think we were up to? Not just one or two seals, either. Nor the half dozen we sometimes get out around Discovery Island. At times we were surrounded by a dozen seals in Mill Bay. Once you begin to reduce the population pressure on the natural world, which happens as you go north on the island, the more the natural world seems to repopulate. And Mill Bay is not that far out of Victoria--leaving me wondering just how amazingly full of life the coast was even fifty years ago.
Once we got the opening of the bay in to Saanich Inlet, we could see that the glass-flat water stretched out north, south, and east of us as far as we could see. The water was flat enough that you could get into real trouble, lured ever outward into this Suspended World.
It seems that we weren't the only ones out at Mill Bay on saturday. As the light started to go, we pulled back in after a nice but not too-long paddle and saw another kayak crossing out at the opening to the bay. We strongly suspect it was Richard, returning to his van. He was too far away to recognize, and we were fixated on going back to Rusticana for one of their meringues (which are lovely, BTW), so we didn't hook up with him for dinner.
After loading up, we headed toward Nanaimo, where we spent the night at a (gasp!) motel. This is quite unusual for us, as we usually camp or stay with friends when we travel, but it turns out that this was our decadent weekend (meaning we slept indoors, alone, and with a tv. For us, that's decadence!). The next morning, after a quick fuelling stop at Tim Horton's, we parked in Maffeo Park and took a look around.
Maffeo--pronounced maff-eh-oh, not maff-ee-oh, as I quickly learned--is quite a bit smaller than I thought. From the local maps, I expected something about a quarter the size of Beacon Hill Park, but Maffeo is about the size of a city block once you include the parking lots. Very nice, and connected to an extensive sea-walk, there's even an artificial lagoon.

Artificial lagoon, Maffeo Park, Nanaimo

Under the bridge there's a wall to keep the lagoon from draining, and along the sides are pumps and waterfalls to keep the water circulating. At the near end is a beach, the whole thing is meant for kids to swim in, but it looks like a great place (near the washrooms) to practise recoveries.
Down by the bridge is  where we chose to put in. This may not be the most convenient on a busy summer's day, but on a quiet winter's morning it was really quite decent.

Steps to the water's edge, Maffeo Park

The steps down to the water are broad and are really well set up for launching. You carry your boat down and put it in the water (woohoo rec boats!) and then just step in as you would at the pool.
Again, I had a mistaken idea as to how far it would be from the launch to Newcastle Island, but the actual paddle was less than 10 minutes across protected water. This is a perfect newbie paddle: you go to someplace, across what looks like real water, but you're never far from help and the waters are very sheltered. And there's a cool destination--Newcastle has trails, camping and picnic areas and gives every impression of being a great place to explore.
This launch point is next to the Newcastle Island ferry dock (that would be it just past the steps above), but the ferry is small and easy to avoid. There are also a tonne of pleasure boats in the area to keep track of, and you have to know where the seaplanes land and take-off (at the right-hand end of the bridge in the first photo), but all of these are things that can be dealt with.

Sea plane heading out for take-off

We made good time over to Newcastle and passed between it and Protection with no trouble (it was, after all, a quiet winter's day). It was not as perfect a day as Saturday had been, but we carried on out around the outside edge of Newcastle. Here the ferries get bigger:

Ferry north of Newcastle Island, Nanaimo

The wake from the ferry is pretty much just fun, although you have to remember to pull your kayak out of the water far enough that it won't grab your boat and take it away (says the man who had that happen on Moresby Island...).
We made it about a third the way around the island  to Kanaka Bay

Kanaka Bay, Newcastle Island

when we noticed the snow was now obscuring Harmac, to the south of us. We neither wanted to paddle through a snow squall, nor drive over the Malahat in a snowstorm, so we turned around and headed back to Maffeo Park. The paddle back, a bit of a breeze came up, and that's really when I missed having my paddling gloves--which were sitting safe at home in my chest of drawers. Last minute decisions make for bad planning, no suprise there. And there would have been worse things to forget--my wetsuit  or fleece underwear, for example.
The snow squall stayed south of us, thankfully, although it was plenty cold. And as we drove home we found that the snow fell about five kilometres south of where we were and stopped about Ladysmith, so the Malahat was clear and dry on the drive home. We even stopped in at the Cobble Hill Farmer's Market on the way back, which is where we picked up some more free-range eggs. All in all, a great weekend.

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