I did quite a bit of research on Grenville Channel before we left. Some described it as a hellish place full of dangers and no places to camp that should be avoided, others said it was a place to be enjoyed because if you timed it right the currents would pull and push you through allowing you to travel 20 or 30 miles easily in a day. Our experience was neither of those.
The channel is a narrow passage of water, 500 yards across at the narrowest and 50 miles long. So long that the tides ebb and flood from both sides simultaneously and either split or meet in the middle. The currents run faster than we could paddle if opposing us. Waiting for a favorable tide is a necessity. Cruise ships, ferries and barges also use this, adding the complication of their massive wakes in the narrow channel. There are inlets along the length that also ebb and flood with the tides creating strong eddies, whirlpools and confused waters.
We started into the channel on the end of a flood tide knowing that we wouldn’t make it to the halfway point, but with a potential campsite in mind. We saw many beaches with camping potential and the tide was still with us so we passed our planned stop and after a couple more hours found a nice beach. We set up camp and got ready for an early start.
The next morning is where things got interesting for us. We are both wanderers at heart. We make great ambitious plans and then get pulled away by interesting paths leading around intriguing corners, less traveled trails and this time, untouched inlets and lakes. Again and again we paddled past rivers draining their waters into the sea and on our maps saw they are filled by lakes surrounded by massive cliffs filled by rivers flowing from other more remote lakes. We could have spent an entire summer exploring that channel and not had been done. We dreamed of pack rafts and hiking boots, caches of food and supplies, weeks of exploration unfettered by goals and schedules. But that will be another trip. We paddled by them, marking them in our minds and on our maps.
Morning turned to afternoon, the wind picked up and the tide turned. We had been distracted by the incredible beauty and not made the distance we needed that day. The current turned against us and the waves increased. Four foot waves are not a problem in a larger boat, but sit in a kayak with your head only two feet above the water and you will feel different. We were paddling hard against the current but I checked our progress along the shore and saw we weren’t going anywhere. We needed to cross the channel to get to the East side where the next promising beach was located but that meant going out into the middle where the current is strongest and the waves are largest. Behind us we see a sailboat, also struggling against the current but motoring through and no other traffic so we point our boats towards the opposite shore and up current and paddled like hell to ferry across. I’ll be honest, my heart was racing and I did not enjoy this. I’m not actually a risk taker. I make calculated decisions based on my experience and skill and don’t move very far out of that space. These waters were not in that space.
Once across we stuck to the eddies and paddled hard and beat the current.
Eventually the sailboat caught up to us. The sailor was out on deck in his sailing survival suit. He pulled up and yelled out “Did I meet you in Butedale?” He had recognized our yellow and white boats and in the camaraderie of boaters came to see if we were ok. We had a quick conversation, yelling over the wind and waves, we assured him we were fine and he said he was impressed with us and we went our separate ways. We made the last bit to our camp by sitting close to the cliffy shore, taking the eddies and punching around the corners where the current is strongest and the eddies disappear and pulled our boats onto a perfect beach. A flat spot for our tent was waiting and fresh water ran 10 feet away. We had made the halfway point where the tide split. Exhausted and relieved, we slept hard.