We paddle out from Prince Rupert that evening and encountered our first real swells. The Pacific Ocean off in the distance throwing us large waves and we know we are now in for some real fun. The Dixon Entrance is a large area that can be really nasty at times and most of our next few days will be exposed to the full force of the ocean so we hope for good weather.
The shores are more rugged than they have been previously in our trip. You can tell they have been beaten by large storms as massive logs are tossed high on the banks. Long sandy beaches are placed between cliffs. Large rock outcroppings are dotted all along the right side of us as waves smash into them and show us hidden rocks lying just under the water’s surface. We see nothing out to our left as far as you can try to see, just waves. It feels like you will be sucked out and never come back. I got to admit I felt excited and alive.
Our first gray whale encounter of the trip, it looked like an old man compared to the humpbacks we have been seeing. When the waves became too large for fun we find a little island to call home for the night. We enjoy the islands- it’s nice not to be worried as much about animals eating our food and for some reason it feels like we own that small piece of land and no one has ever stepped foot on it (which we know is not true). We had an incredible long northern sunset that night and we sat for a long time enjoying the colors. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning. We hoped for delight.
We had heard of a place to set up our tent on Maskelyne Island with an old abandoned cabin on the southeast point. Landing was not desirable at the tide we had but the campsite was extremely nice and flat with grass and a creek for water. It is funny how barnacles can be your friend when you need to step on slippery rocks but can destroy your boat with one hard landing. Everyone that paddles knows that sound we all hate, it’s worse than fingernails on a chalkboard.
The next morning it was raining and blowing hard. We had set ourselves up on Maskelyne Island for an early crossing of Portland Inlet. It can be a really dangerous crossing due to the fact that it is such a long crossing and the ocean is giving you lots of love. Anna and I talked it over and I would go out to the mouth of Work Channel to look at how rough it was. I would radio back to tell her if it was good so she could take down the tent and pack the rest up or if it was bad to put the sleeping pad and bag back in. As I rode the tide out to the mouth I could see heavy waves hitting the rocks and cliffs on shore.
I crept out as far as I needed to look up the channel and across to the other side. The shore was not to be seen, only a faint outline of large hills could be made out through the fog. Through all the craziness and knocking waves I felt a calm came over me as two sets of whales drifted close to me while they were feeding. I just sat there and everything else went away as I watched them dive in and out of the water with their massive tails slowly sinking down into the water. It was definitely too bad to cross.
Some fishermen were trolling off in the distance so I decided to paddle over to ask if they knew the weather. When I got close I yelled out hoping not to startle them, the problem is no one is expecting a boat without a motor noise to come up on them. It’s funny the looks you get from people when they look down at you in your tiny human powered boat bobbing in the waves. Not sure if I like the look of sadness or the look of your crazy better, but it sure takes them a while to make sure they are seeing what they are seeing. We chat about where we were going and about the weather and he told me he thought it should get a little better later that day. I thanked him and paddled away knowing him and his buddies had a laugh about our encounter, asking each other who would be crazy enough to be out here in a kayak.
Three hours pass as we lay in the tent and listen to the wind push the tent fabric back and forth. Waking from our nap I hear the waves have subsided to a steady splash on the shore and I wake Anna to cross.
We pack our boats as fast as we can excited and nervous at the same time. As our kayaks glide across the waves towards the crossing of Portland Inlet we now can see the base of the mountains on the opposite side. Winds and waves are better than this morning but as we venture further out we start hitting larger and larger waves. Not wanting to throw in the towel just yet we decided to paddle into the inlet to see if we can gain more protection.
One of the fun facts about Portland Inlet is, it is the longest fjord in North America running in 100 miles long, we are definitely not going that far in. It will be close to a 4 mile crossing and at our speed (2 to 3 mph depending on wind and tide) we hope the weather does not change for the worse. Wind slows to a low roar as we venture further out. We slowly point our noses of our kayaks toward the other side as we look at each other in agreement to make the crossing. The swells push us up and down and it feels like the ocean has its own heartbeat. Its chest rising and falling. Sometimes Anna disappears on the other side of the swell.
Not only do we have the house size swells but within them are smaller sharp waves that break over our boats as well. Our hips are making quick decisive moves to keep the boat upright, our paddles are pushing through the water making adjustments to the waves that leave our sides. We pushed on yelling back and forth checking in for reassurance, 1.5 hours later we see the trees starting to look like they have branches and the rocks ledges become sharp again.
We know we have just stepped up our game in the paddling world, not sure if we should be excited or relieved or both but what I do know is that I really have to pee.