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 Post subject: Deer Group in November
PostPosted: November 18th, 2004, 1:53 am 
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Joined: September 16th, 2002, 7:00 pm
Posts: 2075
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia Canada
(pictures accompanying this article can be found at

Last Thanksgiving we canoed in the Broken Group Islands off the west coast of Vancouver Isand. While pinned down for two days by storms, we had plenty of time to consider the wisdom of having canoes and young kids at the Pacific Ocean in the fall. We decided it was a matter of making the right decisions, as opposed to such a trip being beyond consideration.

So we planned to go back at Thanksgiving this year. However, that was thwarted by weather so bad we only ended up doing an overnight trip at Alouette Lake. We set up another Broken Group trip for Nov. 11-15, which through twists and turns too numerous and frustrating to list, morphed into a trip to the Deer Group with a few friends who kayak. Partly due to some of the kayakers seemingly changing their plans hourly, the unfamiliar destination, and the time of year, I have never approached a canoe trip with as much apprehension as this one.

The Deer Group is adjacent to the Broken Group, and according to our kayak guide book provides a similar but less crowded alternative. Not that there would be crowds in the Broken Group this late in the year.

In the company of Silke and Peter with a double kayak, we left home after work Wednesday, caught a ferry to Vancouver Island, and drove across in the dark to Sarita on Barkley Sound. We made camp after midnight, and in the morning apologized to a nice fellow for unwittingly camping on First Nations land.

We paddled in perfect conditions past the industrial noise of the log sort at Sarita, and poked into placid Poett Nook. Then to Nanak Islet for the uneventful 2km crossing of Trevor Channel to Tzartus Island. Although Trevor Channel is exposed to the open Pacific, there was no swell evident. At Tzartus, we turned south, then north again to transit Robbers Pass between Tzartus and Fleming Island.

As we exited the pass, the Broken Group appeared about 10km away across Imperial Eagle Channel. Still perfect paddling conditions, with abundant coastal wildlife and low ocean swells surging against the rocky shorelines.

We had agreed with two more kayakers to join us later at camp on the north side of Fleming Island, so we found the campsite and got set up. Then we launched again to head farther west out the Deer Group. The first stop was Ross Islets. While circling the islets, we came across three people from the Marine Research Station in Bamfield. They had an aluminum launch which was grounded on a beach far above the rapidly retreating waterline (new moon, big tides). The 7 of us were barely able to move the thing, and much exertion later had them back in the water. I'm always amazed that except for the smallest outboard, powered boats weigh so much their operators can't do anything with them on land.

As we paddled out between two of the islets, we were confronted by a bull sea lion, which took exception to our presence and did a bit of a charge at us. Sort of like an aggressive bear. We backed off and gave the area a wide berth. Throughout the trip, seals and sea lions took interest in our presence, including two other sea lions that surfaced between the boats. Fortunately this was the only one that seemed dangerous.

A circumnavigation of Helby Island was next but as we reached Ohiat Islet, the other two kayakers appeared catching up from astern. It emerged that despite our camp location being their idea, they had not found our setup, still had their gear with them, and did not want to backtrack. We made radio contact arrangements and continued around Helby Island without them. They too had been accosted by the sea lion. After rounding Helby and passing Sanford Isand, we re-entered the Ross Islets. Again the bull seal lion showed up. But instead of blocking us, this time he circled around behind the canoe and popped up snorting just 15 feet behind. Quite worrying, but he buggered off after a while. All the extra happenings had cost a lot of time on these short days, so as we headed back to camp, the sun set behind us straight out Imperial Eagle Channel in the Pacific Ocean. Easily our best sunset for 2004.

It was only after that I made the nasty discovery that my DV cam had been set for closeups all day.

Supper was entirely in the dark, since we didn't need a fire badly enough to deal with saturated wood. Later, a fine star display came out, and we played with luminescent bugs on the beach. Later still, there was a minor display of Northern Lights.

We had come to the Deer Group with a marine forecast for two days of good weather. However, the forecast for the second day was now worse, with 30kt winds predicted for mid-day, and no return to the fine conditions of the first day. We decided that with a canoe and child, it would be irresponsible to do anything but head back, so that's what we did. Arrangements were made by VHF radio for Silke and Peter in the double kayak to join the other two people in the "party".

We debated going around Tzartus Island. The conditions looked fine and the route would minimize weather problems, but the bottom line was that we were now alone and it wasn't part of our stated trip plan, so the idea had to be rejected.

Back through Robbers Pass we found Trevor Channel with an easterly wind generating whitecaps. I wasn't willing to cross by ourselves in those conditions, so we headed east along the south shore of Tzartus Island to reduce the fetch, make the crossing at the narrowest point, and if necessary, reach the campsite in Sproat Bay where we could await better conditions for the crossing. But as we reached the narrowest point, the wind and waves had calmed such that we immediately turned and paddled back across to Nanat Islet. We learned later from the kayakers that other than Sunday, this was the worst sea conditions. Oh well, better safe than sorry.

We then took the time to really explore Poett Nook before returning to the car at Sarita. Bamfield was the next destination. Bamfield is at one end of the West Coast Trail, so although we had been there a few times, we never had time to wander around. Now we had that time. We camped at a choice waterfront site in the big campsite on Pachena Bay, where we enjoyed a campfire and the large classic west coast beach.

Saturday morning we launched at the government dock in east Bamfield. There was almost no one around, in this place that bustles with activity during the summer. We spend the day poking around Bamfield and Grappler Inlets. This amounts to about 15km of totally sheltered paddling. Highlights included a brief foray into Trevor Channel for the view and marvel at the elevator sensation of the ocean swells, take pictures of the building that is the North American terminal of the Trans-Pacific telegraph cable, check out the rotting carcasses of spawned-out salmon, give up on hiking the hoplessly bad trail out to Cape Beale, wander the boardwalk that forms the main street of west Bamfield, and watch the Lady Rose steamer come and go.

Then back to Pachena Bay for a second night. The predicted storm blew in during the night, so we did some stormwatching on the beach, and drove over to see the amazing Huu-ay-aht longhouse. Then after hiking a few km of the WCT, we turned for home as the storm reached its height. This is the first time I've seen whitecaps on road puddles. About an hour after we left Bamfield, a power line blew down over the road, blocking traffic and cutting power.

All in all, it was an excellent little vacation, especially for mid-November. And a fine way to end the 2004 paddling season. We got to visit, briefly, the Deer Group, paddle around Bamfield, and renew aquaintanceship with the WCT. Our luck held again with making the right decisions to stay out of trouble in the face of what might look like the foolishness of paddling a canoe with a child into the Pacific in November.

The kayak route book described the Deer Group as a spectacular and less-used alternative to the Broken Group. But the book didn't mention the significant number of buildings in the Deer Group, which partly spoils the feeling of remote wilderness. The campsites aren't as nice, either. A careful examination of the book revealed that the authors had not actually kayaked in the Broken Group during their visit to the area.

BC Ferries exacted the usual pound of flesh with a punishing 7-hour wait to board a ferry, during which time our friends arrived with stories of their adventures. Surely they must be joking about urinating on the downed powerline to see if it was live.

In Memory of Robert Dziekanski

 Post subject:
PostPosted: March 14th, 2005, 11:19 pm 
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Joined: July 31st, 2003, 9:39 pm
Posts: 986
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
Fantastic trip report Steve.. I find it a little bit brave to do the Deer Group in November but then... I'm not overly shy about ocean paddles as you know. Interesting what you said about the sea lion, I've paddled in their midst a few times and never had much to worry about however I've certainly found harbour seals to be a might mischievous on occasion. This is wild water in November and not something many do in a canoe... my congratulations on a gutsy adventure and I'll look for the pics on CT, when ever they get their web server problems worked out.

I am slowly beginning to see how much I miss in my absence... lots of reading to catch up on.

Twelve months a year out west.

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