Distance: 55 km
Time: 2-4 days
Warning: Strong Currents
Tide Table: Tofino
Red Tide Administrative Unit: Area 24
Marine Chart: 3673
Here's where knowing and understanding your tide chart can be a big bonus. For some reason the tide floods in a huge clockwise circle almost completely around Meares Island. The current ebbs in the other direction. Consulting your tide table, you can decide which direction to tackle the island in, allowing the current to push or pull you around the island. Only for the 10 km stretch along Browning Passage will you likely be fighting the tide. The difference in effort required is quite astounding. We found that tidal actions on the far side of Meares tended to lag about an hour behind times predicted for Tofino in the tide chart.
Assuming you spent the night on the beach at Rassier Point and that you can follow a tidal flow in a clockwise direction, head north into Maurus Channel after launching your craft in the surf. Otherwise follow these instructions in reverse. With a current and the prevailing tailwind you'll make time quickly. At Robert Point 5 km away and again just beyond it are two rough, somewhat inadequate campsites. Continuing on to Sarnac Island and beyond keep in mind that sources of good drinking water can be hard to come by all over the rocky coast of British Columbia. The north side of Meares Island is no exception so stay close to the cliffs and watch for a clean little stream about 3 km past Sarnac Island.
Fourteen kilometres after you started you'll begin to feel the pull of Matlset Narrows. Currents here reach up to 4 knots or 7½ km/h so sit back and enjoy the ride. If you didn't read your tide chart correctly or threw caution to the wind and decided to buck the tide then here you'll regret it. For the next three kilometres you'll be working hard just to maintain. A number of beaches on the north side are good for camping though some are a bit steep. Camping at the little tombolo on the south side is marginal at best. If you continue on into Warn Bay you'll find an excellent site with a good source of water at an unnamed cove just beyond the beaches. Squatters have anchored a float cabin here offshore but will enjoy a friendly hello from their unexpected neighbours. As a bonus this site is well-endowed with large patches of sea asparagus for those craving greens in their diet. For obvious reasons be sure to set your tents well above the most recent high water mark which can be discerned as a thin line of green seaweed and flotsam and jetsam. Beaches are narrow throughout the area but there should be enough space for a tent or two.
On the western side of Warn Bay you may enjoy watching the operation of a salmon farm in full swing. Rearing, feeding, catching and processing these fish is a full time, all-consuming occupation but in the evening hours the workers may find chatting with curious paddlers a pleasant distraction. Who knows, they may be willing to sell you a fish for supper. Try barbequing it the Indian way for a very tasty treat. Next morning get up with the tides again and catch another subsidized ride, this time heading south along Fortune Channel. As you round Plover Point into Mosquito Harbour keep an eye out for feeding seals. One of the inquisitive sea mammals popped up just 3 metres from my boat for a lengthy peek, so close in fact that his heavy breathing was clearly audible. Moments later, as we sat enjoying our lunch on the largest of the Wood Islets a small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins cruised by, headed in the direction from which we had just come.
Mosquito Harbour makes a pleasant exploratory side trip and you'll find passable camping at the head of the harbour. Halfway along the deep inlet on the west bank note the pilings and other vestiges of Sutton Cedar Mill, site of a onetime "gypo" lumbering operation. Though few of the forests of Meares Island ever felt the bite of the loggers axe, those hereabouts certainly did. One giant western red cedar, 5 metres in diameter, at the mouth of Sutton Mill Creek was bypassed by fallers of the day and still stands towering 49 metres above the tidal flats. Continuing south past the Kirshaw Islets we were lucky to encounter a yearling black bear foraging on the beach. As he shared our curiosity we were able to move in close and watch him watching us for several minutes before something deep in his young heart informed him that he was faced with creatures perhaps best avoided and he retreated slowly into the gloom of the rain forest understory.
Following that moment of truth we encountered an even stranger phenomenon. Suddenly, maybe half a kilometre in front of us a large ominous-looking standing wave appeared, lasted 10 minutes, then vanished without a trace. Some inexplicable tidal phenomenon? The back of a whale? A hydra-headed sea monster or sun-heated delusion? We'll probably never know.
At Heelboom Bay, otherwise known as C'is-a-qis, you'll find limited if acceptable camping, plenty of water and a dirty, mouse-infested cabin built by The Friends of Clayoquot, an environmental conglomerate designed to eliminate logging. From here, at one time a concerted campaign was mounted to save Meares Island from the loggers' chain saws. Behind the cabin a rough trail leads 4 hours across island to the Great Cedar Loop, a grove of giant cedars, once threatened, now protected. If intent on viewing these ancient conifers paddling over to Lemmens Inlet is a perhaps a better choice since you'll be passing it by anyway before the day is out. First however, the confused waters at the southeast corner of Meares Island will have to be overcome. Strong currents through Dawley Passage will either treat or tease you but here the rip is mercifully short. As you round Auseth Point into Browning Passage the tide abruptly changes direction. With superior planning and a little help from the moon you may be able to ride the last 10 km on a receding tide.
At Duckling Island make for Meares Creek for a glimpse of a towering Sitka spruce. Though the top was sheered off sometime over the ages by wind or snow this spruce still tips the scales at a colossal 48.8 metres tall with a girth of 4.4 metres. Sitka spruce is known to be particularly resistant to salt spay and tends to predominate at the foreshore of BC's wild west coast. For more of the same, paddle over to the other end of the tidal flats to pick up the 2.6 km Great Cedar Loop, a popular ecotourism destination. Alternatively look for a small jetty around the corner adjacent to Morpheus Island. Innumerable venerable old western red cedars and sitka spruce have agglomerated on this lowland peninsula including the world's fourth tallest western red cedar: 42.7 metres tall and 18.3 metres around at the base. Lemmens Inlet cuts deep into the heart of Meares Island, revealing an environment rich in mud flats and eel grass, the cradle of life for so many species from lowly molluscs and crustaceans to apex species like dolphins and bald eagles and black bears. Herring seek the eel grass for spawning while young salmon smolts use it as a hideout in which to mature. In addition, fishermen will find bottom feeders such as rock cod or flounder in abundance. Lemmens Inlet is also an important stopover on the flyways of many migratory birds and should be particularly animated in spring and fall.
Adventure Cove is site of Fort Defiance, built in 1791 by American entrepreneur Robert Gray. Though the centuries have erased the trading post completely, the site is now classified as a BC Heritage Site. When you head back to Tofino swing by Beck Island for a good look at a low level eagle's eyrie. Boat and seaplane traffic can be heavy in Tofino Harbour so stay together and be aware of activity around you. In the event of fog stay close to channel markers, something other navigators will be intent on avoiding.
Click for a wider perspective on Clayoquot Sound.