Kayak camping is the ultimate way to explore the British Columbia coast. Gliding noiselessly along the shore you'll be inspected by curious harbour seals, playful otters and, on rare occasions, even dolphins and orcas may move in close to check you out. Along the beaches you'll encounter foraging bears and wolves and see, close at hand, eagles surveying their domain from craggy snags above.

Originally invented by the Inuit for seal and whale hunting, modern sea kayaks have been lengthened and strengthened, replacing such materials as seal and caribou hides with fibreglass and plastic. Virtually anywhere on the coast of British Columbia is open to these versatile and sturdy craft. There are, however, a number of spots that are particularly suited to bluewater paddling.

Aging backcountry boomers, cursed with hiker's knee may eventually find the demands of backpacking too much. Rather than hanging up the old boots, trading them in for a paddle can be a great way to extend an outback-bent lifestyle.

Pining for the Fjords

The fjords of coastal British Columbia where much of kayaking is undertaken are subject to a predictable weather pattern. Especially during the warm days of summer local winds typically pick up each day during mid-morning. As the land masses warm up the air begins to rise. The resulting vacuum sucks cooler air along the fjord from more open waters such as Georgia Strait. As the day progresses the water and land temperatures equalize and the wind subsides until the advent of evening. The twilight hours bring the rapid cooling of land masses. Water temperatures drop at a much slower rate upsetting the equilibrium once again. Warm air rises off the water throughout the early evening causing cooler air to pour off the mountains and out through the conduit of the inlet. Plying the waters of coastal inlets often demands that kayakers set off at first light planning on a long, seaside siesta at midday, then continuing on throughout the afternoon and early evening.

Back Eddies to the Future

Whenever bucking the tides, particularly in constricted passages where the current is magnified, hug the shoreline where you can often pick up a back eddy or two to propel you on your way. Conversely, to benefit from a following tide move away from the shore to avoid those nasty back eddies.

Stuff It, Buddy

Dry Bags, the plasticized canvas kind favoured by yachters, are ideal for stowing gear in the front and rear compartments of kayaks. They are, however, expensive, Since some water inevitably gets below decks, cutting costs by using just plastic bags can be risky. One solution is to purchase nylon stuff sacks from an outdoor store such as the <http://www.mec.ca/>Mountain Equipment Co-op and line them with heavy-duty, see-through garbage bags. The nylon is enough to protect the plastic from rips and tears which in turn waterproofs all of your camping essentials. Colour code the stuff sacks to help keep things organized.

Bear Proofing

The usual bear proofing precautions, hanging food, making noise and what not, still apply to kayak camping. Though bears can swim well they usually have no need to visit offshore islands. Kayakers can take an extra precaution by camping, whenever feasible, on the abundant islands found along the coast of British Columbia. Incidentally, stowing food in kayak compartments is not bear proof, it's just a great way to get a kayak trashed.

Learning How

Once is certainly not enough for this captivating activity. In order to bring your skills up to the point where you may "do-it-yourself" a certain level of competence must be attained. In fact many kayak rental firms will no longer rent to inexperienced individuals: the liability risks are just too great.

Ecomarine Ocean Kayaking Centre offers lessons at Jericho Beach, English Bay and in the False Creek area adjacent to Granville Island. Though convenient, exceptionally busy sea lanes and a noisy, industrial setting make this latter locale a less than satisfactory place to build the skills necessary to paddle safely. To take lessons in a less urban setting look no further than Deep Cove or Bowen Island.

There is no substitute for competent instruction.

The End


Dwarf Dogwood

Since the Dogwood is the provincial flower in British Columbia, "bunch berry," is a protected species. Following pollination and fruiting, dwarf dogwood produces a bunch of bright red berries, hence the name. Bunch berry berries are edible either raw or cooked though they are not particulary tasty. They have further been used both internally and externally to counteract natural toxins from mushrooms, poison ivy and even bee stings. Dwarf dogwood is a perennial and a perennial favourite with hikers as this low ground cover will be found along most forested footpaths on the coast. The white petal-like mane surrounding the central flower are actually specialized leaves called bracts.

Illustration by Manami Kimura