Level: Challenging

Distance: 49 km

Time: 2-3 days

Warning: High Winds

Marine Chart: 3589/3512

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Tide Table: Porpoise Bay

Access: If you aren't hooked on sea kayaking yet, after this trip you will be. The Sechelt Peninsula is just beyond Howe Sound and is easily reached by bus or air from downtown Vancouver. Malaspina Coach Lines has twice daily service from Vancouver's Pacific Central Station adjacent to the Main Street Skytrain Station. If you are travelling light you can also catch the bus as it makes its way along West Georgia Street. Wait for the bus at the usual city bus stops near the northwest corner of Granville, Burrard, Thurlow, Bute or Denman Streets and be prepared to flag it down before it passes. The destination written on the front of the bus will be Powell River. Carry on baggage only is allowed at these stops. See Getting to the Sunshine Coast for more information.

Twilight Paddle: Hugging the shore for safety, two kayakers set out at dusk for a paddle illuminated by ambient light.   

The bus will board the Horseshoe Bay - Langdale ferry and, after a brief 55 minute crossing, will continue for another 40 minutes or so to the small community of Sechelt. Grab a cab from the bus depot here and tell the driver you want to go to the Tillicum Bay Marina. Presumably you made reservations and someone from Peddles & Paddles will be expecting you. If not, worry not. Use the pay phone at the marina to let them know you have indeed arrived and in a few short minutes someone should show up to outfit you.

If you are carpooling, after disembarking from the ferry follow Highway 101 northward for about 35 km until you hit the first light in Sechelt. Turn right on Wharf Road and follow the blue signs to Porpoise Bay Provincial Park. Continue past the park on East Porpoise Bay Road until you reach Naylor Road. Turn left here and find appropriate parking at the marina mentioned above.

Chances are you took the 8:30 AM bus and arrived in Sechelt at 11:00 AM. By the time you find the launching point, take care of business and load up the boats it will already be nearing 1:00 PM. If you are lucky enough to set off on an ebbing tide you could probably reach Tzoonie Narrows Provincial Marine Park easily during the long evenings of summer but what's the rush?

If you have no need to hurry, head across the inlet for Piper Point, keeping an eye out for a pod of porpoises that make this waterway their home. From Piper Point begin making your way northward, stopping to check out each marine park until reaching the Halfway Provincial Marine Park 7 km away.

Sechelt Inlet and its two arms, Salmon Inlet and Narrows Inlet, are well-protected from the open seas of Georgia Strait. A narrow isthmus at the southern end separates the calm from the chaos while the Sechelt Peninsula itself forms a formidable barrier to the elements beyond. Only at the northern end are the seas connected once again. And what a connection it is! Skookumchuck Narrows is perhaps the most dangerous stretch of water on the entire British Columbia coast. Meaning literally "Big Waters" in Chinook Jargon, Skookumchuck can only be navigated during slack tide, a 20 to 30 minute period that occurs between the tides twice daily and, even then, should never be attempted by any but the most experienced paddlers. Rapids at Skookumchuck can reach beyond 12 knots per hour creating whirlpools capable of sucking a large log underwater and holding it there. You do not want to be here in a kayak. The good news is you have no need to even come close.

The other hazard of Sechelt Inlet, common to most coastal fjords, is high winds. As hot air from the adjacent land rises in the summer sun, cooler offshore air rushes in to replace it. The venturi effect of the narrow, steep-sided fjords funnel the wind to high speed. These squamish winds typically reach their peak in the late afternoon. 23 km long Salmon Inlet is particularly prone to these winds so paddlers crossing at the mouth can expect to be buffeted broadside. For this reason following the west side of the inlet to Halfway Provincial Marine Park is recommended. By hugging the shoreline at least some of the wind will be sheared by the landforms up and away from the surface.

Halfway Marine Park is endowed with an excellent water supply. If this is one of the finest campgrounds on the coast it's primarily because of the lovely pea gravel beach that looks directly up the length of Salmon Inlet. I recall fondly sitting around a driftwood fire with friends, sipping Italian red, as an osprey dove into the dusk-lit sea immediately in front of us and emerged victorious, a salmon in its clutches. Within seconds, however, a menacing bald eagle had challenged it. A midair battle ensued before our very eyes. Encumbered with the heavy fish the osprey was hopelessly out manoeuvred by the bullying eagle and, after a courageous effort, dropped the salmon back, plop, into the salt chuck. The eagle swooped down and scooped up its prize while the osprey flew off to continue the hunt once more.

Roadkill: The author bags another one, posing here with one of Detroit’s finest, abandoned on the beach of Sechelt Inlet by oyster farmers gone broke. Seaside ruins and trash are a common sight hereabouts, an ironic memorial to mariculture’s early promise.

Continuing north you'll soon come to a large deserted fish farm, a pioneering aquaculture attempt that faltered. Deserted rearing ponds, docks and shore buildings attest to a fortune lost.

The campsite at Kunechin Point is nicely situated and certainly worth an exploratory visit though a lack of fresh water, exposure to unrelenting sun and frequent high winds makes this a somewhat less than perfect place to pitch a tent. Be sure to watch for seals around the islands here. They'll certainly be watching for you. The beach immediately to the north is encrusted with oysters but never consume them during the hottest months of summer unless you have first checked for Red Tide Alerts at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Red tide can be deadly and the toxins tend to accumulate in many shellfish during June, July, August and September.

Salmon Inlet is, frankly speaking, pretty ugly. Gigantic logging clearcuts and massive power transmission lines mar the landscape for its entire length. Paddle instead towards aptly-named Narrows Inlet which itself has suffered the lack of human foresight but is not nearly so devastated. As you pass under the transmission lines and round the corner into Storm Bay you'll note the current has shifted. If you were following a receding tide you'll suddenly begin bucking it or, vice versa, if you had been fighting the oncoming current you'll now enjoy a reprieve. Either way take some time to enjoy poking around the bay and its tiny islands. There are numerous cabins in the bay dating from the get-away-from-it-all sixties. Please respect this private property.

Continuing up the inlet you'll soon notice the private campsite and cabins on the east bank operated by Tzoonie Outdoor Adventures. A full service operation that boasts hot showers, a hot tub and fully-equipped kitchen, Tzoonie Outdoor Adventures operates a shuttle service for their customers and their gear including canoes or kayaks. Guests can also borrow crabbing or fishing equipment.

Continue onward to Tzoonie Narrows campsite and onetime logging operation. Rusted, abandoned equipment and apple and cherry trees attest to this bygone era. Stay alert, keeping in mind that bears love fruit. The campsite is top notch with sunny, open grassy lawns for erecting your tent. The water supply too is splendid though a bit far from the main camping area. A collapsible water jug comes in handy here.

Across the inlet a rustic cabin, built for communal use in the spirit of the counter-culture, and much to the chagrin of forest managers in the area, makes interesting exploring. Though some people still put up here it is old, beginning to rot and infested with mice. Just try getting a good night's sleep here. Not recommended.

Further up the inlet you'll encounter the narrows themselves: a mere 25 metres wide. Though not considered dangerous, the waters here can race up to four knots. Sheer, 1000 metre cliffs on the north side yield an awesome sense of nature's power.

If time allows spend an extra night at Tzoonie Narrows and continue exploring at a leisurely pace to the head of the inlet where the Tzoonie River empties.

The End

Vanilla Leaf

Vanilla Leaf

While modern adventurers smear their skin with toxic chemicals to keep pesky bugs at bay, natives of the Pacific Northwest took a less carcinogous approach. The fresh-squeezed juice of common Vanilla Leaf was applied to fend off mosquitos and black flies. Dried leaves, smelling faintly of vanilla, were hung in bunches about the longhouse for the same purpose. A potion of boiled Vanilla Leaf was used to wash bedding to eliminate bed bugs and mites and as a hair treatment to fend off lice and fleas. Look for Vanilla Leaf at trailside in heavy forest wherever moisture accumulates.

Illustration by Manami Kimura