Alone in the Passage: An Explorers Guide to Sea Kayaking the Inside Passage

In the summer of 2012 I completed my second, solo, Inside Passage kayaking adventure. I have chronicled the trip in my latest book, "Alone in the Passage: An Explorers Guide to Sea Kayaking the Inside Passage". Besides giving a day to day run down of my experiences, I provide the reader with valuable information that would be necessary to successfully complete this incredible journey. The book is available in both paperback and Kindle e-book versions from Amazon. To find out more and read excerpts from the book CLICK HERE.


If you are not particularly interested in paddling the Inside Passage, but would like some useful tips on expedition kayaking, check out my book, "Tactics for Long Distance Sea Kayaking". This book is designed to provide mid to advanced level paddlers with proven techniques on how to plan and successfully execute a long distance sea kayaking trip.
If you already have or plan to get my other book "Alone in the Passage" be advised that this book is comprised of information that is covered in "Alone in the Passage".
The book is available in both paperback and Kindle e-book versions from Amazon. To find out more and read excerpts from the book CLICK HERE.

Topics covered include:

  • How to research destinations and plan long distance trips
  • Techniques for traveling solo and in groups
  • Equipment and clothing checklist and evaluations
  • Communications
  • Weather
  • Dangers and cautions
  • Charts and navigation
  • Camping and life on shore
  • Food and water
  • Wildlife encounters

Point To Point: Exploring The Inside Passage By Kayak

A complete chronology of my 2007/2008 Inside Passage kayaking adventure is now available from Amazon Books in both paperback and digital "Kindle" format.
By clicking on the bold type title above, you will be brought to the Amazon page where either of the formats can be ordered.

Introduction


In the summers of 2007 and 2008 I completed a solo sea kayaking trip through the Inside Passage from San Juan Island, Washington to Skagway, Alaska.


This is the story of that trip and the adventures I had along the way.

Denis Dwyer

Day 1 - Friday - June 8 - San Juan Island to Prevost Harbor

Canada's Coast Range appears across the Strait of Georgia as seen from the ferry.

As I rode the ferry across Puget Sound and looked north up the Strait of Georgia, I could see the snow capped peaks of Canada’s coastal mountain range stretching off into the distance. The kayaking trip I was about to undertake would take me well past the farthest mountains I could now see. In a few weeks, these distant peaks would be further behind me than they were in front of me now. The challenge was real, but I was confident that if I took it a day at a time, these sentinels would slowly disappear from my view as new vistas opened before me.
After months of planning, and a 3,000-mile drive across the US, I had finally arrived at my launch point on beautiful San Juan Island in Washington‘s, Northern Puget Sound. The “put in” would be Small Pox Bay at the San Juan County Park. I picked this spot to start the trip because it allowed me to avoid heavily urbanized areas along the mainland and put me in a good position to enter Canada’s Gulf Islands and travel within their relatively protected waters.
San Juan County Park is very popular with kayakers and whale watchers who come to catch a glimpse of the many pods of Orcas that frequently pass within a short distance of its shoreline. It can be crowded during the summer, so reservations are necessary if you plan to spend the night. Access to San Juan Island is via the Washington State Ferry that leaves the mainland in Anacortes Washington and arrives on the island at Friday Harbor.

First Leg - Days 1-12 - San Juan Island to Powell River


The main natural and man made features encountered along this stretch of the route include: The San Juan Islands, Boundary Pass, the US / Canadian border, the Gulf Islands, Trincomali Channel, the city of Nanaimo, the Strait of Georgia, Texada Island, Malaspina Strait, and the city of Powell River.


My big adventure begins at Small Pox Bay on San Juan Island.

The weather was perfect for my first day on the water, light winds, mild temperatures, and mostly clear skies. Launch time was 9:20am. I headed north thru Haro Strait with Canada’s Vancouver Island on my left and the west coast of San Juan Island on my right. Even though there was a slight current against me, I still made good time through Mosquito Pass and into Roche Harbor. As I entered the pass, I got my first look at a group of Harbor Seals that were sunning themselves on a rock while others seemed to be feeding or playing in the water near by.

As I start my crossing of Speiden Channel Vancouver Island fills the horizon across Haro Strait.

I cleared the pass between Henry and Pearl Islands at 11am and headed out across Spieden Channel towards the west tip of Spieden Island. This was my first open water crossing of the trip and a good introduction to what lay ahead. The wind was kicking up a light chop and there were recreational boaters speeding about in every direction. Even though Spieden Island is about halfway across the channel, there is no good place to land, so it is unusable as a refuge in bad weather. By noon, I had made the four-mile crossing to the entrance of Johns Pass. There was a one to two knot current running against me through Johns Pass so I stayed close to shore and out of the main flow.

My campsite at Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island.

In a short time, I had paddled around the eastern tip of Stuart Island and into Prevost Harbor. There is a state park here with a convenient landing spot for kayakers just west of the boat dock and a few yards from the designated campsites. All campsites are about twenty feet above high tide and have good views of the harbor. There are picnic tables, a composting toilet, and water. A trail winds through the park and offers a chance to stretch legs stiffened by a day of paddling.
Today’s paddle covered around 12 miles in 3 hours and 40 minutes.

Day 2 - Saturday - June 9 - Prevost Harbor to James Bay

Setting off across Boundary Pass from Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island toward South Pender Island.

The weather was gloomy but the wind calm as I woke up for my second day of paddling. After having a quick breakfast and breaking camp, I launched at 8am. As soon as I attached my spray skirt, it started to rain. Ahead lay the four miles of open water in Boundary Pass and the Canadian border. Since slack tide today was at 7:30am, I knew it was possible to make it across the four miles to South Pender Island before any serious current picked up. Boundary Pass is notorious for its fast tidal currents and heavy shipping traffic so it had been a major source of concern for me. Leaving early for the long crossing turned out to be a good idea as the weather later in the day got very windy and would have made the crossing dangerous. The light drizzle and lack of wind made the crossing go smoothly and by 9:30am I was tying up to the customs dock in Bedwell Harbor on South Pender Island.

Entering Bedwell Harbor on South Pender Island.

The Canadian customs station was unmanned. Instead of live personnel, there were three phones with direct links to customs agents. After asking me a few questions, an agent gave me permission to enter Canada. While standing in the rain talking to the customs agent, I started to get cold. I spotted a coffee shop nearby so I went over and got some coffee and a muffin. The combination of a hot drink and a warm room soon had me feeling better and ready to face the open water again. While there, I chatted with some friendly Canadians who were amazed that I had just paddled across Boundary Pass in a kayak.


A BC ferry enters Otter Bay on North Pender Island.

I left Bedwell Harbor at 10:30am and after rounding Wallace Point headed up the southwest coast of North Pender Island. The current was flooding south through Swanson Channel for the first two hours so I hugged the shore to stay out of the main flow. By 12:30pm, the current had turned and was no longer a problem, but now the wind and rain had picked up and created uncomfortable paddling conditions as squalls moved through. My original route plan was to go through Captain Passage along the west coast of Prevost Island. This would have required an open water crossing of 2.5 miles from North Pender to Prevost Islands. After considering the weather conditions, I opted instead to follow the west coast of North Pender Island. If conditions deteriorated, three large bays would offer me some protection.


A stormy day on Swanson Channel.

I stopped for a few minutes in the northernmost bay of Port Washington to consider the conditions that lay ahead in the crossing over to Prevost Island. The distance was about a mile and a half and a southerly wind was creating whitecaps that would be hitting me from the left rear. I decided to go for it and headed out for Portlock Point on Prevost Island. I was carrying a waterproof digital camera that could take short videos so I turned it on to try and capture the scene for friends back home that have no idea how it looks to be in a kayak in rough water. Unfortunately, it was just the first time that the camera was to malfunction on this trip so the crossing would go undocumented. After a determined thirty-minute paddle, I reached Prevost Island and could finally take a break out of the wind in relatively calm water.
The coast of Prevost Island was different from all the other shorelines I had passed in these first two days in that there were no homes visible from the water. Every other island had conspicuous homes indicating private property along their entire shorelines.


Approaching the beach at James Bay.

I rounded Peile Point on the North West tip of Prevost Island and headed into James Bay and a Cascadia Marine Trail (CMT) campsite. After landing in the rain at 3pm, I set up camp on a grassy meadow where a flock of Canadian geese had left plenty of proof of their recent feeding activity. The area has no improvements other than an outhouse but the landing site was good and the tall grass made for a comfortable campsite. Although there is no fresh water available at James Bay, I was able to collect a couple of gallons by strategically placing cooking pots to catch water running off my rain tarp.

After a stormy day of paddling the sky begins to clear at James Bay.

After dinner, I made a call home on my cell phone and was amazed when it actually went through. Today I covered eighteen miles in six hours.

Day 3 - Sunday - June 10 - Layover at James Bay


The camping area at James Bay is in a big field of tall grass.

I had a hard time sleeping last night due to pain in my right shoulder no doubt caused by two days of strenuous paddling. Since it was still raining off and on, I decided to take a day off and let my shoulder rest.
James Bay was full of wildlife that kept me company during my stay. Besides the flock of Canadian geese that seem to have made the bay home, there were deer grazing in the meadow around my campsite, and a river otter feeding in the calm water just offshore. Eagles flew overhead and perched in the nearby trees while a martin searched the shore for its next meal.

Looking NW up Trincomali Channel from James Bay on Prevost Island.

In the afternoon the wind shifted to northerly, the rain stopped, and the sky started to clear. This gave me a good opportunity to do some exploring. A trail along the shore brought me to an abandoned homestead site on a hill with beautiful views overlooking James Bay. Nearby was an abandoned orchard that in years past would have provided the Prevost Island settlers with fresh fruit.


A BC ferry passes off in the distance from James Bay.

Day 4 - Monday - June 11 - James Bay to Blackberry Point

After an early breakfast I broke camp, got the kayak loaded up, and launched at 7:20am. Although the sky was cloudy and gray, the rain had stopped. Today’s route would take me along the northeast coast of Saltspring Island and through the Trincomali Channel. The shoreline of Saltspring Island was full of wildlife. As I paddled slowly along the rocky shore, I spotted beaver, raccoon, martin, deer, seals, eagles, and starfish.


Wallace and Secretary Islands come into view in Trincomali Channel as I pass Walker Hook.

A planned stop at Conover Cove on Wallace Island to get water turned out to be a challenge. The only shallow area in the cove consisted of thick sticky mud so it was necessary to tie up to the pier to exit my kayak. Depending how a pier is constructed it can be anything from easy to impossible to get in or out of a kayak. Luckily, this one was not bad and I was able to get out easily. Finding the water proved more difficult as the unmarked source was a few hundred yards from the dock along a trail leading to the north end of the island. The antique water pump had seen better days and I found it impossible to hold a water bottle under the outlet and pump the long handle at the same time. The only way to get water here would be to have two people operate the pump, or have a bucket to hang under the faucet while operating the pump handle from four feet away. A sign on the pump warned to boil water before drinking. As I would soon discover, all public water sources that I encountered on the trip would include this disclaimer, apparently to protect its public provider from litigation. Through out the trip, I did not boil, or even chemically treat water collected from these sources, and did not get sick even once.

Heading through the pass between Wallace and Secretary Islands.

I continued paddling along the west shore of Wallace Island and cut across at Chivers Point to follow the east coast of the Secretary Islands. After passing Hall Island on its west side and Reid Island on its east side, I headed north to Valdes Island across a mile and a half wide section of the Trincomali Channel. Kayakers in this area should stay clear of Porlier Pass except during slack tides as the currents flowing through it can create dangerous tiderips.





Looking NE toward Porlier Pass as I paddle along the eastern shoreline of Reid Island.

Shingle Point on Valdes Island was a good place to stop for a break. A grassy meadow with some abandoned buildings was all that remained of a homestead on this beautiful point of land. A small cemetery nearby held the remains of some of the areas early settlers.



Looking west across Pylades Channel from the beach at Blackberry Point on Valdes Island.

My destination on this day was Blackberry Point, where a designated camping area for kayakers has been established. Although there were a few possible sites up in the trees, I opted instead for a breezy beach site, as the mosquitoes seemed to have taken over the wooded area. Tonight’s high tide would not reach the top of the beach, so I did not have to worry about it getting to me in the middle of the night. There is no water available at Blackberry Point. A rustic pit toilet is the only amenity.




Vancouver Island in evening sunlight from Blackberry Point.

I arrived at Blackberry Point at 1:15pm after paddling nineteen miles in six hours.

Day 5 - Tuesday - June 12 - Blackberry Point to Nanaimo


My campsite on the beach at Blackberry Point on Valdes Island.
Today I hoped to take advantage of a flood tide flowing north through Pylades Channel to help me on my way. I launched just after the tide turned and headed toward today’s destination, Nanaimo. After launching at 10:40am from Blackberry Point on Valdes Island, I cut across Pylades Channel and paddled up the east coast of Pylades and Ruxton Islands.




A small tug pulls a huge log raft through Ruxton Passage.

At Ruxton Passage, I arrived just as a small tug towing a raft of logs started to come through. It was amazing to watch as a huge raft, possibly 300 yards long, passed in front of me. I sat bobbing in the waves for 20 minutes as the raft slowly made its way past. My only consolation was the wonderful smell of the fresh cut timber that filled the air as I waited.
I stopped at the Ruxton Passage Cove Marine Park on the southeast tip of De Courcy Island and filled up my water bottles from the hand pump there. This park has a much more user-friendly landing area than Conover Cove on Wallace Island and the pump was much easier to use for filling water bottles.


Entering False Narrows with Gabriola Island on the right and Mudge Island on the left.

The current was flowing northerly thru Pylades Channel as I made my way along the east coast of De Courcy Island toward False Narrows. The current pushed me along at a good clip in the narrows as I watched the shallow bottom features zip past through the clear water.



Northumberland Channel appears in the distance as I make my way through the narrowest section of False Narrows.

Once I was out of False Narrows and into Northumberland Channel, conditions rapidly became uncomfortable. The current was now flowing at full force through False and Dodd Narrows, the wind had picked up to about 20mph, and there were power boaters zipping around in every direction. The sea conditions were choppy and confused requiring me to pay close attention and not take my hands off the paddle for a second. On top of all that, there were log rafts 100 feet wide tied up along the shore of Gabriola Island with the currents pushing me towards them. I knew it was important to stay away from the upstream ends of these rafts because if forced underneath them I would be in big trouble.

Newcastle Island appears across Northumberland Channel.

I cut across to the Vancouver Island side of the channel and started heading toward the ferry terminal near Jack Point. I could see the ferry approaching from far off so I timed myself to pass behind the ferry as it approached the dock. Now it was only a short distance to today’s destination, the Newcastle Island Marine Park in Nanaimo.


I yield the right of way to the BC ferry landing at Jack Point.

It is a good idea to launch and land at Newcastle Island during a high tide, as the water around the camping area is shallow, and landing at low tide requires a long carry. I arrived at 3:45, two hours before the day’s high tide so I was able to land high up on the beach. The best spot to land a kayak is where you see a little footbridge on the southeast side of the island near a place called Brownie Cove. Securely tie up your boat here and head west along the trail over to the pavilion where the campground office is located. Along the way you will pass campsites so be on the lookout for one that is empty. Locate a handcart either at the pavilion or at the powerboat dock and bring it back with you to your boat. You should be able to load your boat and all your gear on the handcart and bring it all to the campsite you have chosen in one trip. If you cannot find anyone to check in with, just occupy a vacant site and someone will come around, collect the fees from you, and check you in. I stayed here two nights so I could spend a full day in Nanaimo getting supplies and taking a break.


Hand carts are available on Newcastle Island to get your boat and gear from wherever you land to a campsite.

An alternative to landing by the footbridge at Brownie Point could be the public boat dock at Mark Bay on Newcastle Island. This may be a better choice if you have to land or launch at low tide although I did not investigate while there.





A large flock of Canadian Geese has made this lawn on Newcastle Island their territory.

While camped here, do not leave any food in your tent, as the island is full of raccoons that will tear a hole in your tent searching for something to eat. You may even want to leave your tent door unzipped, as I had a raccoon tear a hole in my mosquito net door to get in and I had left no food in the tent. Each campsite has a large wooden box for storing food and equipment so the raccoons cannot get to it.
Today I paddled sixteen miles in five hours.