Kayaking among the Orcas/Killer Whales of British Columbia…

Kayaks belonging to the Sea Kayak Adventure group in the waters of Johnstone Strait, northeastern Vancouver Island.

Our sea kayaks wait patiently for us as we have lunch in a cove off of Johnstone Strait.

This is the first of my series of ‘oldies’ I am reposting from my archives to give new followers a taste of what they can expect to find on my blog. Peggy  and I made a trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia in 2014 to go kayaking among the orca whales. The next post in the series can be found here:  https://wandering-through-time-and-place.com/2014/10/30/

I was nervous as we drove into the town of Port McNeill on the northeast shore of Vancouver Island in August. Peggy and I had signed up for a six-day sea kayak tour out of Telegraph Cove with Sea Kayak Adventures.We would be searching for orcas, which are also known as killer whales—as our son Tony, the Alaska Coast Guard pilot, reminded us. A little Jaws music, perhaps?

This orca was on display at the Whale Museum in Grove. I named him Smiley and addressed him as sir.

This orca skeleton was on display at the Whale Interpretive Center in Telegraph Grove. I named him Smiley and addressed him as sir.

“Okay, Curt, what have you gotten yourself into this time?” was bouncing around in my skull like a kangaroo on steroids. It’s a question I ask myself often.

I wasn’t nervous about the whales, however. I’ve spent my life communing with nature. Besides, these particular giants are gentle, relatively speaking; they get fat off the salmon in Johnstone Strait. They don’t need to eat people. But sea kayaking would be a first for me. The old dog had to learn new tricks, and that is always a reason to get excitable. Fortunately, Peggy and I had played around a fair amount with inflatable kayaks. We had even ventured out on challenging multi-day lake trips into remote areas such as Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. So how hard could it be?

Aren't I pretty? There was no way I was going to make this skirt look good. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Aren’t I pretty? No? Maybe I wasn’t meant to wear a skirt. This skirt is designed to fit snugly over the cockpit of the kayak and keep out the water.  It’s so snug that you really have to stretch it to fit, which isn’t easy— particularly around the back. My skirt and I had several discussions while I was learning how to make it behave. It learned new words. Ask Peggy. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I confess I was more nervous about the idea of being on a tour. I am not much of a tour group person. This is a strange statement coming from someone who spent over a quarter of a century leading backpacking and bicycle fundraising treks for the American Lung Association. But the truth is— I am an independent cuss. I like to go where I want to go and stop when I want to stop. On an organized tour, I would be expected, even required, to adhere to the group schedule and itinerary. This isn’t a complaint. It has to be that way on group outings. Common sense and liability demand it.

And then there were the people. We’d be living closely with these folks for six days under potentially trying conditions. What would our guides be like? How about our fellow tour group members? Would we get along well? Would they be strange— even stranger than I am?

"Could I interest you in a cracker?" The tour promo promised good food, but it failed to mention the presentation. This is Nick, one of our three group leaders.

“Could I interest you in a cracker?” The tour promo promised good food, but it failed to mention the presentation. This is Nick from New Brunswick, one of our three group leaders. Note the sprig artfully shoved into the cheese.

Quy, another of our guides, is a gentle soul who in his other life works as a computer geek in Vancouver. So what is he doing with this knife?

Quy, another of our guides, is a gentle soul who in his other life works as a computer geek in Vancouver. So what is he doing with this knife?

Julia, our third guide and assigned trip leader, may use Quy's knife on me for this photo of her toes, but I couldn't help myself. And no, I don't have a foot fetish. My fascination was that these bare toes could run over sharp rocks. The last time I had feet that tough I was ten years old.

Julia, our third guide and assigned trip leader, hails from Germany and is quite charming. She may use Quy’s knife on me for this photo of her toes, but I couldn’t help myself. And no, I don’t have a foot fetish. My fascination with her toes was that they could run over anything, including  rocks. The last time I had feet that tough, I was ten years old.

And how about our fellow travelers? David is a psychologist out of LA. How much more strange can you get?

And how about our fellow travelers? David is a psychologist out of LA. How much stranger can you get than creating this mustache? Well maybe someone who kisses fish…

Well, maybe someone who kisses fish??? "But he was so beautiful," Lindy told me. He was dinner, Lindy,. Dinner.

“But he was so beautiful,” Lindy told me. He was dinner, Lindy. Dinner.

Regardless of how nervous I felt, the trip was simply too much of an opportunity to pass up. Like how could I not go on a sea kayaking adventure out among the orcas in beautiful British Columbia? As for Peggy, she is always up for adventure. When our friends Edie and David from Anchorage, Alaska called and asked if we would be interested in going, we gave a resounding yes. It turned out to be great decision. The guides, our fellow tour group members, and the incredible views were delightful. Even the orcas cooperated.

Today marks the beginning of my series on the trip. I’ll start by exploring the quaint town of Port McNeill. In my next post, we will climb in our kayaks and push-off from Telegraph Cove. The orcas are waiting. Let the adventure begin.

Harbor in Port McNeill on northeastern Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

While the main source of employment for the people of Port McNeill is the timber industry, the town also has a charming harbor. Note the yacht in the background. It had its own helicopter.

I loved this guys sense of humor.

In case anyone was wondering. I loved this guy’s sense of humor.

Dolphin statue at Port McNeil on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Peggy, David and Edie pose in front of a dolphin statue that faces the harbor. Edie went to high school with Peggy in Ohio and runs a tax accounting firm in Anchorage. David is an Alaskan bush pilot who works on the North Slope, and is a published poet.

You are looking at Port McNeill's pride and joy: the worlds largest burl. Can you imagine this thing growing on a tree? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

You are looking at Port McNeill’s pride and joy: the worlds largest burl. Can you imagine this thing growing on a tree? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Wicked Campers is now providing inexpensive travel vans and raucous humor in a number of countries.

Tourism is also an important industry for Port McNeill. Wicked Campers caught my attention. The company provides inexpensive travel vans and its raucous brand of  advertising in a number of countries.

We were also amused by Port McNeill's unique way of fund raising where bras are decorated and then auctioned off. Which of the following three would you vote for?

We were also amused by Port McNeill’s unique way of fund-raising where bras are decorated and then auctioned off. Which of the following three would you choose?

Given the ears, I am thinking Mickey Mouse was the inspiration.

Given the ears, I am thinking Minnie Mouse was the inspiration.

Bat woman?

Bat woman? Great eyes.

Dream catcher. Ouch.

Dream catcher? Ouch. This one would leave an impression.

Flowers at Port McNeill on Vancouver Island. photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The flower shop that featured the bras was closed so I couldn’t get inside to photo more of the entries. I did capture this petunia on the outside, however.

Mist in trees on Vancouver Island sea kayak trip. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Mist in the trees. A final photo to whet your appetite. Let the adventure begin.

A Gorgeous Sunset and a Breaching Killer Whale… British Columbia Sea Kayak Adventure: Part 2

Sunset at Sea Kayak Adventure's campsite on Hanson Island in Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

As the day ends, one of our kayakers takes a moment to enjoy the sunset from our campsite on Hanson Island.

A post-card-glorious sunset marked the end of Monday, our first day of kayaking on Johnstone Strait off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. Morning seemed long ago and far away— and my body spoke to just how long ago and far away that was. It had passed 71 earlier in the year and was wondering when the fabled golden years were going to start. “They are here,” I told it with a grin. It grumped. My mind and body aren’t always in agreement.

The guides and group, including Peggy and I, were in high spirits. We had successfully completed our first day of kayaking, seen stunning scenery, and watched an orca breach. We were in a beautiful setting. Our guides had just fed us a gourmet meal, and our tents were set up, promising a good night’s sleep. What was there to complain about?

We had all met for the first time on Sunday night. The session had started with the usual meet and greet. “Tell us something about yourselves.” We half listened as we composed whatever we were going to say. There were the Canadian guides, a contingent from Idaho, three mid-westerners, one Californian, and our friends David and Edie from Alaska. Peggy and I are from Oregon. We also had a family of Asians until they figured out they had come to the wrong meeting. Everyone had at least some kayak experience. David and I, along with our child brides, were the elders.

Our guides gave us an overview of the journey and then distributed dry bags and rubber boots. I debated between size 13 and 14. The 14s were a little loose, the 13s a little snug. I went with snug and wondered how my large feet would work in the tight confines of the kayak. Carefully, I presumed. Peggy and I retired to our rooms and begin the packing process— what to take and what to leave. Sea Kayak Adventures had recommended a lot and our guides had suggested less. Everything had to fit in the boats. There were important decisions to make.

Rubber boots issued by Sea Kayak Adventures.

My size 13 boots, clearly marked for all to see. I wondered how they would relate to the small rudder pedals in the Kayak.

The next morning we were up early, went through our gear for the umpteenth time, had a quick bite, and caught the taxi hired to take us to Telegraph Cove. It was time to break out the cameras.

Telegraph Cove started life as a lumber mill. Nowadays it is an eco tourism center. A couple of hundred thousand people visit in the summer for whale watching, kayaking, fishing and checking out grizzlies. In the winter, its population drops to 20. The town has done a great job of preserving historical buildings from its past.

This sign, featuring an Orca, grizzly and salmon welcomes visitors to Telegraph Cove.

This sign, featuring an orca, grizzly and salmon, welcomes visitors to Telegraph Cove. Also note the impressive drift wood. We were to find some on our trip. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Old Dodge Truck at Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Part of the appeal of Telegraph Cove is its preservation of the past, as with this old Dodge truck. I think the truck was confused about where its lights should be. Or maybe it was so old it needed bifocals.

Telegraph Cove is all about water as this photo suggests. Here we see the Whale Interpretive Center, a fishing boat, and kayakers. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Telegraph Cove is all about water as this photo suggests. Here we see the Whale Interpretive Center, a fishing/tour boat, and kayakers. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Empty docks at Telegraph Cove suggests all of the tours and fishing expeditions are already out on Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The empty boat docks tell a tale. We would not be the first to leave Telegraph Cove that morning for the Johnstone Strait. Our route took us right down the row and made a right at the Whale Interpretive Center.

Once our taxis dropped us off at Telegraph Cove, it was time to get busy. There were kayaks to pick, gear to load, life vests to fit, and last-minute instructions, such as which side of our paddle was up.

Sea kayaks wait for the next Sea Kayak Adventure tour group in Telegraph Cove.

Our guides, Julia, Nick and Quy, had been up  before dawn getting ready for us. Kayaks, life vests, and sleeping pads were waiting. Group gear had already been packed. Our first chore was to pick out our kayaks. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The white boats are more stable, the guides told us. Being the oldest, David, Edie, Peggy and I decided we could use the most stability. What the guides failed to mention in the fine print was that the white kayaks were also the largest, the heaviest, and could carry more of the group gear.Translation: they would be slower and harder to move.

The white boats are more stable, the guides told us. Being the oldest, David, Edie, Peggy and I decided we could use the most stability. What we failed to think through was that the white kayaks were also the largest, the heaviest, and carried more of the group gear.Translation: they would be slower and harder to row.

Kayaks are placed in the water at Telegraph Cove. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And then the moment arrived. It was time to put our kayaks in the water and start paddling. Put in and take out were always a group effort.

Heavy fog hung over Johnstone Strait and along the shore. We moved slowly, keeping each other in sight and waiting for the fog to clear. Large boats, including cruise ships, use the Strait. You want to be damn sure you can see them— and that they can see you. At one point, Nick, who was on rear guard duty, decided my seat needed adjusting. I was too laid back. By the time the adjustments were made, the other kayakers had disappeared into the fog. They waited patiently. We stopped and had a leisurely lunch. Then the sky turned a bright blue and we were off across the Strait. Orcas were waiting.

Kayakers work their way through kelp beds and fog in the Johnstone Strait of British Columbia.

Kelp beds and fog slowed us down. Here, we maneuvered our way through the kelp. Some of our group had almost disappeared into the mist— and they weren’t that far away. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Vancouver Island cast on Johnstone Strait near Telegraph Cove. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Working our way along Vancouver Island, Julia decided to stop for lunch and wait the fog out. The bright sun was already creating a patch of blue.

Sun illuminates forest during kayak trip on Johnstone Strait, BC. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Everywhere we went, the beauty of the forests matched the beauty of the waterways.

Lunch on Sea Kayak Adventures tour on the Johnstone Strait in British Columbia.

“Come and get it.” Julia and Nick announced that lunch was ready. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy Mekemson searches for Killer Whales while kayaking across Johnstone Strait off of Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

With lunch over and the fog lifted, we made our way across Johnstone Strait. Peggy searched the water for orcas/killer whales.

Kayakers with Kayak Adventure Tours raft up on Johnstone Strait in British Columbia when seeing a Killer Whale.

The distinctive whoosh made by a whale when it surfaced and blew caused our group to raft up, where we held on to each other’s kayaks. Edie gave us a smile while we waited, hoping to catch sight of the whale. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Orca breaches in the Johnstone Strait.

And were rewarded by one breaching in the distance. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sea Kayak Adventures campsite on Hanson Island in the Johnstone Strait, British Columbia.

Having also been slowed down by a pod of dolphins, we finally made it to our first night’s campsite on Hanson Island. The camp is to the right of the rocks, back in the cove.

Sea Kayak Adventures leases its sites from a First Nation tribe. Each site is chosen for its beauty and its natural setting.  Camps are pre-set up with tents, a cooking area, and a primitive but comfortable and private open-air restroom. We carried our kayaks up into the camping area, selected tents, packed away gear, and then went for a hike. Afterwards it was time for cocktail hour and dinner. We finished off our evening watching the sunset— and a gorgeous sunset it was.

Sea Kayak Tours sets up comfortable tents for  guests to use while on their tours.

Peggy and I stand next to our home in the woods for the night.

Sky and clouds meet forest on Hanson Island in the Johnstone Strait of British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Our walk provided this fun photo where the sky and clouds met the forest…

Urchin shell found on Hanson Island in Johnson Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We found this jewel of an urchin shell…

And this rather odd shell/skeleton that our experts debated over. Considering this post is going up on October 30th, I am going with Happy Halloween.

And this rather odd shell/skeleton that our experts debated over. Check out the buck teeth. This guy would put a beaver to shame. Considering this post is going up on October 30th, Peggy, the creature, and I would like to wish all of you a Happy Halloween.

Back in camp, I got a happy, toothy grin from Dennis...

Back in camp, I got a happy, toothy grin from David…

And a shy smile from Julia.

And a shy smile from Julia.

Sunset over Johnstone Striait off of Hanson Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We finished off the day by watching the sunset over Johnstone Strait. Next blog: We kayak onward to our next island.