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.

When Orcas Go Swimming By… British Columbia Sea Kayak Adventure: The Conclusion

Orca family in Johnstone Strait, British Columbia.

We dropped what we were doing to watch the orca family pass by our campsite. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

“Orcas!” Kimberly cried out, and we all went dashing for the beach with our cameras. Kimberly liked to perch on convenient logs and rocks, looking out at the Johnstone Strait. It gave her a front row seat on the action. I get it. I can stare out at the Pacific Ocean for hours— watching the waves roll in, listening to the lonely calls of seagulls, admiring the crazy antics of pelicans, and, yes, looking for whales.

Looking for orcas in Johnstone Strait, British Columbia.

Perched on a rock, Kimberly keeps a sharp eye out for orcas.

We had barely arrived at our campsite when the first family of orcas came swimming by. We were still in the middle of tucking our kayaks away in the forest above the tide line. Everything was dropped, including the kayaks. There were whales to see.

Sea Kayak Adventures group watches orcas in Johnstone Strait, BC. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The rallying cry of “Orcas!” sent everyone scrambling for a view.

A baby orca surfaces in Johnstone Strait, BC.

A baby orca surfaces. Our reward for being vigilant. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This was our last campsite before heading home. Once again we had returned to Vancouver Island. We were located at Sea Kayak Adventures’ Little Kai Camp and would be there for two nights. Seeing orcas on our arrival was a good omen. We were happy campers. Not even the surround sound of fishing boats or a deluge of cold rain could dampen our spirits.

Beach at Little Kai Camp on Vancouver Island. and Johnstone Strait.

The beach at Little Kai camp.

Who can complain when surrounded by good people and beautiful scenery? But our trip was drawing to a close. After several more good meals, another kayak adventure, an evening of fun and story telling, and more orcas, it was time to pack up our kayaks and paddle back to Telegraph Cove. An orca gave us a final British Columbia send-off.

Our group works its way south along Vancouver Island. Shortly afterwards the skies opened up and dumped buckets of rain on us.

Our group works its way south from Little Kai Camp along Vancouver Island. Shortly afterwards the skies opened up and dumped buckets of rain on us. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Driftwood on Johnstone Strait, Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Back at camp, I found interesting driftwood.

Heart shaped rocks found on Little Kai Beach off of Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We were amused to find that previous kayakers had collected numerous heart-shaped rocks off of Little Kai Beach.

Dinner is served on Sea Kayak Adventures' trip on Johnstone Strait.

Dinner is served.

Fishing boats shattered the quiet of our campground. BC fisheries had declared an eight hour fishing season to reduce the number of salmon trying to get up streams.

Fishing boats shattered the quiet of our campground. BC fisheries had declared an eight-hour fishing season to reduce the number of salmon trying to get up streams. Boats came from everywhere. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We wrapped up our final evening with a campfire, story telling, songs and a skit.

We wrapped up our last evening with a campfire, story telling, songs and skits.

The final morning we posed for an 'official' group photo.

Our ‘official’ group photo.

Bear on Johnstone Strait, BC.

Kayaking back to Telegraph Cove, we came on a black bear. We weren’t able to determine how he managed to get the stick lodged in his fur. Was it the shaft of an arrow? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Since we had begun our kayak adventure searching for orcas, it is appropriate that I end this series with a picture of the final orca we saw. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Since we had begun our kayak adventure searching for orcas, it is appropriate that I end this series with a picture of the final orca we saw. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

 

Free Corky— and Stay Out of the Death Vortex… British Columbia Kayak Adventure

 

Sea Kayak Adventures likes to stop for lunch at the beach next to Orca-Lab on Hanson Island.

Sea Kayak Adventures likes to stop for lunch at the beach next to Orca-Lab on Hanson Island. One of the researcher’s cabins is on the left. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

“Paddle, Curt and Peggy, paddle!” Julia yelled at us across the water. The tides of Johnstone Strait between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia can be ferocious. And we were caught in the current— the death vortex as the guides described it. We had been futzing along behind the group, happily paddling along, and matching strokes. Matching strokes is more efficient in kayaking, and it is certainly more aesthetic. I doubled my efforts and so did Peggy, paddling fast and digging deep, not concerned about style, driven by adrenaline. What seemed like an hour later (mere minutes), we were out of trouble. Afterwards, I continued to be unaesthetic, and we moved up to the head of the line.

The day had started out foggy. In fact the guides were worried about whether the fog would clear. As I mentioned before, sharing a narrow strait in zero visibility with huge cruise ships is at the top of every kayaker’s bad-idea list. The sun came out, however, and, beyond being caught in the death vortex, we had a great day of kayaking. The highlight, from my perspective, was visiting the site of the Orca-Lab.

A side view of the Orca-Lab and an out buildings. Tents were located behind these buildings, which I assumed housed some of the volunteers who come fro all over the world to work at the research facility.

A side view of the Orca-Lab and an out building. Tents were located behind these buildings, which I assumed housed some of the volunteers who come from all over the world to work at the research facility.

Some 150 orcas live and travel in Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Sound during the summer and fall months when the salmon are running. Orcas are quite social with the primary grouping built around the mother. She and her children stay together for life. Maternal groups form pods of extended family members and, beyond that, join together in clans, who more or less speak the same language: they share common calls.

Dr. Paul Spong established Orca-Lab on Hanson Island in 1970. It has been functioning ever since to study the local whale population. A number of hydrophones (underwater listening devices) are positioned around the Orcas’ territory to listen in on their ‘discussions.’ These sonic recordings are supplemented by visual sightings of orcas as they pass by Orca-Lab and from other land-based locations in Johnstone Strait.

Julia drops a hydrophone into the water to see if we can pick up any orca calls. Is that a huge orca photo bombing the picture under her arm??? No, unfortunately, it was a view of a peninsula modified by Julia's shirt. I was excited for a second, though.

Julia drops a hydrophone into the water to see if we can pick up any orca calls. Is that a huge orca photo bombing the picture next to her waist??? Nope, it was a view of a peninsula modified by Julia’s shirt. I was excited for a second, though… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

In addition to Orca-Lab’s ongoing scientific studies, it works to improve whale habitat, free captive whales, and oppose whale hunting. Number one on its “Free Willy” type campaign is Free Corky. She was captured when she was four years old and has now been in captivity for 42 years. You are more likely to know her as Shamu of Sea World in San Diego. Orca-Lab wants her reunited with her family.

A frontal view of the Orca Lab with a Welcome Home Springer sign. Springer is the poster child of reuniting orca whales with their families. Orphaned as a child, she wandered far from home and begin approaching fishing boats for companionship. Close to starving, she was captured, fed and returned to her pod where family members adopted her— and taught her to stay away  from fishing boats. Each year, she returns to Johnstone Strait.

A frontal view of the Orca Lab with a Welcome Home Springer sign. Springer is the poster child of reuniting orca whales with their families. Orphaned as a child, she wandered far from home and began approaching fishing boats for companionship. Close to starving, she was captured, fed, and returned to her pod where family members adopted her— and taught her to stay away from fishing boats. Each year, she returns to Johnstone Strait. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Orca-Lab beach on Hanson Island, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

There was some very impressive driftwood on the beach at Orca-Lab, including this massive example. One might assume there were some large trees around…

Giant cedar tree on Hanson Island near the Orca Lab in Johnstone Strait, British Columbia.

We went for a walk and found this giant tree that the folks at Orca-Lab call Grandma Cedar.

Grandma Cedar on Hanson Island BC near the Orca-Lab. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I took this photo of Grandma Cedar looking up.

Some photographers will go to any length to capture a photo of Grandma Cedar, as David demonstrates here.

Some photographers will go to any length to capture a photo of Grandma Cedar, as David demonstrates here.

On the way back to the beach, I found some strange mushrooms growing along side the trail. On close inspection I discovered they were carved out of wood. My thoughts: the folks at Orca Lab were having a slow day.

On the way back to the beach, I found some strange mushrooms growing alongside the trail. On close inspection, I discovered they were carved out of wood. My thoughts: the folks at Orca-Lab were having a slow day.

Back at the beach I found smiling faces— Wendy and Dennis.

Back at the beach I found smiling faces— Wendy and Dennis…

Dead stump with green growth on beach next to Orca-Lab on Hanson Island, Johnstone Strait, British Columbia.

A stump with green hair. Could it be Treebeard of Hobbit fame… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Driftwood found next to Orca-Lab on Hanson Island, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This entwined piece of driftwood…

Old driftwood and rope on Hanson Island near the Orca-Lab.

An interesting combination of old wood and rope…

Sea kayaks of Sea Kayak Adventures waiting on Hanson Island next to Orca-Lab.

And our waiting kayaks. Our’s is third from the left. I was surprised she hadn’t escaped given that we had tried to dump her in the death vortex. It was time to saddle up and head for our last campground. Next Blog: I conclude the kayak adventure in British Columbia.

The Monster on the Rock— And Sasquatch… British Columbia Kayak Adventure: Part 4

First Nation people had chosen this rock on Berry Island in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia as the location for a pictograph warning people to stay off of the island.

First Nation natives had chosen this rock on Berry Island in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia as the location for a pictograph warning people to stay off of the island. The dark line marks how high the tide climbs.

The third day of our kayak trip was a ‘layover day.’ It was a layover in the sense that we would be spending two nights at our camp on Compton Island, not that we would be sleeping in and relaxing. There was kayaking to do. Berry Island and a pictograph was our morning destination. We found the pictograph on a tall rock cliff that hung over the water.

Our layover was not designed to be a kick-back and relax day. Here we are carrying our kayaks down to the water. The number of people required to move Peggy and my kayak suggests how heavy it was.  (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Our layover was not designed to be a kick-back day. Here we are carrying our kayak down to the water. The number of people required to move it suggests how heavy it was. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Extreme high and low tides in Johnstone Strait meant we often had to carry the kayaks a fair distance to water.

Extreme high and low tides in Johnstone Strait meant we often had to carry the kayaks a fair distance to water. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Stretching across the rock face, ancient First Nation natives had painted a monster to warn people away from Berry Island, where they buried their dead. It was an early no-trespassing sign— probably implying that the monster would eat you if you landed. I had seen its modern equivalent in west Texas, except there, the sign had declared that trespassers would be shot. Such admonitions make one hesitate; at least they do me. When my choice is to be eaten by a monster or shot by a Texan, I choose neither.

Mary and Rod, two of our kayakers from Idaho, paddle up close to get a look at the pictograph. It was above there right paddles on the shaded rock face. Can't see it? Don't feel bad; neither could I. (Photograph by Peggy Mekemson.)

Mary and Rod, two of our kayakers from Idaho, paddle up close to get a look at the pictograph(s). One is barely visible above the right paddles. Look closely and you will see two round eyes. Another is above the left paddles— red, round and also barely visible. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Rod seemed quite happy with what he saw, however. Or maybe he was happy the monster chose not to eat him.

Rod seemed quite happy with what he saw, however. Or maybe he was happy the monster chose not to eat him.

Our guide, Nick, told us another story; this one had been passed on by the kayaking community. A lone, female kayaker had stopped to camp on Berry Island and had set up her tent for the night. Shortly afterwards, a boulder went flying by her head. She neither saw nor heard anyone, but another boulder came whizzing past. It was time to vacate the premises. She grabbed her kayak and paddled away as more boulders landed nearby. When nothing else had been hurled at her for two hours, she paddled back in, grabbed her tent (rather quickly, I suspect) and hightailed it. Back in town, the locals told her that Berry Island was also known as Sasquatch Island. Had Bigfoot been lobbing rocks at her? The Sasquatch/Bigfoot Research Organization claims this is a common practice of the big, hairy fellow. See here.

Heading back for camp and lunch, our guide, Julia, found a starfish that made Bigfoot seem normal in comparison. Julia handled it with aplomb, sort of. As for lunch, we ate the delicious salmon that I blogged about in my last post.

Starfish in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia.

This amorphous mass is actually a starfish. Here it rests on our guide Julia’s kayak skirt.

Julia picked the starfish up to show us. I think there was a slight 'ewww' factor. There certainly would have been for me.

Julia picked the starfish up to show us. I think there was a slight ‘ewww’ factor. There certainly would have been for me. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sea Kayak Adventures cooks up a delicious lunch of freshly caught salmon at its camp on Compton Island, British Columbia.

The fresh salmon delivered to us the night before by a fisherman, ended up as a delicious lunch. We weren’t the only ones interested in the salmon, however…

Bald eagle on Compton Island in British Columbia.

Each bite was carefully monitored. This bald eagle had already eaten the salmon’s guts, and he was eager for more fish. Sushi would be fine.

In the afternoon, we went searching for whales again. Along the way, Quy taught us how to blow kelp like a trumpet, and we saw a mysterious yacht that looked like it was straight out of a sci-fi flick.

Kelp beds off Vancouver Island in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia.

Floating kelp provided something of a challenge for kayaking through, but it also provided an opportunity.

Quy taught us how to cut up the kelp so it could be blown like a trumpet.

Quy taught us how to cut the kelp so it could be blown like a trumpet. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Here Lindy takes a turn. Peggy had also tried her luck. My advice to them: they should keep their day jobs.

Here Lindy takes a turn. Peggy had also tried her luck. My advice to the two of them: they should keep their day jobs.

Nick looks on in amazement at the performance.

Nick looked on in amazement at the performances.

The whales kept their distance, but a curious seal stopped by to check us out. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The whales kept their distance, but a curious seal stopped by to check us out. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This futuristic yacht didn't look nearly as friendly as the seal. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This futuristic yacht didn’t look nearly as friendly as the seal. At first we thought it belonged to the military. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Blackfish Sound in British Columbia.

I liked the contrast here between water, clouds, and islands. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Back in camp, Mary celebrated her birthday...

Back in camp, Mary celebrated her birthday…

Peggy and Curtis Mekemson on Compton Island off of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Peggy and I shared a quiet moment…

Evening on Compton Island, Blackfish Sound, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And evening settled in. Next Blog: Peggy and I get caught in a powerful current.

 

Who Needs A Barber When You Have a Starfish? British Columbia Sea Kayak Adventure: Part 3

Starfish pedicellariae can clip the hair off an arm. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Quy bent the starfish over my wrist, and it clipped hair off my arm while I took a selfie of the process.

I’ve never been much of a with-it type guy. When there is a fad, I try to do the opposite. But I confess I’ve tried a selfie or two. And I just had to take a picture of the starfish clipping hair off of my arm. When Quy picked up a starfish on our six-day, British Columbia sea kayak adventure and offered to demonstrate pedicellariae at work, I was the first to volunteer. Pedicellariae what, you say?

While you are probably stumbling over the word like I did, I’ll explain how it works. Starfish have a defense mechanism for destroying tiny parasites that land on their skin. They have tiny claws that cut the bad guys in half. If you put these claws under a microscope, they look like your worst nightmare. (Check this out.)

Quy, however, assured us that while the pedicellariae would define our hairs as enemy invaders and clip them off, there would only be a slight pulling sensation with no harm done to us. Easy for him to say, right. But that’s what happened. Quy bent the arm of the starfish over my wrist and I felt the pulling sensation. When he removed the starfish, my arm was bare. Peggy was up next.

Here is the starfish happily at home in Johnstone Strait before Quy picked him up to clip hair.

Here is the innocent starfish, happily at home in Johnstone Strait before Quy picked him up to clip hair.

And here, the starfish goes to work on Peggy. Is that a smile or a grimace on her face?

And here, the starfish goes to work on Peggy. Is that a smile or a grimace on her face?

I expected whales and striking scenery on our Sea Kayak Adventures’ trip, but hair-removing starfish, no way. The pedicellariae were only a small part of our second day, however. We kayaked from our campsite on Hanson Island to Compton Island on Blackfish Sound. Along the way we watched humpback whales and were once again awed by the beauty of the region. At Compton Island, we got to play with our food….

Sea Kayak Adventures provides a hearty breakfast to its sea kayakers.

Coffee would be waiting when we got up each morning— to be followed by a hefty breakfast. Here, our guide, Nick, whips up French toast in the make-shift kitchen.

Fishing boat in Johnstone Strait off of Hanson Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

After breakfast, we had time to go for a brief walk. A fishing boat moves between islands on  Johnstone Strait looking for salmon.

Limpets and snails are exposed by low tide on Hanson Island British Columbia off of Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Low tide exposed theses limpets and snails.

Green waters of a small bay on Hanson Island on Johnstone Strait off of Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

We peered in to the green waters of the small bay we were camped on.

Sunlight illuminates a very green forest on Hanson Island in British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And were dazzled by the sun illuminated green of the forest.

Sea Kayak Adventure group works its way around Hanson Island, British Columbia in the fog.

Morning fog greeted us as we worked our way around Hanson Island and into Blackfish Sound. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Seals and seagulls on an island in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia.

We checked out these seals and seagulls on a small island. Or were they checking us out? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

By the time we had worked our way around the end of Hanson Island, the sun was beginning to peak through. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

By the time we had worked our way around the end of Hanson Island, the sun was beginning to peak through. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sea Kayak Adventure kayaks roped together in small inlet on Hanson Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I took this picture of our kayaks at lunch. They were roped together so they wouldn’t stray.

After lunch, we followed out trip leader, Julia, out into Blackfish Sound. As you will note, most of our on-water photos are taken by Peggy. I was busy paddling. (grin) (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

After lunch, we followed out trip leader, Julia, out into Blackfish Sound. As you will note, most of our on-water photos were taken by Peggy. I was busy paddling. (grin) (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A whooshing sound caused us to stop and search for whales. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A whooshing sound caused us to stop and search for whales. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy Mekemson prepared to photograph whales in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I took this photo of Peggy poised to capture a picture of the whale with her telephoto.

Thar she blows! We spot the tell-tale spume of a humpback whale as it surfaces. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Thar she blows! We spot the tell-tale spume of a humpback whale as it surfaces. That’s a kayak paddle on the right.(Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The humpback, brought in closer by Peggy's telephoto, dives back under the water. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The humpback, brought in closer by Peggy’s telephoto, dives back under the water. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I liked the watch the waves distorted the reflection of Quy in the water. Edie and Dave look on. The other kayakers are watching the approach of a cruise ship. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I liked the way the waves distorted the reflection of Quy in the water. Edie and Dave look on. The other kayakers are watching the approach of a cruise ship. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The cruise ship. You can imagine how big the ship seems from the perspective of a kayak. You do not want to get in the way. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The cruise ship. You can imagine how big the ship seems from the perspective of a kayak. You do not want to get in the way. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sea Kayak Adventures group relaxes on beach at campsite on Compton Island, British Columbia.

Our group, having safely navigated through the whales and the cruise ships, relaxes at cocktail hour in our campsite on Compton Island. It was right about then that a fishing boat approached the beach.

"Would you like a salmon?" he asked— and to our enthusiastic  yes, threw it overboard.

“Would you like a salmon?” he called out— and to our enthusiastic, yes!, threw it overboard.

Coho salmon caught in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The ever energetic and vivacious Lindy retrieved the salmon and handed it off to Quy.

Quy was happy to pose with the salmon, until...

Quy was happy to pose with the salmon, until…

Sea Kayak Adventures guide reacts to wiggling salmon he thought was dead.

… it wiggled.

The true hero of the day was Dennis who now lives in Idaho but has fished extensively off of Alaska. He offered to fillet the fish.

The true hero of the day was Dennis, who now lives in Idaho but has fished extensively off of Alaska. He offered to fillet the fish.

Here, Dennis goes to work.

Here, Dennis goes to work.

A filleted coho salmon displaying roe. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

And displays the rich red meat, roe, and innards of the salmon. The salmon made a delicious lunch the next day, easily feeding all of us.

Photo of barnacles off of Compton Island in Blackfish Sound, British Columbia. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

It was after all of the salmon excitement that we discovered the starfish, and these barnacles.

Members of our group enjoy a quiet moment at the end of the day, hoping for a whale to appear. Next blog: we kayak to Berry Island and hear a tale about Bigfoot.

Members of our group enjoy a quiet moment at the end of the day, hoping for a whale to appear. Next blog: we kayak to Berry Island and hear a strange tale about Bigfoot.

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.