Northern Gulf Islands

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 What:  Sea Kayaking. After you have gotten skilled at paddling your sea kayak in lakes, this might be the best place to begin your career in the sea, but I warn you as my guide did on my first sea outing. Once you have paddled in the sea you are addicted. The smells alone do it. There is so much to it. Just getting off a beach and landing smoothly are hard at first because of the waves lapping at you, but skills mount quickly as you fall in love with the wild beauty of it. This area is very special to me as it is the only place I feel it is safe to go kayaking in the winter as it is very protected and the weather is very mild. I have paddled here on Christmas day and New Years day with my shirt off it was so hot. The Sandstone galleries on the north end of Valdes are simply the most magnificent of all the ones found in the Gulf Islands. One can sit for hours sorting the patterns in the rock that is intricately carved by wave erosion. The displays of inter-tidal life at low tide are fantastic! Squid, seals, green anemone, cream-colored thatch barnacles, purple stars, white tube worms, and red and brown crab. If you get skilled enough to get into Degnen bay at slack tide, you can climb the dock stairs and take a left on the paved road about a mile to the church. Go behind the church into the forest and follow the trail along the fence back to a field of sandstone covered with petroglyphs. If you are real lucky, find the whale petroglyph at Degnen bay on the rock wall at low tide. Be sure to watch your watch so you can get out of the bay 6 hours later though. More info on petroglyphs is available with the book: Petroglyph Island, by Ted and Mary Bentley. If you really are doing your first sea kayaking alone here without a guide the suggested best first go is this. Launch at Cedar by the sea and paddle to the right of Round Island and cross to the left side of Link Island, and then turn right and follow either side of DeCourcy Island around to Pirate's Cove and camp there. Be sure to always camp inside the forest fifteen trees worth at least if there is any hint of storm. It is warm there and will be freezing on the beach. Paddle out to various points for viewing, anywhere could totally blow your mind here. With your base at the cove, it is an easy crossing back to Round Island, but we have had to do it in solid fog, so compass orgps usage was crucial here. Have your shells ready as rain can come and go in minutes here.  To see more petroglyphs see: Gabriola Island Petroglyphs

 Where: From Spokane, take I90 west all the way to right before Seattle take the 405 Freeway north through Bellevue, Everett, etc I5 continuing north until you roll into the border customs checking at Blaine. Don't take weapons, fruit, or tobacco. Continue north watching for the huge signs indicating a turnoff to Tsawassen and the ferries. Get the ferry schedule by phone or internet ahead so you know if you have to hurry or not. Be an hour ahead normally and 2 hours ahead if there is any Canadian holiday involved. Take the ferry to Nanaimo which many people swear is the nicest place to stay on the island. The whole island is magical. The ferry ride is one of the most fun parts for us. It is 2 hours long, beautiful scenery, and please plan to eat on the ferry as the cafeteria's seem to very good Launch at either Cedar by the sea beach near Round Island, at Degnen bay on Gabriola, at Spanish Hills store on Galiano, or YellowPoint. There are so many ways to do this. I use Cedar bay the most although it is a little tricky finding it the first time. Use Pirates Cove to camp at or go over to the Blackberry point for a great campground. Pirates Cove is great for camping if not too crowded, but prepare for the dance of the giant racoons at night and don't leave anything out for them to fight over or you won't be sleeping much. There is a hole in the wall of island that is Valdes about half way along its inside length. This is a good place to camp, but the Indians must give you permission or you would be flirting with your life there. Valdes is an incredible island for its beauty, size, and that it is nearly uninhabited. The Indians that control most of the island live at Shingle Point. They are very friendly generally and should give you permission is proper respect is shown them. Ask for their concerns about fire, etc to show them your respect. I wouldn't build a fire anywhere here except in emergency. Just use your cook stove. There is a trail of ecstasy along the inside cliff edge from the hole where the cliff lowers itself to let you in, that travels up the higher and higher rock until you are at high cliff with Arbutus trees all round you and Eagles landing next to you in their branches. Watch your step as ecstasy could take its toll here. I really enjoyed camping on Whaleboat island which is a park and so legal, but you must be good at non-sandy landings to do this. See pictures above.

Gabriola Petroglyphs: 
Ferry: N 49 09.987' W 123 55.866' 
Church: N 49 08.112' W 123 44.003'
Drumberg: N 49 08.043' W 123 41.837'
Malaspina: N 49 11.546' W 123 52.227'
There is really something special about this field of sandstone in a forest. There are only 2 main highways, the North and the South on the island so take the South to the opposite end of the island from  the ferry to a white small baptist church and park in the parking lot there and follow the fence from the large sign regarding the petroglyphs into the forest for about a quarter of a mile. If you paddle into Degnen bay you will have to walk about a half mile from the bay west to the church, but it is not too bad a walk. The approximately 20 petroglyphs that have been uncovered of the moss are spread over a large area. Discovering them is half the fun.


 Cautions:  This area is crowded in summer so I go in winter. It was so hot one New Years day that I had to paddle with no shirt. There are frequent storms at night. Be sure to camp at least 15 trees deep in the forest so the winds will not bother your sleep. There are four major passes here. Porlier at the south end of Valdes and Gabriola Passage at the north end, have tidal streams reaching up to 9 knots year round though the spring is the worst. Dodd's Narrows and False Narrows are worse than the latter two. It is necessary that paddlers schedule paddling through them which is very stimulating viewing and paddling only close to the slack times. There are places to take out if you get caught at the parks, then you only have to wait 6 hours till the next slack, but watch that darkness does not creep up this way. Plan ahead. This is a good training ground in that it is fairly safe, but it has its challenges. Currents are otherwise fairly minimal, but you may choose to schedule paddling north with a flood and south with an ebb. Waters on the outside of Valdes Island and around the Flat Top Islands are exposed to prevailing northwest winds in Georgia Strait. Listen to wind predictions prior to paddling this stretch. Waters on the inside of Valdes are fairly sheltered from high waves building, but the occasional southerly squalls blowing up Trincomali and Pylades channels can drive the2 foot high waves like a engine making it very rough paddling, but just be patient and learn. Your skills will elevate to a point where 10 foot waves will be common paddling for  you eventually. Do not even go to the outside of Valdes into the Georgia Strait until you have gained considerable experience paddling in windy conditions. If you are passing by any of these aforementioned passes, give them a wide berth if you are going past theme specially at full tidal flow because they could easily suck you right through them. Going with a 10 knot tide is very scary as you might be thrown into a rock or hit a kelp forest at speed and crash into the cold. If you master this area, you are ready to go further north or south, or into the San Juans, or out to the Pacific side of the big island to learn more sea skills. Once my family and I were fighting our way against a 3-4 mile per hour tide back into the inside of Valdes at Gabriola and a tugboat came through pulling hundreds of trees logged off Valdes by the Indians. Thrilling but tense. Rules & Law

 List:  Water may be replenished at the pump well at Pirates Cove. You will need a sea navigational map of this area's detail to be safe and to help you find all the incredible stuff there is to see here. For more detail, and more specific routing for one simple trip, read Island Paddling by Mary Ann Snowden. Email Us