Thursday, October 4, 2012

Quadra Island tidal racing

Just back from five days of paddling in BC. Six of us spent the time hanging out at the Discovery Islands Lodge on the east side of Quadra Island. We spent our days playing in the tidal races nearby and the evenings relaxing in the sauna on the dock. It was a nice change to do a trip based out of a beautiful B&B instead of camping and making miles each day. Incredibly fun to play on tidal currents over 8 knots - great surfing and plenty of whirlpool action.

Quadra Island - Okisollo Channel
 The trip started with a ten hour drive to Portland for three of us Californians to meet up with the rest of the crew. After a night sleeping on a sailboat, the six of us (in two vehicles now) headed across the border, caught the ferry to Vancouver Island, and continued northward. The third day found us in Campbell River and a short ferry hop onto Quadra Island brought us to our destination. We set up base camp at the lodge and set out to paddle while the flood tide was still flooding.

The area is part of the inside passage, a protected waterway formed by hundreds of islands stretching along the BC coast up to Alaska. It provides protection from the weather and the swells of the open ocean. But it also creates restrictions that lead to fast currents during tidal exchanges. You can avoid the currents if you want, but we came specifically to play in them.

Our first day was spent at Surge Narrows, a stone's throw from the lodge. The flood was just over 8 knots - that's a very fast river - and with several small islands and rocks it created overflows, standing waves, solid eddy lines, and some impressive whirlpools. It was a fun playground with some challenging features, even though the size of the waves were generally what you'd find on a smaller river - around two feet in height. Some could be surfed in sea kayaks but mostly it was just a fun place to feel current, ferry and attain, and play on a giant 'river' in a long boat.

The second day we got an earlier start and paddled up the Channel several miles during the ebb. It pushed us north through Surge Narrows (there's fast water but not much action during an ebb). We paddled up to Cooper Pt. where we arrived at slack to see a point of land that wasn't anything special. We kept looking around to see something interesting and as soon as the current started flooding we found it. A little outcropping of rock points into the channel and soon small waves started forming. As the current kept increasing (it topped out at 8.4 kts that day) the waves got larger and more organized. It wasn't long before a solid three foot green wave appeared at the top of the rapid and we started surfing. This was the Okisollo Wave.

As the current increased the 'pit' of the wave got deeper and deeper. The wave stayed green (it starts foaming around 9 kts) and we were able to ride it an hour and a half on either side of the max. That's three hours of non stop surfing. I'll be writing up a separate description of the wave for full details, but suffice it to say that it was standing wave nirvana for sea kayakers. (the Okisollo post is HERE) We could fit up to three people on the wave at once. Rides could easily last ten minutes until the waiting line got impatient and the surfer would step off. I've never been to Skookumchuk, but it's hard to imagine anything better than this for long boats.

After the long surf session we had a return paddle of six miles that exhausted us. We weren't sure of repeating the long day, but we were saved by Albert who works at the lodge. The next day he joined us for a session and took us up there in the powerboat. Not having to save any energy we surfed all the harder.

Looking for a little variety, we went back to Surge the following day, again finding hours of surfing/playing goodness. While the waves were smaller, their speed wasn't any slower. And with more features it meant less waiting and another full day left us tired but happy.

For our final day on the water, we were thinking of doing a little cruising to change things up and see some more scenery. But we couldn't resist one last chance to take advantage of the current and play at Okisollo. We paddled up in time for some play on the increasing flood before heading out at max flood to catch a ride through Hole in the Wall and around Maurelle Island. Hole in the wall is known as a dangerous corridor, with giant whirlpools that have been known to take down fishing trawlers. Our current wasn't that high but we still entered with caution and in full combat mode. We carefully picked out route, avoiding or fighting through the small whirlpools that popped up randomly. Luckily our sharp-eyed leaders spotted the one giant whirlpool the size of a football field and we passed safely to the side. After that it was just a gorgeous paddle through the beautiful islands of British Columbia.

Satiated with our paddling, we left before first light the next morning and drove straight back to Cali - twenty-three hours of road time. It's nice to be back to the heat and sun but I will definitely miss the stunning waters of the inside passage. And the perfect wave.

More pictures are on my Picasa Page. Here's the video:

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