So it’s been a couple of quiet days again, this time at a campsite just north of the town of Port McNeill on North Island called Cluxewe. Cluxewe is exceptional because it is located at the beginning of the Queen Charlotte Strait and as such, has magnificent views and ocean campsites. All very lovely, but still quiet and uneventful except for our trip to Cape Scott.
Therefore, we were more than ready for some action today. This morning we packed up the trailer, saying goodbye to Cluxewe and headed over to our new campsite twenty minutes down the road called Telegraph Cove. This place is one of our favorites and with good reason.
Telegraph Cove was established in 1912 as a lineman’s station to support the telegraph line from Campbell River to the north end of Vancouver Island. Today it is a thriving tourist resort but still is charming in its remoteness and isolation. To get here, you must leave the highway and travel down a narrow road for around twenty-five minutes seeing nothing but forest. Suddenly, you come upon a beehive of activity in the middle of nowhere. It consists of a resort whose management has maintained and refurbished all the old lineman cottages, the original dock that circles a modern marina, a restaurant that sits right over top of the water, a general store, a few boutiques and a lovely RV park that is surrounded by huge granite cliffs. The entire cove is beautiful and a great place to stay.
As we arrive, we greet our friend Betty, the campground hostess, and are pointed to our site where we will be staying for the next few weeks. We quickly set up our camp (we’re getting really good at this), have lunch and then begin to get ready to go kayaking. Jim begins to set up the trusty Klepper while I gather snacks, sunscreen, hats, and other necessary items (don’t forget the can opener, Glenda, you never know when you might get stranded and have to open that can of beans that you’ve carried in the drybag for two years. And oh, the bearspray! After all, everybody knows that bears can swim. Why does Jim shake his head when I do these things?). I then head outside to do my part of the kayak readiness. I find the life jackets and the drybag with our safety supplies, grab the waterproof camera, put together the paddles, find our paddling gloves and watershoes and generally try to help Jim put together the Klepper. He is busy as a bee, but strangely enough as I’m helping, he keeps mumbling things like “that’s okay, I have a system” or “you’ve put the paddles together backwards, no problem, I’ll fix them”. Can’t figure out what’s the matter with that man; does he want my help or not?
Anyway, finally we’re ready to go and we put the little wheeled cart under the boat, grab the rest of the stuff and head down to the kayak launch. It’s a beautiful day, the adrenaline is pumping and we’re set to go. With a minimum of wobbling, I manage to settle into my seat. Jim jumps into his and off we go. Yes! This is it; we’re on the ocean again.
Kayaking at Telegraph Cove requires paddling past many things in order to get out of the marina and onto the part of the ocean here which is called the Johnstone Strait. We slowly pass yachts, fishing boats, fishermen and women weighing their catches (you should see the big salmon around here!), the whale watching boats, the grizzly tour boats, the restaurant which hangs over the water almost on top of us, and finally, the whale museum. The whole dock is a hub of activity with lots of people watching the boats come in and out. We wave to several people as we leave and our excitement continues to mount.
And then we’re out there. The sun is shining with incredible brightness on the water and the view is breathtaking. The waves are moderate but are at our backs and so we are pushed forward by gentle helpful swells. The water is moving just enough to be exciting and to let you know you are not on a tame lake, oh no, this is the ocean for sure and it’s really something. The shore is once again amazing, but here near the marina we see a few million, no, make that five million dollar homes sitting right on cliffs, people on their decks looking out at a fabulous view. Very soon, the houses are out of sight and we are paddling towards a group of small islands dead ahead.
As we are pushed by the wind and the waves and a bit of our own paddling towards the islands, we remember how beautiful this area is. Giant forest lines the shore. Sunlight glints all over the water. In the distance I can see two large sailboats, a couple of fishing boats and a cruise ship about two miles away. It appears like a floating castle, especially from our viewpoint. Lovely, just lovely, all of it.
And then we are in the channel created by the islands. Suddenly the wind nearly stops and it is hushed and gorgeous in here. The water is clear near the shore and we can see all kinds of sealife underneath us. Today, snails seem very prolific and giant, really, really big strands of kelp are everywhere. Kelp is an enormous plant that seems to lay on the surface with its bulb-like top and then trails massive leaves behind it for many yards. As we pass over a kelp bed, we nearly get stuck in it because the plant is so large and strong. We push our way out but are careful to paddle around the next one.
After spending time on the water and on the shore just looking around, contemplating life, we decide to head home. So far its been another quiet day. That’s okay, but as we approach the big water, something catches my eye. We are under the impression that the whales have about another week before they are here, and yet, what was that? I call to Jim behind me, “I think I just saw an orca tail! Is that possible?” First of all, we’ve not seen a lot of orcas (commonly known as “killer whales”) around here, and second, it’s not time yet, is it? Well, apparently it is, because yes, that tail (which can be as big as six feet in height, stand straight up out of the water and is actually called a dorsal fin) surfaces again, closer this time. A whale, we’re seeing a whale and on our first day! Yahoo!!
And then there’s lots of them. Before we know it, they’re closer and boats are coming from every direction. The boats all have VHS radios and the minute a whale is spotted, they all rush to the vicinity. But no one has the awesome seat in this theatre that we do. We’re right here, on a par with the whales and we are incredibly thrilled to be seeing them.
Jim is very excited and soon he is saying, “Two, look at that, there’s two! Wow, two whales on our first day out.” But very soon, he’s saying “Wow, there’s two more! And look over there, another one! ”
Well, this all sounds good, but it was a windy day and now we were going against the wind and the tide. Not impossible, but pretty hard if you’re trying to do it fast and you’re somewhat out of shape. We hadn’t kayaked since Torquaht Bay and so this was tough. But paddle we did, as fast as we could and we kept up with those big guys. We were rewarded with beautiful flashes of black and white and huge dorsal fins all over the place. We gradually made our way back to the entrance of Telegraph Cove and kept up with the orcas at the same time. We counted seven in total and then finally dragged ourselves back to the marina. What a day!
This morning, we are stiff and moving slowly but determined to do it again. So after lunch, we set out, sailed past the marina and out onto the big water. As we passed the last dock, a woman called down to us. “The orcas are right there in Beaver Cove!” What? That’s not possible! Will we really be able to see them again, so close and as soon as we get out on the water? Sure enough, looking to our left towards a large bay, there’s the telltale blows. Once again, we paddle as fast as we can…. and there they are.
This time, we are even luckier. Today, the water is extremely calm and so viewing is better. Right away we see three huge fins straight ahead and moving out of the cove. We cut across to the next point and actually follow them as they move north. And here come the boats. Motor boats of every size start converging in our direction. There are two huge whale watching boats filled with people (all of whom have paid a hundred dollars each to do this, hehehe), a beautiful huge white yacht, our neighbours from the RV park in a zodiac and several fishing boats of all sizes.
Much as we don’t like to have all the boats around, they do serve a purpose. They circle the whales keeping a respectful distance of a hundred meters or more, and often drive them in a different direction than they have originally been going. So today, even though we were following the whales, they turned around! Well, imagine what that meant. No longer were they going away from us. In fact, suddenly, they were coming toward us. That’s right, totally in our direction. So there we were, in a little seventeen foot kayak, with a twenty or thirty foot, two or three ton animal, no, make that animals, coming right at us. I quit taking pictures and put the camera on video and just watched. Closer. Closer. They really were coming at us. I managed not to drop the camera in my lap and watched, absolutely fascinated. I did have the presence of mind to grab the side of the boat with my other hand and hang on tight. What was going to happen? Who knew?
Well, it seemed that, as we watched the whales and the other boats watched us, what did happen was nothing short of a miracle. The whales (I think there was four of them but it was all quite fast) suddenly weren’t in front of us anymore. My mind was still registering the fact that a huge one was on a collision course with the front of the kayak only about forty or fifty feet away when bang, they disappeared. Gone beneath the surface and gone from sight. Two seconds later, before I had time to swing the camera or even look around, they surfaced again. This time, two were on one side of us and the other two on the other side. A miracle. Those giant creatures had somehow seen or sensed this little boat in their path and gone around us. As slick as butter and making barely a wave. Silently they passed us and carried on down the channel. Unbelievable.
And so, all the boats started up again. We too started paddling and we all followed the beautiful orcas in the opposite direction, back past Beaver Cove and up to Telegraph Cove and the entrance of the marina. Most of the boats turned in, but the whales kept going and going, gradually disappearing in the distance. They weren’t gone before we saw lots more blows and lots more huge fins, though. Yesterday, we had said, “what a day”. Today we said it again and felt it was even better. One thing we know for sure and that’s how lucky we are. And certainly, there’s a big question here now. What on earth will tomorrow bring?