We spent Spring Break 2016 on Vancouver Island. It was an awesome 5 days, & one of my favourite parts was kayaking the harbour with Victoria Waterfront Tours. We picked the two hour tour, since neither Brian or I had ever been in an ocean kayak. (We are Albertans after all!)
We arrived a bit early & wandered around the Marine Village with floating houses. How amazing would it be to wake up & automatically be on the water?! It reminded me of house-boating in Shuswap, but much more permanent. The residents are obviously used to the curiosity of outsiders, as this little sign was posted to answer some of people’s most common questions.
We started our adventure at 9:30 by signing waiver forms, moving the rental car into the free parking area, & getting outfitted in the proper gear. We each received a paddle, spray skirt, emergency throw bag, & a bailing pump. Nici, our fantastic guide, went through the emergency/safety procedures with us.
Then, she took us down to the upper dock to give us a short lesson on ocean kayaking. Nici explained the three most common paddle strokes (forward, backward, & stop) & had us practice each one. Then, we learned about how to use a rudder on an ocean kayak. I’ve only ever kayaked down the river & watched people practice kayaking in the pool, & never realized that ocean kayaks have a rudder to help stabilize them against waves & currents. The rudder is controlled by foot pedals inside the kayak, and by pushing the right pedal and paddling on the left, you can turn right, and vice versa. Finally, we practiced using our “holy crap straps” to escape from our spray skirts if we were to capsize, & carried the kayaks down to the water.
Because Victoria Waterfront Tours has a nice low dock, we were able to enter the kayaks easily, & were soon off & paddling into the beautiful morning. Brian really wanted to check out a geocache on one of the islands in the harbour that Nici jokingly referred to as Bird Poop Island (it’s actually called Beren’s Island), so we paddled out that way. We could see an Inukshuk wearing a backpack that contained the geocache, but the tide wasn’t at a good level for us to get out, so we settled with a picture & saved ourselves the wet feet.
After visiting the geocache site, we paddled towards a lighthouse and headed for the outer harbour. Brian loved watching the Victoria Clipper Passenger Ferry that runs to the San Juan Islands. Nici told us that it takes about 1.5 hours to get to San Juan, & we looked up the costs after our tour. For $18 per person you can go across to Washington; heading across for a night is now on our list for our next visit to Vancouver Island. We also enjoyed watching the float planes take off & land practically over our heads. The harbour is definitely a busy place, & I was thankful we didn’t just rent kayaks. Nici knew where the float plane runways were, for example, and kept us out of trouble.
We paddled past several smaller islands, & learned that they all belong to the Department of National Defence, and disembarking on them is illegal. This dates back to the fear of a Japanese attack in World War II. Being a Social Studies teacher, I was fascinated by this information. We also paddled past some Navy housing, then turned the corner to Seal Island, with a breathtaking view of the Olympic Mountains.
We took a break near Seal Island to eat our granola bars & watch the sea birds. Of course, we spotted a couple seals as well. Nici pulled a piece of Bull Kelp from the kelp forrest below, & we each sampled a leaf. It was actually pretty good, like a garden pea pod! She showed us how to make a Bull Kelp horn, & we had some fun practicing our warning calls.
We headed back towards the inner harbour, happy & the tiniest bit sore. Coming along the rocks close to the Marine Village, we spotted a beautiful reddish coloured mink scampering along the boulders near the water! By the time we arrived back at the lower dock, carried the kayaks back up to the upper dock, & returned our gear, it was 12:30. Our two hours on the water went by in a flash!
We had a fun morning with lots of laughter. One of the best parts of the tour was that Nici took a camera with her, & took photos of us throughout the morning; this was much preferable to taking our phones out in the water with us.
I loved ocean kayaking & we will definitely be back for a longer paddle with Victoria Waterfront Tours on our next visit.