Sunday, May 31, 2009

Salt Spring Island Circumnavigation

Kayaks: A Current Designs Solstice GT and a Current Designs Gulfstream

Day 1 (data from Garmin eTrex Vista GPS)
Total Distance: 20.03 km (Maple Bay to Wallace Island)
Moving Time: 3 hr 19 minutes (note: this is paddling time only)
Moving Average Speed: 6 km / hr

With Salt Spring Island so close at hand, it has long invited us to plan a circumnavigation by sea kayak. Estimating a trip of about 80 kilometers, the logistical challenges were pretty much finding a "window" of three or four days and discerning where camping would be possible. The latter was, for a while, the most illusive. Surprisingly, there is really only one (authorized) camp site that is easily accessible by kayak and that is Musgrave Landing, at the south end of Sansum Narrows. The other camp sites would be on Wallace Island and Prevost Island, both short and easy crossings. The most logical direction of travel would be clockwise so that the last day would be a short one - ahh, more time to "savour" the previous days!

With my usual paddling partner serving as "support crew" and looking longingly after us (and really wishing she could be there!), good friend Andrew and I left Maple Bay around 10 in the morning under grey skies and drizzle. By the time we had reached the beach at Vesuvius (on Salt Spring), the sun was shining and after a short replenishment break we headed up the coast. Amazingly, the GPS recorded a maximum speed of 10.8 km / hr - our sleek crafts "turbo boosted" at times by following wind and waves! Soon after 1300 hrs, we had reached Idol Island, a most photogenic little islet - and a perfect place to stretch legs and feast on homemade fruit leather and Logan bread. Rounding Southey Point, on the north end of Salt Spring, the wind picked up and the crossing to the campsite on Chivers Point on Wallace Island was "lively" with our loaded kayaks enjoying the occasional "plunge" into the waves as produced and delivered by the brisk quartering wind!

At Wallace, we met six other kayakers, the only ones we were to share a campsite with on this trip. The month of May really is a good time to plan such a paddle - usually good weather and availability at the limited campsites. Wallace Island Marine Park is a great place to overnight, and hey, it even offers an 8 km (return) trail run. We had both brought running shoes for such a possibility - but you'd better watch out for the rocks and roots!

Day 2
Total Distance: 20.7 km (Wallace Island to Prevost Island)
Moving Time: 3 hr 27 minutes
Moving Average Speed: 6 km / hr

After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and superb coffee on Day 2, we left Chivers Point and entered the Trincomali Channel with the tide, calm seas, and magnificent sunshine all going our way. Galiano Island is another short crossing to the northeast - tempting, but another day. In what seemed like no time at all, we were back on the shores of Salt Spring near the Fernwood dock and heading towards our day's destination at the end of James Bay on Prevost Island. Throughout the morning, seals would pop up and then, with barely a ripple, disappear into the depths. Massive kelp, flowing in the current beneath our hulls, affirmed that once again, we were receiving a little supplemental "ride" from the tide.

Exactly 4 hours and 30 minutes after leaving our campsite on Wallace, we entered James Bay where a tall ship, the S.A.L.T.S. Pacific Grace, was anchored while its young "crew" were enthusiastically enjoying a little shore time - and clearly burning off a lot of energy! Prevost offers an excellent venue for camping in a old orchard in addition to several "premier" possibilities along the point where we were delighted to find the equivalent of buried treasure - an old folding table and two very weathered deck chairs - one of which was barely held together with duct tape! An absolute luxury to behold in a primitive campsite - who needs gold and silver!
The Prevost camp site, now part of the Gulf Islands National Park, also offers an excellent hike out to Peile Point where you can view Mayne, Galiano, Salt Spring, and Wallace Islands (and get cell service to tell everyone back home what they are missing!)

Day 3
Total Distance: 28.07 km (Prevost Island to Musgrave Landing)
Moving Time: 4 hr 37 minutes
Moving Average Speed: 6.1 km / hr

The last full day began with seas so calm our images were reflected in detail in the water beside us. The skies were clear and there was a "soft" feel to the air. Paddling the shoreline of Prevost, Secret and Ackland Islands reveals a serene beauty that lulls you into a meditative state of mind (it certainly did me!) - the "carved" sandstone, the exotic arbutus trees, the eagles, the warm sun, and the even rhythm of the paddle strokes. The two and a half kilometer crossing back to Salt Spring and then along the shore of Ruckle Park brought us into the mouth of Fulford Harbour where we looked forward to a fortifying bowl of soup on Russell Island and the opportunity to stretch our legs.

The views from the south end of Salt Spring are simply magnificent - in front, the Saanich Peninsula with the snow-capped Olympic mountains beyond. Behind, Mt Baker which must be one of the most mystical and snowy mountains in the world, rising above the Gulf Island hills. Rounding Cape Keppel, you look into the wide expanse of Cowichan Bay behind which rise the snow covered tops of our own Vancouver Island mountains - it just doesn't get much better! Almost six hours after leaving our camp site on Wallace Island, we came ashore near Musgrave Landing to the primitive campsite made possible in part through the efforts of the Salt Spring Paddling Club. After twenty-eight kilometers it was time to give our kayaks a rest! A short hike takes the paddler, who still has energy to burn, into the small community of Musgrave Landing where there is a government dock and a few homes. A delicious meal of spicy Indian cuisine and a cup of hot tea topped off another perfect day in this paddling paradise.

Day 4
Total Distance: 12.57 km (Musgrave Landing to Maple Bay)
Moving Time: 2 hr 11 minutes
Moving Average Speed: 5.7 km / hr

The last day began with our usual 0530 start and by 0730 we had prepared and eaten breakfast, packed up gear and tents, built a temporary launch ramp and an inukshuk, and launched our kayaks for the remaining twelve kilometers or so back to Maple Bay. We savoured the remaining paddle strokes and felt most fortunate to have had the opportunity share in this small "expedition" together. There would be lots of stories to tell, gear lists to fine tune, further adventures to plan - but for now there was simply a feeling of deep satisfaction and gratitude for having had the opportunity to connect so closely with the natural world for just a few days. The energy of the paddle eddies left behind will join with the currents and the tides and will remain for this writer, a small symbol of the interrelationship of all life and all energy on this fragile and so very beautiful island planet.

Total distance: 81.37 km / 43.9 nm

Yes, Aristotle was right on, "adventure is (indeed!) worthwhile."

SPOT satellite messenger review coming soon!


Image above: Paddling the Glenthorne Passage, Andrew approaches the tip of Secret Island.


  1. Wow sounds like you had an awesome adventure and with such great weather. What a gift!
    Not sure about the primitive camping but the kayaking would be great.

  2. Well done on getting this all recorded!

    I was surprised not to read any reference to the chips on Wallace. And those massive waves that had to be fought on occasion.

    I look forward to seeing more pictures (that a nice one at the head of the post).

  3. OK, my friend, I WILL make comment on the "chips" (and the waves)...wait for it! Smile!


  4. Nice site and thanks for the interesting accounts of your trip. I am planning a circumnavigation as well. My friend who turns 90 in February wants to do this. We would probably leave from Swartz Bay and follow your same route. Any other help you could send us would be appreciated. Thanks, Kevin

  5. Thanks for your comment, Kevin. It was a most enjoyable "expedition" - seems like a long time ago now! Happy to help with any info. Just email me at: duncan at oceanpeace dot com and I'll get back to you.

  6. I just did the 'round SSI' paddle for the second time. Starting at Burgoyne Bay on Saltspring, heading south through the narrows and to Prevost Island the first day. Then to Wallace in a bit of a gale only to be rewarded with glorious sunshine all afternoon. Then a short 3.5 hour hop back to Burgoyne. World class paddling around here and wish that I could have tacked on a few more days. At least it was not snowing like the first time I did it. All good!com

  7. Thanks for that, paddlinboy - it's a great trip and we're thinking we need to do it again soon. Glad it was good for you and thanks for stopping by. D.