Thursday, February 13, 2014

Swimming cougars, in the "mind's eye" real as a sea lion in the kayaks path.

Heading out under dark and ominous skies,
the summit of Mount Maxwell, tucked into the low overcast.
Although today is bright and sunny, yesterday was much more the typical February "wet" coast of Canada. Strangely enough, here on Vancouver Island, we need rain...and lots of it. The snow pack is unusually light in the mountains and that doesn't bode well for forests and reservoirs this coming spring and summer. All this, at the same time that the American south is getting severely pummelled by rain, ice and snowstorms. Even the "flat earth" school of believers must be taking heed of the consequences of climate change these days...but maybe not. Sigh...

All that being said, it was a good day to be on the water.

The sky lightens,
illuminating mini "sea stacks", Saltspring Island.
With south-east winds forecast to get brisk later in the afternoon, we paddled over to Saltspring Island, leaving ample time to cross back before the waters in Sansum Narrows kicked up.

At sea level, ice is a most unusual sight in this "Mediterranean" zone, but little frozen sculptures from run-off were evidence of the recent stretch of below-freezing temperatures.

Melting ice above an oyster shell beach.
I find that I frequently day dream while paddling. Perhaps it's the gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) roll, pitch, and yaw of these responsive narrow craft or the regular and soothing cadence of the paddle strokes. Time seems to pause...and at other times, it simply vanishes, only to reappear an hour later and several nautical miles beyond the last memory of awareness.

Strangely, I was thinking about the possibility of cougars, swimming across the channel. Sparked by an interesting posting on an excellent Gabriola Island blog, I wondered what we would do if one of these large cats and our kayaks "intersected". They are incredible swimmers and are known to "paddle" these same waters between Vancouver Island and Saltspring. As the Gabriolan points out, they are also known to try to board a moving boat. They wouldn't have much trouble tipping a kayak! Hmm...

A cougar - courtesy of Wikipedia.
Lost in this "mind's eye" reverie, I was suddenly brought back to the present moment by an immense, dark form that "torpedoed" out of the water - ten metres in front of the kayak! There was a massive exhalation, followed by a thundering "SNORT"! A sea lion...and he didn't seem very happy. (No, there aren't any pictures as it really didn't seem like a good time to put the paddle down.)

Clearly, we had paddled into "someone's" territory and the most expedient thing to do, on our part, was make a quick turn to the port and head back to...port! As we paddled away from Saltspring's shores, the large sea mammal surfaced again, this time behind us, another angry snort announcing his / her presence.

 I was rather impressed at how fast we paddled on the return crossing.

Wanting to avoid annoying the sea lion, we headed back across the narrows.
With the sea lion, presumably, on the other side of the narrows, there was renewed incentive to take the time to explore the little nooks and crannies at the foot of Maple Mountain.

Only at high tide is there any entry to this nook.
Turning into Maple Bay, the water was once again calm, the heavy skies still hinting at the stiff winds, forecast by Environment Canada.

"Art", sea, forest, and sky.
I rarely find the exercise of "day dreaming" a waste of time. On this day, it became part of the adventure to visualise an "engagement", with yet another, albeit unlikely, creature of these Island waters - a swimming cougar. Sometimes, situation awareness can be nurtured through anticipation, and employable strategies, through imagination. Really, it's not much different from sitting in a simulator, with technology introducing a vast array of possible scenarios.

The swimming cougar was almost as real as the snorting seal lion. The "mind's eye" does a superb job of creating images and - and the imagination happily lives out the drama of the story line!

Never a dull moment in the kayak cockpit! :)


  1. Very cool nook...I bet it would have been a quick exit if you had met the sea lion inside!

  2. I'm afraid the sea lion would have completely filled the nook, L. As for me, well, if he'd appeared out of the darkness I probably would have died of fright! :) D.

  3. Hi D & J, loved this post - nothing like an encounter with a large marine animal to raise the heart rate a little! I'd have been interested to see the GPS track of that encounter with travelling speeds :o) As for cougars pitching up on the water or the beach - well, it certainly would trump the Scottish carnivorous (midge) nuisance!

    Kind Regards

  4. Haha, very good point, Ian. I rather thought our paddle cadence and efficiency was at a higher output on the return crossing! We've yet to experience the Scottish midges yet but rumour has it that they are fierce! The head nets are already packed. :) Warm wishes to you and Linda.