Category: Oceans52

Kayaking In Victoria

Kayaking is a popular outdoor activity in the Victoria area. The harbour area, Juan de Fuca Strait and the Gulf Islands create protected waterways that make kayaking in our area very accessible with great scenery and plentiful wildlife viewing opportunities. We’ll start from the most difficult area to paddle to the easiest – in our experienced opinion.

No. 1: Discovery Island  – Launch Location: Oak Bay Marina parking Lot. Features: The Chain Islets  have a sea lion colony and plenty of harbour seals that you can paddle past on your way to Discovery Island. The channel crossing once you pass the Chain Islets can create challenging paddling conditions with strong currents sweeping around the south of Victoria and into Juan de Fuca Strait. Wind conditions can create some rip currents as you cross Plumper Passage. Once you reach Discovery Island there is a Parks Canada campground. Recently it was closed due to a wolf living in the area and to protect its habitat. Check with Parks Canada before you go. There are many currents curling around Discovery Island. Best Tip: Check your tide and current tables carefully before you go out kayaking in this area! This is an advanced kayaking area.

No. 2: Sidney – Launch Locations: Land’s End or the Sidney public launch Features: The biggest challenges kayaking in this area are the heavy boat traffic and of course the BC Ferries routes that arrive and depart in Sidney. With careful homework before you leave for your kayak outing you can enjoy some lovely west coast paddling in this area. Sidney Spit is a long stretch of sandy beach that is a good intermediate/ advanced paddle from Sidney with some strong conditions as you cross channels. Many kayakers plan an overnight trip to Portland Island in the south Gulf Islands. There is a great shell beach and a small campground on this island as well. Best Tip: Obtain a marine chart of the area and familiarize yourself with the islands. Research the ferry schedules online before you head out so you avoid the heavy BC Ferries traffic.

No. 3. BC Marine Trail – Victoria Loop   Launch Locations: You could launch from a choice of a few public docks on the Gorge Waterway or at Fleming Beach in Esquimalt. Features: This is a continuous paddling loop with a portage in one part of the loop.  Paddling under the Tillicum bridge can be very challenging at full flow or full ebb. It is best at slack tide.You will paddle in protected waterways, in two harbours and out along the coast of Juan de Fuca Strait from Fisgard Lighthouse. Time your paddle to coincide with the tidal flow, the wind conditions and tide height. I have heard people say that trying to portage kayaks (carrying a boat over land) through shin high muck at lower tide heights is not a pleasant task. This loop covers a long distance. You will need up to 6 hours depending on how fast or slowly you paddle. Best Tip: Pack a very light kayak with your gear in a backpack so you can carry your kayak over land more easily.

No. 4. Brentwood Bay – Todd Inlet – Launch Location: Public beach near the Ferry Bridge  Features: Brentwood Bay is a semi protected bay with many marinas and boats moored. Todd Inlet is a very protected inlet reaching around to the old docks from the quarry that is now Butchart Gardens. Todd Inlet is very protected and is a good kayaking destination for beginners. Brentwood Bay is somewhat more challenging due to wind conditions and boat traffic. You must paddle through part of Brentwood Bay to get to Todd Inlet. Best Tip: Be sure to check wind conditions before launching. The beach is somewhat awkward to launch from.

No. 5. Sooke Harbour – Launch Location: There is a parking lot at Whiffin Spit in Sooke with a beach on either side of the spit that you could launch from. Features: Sooke Basin is protected by the spit reaching most of the way across the harbour opening. It is a large, fairly protected body of water to kayak in. It can have some wind and fog conditions depending on weather patterns. Fishing is very popular which means more boating traffic near the marinas. Best Tip: Familiarize yourself with the traffic flow in the harbour to avoid heavy boat traffic. Check the wind and weather forecast carefully.

No. 6. Seal Island to Fisgard Lighthouse –  Launch Location: There is a public dock at Fleming Beach with excellent parking. You can launch off the beach or the dock. The beach area is protected by a breakfront. Features: This part of Juan de Fuca Strait is magical to explore. It has several harbour seal colonies at the many islets scattered along the coastline. It can be very calm but it can also have some wind conditions. The prevailing winds are southwesterly in direction. This is an ideal place to experience marine wildlife as you kayak along. There are a few public beaches you can land for a picnic, Saxe Point and Fisgard Lighthouse, although the islands are all off limits to landing. There is only one very small current off of MacCauley Point which is about eight paddle strokes wide. Many times it isn’t presented at all. If you do land at Fisgard Lighthouse you will need to pay the Park Fees. It is best to arrange ahead of time. You can paddle into Esquimalt Harbour but will need to communicate with the Navy via radio for permission in certain areas. You can see we are partial to this area because this is the where we operate our kayaking tours in Victoria . Best Tip: Be sure to know your wind reports for the duration of your kayak trip in this area in case of changes. It is good to know tide times and heights to avoid submerged rocks.

No. 7. Victoria’s Harbour – Launch Location: This can be a bit tricky as most access to the harbour is private. I would suggest the public dock off of the galloping goose and Harbour Road. You may need wheels to get down to the dock from your car. Features: Victoria’s harbour is a very busy place with float planes landing and taking off, harbour ferries transporting people, boat traffic, two huge ferries and many non powered vessels. There are very clearly defined paddling routes and access. It is very important to familiarize yourself with the Victoria Harbour Authority map which outlines the traffic flow in the harbour. It is cool to see the city sights from the water. This is a very urban paddle.  Best Tip: Obtain a harbour map and know where you can paddle and where you cannot!

No 8. Gorge Waterway – Launch Location: There are two optimal public locations for launching your kayak. One is in Banfield Park and the other is off of Harbour Road. You will likely want kayak wheels to get to each dock from your vehicle. Features: The Gorge Waterway is very long inlet that originates under the new Johnson Street Bridge and continues under four bridges to Portage Inlet. The first part is a very industrial, working harbour until you get past the first Bay St bridge. This part can be more exposed to wind. Once you get to the trestle bridge things turn into a lovely, very narrow “lazy river”. This is an excellent place for beginners to paddle. There are many users on this waterway from SUP, kayaks, rowers, dragon boaters, swimmers and inner tubes. There is some motorized boat traffic as well. There is a very occasional harbour seal or river otter sighting in this area but not often. One word of caution is the reversing falls under the Tillicum Bridge. This is best crossed at slack tide. It can have a strong current at full ebb or full flood. Check the current tables online for accurate timing. Best Tip: Be prepared to share this park-like urban waterway with many users.

No. 9. Elk Lake – Launch Location: There is a beach at the side of the rowing club or opposite on the other side of the lake. Both are not far from your vehicle. Features: This is a wide, large freshwater lake – easier on your kayak than the salty ocean! There are a few wetland environments to explore along the shoreline. This lake can get windy if you are in open and exposed areas. This is a premier location for rowers in training! Best Tip: Know your wind direction and strength. Watch out for the rowers.

No 10. Thetis Lake – Launch Location: You can launch your kayak off of the beach at Thetis Lake. You may need to drop your kayak and then go park your car. Features: This is a picturesque, lovely, smaller lake with a hilly, rocky shoreline. There is a small island to paddle around or get out and explore. This lake is a popular swimming destination in the summer and can get busy. Best Tip: Plan a picnic!

Kayaking and Wind


One of  the first considerations when you are planning your kayaking outing is wind speed. It can determine a pleasant outing or conversely a strong workout. Being familiar with the prevailing wind patterns in the area you are kayaking is of primary importance to the safety of any kayak outing. The Victoria area has prevailing winds from the SW that tend to build in the afternoon and evening. If the wind is blowing from a different direction that may mean the barometric pressure is changing and could bring a weather system through. Be sure to have accurate weather sites that can give you marine wind forecasts for the area you are paddling. We like to use It is primarily a surfing site but the information is quite accurate. It also gives you tidal and current information for many sites around Vancouver Island.

   Wind measurements come in different forms. It can be in knots per hour, km per hour (or miles per hour south of the border). One knot per hour is equal to 1.852 km per hour so if the wind is blowing 10 knts it would be roughly 18 km. It will be important to become familiar with the water conditions for each speed either in knts or km so you know what kind of paddling you will be doing while you are out. Boaters of all kinds refer to the Beaufort Wind Scale to help with that skill. The following chart shows the scale using knots: (Click photo to enlarge)

Beaufort Wind Scale (2)

The wind has specific implications for kayakers. Each kayak is designed to move into a “head to wind” position – bow forward. This may result in corrective paddling to keep your kayak on course. This is where a rudder is really helpful. It can prevent injury over long distance paddling trips, as it helps you keep even, cadenced paddling strokes while your feet steer for you. Having good bracing techniques, both high and low, will keep you balanced and upright in heavy wind and wave conditions. When the wind is opposing the tide the waves will be steeper. Checking tides and wind and determining all protected areas – or the “lea” side, and using the wind and tidal direction to help you paddle, is the homework all paddlers do before they ever leave the house to go kayaking.

We wish you calm seas and maybe a little wind for fun every now and then!!

Beautiful 001

Nici's Birthday 014Bull Kelp is the really weird looking sea weed you see floating in groups or “forests”as you paddle close to shore in the ocean. It often looks like a seals head or just small heads floating at the surface. Bull kelp is made up of four parts. The bulb that you see at the surface, holds gases that enable the plant to remain at the surface and get enough sunlight for the photosynthesis process.The flat blades streaming out from the bulb grow very long. The long stem reaching down to the ocean floor is called a stipe. There is a cluster of weeds at the bottom that attach to the rocks on the ocean floor . These are called a holdfast. Bull kelp is s a great resource for kayakers and for just about anyone for many reasons.

We will give you 10 really neat ways to use Bull Kelp.

1. The blades of the bull kelp can be used to wrap your food in when cooking over a campfire. Your food will cook and will not get burned!

2. Kelp chips, salad seasoning, miso soup and sushi can all be made with the blades of the bull kelp.

3. The bulb part of the kelp can be used as a cup if you cut the blades and the stipe off of it. You could use the empty bulb to hold your spices in your camp kitchen. Cool!

4. The bulb can be carved like a jack o lantern with a face, nose and mouth. Keep a little of the blades for hair. Cute!

5. The stipe is often used by children on the beach as a whip-it for jumping over or as a toy to play with.

6 First nations people used a long strip cut from the stipe as a fishing line. Good idea!

7. The top end of the stipe can be used for a “bull” horn. Blow in one end like a musical instrument and it makes a great horn sound! Fun!

8. You can make wonderful decorative baskets out of the entire kelp plant. It is a bit technical but they turn out beautifully!

9. Kayaking in the kelp forest can be somewhat calmer on a rough water day. The kelp forest flattens the water. Just be careful not to get e kelp stuck across your bow.

10. If you are on a long paddle with no takeout spot and you are getting really tired a good resting place is to tie your kayak to several of the bull kelp using the deck rigging. Be sure the kelp you tie up to is still attached to the ocean floor. A good tug on it will let you know. You can eat or have a good rest attached to the kelp without drifting dangerously. You might even be able to catch 40 winks!

We hope you try some of these interesting ways to use Bull Kelp. We would love to hear from you if you have a great idea we haven’t thought of!

What’s in Your Dry Bag?

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Every regular paddler should take along a dry bag with important items to ensure a safe and pleasant kayak outing. There are several types of dry bags from ultralight material to more heavy duty materials. There are several sizes available. nylondrybagsWe recommend a light to medium weight smaller dry bag that can fit comfortably between your legs in the cockpit for easy access while underway. There are new see through materials that allow you to find your items easily as a further option.

When I head out on the water for a day paddle I have many useful items in my dry bag.  I always have a water bottle and several energy bars. It is very uncomfortable to paddle thirsty and hungry. Your energy can really wane if you are either dehydrated or don’t have enough fuel for paddling at high energy levels. Being dehydrated also makes you more vulnerable in cold or hot conditions. I also always have a small multi -tool including a retractable knife. There are so many instances when this comes in handy. I have one or two detachable bow lines which can be used for many things – mostly for tying up boats on the beach. I have two S clips and a few zip ties for reattaching things to the boats or to a life jacket. I have a pair of small binoculars or a waterproof monocular for seeing wildlife. I keep my waterproof paddling gloves as well as a fleece hat and neck warmer in my dry bag. A small container of sunscreen and lip balm are always on hand as well. There is also room for a small first aid kit with essentials. This seems like a lot but my dry bag has room for more and it is a 6 Litre, lightweight bag that fits easily  between my legs. Some other things to carry in your dry bag could be your cell phone and camera. They do make special waterproof containers made just for those items that may be more useful and give you better access on a lanyard around your neck. That would be personal preference.

We would love to hear some ideas of what you have in your dry bag. Please comment below to let us know…..

Do you love walking along the beach collecting shells? Do you wonder just what kind of shell you have picked up? We will try to help you find out with this simple breakdown of the most common shells you might find on Pacific Northwest beaches.

Mussels,oysters, clams, and cockles are all bivalves. That means they have two shells, a top and a bottom.

Pacific Blue Mussel

Mussel shells are symmetrical, elongated and typically attached in  clumps by a strong threadlike secretion. They are very common on  floating structures, pilings and intertidal and sub-tidal rocks and gravel. The most common mussel in the Pacific Northwest is the Pacific Blue Mussel.

The lower half of an oyster shell is usually cupped and often attached. The upper shell is flattened and smaller than the lower shell.The oyster is often found in protected waters in the intertidal zone. Only one species of oyster , the Olympia Oyster, is native to this coast.

The horse clam, the butter clam, the bent nosed clam and the razor clam are the most common species of clam that can be found in this area. Most of these clams are found in the intertidal zone in sand or mud. The butter clam is most often found on gravel beaches while the razor clam is just

Littleneck Clam

under the surface at lowest tides on surf beaten sandy beaches.

The ribbed little neck clam is found on gravel, sand beaches buried close to the surface.

Whelks, limpets and chitons are also found on intertidal rocks or in splash zones. Whelks are lovely shaped shells.They are the most fun to find.


The limpet looks like a Japanese miniature hat and the chiton has 8 overlapping plates bound together with a leathery girdle. These last two are often found washed up on docks.To find pictures of Limpets, chitons and more shells please go to

Happy Shell Hunting!



Tidepool and Reef   by Rick Harbo  1999

Pacific Reef and Shore  by Rick Harbo 2003

Here are some tips for how to make the most of your kayak tour.

1. Dress right.

Being comfortable in your kayak can make a huge difference in how much you enjoy your tour. Avoid clothing that retains moisture – that means no cotton! Drips from the paddle will leave you with damp sleeves or a damp seat. Any type of quick dry clothing is a good choice.  Check the weather conditions to wear the right layers for cool weather or warm weather.

2. Get the gear right.

Your PFD should fit snug and hug your body. It should allow for lateral movement while you are sitting in the kayak. If  it is too long it will push on your chin for your whole paddle. Adjust the foot pedals in the kayak to be comfortable. If they are too close you can lose circulation in your feet and legs. If they are too far away you will be reaching and not have enough control over your steering.

3. Get the technique right.

Following instructions from your lesson at the beginning of the tour will ensure you will  paddle effectively and enjoy powering your own vessel with minimal sore muscles or blisters at the end of your tour.

4. Savor your surroundings.

Take time to explore the ocean as you paddle. Linger in the kelp beds to look for jellies, paddle close to rocks to touch the sea stars, drift quietly observing the seals sunning or swimming, taste the salty kelp blades, pop the ocean bubble wrap. If you are on a picnic tour take time to poke around in the tidal pools. You may see some amazing creatures if you are still enough. Check under rocks on the beach and at the waters edge for crabs, anemones or sea cucumbers. Gently bob on the water laughing at the comical antics of the oyster catchers or sea gulls. Feel scrutinized by the bald eagle eyeing you warily from the headland. Breathe in the fresh sea air and be amazed at the beautiful Olympic mountains rising in majesty into the horizon.

Sea kayaking tours in Victoria give you an amazing connection to our ocean environment. Here’s hoping you enjoy every dip of your paddle and every glide of your kayak.

Boaters Beware!  Having a healthy respect for the ocean can save a boater’s life. There are many risks and hazards inherent to boating on the ocean . Here are our top picks. Let us know if you have more to add to the list.

1. Malfunctioning, Inappropriate or Missing Equipment

Lifejackets are essential to survival on the ocean. Even if they don’t look cool while you are paddle boarding! Look for the Coast Guard Seal of approval on the inside panel of your life jacket to ensure it is up to industry standards.

Choosing the appropriate gear for your sport is important. For example, the impact of opening an inflatable life jacket can cause a kayaker to flip into the water and is not recommended. Kayaking PFD’s are also shorter in the waste to add comfort while moving laterally during the paddle stroke. Be sure to research your sport’s equipment before purchasing new gear.

Testing all of your gear prior to going out on the water will alert you to any problems that may crop up and help prevent a dangerous situation altogether.

2. Hypothermia

This is one of the biggest dangers while boating in Pacific Northwest waters. Ocean temperatures range between 7 and 12 degrees Celsius, which makes hypothermia a potential hazard for every boater. Brushing up on what it is and how to treat it and prevent it is a good idea. Having appropriate clothing for the sport you are doing will make your outing safe and comfortable.

3. Submerged Rocks

As the tides ebb and flow the oceanscape changes dramatically. Rocky shelves that are exposed at low tide may not be visible at higher tides. This can be dangerous as they may be just under the surface as you paddle or drive over them and you may get high centered or seriously damage your boat. Using a marine chart that shows submerged rocks and obstacles is a good idea. Learning to read the surface of the water is also very helpful. If you see unusual wave patterns on the surface it may indicate a submerged rock. Kelp forests can also give you a clue that you are in shallow water. There are markers to give boaters clues that the water is shallow.

4. Tidal and Rip Currents

If you are boating in unknown water it is a good idea to become familiar with the currents in the area. There are current tables that are accessible online or in print form for each area. Knowing the speed and location of strong currents will help you plan your route to avoid dangerous currents.

5. Traffic Hazards

During any outing it is possible that you will need to cross float plane runways, ferry Lanes and marina entrances. There are designated traffic patterns in harbours that every boater needs to familiarize themself with. Most are accessible on the internet. Buoys and markers help direct the traffic and should be followed for maximum safety for all. Jumping into your inflatable dinghy being oblivious to traffic is a huge hazard for everyone.

6. Inclement Weather 

Wind can be a huge risk for boaters. You can be pushed out to sea or into the rocks onshore. There are accurate web sites that will give you detailed weather reports before you go out. Having a VHS radio for access to marine weather reports is essential equipment for boaters on the ocean.

Fog can be a huge hazard for boaters. Visibility will be severely limited so keeping the shoreline in sight may be necessary. Having your course charted on your marine chart with compass readings will help you stay on course as will a GPS. Making sure you have appropriate lights for other boats to see you will be crucial. Kayaks won’t show up on a larger boats radar unless there is a group paddling close together. A 360 degree white light with flashers will increase your visibility.

7. Marine Wildlife

Paddling in the Pacific Northwest can be exciting when you encounter marine wildlife. Be very wary of proximity to Killer whales, Bull Elephant seals, and sea lion rookeries. The guideline for approaching marine wildlife is a 200 metre distance for your safety and to prevent disturbing wildlife. There are times they may approach you. Using good judgment and caution is advised.

We hope you always have safe , enjoyable boating experiences!

Sea Kayaking is all about physics! Paddling in ocean waves applies the physics of your kayak with the physics of the paddling strokes that are used.

Principle One: A kayak is designed so that the bow of the kayak points into the wind on a windy and wavy day. You will need to “corrective” paddle to accommodate for this. This is a great time to use your rudder to save your arms from getting sore. Knowing how the kayak moves will help you know how to paddle into the waves.

Principle Two: There are three kinds of waves that you will experience kayaking. “Beam Waves” are waves that approach the side of your kayak as you travel across the water. Paddling when waves are pushing your kayak from behind is called a “following sea”. Heading straight into the waves is called “Head to wind”.

Principle Three: A kayak is the most stable in any kind of waves when it is in forward motion. Many novice paddlers want to lift their arms and let the kayak bob on the water. This is very unstable. Keeping your paddle in the water and moving forward is the most stable.

Principle Four: Paddling into the top or crest of a wave and pulling yourself through the trough of the wave can greatly reduce the bobbing effect. Your stroke will pull you over the deeper part of the trough making it a much smoother trip through the waves.

Principle Five:When paddling head to wind or in beam seas there are flat areas in between crests and troughs on an angled path. Following this path will greatly reduce the bouncing as you paddle through the waves.

Principle Six: In our last post we learned that waves travel in sets of approximately 5 to 7. In between there are pauses. These pauses are caused by the tendency of the wind to gust. When completing a landing in big waves, or a surf landing, it is best to take full advantage of the pause in between sets of waves. Taking time to study the wave patterns before paddling into shore is very important. Choose the last wave of the set to ride on the back of and once you have landed quickly remove your spray skirt and pull your kayak on shore before the next set of waves begins.

Principle Seven: When choosing a landing spot in big waves it is important to observe how the wave interacts with the shoreline. There will be smarter, flatter places to land based on this interaction. Take your time in deciding the best place to land your kayak.

Kayaking in waves can be exhilarating! Having excellent bracing techniques is essential if you are surfing in a kayak. Having rolling skills will make it a great challenge.

Above all ….Enjoy the Ride!!









1. What Kind of Ocean Wave is It?

There are several kinds of ocean waves. Wind waves are generated by the wind. They can be small or large depending on many factors. Strong winds traveling over great open expanses of ocean create the biggest waves. Wake are waves created by a passing boat. Ocean swell are large, rounded, flat crested waves. Tidal waves are waves created from the gravitational pull of the moon, the sun and the earth. A tsunami is an enormous wave caused by an undersea earthquake.

2. Anatomy of a Wave:

The peak of a wave is the crest. The lowest point of a wave is the trough. Wave length is measured from crest to crest between two waves while wave height is measured from the crest to the trough of one wave.

3. How Do Waves move?

Waves move vertically up and down. The water in a wave is not actually moving forward much at all, although it appears to. Waves travel in sets of 5 to 7 with a slight pause between sets. The ocean floor and the shoreline play a large role in how waves move in relation to land. As the ocean floor becomes shallower the waves become steeper and will crest as they reach shore. The shape of the shore line can cause the waves to bounce back or refract which creates more movement on the water. As the waves bend around headlands it can create very calm areas near the corners of beaches. When the wind is opposing the movement of the tide the waves will be higher than if it is moving in the same direction.

Stay tuned for our next post where we will explore how ocean waves effect your sea kayak outing.