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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!

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Late in June or early July, Pacific harbour seal pupping season is in full swing throughout the South Vancouver Island area which we luckily have a chance to experience on our kayaking Tours in Victoria BC. The pregnant female harbour seals will give birth to one seal pup after 11 months of gestation. They typically give birth on land but will occasionally  give birth in the water in an emergency. The new seal pups will be around 20 lbs at birth. They range from very light grey with spots to darker grey in colour. They can swim virtually at birth and are often seen swimming on the back of their mum. The mum and baby pairs are very affectionate with each other. You can often see them touching noses or “kissing” in the water. The mother will tip her head back to connect with her youngster to confirm they are close by.

The babies grow very quickly and become very inquisitive and playful. The mother harbour seal tries to steer their pup away but the babies curiosity usually wins out. The pups will begin playing near the kayaks with the kayak rudder being of particular interest to them. Probably because it drops lower in the water than the rest of the boat. They will swim upside down, roll around and touch the rudder with their noses. It is an enchanting experience to paddle with the playful pups. The pups communicate verbally when they are young with a soft “ma”sound. They grow so quickly that they need a lot of nourishment which means lots of nursing time with mom. They can get demanding! The seal pups are weaned anywhere from eight to ten weeks after being born. They then spend a lot of their time hunting for food so we don’t see them as often. This video was taken at Seal Island which is right around the headland from our shop. This seal pup is about two weeks old.

  1. GPO are the largest member of the cephalopod family with the largest weighing 156 lbs.
  2. GPO have eight arms with two rows of suckers on each arm for adhering to rocks and to prey.
  3. GPO have two glands – one with saliva that can be sprayed to help open prey and one with toxins or “ink” to help ward off predators. They can also spray for jet propulsion.
  4. GPO mostly use their arms as legs to crawl slowly along the ocean floor. The “spray” can produce a burst of speed but only for a short distance.
  5. An octopus can compress it’s entire body to fit into a space as small as it’s beak which is the only hard part of their anatomy.
  6. A GPO can alter it’s colour and the texture of it’s skin to create amazing camouflage.
  7. GPO are cool blooded , have three hearts and have blue blood!
  8. Seals, sea otters and some whales will eat octopus. The octopus eats fish, muscles, barnacles, crab and clams.
  9. GPO live from 3-5 years in the wild. The female can lay up to 400,000 eggs. Not all of these survive of course but the female looks after the eggs blowing water over them to keep things from growing on them.
  10. Octopus are known to be very intelligent. They can complete simple puzzles, unlock simple cage mechanisms and recognize humans they come into frequent contact with.
This photo of a Giant Pacific Octopus was taken off of the pier at Ogden Point in Victoria BC. 

This photo of a Giant Pacific Octopus was taken off of the pier at Ogden Point in Victoria BC.

Kayaking and Wind

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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 bigwavedave.ca. 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!!

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Pregnant Harbour Seals at Seal Island

Just how close can we get to marine wildlife while we are out kayaking? We can get pretty close! This is one reason exploring the ocean environment in a kayak is so exciting. Paddling into areas that larger boats have no access to gives kayakers a unique experience with marine wildlife. Our water craft is quiet, maneuverable, and can navigate very shallow water. This is great for kayakers but is it great for the wildlife we are eagerly wanting to see?

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada marine wildlife may be at risk due to human activities. Certain guidelines have been created to help protect the wildlife in our coastal waters. This is a small excerpt from the Be Whale Wise website:

  1. THE LAWS

    Regulations in Canada and the U.S. prohibit the harassment and disturbance of marine mammals. Many species are threatened or endangered and subject to additional protections under the Endangered Species Act (U.S.) and the Species at Risk Act (Canada).

    Endangered Species Act
    Marine Mammal Protection Act
    Species At Risk Act

    SEALS, SEA LIONS AND BIRDS ON LAND

    1. BE CAUTIOUS AND QUIET when around haul-outs and bird colonies, especially during breeding, nesting and pupping seasons (generally May to September).
    2. REDUCE SPEED, minimize wake, wash and noise, and then slowly pass without stopping.
    3. AVOID approaching closer than 100 metres/yards to any marine mammals or birds.
    4. PAY ATTENTION and move away, slowly and cautiously, at the first sign of disturbance or agitation.
    5. DO NOT disturb, move, feed or touch any marine wildlife, including seal pups. If you are concerned about a potentially sick or stranded animal, contact your local stranding network where available.

    WHAT IS A DISTURBANCE?

    Disturbance is when we interfere with an animal’s ability to hunt, feed, communicate, socialize, rest, breed, or care for its young. These are critical processes, necessary for healthy marine wildlife population.” (Be Whale Wise, 2016)

    For full information please visit www.bewhalewise.org.

    The biggest concern for kayakers is seals, sea lions and ocean bird life. Because we are so close to Seal Island which is a harbour seal nursery and breeding colony from July to September we are able to have some amazing wildlife encounters with both adult and baby seals. We have the opportunity to kayak past moms and pups nursing on the rocks as well as hunting in the water. There is a good chance the seals will venture close to the kayaks. Being familiar with the guidelines will help paddlers to safely and respectfully enjoy the wildlife in the area.

    If you happen to see wildlife that is injured or in distress you can contact sightings@vanaqua.org via email or call 1-800-465-4336 to report your sighting.

     

     

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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!

Barnacle Facts

Curious about barnacles? Here are a few facts for you:

~ Barnacles are often overlooked ocean creatures. Only overlooked until you step on one getting out of your kayak…ouch! They are actually related to crabs and lobsters being in the crustacean family. That is a surprise!

~ Barnacles have been found in depths up to 600 metres but 75 percent are usually found on rocks and headlands in shallower depths and in the intertidal zone which is the space between high and low tide. They are found exclusively in oceans and seas.

~ The two most common types are acorn barnacles which grow their shells directly onto the surfaces and goose barnacles which grow from a stalk. There are up to 1200 known barnacle species.

~ Barnacles are made up of several overlapping calcium plates that can be opened during feeding and mating and closed for protection from predators. Their main predators are whelks, sea stars and mussels.

~ Barnacles do have senses. They are very sensitive to touch using the tiny hairs on their limbs. They also have a singular eye capable of sensing light and dark.

~ follow this link to watch barnacles mating :

 

Acknowledgements:

Wikipedia

Mating Barnacles  Video – Gerry

 

 

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.

Whelk

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 http://pinterest.com/vicwaterfront/beach-shells/

Happy Shell Hunting!

 

Resources:

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.