Nanaimo Area

Nanaimo is the second most populous city on Vancouver Island, a distant second to Victoria. It doesn't offer the stately charm of Victoria, but is, rather, a diamond in the rough. A kayaker typically seeks the water-land interface. Most interesting are coastlines with much texture - bays, inlets, peninsulas, spits, and islands. Least interesting are long, open water crossings. The Georgia Strait in the Nanaimo area offers lots of texture.

Most of my paddling in the Nanaimo area has been with either the Outdoor Recreation Program offered by the embryonic Vancouver Island University or on day trips with a local club, the Nanaimo Paddlers. The vicinity offers a wealth of possible day trips and, of course, multi-day trips. I'll describe a typical day trip with the Nanaimo Paddlers. But first I should write a wee bit about the club. The Nanaimo Paddlers boast about 200 members and have a busy schedule of day trips (at least twice a week) that continues throughout the whole year. Of course, weather is more likely to cancel trips in the cooler, stormier months. In the warmer months, there are a number of multi-day trips in addition to the day trips. The multi-day trips are often in locations well out of the Nanaimo vicinity e.g. the Broken Group off Vancouver Island's west coast or Haida Gwai to the north of the big island.

For day trips there are dozens of possible launch sites from as far south as Crofton and north to Nanoose. The number of participants on the day trips I took ranged from 3 to 22, with 10 a fairly typical number. There is a pre-appointed trip leader who makes route choices, go - no go weather decisions etc. In terms of responsibility, this 'leader' is more properly termed the 'contact person' and bears no responsibilty for the participants, who are required to sign waivers to that effect. Participants are well aware of trip etiquette.

I'll describe a particular day trip, trying to give the flavor of paddling with a club. First the statistics:
  • date - January 17, 2009
  • launch site - The Jib in Northwest Bay
  • weather - cool (but above freezing), foggy, relatively calm
  • route - (mostly a shore hugging day) The Jib -> Madronna Pt. (stretch/snack break) -> side trip into Craig Bay -> foggy crossing of Northwest Bay to Cottam Point (lunch) -> The Jib
  • participants - On the order of 10 paddlers
Typically, not everyone is sure how to get to the launch point and The Jib is one of the more obscure. So we meet at the Chapters bookstore in Woodgrove Mall on the north end of Nanaimo to caravan from there. The meeting time is observed strictly and, with this club, nearly everyone is early, knowing the group will leave by the appointed time and not wait for laggards. When we reach the launch site, we help each other unload boats and carry them down the narrow path to the launch. It's near high tide, shortening the carry. The tide will fall about 10 feet by 5:20 PM. We'll finish before then so we'll experience a falling tide all day.

We set off in the fog, keeping the shore on our left and soon hear sea lions barking, their precise location made uncertain by the fog. They like to haul out on log booms and that is where we rather abruptly find them. They are as startled as we and a few slip into the water. One surfaced off the bow of our tandem and, frightened by our proximity, did a quick flip and disappeared beneath the surface.

Photo: Sea Lions in Northwest Bay

The club members are generally quite careful to avoid such a close encounter and leave sea lions, seals, etc. undisturbed. The foggy conditions subverted our normal behavior. Winter paddles often feature encounters with the waterfowl wintering in this area. Some are in for just the winter while others seem to be here year round. On this outing we saw buffleheads, golden eyes, harlequins, cormorants, and a token eagle.

The paddle was neither strenuous nor trivial. Stops to stretch a bit and/or have a 'coffee break' and snack are normal protocol. It was a splendid day despite the fog.The fog required a bit of compass work for the crossing, but the lack of wind helped in ensuring success. At the end of the day, we returned to the launch site, helped each other load boats back on cars, and departed. Often we subsequently 'debrief' over a beer at a local pub. As I recall, this was a rare instance of no such activity.