The day started off with an overcast sky in a shade of grey that I hadn’t seen before, I felt it was an optimistic grey, heralding light winds from somewhere.
Everybody got onto the water at their own pace and paddled down to see the fish hatchery complex from the seaward side. There was a boom around a small bay to try and stop the Stella Sea Lions getting to the salmon When looking down over this watery enclosure the night before we could see that a few Stella sea lions had somehow managed to get over the barrage and judging from the white turbulence in the otherwise calm waters that morning, they were enjoying their continued salmon frenzy. The black bears were also still on the shore, picking off the salmon trying to get upstream with ease (note to myself, never be reincarnated as a salmon!!).
I was appointed leader for that day’s paddle, the plan was to paddle from our location on the southern tip of Esther Island to the campsite at Ziegler Cove Marine Park on the mainland. We would head up the western coast of Esther island before making the 8km crossing. I nominated a fellow paddler to lead us out of the cove to some shouts of surprise from other members; this paddler had previously expressed alarm with paddling around the Stella sea lions, whom you could describe as the brainless thugs of the sea lion world, there were a number in the bay, waiting for us. In fairness to both the secondary leader and the Stella’s, each got on with their job without hindering the other.
Hugging the coast, we made our way northwards without incident. The skies cleared at times, giving us good views of the rarely seen mountains on this trip. A good lookout was kept for any whale spouts or activity, but sadly today there was none. We stopped for elevenses near the makeshift camping area then leisurely continued northwards. There was no evidence to be seen of the cabin marked on the map. However, we didn’t land to search inland. Shortly before our dinner stop near granite bay there was a signal from Mark, he had spotted some fresh water otters on the shore. They hung around long enough for all of us to catch a glimpse of them, a father mother and two cubs, much smaller than the sea otters, but just as timid and shy.
Following dinner stop we set course approximately SSW to hit the mainland around the area of pirate cove. Unfortunately, the visibility had reduced by now, we couldn’t see where we were heading, relying on sound compass work which was delivered by mike alto and a hand-held Silva compass. Half way across, there was a shout that a large dorsal fin had been spotted heading towards us, this was quickly identified as a male killer whale, with eager shouts of excitement from most of the group, and an even louder gasp of “oh gawd” from the secondary leader earlier in the day. Whilst they had come to terms with a nibble from a Stella sea lion, there was still some work to do on the outcome of na Orca`s nibble. During the crossing there were no other sightings of any other whales, and no tell-tale bubbles forming on the otherwise calm waters, a sign of something passing deep beneath observed on earlier crossings where there was whale activity.
After about 1 1/2 hours we made landfall, near a distinguished tower of rock in the sea, and after a short breather we made our way to the Ziegler cove state marine park camping area, hoping to find a bear box to put our food in and other signs of habitation. Alas, they were elusive despite our landing and making a quick search.
Keith took the opportunity to check the weather forecast; it indicated high winds the following day which would prevent us from going on the water. He felt concerned that if the weather front didn’t move through as planned, we may be left with a difficult final day`s paddle up Passage Canal, which already had a reputation of high winds blowing against you as default. Following a short discussion, it was agreed we should continue onto the decision point campsite that we had used on our first night of expedition, despite it prolonging our paddling day into a 40km journey. There was the promise of a day off on the following day, a comfortable campsite and… a toilet, there were no complaints.
Ian took the lead, safely delivering us to the campsite where there was thankfully only one established tent. After emptying boats, pitching tents etc. we had food and packed the food cache under a groundsheet to detract bears. Keith reportedly slept next to the cache, to see the Aurora Borealis, we all knew he wanted the final picture of Mr black bear.