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Sore arms and seals in Canada’s beautiful waters

Laura Ivill
IT is a bright, warm and dazzling spring day and we are paddling our solo sea kayaks straight into the wind and sun. White diamond rays of sunlight bounce off the ocean; it looks like a carpet of sequins. With the wind roaring in my ears, I set my core muscles to firm, get my head down and work the rhythm – left, right, left, right – digging deep and powering onward, pushing with my arms, rather than pulling, so as not to tire too quickly across the open water of the Pacific.

On this four-day tour from Vancouver Island, off the west coast of Canada, it is possible for a novice paddler to reach the low-lying Broken Group Islands by kayak in a morning, with strength, determination, plenty of spirit – and with the knowledge that you have a hearty lunch packed inside your kayak’s hull. This is the second of today’s two open-water crossings. Earlier we paddled through David Channel – two nautical miles (3.7km) – the wind cutting across my starboard side and whipping up the waves, which occasionally broke over my spray skirt before trickling down into my cockpit seat. The second leg is half as far, across Peacock Channel. “It’s only half an hour,” said Kevin Bradshaw, our guide with Majestic Ocean Kayaking, “but it will feel like an hour, so be ready.”

We stay tight as a group, for safety and for comfort. There’s me, from London, Michael from Calgary, and husband and wife Ken and Linda from Seattle. Linda, after the first crossing, has decided that a tow-rope attached to Kevin’s kayak will give her reassurance – not that she relies on it, as she makes all the effort herself. I am the last of the small pack, and Ken, a marketing director with Boeing, drops back a little to paddle alongside me. We can’t really speak above the howling wind, and are focused on the strip of land ahead, which doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. We’re also gaining strength from the camaraderie (or perhaps that’s just me).

I can see now why this ecotour company has called itself Majestic Ocean Kayaking – it’s kayaking, it’s in the Pacific Ocean, and, pounding through the white-capped waves, it is most definitely majestic. The organisers of the Winter Olympics obviously thought so, too. In the run-up to the Games they filmed Tracy and Ted Eeftink’s company for promo shots of the region, the helicopters swooping over sea kayakers in the emerald green waters.


DESERTED COVES
Tracy used to be Canada’s number three in kayak marathons and the couple have years of experience in making these adventures accessible for all ages. “It used to be really lawless round here,” Tracy tells me later, back in her kitchen in the small harbourside town of Ucluelet (pronounced You-clue-let). “Now people are coming for the natural beauty of the area – that’s the focus. Things have changed from logging and fishing.”
The Broken Group Islands is part of the Pacific Rim National Park. Their white sand beaches, deserted coves, clear water of emerald and jade, and pristine forests are a surprise and a delight. Nobody lives here now, and the hundred or so low-lying islands and islets make an ideal location for experienced kayakers, first-timers and families alike.

Majestic Ocean Kayaking runs tours lasting from three hours in the harbour, to six days. The grey and humpback whales and orcas are frequent visitors at different times of the year – there is even the Pacific Rim Whale Festival each March (www.pacificrimwhalefestival.org).

Paddling along, we come across sea otters scratching their dense fur and rolling in the water to keep themselves warm, while harbour seals inquisitively poke their shiny speckled heads out at us. Pigeon guillemots, with their striking red legs, search for food, and a pair of bald eagles land on a rock up ahead.

After our crossing, we tuck into stuff-it-yourself pitta and magnificent homemade cookies, on a deserted beach with a boulder as a table and driftwood trunks for seats. “The guides here pride themselves on leaving no trace,” says Kevin. And, looking at the terrain, it’s as though not a soul has been here before us.

Throughout the islands, there are just seven beachside designated campsites, all with waterless eco-loos and nothing else. We made a roaring camp fire from driftwood, but only enough to burn completely away, the ash from which we kicked back into the sand the next morning. “You couldn’t get a more perfect introduction to the Pacific Northwest than this,” says Michael. And I agree. I can see exactly why those Olympic officials would have been so keen to show off the emerald jewel in Canada’s crown.

The Broken Group Islands four-day sea kayaking tour with Majestic Ocean Kayaking costs CA$1,060 per person, includes all meals, three nights camping and transfers from and to Ucluelet. Day-trips from CA$145 (www.oceankayaking.com).
British Airways flies London to Seattle from around £460 return, and London to Vancouver from around £580. Ferry services operate from both cities to Vancouver Island, then it’s a bus or drive to Ucluelet.