Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Kayakers' Kampground.

I first discovered Cranberry Campground totally by accident while exploring Merigomish Harbour by sea kayak one windy autumn afternoon. After finding the rare (on this shore) sea stack near the outlet of French River for which I had been searching, I continued along the shoreline out of simple desire to see what else might be at this remote end of a favourite paddling venue.

Almost at the point where Merigomish Harbour narrows to a tiny cove bordered by the beautiful Big Island Beach and the mainland shore, I noticed a group of trailers and tents clustered around a few small buildings and paddled over for a look. There I found a small reedy beach with a soft sandy boat ramp leading into a beautiful meadow in the heart of this jewel of a campground. I went ashore and hardly believing what I was seeing walked the grounds, taking note of the beautiful, large treed campsites, most of which were empty.

The facility was immaculate with water faucets readily available, a shower/laundry hut, bathrooms and even a nice A-frame cottage with communal shelter and cooking facilities for tenters who might want to escape a rainy day. The seasonal campers I approached were friendly to a fault, and the owners were glad to chat with someone who approached from the sea rather than by car.

From my perspective as a sea kayaker though, all this was secondary to the strategic location of this Shangri-la. I’m very familiar with Merigomish Harbour, and have long been an advocate of paddling there. It is one of the very few locations in Atlantic Canada which offers something to all types of paddlers, in a very compact area.

For folks who enjoy paddling quiet estuaries teeming with wildlife, there are several small rivers emptying into the harbour that offer unparalleled opportunity for relaxation.
History buffs will enjoy visiting Smashem Head on Big Island, where a beach stroll could reward you with an arrowhead or other artifact from the huge battle that is believed to have taken place here between the local Mi’ kmaw and the invading Iriquois centuries ago.

The beautiful islands in the harbour offer sandy beaches populated with wheeling eagles and the occasional seal for company as you enjoy a solitary lunch break. Adrenaline junkies will have a great time in the riotous reefy waters of the harbor’s mouth, where incoming tide and outgoing river flow battle it out with contrary winds that slide down off the headland of King’s Head.

For endurance paddlers, a trip leaving Cranberry Campground and circumnavigating the Big Island will fill your day quite nicely with all of the above, with the added reward of finishing up at your campsite for beverages and barbecue. For those wishing to relax, a short paddle from your campsite across the narrows will land you on the gorgeous unsupervised Big Island Beach, one of the best-kept secret beaches in the Maritimes. If the surf is running, drag your boat across the road and rip it up! The water is warm, and you can enjoy the view of Pictou Island, Cape George, and Prince Edward Island shimmering on the horizon.

A short day-trip paddle along the coast will take you to the beautiful shelter of Lismore government wharf, and a bit further on is the dramatic geology of the Arisaig fossil cliff area complete with wispy waterfalls and tiny pocket beaches. This area is also steeped in history, and if the surf is not pounding you can land at the Culloden Cairn and pay your respects to the displaced warriors who named this province “New Scotland” in Jacobite Latin.

If you’re into multi-day trips, consider an expedition from Cranberry around Cape George. You will experience amazing geology, desolate sandy beaches,

crashing surf, friendly locals and teeming sea life. The beauty of the twin fishing villages of Ballantyne’s Cove and Livingstone Cove is incomparable, and they provide welcome shelter on opposite sides of an imposingly rugged Cape George. If you have exceptionally good legs, you can land on the rocky shelf at the tip of the cape and ascend the tortuous trail to the lighthouse several hundred feet above. And, if you’re really lucky, the seasonal ice-cream stand there will be open.

The ultimate reward for all or any of this activity though, is the comfort and beauty of Cranberry Campground at the end of the day. I’ve seen a few nice sunsets in my time, but Cranberry seems to have some sort of arrangement whereby only the best are served up there each evening. Bring your camera, and lots of memory!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Two goals, one day.

Since I started kayaking the Northumberland Strait at the age of 10 or so, I dreamed of paddling to Pictou Island, a gorgeous lump always hanging tantalizingly on the horizon. In my early teens, a trip to this Shangri-La in a small but doughty Cape Islander made me realize the enormity of this proposition. We slammed from wavetop to wavetop, braced with knees, elbows and foreheads into awkward positions within the tiny cabin, trying to keep from getting tossed overboard. I have never before or since been so glad to tie up to a government wharf. A night spent in a sleeping bag under the stars watching the meteor showers almost made me forget about the hazards of this crossing, and only strengthened my resolve to one day return under my own power.
Last weekend I did just that, several decades after forming that resolution. Added to that was the opportunity to attain another goal, that of paddling from one Canadian province to another.
Four of the best paddling friends a kayaker could have invited me to accompany them in a crossing from Caribou NS to Pictou Island, where we would camp before venturing even further across the horizon to the province of Prince Edward Island, some 15 kilometers beyond. They even agreed to wait for me, as I had previously agreed to take part in a breast cancer fundraiser that day, paddling in a Dragon Boat race on the East River in New Glasgow. My team made it into the Grand Final round, which tickled me no end but unfortunately made me far too late to join my pals. I reluctantly phoned them from the river and begged them to get under way before darkness impinged. They agreed with much protestations, and set out without me.
As soon as our team was finished our race, (we got third, wow), I bolted for the Caribou boat launch, jammed my gear in the Chilco's hatches, suited up and phoned Lynda-Marie on the water. Even though there was thunder in the distance and raindrops beginning to fall, I hoped to make a mad dash across the roiling water to join my friends. The tension in her voice was immediately apparent when we finally connected, and she warned me not to put in. She and the others were encountering crazy 2 meter seas from all directions, and were white-knuckling it the last 3 km to landfall on Pictou Island. Talk about mixed emotions, on the one hand she had possibly saved me from blundering into conditions beyond my ken, but at the same time deprived me of a lifetime goal. Of course she was right, but I was in a royal blue funk as I unloaded the kayak and slammed my gear back into the van. It takes a true friend to do what she did, and I'm grateful.

The next morning I woke at the crack of dawn and drove the few kilometers from my home to Caribou. The sky was leaden grey, and rain was threatening but there was not a breath of wind, and the water was (to use local fisherfolk terminology) "flat as piss on a plate". I reloaded the Chilco in record time, said my goodbyes to the locals onsite (geez, I'm getting tired of being called "crazy") and set out into the haze. Several times I glanced at my GPS and forced myself to slow down, knowing I had a long day's paddle ahead. Just as I began to cross the ferry lane, I heard the Holiday Island radio her position to the local Coast Guard. Scanning the horizon, I could just make her out as she began her long sweeping turn towards the shallow confines of Caribou Harbour. There was nothing for it but to begin a sprint, as nothing would mortify me more than to cause a ferry captain to rain curses on yet another "crayon" in his way. Thankfully, a 9 kph run got me well away from the ship, and I was able to relax into a somewhat more sensible pace. The West End light soon appeared and grew larger, and I rounded the tip of the island to encounter slight overfalls at every point. The current sweeping around the island is quite strong.
A few kilometers along the back side of Pictou Island towards John Dan's Cove I finally spotted 4 dots on the horizon and soon was able to pick out Patrick, Jacqui, Lynda-Marie and Wayne by their distinctive Greenland strokes. They were a little surprised to see me that far along, but I think perhaps they underestimated my enthusiasm to get this trip done! After a short leg-stretcher on shore, we struck out for Wood Islands PEI, invisible somewhere on the hazy horizon. Parts of PEI were closer, and therefore within sight but we decided that Wood Islands would provide the safest and most comfortable landing spot.
I must say that viewing the figures on my GPS was a bit daunting, as I'm not used to seeing such large numbers on the screen in terms of distance and time remaining. We plowed along happily though, reveling in the calm sea conditions and brightening sky. Soon we were paddling in blazing sunshine, and began shedding layers of neoprene in an effort to avoid heat stroke. Lynda-Marie pulled out her hand-cranked radio/MP3 docking station and played us some great Cape Breton fiddle tunes as we paddled. Great way to relieve the monotony!
During one of our rafted-up snack breaks, we were joined by a small pod of porpoises, some of whom stopped to lie on the surface and eyeball us curiously. These breaks were crucial I think, in that they broke up the trip into manageable bits, and provided great morale boost. The pee breaks were somewhat less pleasant, especially for the ladies who had yet to master their new "Devices". Apparently, heckling from the owners of more permanently installed equipment does not help the learning curve....

Landfall at Wood Islands was very pleasant, on an isolated sand beach with a red sandstone outcrop providing a good view of the area. After a round of back-slapping and congratulations, we scouted for possible campsites, and finding none got back in our boats and wandered East along the coast to a very promising looking meadow on a prominent headland. We had our tents set up in jig time, and set about preparing a hearty supper to try and restore some lost calories. My GPS indicated 38 kilometers from launch to landing that day.
We enjoyed a sunset stroll along a beautiful sand beach, then returned to build a small campfire and twist open a few cold ones. Bedtime was not long in finding us, and we slept the day's exertions away soundly. Next morning we breakfasted heartily, and the group decided not to break camp as we were not likely to find another such great spot. How right we were, as a 20km jaunt further East revealed nothing but steep sandstone cliffs and tiny cobbled coves.
Returning to camp in the late afternoon, the gang graciously waited while I packed up and loaded my boat, then accompanied me on the "paddle of shame" the three kilometers to the ferry terminal. Due to prior commitments, I had to bail out a day early, and was not happy about it. During the paddle to the terminal, Patrick intoned: "Glenn, you are the first member voted off the Island." LOL
We just barely beat the incoming ferry to the dock, and while I in neoprene river shoes ran the long stretch on hot asphalt to the ticket office, my pals attached my Freyamobile cart to my boat and dragged it to the waiting ferry just in time for me to grab it and run on board as a "walk-on with kayak". I can't tell you how glad I am to have friends like these. The deck hand in charge of the lower deck was more than helpful in getting my kayak positioned safely, and mentioned that he had seen us on our crossing earlier. Thankfully, he did not use the word "crazy", even once.
A 90-minute crossing and two slices of ferry cafeteria pizza later, I was back in the mighty minivan and on my way home to hot showers and cold beer. What a weekend.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Puffins, Glooscap and a boring rescue.

While viewing puffins on the wing may not seem a scintillating lifetime wish, you'll have to admit it's something not everyone would add to their "bucket list".
Saturday I got to cross that entry off, along with ten other good chums from our paddling club.
We all (11 of us!)arrived willy-nilly on Friday evening at the beautiful Puffin Tours Campground near Big Bras D'Or on Cape Breton Island, and immediately fell into a comfortable routine of setting up tents and readying for the morning. The foggy dew and occasional mist were put to flight by Lynda-Marie's trusty kitchen shelter tent, with its clever system of camp tarps and shower curtain rings. We lolled inside in our camp chairs, cheered by the rosy glow of Wayne's home built wood stove just outside.
Saturday morning came early, after a blissful night under the stars with the sound of distant foghorns as lullabies.
Breakfast was a veritable smörgåsbord, as everyone seemed to have entirely too much of everything. Amazingly, we were all on the water before our anticipated launch time, a first for Pictou County Paddlers, I believe.
Well-armed with local lore by the campground's tour boat skipper, we avoided potential trouble spots and wended our way out to Cape Dauphin with the Bird Islands tantalizingly close on the horizon. After a quick snack on a secluded sandy beach we set out on the 3 km crossing to Hertford, the first of the Bird Islands. While launching, a passing local lobsterman offered us some weather advice, alluding to a storm approaching rapidly from the North. We took that under advisement and continued on. Actually, I had noticed the increasing swells which manifested in a nasty dumping surf on our erstwhile pleasant lunch beach. As the last one to launch, I got knocked sideways twice by intemperate wave sets.
After a comfortable crossing on gentle swells, we came into the lee of the Bird Islands and under the spell of their singularity. Sea birds of all types imaginable roosted in countless crannies, and darted busily past us on errands too complex for us to grasp. While in this state of mesmer, one of our paddles made a slight goof and found himself upside down in his kayak, a granola bar lodged firmly in his mouth. Taken aback by this, he forsook his normally dependable roll and punched out. The ensuing group rescue went like clockwork, and within minutes he was back in his cockpit and paddling onward. I was intensely but quietly proud of our club members, none of whom broke a sweat. The only directive I gave was a timeline for a possible tow hookup, as the flotilla drifted slowly toward some edgy looking rocks. Thankfully, this did not come even close to being necessary. Well done, folks.
A slow circumnav of Hertford, the innermost of the Bird Isles was very rewarding, and we saw murres, gulls and puffins aplenty. The puffins seemed fearless, settling onto the water within meters of our boats and eying us curiously. On the wing, these stout seabirds seemed quite ungraceful, but on the water they were clearly in their element. One wonders if they might be distant cousins to the doughty penguins of southern climes.
Forsaking a trip around Ciboux, the outer island, we made instead for the Fairy Hole and Glooscap's Cave on the mainland. Given the local lobsterman's admonishment about the oncoming storm, we felt this was a wise course of action.
A landing at the Fairy Hole was not practical, due to the steepness and lack of welcoming sand. Instead, we followed Bill to a nearby cove where all 11 of us could land and lunch in comfort. The local geology was amazingly complex, and we spent a good while exploring the shoreline.
Fortified with nutritious lunches and sugary snacks, we tried again for the Fairy Hole and with the expertise of Wayne and others we managed to bring all boats safely if not unscratched ashore. A tinkling waterfall greeted us, and we posed there for group photos.
A few of the more intrepid paddlers made the nail-biting rope traverse to the very mouth of Glooscap's Cave, but unfortunately he was not inclined to let us enter despite the offering of tobacco we made on the boulders guarding the cave. A 30-foot circular pool, eight feet deep with a six foot vertical rock face stymied us at the entrance. A single strand of very aged-looking nylon rope stretched tantalizingly into the cave's maw, but thankfully no one felt the urge to risk life and limb on it.
A leisurely paddle back to our camp site was made interesting by the rushing tide in the Great Bras D'Or Passage. Some paddlers struggled against back eddies and whirlpools, while others found the express flowage and fairly flew along at 9 kph.
We all arrived tired and safe at our home beach, and a few hours later were once again cozied into the bug tent, yawning and telling outrageous lies.
I think it's fair to say everyone slept well that night, despite the occasional gunshot (?) in the distance.
The remaining adventures of the weekend are best left to someone else...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Great Oddyssey of Nova Scotia.

Yes, I know there’s only one “d” in odyssey. The odd thing about ours is its’ disjointedness. Argonauts we’re not, as our dedication to extreme trekking will be limited to weekends and holidays as we try to circumnavigate Nova Scotia’s entire 2400 km coastline in fits and starts. And yes, I know Jason and his Argos were not part of “The Odyssey” either. He did have a part in “Friday the 13th” though, didn’t he? But that’s another horror story…
Our story began on Victoria Day weekend 2008 as 4 friends and members of Pictou County Paddlers launched their epic voyage far inland at my home, stuffing gear into and lashing boats onto my dilapidated Dodge minivan. We didn’t really know for sure if 4 sea kayaks would fit on the poor old thing until Bill’s Sea Knife was uploaded, the last strap was tightened and we stood back to look at the fruits of our efforts. Not bad, kind of cool, really, “Let’s GO!”

An hour and a half’s drive along the Sunrise Trail took us to Heather Beach, our hoped-for takeout point later in the day. By a stroke of luck, Wayne’s friend Dave was innocently raking grass in front of his neat little cottage on the water, so we promptly shanghaied him as our shuttle driver. Now grossly overloaded with 4 boats, a ton of gear and 5 bodies, the valiant old Dodge struggled further up the coast to the very border with New Brunswick at the mighty Tidnish River. Dave waited and watched patiently as we offloaded boats and gear, shaking his head in amusement all the while at our apparent foolishness. “You don’t even have any beer.” he noted, a realization that struck me pretty hard as well.

After a toast to our own good fortune with wine made from locally grown grapes, or possibly gooseberries, we launched into the swirling Tidnish and tagged up on the New Brunswick side by patting the reedy shoreline with our hands.

The marine forecast was for westerly winds diminishing, and for the first portion of our trip we enjoyed stout tailwinds. Later on the breeze would swing south and intensify, but we were blissfully unaware of this as we gleefully surfed along, noting 7 and 8 kph GPS speeds. Our first break was for lunch at a beautiful little park dedicated to the builders of the Chignecto Marine Railway. This grand boondoggle proposed to transport ships 17 miles overland from the Northumberland Strait to the Bay of Fundy, saving hundreds of sailing miles. A Herculean effort, it very nearly succeeded before succumbing to the vagaries of finance and politics. Sadly, an all too typical Nova Scotian tale. Other fine examples of foolish spending in that era include the Shubenacadie Canal and Pictou County’s own tidal lock project in Trenton. Thank goodness our leaders learned from these valuable lessons and no longer dump good money into bad projects…

While dining at this serene and well-maintained enclave, we noticed Lynda-Marie’s major wardrobe function à la Janet Jackson, and of course politely suggested that she get herself back into more presentable attire in the name of propriety. Tsk tsk.

Continuing on, we decided to try for the Provincial Park at Amherst Shore, some 14 km to the east. We enjoyed the beautiful sunshine and cool breeze, but I was somewhat saddened by the intense shoreline development along this stretch. There were summer homes on almost every square cm of shoreline, each with ugly and desolate piles of armour rock guarding them from natural coastline erosion. Some cottage owners had driven palisades of hemlock logs into the sand along their properties, which at least eased the eyesore effect somewhat.
Coastal travelers should be aware that although safe landing spots are plentiful along this shore, you’ll almost invariably be standing in someone’s back yard when you pull your kayak ashore.

Amherst Shore Park turned out to be a mere sliver of steep muddy cliff with no access from the water, so we pulled ashore briefly for a leg-stretch and snack before continuing on towards Heather Beach. At Northport the south wind made itself known in a forceful way and the extreme fetch of Northport Harbour added to our misery, blowing us a considerable distance offshore. A spray skirt failure resulted in my getting absolutely soaked by beam waves dumping onto my lap, and Bill, Wayne & Lynda-Marie waited graciously as I put ashore to change into dry clothing. I ask you once again, is there any better feeling than warm dry fleece?

The 8 km jaunt to our takeout point at Heather Beach was uneventful as the wind settled into a pattern of occasional offshore bursts, which we countered easily with corrective strokes. We did have a moment or two of anxiety as we realized that we did not know what our host’s cottage looked like from the water, and one piece of crowded beach looked much like any other. Lynda-Marie with her newly purchased laser-enhanced vision was actually able to pick out the distinct roofline of our transport vehicle with its forest of J-cradles, and we made landfall with much relief.

Dave and Margo had told us where to find the key to their cottage, so we were quite happy to have privacy and real bathroom fixtures at the end of our day. Finding sustenance on a Victoria Day Sunday evening was a bit of a challenge, but we eventually struck a convenience store in River John that sold pizza by the slice, and we ate voraciously on their tiny outdoor patio. A neighbourhood feral cat joined us, and made out like a bandit by appealing to our consciences. The drive back to Pictou County was unusually silent as each of us evaluated aches and pains, and reflected on the enormity of what we had only just begun.
We look forward to much more of the same over the next year or three, but with perhaps less civilization.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Beautiful Day

Rolling through the village of Abercrombie, my new (to me) Seaward Chilco strapped securely into the J-cradles, I remarked to myself “It’s a beautiful day!” And it was. Blue skies, sunshine, temperature around –5c, perfect for a New Year’s paddle on Pictou Harbour just a few minutes away. I reached for the radio button, clicking it on to catch the opening strains of “Beautiful Day” by U-2. Even more perfect!

Five of us set out through the shore slush from the tiny beach beside one of our favourite pubs, which was unfortunately closed for the holiday. The harbour proper was ice-free with only a few slush pans, which were easy enough to power through. The forecast winds were totally absent, and the usually volatile harbour mouth was dead calm as we eased out past the beautiful sand beaches on both sides. A slight swell picked up as we passed the old tumbledown sanatorium perched on the knife-edge of an eroding cliff. That place always gives me the shivers, considering all the human suffering that must have been concentrated in this one desolate location.

From the san, we hopped from point to point, stopping at each one to make sure everyone was willing to continue on. We in fact ventured further than planned, all the way to Pictou Lodge some 8.5 kilometers from our put in. There the lazy swells were pitching into beautifully surfable rollers, and Matt & Jamie were each able to catch a nice ride. Wayne, Lynda-Marie and I had paddled to where we thought the waves might break, with no such luck.

We sat in the sun, drifting as a group, each one silent and lost in reverie as we took in the cobalt sky, glassy swells and stunning view. Pictou Island, 10 kilometers distant, hovered tantalizingly on the horizon, beckoning. Not today, sorry.

The return trip was just as beautiful, with grey seals shadowing us and eagles watching closely from their treetop shore perches. The lowering sun glinted madly off the calm water, bathing us in an otherworldly light. The Pictou waterfront stood out brightly against a snowy backdrop, and we paddled past the ship Hector at her icy berth, her rigging badly snarled from the recent lightning strike that had rudely truncated her mainmast.

Quickly loading our kayaks and rapidly freezing gear, we sought out a small café offering warmth, food and beer. A leisurely supper spent laughing and discussing all things kayak provided the perfect ending for this beautiful day. Or so I thought. On the way back home through Abercrombie, I reached again for the radio, only to hear U-2’s “Beautiful Day” one more time. Even more perfect.

Many thanks to Lynda-Marie for the pics!

Happy New Year everyone,

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Think like a cork, think like a cork…

I kept repeating that in my head, attempting to drive off the creeping tension in my hips and spine last weekend. Nine of us were riding the ocean swells on Nova Scotia’s Northumberland shore, and I knew that knuckling under to the enormity of the situation would result in instant capsize.

With the Pictou Island crossing jinxed by inclement weather for the third year running, our long-faced group of fleece clad paddlers adjourned from the wharf at Caribou Harbour to the local Tim Horton’s for coffee and commiseration. Little did we know that Al & Rich had a “Plan B” already conceived and hatched, with undertones of ulterior motive attached. They’ve been gradually kayaking large swathes of Nova Scotia’s shoreline each summer, with an eye to eventually completing a circumnav of the entire Province. Since the club’s Pictou Island trip was now scuttled by acres of whitecaps, Al craftily suggested we convoy to Bayfield wharf, the kickoff point for their journey’s next leg and hope for better conditions there. Fueled by a powerful mix of disappointment and 80-octane coffee we readily agreed to this impromptu expedition, and after much shuffling of boats and gear headed East on the Trans-Canada Highway towards Pomquet Island and God knows what.

Our only club member from down that way met us at the wharf and pronounced us “crazy” for attempting the disturbed waters that day, then went back to harvesting his carrots leaving us to our folly. To be fair, we had a close look at conditions and were aware that the winds were forecast to abate and eventually back to the Southwest overnight. Still, the prevailing Northwesterlies were blowing a steady 15 knots and gusting well above that. St George’s Bay was roiling, but whitecaps were few and far between. Having wasted half a day driving and dithering, we anxiously but cautiously nosed out around the breakwater and into the lee of Pomquet Island. After a quick head count and confab, we struck out along the coast hoping to make Havre Boucher or Linwood Harbour in time to make camp for the night. The waves built on our aft quarter as we entered more exposed waters, but we were comforted by the fact that the howling wind was onshore, and reasonable landing spots were plentiful if not ideal.

After our initial trepidation wore off and we found our sea legs or perhaps sea hips, the group relaxed and began to really enjoy the roller-coastering swells. Wave intervals were quite short, so a wary eye to seaward was required to remain upright. Fortunately impending whitecaps were easy to spot, and for the most part we were able to sprint or back paddle to avoid getting tumbled. Still, the occasional rogue wave would lift boats high in the air, allowing other paddlers to inspect our rudders, skegs and hulls for blemishes and imperfections. Wayne estimated these knuckle-biters to be about 5 feet from peak to trough, and I think he was being conservative. At any rate, I couldn’t tell you what the shoreline looks like along that coast, as the rare glance towards shore offered only a frightening view of enormous dark blue wavebacks marching towards landfall and obscuring the horizon. There were grins all around though, and the occasional “Wahoo!” from paddlers arcing over the wave crests.

Al somehow spotted a tiny seaweed-dampened beach just right for getting us ashore safely, and we enjoyed a short lunch break while our gear dried in the sun.
Our approach to Linwood Harbour a few hours later was somewhat hairy, with the outgoing tide rushing out through a narrow passage and colliding with the incoming swells. Quartering wind waves only added to the confusion. Wayne stopped and had a hard look at conditions, then judiciously sent Bill and I in to scout the passage. Bill made for the standing waves in the passage centre to see how bad they were, while I followed Wayne’s advice and rode the shoreline eddy at the near edge of the harbour. Finding this to be a relatively smooth route, I stood station in the harbour mouth and tried to guide the group in with frantic paddle signals. All arrived safely, and we were much relieved to find smooth water and welcoming beaches. After scouting an acceptable campsite on a beautiful sand and gravel bar at the harbour mouth, the group split up and searched for a more ideal spot to set up for the night. With radios in hand, three sub-groups engaged in a lively electronic debate over the merits of their preferred discoveries. After much wrangling and haggling (“We’ll trade you half the pot of chowder for the right to camp at this RV park with showers!”) we agreed to put ashore as a whole at the improbably named “HyClass Camping Park” in order to preserve peace (and daylight). This turned out to be a wise decision, and we enjoyed real bathrooms and hot showers while eschewing the wonders and privations of our planned wilderness camping experience. The campfire shenanigans that night are best left to the imagination, but I will say that Deb’s chowder was a big hit after a hard day’s paddling.

The next morning dawned bright and warm, with the sun drying our gear nicely while we breakfasted and broke camp. Our exit from Linwood Harbour was uneventful, and the winds were Southerly as promised, giving us lots of impetus. The chop was short and steep, and its irregularity forced most of us to remain more alert than the previous night’s revelry may have allowed. Al and Rich guided us superbly through the rebounding seas around several headlands, choosing lines through the mess that were entirely invisible to me. There were lots of opportunities to surf some of the larger rollers, and we took advantage of them.

The trip around Cape Jack into Canso Strait was mostly uneventful, save for Cathy’s hilarious encounter with a determined seagull bent on shooting an approach to the foredeck of her WS Inukshuk. Rather inhospitably, Cathy yelled discouraging words at the luckless bird while jabbing her paddle lance-like at his beak. A startled Mr. Gull wisely veered off for a water landing, feathers ruffled.

Before entering the Strait, we stopped at a beautiful sandy beach for a spot of lunch, and pulled driftwood logs together to make a convivial corral for seating. The last of the cold beers were produced and distributed, with no guilt given the sheltered waters and short distance remaining. We dawdled perhaps longer than necessary, looking for driftwood and other treasured flotsam along the shore. Al found several skate egg cases tangled in the seaweed, and there was no shortage of odd and interesting rocks littering the strand.
The tiny villages of Troy and Creignish were visible cuddled under the tree line of Cape Breton’s distant mountains, providing a breathtaking backdrop. These communities are home to wunderkind fiddlers Natalie McMaster and Ashley MacIsaac respectively.

Our approach to Auld’s Cove and our lone shuttle vehicle was anti-climactic. Indeed, several members suggested we continue to the Canso Causeway itself and perhaps lock through to the other side, but time was beginning to pinch hard and we went ashore instead. The shuttle drive crew departed, and four of us were left to unpack and make ready for pickup. Bored, we approached a group of Motel cabin tenants and asked if we could use their picnic table to finish off the dregs of our camp food while we waited. The folks turned out to be BMW bikers from Oklahoma, and were delightfully charming and generous. They insisted on giving us a bottle of fine French wine to wash down our trail mix and leftover sausages, and even stayed to chat for a time. Nice people indeed!

The denouement to our adventure was truly bizarre, as we experienced good old-fashioned Acadian hospitality at a run-down roadside lobster bar near our takeout.

The owner/host was eccentric beyond words, and kept us constantly amused as we ate wonderful seafood and Acadian fare. When we innocently inquired as to the distance from Canso to the locks at St. Peter’s in Cape Breton, nothing would do but he call the Coast Guard and find out exactly! Added to the fireworks the man set off in our honour at our arrival and the constant barrage of sales pitches and staff introductions, his honest eagerness to please wore a bit thin with us before we hit the highway for home, showers and real beds.

As others in the club have mentioned, for a plan B, this sure turned out to be an A+.
Well done Al and Rich.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Great gear

My good friend and occasional paddle partner Wendy Killoran has posted a thank-you to Kokatak on her blog for supplying her with some of their great paddling gear. I’d like to second everything Wendy has to say about Kokatak, I have one of their Gore-Tex storm cags and value it as one of my most versatile pieces of essential kayak equipment.
The Pac-Lite material packs down small enough to fit in my deck bag, and provides almost instant protection from the elements when things go sour on the water. I can don it quickly, right over my pfd. Once it’s snapped in place around my cockpit coaming and the drawstring pulled tight around my face, the weather can do whatever it likes, I’m warm and dry.
It also functions well around the campfire, the breathable fabric and generous sizing make it a great rainsuit. In a pinch, I’m sure you could hunker down for the night in it and be comfortable. I’ve wanted one ever since I saw Freya Hoffmeister’s jet-black version she used while paddling the South coast of Newfoundland with Wendy last summer.
On the downside, the one-size-fits all feature means that small to average size paddlers may find the cag to be a bit voluminous, especially in a stiff wind. Also, the brilliant orange hue of the fabric has made me the butt of more than a few pumpkin jokes on the water. Small stuff, to be sure, but if you’re going out in known windy conditions, I’d suggest relegating the cag to your day hatch and wearing something a bit sleeker to avoid the sail effect. Keep the Kokatat handy for days when the weather is questionable.
In winter, this garment really seems to come into its own, functioning perfectly as a windbreaker and auxiliary spray deck, while breathing just enough to avoid a potentially deadly perspiration buildup. On minus 20 days, I could actually feel a difference in cockpit temperature thanks to the snug coaming fit. While I’m not sure if it’s a design feature or not, I noticed much less ice buildup on the cag than I normally get on my bare drysuit and neo spraydeck.
The Kokatak storm cag is one of those items I can’t bear to leave behind, even on a seemingly benign sunny day trip. It invariably gets tossed into my deck bag or behind my seat along with a bailout bag, extra snacks and water.