This blog is about the series of 5 ‘rapids’ that I went through since being in Powell River and the magnificient Desolation Sound and Toba Inlet. The travel books that I am using are the John Kimantis Wild Coast books and Kayaking the Inside Passage by Robert Miller. Both describe the challenging rapids around Stuart Island including Yuculta, Gillard, and Dent Rapids as expert class and not doable unless at slack, when the transition between tidal direction leaves the water calmest. They said that doing all three in one day is not recommended because catching slack at all 3 as they stretch across 5 miles is too difficult and they offered alternatives to the route and words of advice if one did go forward. These are not the kind of river rapids you might be thinking of, but instead, more like strong current rivers coming to a narrowing that change direction multiple times per day. And at peak ebb or flood, they can reach 8-10 knots, which is truly undoable if I oppose them with my ‘full-steam-ahead’ speeds of 4 knots. For sure, I was excited to try them although the thought of capsizing in cold water and having a yardsale of my gear being washed away quickly was definitely in the back of my mind.
Yuculta Rapids and Big Bay on Stuart Island
So with my tide and current tables, I saw that my window to go through the rapids would be to camp south on Stuart Island and then the next day to start Yuculta Rapids at the last of flood around 10 am, keep paddling up to Gillard Rapids for its slack at 10:45 and then do my best to get to Dent before currents began to get too strong. I was fortunate to have a neap tide and an ebb most of the day which would take me forward, so I was guarenteed a gentle passing through the rapids if I could just be patient and wait till the next day.
But although patience is something I seek with this trip, my curiosity to see the power of the Yuculta Rapids pulled at me to go beyond Kelsey Point and have a look. I’d already paddled a good 20 miles and wasnt eager to go into the rapids and by 6pm, it was already near the peak flood at 7.30pm which would make it impossible for me to pass. But as I went…the whirlpools simply felt playful and the ‘biggest baddest’ rapids that Miller described didnt seem to be much at all. And then, what luck, a small power boat came along, and I waved them down to get some local info on the rapids. The group of 4 were drunk as loons and said the rapids were starting to build, but that I might make it to Big Bay beforehand if I stuck to the right and if I did run into any trouble, there were a bunch of drunks over on the shore who could take care of me. Sweet! I thought, boy, am I lucky, a great day of paddling and I’m going to get through the big bad rapids and be welcomed by a Luau. So encouraged by thoughts of girls and beer, I bore on, into Yuculta Rapids.
Now as I stuck to the right, I was indeed dodging the majority of the rapids which had full speed and turbulence in the center. But as I came near to the last narrowing into Big Bay, I saw the perfect V-profile of a fast flowing rapid emerging and it stemmed from a point on the right shore. It was Whirlpool Point and I was headed for it. but you know, it didnt look too bad from my distance (no whirlpools visible) and I figured I’d be able to paddle strong in the separation line between the current and the counter-current to get beyond the V and that trecherous point. Foolhardy, indeed! I did make it beyond the separation line, and did pass three whirlpools that formed not 20 feet from my port side. But all I could do was hold position against the building flood as I tried to get around some rocks to the side. I could see Big Bay, I could see the homes along the shore…but no party, no fireworks and dancing girls, just me huffing and puffing as I paddled my lights out against a rising flood. If I slid backwards, I was going to end up right in the whirlpools. And if I went any further to the right, I would actually hit the rocks…so hmmm….how to save face on this one….
Well, I paddled to the center of the flow, keeping as much forward position as possible and as my lungs, abs, and arms had ability to, and then I made my way left across the whole channel. and safely to Sea Lion Rock. It was not just a rock, but actually an island with a big grassy top and the leigh of the island provided protection for landing. Aha! So I crossed back out of the Rapids and went to the island and camped for the night. Now with a perfect campsite and vantage point to time the rapids the next day.
- Tent in front of the Big Bay Resorts
The next morning in Big Bay, I had a cup of tea with an English couple aboard their yacht and laughed about the whole experience. Then, in perfect harmony with the tides and slacks, I passed through all three rapids. I even made enough distance with the ebb, that I passed Green Rapids, too!
Then the rains really picked up and I was stymied to make it very far…but eventually made it passed Whirlpool Rapids (my 5th and last rapids, for those counting 🙂 ) and out to the Johnstone Straight. The snows, hails, high winds, and frigid rains over the next few days were far more challenging than the rapids. but the rapids are unique to this waterway that makes the ocean into a two-way Colorado River.
Read Full Post »