The Broughton Archipelago
In August 2016, KJ and I spent 10 days paddling our Clipper Tripper Kevlar canoe from Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island, BC through the Broughton Archipelago.
Watch the video or scroll down to read the story.
At Telegraph Cove, early on our first morning, we checked in with a guide company with our intended return date as a safety measure, loaded the canoe and headed out, paddling east along the shore of Johnstone Strait for a few kilometres. Before crossing the strait to Hanson Island, we used our VHF radio to call Marine Traffic Services to check for vessel traffic. Then, after getting the all clear, we crossed easily and continued east along the shore until we reached pretty Little Hanson Island where we camped.
Early the next morning, we crossed Blackney Passage in a very thick fog at slack tide without incident using compass bearings we had taken the previous evening.
Continuing on, we paddled in calm waters through Indian Channel to Village Island where we (mostly I) got a little confused by the myriad islands. We did figure it out, eventually, and continued on past Crease Island to a camp on Owl Island.
On the third morning, we waited for another heavy fog to lift before setting out to Bonwick Island by way of Seabreeze Island. Continuing along the west side of Bonwick through a maze of tiny islands, we crossed Arrow Passage then up Spiller Passage, ending our long day at Insect Island.
The camp at Insect is way above the water and given the expected high tide, we decided to carry our canoe 50 vertical feet up the steep path to the lovely campsite.
The next day, we felt confident with the weather forecast we heard on our VHF radio, so we made our way along Fife and Hornet Passages to the Burdwood Group. There, we camped on a small island in whose sheltered bay were moored several boats. Though the weather was cool and skies were cloudy, we enjoyed relaxing on the beautiful white clamshell midden beach. That midden indicates the long history of First Nations’ use of the land and sea.
Since leaving Hanson, we had not seen any big marine life, but the area was still beautiful, though we did pass several fish farms. (Please don’t eat Atlantic salmon—this is where they are grown and they endanger wild Pacific salmon stocks).
Heading south to the put in, we stopped at Pierre’s near Echo Bay to stock up on water and camped on one of the islands in the Fox Group. We were lucky to find a small spot for our tent, because all the other tent sites were being used by a large commercial group.
The following day, we headed south along the east side of Bonwick to the Sedge Islands, then crossed Spring Passage to Fire Island SW of Cedar Island and crossed to isolated Whitecliffs Island under blue skies and calm water.
At the island, the carry to get our gear and canoe above the high tide line was hard, but at least we landed at high tide, which made the landing easy. Another commercial group arrived just after us, but we had time to get a stunning tent site overlooking broad George Passage and distant Queen Charlotte Sound. All evening we delighted in watching and listening to humpback whales and seeing a few curious sea lions.
Loading and getting into the canoe the next morning at low tide was very difficult, as we don’t like to scratch our canoe. So, to keep the canoe off the jagged mussels and rocks, we placed the canoe in a tiny bay with one end suspended on a long log spanning the bay and the other in the water. As I was placing gear into the boat, I got knocked by a wave and brushed my leg against the rough wall lining that tiny bay. The deep scratches on my leg took weeks to heal.
Once we were on the water, we headed towards Swanson Island, where we found ourselves enveloped in a thick fog. As we paddled, we heard the sound of a humpback nearby, so we stopped to listen, hoping to catch a glimpse. We never saw it, but we enjoyed just listening to it breath. On we went, following the SW side of Swanson in Blackfish Sound to a small point across Flower Island. By that time, the fog had lifted, and we spent several hours relaxing on the beach under the bright sun in a gentle warm breeze.
The winds stayed calm, so we decided to carry on and cross Blackfish Sound. I called Marine Traffic Services to ask about incoming vessels and the operator told me that a cruise ship was due imminently. Just then, I looked up and saw a huge, really huge, cruise ship crossing our intended path. Man, those things move fast and are surprisingly quiet.
When the coast was clear, literally, we zoomed across the sound, then headed west on Hanson’s north side. The many deep bays lining that coast made it quite difficult to figure out which was the passage before the Plumper Islands. After what seemed to be an interminable time, we found the passage and were lucky that the tide pushed us along at a rapid but safe rate.
The SW tip of the island has a campsite, but it was already full with a commercial group. A few kilometres east, we found an empty commercial site with a well designed kitchen, toilet and tent sites. We made it home for two nights.
From our beach, we watched orcas pass by in Johnstone Strait and saw the spouts from humpbacks just a kilometre away.
The marine life around Hanson is amazing, as the strong currents stir up plenty of nourishment. So, though we were only a few kilometres from Telegraph Cove, we decided to spend our penultimate day paddling along the shore to enjoy the sights. As we paddled along, we stopped often to gaze at the colourful plants and animals just beneath the water’s surface. I even snagged a prize floating by the shore–a six pack of my favourite drink, diet Coke.
We lunched on Little Hanson and through binoculars watched a pod of orcas hunting in the turbulent water off Cracroft Point, surrounded by whale watching boats. We also marveled at the very fast current in Blackney Passage. We were happy that we had timed our crossing so well eight days earlier.
Soon, it was time to head back to our camp, and as we began paddling, we noticed the orcas heading our way. We moved out into the strait beside about a dozen guided kayakers and then delighted as the orcas passed right by us.
By then, a headwind had risen and so, we followed within feet of shore to take advantage of every lee. We even managed to keep up to the orcas in the middle of the strait.
Finally, arriving back at camp, we ate our last meal, took some bearings to the mainland in case the morning was foggy and went to bed early. As I tried to fall asleep, still buzzing from our amazing encounter with the orcas, I heard the telltale sound of a nearby humpback. I crept down to the water’s edge to listen and perhaps spot it. After half an hour of listening, I went back to bed, but the noisy animal kept me up for a long time. Pretty cool way to be kept awake.
While the next morning was clear, the skies were dark and waves lined the strait. We didn’t see whitecaps, which mark the limit of our canoeing comfort, so we put the skirt on the canoe, checked in with Marine Traffic Services to make sure no ships would be travelling down the strait and headed out.
The crossing was a bit challenging, but within our limit, and soon we were across. For a final reward, we sighted a couple of Dall porpoises before turning into Telegraph Cove to end our ten-day, 160 km adventure.