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British Columbia's Wild Coast


Murrelet 2PD in British Columbia

Pygmies not only sell boats. We go adventuring in them!


It is 4:30am and I’m standing on the car deck of the Queen of Chilliwack stuffing bags of ramen noodle soup and peanut butter into my kayak. The Queen of Chilliwack follows one of British Columbia’s most picturesque routes, making an overnight voyage from Port Hardy to Bella Coola every two days. We have been onboard since 8pm; now it’s 4:45am and time to disembark. As I groggily stuff bags into hatches, the pain of an early morning is overridden by a sense of expectation and joy. Today I will slide into the wilderness; today I will escape modern life; today three new Pygmy Boat designs will begin extended sea trials along the remote BC coast.
These kayaks came to life over two years ago when John Lockwood parked his camper on the  waterfront of Tigre, Argentina and started designing a series of new kayaks on his laptop. His first design, the Pinguino Sport, was released in 2009 and is a recreational kayak intended for gunkholing and surfing. On our voyage, John is paddling her big sister, the Pinguino 145, which is roomy, comfortable, and maneuverable like her sister, but has the added length needed to keep pace with longer boats. Hannah Barrett and I are paddling the new Murrelet-2PD and the Murrelet-SDC, respectively, which are sleek, low volume, high performance, 22-inch wide, 17-foot long touring kayaks.
ferry doors ready to open


getting ready to paddle

At 5:00am, after threading through remote islands for seven hours, the enormous ferry door, which doubles as the auto ramp, opens like the jaws of a great white shark and we slip out like minnows into the misty Fitz Hugh Sound. As we are “wet launched”, one by one, I think of how amazing the British Columbia Ferry System has been to cruise into a protected bay and hover there to disgorge our thirsty kayaks–what a fantastic service!
I’m the last on board. I zip up my life jacket and cinch my spray skirt tight. Two deck hands dressed in bright orange lift my fully-loaded kayak, carry her to the edge, and lower her down to the launch platform. It’s completely calm; a sea of blue water and mysterious islands peek through the grey mist. As I paddle away, many of the crew and several early rising passengers cheer and wave from the decks above. Then the ferry motors engage and the last outpost of civilization for a hundred miles churns into the distance, leaving us alone with the water and islands.
The tide is going out as we paddle into Sea Otter Inlet. On either side of the passage hundreds of starfish, sea anemones the size of soccer balls, and gooey red sea cucumbers line the shore. Thousands of clamshells gleam on low tidal beaches, and hundreds of translucent blue and orange jellyfish the size of toaster ovens bob by our paddles, silk tentacles loosed like spiders web.
We paddle smoothly, observing the abundance of life in the water. I settle into my boat, feeling the nuances of her design. She is sleek and thin. The deck in front of my arms is even lower than the Arctic Tern 14 and I am able to pull a low strong stroke, which delights me. Her hull plies the water smoothly. She carries me and ninety pounds of camping gear as a horse carries a jockey. My good friend Hannah is in the Murrelet 2PD, which has a higher front deck allowing for more knee and foot room, and a very low rear deck, which is designed for Greenland style rolls. She is not rolling but her boat’s beauty is cause for jealousy. Her cockpit drops from the front deck to the rear in a beautiful curve, which makes every paddle stroke look like she is in the Ferrari of the sea.  John is feeling fast and strong in the Pinguino 145. He is amazed by how comfortable his hip feels. “There is so much room in here I can keep my cranky old body actually comfortable.” We put the boats through their paces, speeding up and looping back. I love how my boat accelerates and holds speed. She is fast. Hannah and I are neck and neck. John, surprisingly, keeps up well. He glows with satisfaction, gloating about putting us young women in longer boats with more wetted surface. His Pinguino 145 is a shorter boat with much less frictional drag, and he can easily keep up with us at cruising speeds.
kayak camping

Our Hakai recreation map tells us there are two campsites in the area, one at the end of Sea Otter Inlet, another looking out at Fitz Hugh Sound. We begin searching for a campsite but the shore gives no clues. The land is rugged. Large boulders line the water’s edge, and above the high tide mark a thicket of small cedar trees and hemlocks twisted like Japanese bonsai march up steep impenetrable hills. We follow the passage until the two islands that are creating the inlet converge at a tidal rapid, which is impassable. We turn around and head back towards where we were dropped off in the morning.
Finally we find a flat spot nested below a large overhanging cedar tree. The flat ground is just above the high tide mark behind a logjam of ancient trees. This means that storms sometimes hit the beach. We carry our boats all the way up the beach, which is cobbled rock and clamshell at low tide. Eventually, our boats are secure, tied to knotty trunks.
kayak expedition: british columbia's remote coast

The day after next we cross Kildet Sound in five foot swells rolling out of Queen Charlotte Sound. It’s fun to ride the rollers up to the top and slide back into the trough. From the top of a large roller I can see the waves crashing on a nearby rocky shore in plumes of frothy white. After a fifteen-mile paddle through myriad islands we land on the sandy beach of Triquet Island. Nestled on the lee side of this paddler’s paradise we build a fire and settle into our camp chairs for the third of many beautiful nights to come. Salty broth warms my stomach and reminds me of the waterlogged islands, the curve of the boats, the reflections of the sea.
Story and Photos: by Freya Fennwood

camping along the BC coast







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