Tofino Seakayaking: Don't be a Speedbump!
by Dan Lewis, Tofino
When I get in my little kayak inn Tofino and head off into the great
beyond, I am rarely alone. I find myself in the company of powerboats,
run-abouts to water-taxis, to huge fish farm freighters. Trying not
to get run over becomes a prime goal.
There is one simple way to avoid getting run over-stay close to shore!
Usually the water is shallow there, so boats would run aground before
they could hit a kayak. Even if it's deep, most power-boaters
don't go too fast when they're five feet or less from shore.
Ten feet from shore, in deep water-yes. I've seen boaters who
know the area zoom through deep, confined channels at full bore, scattering
kayakers and seabirds alike.
So when I say stay close to shore, I mean really hug the shore. This
is the place you'll see the most-it's the place where sea,
sky, and land meet. You can relax, let the rhythm of paddling lull
you into an alpha state, shift into your right brain, let your mind
run wild, and think about a lot of things.
Kayakers are not really popular with powerboaters here in Tofino
and Clayoquot Sound – they call us "speed-bumps".
No wonder – we
show up every summer in hordes like clockwork, and then paddle about
as if we're in la-la land, like a bunch of people on holiday.
And it really annoys some people who are just trying to make a living
driving a boat in Tofino in order that they, too, can take off somewhere
else and act like a tourist!
I know, when I started paddling, it was to get away from rules, regulations,
all that stuff. I was in a little world of my own, out in my own
canoe, so to speak. And that kind of approach works just fine, if you
paddle within 5 feet of shore.
Of course, there comes a time when you want to leave the shore-maybe
you're late for the ferry or work, or you want to cross to that
island over there. And that is fine. I would urge you, at those times,
to be conscious of why you are leaving shore, and to choose the style
of travel which is most appropriate. As soon as you leave shore, wake
up, snap out of la-la land, and conduct yourself as if you were skipper
of a vessel on the sea-because you are!
Another style of travel is "point-to-point". This is used
when you realise that you've been paddling all day, and are only
one mile from your last campsite. Point-to-point travel keeps you relatively
close to shore, but you can cover a bit more distance. Basically, when
you get to the entrance of a bay, head for the point on the far side.
If you're travelling in an area with tidal currents of 2-3 knots,
and the tide is going with you, it can be advantageous to skirt along
the edge of the channel, rather than going deep into every bay, fighting
against the back-eddies you'll find there.
Travelling point-to-point, you do need to keep an eye out for traffic.
Because you're on a line connecting the two points of a bay,
you are essentially still hugging the edge of the channel or coast
from the perspective of a power-boater, and thus will still be out
of their way, especially the larger vessels such as cruise ships or
freighters. The main thing to watch for is boats leaving the bay you're
crossing – especially if there's a marina or village at
the head of the bay.
Sometimes you'll find you have to use a third style of travel,
which is a "crossing". All things being equal, it's
usually best to make all crossings as short as possible, by travelling
on a straight line between the two closest points. If there is boat
traffic, cross perpendicular to the flow of traffic. Big boats in the
distance will arrive much faster than you would think – wait
and let them pass. It's hard for power-boaters to avoid something
they can't see, and by some ancient law of the sea, kayakers
are invisible – at least it's safest to assume so – no
matter how brightly coloured our gear.
The final style is offshore travel, that is, cruising right down
the channel as if you were a mighty vessel, with all the rights and
of a BC Ferry. This is your right, but if you're going to do
it, be aware of other boaters, and learn the 'rules of the road'.
Stay out of shipping lanes, which are marked on charts.
Most boats tend to drive like cars do in North America-pass to the
right of on-coming vessels. Try to stay on the right side of the channel.
Watch out for boats bigger than you, and assume they haven't
seen you. Use your VHF radio to hail other skippers on Channel 16 if
you're uncertain (the emergency channel so keep it brief). And
make the responsibility for not getting run over yours.
One final note on boating etiquette-when boats are getting close,
make eye contact with the driver, then nod or wave. There's a certain
style when waving to boat drivers-watch how they return your wave and
you'll catch on. Do not wave your hand back and forth over your
head, as if someone is fixing to die-unless someone is! Just raise
your hand up beside your face, and do a little back-and-forth motion,
from the wrist. If the skipper returns your wave, chances are she or
he has actually seen you, and realises that you're awake and
aware of them, too. Anxiety is decreased; and both parties sigh in
Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck operate Rainforest Kayak Adventures,
a Tofino sea kayak company in Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. Visit their website or
call them at 1-877-422-WILD
Tofino sea kayaking maven Dan Lewis writes about safety precaution in this article about seakayak etiquette in Tofino and Clayoquot Sound.