tofino kayaking - heading for the horizon

Heading for the Horizon

by Dan Lewis, Tofino


Water bottle—check. Snack bar—check. Extra sweater, gloves, toque—check. Duct tape—check. Dressed for immersion —check. One hour after maximum ebb. Time for my annual spring expedition to intercept the north-bound Gray Whales.

Riding the tidal flush out to sea. Coming around Clayoquot Island, picking up the tail end of the ebb in Father Charles Channel. Winds are light westerly, not a cloud in the sky. First warm days of spring—nothing better. Hope I see some whales!

Starting to pick up some swell. The horizon obscures occasionally—seas must be a metre or more. Flushing past Wickaninnish Island. Last chance to pull ashore, passing by. Shouldn’t have had that second cup of coffee—too late now.

Taking my time. Remembering: enjoy the journey, not the destination. Suddenly, McKay Reef. The final thin line of rocks extending from Lennard Island all the way up to Sea Otter Rock. Call home to do a radio check. No answer—Bonny must be in the garden, soaking up some rays.

Time to head offshore. But first, must relieve my bladder. A delicate operation at sea in the best of conditions. Not made easier by the fact I’m alone. Or the five foot seas. Thank goodness I don’t paddle a skinny boat!

A simple hiker’s compass laid on my spraydeck. Turning the boat around, take a bearing on Lone Cone Mountain (Wah Nah Juus) on Meares Island. Now I can use the back bearing. The plan is to shoot 3 miles straight out to sea. Start the timer on my watch—this should take about an hour if I keep moving.

Settling into a steady rhythm. This feels great, if slightly crazy. I can hear the whale-watchers chattering away on Channel 18. Sounds like the whales are about 3 miles north of where I’m headed. Don’t have the luxury of changing course and motoring over. But there are bound to be more whales coming—twenty thousand in total, and this is the peak of their migration. I turn the radio off and keep paddling.

Believe. Tune in to the energy of these remarkable creatures who annually make the longest migratory swim of any mammal—a 12,000 mile round trip. Passing right by my home, just offshore. Try to feel the whale energy, tune in to their presence.

Faint whiffs of rancid fish-breath in the air. Whales must be close. Hard to see them from my low vantage point, especially with the waves. Suddenly, that familiar sound of a whale spouting, the giant hollow sound as her lungs refill before diving. Must be close. Watching, waiting. There! Right there, not 100 feet away. A few more spouts and she is gone.

It’s getting late. I’m a couple of miles offshore, heading for the horizon, and I feel great! Paddling on like there’s no tomorrow, as if the harsh realities of darkness on the open coast don’t matter. Nothing matters now, except paddling on toward the horizon and watching for whales.

A couple of working skiffs pass by, heading down the coast. Packing it in for the day. This could be a sign. Time to hang out for a while, enjoy the panorama, listen, and wait for a few more whales. I can see the west coast of Vancouver Island spread out, all the way from Nootka Island to Bamfield. So many memories of paddling all these places, and all the companions from around the world on various trips.

Another spout brings me out of my reverie. Two more whales, close by. A whale blows as I crest a wave—I see the glistening arched back, the blowhole, the heart-shaped mist swept away by the breeze.

Time to go home now.

Suddenly, the islands look farther away and I feel very small. Tired. I knew all along that getting back would be the hard part. No worries. Focus on paddling. McKay Reef looks to be about three miles away. Should be able to make it in an hour, get there right after sunset. I know I can do it.

An hour and a half later. That felt like an eternity. Sure was nice to stop and watch the sun sink into the open Pacific, again and again as the swells rolled under me. By now the flood will have picked up, so I’ll get a nice ride back. Sure could use a stretch, see if my legs still work! I pull up on the first white shell beach, eat the last of my snack bar, drink the last of my water.

The full moon is rising over Mount Colnett (Hilth-Hoo-Iss) on Meares Island. Moonlight sparkling on the light chop, residue of the day’s breeze. Calm now. Heavenly. And the tide is working its magic in reverse, drawing me inexorably back to where I came from. Now I can see our cabin’s solar-powered lights, a gift from the sun. Staggering up the beach, dragging my butt up the steps. Opening the door to the warmth of the woodstove and the aroma of cooking. Glad to be home.

Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck operate Rainforest Kayak Adventures in Clayoquot Sound 1-877-422-wild or visit

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Tofino seakayaking guide Dan Lewis describes the joy he gets from a kayak trip into Clayoquot Sound.

tofino time march 2005

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