Kayaking The Gulf Islands, British Columbia

by Anne Dimon

It’s a beautiful sunny morning in April and we’re in a ‘weather window’ on Mayne Island, one of the smallest of the B.C. Gulf Islands. It rained yesterday, the forecast is more rain for tomorrow, but today is perfect for kayaking. Standing on Mayne Island’s pebbled beach, Jen McGuinness of B.C.-based Ecosummer Expeditions and I are attired in our rubber kayaking skirts waiting for ‘slack tide’ – the calm between ebb and flow – to launch.

Kayaking is becoming a great activity for both physical and mental health. Depending on a person’s weight, level of fitness and how hard he or she works to propel the kayak through the waters, the activity can burn 250-350 calories per hour. It’s good for shoulders, upper arms, forearms and, as one’s technique improves, abdomen and lower back muscles also get a work-out. A indoor gym is no substitute for working out in an environment of crisp sea air that helps clear the mind and refresh the senses. Thinking of booking a kayaking vacation? A few tips to help you have better exerience

Credit: Thinkstock – mihtiander

As slack tide arrives, Jen and I push the double kayak into ankle-deep water, comfortably seat ourselves into our individual cockpits and snap ourselves in so that the water ‘skirts’ protect us from dripping paddles and wayward waves.

Escorted by the plaintive cry of seagulls, we follow the rocky shore line of Mayne Island heading towards Galiano Island, a distance of about 4 km. With low tide, more of the rocky coast is exposed and this is the perfect opportunity to gaze upon purple star fish clinging to the rocks. There is also lots of seaweed including the startling electric blue bioluminescent that glows below the water’s surface.

A B.C. native, Jen launched her kayaking career eight years ago and since then has taken many kayaking ‘newbies’ out to meet the waves. She says women tend to learn more quickly than men because they listen and ask questions, and follow the technique instead of just muscling through the stroke.

There’s lots of wild life out here today – Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons and all sorts of seabirds. We stop to watch sea lions, their smooth shiny little heads bobbing just beyond the paddle’s reach, spot a rare Rhinoceros Auklet with a tiny horn on its beak and, as we glide into shore, gaze upon cormorants standing on high pilons drying their water-logged wings in the wind. I learn there’s a family of 80 to 90 orcas that resides in these waters. No worries Jen tells me when she sees the cloud of concern cross my face – ‘they are fish eating.’ As we near dockside at the low-key residential community of Galiano Bay, a river otter is coming straight for us but dips underwater and disappears before I can reach into the dry bag for my camera.

After a healthy and reenergizing lunch at Woodstone Country Inn, it’s back into the kayak for the paddle back. As the late afternoon currents stir up nutrients from the seabed, swarming schools of fish bring the terns and sabine gulls who feast in a frenzy until a ferry steams by, giving rise to a thick cloud of screeching seabirds. The kayak rocks like a cradle in the ferry’s wake.

Drifting like the tuffs of clouds overhead, my thoughts turn to a hot whirlpool bath to ease sore muscles, a gourmet dinner and a comfortable bed at Oceanwood Country Inn one of several local inns that are part of Ecosummer Expeditions’ multi-day kayaking experiences. I quickly steer the mind back to the task at hand. My paddle and I are in the moment. Totally zen.

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