At home on the sea (P2)

Residents or visitors to either coast enjoy almost unlimited choices of cruising waters. National marine parks afford some rudimentary services (such as privies on many of the Broken Group of islands in Pacific Rim National Park). But many more experienced kayakers prefer to point their craft into less-traveled waters, paddling alone or in groups as far from civilization as muscle power will take them. Among kayakers in British Columbia, notes Needham, even extended cruises from Alaska are not uncommon. For western travelers who want a destination more exotic than a national park, but not quite as challenging as the Alaskan fjords, a few West Coast outfitters offer packages that include transportation by private floatplane or coastal ferry to untouched coastal archipelagos.

Although the featherweight craft is easy to handle, experienced paddlers urge novices to spend some time two hours with an instructor is often sufficient practicing basic safety maneuvers, including how to right an upside-down kayak. Adequate, warm, weatherproof clothing is essential for extended overnight excursions. And even when setting out in apparently sheltered waters, boaters should never leave shore without the means to find their way back: a compass, a local chart, and up-to-date weather information are essentials. Also mandatory: a personal flotation device, a first-aid kit and some way of signaling for help, such as marine flares.

“Sea kayaking is a lot easier than the river kayaking we’ve done,” said Godbert after her three-day excursion. But when the Wellington dentist and her paddling companion encountered sea fog, a frequent late-summer threat along both west and east coasts, “we were quite unprepared for that.” They admit they were lucky to find their way back.

Guided-tour operators often provide cooking utensils in addition to boat-safety basics. But in most cases, paddlers are expected to provide their own tents, sleeping bags, and sunscreen. Happily, flat-water kayaks, unlike their white-water cousins, are large enough to accommodate ample camping equipment along with a bottle of wine or some other touch of luxury unheard-of among those who explore nature on foot.

Something else that may soon become essential for those venturing into the most popular cruising areas is a reservation. The growing popularity of kayaking has increased pressure on some of the most accessible archipelagos, including the Broken Group of islands. In response, the parks service of Heritage Canada is developing a quota system, likely to be in place by next year, to limit the number of boaters using the most popular areas. A similar system already limits the number of hikers on the neighboring Pacific Rim coastal trail.

On the other hand, adventurous kayakers are increasingly extending the sport’s season. Although May to October is still the peak paddling season on either coast, hardier types can be found nosing their silent craft into unspoiled coves and along the verge of unpopulated beaches throughout the year.

Slassor, in fact, is hoping to join other determined kayakers for her annual Easter pilgrimage to the Broken Islands. “The major drawback,” she says, “is that once you’re out there, you never, ever, want to come back.”

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