Crossing Burrard Inlet: A Reconnaissance Mission

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The view from Spanish Banks East Concession out over Burrard Inlet to Point Atkinson. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

I have some lofty ideas on the horizon for my SUP adventures. I have yet to do an overnight trip. My long-term goal is to do the Sea to Sky Marine Trail from Vancouver to Squamish. But after assessing the specific details I have come to the conclusion that it would be prudent to build up to that distance/duration of a paddle. So my short-term goal is to accomplish an overnighter soon (though I am not super keen on doing a fall/winter camp). A trip to Bowen Island for an overnighter (with or without a circumnavigation of the island) seems like a reasonable distance in my mind (provided camping on the island is allowed which I was surprised to see may not be). If camping is not permitted I will default to doing a one-night trip to one of the Sea to Sky Marine Trail sites.

If Bowen Island is in the cards my plan would be to leave from Spanish Banks. This would allow me to take an Evo Car Share down to my launch point so that I do not need to be dropped off or take away our single-family car. From Spanish Banks, the plan would be to cross the Burrard Inlet to Point Atkinson, then head to Passage Island, before continuing on to Bowen Island near Apodaca Provincial Park. So with a little bit of time and no wind to seek out today Trevor and I decided to give the crossing a go and do some reconnaissance.

When we arrived at Spanish Banks East Concession there was a gentleman getting ready to row. He had two halves of his boat which he pulled out of the back of his pickup truck and then carried them individually down to the water. We did not see how he put them together, as we were getting our own kit together, but it was quick. And then he was off.

Before heading out we checked the Port of Vancouver tanker/boat traffic here. Nothing was on the horizon so it was go-time. I plan to do a VHF Radio course soon for an added level of water safety given my adventures will be taking me further and further from shore/civilization. The conditions were decent with only a little bit of wind, though we would have an incoming/slacking tide and a light rain forecasted for a bit later in the paddle. We were on the water just after 0930.

Me crossing Burrard Inlet with an “artsy water mark” that “came to me somewhere between seeing your reflection on the water, admiring the snow capped mountain, and try [sic] to stop my ass from falling in the water” (Mazurek in WhatsApp communication, 2020). Photo by Trevor Mazurek.

The paddle over to Point Atkinson was pleasant with mild conditions and pacific (šŸ˜‰) conversation. We had a time constraint in that Trevor need to pick up his kids at 1300 so at about four-fifth of the first crossing we need to decide whether we could make it all the way and then back. The current was now aiding us along but that meant we’d be fighting it for the way back. We decide that we would have enough time if we pushed the tempo and turned around to come back as soon as we arrived. The conversation stalled and we put our heads down and started to paddle.

The Port Atkinson Lighthouse from a distance just before we decide we need to pick up the pace. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

We made it across in about 1 h 15 m. I wrestled with whether or not to take a photo. You can see what the answer was below. My dilemma was around the degree to which technology takes away from being present in the moment. I am completely content with living through my experiences and often do not seek to photograph them. But I am always pleased to review photos after the fact when I or someone else has taken them. Furthermore, now that I have started this blog project I feel a slight obligation to document my experience with images that I perhaps would not take purely for myself. It raises the questions as to why I am writing the blog. Is it to recount my experience for myself or for others. The answer is both and hence the resolution to take more photos. The old English adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” summarizes the rationale, it much easier to deliver inspiration via an image than rhetorically.

Trevor in front of the Point Atkinson Lighthouse. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

As we turned around to head back more clouds rolled in and light rain started. I love the look of rain on a body of water as the surface is riddled with droplets and ripple pools (I skipped taking a picture, but as I write this I am feeling a bit regretful).

We were pushed on time so we were paddling hard. I had planned to have a snack at Point Atkinson but skipped it in the interest of time. Fortunately, I was keeping an eye out for ship traffic as a noticed a tanker ship in the distance coming towards the harbour. The race was on! Trevor put on the jets and pulled ahead of me as I battled against the waters and light headwind. Every time I looked over my right shoulder the ship was still there and I was still dead centre in front of the bow! Finally, after a serious slog, we were clear of the ship’s apparent trajectory. When I did finally get close we were well beyond its reach but we were not taking any risks. I had read enough accounts about how fast ships actually travel in comparison to your paddling speed as well as their inability to see you once they are close, let alone evasively manoeuvre if they do see you that I was not going to take any chances for my first encounter.

The net result of the tanker race and my skipped snack was that I bonked. It was a battle from thereon to get back to the shoreline and I was thankful to have Trevor in the lead giving me a target to try to hold on to.

As we passed by the moored tankers on the Spanish Banks side of the inlet we spotted a tugboat fast approaching. Time to pick up the pace again. At first, it seemed that the tug wanted to pass on our shoreline side but eventually either we advanced enough or he changed course so that again there was ample room. Both Trevor and I hoped to catch an extra push from its wake but by the time it passed us we were outside of the wake’s reach.

Perhaps it was my fatigued wishful thinking or just a genuine misread but as we approached Spanish Banks we both momentarily mistook the west concession stand for the east one. In my hypoglycaemic state, it was insult added to injury. Thankfully it was not much further and we were now riding the tide in.

We made it! Reconnaissance intelligence tells me it will be a long paddle and that pacing, nutrition, and boat surveillance will all be necessary for a successful future touring trip.

Our Route

Google Fit activity tracker screenshot.

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