Saturday, May 21, 12022 HE
We spent a night in North Vancouver with my in-laws, so I planned for an afternoon paddle on the North Shore. Last year, on the May long weekend, I tried to paddle from Ambleside to Caulfeild Cove but was stymied by the lack of afternoon parking. In the end, I defaulted to Caulfeild Cove and managed to find parking there. Typically I paddle there early in the morning, so parking is not an issue. My 12021 May-long adventure resulted in me coming across a stranded kayaker calling for help. The kayaker’s troubles were ultimately the result of an accident compounded by some poor paddling precautionary practices, in my opinion.
Given my parking experience last year, I was apprehensive about departing in the afternoon since the weather was nice. We’ve had more of a spr-inter than spring this year so far. When I arrived, I was surprised to see the bulk of the parking near the cove cordoned off. The accompanying signage explained that a crew was filming an action scene on the water. You could still access the dock and water but under your own assumption of risk. And doing so would waive your rights and allow the producer to use any footage of you without compensation. I had no problem with that, so I ventured on. There would be a helicopter and jet skis filming/doing stunts. That explained the ambulances and paramedics that I had seen parked in wait.
Today’s paddle was my first dock launch on my new board. I wasn’t thrilled about the potential audience and possibility of recording, but I was willing to run the risk. Thankfully the crew wasn’t filming from the dock and my launch went according to plan.
I made my way out of Caulfeild toward Eagle Point into some half-metre waves. Around the point crossing Starboat Cove, there were some challenging currents to contend with, coupled with the wind and tide. My NSP Carolina catches waves much more readily than my inflatable Blackfin, and I was still getting used to the new sensation of my boarding wanting to be whisked away by waves. The crosscurrents were particularly problematic as they would yaw my SUP, which I found challenging to counter.
As I approached the Point Atkinson Lighthouse, I was treated to a taste of nature’s delight. An eagle swooped down to the water in front of me. It attempted to catch something in its talons. Then rose about a metre out of the water before dropping down again to rest in the water. Within seconds it was back up in the air and circling for another attempt. I contemplated getting my cellphone out to record, but I was nervous about multitasking. Balancing on my board proved challenging enough, let alone recording in the mixing waters. While I hesitated, the eagle turned, coming back for another dive. This time it was successful. Reaching down with its talons while grazing the water’s surface, the eagle then rose triumphantly in the air, flying away with a fish (salmon?) in its clasp. I cheered in excitement, “Yeah!” surprising myself. The eagle flew to the shore, where it landed perched on top of its prey. I watched it for some time on the rocks while it waited for its catch to demise. A seagull circled overhead, hoping for a botched kill by the eagle. But as far as I could tell, that was a dead fish. I didn’t stick around for the end of the performance. I had my sights set on getting around Passage Island.
On the west side of Point Atkinson, slightly north, two paddleboarders were resting on their boards in a small cove. My route required me to veer away from the shore. I set my sights on the north end of Passage Island. While it may make for an upwind paddle southward in the Queen Charlotte Channel on the west side of Passage Island, I hoped to take advantage of westerly winds on my return toward Point Atkinson. About halfway between Point Atkinson and Passage Island, I started questioning my decision. The wind and current were more southerly than I had anticipated. Some of the southerly waters surprised me and sent me soaring into the air as I lost my balance and decided to abandon ship and steer clear of the dugout rails of my board. I was happy that I had decided to wear my semi-drysuit despite knowing how hot it would be on board in the sun. The cool water was refreshing as I scrambled back to my board before continuing. I had several more near falls, saved only by paddle slaps and righting reactions.
Closer to Passage Island, I took the following photos. The first is of the south end of Passage Island looking southwest.
The photo below is looking north into Átl’ka7tsem (Howe Sound). Whytecliff Point is on the right, and Nex̱wlélex̱m (Bowen Island) is to the left. Cha7élkwnech (Gambier Island) is behind Nex̱wlélex̱m (Bowen Island), and Lhaxwm (Anvil Island) is hazily seen just left of the centre, with Mount Wrottesley rising in the centre background.
As I had come to expect upon nearing the northern side of Passage Island, traveling southward along the western side of the island was into waves and wind. But the NSP Carolina handled the head-on chop with ease. It was the cross-chop that was challenging.
And toward the east, the view over Vancouver had some incredible cloud formations.
I took the image below a little later on.
Shortly after taking the photo above, an interesting scenario unfolded. After catching some side chop, I lost my balance and fell in. After getting back on my boarding and standing, I almost immediately fell in again. It was as if I had lost my balance. Surprised and frustrated, I remounted my board and rose to my feet again. I struggled to maintain my balance, with my legs feeling weak and wobbly. I fell in for the third time. Now I was feeling a bit worried. After my Project Paddle Buntzen Lake circumnavigation, I had a few days of intense back pain. That’s out of the ordinary for me but something I regularly see at work as a physiotherapist. Interestingly, after the first two days of acute pain and stiffness, I had hardly any pain afterward. Though, I couldn’t help but think that I was still undergoing neurological symptoms (dysaesthesia and asthenia) but not experiencing pain. I clambered to my board for a third time. A brief moment of panic set in. Sure the waters’ were choppy, but I shouldn’t be falling-in left, right, and centre. Something was off. It was then that I realized that my legs felt like they were partially asleep. As I paddled from my knees momentarily, I took stock of my situation. I was far from the shore. It was a long way to paddle on my knees, but it was doable. There were several powerboats and sailboats nearby that I could signal for help if my pride would let me. I had my cellphone with me if I needed to call for help, provided I had reception. My father-in-law was sailing nearby, and I could call him (again if I had reception). I had worst-case scenario options, so I switched my focus to my legs. Was it the radiculopathic dysaesthesia and asthenia taking hold? Or was it something more benign? The choppy water, combined with a less stable board, resulted in much less footwork and had been death gripping the deck with my feet. In addition, I think the harder standing surface on a hardboard, compared to an inflatable, fatigues my feet faster. Maybe my feet were asleep simply because they hadn’t moved around enough? I could feel that my legs were tired. Perhaps this had been too ambitious a paddle post-coronavirus infection with a new board and in more open water conditions. I pumped my ankles and rocked back and forth on my knees to help circulate the blood in my legs. I rose to stand once more. I was definitely wobbly. My legs felt Jell-O like. An hour-plus of a quarter-squat position to deal with the choppiness had taken its toll. I need to do more strength training, I thought. While I didn’t feel graceful, I was able to stand. And after paddling for a bit, my legs felt like they regained awareness. I made a conscious effort to shift my foot position and stand taller during the recovery phase of my stroke, fully extended my knees to give my thigh muscles a rest. Now my worry shifted to my forearms which had a similar sensation of fatigue but also felt like they might cramp. I made a concerted effort to loosen my grip on the paddle shaft and open and extend my fingers on the T-handle to stretch my forearms as I paddled. It was going to be a slog to get back, but I was confident I could do it.
With a shift to focusing on paddling more in a relaxed state, my forearms and thighs let go some. I still had several postural wavers as I struggled to keep my balance with tired legs, but I didn’t fall in again. In hindsight, I think my leg troubles were a combination of poor hydration, some deconditioning/under-preparedness, and some underlying low-level neuropathy.
As I paddled toward Point Atkinson, it reminded me of a post I recently read from The Outdoor Family blog. The author, Billy, reflects on some of the things he did right, was lucky with, and some things that he needs to correct. I created a mental checklist of similar variables and considered some what-if scenarios in my head. For example, what if my forearms had cramped and I couldn’t paddle? Or my legs cramped in that matter? Neither situation would be ideal. Though, I felt like I had a non-zero probability of solving those scenarios. I had some safety checks in place (e.g., mode of communication, line of sight to other vessels, PFD, friend’s and family that knew my whereabouts, etc.).
In any case, two takeaways for future paddle adventures were better hydration and more footwork. I need to hydrate better in life in general. The potential muscle cramping was another reminder of that. And, I think if I had been more nimble on foot throughout my paddle as opposed to only after the feeling in my feet was fleeing, I could have avoided the frequent falling fiasco fully, if not fractionally.
The rest of the way back to Caulfeild Cove was relatively uneventful. The winds had died down, so I had little push from behind. I passed the two SUPers from before, now at a small cove closer to Point Atkinson.
Closer to Caulfeild Cove, the waters were calmer, and I contemplated practicing some buoy turns around what I thought were two closely positioned crab-trap buoys. But as I approached them, I realized that one buoy was adorned with Go-Pro cameras. I wasn’t sure why? Perhaps they were spares from the film crew to rotate through? In any case, I wasn’t going to do multiple turns around the crew’s camera-laden buoy, so I made my way to the dock to land.
Back at my in-laws’ place, I took advantage of their yard space to clean my kit.
And have a post-paddle pint!
I was glad that the only tug needed (wanted?) for this paddle was a beer.