Kayaking the Brooks Peninsula

Kayaking the Brooks Peninsula

Story and photos by Alan Dunham

In late June 2016 I boarded the Uchuck III in Gold River for a ride to Kyuquot, where I was wet launched via their cargo winchcrane while in my kayak.  I then paddled back to Gold River after a detour to the Brooks Peninsula.

Day 0: Campbell River to Gold River

My loaded kayak (sans water) was hand lifted onto the Uchuck mid afternoon Wednesday. I had dinner at The Ridge pub and camped at the municipal campground.

Day 1: Gold River to Bunsby Islands

The Uchuck left Gold River at 7 am and arrived in Kyuquot at 4 pm. It takes the sheltered inside of Nootka Island but then is exposed to swell from Tatchu Pt to Rugged Pt. It stopped at logging camps and fish farms. Elaine the cook makes breakfast and lunch from fresh ingredients; the food was great. The only bears I saw all week were from the Uchuck.

On Wednesday morning, I had written down the Sailflow.com weather prediction for Solander Island from Thursday to Sunday night. It predicted mild NW winds on Friday, mild S winds on Saturday, and mild NW winds on Sunday. This was a perfect combination for a quick trip to the north Brooks. 

After a 5 pm wet launch at Kyuquot, I could have stopped just north of McLean Island, but instead kept going to the Bunsby Islands. I wanted to give myself an advantage for the south to north transit of the Brooks. 

The tidal passage on the north end of McLean Island needs about 8 feet of tide (I’ve been there before); I had 10 feet Thursday night, so it was a useful shortcut. Harbord’s book states that there are no beaches north of McLean Island, but I had landed on two in 2014. 

There were no obvious kayakers in the Bunsby Islands, until I arrived at Island 195 where Doug & Lila welcomed me. We discussed various kayak topics over their campfire until it was time to snooze. Good people. 

Day 2: Bunsby Islands to Nordstrum Creek

This time of year I have no problem waking up early, so I was away at 6 am, towards the Cuttle Islands. I had a good look at Cuttle 125, planning to stop there on my way south, but did not land. 

Just west of the Acous Peninsula, I met Kayak Wendy, who was half way through a circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. 

I landed at Paradise Beach to stretch and eat, but at 7:20 am the day was young, so I kept going. 

The wind was calm along the south side of the peninsula, and I didn’t have to make much of a detour around Clerke Pt. 

The approach to Nordstrum Creek was straightforward, as I had studied the beach at low tide via Google Earth historical imagery. 
There were wolf and bear tracks at Nordstrum, so I found a good tree to hang food from.

Day 3: Nordstrum Creek to Crabapple Islets

The forecast was still for winds from the south (15-25 knots), so I didn’t leave the beach till 7:30 am. The rain & drizzle tapered off while I was loading. The launch was fine in small surf. 

A light south breeze made for easy paddling to the corner south of Cape Cook, staying outside of the obvious rocks. The wind then picked up enough to let me use the sail, which made for a fun short hop to Cape Cook. After that, the wind died down until I was hit by various valley outflows. 

As I approached the Crabapple Islets, I could see something white on the beach. First it looked like a big log, then it looked like tents, finally it turned out to be:

Landing between the Crabapple Islets is easy because they reduce the swell. The surf was even smaller than usual because of the south wind. 

Day 4: Crabapple Islets to Hidden Beach

The forecast was for NW 15-25 knot winds. I left the beach at 6 am to beat the winds to Cape Cook. I was in cloud shadow until the cape, but the sky was blue elsewhere. I paddled past the rocks, then raised the sail in a light wind. I had to paddle as well, but it was still enjoyable until I was slammed by a strong outflow wind down Nordstrum Creek. Lower sail, work south, raise sail, repeat at Amos Creek. The wind died down after Amos and that was it for sailing for the day. 

I stayed out a ways from Clerke Pt but there were no monster waves breaking far out. Mt Paxton is easy to identify (clearcuts) so I then picked out the Bunsby Islands and the Cuttle Islands. It was a fine day (except no wind), so I headed for the Bunsbys. 

I made a lunch stop at the little islet near Cautious Pt, but it looked too exposed for camping in the expected 20-30 knot winds. Onwards. 

Paddling past Thomas Island, I had to make a hard left turn when the passage ahead of me closed out. Getting old is making it hard to see small detail on the charts/GPS. 

Arriving at island 180, I tried the beach south of it but it looked rocky at low tide. Back to the north beach, which I’ll refer to as Hidden Beach. It is wide and protected, with a wide rock free approach in the middle. 

Surf is low because of the island, an offshore reef, and Thomas Island (and the whole Brooks Peninsula). It was covered with dead vegetation, which turned out to be a nice change from camping on sand.

Day 5: Hidden Beach to Pebble Beach

The forecast was for NW 30-35 south of the Brooks. I wanted some wind, but not that much. So I launched early, at 5:20 am. 

There were many sport fishing boats zooming out of Kyuquot, as always. I saw no activity at West Coast Expeditions on Spring Island, but it was still early. 

I easily picked my way through the reefs southeast of the Mission Group, but was then hit by a stronga outflow wind from Crowther Channel. I got past it, only to be blasted again by one from the middle of Union Island (Kyuquot Bay). At this point I could locate Kapoose Pt by the eyesore being constructed on the hill (some jerk’s house). 

There was again a strong outflow from Kyuquot Channel, but no sign of the forecast NW winds. Unless you count a sailboat miles offshore. Once past the channel, I went into the northern corner of the Rugged Point outside beach for a break. Upon leaving, there was a light quartering wind, but it was not enough to do much with. Once I got to Grassy Island I gave up trying to sail and headed in to Pebble Beach ‡, which is just south of Porritt Creek. 

The beach is partially protected by reefs, especially at low tide. It has an excellent pebble beach, many tent sites on a bench, and a view of Grassy Island.

Day 6: Pebble Beach to Nuchatlitz

Again I was up and away early. It was an easy launch, but my skeg picked up a pebble so I had to stop at the reef to clear it. 

Fog rolled in 10 minutes after launch, followed by a noticeable headwind. I checked the GPS at Tatchu rocks, then navigated onwards via glimpses of offshore rocks and surf breaking on shore. The swell was low at Tatchu Pt, so I could pass by only 500 meters out from shore. 

The fog lifted a bit at High Rocks, and I could see my way to Catala Island, where I took a break and a stretch at the west beach. 

My chart and gps both said there was a channel between Catala Is and Twin Is, but I could see waves shooting into the air as they hit a shallows. I went ahead anyway and got briefly grounded. It was interesting as waves rolled in alternately from ahead and behind. It wasn’t long before a wave from the rear lifted my kayak enough to clear the bar. 

Staying on the south/outside of the reefs and rocks ahead, I went ahead to nuchatlitz island 40s, then island 37s, then over to the beach (Logjam Beach ‡) just west of the Grassy Knoll. The islands are small and not very sheltered from wind. Logjam Beach is easy landing on gravel, has no surf, is covered in logs, but there were a couple of spots where tents could be shoehorned in. 

Despite the forecast, the day was without tailwind, thus no sailing was had. I caught a US weather forecast on wx4 while on the water, but not in camp. It mentioned rain on friday. 

The no surf combined with a rising tide convinced me to let the kayak float itself up to the high tide line. Also, the lack of surf promised a quiet night’s sleep!

I didn’t leave the beach till 8 am in an attempt to catch some afternoon wind and do some sailing. The fog rolled in as I was leaving (again), so I headed straight for Ferrer Pt by compass. The point was occasionally visible, which made the crossing much easier. 

There was a mild outflow wind from Nuchatlitz Inlet, but it wasn’t particularly bumpy at Ferrer Pt. The point was not crowded with fishing boats, unlike the last time I was here. 
The fog had mostly lifted by the time I got to third beach, so I stopped for a stretch & snack. I tried to sail past third beach, but it was lame going. 

At Bajo Pt, the swell decreased after turning the corner, and the wind picked up. The sail became useful, and past Beano Creek the sailing was good. At one point, my Pacific Action sail was shaking side to side badly, until I gave it a bit of extra line so some wind could spill out the top. I averaged a boat speed of 8.25 kph § from just west of Macquinna Pt to Yuquot, with very little steering needed. Yahoo! 

I took a break at Yuquot to warm up, followed by light sailing to Narvaez and Clotchman Islands. I checked Charlie’s Beach, but the mess including cooking gear lying around drove me on to the Brickyard. 

Landing was OK at the reasonably high tide, but the many mosquitoes forced me to keep my drysuit on until I was in my tent for the night.

Day 8: Bligh Is to Gold River (and Campbell River)

I expected a long day, so I was away at 6:20 am. I hoped for an inflow wind, but feared I might have to paddle the full 40 km. 

The low tide exposed a rough boatskid with rocks and barnacles, but since the tide would rise a foot in an hour, I positioned my boat accordingly. In the end, I had to shove it forward 2 feet, using some branches to keep it off the rocks. 

Landing at Resolution Cove looked feasible but I wasn’t inclined to putter about. 

The Uchuck went by at 8:15, along the northeast side of Hanna Channel, but I was too far away to wave. 

I checked out a grassy beach past Mooyah Bay, but it was full of barnacled rocks, so my kayak stayed in the water. 

There was some noisy, but interesting, helicopter logging near the east end of Gore Island. 

After crossing to the north side where Muchalat Inlet starts, there was enough wind to raise sail. The wind picked up as I was blown east. Sailing required continuous stern rudders, and occasional bracing as faster waves overtook my kayak. At one point I had to partially lower the sail, but was able to bring it up again later. Boat speed averaged 7.5 kph over 16 km. 

I took out at the First Nations boat ramp, loaded up, and made the relatively short drive back to Campbell River.

The MV Uchuck III makes it easy to do a one way trip down a great stretch of Vancouver Island coastline. Most people would want to arrange a pickup at Yuquot (Friendly Cove). Getting to where you want to paddle and back to Gold River is so convenient thanks to the wet launch and floating pick up service offered by the MV Uchuck III.

Trip Notes
For more info on Uchuck wet launches: 
www.getwest.ca - kayak transportation 
www.getwest.ca - cruise images

Day 1    17 km: Kyuquot - Bunsby 195 
Day 2    28 km: Bunsby - Nordstrum Creek 
Day 3    18 km: Nordstrum Creek - Crabapple Islets 
Day 4    50 km: Crabapples - Hidden Beach 
Day 5    28 km: Hidden Beach - Pebble Beach 
Day 6    27 km:Pebble Beach - Nuchatlitz (Logjam Beach) 
Day 7    52 km: Nuchatlitz - Bligh Island Brickyard 
Day 8    40 km: Brickyard - Gold River 
I’m not a fast paddler, so anything over 30 km is sail assisted and/or a long day.

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