Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Paddling Sparrow's Island - 7

Our hosts could not have been kinder to us. We were wined and dined and taken all over the island to visit the sights. Sadly the satyrs had long since died out, but the huge nine foot tall ruka birds still lived in the southern parklands where they tended the trees. The blue pigs in the swamps provided the monthly ceremonial meals now the satyrs were gone, which pleased me just as well. Somehow, eating mythological beasts was a bit beyond the pale...

I was anxious to visit the ancient Temple of Gir. I wanted to see the mirror that foretold the future. Alas, the temple was a ruin, nearly impossible to get to let alone enter. After a day spent hacking a path up to its red rock walls, the best we could do was peer into one of the remaining hallways. The roof over the mirror hall had collapsed and lay buried under tons of rubble. Many of the remaining walls, now mostly returned to the jungle, seemed ready to come down as well.

Captain Sparrow's enclosure had also returned to nature, although a few people maintained hunting camps in the area for old times sake and rough roads made it somewhat accessible on four wheeled ATV's. The original pirate settlers had all been killed by the giant ruka birds, something that began at the end of Wright's book. Today's human population had grown from a number of castaways like those whose story is told in his book. How they managed to build such an incredible city would be a book in itself and can only be imagined...

Our kayak decks, loaded with fresh fruit and gifts, we launched and waving our goodbye's, we headed westward to complete our circumnavigation. After all we had seen and done, it was difficult to match the experiences we'd already had. However one further adventure was discovered: a narrow slit leading into the cliffs on the west coast. It was a giant blow-hole, perfect for nosing our boats in where we'd lie in wait for the swell to blow. At that point we'd get to ride the wave back out, surfing down it's face back to sea at great speed, as the cliffs raced by in a spray filled blurr. It was so much fun, we entered the cleft again and again in spite of the fact that we were frequently rolled by the surging waters of the incoming swell we met on the ride back out.

Fortunately the seas remained favourable for paddling the remainder of the way around Sparrow's Island and we were soon back with our waiting friends on board the mothership. Naturally they were in awe of our stories and, after giving us a few good pokes in the ribs, suggested we best be off homeward before we came up with any other wild stories. Our attempts to prove the places we'd seen actually existed, proved fruitless, our decks having been swept clean in our exuberance at the blow-hole didn't help either...


And so ends our make-believe circumnavigation of Swallow's Island, an imaginary place first described by S. Fowler Wright in 1928. Thanks to all who unknowingly contributed photos to the story. Those places actually do exist and someday perhaps you'll get out to paddle them. Perhaps some of you already have. Or maybe, like me, you are still dreaming about getting out there!

• I'll take a break and be back in January •

Monday, December 22, 2008

Paddling Swallow's Island - 6

Obviously either our charts were seriously out of date, this isn't an imaginary island made up by Fowler Wright, or the discontinuity we'd passed through at the headland was more serious than we imagined. Ahead of us, spread for kilometers along the cliffs lay a magnificent sea-side city devoted, it would appear, to a Club Med lifestyle. Hotels and condos stretched to the horizon, cascading off the cliffs into the sea below. All manner of watercraft filled the bay before us.

Where to go was the question, but that was soon answered for us when a hard hulled Zodiac sped up to our kayaks, circled and motioned us towards a marina about a kilometer ahead of us. As we entered the enclosing breakwaters, a young boy in a light skiff pointed to a dock low enough to the water to enable us to disembark without having to climb a sea-wall. People began crowding around us, talking and jestering, all very excited, but unfortunately for us, completely unintelligibly!

Soon someone who appeared to be in charge motioned us to follow him, indicating first to the crowd that they were to leave our kayaks alone and leave the area as well, which they did. We entered a building at the foot of the marina's dock area and were shown showers and changing rooms. Perfect, I thought thinking a cold beer would be even better. No sooner had the thought come into my head when two boys rounded the corner with a ice chest trolley. Cold beer! Life was good and getting better!

We both changed out of our paddling gear, basically our swim suits and so on, and slipped on some street apparel. Back in the main room of what I gathered was the marina lounge, our new friend attempted to speak with us, but other than the odd word here and there, it was clear we had few words in common. Thinking back to Wright's book, it occurred to me that a mixture of slang English and French was originally spoken on the island, but so much time had passed, neither of these languages appeared to have survived in anything like their original form.

What was clear however, was the fact that we were guests. Dinner was being laid out in the lounge and we were made to understand rooms had been given to us for the night! I wonder, briefly, should I try contacting our mothership...?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Paddling Swallow's Island - 5

The closer we got to the sea stacks, the more I could see we were in for some fun. The swell coming in from the northeast was long and lazy and about 2 meters in height. I watched as each wave would rush up the weed covered rock faces, creating a valley of swirling water behind it. Eager to get in the midst of it, we headed outward and then dove into the next wave front. Our boats carved lines in towards the stack, but responded to our edges as we surfed up the wave face as it approached the rocks. I was reminded of snow-mobiling giant curves into steep hillsides back when I lived in the far north. The sensation here was much the same but this time there was no trace of our track in the water. There were seemingly endless places to play in the waves and rocks and we took advantage of everyone we could reach.

We must have played for several hours, dodging in and out, using the power of the swell to race our boats in and out of the garden of rocky island chunks. The sun was dropping into the west and it was now time to decided our next step. We had both noticed some sort of discontinuity in the island cliffs to the west and so decided to make for it in hopes of finding a camp site for the night. If nothing presented itself, we'd have to radio the ship to circle round to pick us up.

It was difficult to believe the island could be so completely ringed by hill cliffs in the way it was. Here and there along the face, we could see the rock faces had been worn away creating long overhanging shelves. It was possible in places to paddle under these rocky ceilings for a hundred meters and more before being forced out by the wave action.

Turning the last headland before the odd discontinuity, we were astonished by what we saw. Nothing prepared us for the view ahead. The thunder of the waterfall was one thing, it's height and water volume was another, but the object coming down it was beyond believe entirely! Looking further along the coast were even more incredible sights...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Paddling Swallow Island - 4

The adrenaline began to rush into my system as I felt the wave lift the stern. I dug in hard to accelerate the boat ahead of the wave and surf down into the mouth of the sea cave. From Wright's book I knew the cave was large enough inside to be able to maneuver once inside. The tide was nearly at it's highest, so the rock shelf he mentions rising out of the water at low tide near the entrance would be water covered and not pose an obstacle. Twisting around and edging my boat to the left as the wave subsided, I saw my companion also carve down the next wave and enter the cave behind me. Suddenly, a rebounding wave caught me, tilting my boat over. I braced hard, but it was too late. I was over. As I set up underwater to roll up, my kayak received a jolt: I'd been hit by the incoming kayak! I reached up and felt the hull slipping past me, then I completed my roll. That was a close call, but no harm done!

We had plenty of light inside the vast sea cave and once orientated, headed deeper inside to look for the iron rings and staircase supposed to be located deeper inside. Then we saw it. Over the years, the ceiling must have fallen. There did not seem to be any possibility of reaching the back of cave. At first I wondered whether we could climb over the jumbled rocks at the fall, but this too was impossible, or at the very least, dangerous in the bouncing waters. To make matters even more complex. seal lions covered many of the rocks. They seemed friendly enough in the water, but did not like it, making threatening gestures whenever we approached them basking on the rocks around the cave. It appeared the only entrance we knew of to the island was cut off probably forever.

We turned and paddled back to the cave's entrance and waited for our chance to exit. I'd been a bit concerned getting out might be difficult, but the face of the swell was gentler than it seemed and we paddled out easily and headed northward towards the rock spires we'd seen earlier. At the least we'd have some fun there before continuing around the island to our waiting mothership. As we made our way towards the rocky towers, we could see the waves breaking over them and spilling across the sandy beaches which connected them now the tide was going down. Would they too deny us any adventure?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Paddling Sparrow's Island - 3

Our first morning, we woke to clear tropical skies and unlike the previous day, the sea was much more settled with just an easy swell rolling in from the west. Our boats already packed, we launched off the stern platform and headed eastward out of the bay. High, basaltic cliffs topped here and there in dense green growth led the way. Our first objective was a tiny inlet marked on our ancient map, but we were none too confident of being able to find it. Our GPS units, as we expected, were useless. No island appeared at all on our screens. Instead, open water was all there seemed to be in this location.

Paddling in the left over clapotis along the cliff edge, it was impossible to see any bottom. The black smooth rock plunged straight to great depths. After paddling about twenty minutes, the nature of the cliffs changed. Instead of wave worn smooth volcanic rock, we entered a section of columnar towers seemingly glued together. Each multi-sided column again rose from the depths and then each appeared to have been broken off far above our heads. It was in the maze of these columns that we found the tiny inlet marked on the chart. My companion nosed her way in, hands touching either side of the aglae covered rock. I filmed her movements as the swell alternately moved her kayak up and down as she poked it's bow into the small opening.

Back on the open water, we continued our eastward heading. Our plan was to discover the cave which led to the interior of the island and to see if the tunnel and stairway was still passable after all this time. As we worked our way around to the eastern coast, the cliffs maintained their jagged heights. No sign of vegetation appeared however, suggesting there was little to support their growth. Up ahead, we got our first glimpse of the islands marked off the most easterly point. They turned out to be rocky, volcanic pipes, spires which stood tall in the sea. We could see the swell, now increased in height, crashing against their bases. It looks like a fun place to play in once our main objective was discovered and explored.

Making our way towards the spires, the opening of the entry cave soon came into sight. It was huge, the largest cave we'd ever seen, easily over 20 meters high and almost as wide. The swell could be seen swirling around its entrance, especially the side nearest us. Standing off beyond the agitated waters at the opening, we debated our best move. It looked like the northern side was our best bet, coming in on the back face of a wave, then surfing it into the center of the cave's entrance. We both paddled into position and waited for a smaller wave to carry us in...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Paddling Sparrow's Island - 2

First reported by Capt Geoffrey Cooper in 1744 sailing the brig Good Adventure. The island is roughly 20 miles around with few bays or inlets of any merit. The island is, in fact, a huge volcanic crater with the south side fertile land containing miles of park-like gardens bearing a variety of fruit trees and tropical flowers as well as large birds called ruka which stand over 9 feet tall. Somewhat domesticated, they were said to be tended and groomed by the original native inhabitants of the island. To the north lies a large swampy area inhabited by blue pigs similar to small tapirs. In the old days, three groups of people lived on the island: Sparrow and his fellow pirates on The Fighting Sue, who landed in the 1850's; the original natives most of whom died after contacting Europeans and their diseases and, lastly, a group of satyrs, although this latter group were said to have become somewhat degenerated once the pirates arrived...

Given a coastline comprised mostly of high cliffs and no beaches other than at the lowest tides, our only landing spot will be via the small tunnel shown on the map I've been fortunate to find, on the east coast. To enter, we will require calm seas and a high tide as part way down the tunnel we'll meet a rock face which blocks our entry except at high tide. At the end of the tunnel there were rings placed in the rock wall and some rudimentary steps leading up to a small chamber. This room exits via another tunnel onto the hillside from which we can get our first look at the interior of the island, it's central volcano and so on. To my knowledge, we'll be the first visitors in well over 100 years, so this should be an exciting adventure!

While we explore in our kayaks, our chartered mother-ship will rest at anchor in the shelter of the rocky islet on the south coast. Tomorrow, we'll paddle around to the tunnel entrance and see if we can get on the island!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Paddling Sparrow's Island - 1

When I lived among the Inuit, it was impressed upon me that I wasn't to laze about during open water season. Time was short and there was much to be done. The winter would come and only then could I relax. Winter was the time to play games, dance and most especially, to tell stories for everyone's amusement. The stories could be true, half-true or, best of all, spoken dreams of what might have been or perhaps could one day be.

So as the water slowly freezes over here in the planet's northern climes, where people have hauled in their boats and now sit at home with warm drink in their hands and toast their feet by the fire, it is again time to begin telling our stories. Some will think back to trips made during the past year, some will think about trips that nearly happened or might yet happen in the future. I want to go the next step. I want to dream about paddling the impossible; paddling in places that are purely imaginary, real dream worlds!

Here's what I mean. Back in 1928, S. Fowler Wright who wrote the book 'The Island of Captain Sparrow' (I'm not sure if this Sparrow was the same film pirate rogue Jack Sparrow or not). I thought it might be interesting to have a look at his island. Would it be a worthy place to visit by kayak? What awaits the adventurer around its coastline? Who lives on the island today and what sort of hospitality might we expect to receive? Is it a worthy challenge for the ice-bound voyager?

Well, let's find out! First, where is the island and how do we get there? According to my information, the island lies in the Pacific, 1500 miles north of the fabled Marquesas Islands and 2000 miles east of the Christmas Islands. With few bays or landing sites and nothing in the way of landing facilities for aircraft, the best plan would be to charter a 'mothership' out of Hawaii for our voyage. Not cheap, but that's the beauty of this expedition: we've unlimited funds at our disposal!

Tomorrow, I'll describe our arrival at the island and we'll begin our exploration...

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Nova Scotia Paddling Guy

I went down to Halifax, Nova Scotia last weekend for a bit of socializing, pub crawling and, inadvertently, to experience their interesting December weather. As I drove through Maine, it was obvious that things would be a little out of the usual when I saw snowplow trucks lined up along the inter-state, their salt bins full and at the ready. Passing into New Brunswick, the freezing rain caught up with me just moments before I pulled into my B&B in St Andrews. Wildly fluctuating temperatures with shifts of up to 16°C within a few kilometers - 'ribbon weather' was what one friend called it - were commonplace along the route as were high winds said to be close to 90 kph! The wave action along the Fundy shore was spectacular!

Browsing the waterfront's bars and bookstores seemed more in order than any outdoor activities! I was happy to discover a series of paddling guidebooks written by Bryan Darrell. These books are aimed at folks heading out of the Halifax area, the most recent being on the Bras'd'Or lakes of Cape Breton. His web site also has information about some stitch 'n glue kayaks boats he's designed for the home builder. Thinking back to my paddling trip to Nova Scotia last summer, I wish I had known about these books. Once the weather closed in, I could have profitably gone on many of the short days paddles listed in his books as I waited for improved conditions to return to the sea. Check out his site if you plan to visit Nova Scotia!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Who's Watching You?

Watching YouTube, that is! A glance at the right sidebar will tell you I have an account on YouTube where I've posted some videos of my travels over the past few years. Recently I discovered that there is a section on the site called 'Insight' where you can get a variety of graphical information about who has been watching your videos. The graph above represents the number of views since January, 2008. Okay, not that impressive, but it appears a steady stream of people (about 15 a day on average) are dropping by for a look. I wonder what happened in August that produced the spike in viewers?

Other data on the 'Insight' page includes the male/female split (69%/31%), which videos have been the most popular (Pogo Jump) and a map indicating where the viewers have been coming from. I suppose it's always good to know that the graph above hasn't flatlined at zero when you weren't paying attention!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Iceman Cometh Slowly

Driving down to the lake today I was shocked to see ice forming on the shallow south end. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that way, especially with the recent cold weather hovering in the -18°C area, what else is there to expect? The iceman surely cometh my way! If only he would bring along some snow.

The top photo shows what snow there is so far - enough for our dogs to have fun with, but hardly what we need to ski comfortably. The lower photo, looking away to the distant hills, isn't much more promising. A dusting of snow, under clear, cold skies. I'm in the season of patience, torn between kayaking and skiing, my two favourite activities.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bloggers Beware!

I suspect that no matter what got you started as a blogger in the first place, the last thing on your mind was a major life change! In the recent best-seller 'Petite Anglaise', blogger Catherine Sanderson thought it would be fun to blog about her new life as a young English lady living and working in Paris.

It was a fun pastime for her in the beginning. Her blog began to attract attention from outside readers; she started to get comments from readers and blogging was good. Then things began to go wrong. Her family life started to unravel, her relationships started failing and her employer fired her for blogging about office life. People who have read the book she has written about her experience have not been very kind to her either. Comments like "Catherine comes across as totally and utterly self-absorbed and lacking in any sort of humour or sense of irony. Frankly, it hardly seems surprising that she experiences a number of failed relationships."(Sybille) are typical and are hardly the reward any of us strive for when we begin blogging.

I suspect those of us who blog regularly about our personal lives need to tread more carefully than we originally thought. As one commentator mentions, "It must not be easy to write one's personal life so openly and to expose oneself to the judgement of people who would have acted differently in the same circumstances." The world can sometimes be a harsh place when we expose ourselves to it. Then again, some people, like Sanderson, like to live in the midst of controversy!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Igloolik Seal Hunt - Part 2

After following the floe edge for a while without success, we decided to head out to the floating ice pack we could see several miles offshore. This area was also rich in marine mammals of various kinds, including ring seals, bearded seals and sometimes when the wind was coming from the right direction, walrus.

Motoring through the pans of ice was not as easy as one might expect at first glance. The pans were in constant motion due to the currents and often butted up against each other, sometimes quite suddenly. We would also be cut off in dead end leads forcing us to scramble quickly to drag the heavy canoe up on the ice to avoid getting squeezed and sunk. After a few weeks of this routine, I became much more fit than I've ever been before!

Seals would be seen here and there both lying on the ice pans and also swimming about in the water. As the number of hunters working out of Igloolik had increased around this time because of the move away from camp life and into the community, seals had become much more scarce close to Igoolik and those that remain were fast becoming more wary of boats and guns for good reason.

Still we were lucky to spot a bearded seal lying on the ice and slowly made our approach, hunter in the bow and another man running the motor in the rear. The seal would seem to doze with its head down and then look up and around for any danger. The trick for the those of us in the canoe was to remain still during these checks and to make our approach during the seal's dozing periods.

Much of the time, no matter how careful we were, the seal would get spooked and jump into the water where it would be chased if possible, but often thick ice made that impossible.

This time we got a shot away and claimed our seal. The next step was to land on the ice pan and cut the 200 lb animal into pieces we could lift into the boat to bring home. Both people and dogs benefited from the hunt, nothing was left behind. If there was sufficient meat at home, we would often bury the carcass in a cache on nearby land to be retrieved the following winter.

Usually hunting would be a two or three day affair away from our homes in Igloolik. It was a time of both serious work to hunt for food for families and dogs, but it was also a time of considerable fun and good humour, a time when people bonded closely together for mutual aid and safety. As the picture above indicates, we also set aside some time to sleep as well. Tents were usually not used, instead we just crashed out, fully clothed, on a few winter caribou skins!

One made a point of not taking much in the way of food when we left the village. It was expected that other than some tea fixings and bannock, a form of bread, we would have to catch our dinner. After all, we were hunting! Happily, the Igloolik hinterland was well supplied with food items. It was up to us to have the skills and patience required to find it and harvest it successfully. In the picture above, a yummy stew is boiling on the Coleman stove, and yes, those are some chewy intestine chunks in there. Waste not, want not!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Igloolik Seal Hunt - Part 1

Given the kayaking season is now at the day-by-day point and I'm not getting out there much and given the skiing season is having trouble getting going, I thought I would go on a nostalgic seal hunt with my old friends in Igloolik. While these scenes occurred in July, 1968, hunting today goes on much the same.

Leaving early in the morning we traveled by dog team out to where the boats had been stored a few miles away from open water. The boats were kept this far away due to the fact that pans of ice were breaking off and floating away and naturally no one wanted their boat to leave by accident.

Once at the boat, the outboard was gassed up and the boat loaded onto the dog sled for transport to the 'floe edge'. Our job at this point was to run alongside the boat and help steer the sled away from large blocks of sea ice etc. When the ice was smooth, we could hop aboard for a brief ride.

While this was happening a couple of people took advantage of a high pile of ice to scout around for ring seals which would often sun themselves on the ice beside their holes, something which they commonly would do at this time of the year.

At the floe edge, we decided to wait and see what was happening. We'd often spend hours at the sena waiting for a seal to appear. Often young seals with little hunted experience could be found along this edge where their food, small fish and tiny crustaceans were plentiful.

Finally, we decided to launch the boat and head out to the floating ice we could see in the distance. Here we hoped to get a 'bearded seal', a species which preferred hauling out on floating ice rather than the 'fast ice' attached to the land.

However, before we left, we decided to have a mug of hot, sugary tea!

At first we decided to follow the floe edge for a while, but seeing nothing, we then headed further offshore and into the ice pans.

Next time, I'll continue the story of this hunt...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Is Canada Wearing Its PFD?

I'm certainly interested in following political affairs as they run in various parts of the world although I tend not to write about them here on ckayaker. After all, this blog is mostly about my love of kayaking, guitars and the arctic. However, the current political fiasco here in Canada is too wild to ignore. It's like paddling through heavy clapotis alongside storm smashed cliffs and not wearing your pfd your helmet or even your sprayskirt. Here we are in the midst of a world-wide financial meltdown and in response, the Harper government leans over and takes a swipe at women, unions and party funding, all the while ignoring the dangers around us.

What's that you say? If you're not following Canadian politics - and why would anyone under normal circumstances? - then here's what going on. The finance minister stands up to deliver the government's position on the financial crisis and how it will respond. Everyone in Canada leans close to the TV. We're up against the wall, he says. Canada nods, cause we surely are. So to protect Canadians in this tough time, he says, we're going to forget about pay equity for women. We're going to stop paying political parties money to finance themselves. And we're going to cap union wages and take away their right to strike. Say that again...? Isn't this about the economy...?

Did we all feel better after hearing this? I guess not! Our jobs are still on the line. Our mortgages are still in peril. Our savings are withering away just as fast. Knowing that women will still get second class pay, unions will not be striking and political parties will be silenced does nothing.

So, like any decent person who screws up and gets caught, Harper needs to do the right thing to make amends. He needs to say Mea culpa and resign. Will he? Not a chance. He will blame everyone and everything for his problems. He could very well mess up a country most of us are very proud of as his star sinks in the west. Why not push him off the cliff and see if he can fly? Naaahhh... It's the economy, silly!

Update! Like the school boy who pulled the fire alarm rather than fail his exam, our brave leader got out of facing certain defeat in the House. Now isn't that something to teach your children... Shame knows no boundaries!

Photo lifted from:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit

I you are a member of one of the world's majority languages like Chinese, English, French, Spanish and so on, then the idea that a day might come when no one speaks your language anymore seems a bit odd. Let's face it, speakers of these languages never give a thought to their language disappearance. Alas, this isn't the case for many other languages. In North America, almost all of the indigenous languages have disappeared. Only a few of the hundreds of languages formerly spoken on the continent are holding their own, and even these feel threatened. One of these surviving languages is Inuktitut spoken in various dialects across the North American arctic region from Alaska to Greenland.

Recently, Canada's northern territory, Nunavut, passed new legislation intended to strengthen and protect Inuktitut, the language of the majority. I'm glad to see this move. I'm a real believer that a language is a way of seeing a landscape - both real and imagined - through the eyes of another culture. What better way to understand Nunavut, it's people and their environment, than through their language? So bravo, Nunavumiut, you've not only helped yourselves, but given the rest of us a gift as well!

Sadly, but somewhat typically, the Conservative party presently running Canada has announced that they won't be bound by the language legislation. How's that for pretending you were appointed to rule from above rather than elected by citizens from below? Given recent events in Ottawa, that perception may be coming to a sudden end!