118 Kilometers in a 12′ Folding Plastic Boat

We were two guys with a 12′ folding Porta-Bote and a 5hp Nissan 2 stroke outboard motor who traveled 118 km through the islands north of Tofino over the past four days. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever had in the outdoors.

We’d done our shopping and packing the night before so we were ready to go first thing. Dave and I hit up a local cafe for a hearty breakfast, dropped off our float plan at Dave’s work, and then launched the boat.

The first leg of our journey took us along the bottom of Meares Island and then up the east coast of Meares. It’s a sparsely populated area and the only boats we saw were commercial vessels servicing the few fish farms in the area.

Around 4 o’clock we started losing our light so Dave pointed the boat at Mosquito Harbour so we could take advantage of the small wilderness campsite just off the shore. Some hippie had built a small shack next door to the camp but had failed to maintain it over the years. What we found was a decrepit hut that had been the site of many summer parties (as evidenced by the Jack Daniels bottles lying inside) and had mostly been torn apart for firewood. The stove had collapsed into a rusty heap and the windows had had garbage bags stapled across for wind protection. By now the garbage bags had all torn open and fluttered when the wind whipped through.

The shack made a wonderful source for firewood and first thing I did was pull the two remaining planks from the “bed” in the shack, chop them up, and start a fire in the fire pit so we could warm up and dry out. Dave cut up a couple of branches and we were soon roasting smokies over the fire for supper.

We had decided to make the run over to Hot Springs Cove on Saturday and knowing that we would have a full day on the water to make it before night Dave and I broke camp and jumped in the boat first thing. Along the way we had a heap of wildlife sightings. A young eagle swooped overhead, seals popped up to see who was motoring by, and we even spotted a couple of sea otters close to the shoreline.

During the day we didn’t want to go to the trouble of pulling ashore to make a hot lunch so I set up the camp stove beside me on the boat’s middle bench and cooked up a big pot of noodles with veggies. The weather was quite calm at that point so we didn’t have any problems with the stove being tossed around by the waves.

That afternoon we approached Hot Springs Cove and it took all of Dave’s skill to get us through the rolling waves coming in from the Pacific Ocean. We knew this would be the toughest part of the trip but Dave’s been on those waters before and knows how to handle his boat. The trouble with that particular spot is the waves coming in from the ocean rebound off the rocky shore which creates a “confusing sea” where the waves hit you from all different angles. It can be tricky to navigate, especially in a small craft like ours.

After our little ocean adventure we were glad to pull up to the dock at Maquinna Marine Park and get camp set up. Dave and I wolfed down a huge pot of macaroni and cheese that we’d cooked up with another pile of vegetables and the remaining smokies. Then we took the long walk down the boardwalk that led to the hot springs. Hot Springs Cove is named for three small hot springs pools on the rocky shoreline. After our long day on the ocean it was pretty nice to get into some hot water and warm up again.

The great thing about traveling in the off season is there aren’t many other people around. There was only one other boat at the dock and they were leaving the hot springs as we were arriving. We got to spend the entire evening cooking and soaking without having to deal with anyone else. I was so happy to be out there that I was bouncing around like an excited dog all evening.

Finally, as we were packing up to head back to camp, I realized I’d left a couple of things down by the springs. Just as I was at the edge of the first spring I slipped on a wet rock and plunged in, soaking all my carefully dried clothes!

Dave had a great laugh when I came sloshing back up the beach and I had to change into my spare fleece clothes. We were both pretty wet from the day’s travels anyway so it didn’t matter too much. That night we hung everything in the tent and fired up a 3-wick survival candle to try and get some of the water out of our gear.

We slept in Sunday morning and woke up to find a beautiful sunny day outside. The weather report on the VHF said it’d be clear for the morning so we planned to pack up camp, grab breakfast, and head straight for Vargas Island.

The trip to Vargas was gorgeous!  We had sunshine the whole way and finished drying out that afternoon. The stretch in to Vargas is open to the Pacific Ocean again but the waves were considerably smaller than they were going into Hot Springs Cove. The exciting bit was landing on the beach in the surf.

Dave had warned me about the surf landing at Vargas and I’ve read about surf landings in kayaking books. When you get waves a couple of feet tall hitting the beach floor they break and crash into the back of your boat. If you don’t keep the boat pointed perpendicular to the wave then the wave will catch the boat, turn it sideways and then flip it over putting you in the water along with all of your gear.

When we went in Dave managed to keep the boat pointed towards shore and I jumped in and pulled us in with the bow line. Ocean water’s pretty cold when it’s up to your knees and my boots weren’t quite that high so I had water sloshing around my toes while we got the boat ashore and all the gear up above the high tide mark.

There wasn’t an obvious camp spot so we decided to head up to John Dowd’s house to say hello and inquire about a suitable spot to set up our tent. John Dowd is a legend in the sea kayaking world, having published the first (and still the best) proper book on the subject. His book is now in its fifth edition and lays out nearly everything you’d want to know about ocean kayaking. John and his wife have a lovely place just off the beach on Vargas with a wood shop, small guest cabin, and a wonderful main house. The house has the feel of being put together by people who live at sea. John and his wife, “B”, invited us in for spicy lingcod soup and ginger cake. We had a beer and John told us about his history running a tour company in South America and founding Ecomarine Kayak in Vancouver. They’re fascinating people with all kinds of stories from their travels around the world. They were also kind enough to invite us to sleep in their guest cabin and I curled up with Lolita, their large friendly dog, for the night.

The next morning we had breakfast with the Dowd’s, saw John off in his zodiac to go to town and get the week’s supplies, and then headed down the beach to launch our own boat. Our run through the surf was much smoother than the landing and we took a leisurely cruise back into Tofino to wrap up our trip.

Now I’m back in Vancouver, refreshed and ready to head into the whirlwind of city life tomorrow.

5 thoughts on “118 Kilometers in a 12′ Folding Plastic Boat”

  1. What a great story! Especially getting to visit with the Dowd’s and stay in their cabin, have breakfast with them etc. It’s definitely a different lifestyle where it’s cool to do that – go knock on the door and introduce yourself, and be invited in for a spell. What a great experience.


  2. It was an amazing trip!

    And yes, I did sleep with a Lolita ;) The humor of it hit me as soon as she jumped onto the bed. The next morning as soon as I stopped paying attention to her she went over and hopped into Dave’s bed. Floozie!

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