Kayak­ing With Mom

A Birth­day Ad­ven­ture to Re­mem­ber

More of Our Canada - - Front Page - By He­len Har­wood, Arn­prior, Ont.

Who needs more col­lectibles as birth­day gifts? My 70th birth­day was com­ing up in June 2015, and when my daugh­ter-in-law, Ali, re­turned from a trip called “Kayak With Whales” on Han­son Is­land off the north­east coast of Van­cou­ver Is­land, she told my son Paul, “That’s the per­fect trip for your mom.”

So kayak­ing is what my son and I did in Septem­ber 2016, along with two broth­ers from Great Bri­tain and a cou­ple from Seattle. I trav­elled from On­tario to join Paul in Bri­tish Columbia for our ad­ven­ture. At the be­gin- ning of our trip, we took a wa­ter taxi from Port Mcneill to base camp on Han­son Is­land. Then, af­ter breakfast every day for four days, we loaded fi­bre­glass kayaks with sup­plies and left our camp­site ac­com­pa­nied by two guides from King­fisher Wilder­ness Ad­ven­tures. By then I had turned 71, and I was the old­est per­son on the trip by close to 25 years. Many times when we were mov­ing kayaks or load­ing gear, my much younger group mem­bers did it all for me. I felt like the Queen.

Paul and I took a dou­ble kayak so I could stop pad­dling any­time

to take pho­tos. “Mom, it doesn’t mat­ter what you do; we are not go­ing to end up in the wa­ter,” Paul as­sured me. Where we were kayak­ing on John­stone Strait—a glacier-carved chan­nel—is more than 400 me­tres deep, and tak­ing care of Mom was high on Paul’s pri­or­ity list.

Our guides knew the best places to see whales, sea lions, seals, dol­phins, starfish and urchins. We were never dis­ap­pointed. Pad­dles went down often, and cam­eras came out in their place. Some­times we didn’t bother with the pho­tos and just watched in awe as mag­nif­i­cent crea­tures came close enough for us to see eye­ball to eye­ball. Pos­ing for a pho­tog­ra­pher was not high on their pri­or­ity list. Some­times, though, the sea lions would ap­pear to be

look­ing di­rectly at us as if to say, “Here I am. Take my pic­ture.”

We also saw so many or­cas and hump­backs that I lost count. We heard their an­i­mated con­ver­sa­tions with the help of a hy­drophone. One morn­ing, the hump­backs put on quite a per­for­mance for us, prob­a­bly no more than 20 me­tres off­shore. Three of us early ris­ers were sit­ting on a cliff look­ing out over the wa­ter when we heard them across the strait. Then we saw a dis­tinc­tive tail fin ap­pear, then an­other, then an­other. Each time, it was a lit­tle closer to us. They were com­ing our way! We were scream­ing, “Humpback, humpback!” every time one leaped. When one of them breached three or four times, we screamed even louder. We were able to iden­tify the one that breached from a photo ref­er­ence al­bum. She had been given a name, but I for­get what it was. What I do re­mem­ber was the breach­ing.

The weather was beau­ti­ful un­til the last day, when the heavy mist, rain and wind came. I was once again glad to have my very ex­pe­ri­enced kayaker son at the stern.

By the time we ar­rived at our wa­ter taxi pickup point, I was shiv­er­ing from the cold and soaked to the hide. Thanks to Ali, I had some warm, dry clothes—she had an­tic­i­pated such a need and sent along an ex­tra sup­ply of good out­door cloth­ing. Paul in­sisted I take his good rain jacket, while he squished into my soak­ing-wet one. Have I men­tioned I was treated like the Queen?

All too soon, it was time for us to leave Han­son Is­land, where we had spent four won­der­ful days. I felt a lit­tle sad as the wa­ter taxi shut­tled us out to our pickup point. I had been kayak­ing with the whales while spend­ing days of qual­ity time with my son at a rus­tic yet very lux­u­ri­ous camp­site.

I asked Paul, “What are you go­ing to do for my 80th?” n

Clock­wise from top right: He­len and Paul take a break from pad­dling; a sea lion says hello; He­len with a sea urchin.; fel­low kayak­ers pad­dle out for the day.

Top: He­len at an ocean­side lunch site.

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