Surviving the Sechelt Rapids without a dunkin
Rush hour on the Skookumchuck comes twice a day on the tide. The Pacific Ocean funnels north up Jervis Inlet into Sechelt Inlet through a narrow channel to create a foamy cauldron of whirlpools, endless waves and one of the swiftest natural currents in the world. That's why every weekend you'll find whitewater paddling enthusiasts launching their two to three-metre polyethylene plastic kayaks into 10 to 15-knot tides, riding rollers that can last for hours.
And sometimes you'll find Bryce Christie steering his 40-foot passenger boat in and out of the current so armchair adventurers can feel the tide's power in safety.
Our family has a keen sense of adventure: running with scissors, eating Timbits between meals there's not much we won't do. But when Bryce invited us aboard The Topline to ride the Skookumchuck, I was concerned. There'd be coffee and doughnuts on board, not to mention small children: Surely something might spill? After all, the native name Skookumchuck means powerful (skookum) water (chuck).
Bryce decided to break us in gently with a voyage into calmer waters via desolate islands with names that read like a who's who of British admiralty and politics: Agnew Passage, Nelson Island and Foley Head. Looming stark against a cloudless sky up Jervis Inlet was Mount Churchill on the back of Vancouver Bay. A stop at ancient petroglyphs steered us farther back into history before we cruised past the Harmony Islands on the east side of Hotham Sound.
The islands form part of a 31-hectare provincial park. Here the oysters lie as deep as the pockets of the yacht owners who visit this favourite spot in summer. One mile south of the park we passed Freil Lake Falls, which plunge into Hothman Sound from Freil Lake. Our last landmark before Skookumchuck Narrows was Miller Island, a favourite spot for basking seals sometimes a hundred at a time, according to Bryce.
"Back away from the doughnuts and watch for seals," we told the kids in fevered anticipation.
Despite a cloudless sky and perfect basking conditions, the seals were giving Miller a wide berth on this day, although we did spot about a dozen bobbing in the boat's wake, as if to taunt us.
Once in Skookumchuck Narrows, we took precautions suitable for a small boat in a 10-knot flood tide. Doughnut boxes were sealed and anchored, coffee flasks were tightened. Known to most people simply as the Skookumchuck, Bryce told us we were entering Sechelt Rapids. About a dozen kayakers were playing in the waves while two dozen more were hanging out on Roland Point, a popular viewing spot in Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park.
Thanks to Bryce's skill at the wheel, we were able to watch the kayakers up close, as well as experience the peculiar sensation of riding a sloping tide. It felt as if we were in a giant basin filling with water. On a three-metre tide, 200 billion gallons of water flow through the narrows, causing a difference in water levels of up to two metres between one side of the rapids and the other. We skirted Rapid Islet, the largest island in the mid-stream. Locals call it Tremble Island, such is the shudder felt through the granite on a flood tide.
Our adventuring complete, we returned to Egmont marina and the Back Eddy Pub where we later agreed that maybe we'd try kayaking the Chuck next year. Maybe.
For more information about Bryce Christie's boat tours, call 1-800-870-9055 or visit www.sunshinecoasttours.bc.ca
To view the rapids from land, follow Highway 101 to Earls Cove. About a kilometre before Earls Cove take the turnoff to Egmont Road. Follow it for about six kilometres to Skookumchuck Narrows provincial park and walk the trail to Roland Point (to view a flood tide) or North Point (to view an ebb tide).
To find out the best time to view the rapids, call Sechelt Chamber of Commerce at 604-885-0662 or visit www.thesunshinecoast.com/secheltchamber/inside.html and click on "calendar".