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Sea kayaking on Vancouver Island's wild West Coast Add to ...

'She's not coming," my wife, Christine, announced as we sat down to dinner. "I tried to talk her into it, but there was no way."

What? I'd talked to my mother-in-law, Isabelle, only days earlier, and she had seemed enthusiastic about joining us for a sea-kayaking vacation on the remote northwest coast of Vancouver Island.

Okay, maybe not enthusiastic, but she hadn't said "no" either. To be fair, Isabelle is a non-swimmer with a healthy fear of water, but I had assured her that paddling a sea kayak is no more difficult than walking. And I promised to watch out for her. Now, she was balking?

Deciding on an escape that suited everyone had not been easy. Our three-year-old son was a veteran of wilderness journeys, but this year there was a pregnant wife and water-phobic mother-in-law to consider as well. What adventurous activity could we all tackle together?

The solution arrived in the form of an e-mail from a long lost friend. It had been two decades since David Pinel and I last met. Back then, we were young ski bums, hanging around Nelson, B.C. Now a marine biologist with 18 years of experience guiding in Kyuquot Sound, Dave has just bought a sea-kayaking base camp there, and wondered if I was interested in visiting.

Comfortable beds and large wall tents would be a back-saver for Christine. Gourmet food and a spacious kitchen shelter wouldn't hurt either. The region's protected waters seemed perfect for introducing Isabelle to paddling. And David had a young son, Morgan, the same age as Bodi. And me? The words "outer coast" were all I needed to hear.



Paddle here just once - rising and dropping with the breathing ocean, senses on high alert - and you'll be hooked. There is something primordial about bobbing in a tiny kayak on the edge of the Pacific, where one is literally staring into the void


So I chose to ignore Isabelle's change of heart, and booked all four of us for a week in June. Eventually, after weeks of delicate persuasion, Isabelle reluctantly agreed to come.

By the blessings of geography, David's camp on Spring Island offers the best of two paddling worlds. It is perched at the mouth of Kyuquot Sound, and its western shores face the open Pacific, while the inner beaches open upon calm, sheltered waterways.

It was the outer waters that drew me. If you have ever paddled on British Columbia's outer coast - exposed to the open ocean winds and swell, beyond the protection of islands, fjords or headlands - you'll know this realm possesses its own special magic.

Balanced on the thinnest of margins, between two enormous biospheres - the endless blue sea and the green temperate rain forest - the outer coast can be at once terrifying and profound, volatile and serene. Raked by winds, pounded by mountainous waves, dotted with jagged headlands and submerged reefs, perpetually doused in foam and mist, the outer coast does not, at first glance, appear enticing to the kayaker.

But paddle here just once - rising and dropping with the breathing ocean, senses on high alert - and you'll be hooked. There is something primordial about bobbing in a tiny kayak on the edge of the Pacific, where one is literally staring into the void. Somewhere out there, beyond the cries of the gulls, more than 8,000 kilometres away, lies Japan, but in between lurks an incomprehensible vastness. On such a powerful stage, human life feels refreshingly insignificant.

We arrive on Spring Island as lengthening days and clearing skies begin to warm B.C.'s coast. Bodi and Morgan dash through island meadows pretending to be airplanes while Dave and I buck driftwood logs that have washed ashore during winter, chopping and stacking them for firewood. Isabelle plants tomato and lettuce in a summer garden and Christine collects enormous horse clam shells to mark the island's maze of pathways.

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