It is Thursday morning and we are up at the crack of dawn, literally, to watch the sun rise over Discovery Passage. A magnificent sight and the perfect way to start our first adventure day of the Vancouver Island tour. But this is 6.30 a.m. and can’t be too eager as the trip does not start until 1100 so it’s back to bed and hope we don’t over-sleep, so reset the alarm and try to nod off. An hour later admit defeat and get up to a bright, still, sunny day and head into town for breakfast, you need to line the stomach if you are to challenge the high seas and the wildest of the wild.
We head into town and park up in a deserted shopping mall car park and find a diner called Banners in Tyee Plaza opening up. I have the usual ham and eggs, but my wife decides to fulfil a long-standing wish and orders blueberry pancakes. She had been expecting a couple of standard 6-inch ones, but what came out really stumped her, three 8-inch monsters. Putting her best fork forward she makes a gallant attempt, but fails with half a wheel hub left on her plate. After taking a stroll to settle the cargo we take our lives in our hands we head off to the Campbell River harbour to locate Discovery Marine Safaris, our hosts for the day. We check in and meet some of our fellow adventurers and are urged to use the facilities before we board as the ones on the boat are a little cramped. At the required time our captain introduces himself as Captain Lewis and we march over to the harbour and board the double decked MV Tenacious III, affectionally known as T3 which will be our home for the next 4 hours, and without further ado off we cast.
We motor out of the dock and into the calm waters of Discovery Passage and head upstream, then across to the other side to pick up 4 more adventurers at the April Point resort on Quadra Island. As we back into the small dock I notice how turbulent the swirling waters are where the tides and currents fight it out. All loaded we venture out onto the maelstrom and head back downstream, around the southern tip of Quadra Island and then into the myriad of inlets and islands that makeup the hinterland. Throughout the voyage we have a running commentary provided either by Captain Lewis or the tame naturalist/crew Amy who has joined to record any Humpback Whales we may encounter as part of her PhD.
As we approach Read Island, we are greeted by the barks of a number of Harbour Seals sunning themselves on the rocks close to the water. A brief chat about the life and habits of the seals, followed the machine-gun clicks of copious snaps being taken and off we go deeper into the unknown. As we motor deeper, we pass occasional buildings on the shoreline, some small sawmills, park ranger stations and even the odd residence. You really must be comfortable with your own company and enjoy solitude to live here.
After a while of travelling deeper into the channels in search of whales, with the occasional Bald Eagle passing over on the way to find its lunch, a sharp-eyed passenger spots the fluke of single Humpback whale, rhythmically diving into the calm waters ahead of us searching for food and then surfacing blowing a huge mist plume as it clears and refills its gigantic lungs. The whale considerately continues with the display until it has had its fill and then ambles off up the channel, staying under water for longer and longer periods as if to give us a hint that we were not longer welcome.
Ignoring this display of bad manners, we follow our new friend on his assumed route deeper inland, and as we round a wooded headland, we are greeted by two waving flukes, obviously our friend had met up with a mate. Soon another appears and then a fourth, all diving, surfacing and blowing as they filled their giant bellies. Our tame naturalist explains that each Humpback can be identified by its tail fluke, by a combination of the underside colour pattern and the fluke shape allowing a skilled observer to identify and track the progress of an individual, which is a vital aid in whale conservation. Our naturalist soon identifies that our whales are regular visitors to the area on their yearly migrations. There is great excitement on-board trying to spot where the next one would surface and get the best picture. Finally, having had their fill, our performers group together four abreast and, like a synchronised swimming team, they raise their flukes as if waving goodbye and majestically swam off into the islands on their journey north.
To recover from the excitement and catch our breaths we pull in towards the shore of a small cove off West Redonda Island, drop anchor and stop for provided picnic lunch. This is a perfect opportunity to talk to our fellow adventurers, swap stories and experiences and try to catch a word with our Captain and Amy to answer any questions and clear up any misconceptions we may have. She also shares with us the records and photographs she has brought with her and points out the whales we have seen this morning and how they fit into which family group.
After about half an hour the lunch remnants are packed away, anchor is weighed and off we go on the return leg in search of further Cetaceans, but it seems that they swam the other way to avoid us. After a time exploring the waters we start on the homeward journey and motor on down a narrow channel between sheer cliffs in between West Redonda and Cortes Islands. Breaking out into open water we pass a group of seals sunning themselves and receive the usual grunts and groans from those tasked with lookout duties. Were they the same ones we saw on the way out, or is this a different lot? It’s amazing what you think to ask later when there is no one about to ask.
With the water opening up in front of us and having no further encounters, we head back towards the lowering sun just enjoying the sights and the wind through our hair. Humpback whales, seals and fleeting birds of prey, not a bad day’s work after all. However, slightly selfishly, we cannot escape the feeling that for all we have seen today we feel incomplete, because we have not seen any Orca, a Cetacean synonymous with this region. Still, as a certain naturalist must have said on the tv sometime “you cannot hurry nature” and as our next adventure is only two days away, you never know.