Kayaking among the Orcas/Killer Whales of British Columbia… A New Series

Kayaks belonging to the Sea Kayak Adventure group in the waters of Johnstone Strait, northeastern Vancouver Island.

Our sea kayaks wait patiently for us as we have lunch in a cove off of Johnstone Strait.

I was nervous as we drove into the town of Port McNeill on the northeast shore of Vancouver Island in August. Peggy and I had signed up for a six-day sea kayak tour out of Telegraph Cove with Sea Kayak Adventures.We would be searching for orcas, which are also known as killer whales—as our son Tony, the Alaska Coast Guard pilot, reminded us. A little Jaws music, perhaps?

This orca was on display at the Whale Museum in Grove. I named him Smiley and addressed him as sir.

This orca skeleton was on display at the Whale Interpretive Center in Telegraph Grove. I named him Smiley and addressed him as sir.

“Okay, Curt, what have you gotten yourself into this time?” was bouncing around in my skull like a kangaroo on steroids. It’s a question I ask myself often.

I wasn’t nervous about the whales, however. I’ve spent my life communing with nature. Besides, these particular giants are gentle, relatively speaking; they get fat off the salmon in Johnstone Strait. They don’t need to eat people. But sea kayaking would be a first for me. The old dog had to learn new tricks, and that is always a reason to get excitable. Fortunately, Peggy and I had played around a fair amount with inflatable kayaks. We had even ventured out on challenging multi-day lake trips into remote areas such as Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. So how hard could it be?

Aren't I pretty? There was no way I was going to make this skirt look good. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Aren’t I pretty? No? Maybe I wasn’t meant to wear a skirt. This skirt is designed to fit snugly over the cockpit of the kayak and keep out the water.  It’s so snug that you really have to stretch it to fit, which isn’t easy— particularly around the back. My skirt and I had several discussions while I was learning how to make it behave. It learned new words. Ask Peggy. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I confess I was more nervous about the idea of being on a tour. I am not much of a tour group person. This is a strange statement coming from someone who spent over a quarter of a century leading backpacking and bicycle fundraising treks for the American Lung Association. But the truth is— I am an independent cuss. I like to go where I want to go and stop when I want to stop. On an organized tour, I would be expected, even required, to adhere to the group schedule and itinerary. This isn’t a complaint. It has to be that way on group outings. Common sense and liability demand it.

And then there were the people. We’d be living closely with these folks for six days under potentially trying conditions. What would our guides be like? How about our fellow tour group members? Would we get along well? Would they be strange— even stranger than I am?

"Could I interest you in a cracker?" The tour promo promised good food, but it failed to mention the presentation. This is Nick, one of our three group leaders.

“Could I interest you in a cracker?” The tour promo promised good food, but it failed to mention the presentation. This is Nick from New Brunswick, one of our three group leaders. Note the sprig artfully shoved into the cheese.

Quy, another of our guides, is a gentle soul who in his other life works as a computer geek in Vancouver. So what is he doing with this knife?

Quy, another of our guides, is a gentle soul who in his other life works as a computer geek in Vancouver. So what is he doing with this knife?

Julia, our third guide and assigned trip leader, may use Quy's knife on me for this photo of her toes, but I couldn't help myself. And no, I don't have a foot fetish. My fascination was that these bare toes could run over sharp rocks. The last time I had feet that tough I was ten years old.

Julia, our third guide and assigned trip leader, hails from Germany and is quite charming. She may use Quy’s knife on me for this photo of her toes, but I couldn’t help myself. And no, I don’t have a foot fetish. My fascination with her toes was that they could run over anything, including  rocks. The last time I had feet that tough, I was ten years old.

And how about our fellow travelers? David is a psychologist out of LA. How much more strange can you get?

And how about our fellow travelers? David is a psychologist out of LA. How much stranger can you get than creating this mustache? Well maybe someone who kisses fish…

Well, maybe someone who kisses fish??? "But he was so beautiful," Lindy told me. He was dinner, Lindy,. Dinner.

“But he was so beautiful,” Lindy told me. He was dinner, Lindy. Dinner.

Regardless of how nervous I felt, the trip was simply too much of an opportunity to pass up. Like how could I not go on a sea kayaking adventure out among the orcas in beautiful British Columbia? As for Peggy, she is always up for adventure. When our friends Edie and David from Anchorage, Alaska called and asked if we would be interested in going, we gave a resounding yes. It turned out to be great decision. The guides, our fellow tour group members, and the incredible views were delightful. Even the orcas cooperated.

Today marks the beginning of my series on the trip. I’ll start by exploring the quaint town of Port McNeill. In my next post, we will climb in our kayaks and push-off from Telegraph Cove. The orcas are waiting. Let the adventure begin.

Harbor in Port McNeill on northeastern Vancouver Island. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

While the main source of employment for the people of Port McNeill is the timber industry, the town also has a charming harbor. Note the yacht in the background. It had its own helicopter.

I loved this guys sense of humor.

In case anyone was wondering. I loved this guy’s sense of humor.

Dolphin statue at Port McNeil on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Peggy, David and Edie pose in front of a dolphin statue that faces the harbor. Edie went to high school with Peggy in Ohio and runs a tax accounting firm in Anchorage. David is an Alaskan bush pilot who works on the North Slope, and is a published poet.

You are looking at Port McNeill's pride and joy: the worlds largest burl. Can you imagine this thing growing on a tree? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

You are looking at Port McNeill’s pride and joy: the worlds largest burl. Can you imagine this thing growing on a tree? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Wicked Campers is now providing inexpensive travel vans and raucous humor in a number of countries.

Tourism is also an important industry for Port McNeill. Wicked Campers caught my attention. The company provides inexpensive travel vans and its raucous brand of  advertising in a number of countries.

We were also amused by Port McNeill's unique way of fund raising where bras are decorated and then auctioned off. Which of the following three would you vote for?

We were also amused by Port McNeill’s unique way of fund-raising where bras are decorated and then auctioned off. Which of the following three would you choose?

Given the ears, I am thinking Mickey Mouse was the inspiration.

Given the ears, I am thinking Minnie Mouse was the inspiration.

Bat woman?

Bat woman? Great eyes.

Dream catcher. Ouch.

Dream catcher? Ouch. This one would leave an impression.

Flowers at Port McNeill on Vancouver Island. photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The flower shop that featured the bras was closed so I couldn’t get inside to photo more of the entries. I did capture this petunia on the outside, however.

Mist in trees on Vancouver Island sea kayak trip. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Mist in the trees. A final photo to whet your appetite. Let the adventure begin.

28 comments on “Kayaking among the Orcas/Killer Whales of British Columbia… A New Series

  1. That first shot is beautivul. Fabulous and fun! Brings back great memories of Telegraph Cove, Port McNeil and the orcas, and the grizzlies up the Knight Inlet. Truly glorious and I know you had an incredible time. We want to go back!

    • So we are traveling in your footsteps, Cindy. I don’t recall whether you kayaked or explored the area via tour boat, but it is beautiful whatever the conveyance. We didn’t get out to see the grizzlies, but we did have one black bear.

      There is something about the kayaks alone out in the water that makes a good photo. Peggy and I have a couple more we will share. –Curt

  2. There’s a huge difference between the AARP bus and what you’re involved in here. A small group, with some knowledgeable guides for a new adventure, is just fine by me, even though I, too, enjoy the freedom of just getting up and going.

    I do like that large burl. I swear — every place in the world has a claim to fame!

    • Laughing about the ‘claim to fame,’ Linda. I first started noting the tendency of having a ‘draw’ when I travelled through North America for a year in 1999-2000. Canada’s included the world’s largest beehive, the world’s largest golf ball and I am sure several more that I have forgotten. It was the same in the US. The Corn Palace comes to mind. It seems everyone wants their claim to fame— that slight edge to draw the tourist dollars. And why not. It’s fun.

      Definitely not your AARP bus tour. I encourage folks to get on the bus, however. There is much to be seen and experienced that way. But, as you have probably noted, Peggy and I choose to travel in a slightly different way. (grin) –Curt

    • I bet you could Hilary. Peggy and I took our inflatables out on a lake near us several times before the trip— just to mind ourselves we could still paddle, and to strengthen our paddling muscles. We were very glad we did. –Curt

  3. Curt, I gotta ask… Did your voice get an octave higher donning on your…skirt? LOL

    I have been waiting to read about this adventure… and as I alluded (and you did not apparently acknowledge) kayaking out on the ocean to meet Orcas was, well, you know… then you acknowledged it in your first sentence: “nervous”! LMAO

    But once again, your photos complement your thoughts so well. And as a favor, can you please introduce me to the lady who dons those bras? 🙂

    • Oops sorry I didn’t acknowledge. As you know, Koji, I normally hang on your every word. 🙂

      I did have to learn a new skill putting on the skirt. LOL

      Wouldn’t the ladies be fun? I thought the whole idea was wonderfully creative from a fund raising perspective. Apparently it is done in a number of areas. The money raised goes into breast cancer research. –Curt

  4. Curtis, I thought you looked quite dapper in your skirt. You wore it well. I look forward to your future blogs about our amazing trip. The photos brought back some incredible memories of the sights and of our amazing group. Thank you!

    • And you, my anonymous friend, are quite welcome. Glad you enjoyed blog number one. Number two is being written now. The orca is about to breach. 🙂 Feel free to sign your name. That’s what Peggy has to do. Curt

    • Thanks, D. I am always nervous about new adventures. It is the unknown factor, like how am I going to survive this. 🙂 Smiling about the bore business. I certainly don’t want to bore anyone. I remember distinctly being bored once back in 1970. It’s no fun. –Curt

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