Kayaking the Broken Group Islands

Our annual multi day kayak trip had us wanting to scope out another new spot and we settled on the broken group islands, an area accessible only by boat near Ucluelet on Vancouver Island.

There are several tour companies that you can book with to tour the broken group islands with, or if you feel somewhat confident in your kayak skills, you can head out on your own.

We researched two options – one was to launch from Secret Beach Campground in Toquart on Vancouver Island and paddle over to the broken group islands, the other was to catch a shuttle to the broken group.

Since we don’t have our own kayaks and we couldn’t find anyone to deliver to secret beach, we opted for the shuttle plus kayak rental from GPO charters.

GPO was fantastic – a super central location in Ucluelet, provided us with charts and a compass and all the gear we’d need for our 3 day/2night trip.  Cost for the kayaks and charter was $221.30 each for double kayaks.

We arrived in Ucluelet the night before and camped at Ucluelet campground. A fantastic site and walking distance to everywhere in Ucluelet (this was useful as I went to the wrong ferry terminal and missed our carpool, and we ended up hitchhiking to Ucluelet!)

Walking the Wild Pacific Trail a little day drunk after a missed ferry debacle was a great start to the trip!

While sitting around our campfire at the Ucluelet campground we all questioned why we were camping before heading out on a 3 day kayak trip. Do yourself a favour and book a hotel or cabin the night before you go. You want to be well rested before this adventure!

We did splurge on food the day before launch – hitting up Taco Jefe and Abbondanza Pizza. We were too full from the incredible food at Taco Jefe but the leftover pizza was a good choice to bring out kayaking with us the next day. Both solid vegan food options in Ucluelet.

We met GPO charters on the pier in Ucluelet at 10:30 am for an 11 am launch time. The guide with GPO charters was well prepared for the unprepared kayakers and had dry bags for rent for $1-$2/day depending on the size. If you didn’t pack your stuff in dry bags already, rent the dry bags.

It was quite a process to get out to the Broken Group, as one would expect with a place this beautiful. First had to load the boat with our gear, then head to pick up kayaks, drive 30 minutes to to the Broken Group, load the kayaks, launch into the water and then paddle to shore to unload kayaks, dump our stuff at the site, and then head back out on the water. By 1:30 pm after unpacking our camp, we were finally ready to start paddling! 

First glimpse of the Broken Group Islands (Clarke Island)

We heard it was a relatively calm day so we thought we’d head out to Wouwer island and then over to Effingham island. One pair in our group turned back shortly after, it turns out they had a bent rudder and couldn’t paddle on. (Tip: Check your gear BEFORE departure!) The rest of us battled some large waves and the wild ride to Dicebox. We sat on the beautiful little beach at Dicebox for a short time before optioning to circumnavigate Dicebox and then head back to camp at Clarke. Wanting to avoid the large swells south of Wouwer, we opted to go up to Cooper island. The Coaster channel currents and wind were no match for us and we essentially paddled the treadmill of the broken group for an hour while going nowhere. Having left all our supplies at camp on Clarke, and unable to get back to Clarke due to the conditions, we were essentially fucked. Thankfully a kind family in a fishing boat saw our struggle and helped us out, rescuing us from the coaster channel and driving us and our kayaks back to Clarke. Alternatively we would have had to head back to a beach on Cooper and wait until the winds and current died down, which could have been all night.

Pro Tip: starting from Clarke probably wasn’t the best idea. Although the wind forecast only called for a gentle breeze, the location of Clarke means you will be fighting westerly winds (the predominant winds in this area) on your way back to camp. Always pack emergency supplies in case you can’t make it back to camp at night.

Clarke, you are so beautiful but such a bitch to get to on that damn Coaster Channel!

The park ranger paid us a visit to check our camping permits and park passes, and advised that Willis (where we reserved to stay the second night) was quite crowded and advised me we might want to stay on Clarke a second night. Having read that Clarke was the most beautiful island, and having already set up all our gear on our beach front campsites, we opted to stay the second night on this island.

The second day was when we realized the rudder of one of the kayaks was bent. While waiting for a replacement kayak, a couple of us did the short paddle (15 minutes or less) to Benson. We explored the island which had some Indigenous

Wood carving on the cultural site of Benson Island

history and is a place to learn about the Tseshaht people. We also took this opportunity to gather some wood for our fire later as Benson does not have a campground, therefore has an abundance of wood for burning unlike Clakre which due to the number of campers each night, has significantly less to choose from.

Once the new kayak was delivered, we were ready to set out, again, not until 1 pm. We knew this would result in another fail of stronger winds and difficulty getting back. We paddled up to Turret and Trickett Islands, noting that we had missed the high tide crossing time for the passage between the two islands. We stopped for a late lunch, a small fire to warm up, and pondered portaging over the crossing or paddling against the wind and currents around Trickett Island. The portage route meant carrying our 100+ lb kayaks to the far corner from where we landed, but paddling against small white caps into the wind was just as daunting. We put it to an annonyous vote – rocks being paddle, and shells being portage.

Paddle or Portage?
Paddle!

Rocks won and we jumped back in our kayaks to paddle around. We found a great little opening on the west side of Trickett Island that we were just barely able to pass through with the low tide, and were rewarded with a few cute grey seals on the other side. From here we paddled around the top of Trickett Island, through the Thiepval Channel and into the protected area between Willis Island and Turtle Island. We floated around for a bit, admiring the sheer beauty of this area, paddling up to Walsh Island before turning around and heading back to Turrett Island. We opted to go around Turret Island to check out the “large tree” on the southern tip of the island. Although the whole area was spectacular, there was no special tree in particular that caught our attention. And here we were… back in the Coaster Channel in the late afternoon. Thankfully the winds were more forgiving and we were able to make it back to Clarke Island for the most breathtaking sunset one could wish for.

After we were back on Clarke we decided to make another short wood run to Owens Island. Owens Island doesn’t have the best landing opportunity for the kayak which required us to jump out pretty far out to safety bring our kayak in. We loaded it up with wood and did the short 2 minute paddle back to Clarke to enjoy an incredible fire that night.

Morning Fog on Clarke Island

Our final day had a scheduled pick up of 2 pm at Willis Island. We opted to paddle all our gear with us that day to not have to return to Clarke for it. This meant heavier kayaks but the early start with smooth waters made for an easier paddle. We headed back up to the same crossing on the west side of Trickett Island we had done the day before, and back up through the Thiepval Channel. With the thick fog coating the area, it looked like an entirely different paddle than the afternoon before. We rounded Turtle Island and headed through the Tiny Group to Jarvis Island. We opted to head around the north side of Jarvis Island while it was still calm.

Paddling the calm waters around Jarvis Island

We went into the bay between Jarvis and Jaques Islands to look for a picnic area for lunch and found a swampy bay with not too many great landing spots. Skip this area and have lunch on the beach of Gibraltar instead if you head this way. As we paddled towards Gibraltar we were trying to decide if we had time to circumnavigate Gibraltor to check out the caves or if we should head back along the south side of Jaques to meet our pick up at Willis 1.5 hours later. While deciding, we saw several whale watching boats gather on the North East corner of Gibraltor in the passage between Gibraltor and Turner. I paddled over to try to take a peek but wasn’t able to see much before needing to turn back. A pair of kayakers we passed confirmed they had seen a whale blow hole. Sadly, we missed the show.

It turns out we made the right decision to head back as opposed to circumnavigate Gibraltar, as the winds picked up and we hit some cloudy (I’ll say it rained, others say it won’t) weather around Walsh Island. It wasn’t as bad as the paddle on the first day, but we were certainly grateful to get to Willis where we arrived just on time to meet our shuttle back to Ucluelet. This was a reminder of how fast the weather can turn in this area, and how different it can be from one part of the islands to another.  We loaded up the kayaks and headed back. We were packed up in our cars by around 3:30 pm ready to head back (yes, the entire loading, cruising back to Ucluelet, unloading, etc. takes about 1.5 hours) to try and catch the long weekend ferries back to the mainland.

We had a few bumps along the way but overall a fantastic few days in the Broken Group Islands. We absolutely could have explored more if we had done some pre-planning around our routes and had taken advantage of the days by starting earlier.

Broken Group Island Tips:

– Stay in a hotel or cabin the first night to get a solid rest

– Reserve your ferries! And do it early so you aren’t stuck with a 10:45 pm ferry reservation.

– When you reserve your campsites for the Broken Group, decide what is more important to you. If you want more paddle time without the drama, consider Gibraltar, Dodd or Willis. If you want a gorgeous site with less crowds, consider Clarke.

– Head out as early as possible. The waters are calmest in the morning. This is particularly important if heading to areas with stronger currents and more susceptible to stronger winds such as the Coaster Channel and in particular, the entrance between Benson and Camblain Islands. Don’t let the fog deter you, the islands are very easy to navigate around, especially if you have your chart handy in your kayak. GPO charters provided us with charts in waterproof casing) and getting lost would be quite challenging once inside the Broken Group Islands since it is a small geographic area with some clear points of reference.

– Check tides if you are considering any of the crossings. Even at high tide on the day we were there, we wouldn’t have been able to make the Trickett Island/Turret Island passage.

– Don’t forget to buy your national park passes! Since we were a group of 6, we were able to buy a group pass which was significantly cheaper than buying 6 individual passes.

– Take some time to learn about the Indigenous history of the area. It is likely that like most of us settlers, you are uninvited guests on this beautiful land. The broken group is rich with Indigenous history if you take the time to learn about it.

The traditional territory of the Tseshaht people

– Check the wind forecast and try to plan your day accordingly. The Broken Group Islands currents are not predictable as the Juan de Fuca straight currents are, and therefore you need to utilize the wind forecast to plan.

– Pack your food up securely. One person in our group had a midnight visit from a hungry mouse in her tent! You’ll also have a chance to meet the local deer who have very little fear of humans (don’t feed them please!)

Deer on Clarke Island

Essential Links: 
Tide Charts – point of reference is Effingham Bay

Weather (wind) predictions for Effingham Bay

BC Marine Trails Network – this site is amazing. It will show you distances between each island as well as some photos.

Parks Canada Reservations – Don’t bother trying to camp here without a reservation – they do check these.

Broken Group Islands Kayak Packing List:

– Fresh water! There is no fresh water available. We packed 3-4 Litres a day and had plenty left over. It is heavy so you don’t want to overpack but there is legitimately nowhere else to get water on the islands so be wise with this.

– Chart and compass in a waterproof case. See below for some recommended books with routes as well.

– Toilet paper. The composting toilets aren’t too bad but have zero amenities.

– Water shoes, NOT flip flops

– Binoculars – whales do hang out around here! Easier to spot are the whale watching boats than the whales themselves

– Kayak gloves to prevent blisters on your hands

– Dry bags, ziplock bags, garbage bags, anything to keep your stuff dry

– Quick dry clothing – it likely will not dry between days so bring enough clothes for each day. Remember, cotton is rotten and should be avoided. It is incredibly damp in the broken group so don’t expect anything to fully dry. Bring enough clothing to allow for this.

– Waterproof jacket

– Bug spray and afterbite. Those little fuckers are fierce on the lush islands of the Broken Group.

– Matches & fire starter (the wood can be quite damp). Despite the rest of the province always being under a fire ban in summer, the Broken Group Islands allow fires. Don’t forget to pack items for your S’mores either!

One of our nightly campfires (Clarke Island)

– Fully charged battery packs for cell phones, cameras, etc. Not only do you want to be able to snap photos but your cell phone is also a safety device (yes there is full cell service in the broken group islands)

– Food! And lots of it!

Below are a few essential items I recommend ordering from Amazon for this trip, or any overnight adventure. Buy from these links and I get a small kick back but really, these are just the products I recommend.

 If you bring nothing else, I recommend this book. Yes, you should have a proper marine chart and compass however the chart with points of interest in this kayaking atlas are perfect for the amateur paddler.  Note: The photos of the whales are not guaranteed whale sightings, but where you *might* see them (thank you to our hitchhiking driver for clearing this up and reminding us that whales do move around)

 This is another essential resource with fantastic kayak route suggestions. Much better suggestions than the routes we took.

 

 

 

After destroying my iphone 6 in the damp forest of Meares island last year even though it was in an  Otterbox case (not waterproof), I have been protecting my iPhone 7 with a Lifeproof case. Essential phone cover if you’re anywhere near water!

I’ve had quite a few battery packs but this one seems to hold the most charges. It is heavy and bulky but totally worth it.

 

 

 I was looking for the lightest, smallest, but comfortable sleeping pad without paying a fortune and was quite impressed with this one. It is truly as small as it is advertised!

 

Another super cheap option for gear. You may prefer the $500 high tech tent option but if you want to be  a basic bitch, this tent will do.

 

 

 The easiest way to store your water and have easy access for drinking while paddling is with these water bladders. Surprisingly durable – I was sure I would have punctured mine with what I put it through.

 

 

Had fun in the Broken Group and wanting more? Give the paddle from Lopez to Jones Island in the San Juan Islands a try. Info posted here.