Gulf Islands Gateway - TRAK Pilot Training

May 25, 2022

Gulf Islands Gateway - TRAK Pilot Training



TRAK Pilots Jordan Johnson and Chris Young joined Jason and Cole at TRAK HQ for a weekend of Pilot-immersion recently. This 2 vs. 2 session led us to completing a paddle that is very unique to the Nanaimo area, and gave these visiting Pilots a chance to step (or stroke) through the Gulf Islands Gateway.


Welcome to the Gulf Islands Gateway:



I - An ocean of options

Planning out the day over breakfast, coffee, and mushroom elixirs, we wanted to select a route that really showcased our local backyard to the TRAK Pilots. Options of visiting sea caves, coastal sections, and circumnavigating islands were tabled, but ultimately we decided on something fairly unique: a river launch with an ocean finish.

We selected a modest put-in about 4 km from the mouth of the Nanaimo River, above a small section of mellow rapids. We had expectations of enough river flow to avoid walking our kayaks in shallow sections, and we knew we'd have to be mindful of the tides when we reached the river mouth.



II - The Nanaimo River

A quick stop overlooking the river mouth gave us the confidence to launch. It was low tide, but we felt confident that by the time we'd built our kayaks and paddled the 4 km route that we'd be on the receiving end of the tidal flood.

Launching the boats above a small rapid section meant that the day was front loaded with excitement. We navigated the rapid, avoiding river strainers on the right bank, and progressed downstream with a healthy current pushing us along. The TRAK 2.0 handles rivers with remarkable speed and grace, being playful in the current and responsive when avoiding hazards.



III - Crossing to Saysutshun / Newcastle Island

Getting spat out into the tidal marshes is always a fun experience. Navigating the reeds of the marshland was a dramatic change of scenery from the dense forest lining the Nanaimo River. Our calculations on receiving the tidal flood were mostly accurate, having just enough water to paddle the brackish marsh in all but one 5 meter section - nobody lucked out, and all Pilots had to drag their boats!

Entering the Nanaimo harbour from the marshes meant encountering ferry traffic, sea plane takeoffs, and a potential maze of floating logs awaiting the local mill. Navigation in the Nanaimo harbour is very simple - a short crossing to Protection Island provides a safe route to reach Saysutshun Island, where we visited for our lunch break.



Saysutshun (aka Newcastle Island) is known as a place of revitalization to the local Salish culture, and that was our exact purpose for landing there - we were hungry paddlers! We pulled our kayaks above the incoming tideline and walked into the Island. Saysutshun is the future location of an introductory base camp training weekend program that, with the blessing of the local Snuneymuxw, TRAK will be hosting under our local Coastal Expression operation this summer. 


IV- Converging on Brechin 

Revitalized, we hopped back in our boats and traced the inside of Saysutshun to the Brechin boat launch. The inside route of Saysutshun offers a very sheltered paddle, with plenty of opportunities to weave between rocks and examine the biodiversity of the local ecosystem. Boulders on the steep shore support at least 11 different species of plants and lichen on a single rock, and the beautiful rock formations tell the story of thousands of years of tides and storms.

As we approached our take-out location, a tandem kayak appeared ahead of us - piloted by some young ladies who rented the boat from Coastal Expression earlier that morning. The timing was perfect, as four TRAK Pilots rendezvoused with the tandem kayak, Nolin Veillard arrived with the support vehicle to collect us all. There were smiles all around, and the satisfaction of completing a day paddle that is not a common option - to paddle from freshwater, to brackish, and into the sea - is a unique experience for many kayakers.



V - The Pilot Program is what you make of it

We’ve long prided ourselves on the TRAK Pilot Ambassador Program. The free-agent nature of the program, held together by the goals of educating our community, expanding it where appropriate, and unleashing the Pilot, has enabled a network of avid owner-ambassadors to provide amazing experiences to kayakers the world over. The program includes top-caliber kayak educators and weekend warriors, seasoned instructors and budding guides, all sharing a passion for getting others involved in kayaking. 

We concluded our day with a fresh, locally sourced Indian meal at TRAK HQ (big thanks to Khulwant for feeding the team with her home cooking!). Dinner discussion topics bounded between why we paddle and why we seek to lead others outdoors, to the current state of the world, to what we’re each looking to achieve in our futures - heavy talk for a heavy meal!



On the whole, being able to provide a space for Pilot Ambassadors to visit and stay with the TRAK team to conduct training is an amazing feature of our West coast home, and with more Pilot ambassadors booked to arrive on Vancouver Island throughout the summer, it is a place that we thrive on sharing with others. 




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