Riding the waves

Kayak tours explore the waters off Oak Bay with funny tales, history and wildlife

Dave Kesson returns to the Ocean River Sports Paddle Shack at Oak Bay Marina.

Dave Kesson returns to the Ocean River Sports Paddle Shack at Oak Bay Marina.

Settled in with a paddle, boat, jacket and floatation device, our guide goes over paddle technique; she clearly wants us to get the most from this trip.

Ocean River has been in business for more than 34 years and it’s the second consecutive summer for the Paddle Shack, an Ocean River Outpost at Oak Bay Marina. It’s the fifth year of Discovery Island tours but we’re about to embark on a $75 three-hour tour, offered weekdays from the Paddle Shack.

The guide is hopeful to see Jimmy Chicken and Trial islands, seals and other wildlife. The winds are predicted to pick up about halfway through the three-hour trip, so the itinerary could change, she warns.

First she makes us repeat the wet exit dry-run three times on the dock.

We start with hands in the air, then find our hips with our hands, slide fingers to the front of the kayak’s skirt, slide thumbs into the loop and pull out and up. Then bend a knee and tip to the side. The third time we do it with our eyes closed.

Convinced we’ll be safe, we hit the waterway.

We stop for a quick test of our paddling, stopping and turning skills, plus our first taste of information. Rockweed, the guide points out, grows on rocks. If you see it floating, you know there are rocks underneath.

Great to know, but also, its little pockets contain a goo with degreasing properties.

“I call it the Palmolive of the sea,” the guide says, goo oozing over her fingertips.   “It grows quite affluently too as you can see.”

Onward to Jimmy Chicken Island, unofficially named for the tales of Jimmy who used to live there and apparently swiped chickens then sold them again.

We pause to spot seals, and hear the list of wildlife we may see, including salt-water adapted sea otters, sea lions, harbour seals and whole host of birdlife including oyster catchers – a black bird “smoking a carrot” –  she says.

As responsible kayakers, we’ll try not to startle any of them, leaving a 100 metre berth to enjoy them, but not interfere.

The pointed tips of our kayaks – green, blue, red – stream toward Victoria Golf Course “the green patch” that inspires a personal story from our guide about a previous tour paddler who hoped to stop for a few rounds.

We target the outcrop of land in a bid to peek around it at Trial Island and the place where tides meet, creating wild turbulence.

On the return trip, jellies hover just below bullhead and giant seaweed that skim the surface. In our small shallow vessels we skirt the shore, slipping between and rocky uprisings.

On the return to Oak Bay Marina, our guide shares tales of Rumrunner Annie and history of Discovery Island and its marine provincial park.

Discovery was once the home of Captain Ernest Godfrey Beaumont who owned roughly half the island and gifted his share to the province when he died in 1967.

In 1902, after her father died, Mary Ann Croft became the first female lighthouse keeper in Canada. She also served the longest on our shores. She came to be called Rumrunner Annie amid rumours she saved for retirement by helping rum runners relay messages.

Seals greet us as we slip our kayaks slowly beneath the decks of the Marina Restaurant and back to the paddle shack, three hours after our departure.

Visit the Oak Bay Paddle Shack at the Oak Bay Marina for daily tours ($75) or go to oceanriver.com/adventure to learn more about day trips to Discovery Island.