Coastal Adventures Annual Sea Kayakers’ Meeting 2016

As I contemplated making the rock hop through a particularly short slot on the outside of Borgles Island, two things occurred to me: this wasn’t the kind of fun I expected from a Nova Scotia sea kayak tour company; and I should have brought my play boat instead.

Coastal Adventures-opening talk

Opening remarks by Scott Cunningham on the back deck of the Paddlers Retreat

This past weekend I attended the Coastal Adventures 27th annual Sea Kayakers’ meeting in Tangier, Nova Scotia. This is the longest continually-running sea kayak event in the country, which owner Scott Cunningham joked during his opening talk, “might be the last”. Although it was my first tour with Coastal and my first time attending their annual meeting, I felt immediately welcome and familiar. My good friend and coach, Christopher Locker, started his sea kayaking career here twenty years ago and many other friends have attended this annual event and participated in tours by Coastal. And I have a special place in my heart for co-owner, Gayle Wilson, who helped me nail my roll a few years back when I was still working on that progression.

In the tradition of the annual meeting, Coastal offered day trips on the first of this two-day event. Of the three options, I selected the longest paddle — 20 km — starting from East Ship Harbour and ending back at the home base in Tangier. A shorter trip travelled with the southwesterly winds at their back from Tangier to Taylors Head and the shortest trip explored the extents of Tangier Harbour.

Coastal Adventures-20km paddle

20 km from East Ship Harbour to Tangier

Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is largely unexplored territory for me and I was excited to see more of it. Through one of its most ambitious projects, 100 Wild Islands, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust is acquiring island properties, which combined with Provincially protected areas, will preserve this diverse and ecologically rich archipelago. Our trip explored Cable Island, Wolfes Island, and Borgles Island (and its affiliates).

It was good to see Shaun Gibbs, our trip leader, with whom I was already well acquainted through the Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium. With Paddle Canada Level 4 skills, Level 2 Instructor, and British Canoe Union (BCU) 4 Star Leadership awards, Shaun is an experienced guide who also leads trips for Coastal around Cape Breton and Newfoundland. Based on my growing knowledge of Atlantic Canadian outfitters, I recognize that the quality and experience of Coastal guides is top notch.

John Carmondy, a guest ACA Level 5 Advanced Open Water Instructor and BCU Level 5 Sea Coach from Maine, also joined us for the journey. It was a rare time on the water when neither John nor I had any leadership responsibility so I enjoyed an engaging conversation and took advantage of the opportunity to learn from him. John, who says that he’s learned as much from his students as he has from his mentors, was generous with teaching moments for everyone. During the windy crossing at False Passage, John challenged me to come up with as many ways I could imagine to coach boat handling in high winds.

Coastal truly lived up to its culinary reputation with an impressive picnic lunch spread. The group relaxed with plenty of snack food, including salt & pepper peanuts (awesome) as the guide crew unpacked, prepared food, and made freshly brewed coffee. Our beach buffet consisted of varieties of bread, cheese, avocado, meats, smoked salmon, lemon salmon, and vegetables, finished with home-made cookies.

Coastal Adventures-lunch stop

Lunch stop on Wolfes Island

After lunch, John Carmondy gave a beach talk about the nature of water as it flows against and around rocks. I gained greater insights into rock hopping through John’s descriptions of the appearance, sounds, and movement of white foamy and aqua-marine water. After we left the beach, part of the group went around the protected inside of Borgles Island and the rest of us went looking for rock hopping opportunities around the more energetic outside of the island.

Shaun had us back to Tangier in plenty of time for supper at the church hall. There was plenty of delicious food to refuel tired paddlers, as we talked excitedly about our various adventures from the day. The desert table was impressive and I couldn’t resist enjoying four different (but modest) helpings.

After some downtime, many of us met back at the Paddlers Retreat for Scott’s evening slide show. I was especially interested in attending his presentation on coastal paddling and hiking in Cape Breton since I’m planning my own trip at the end of June. Standing on the deck outside and looking in through the large front window, I enjoyed speaking with Shaun, who led many of these trips. He described landing and camping spots and reassured me of where we would find fresh water.

I camped Saturday evening at Murphy’s Cove Campground, just 10 minutes down the road from Tangier. Not surprisingly, more than half the guests had boats atop their cars and some of my neighbours were good friends of mine. Foregoing Murphy’s nightly community campfire and generous complementary mussel feed, I headed to my campsite to get some rest. I was lulled to sleep by the sound of a nearby whistle buoy and slept soundly in this quiet campground.

Day 2 of the Sea Kayakers’ meeting was focused on skill development workshops with John Carmondy and my own coach and Coastal Adventures alumnus, Christopher Locker. Having been away boating just about every weekend since early May, I decided to skip skills day and spend Sunday back at home in Hubbards. I dropped by Coastal briefly in the morning to say hello to Christopher and goodbye to some new friends. The place was a bustle of activity with breakfast in the main house and coffee in the Paddler’s Retreat. The scene was more reminiscent of a large, extended family reunion rather than a symposium.

In the nearly three decades that Scott and Gayle have been operating Coastal Adventures and running this annual meeting, what they’ve built is a family. Scott established the roots and tradition of a rich learning community that I’m privileged to benefit from today through BCU coaches like Christopher Locker and John Carmondy. In this respect, and through their Atlantic Canada tours, Scott, Gayle and crew are indeed great coastal adventurers.

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