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  • Kevin Kossowan

Episode Diary - S10E3

I started visiting the pacific ocean on the west coast of British Columbia when I was barely a teen. My grandparents would rent a condo in Parksville for a couple months over the winter, and mom and I would visit on spring breaks. As I grew older, we started to visit my fishing guide cousins on Sonora Island, still one of the most epic ocean environments I’ve ever seen on the planet. The ocean currents roar during the day and flow like a vast river hundreds of feet deep, changing course every few hours, interrupted by the glass of slack tide. It’s there that I learned how to drive a boat on the ocean - everything from small skiffs to a large work boat. I learned to dock in the current. I learned how to catch and clean a surreal array of ocean creatures, some beastly like the ling cod, some magnificent like the chinook salmon. My time on the ocean was always a function of my family inviting me out, and as I became more confident in the outdoors, I was keen to find a ‘spot’ of my own that suited me. Looked at buying land briefly. But then was exposed to sea kayaking. Sea kayking not only removed the barrier of cost of an expensive boat and engine (or land), but it was portable - transferrable. Not just to other waters in the area, but to any waters on the planet. It democratized the ocean for me, allowing me access to the most amazing islets and islands that even the local billionaires (not kidding) couldn’t possess. It gave me access to the best places, with no operating cost, no fossil fuels needed to navigate my day. And it required of me that I was fit, strong, got trained in marine subjects like meteorology and compass navigation (including in solid fog), and build experience to be able to gradually face tougher conditions on the ocean. It required independence.

The beach at camp

In s9, one of my instructors from my guide training, Finn Steiner, joined me in the field and on camera. I described to him what my needs were to shoot the show, and he effortlessly chose a spot that was perfection. It’s a small island about 3NM from the nearest community on the exposed side of Vancouver Island. It’s big enough to take on a tiny group of sea kaykers, but too small for guided groups. As is the case for the whole area - it’s teeming with biodiversity, especially in the seaweed department. It’s rich in intertidal critters and plants, shore plants, and land plants of all kinds. It’s remote enough to be and feel alone, but close enough to have cell reception and my VHF radio would reach coast guard minutes away if ever there was an emergency. It’s about an hour and a half paddle from put-in. In S8, we were 3-4 days of paddling from put in. That camp was REMOTE. Not the safest place to play. This little island had it all. Everything I needed for a home base on the ocean. I didn’t have to buy it, or pay to stay there. I could go whenever I wanted, as often as I wanted. That kind of freedom is one of the gifts of the boreal forest, but it’s especially bizarre to have that freedom parallel to extremely expensive ocean front properties. In an effort towards a modicum of privacy and because honestly the precise locations of our camps means zero in the vast ecosystems they exist in, I’ve long called our boreal camp ‘bushcamp’, our recent addition ‘grasslands camp’, so now this one: ‘oceancamp’.

I’d originally planned on returning with Finn, but the nature of his work as a guide and photographer make him a tough man to pin down. And ever since connecting with sea kayak professionals that advised my training path, I’ve required my guests/friends to have at least a L1 Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Skills certification before they can join me in the field. That’s not the easiest hurdle to overcome. Then the vast list of very specialized gear. Then the location takes days to get to. So in absence of a paddling partner, I went it alone.

Solar setup, tended hourly to face the sun

Sea kayaking alone presents some challenges. A logistics one, for example, is that I can’t share the gear load with a friend - I have to fit EVERYTHING in my boat: camping gear, food, fresh water, fishing gear, all of my production gear, solar gear, and so on. It hast to be packed just so. One challenge I noticed factored in heavily is how solo impacted my risk management. Every decision I made, my only backstop was my VHF radio and the coast guard. There was nobody there to fetch a dropped paddle, or help me re-enter if I was to capsize. Nobody to tend a fire, or make a coffee. Nobody to catch the food for the day, butcher it, and cook it - just me. I ran camera gear, chased the sun with my solar panel and battery to make sure I could keep my cameras rolling. Harvested seaweed, did intertidal and plant surveys, and then when it came time to eat - back out to catch a fish.

I was going to be out for a week or so. I was shooting 3-4 days alone, then transferring to a nearby chain of islands to meet up with sea kayak guide Justine Curgenven. On day 2 or so, I discovered that my fresh water had been leaking. I’d filled the water bladder in haste at launch, and hadn’t screwed one of the smaller caps on quite enough. I did some math and figured out that I’d just make it if I was careful, until Justine arrived. Not good, but manageable. I'd just made it with my water, allocating 100ml doses, and was dehydrated when Justine arrived for the subsequent episode. She had just come off of some heavy level 4 guide instructor training, and forgot the water resupply. We lived off the water in her PFD water bladder for a day.

The seas were 2m roughly, which isn’t too bad, but I discovered on this trip that if I didn’t eat before heading out, I’d get a decent dose of sea sickness. Problem there was that to eat...I needed to paddle. Chicken and egg problem. Easy solve - get ahead of the food supply. But no refrigeration to hold fresh fish, especially after a couple days of ice melting. By day 3-7, you’re depending on ambient air temps for food handling safety. I carry candied ginger and gravol. And used them. And still felt wonky on land.

A couple days in I was doing a launch with my DSLR filming precariously on the deck, so was mindful as could be about that, and failed to notice my sunglasses slip into the ocean while getting sorted in the boat. The camera caught it. So I spent a day in the blaring sun without sunglasses. At low tide I looked everywhere. Nothing. Thankfully, the next day the ocean returned them on the beach, bent, with one arm broken off and badly scratched up. But that’s what I had to work with, for the next 5 days.

I had a 4 legged creature steal my bar snacks. Dumb mistake on my end leaving them out. I knicked my hand with my very sharp knife during food prep. I lost enough lures to the deep that I was running out of the effective ones. The surf was so loud at night, and the stakes high being alone, that sleeps were light and shallow. The fishing was slow, and that’s all I had for protein. It was a legit problem every couple days: calories.

My tent pad just high enough to dodge the tide

And just to top it all off - days later, when I got home, I’d lost my favourite merino buff. Thankfully, 3 months later I returned to the island, and it was right where I had left it. And I still have it - a bit sun bleached on one side, but otherwise just fine. A souvenir of one of the hardest film shoots I’ve been on.

There’s stuff that gets killed in edit. One such moment, is me somewhat falling apart emotionally reflecting on being alone with that mountain of tasks. In that moment, without the proudful gift of film as a pat on the back, I really had nothing. Nobody to share it with. Nobody to give me a hand. Nobody even to point a camera at other than myself. I’m sure this says lots about who I am as a person. If the show was about drama, I’d have left this in, but the more important scene was the seaweed dish. That giant kelp, far more important for runtime minutes than my internal challenges.

But I did it. I did my plant and intertidal surveys so that I can research the species present over the winter (done). I caught cabezon, and cooked it on camera, which was a bucket list species. I worked with giant kelp (macrocystis pyrifera) in the ways I’d dreamed up months prior. I caught ling cod and rock fish. Made an innovative cocktail out of an invasive species of fruit. Expanded my knowledge of the local fishing ‘spots’ having discovered a nice stretch for ling. I proved to myself that I can do it all, not that I ever want to again. But most importantly I set roots in place, something that’s deeply important to me, in a place that’s deeply important to me: the pacific northwest.

So that was S10 Oceancamp. Am I going back? Hell yes. Am I going back alone? Hell no.

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