As Vancouver Island’s seaside resorts begin to cautiously navigate post-COVID-19 waters, marine tour operators are also starting to crank their motors for a safe re-opening.
From whale watching tours and sunset kayaking trips to family fishing charters, most guides are feeling optimistic about welcoming regional guests this summer and are confident the new COVID-19 protocols put in place will keep their communities safe.
Hello Nature Adventure Tours owner/operator Kevin Bradshaw helped prepare a 52-page COVID-19 Best Management Practices document for the sea kayaking industry.
The document thoroughly outlines recommended cleaning methods for common equipment like spray skirts—dip in disinfecting solution—and offers direction on how guides can maintain physical distancing with novice paddlers during launching and landing.
“When you’re on the water, there are not too many scenarios where you have to get within two metres of another kayak,” Bradshaw said.
In the event of a rescue or emergency, “guides should remain calm and take charge of any situation keeping in mind the potential for COVID-19”, notes the Best Management sea kayaking document. Keeping gloves and a face-mask in a readily accessible location at all times is recommended for guides.
On June 1, Bradshaw quietly re-opened Hello Nature to locals only.
“We want to test our systems and we want to make sure our community is comfortable and we are comfortable,” he said, adding that he is inspired by the COVID-19 resource manual created for his industry.
“A lot of people are communicating and trying to figure out how to survive together,” he said.
Whale Watching and Bear Watching
Subtidal Adventures owner Brian Congdon and his family encountered about 30 feeding humpback whales on the South bank, about five miles from Ucluelet, on May 23. (Brian Congdon photo)
In addition to following guidelines from Transport Canada, the provincial re-start plan, and WorkSafe BC, the Pacific Rim Association of Tour Operators (PRATO) has been active with other whale watching organizations across the island, including Washington State, in an attempt to be as cohesive as possible with industry restart plans, according to Ryan Teremy, general manager at Jamie’s Whaling Station.
Brian Congdon owns the Ucluelet-based Subtidal Adventures whale and bear watching outfit. He has been taking guests on zodiac tours of the Barkley Sound since the early 1980s. He said he expects to see no international travel this summer and mostly regional tourists.
“It’ll be just one family per trip or social group and everyone will be wearing masks,” said Congdon. “I’ll be wearing a mask at all times,” he adds.
He expressed concerns about making a marine tour on a 12-passenger zodiac viable for his family business.
“Depending on the price of gas, I can cover wages and fuel with two passengers, but that doesn’t pay for rent, insurance or moorage fees. Six [passengers] would be great,” he said.
“If we can get to next March, things will kick in,” said Congdon.
He went on to tell the Westerly that all the restaurants and small businesses here the West Coast are a direct result of a thriving tourist industry.
“Yes we need to be careful, but everyone who enjoys all these amenities, needs to understand it’s because of a thriving tourist industry,” said Congdon.
Family Fishing Charters
Lance Desilets' daughter shows off her catch. (Lance's Sportfishing Adventures photo)
Lance Desilets owns Lance’s Sportfishing Adventures, a salt water fishing charter based out of Tofino. This summer will be his 18th season of taking visitors to fish halibut, salmon, and lingcod in the waters of Clayoquot Sound. He said he is officially re-opening his business on June 15.
“I’m looking forward to it. Just going to follow the protocols set out by the government and hopefully everything goes smoothly. We’re definitely excited to open. We feel it’s time,” said Desilets. The Tofino angler went on to say the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C. worked closely with the West Coast Fishing Guide Association to implement a plan that reflects the requirement of the government in order to operate.
“I’ll say that it’s about as clear as mud. It’s a little bit hard to sift through what the hard recommendations are as far as the phases go,” he said.
For guests aboard Lance’s Sportfishing, captain Desilets will host only one social unit per trip and he said wearing masks and social distancing will be encouraged and he will have a hand-washing stations.
“When we’re close together we will have to wear masks and if we have contact with equipment together then we will have to hand-wash and sanitize and be diligent, just be smart,” he said.
“I’m pretty proud of our communities. We’ve done a fantastic job. I think we’ve set the bar really high for the rest of the country. It’s been a struggle, for sure. I think a lot of people in coastal communities that have businesses that aren’t traditionally found in big cities maybe feel through the cracks a little,” said Desilets.
Sea kayak guide Bradshaw sums it up best.
“I’m just happy to get back on the water,” he said.