Just before Zak Cross put in for a 20-mile paddle from Quadra Island to Stuart Island in the northern end of British Columbia's remote Straight of Georgia, he logged onto the Internet. The paddle would take him from the relatively dry side of the Discovery Islands to the mouth of Bute Inlet at the edge of the notorious Coast Range. In those waters, it pays to be careful. “The weather looked great and the forecast was good, but things change fast here,”Cross says.
Online, he found the optimistic forecast had not changed, but a quick surf to a set of Web cameras showed a different story. “There were white caps coming down the inlet,”says Cross, who left the crossing for a different day. “I could have gotten in some serious trouble if it wasn't for those cameras.”
Webcams—small cameras that feed streaming video or real-time still images to internet sites—are becoming an increasingly useful tool for paddlers. A Google search yields hundreds of sites where virtual onlookers can monitor everything from the traffic on their evening commute to New York's Time Square. The top hit, a site called EarthCam.com, boasts thousands of cameras at construction sites, wildlife monitoring zones, and popular tourist destinations ranging from Key West bars to the African coast. The site even offers users the ability to share live images from any location worldwide.
“I don't go on a day trip now without checking a Webcam first,”says Lake Superior sea kayaker Dave Henderson.”On multi-day trips I'll bring my Blackberry and check the latest shots before doing big crossings.”
The easiest way to find Webcams in your favorite paddling haunts is to try a Google search and see what turns up. In the Great Lakes region, pleasantweather.com was a winner, with links to 407 cameras, some with on-water views, and forecasts for other U.S. and Canadian locations. Great-lakes.net links to dozens of other cameras monitoring the region, and NOAA's regional site, glerl.noaa.gov, links to even more lake-view cameras from the St. Lawrence Seaway to Lake Superior.
Surfers are as obsessive as kayakers about ocean conditions, and surfing sites like magicseaweed.com or surfline.com link to Webcams monitor pretty much every piece of water that ever peels a break.
The cameras that saved Cross from an unpleasant face-off with heavy weather belong to Vancouver Island Air & Sea, a Campbell River-based float plane and water taxi service. The company has set up nine Webcams, at $1,000 each, to help its pilots decide whether to fly, stay home, or wait.
“Forecasts cover such large areas here and the weather changes so dramatically from one place to another and from minute to minute,”says VIA owner Larry Langford. The more information you have the better off you are.”That advice is as good for sea kayakers as it is for aviators.
San Juan Islands, WA – www.islandcam.com/
Lake Superior Webcams –www.skoac.org/links.shtml#webcams
California Live Web Cam Directory
Vancouver Island Air – www.vancouverislandair.com/webcam.php
Great Lakes – http://www.pleasantweather.com/wx3/cam_db.php
St. Lawrence Seaway to Lake Superior – www.glerl.noaa.gov/webcams/