Wind and waves rose to 16-18 knots and close to 1 meter, conditions we and Phoenix handle easily.
Approaching a passage between Tree Island and Pylades Island at the north end of Trincomali Channel, we spotted what looked like a strange log with 2 or 3 large birds on it.
Getting closer, we realized it was a CANOE with 3 people in it, and closer still, using binoculars, we saw they were waving their arms at us and yelling for help. We slowed to approach within shouting distance, and it was clear they were in trouble: the canoe was half-swamped in the white-caps, their clothes were soaked, and only two of them wore life vests.
We asked if they wanted to come aboard, they did, and a tense hour ensued. It's hard to explain how difficult it is to bring a canoe to the swim step, which is crashing up and down in the waves, and transfer 3 cold people and all their camping gear into our cockpit, without smashing hands between the canoe and swim step or capsizing the canoe. Fortunately all 3 were young, agile and strong enough.
Turns out they'd canoed across from north of Chemainus (12 miles) the day before and camped overnight on Valdes Island, unaware the weather would get rougher this morning. Eliza (age 24) explained that Joseph (16) and Kenzie (20) -- brother and sister -- both had to be at work at 5pm, so she was trying to get them back. Then we learned a fourth member of their group, Kayla (21) was in a tiny 5-foot "sport" kayak and couldn't manage it in the wind and waves, so Eliza had instructed her to go ashore and look for help. Kayla was alone, they weren't sure where.
We asked enough questions to ensure everyone was cold but uninjured, wrapped them in dry beach towels and began the search for Kayla.
Bob drove Phoenix as close to shore as safely possible, and Cathryn and Eliza scanned the shoreline with binoculars. We finally located the blue kayak and an orange life vest on shore, then Kayla 300 feet away sitting on a large rock.
Eliza yelled and motioned Kayla to swim out to our boat, to which Cathryn responded "If she tries that, I'm calling the Coast Guard for help. Tell her to go back to the kayak and paddle to Phoenix." Short version: Kayla made it to Phoenix in the kayak and safely boarded. We tied the canoe in our cockpit, the kayak on the swim step, and headed 12 miles to Chemainus where Eliza had called her Dad and asked that he pick them up. The marina agreed to let us tie up to drop off people and gear.
So for an hour, Bob drove Phoenix, fuming over the abysmal lack of knowledge and preparedness these 4 exhibited (3 life vests for 4 people, no one knew where they were, no whistle, flares, VHF radio, first aid kit, out of food and water, all barefoot with cuts on their feet from rocks with barnacles, and in vessels suitable for small inland lakes, not big bodies of cold salt water with wind and waves) while Cathryn gave them dry clothes, food and water and talked with them.
They seemed cheerfully oblivious to the dangers and risks they'd faced, despite two of them were shivering uncontrollably and Eliza described Joseph as "not a strong swimmer". Joseph looked like he might be in shock, saying nothing except one-word responses to questions directed to him. Eliza laughed a lot, perhaps out of embarrassment that she'd been the leader of this expedition. Turns out the 3 girls were roommates in Nanaimo.
So Dad met us on the dock in Chemainus, handed Cathryn a bottle of nice wine as a thank you, all the kids hugged us and thanked us, and off we went. Whew!
Mostly, we know from our own experience of a boating accident with severe injury last summer that anyone can get in trouble on the water anytime. And anyone in a position to help can and should offer assistance. We've been in a position of needing help and know how desperate it can feel. We just think Eliza, Kayla, Kenzie and Justin were lucky we happened along when we did, as no other boats were in sight. We're glad we could help and that all ended well. Aaron and Julie certainly understood why we were several hours late meeting them at Montague.