Cortes Kayaks

Cortes Kayaks is optimistic about the future

Kai Harvey of Cortes Kayaks is feeling optimistic as BC enters phase one of its new restart plan.  

A lot of local bookings

“We definitely have a lot of bookings from Campbell River and all up and down Vancouver Island. No one from off island has booked yet. It is nice to know that people want to travel locally, so we will be able to get by and I feel optimistic about that,” she said. 

“We have two trips for Cortes youth in the works this summer, which will be really fun. Hopefully other Cortesians will want to come paddling as well. We have a local discount.” 

This is her third year of business. 

Kai has always loved kayaking. Her parents, Ryan and Lovena Harvey, owned a ‘fleet of canoes and kayaks.’ In Kai’s earliest memories of paddling a kayak, she used a canoe paddle. 

Working as a tour guide

The opportunity to work in this field arose through a chance conversation on the Cortes Ferry, when she was returning home from a trip, five years ago. She was coming home after a nine month trip to Europe, Northern Africa and South Africa (where the Harveys came from). Mike Moore, owner of the Misty Isles, was returning after another winter as a tour guide in the Antarctic.

“We were chatting and I said, one day I would really like to work for you Mike. He was like, ‘actually we have a job opening right now,’” said Kai. 

Moore took her under his wing and taught her everything she needed to know that first season. 

Kai took the kayak guiding and certification courses she needed after that.

“It was all super fun,” she says.   

Supper with Cortes Kayaks

Buying Cortes Kayaks

The next step occurred during a trip up Toba Inlet, in 2018. The Misty Isles was doing a lot of multi-day trips, kayaking and sailing, at that time. 

“We would sometimes be gone for a whole week at a time, during which we chatted a lot about the business.  I had a lot of business ideas because my parents are also entrepreneurs, they run the Gathering Place, and so I feel I am always thinking in a kind of business mindset because of the way I grew up,” she said. “I would always have a lot of ideas and Mike would say ‘Okay Kai, okay.’”

He was thinking of selling the kayak business, but was not sure if anyone would be interested. 

Kai was really interested, but being only 19 or 20 , was not sure he’d take her seriously. She also wasn’t sure whether to take herself seriously.

“If I could have waited to buy the business, until I was as old as I am now or maybe even a few years into the future, I definitely would have waited. I think that time in life – 19, 20, 21, 22 – it is nice to not have as much responsibility. I definitely forfeited my free years in my early twenties, which is a little sad, but I also feel so grateful to have had that opportunity,” she said. “I saw it as an opportunity: ‘I have to jump on this now. otherwise I’m not going to have something that I really love to do on Cortes for maybe a long time.” 

So Kai told Moore, “I would be really interested in buying the business.” 

“Whoa, are you sure? – that’s crazy!” he replied. 

Then Moore got excited about the idea.

Coordinating with Jonas and Amy 

In September 2018, they met with Amy Bockner and Jonas Fiineman, who wanted to purchase the Misty Isles

 “We had a meeting about the logistics of splitting the business, because they weren’t interested in the kayak portion of it. They just wanted to focus on sailing. So it worked really well, our visions totally aligned and we were both very happy about the outcome,” said Kai.

Going forward, Misty Isles and Cortes Kayaks would both pursue their own businesses and periodically combine to offer customers a package deal.  

The launch of Cortes Kayaks

Cortes Kayaks was launched in 2019. Having never owned a business before, Kai wan’t sure what to expect. Prior to this, she had always asked ‘the man’ – or ‘boss’ – “What do we do next? Now she was the boss and people were looking at her. 

“It was an experience of trusting myself and saying ‘yes’ to new opportunities. It is getting easier and easier, and better and better, every single time I take a new booking,” said Kai.

“Our season was amazing. I basically just said ‘Yes’ to every opportunity that came my way … That was my mantra for that season … People were like, ‘can we do this?’ And I was like, ‘let me look at the tides and currents … Likely, yes.’ So I would check it out and find the right times to do the trip.”     

Regular trips 

There were also regular trips: like the Sunset tours, which usually take place between 7:30 and 10:30 in the evenings from May until September.

“Common wildlife observed during this time of day include seabirds, eagles, seals, intertidal life and jellyfish. Occasionally we see orcas, porpoises and humpbacks!” – the Cortes Kayak website

“The Bioluminescence Tours occur later in the summer, when it is a little bit darker. They are just super magical because kayaking through the bioluminescent, the phytoplankton are just pretty incredible to see.  It was actually my first time ever kayaking in the bioluminescence when I started guiding. It is a pretty breathtaking experience. Those tours never get old for me,” said Kai. 

“We do our afternoon tours as well, and in 2019 we did our first overnight kayaking expedition.  We went out to the Penn islands from Coulter Bay and the whales just kept us up all night. It was a magical experience. That is one of my favourite places to go kayaking.” 

They also had youth tours; private school trips; a Buddhist retreat; rentals for anytime, any day of the week, with free drop offs at Cortes Bay, Mansons Lagoon and Smelt Bay.

Kai also offers discounts for locals “because half the beauty of living on Cortes is having the ocean so close.” 

The COVID Pandemic

The landscape definitely shifted after the COVID pandemic arrived in the Spring of 2020. It was difficult for small businesses, like Cortes Kayaks, and Kai wondered if she would be able to do business.

“It was a really nice surprise to have so much local tourism. People came from Campbell River on their honeymoon and a lot of Cortesians came out kayaking with me,” said Kai. 

Kai Harvey kayaking courtesy Mary

Conservation & Ecology

She added that, “I really see outdoor experiences and and experiences where people can connect deeply with the ecology as part of the Conservation agenda, because it so important for people to care about the ecosystems they are in and understand their role within those ecosystems. So when I am out kayaking, I always like to accentuate the conservation agenda and the environmental agenda of everything we’re doing.” 

This includes talking about ocean acidification, climate change and the environmental degradation. 

What roles do humans play within that? And what can we do differently? 

She also talks about social issues, like what it means to be on unceded territory and the indigenous history of every place they visit. 

Links of Interest: 

All photos of Kai Harvey courtesy Mary; All other photos courtesy

Sign-up for Cortes Currents email-out:

To receive an emailed catalogue of articles on Cortes Currents, send a (blank) email to subscribe to your desired frequency: