After all the writing I’ve done in the last seven months about dreary rain-soaked darkness I’m happy to report that I sit at my laptop this morning while enjoying a perfect dawn. The sky is clear and windless. The rising sun sun brings a warmth that seeps right in to my heart and provides a rich golden light unique to this part of the world. The silence is eerie. There is no grunting machinery, no throb of marine diesels, no yammer of someone’s acid radio tones. All I can hear is the squeal of tinnitus in my mechanic’s ears but gradually I pick out the pip and chatter of little birds, even the wing-whistle of a passing raven. There is a plip-plop of tiny fish jumping on the surface of the sea. This bliss comes in Kynumpt Harbour, a few miles west of Shearwater. I’ve escaped for the May long weekend and anchored here last night. For the moment I savour just being. The cabin entry is wide open and it is grand.
My days at Shearwater are drawing to a close. That, of course, allows me to see things more objectively. I’ve turned in my notice. With that sense of freedom I can allow myself to think and say things I dare not before. I see myself at the end of my working life but still needing a working income. It is rather like holding a farting tiger by the tail. While you cling on desperately, you know that it is inevitable that you are going to be shat on or have your head ripped off; or quite possibly, both. Yesterday I happily proclaimed that I had worked on my last Bayliner ever (they’re miserable boats to work on) Now I sit here pecking at this keyboard with my grease-imbued banana fingers and watch the tranquillity slowly unfold. Ashore an eagle has perched in a cone-laden Sitka spruce. Reflected patches of light disco-ball across the green of the trees along the beach. Once the site of a native village, this bay has in turn been a failed Scandavian settlement and then a logging camp. The clearings are growing over but a few fruit trees cling on to their feral life. But it is time to move on. The trouble with this sort of weekend is that my freedom is clouded with a sense of brevity. Hurry up and relax!
The day passed quickly. I headed westward under a brilliant sun. Humpbacks emerged in the distance behind me as I passed Edge Reef. This is where the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground last fall and created such horrific drama and expense. Seals and gulls bask on the reef at low tide and all appears pristine to my eye. There may well be contamination in the clam beds but today one would never suspect. In less than three hours I arrive in Saint John Harbour, a lovely place providing shelter from the open ocean. It is a few miles south of the entrance to Seaforth Channel. With an open horizon to the southwest it is a different world. Of course I want to keep on going, due south. I anchor in a fine nook eager to explore the backwaters but then it hit me. As the tiger said, “It must have been something I ate!” I suddenly found myself gripped by a vicious stomach flu and was forced to remain close to the head. I slept for several hours and awoke to find a gloomy overcast had settled in. Groggy, wobbly and weak, I realized my day was finished. I went back to my bunk defecated…. I mean defeated! Bummer!
In the morning neither my plumbing nor the sky had improved. I felt as grey as the low overcast and couldn’t decide what to do. I went back to bed for a while then grimly set out to see the world. This was my weekend damnit! The swell of the open ocean soothed me and I looked west across Hecate Strait to Cape Saint James. It is the southern tip of Haida Gwaii. The high ground of those islands stood above the horizon that day and called me to come on over. A mirage effect allowed me to see across the ninety-five nautical miles. The light flashes white every five seconds. It stands ninety-six metres above sea level with a nominal range of visibility fourteen miles. Aboard ‘Seafire’ it is sixteen hours distant. Yet I could see it clearly. Reluctantly I turned eastward at Cape Mark on the bottom of Athlone Island. The area is a maze of rocks, reefs, islets and tenuous channels which are sometimes a dead end. It is a deadly place in the dark or fog. While picking my way through some of those reefs and islets of Queens Sound my flu symptoms returned with a vengeance and I crawled into the bay in Stryker Island. A few hours of weird dreams later I had a strong urge to get out of this place. It is a beautiful bay but I had a bad feeling and I knew it was best to move on. I’ve learned to trust my feelings without trying to analyze the intangible.
There are several routes back toward Shearwater from there. The most open and direct route is Raymond Passage which leads up to join Seaforth Channel a few miles from the home dock. Branching off this easy open passage is Boddy Narrows which becomes Joassa Channel and then impossibly tight Rait Narrows. I’ve previously dared myself to try this gap and deferred to prudence. My weekend has been spoiled by a flu bug and I needed something to cheer myself. With names like Joassa how can I resist? Woodsmoke billowed through the trees on a small wooded islet near Quinoot Point. I glimpsed a cabin secreted in the dense forest. That presence added to the magic of this secluded pass. I couldn’t be seen turning back now. It looked as if the boat’s rigging was about to knock squirrels from the overhanging trees. I inched through the narrow twisted gap. Finally I was in waters where I had turned back on a previous attempt from the northern side. The biggest barriers are always the ones we make in our own mind. Last night I anchored in Lockhart Bay, only a few miles from Shearwater.
Noon Monday finds me back at my dock in Shearwater. A disappointing weekend, no wind, no saiing, no fishing and I’m way over on my toilet tissue ration. Such is life. I’ve been talking about loosing weight. Living in a boat is a marvellous thing. As I sit writing I am in the same boat I cruised about in all weekend. This hull rose and fell and rolled on the swells of the open ocean. The cabinetry squeaked and loose items slid about. There is a lovely thrumming harmonic hum from the engine which pulses through the boat when we motor along. It is all lovely and a bad day at sea is generally better than a good one at the dock. Now all is quiet, old ‘Seafire’ is again a small floating condo with the potential to go anywhere in the world. Nothing happens until I untie her. All I have to do is decide how to deal with the farting tiger. Phffffft!
Tiger hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest. Hmmm!
“ We are at the bottom of the food chain. Nothing else on this planet needs us. Yet we need all other living things to survive.” Christi Belcourt, Metis artist