Puttering About In A little Boat

A pirated piece of nautical chart. It is about eighteen kilometres from Ladysmith, on Vancouver Island to Porlier Pass, the gap Between Valdez and Galiano Islands. In fair weather, that takes about an hour in my inflatable dinghy. The white patch in the upper right corner marks the shoaling waters of mainland Canada

One of my signature poems is called “The Water Rushing By”. In it, I describe the consummate need for mariners to feel the sensation of water passing the hull of a boat. That feeling is an addiction and presently, being boatless, there are days when an old log would have to do if nothing else were at hand. Fortunately I had the good sense to buy a wonderful Achilles inflatable boat before the money ran out. The size of what has usually been a dinghy to my mother vessels, it is nevertheless a boat which gets me away from shore. Equipped with a new outboard motor my tiny vessel is reliable and safe although it can certainly be rough and wet. A man of my scantlings must make an incongruous sight bobbing along miles from shore, but what is, is. Two blogs ago I described touring around this part of the coast in my little basher and this blog is about a recent day when I went off with my cameras in that little boat.

Bound up with cabin fever I launched the inflatable for a long day away. As an afterthought I threw in a small air mattress, one blanket and a tarp…just in case. With extra gas, water and a small bag of provisions I charged out on calm waters beneath a cloudless sky not knowing where I was heading. The best days start out exactly like that. Wind is always of concern in a tiny boat. In the Gulf Islands, with all its bays, and cliffs, forests and flowing water, local winds can spring up quickly. Despite prevailing winds local breezes are capricious and one must be prepared. Conditions within a short distance can change dramatically. Bouncing about impedes progress and soon has the boat and its contents soaking wet. It is safe enough, just miserable. I always try to position myself as quickly as possible so that access to the route home is downwind. Although longer and slower, it is usually much easier and drier.

Under the beautiful cliffs of Southern Valdez, I drifted with the tide and watched as Turkey Vultures rode the thermals. Ugly up close, they are beautiful in flight. Nothing can match their soaring skills.

After leaving Ladysmith Harbour, once safe under the sheltering cliffs of Valdez Island a passage of about sixteen kilometres, or ten miles, an outer island in the Strait Of Georgia, the wind can come from the north or south quadrants and actually help a small vessel on its way. Vancouver Island, the size of a small country, lies off the west coast of mainland Canada aligned in a northwest- southeast direction. On the inside lower shoreline it is flanked by an archipelago known as the Gulf Islands. The geography here is mostly of sandstone and was clearly shaped by glaciation. Along its Dali-like sculpted sandstone shores one often finds round granite boulders which must have been deposited as the ice retreated.

A Dali rock, with a natural hole right through it. Obviously a handy tie-up ring.

The archipelago was an ancient haven for indigenous people, with an abundance of edibles, especially sea food; there were a maze of sheltered nooks and bays, and a moderate climate. Hold no illusions about an idyllic lifestyle, it would have been a hard life and the numerous native nations warred brutally among themselves. Compared however to the harsh conditions in the traditional homelands of most other first nations people, with long bitterly cold winters, life in the Gulf Islands was easy enough for there to be time for a very rich culture, full of wonderful art and creativity. Sadly for them, the invasion of Europeans spelled a rapid end to that venerable culture, which only now, is regaining the respect it deserved. Hopefully we will find a balance of living together as equal human beings, each with our own piece of cultural diversity, distinct, and yet part of a brightly-coloured mosaic like a patchwork quilt. Comfortingly, local place names were often bestowed by Spanish and British explorers and many places have been returned to the original indigenous derivatives. Kuper Island, for example, is now Penalakut Island. The Strait Of Georgia, is now politically correctly named The Salish Sea.

A petroglyph in the Gulf Islands. It is covered by the sea at high tide.

The Gulf Islands are a mecca for folks from all over the world. They attract yachters, eco-tourists and those with enough money to acquire a piece of land and build an often garish neo-monstrosity that is clearly not an effort to assimilate the tone of this beautiful place, but rather seems to scream “Look at me.” The world these folks wanted to escape has been merely been transplanted here, they are tentacles of yet another invasive species. I love to repeat that I remember a time when poor people lived by the sea and ate fish. More’s the pity, those days are gone forever.

In the near-four decades that I have lived in this area, it has become a much different place and not in a good way. Over a half a century ago (Yes, it was that long ago) hippies and draft dodgers invaded the Gulf Islands. The islands were then remote, sparsely populated, land was cheap, It was nirvana for a generation of free-loaders who wanted a perfect climate for growing their organic “crops” and living close to the earth, often in communes. The mantra was “Peace man, share the wealth.” Then, as inheritances came along, land values soared yesterday’s hippies became yuppies and “Private, My Land!” signs were spiked, in places, to every shoreline tree. It has been said that capitalists are merely socialists who have found an opportunity. Mine!

The way we were. This was a common way for folks to live along the coast in days gone by. No lawns! “Johnny go through the garbage out and check the crab trap.”
A summer home on Porlier Pass. Sitting on the Valdez shore looking south the view encompasses the Strait Of Georgia, Mount Baker and a long look for miles down the southern Gulf Islands. The tide flowing back and forth twice a day is full of marine life including birds, seals, whales, sea lions, crabs, prawns, and fish, fish, fish. There is always something going on.
The keeper’s house. When I first set foot ashore here years ago an elderly couple lived here and maintained the lights and the station. It was immaculate, all was trim and freshly painted, the garden was fantastic, the fruit trees were pruned and productive. Automation replaced live people and one of the loveliest home sites on the South Coast slowly decays. It is tragic. I decided to sleep out on the old jetty.
A safe place to leave the inflatable for the night. A challenge with operating inflatables is to be constantly vigilant for the possibility of punctures. The large rock was flat and fairly free of barnacles. The tide would come back in the late morning tomorrow. Right?
Yeah right! Of course, the tide came back but first thing in the morning it looked doubtful. High tide came three hours later than the previous day instead of my anticipated forty minutes. Nature does not understand tide books.
Camp Runamuck. I used to sleep rough all the time… fifty years ago. The romance of it has faded a bit. It got bloody damp and cold by midnight and it was too dry to build a fire, especially on a wooden deck! But…what a view! The music of the rushing tide came in surround sound.
Time and sea water. These steel shackles and anchor eye are fused into a solid lump of oxidized metal.
Time knows no bounds. This freight shed, still salvageable, and even habitable is yielding to advancing natural processes. It’s decay will accelerate if not checked. What a tragedy that this whole station is not put to good use, or sold by the Canadian Coast Guard to someone who knows what to do with it. Government is a synonym for waste.
The vines come creeping in and signal a death knell for a structure.
…And strangle trees as well. Welcome to the weird forest, where people may enter and never be seen again.
I suspect someone tried to break into the boarded-up house through the basement. Alack and alas, they discovered the cistern, head-first perhaps. Fresh water is a precious commodity on the Gulf Islands and collecting it in the rainy season is very important. Note the gauge of the footings, a foot thick and indicative of how all government buildings were put together. Once again, what a tragedy, and travesty, to let it simply waste away.
They don’t make them like this anymore. The old Porlier Pass Light, still in use as a range light but now automated and powered by those ugly  solar panels. Bittersweet indeed. I’d love a chance to turn this lovely building into a tiny home. Imagine sitting up in that light reading, writing, just looking. Oh, and a wee taste of single malt.
One giant step. I can never be bored on the sandstone beaches of these islands.
How can you put a price on a view like this? How can you want it all for yourself?
There’s always one! As dusk settles and the tide turned back to flood, a small sloop struggles against the rising current and then on to find an anchorage in the dark. I’ve done it myself, too many times.
Last gasp of day. High above, a night flight to somewhere in Asia heads off on a great circle route over the North Pacific, perhaps to greet the dawn before it lands.
And then night fell. The tidal waters mumbled and chattered incessantly.
With the new day, the tide turned once again to flood. Far across the Strait Of Georgia, looking into the light, is Howe Sound. Gibsons on the left, Bowen Island to the right.
The other side. A telephoto view of Burnaby far across the Strait and past Vancouver International Airport. The sight seems surreal looking from a different world within the rugged natural beauty of the Gulf Islands.

Well, life goes on. Like the dinosaurs who could not assimilate change rapidly enough and faded into history, old farts like me will pass and “Progress” will continue. Frankly one of the foulest words I have come to know is “Development”, synonymous to me with greed and devastation. When the time comes, scatter my ashes on the local green waters where I can wash and circulate among these beloved islands. Look at these islands and try to imagine how they used to be not so long ago. The images in this blog are from within a twenty-four hour period two days ago. There will also be a video.

A whole world. This tiny tidal pool is an entire eco-system. If watched long enough, one can see all sorts of little creatures going about their lives.

Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit.” Brooks Atkinson

Author: Fred Bailey

Fred is a slightly-past middle age sailor /, writer / photographer with plenty of eclectic hands-on skills and experiences. Some would describe him as the old hippy who doesn't know the war is over. He is certainly reluctant to grow up and readily admits to being the eternal dreamer. He has written several books including two novels, 'The Keeper' and 'Storm Ecstasy,' as well as 'The Water Rushing By', 'Sins Of The Fathers', 'The Magic Stick', as well as an extensive inventory of poetry, essays, short stories, anecdotes and photographs. His first passion is the ocean, sailboats, voyaging and all those people who are similarly drawn to the sea. He lived aboard and extensively cruised the BC Coast on 'Seafire' the boat he refitted to go voyaging, to explore new horizons both inner and outer. This blog was about that journey and the preparations for it. Circumstances prevailed which forced the sale of his beloved vessel. Now on a different tack, the voyage continues. If you follow this blog your interest may provide some of the energy that helps fuel the journey. Namaste Contact me at svpaxboat@gmail.com

6 thoughts on “Puttering About In A little Boat”

  1. As always, well worth reading, and reflecting. Just a couple years younger, I always hated sleeping rough and dislike it even more now than then. But the conundrum always presented itself while reading ‘Small Boat Journal’ back in the 80’s (that’s 1980s, not 1880s) and the adventures that people managed in any variety of small sail and power boats, daydreams that seemed so attainable.

  2. Well you were brave spending the night Fred – though the peace and tranquility was worth it I am sure. I enjoyed all the photos, but that little tidal pool was fascinating.

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