A molten dagger of sunlight found its way behind the curtains and crept across the wall toward the foot of the bed. Another crystalline morning. The world outside is eerily quiet. Quarantined. There is no frost until the sun rises a little more then instantly everything is covered in whiteness. Then the sun’s radiation burns it away again with a sweeping line as it climbs into the day ahead. A Covid dawn. I like to be up before dawn, it’s the best part of the day. However, I’m still struggling with the long-term effects of whatever flu bug I’ve had. Hopefully I have the right cream for bed sores but sleep seems to be what the body demands. Apparently many others endure a similar affliction. It is not the Big C but it sure is debilitating.
Overhead a few contrails lazily dissipate in the flight corridor which parallels the length of Vancouver Island. Unless those are military aircraft on international routes someone is still making commercial flights. This evening, minutes ago, I looked up to see a jet’s thick contrail aligned with the North Pacific Great Circle Route; bound somewhere in Asia I’d guess. The sun had set behind the island’s mountains but its golden glow rendered the long thin cloud iridescent in the azure sky. On the same flight path, four cranes silently winged their way Northwestward, their elegant black silhouettes contrasting sharply with the long glowing cloud tens of thousands of feet above.
My most indelible photos ever are embedded in my personal hard drive. They’ve all been viewed when there was no camera handy; of course! So they sit in the back of my brain. As I wrote this, those birds descended with their wings set to land in some field or marsh to feed and rest for the night. Usually, cranes honk distinctively, calling for more of their kind already on the ground. Their silence seemed strange; maybe they knew they were the first of the spring migration. Maybe they were going to do a red eye and fly on past the coughing, sneezing hordes below. Life goes on.
This old ranter is stuck. This is a time to be especially careful with one’s words. I’ll keep my criticisms to myself. The internet can be a fantastic tool or a weapon. The information available is staggering and imagine enduring this pandemic without all the ready information, whether accurate truth or blatant lies. It is up to each of us to be discerning about what we choose to believe but think of going through this event without the advise, news and entertainment. That was how it must have been with the Spanish Flu pandemic. Well, I’ve long felt an obligation to try and bring a little light to other folks, be that with humour or questions that I think need to be asked. I’ll do my best to brighten your days…and so too mine. This all shall pass and a day will come when we ask each other, “Remember that spring of 2020?” Yes, really!
Here’s a link to some pertinent Australian humour. That continent has, within the last year, endured massive wildfires, severe drought and flooding and now Covid-19. Still there is humour to be found. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ia0bfWbOLjY
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt March 4, 1933
Saturday morning. Wigham Cove, Yeo island. I wasted not a minute yesterday afternoon slipping my lines and leaving Shearwater for the weekend. The rain finally stopped in the afternoon after a final vicious cloudburst. I want to savour every possible moment of sunlight. Monday is labour Day and I’ll make the best of my free time. This anchorage is within the archipelago of islands along both sides of Seaforth Channel. It is secure, secluded and utterly quiet. All I can hear is the ringing in my ears, (A memento of a lifetime around noisy machinery) the gentle clicking of my keyboard and the thumping of my heart.
I may be here a while. The electronic controller for my electric anchor windlass failed last night and I’ll have to haul the chain and hook back aboard by hand. This simple breakdown underscores my ongoing mantra about keeping things simple and being self-reliant. This is a mere inconvenience to me, but many people would be desperately unable to look after themselves even with such a simple challenge.
I awoke this morning with a happy realization. In previous times I would have worked well into the night, frantically trying to repair my breakdown and have everything perfectly shipshape before looking after myself. Instead I went to bed. I’ll deal with it this morning. Seaworthiness is one thing, anal naval perfectionism is quite another. I like myself much more like this. I realize that to survive here I must adapt the relaxed perspective of folks who live here permanently. I’m beginning to see that to constantly wring oneself out in an effort to keep life slam-bam perfect is a losing battle. I’ve been doing that for most of my life. It is an insecurity which many fall into and I want to rise above it.
On that note I must add, that despite my often cynical perspectives, there are many people here at Shearwater whom I appreciate and admire very much. They are self-reliant, amiable, have simple tastes, are helpful and also not afraid to ask for assistance. They live peacefully within the embrace of this small community and their own inner self. Of course there are also some aberrant personalities. I’m probably one of those, but generally I have come to accept that being here as a good thing. Survival is an endeavour of assimilating the local environment. There is beauty and goodness everywhere, one simply needs to adjust their personal focus to see it. Harmony, beauty and peacefulness are what we all seek and yet too often have so much trouble accepting.
Saturday afternoon, Oliver Cove. I’m now miles west of Wigham Cove. I’ve turned north at Ivory Island, transited the rock piles that guard the entrance to Reid Passage and am snugly anchored in twenty-five feet of water near high tide. I’m being prudent about anchoring as shallow as possible, I don’t want to hump up any more chain than necessary. I’ll repair the windlass when I get back to Shearwater. For now I have the whole delightful little cove to myself. Even the raven whose call of “kuuk, kuuk” echoed over the cove has left. A few boat lengths away is a perfect-as-possible beach for careening a large vessel. It is known that George Vancouver did that here in the Port Blackney area and I’m confident this is the very spot. There are no others like it. I’ll explore by kayak.
And explore I did. Off I went, feeling a little bit of trepidation at being alone in the midst of a vast wilderness. At that moment, rounding an islet at the edge of the cove, there came a woman in another kayak! I was shocked to say the least. That meeting turned into a lovely evening. After my explorations I joined Sharman and her partner Mike aboard their lovely Arthur Brown trimaran ‘Rauxa’. A bottle of Crabbie’s genuine, wonderful Scottish ginger beer was followed by a fabulous progressive gourmet meal that took us through a wonderful conversation of several hours. They were both mountain climbers and sailors. There was a lot to talk about between new friends in the backwaters of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Returning to my boat in the darkness became an indelible memory. The sky had cleared and the stars lay around me, gleaming reflections on the black velvet surface of the water. The brilliant green glow of bio-luminescence burned in the bow wave of my tiny boat, in the scoops of water cascading off my paddle and in the wake of tiny darting fish. I could have paddled on into that dream all night.
Sunday morning, September 4th. A week since I started this blog. I sleep until after eight o’clock. The tide and the sky are both low this morning. I’m determined to have a lazy day. After yesterday’s exploration of all the little bights in this area known as Port Blackney, I’m confident that the beach I’m anchored closest to is indeed the most probable site used by George Vancouver to careen his vessel. There is one other possible place in this cove but in consideration of a gentle bottom, an easy approach from deeper water, a little open space in the surrounding forest, and sufficient tidal range to lower and raise the hull, this is the spot I’d choose. I’ve written about this place before and I continue to be amazed about the feat of seamanship this underscores. To find this tiny beach, steer a safe way around jagged rocks in while towing mother ship with rowing boats in an aggressive tidal current, make sufficient repairs with the materials at hand, all the while being stranded in a place where the locals weren’t always friendly, knowing where you were only by the chart your skipper had drawn and then extricating yourself and eventually finding your way back home to England; it was an amazing accomplishment for every man on the crew. With all of today’s technology, replicating that event would be a difficult but wonderful project.
As I clattered about preparing my Sundy brunch there came a wonderful hooting just above my mast. A pair of Sandhill Cranes landed in the careening nook and began foraging voraciously. They seemed to accept Seafire’s presence, it was here when they arrived. The huge birds fed and preened unabashedly.
I sat for hours doing my best to photograph them in the dull light, for once coveting a great, phallic telephoto lense. Out of sixty-two frames I kept five. I doubted they’d let me get closer with the kayak. Finally, they rose again into the air with a loud, nasal croinking. They bore away out of sight on their broad, strong wings. Reviewing those photos I am amazed at how well they blend in with their surroundings. If I had not at first heard them, they might have spent their hours on the shore completely undetected. I am feeling a little ill, but I am at peace
here, completely happy in the moment and where I am. The weekend is a complete success.
And then another great day unfolded before me. First I must again offer accolades to the good folks at Seaward Kayaks. This is the finest small kayak I’ve ever owned. It handles nimbly, is stable, comfortable, spacious, fast and rugged. I can haul my half-crippled frame in and out on Seafire’s boarding ladder well enough. Today’s success is due entirely to this little Riot-brand kayak. I’ve mounted a JVC sport camera on the kayak so that in fact the whole boat is a camera base. I know nothing about film-making but have come back with some great footage.
As I left Oliver Cove I noticed a small, circling flock of gulls. Two sea lions were feeding on salmon in Reid Passage. I approached with the camera running and got a great few seconds of footage before I was discovered. There was great alarm and I suddenly realized how vulnerable I was to this pair of massive creatures. Once, when scuba diving alone, I was surrounded by a small pod of these characters. They can become quite aggressive if they sense their advantage. They have huge yellow teeth and are called lions for good reason. I remembered that day. I retreated. I am no sea lion whisperer. One of them surfaced noisily immediately behind the kayak as if to intimidate me. He did.
The island which forms the western side of Reid passage is called Cecelia Island. It’s northern quarter is nearly bisected by Boat Inlet. The inlet is narrow and shallow with a nice safe basin to anchor in but you are trapped there when the tide falls. Today I paddled to it’s furthest end then dragged the kayak to the bay on the opposite side of the island. Two hundred yards of slightly higher ground prevents the northern section of the island from being a separate body of land. There was a well-used trail in the beach grass and I had to be careful not to step in copious leavings of wolf scat. Once afloat again I paddled out into Milbanke Sound. It was calm today with only a low swell and a light breeze. To be out there at any time, alone in a kayak was risky business, and in any harder weather would have been madness. I paddled outside the kelp beds and admired the polished granite foreshore. In a southwest storm the surf pounds thirty feet or more up and into the forest. I recall some vicious passages in this sound while working on the tugs and how happy we were to make our way into the relative shelter of Seaforth Channel.
It is only a mile up to Bird Point and the shelter of the bay behind. It has a broad rocky beach which I’ve admired from afar and have longed to explore. And so today I did. To my wonder I discovered a whale’s skeleton on the beach. There were numerous ribs, a pelvis, the skull and jawbones. I recovered one vertebrae and the cochlea, or inner ear bones. I believe these are the bones of a Grey Whale which is far from being one of the largest leviathans yet they are huge. I am humbled to realize the size of these creatures and their ability to dive to great depths, navigate whole oceans and survive the incessant threats posed by man. I feel privileged to have had this experience.
As I paddled up the bay back toward this anchorage a pair of loons began to call behind me. That sound instantly evoked memories of being a boy in a wood and canvas canoe, long ago, on some North Ontario lake. The roiling gurgle of my paddle and the chuckle of my tiny bow wave sound exactly the same. There is a special wonder, an intimacy with the natural world, which comes from being on the water in a small, light boat. I felt it again today. Returning to Oliver Cove I find an offshore sailboat anchored here. Her name is ‘Cambria’ and she is registered to the port of Whitby, England. The harbour was home port of James Cook. It is also of great significance to me and I have some poignant memories of that distant town. Wow! To find a yacht from Whitby in this remote back water is amazing to me. What a day!
The eastward journey back to Shearwater on Seaforth Channel was uneventful. !t was a three-hour slog in driving rain. As a cap to a lovely weekend I spotted a very large sea otter feeding on a bright fish. He lay on his back, big webbed hind feet sticking up and apparently oblivious to my presence. I was so gob-smacked I forgot to reach for my camera. When I turned back he was gone. These beautiful creatures, once so close to extinction, are making a slow comeback and to see even one is truly wonderful.
Tonight I sit writing within the cozy embrace of the main cabin of my beloved ‘Seafire’. The dinghy and it’s motor have remained aboard the entire weekend. My miles of exploration have been travelled by paddle alone. For the moment, I know peace. Nothing else matters.
“If you can not arrive in daylight, then stand off well clear and wait until dawn. After all that’s one of the things a boat is made for … to wait in.”