Around The Corner and Up The channel

Sunset over Milbanke Sound, Friday night
Sunset over Milbanke Sound, Friday night

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.

Where the ocean meets the land.
Where the ocean meets the land.

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.

Roughing it. Cooking Coho for two meals at one time.
Roughing it. Cooking Coho for two meals at one time.

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.

Oliver cove. I believe this is the nook where Vancouver careened his boat.
Oliver Cove. I believe this is the nook where Vancouver careened his boat.

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.

Kayaking out pf Oliver Cove
Kayaking out of Oliver Cove

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.

Port Blackney
Port Blackney

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.

Sandhill Cranes, photographed from 'Seafire'
Sandhill Cranes, photographed from ‘Seafire’
Splendour in the grass
Splendour in the grass

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.

Islet with no name.
Islet with no name.

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.

Whalebone beach Cecelia Island
Whalebone beach
Cecelia Island
One Jawbone
One Jawbone
Whalebone beach
Whalebone beach
That was one big guppy!
That was one big guppy!
A bone for the dog
A bone for the dog! One vertebrae.

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!

Whumpa whumpa whumpa. somedays it sounds like Vietnam around Shearwater.
Whumpa whumpa whumpa! Some days it sounds like the Vietnam war around Shearwater.

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.

NOT a whalebone. Imagine the coffee table you could make from this spruce burl.
NOT a whalebone. Imagine the coffee table you could make from this spruce burl. It’s about 5 feet in diameter.

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.”

… Tristan Jones

Defeat Point and Beyond

Western blink Seaforth Channel, Westbound, 9:30 pm. Getting the hell out of Dodge
Western Blink
Seaforth Channel, Westbound, 9:30 pm.
Getting the hell out of Dodge!
The writer's Buzz A heap of horseflies begins to pile up with the first morning coffee
The Writer’s Buzz
A heap of horseflies begins to pile up with the first morning coffee


I’ve killed my first horsefly of the day. That is the only sign of time’s passing here. The damned things only come out once the temperature has risen to a certain point. Everything else is the sort of silence you can hear. If you think that statement is silly then you’re overdue to get the hell of of town for a while. Of course some folks couldn’t survive without a din of some sort to drown out the voices in their head. I feel blessed to be able to savour solitude and quiet. My voices prefer it like that. It is where I write and think best. The notion of going back to work and mechanical problems and other folk’s agendas and impositions leaves me feeling selfish and anti-social. I like it here! I don’t want to leave.

Conjuction Reflection. Look closely. Jupiter and Venus aligned to make one very bright star just after sundown
Conjuction Reflection.
Look closely. Jupiter and Venus aligned to make one very bright star just after sundown
Last light, Kynumpt Harbour
Last light, Kynumpt Harbour
Bambi on the beach, my partner for breakfast
Bambi on the beach, my partner for breakfast

Last post I mentioned the squeeze put on native people and even the ungracious allotment of reserve land. I’ve dug into my archives and pulled out an old photo of the crumbling edifice at Church House between the mouths of Toba and Bute Inlets. I remember the glow of the light that shone over the entrance to the church.

The last I saw of the old church at the Church House Village on Raza Island, 2006
The last I saw of the old church at the Church House Village on Raza Island, 2006

I was happy to see how that symbol of oppression had finally earned an obvious contempt. But, more than once, that feeble glow in the cold winter rain was a beacon which offered a gentle solace while passing in the dark aboard various tugboats. Then the village was abandoned, the lights went out, the church eventually fell down. Now, right down to the border of the tiny piece of reserve land, logging has denuded the forest. The photo says it all.

Respect The borders of the tiny reserve are easy to spot. Treaty? Yeah rightT!
The borders of the tiny reserve are easy to spot. The village is gone. Treaty? Yeah right!

I’m starting this blog while anchored in Kynumpt Harbour which, more correctly in Heiltsuk pronunciation I’m told is more like Ki-nump. No matter, I’m most content to be here all alone. I stood in the cockpit with the sun warming my body while eating my morning orange and watching a deer ashore leisurely grazing her way along the forest’s edge above the tide line. She nibbled at the flies bothering her and then de-materialized into the brush as if I’d only imagined seeing her. These are moments of feeling an intrinsic part of nature’s mosaic and its wrong that they be so rare. Then the horseflies arrives.

Kynumpt Village site
Kynumpt Village site
The last rose of Kynumpt ...and just look at the hips on that beauty, rosehips that is. some say that big rose hips are a sign of a long, hard winter ahead.
The last rose of Kynumpt
…and just look at the hips on that beauty, rosehips that is. Some say that big rose hips are a sign of a long, hard winter ahead.
Lunch in a sweaty hat with an infusion of crushed ferns.
Lunch in a sweaty hat with an infusion of crushed ferns.
One Sheet Hung Low Seafire in Kynumpt Harbour
One Sheet Hung Low
Seafire in Kynumpt Harbour
Seaforth Channel from Kynumpt Harbour
Seaforth Channel from Kynumpt Harbour

This harbour clearly houses the site of a former native village and I’ll go exploring ashore in a while. It is located inside a spot named on the chart as Defeat Point. I’ve no idea if that refers to a native battle or some explorer’s navigational flub. I’m beyond it and after yesterday’s debacle the name suits me fine. I worked on the July 1st holiday and took yesterday off in lieu to attend the local medical clinic and to enjoy a three-day weekend. It was a blistering hot day, by local standards, and the wait in the little Bella Bella hospital seemed interminable. I did certainly meet some very nice people on staff there. Finally I bought some groceries, stowed them away and the fun began. The engine started, but without tachometers and any sign of electrical charging. I tightened the alternator belt, checked the wiring harness, decided to replace parts of it, could find no other problem, and started out again. Kapoof! Within minutes, the engine temperature was out of sight. The belt had broken.

The waters here are very deep and anchoring just anywhere is not an option. The tide was taking me toward a steep rocky shoreline and so with tools and sole plates cluttered about, I sailed with just the jib toward a neck of shallower water. It was slow going but I didn’t want to complicate things with more sails and more lines strewn about in the mess. One of my tricks when in such a situation is to let out a hundred feet of anchor chain so that as the boat approaches shallower water there is an audible alarm of the chain on the bottom as well as having ground tackle already down to catch and keep the boat off the beach. That way, I can go about my repairs without popping up topside to constantly check my drift. And so I bent to my crisis. The new belt had broken and flung itself into the bilge. The engine was crackling hot, the air was crackling hot and so was the attack of the horseflies. They love heat, the smell of engine fumes, and sweaty human bodies, especially ones where the victim has both hands fully engaged. New belt installed, charging system still defunct, engine cooled enough to add coolant, off I go again now worried about having enough reserve battery power to hoist the anchor chain.

Pecking Order. Officers of the watch on snag lookout.
Pecking Order.
Officers of the watch on sundown lookout snag.

Yep, you guessed it, kapoof again! The brand-new belt had jumped a lower pulley and jammed itself against the engine. Now I had to pry that out from the hot, hot, hot engine, swatting at flies and cursing the gods in general. I had one more spare belt, slightly heavier than the previous ones and so much harder to install, but all’s well that ends. Greasy, scalded, fly-bitten, I cursed myself for thinking I was any sort of mechanic, for owning a goddamned boat, and for ever coming to this bug-ridden corner of the godforsaken world. I hobbled back to Shearwater but couldn’t bring myself to go to the dock. I was close to parts and extra tools should I need them, good enough! I anchored , out and began to change more wires and connectors, feeling utterly defeated. All’s well that ends. At 9 pm, permanent repairs complete, greasy, tired but determined, I headed off into the lingering sunset, hoping to put the day behind me. It was a good decision.

I realized my bittersweet luck was that I hadn’t found myself in the same situation on some distant rocky lee shore miles from the hope of parts and help. Once again, self-sufficiency is the mantra of the cruising sailor and yes I’ll have an armload of new belts put into ship’s stores right smartly. Murphy will find something else to dump on me. That thought has me alluding to the incredible ineptitude of many of the yachters passing through Shearwater on their way to and from some distant point on this wild, uninhabited coast. However, that’s one of the reasons Shearwater Marine is here and how I make my living but there’s at least one blog due to be written about the amazing ,inability of people to wipe their own bottom in any sort of imperfect situation. HOW do they survive? Well the sun is rising, there is a growing mound of swatted horseflies at my feet and I’ve just heard the wonderful din of Sandhill cranes which must have just arrived somewhere nearby. More later.

On the fold It seems that everywhere you want to go is on the fold in the chart. Unfortunately, there'll never be a boat in my life with a full-sized chart table.
On the fold
It seems that everywhere you want to go is on the fold in the chart. Unfortunately, there’ll never be a boat in my life with a full-sized chart table.

The clearing proved to be an old native village and more recently, a logging camp, with old machinery bits on the beach, cherry trees growing in the middle of what was a large clearing. I’m also told that this was once the site of a Nordic pioneer settlement. The mystery is sweet. The ugly evidence of old-style logging (Hand saw and axe) lingers on the hill behind. The self- regenerated forest is very eerie.  I may post a blog of those photos alone. On the way back to the beach I picked a hatful of succulent berries on the edge of an old clearing. They were delicious and I savoured them in the heat of the day as well as the cool aroma of crushed ferns under my feet. Now I’m in a place Called Blair Inlet and that too may well deserve a blog for itself. I’m now well beyond Defeat Point and as happy as an old clam can be.

Now it is Sunday morning and the air warms as the tide ebbs. The colours are surreal. My photos cannot capture the glacial-like topaz of the water, the source of its colour is an absolute mystery. The trees add their greens, the sky its blue. The thick ancient forest, as usual, appears dead and deserted but little birds twitter and eagles watch silently. You know a deer or a bear or wolf can appear anywhere at any time. Instinctively one begins to move quietly and cautiously with the hope of a glimpse of wildlife. There is always a sense of being watched. I’ve tried, unsatisfactorily, to photograph a massive eagle’s nest, currently in use. The inhabitants watch over me as I write. I am utterly and wonderfully alone. There is no sight or sound of any other people having been here. No drone of motors on the water or in the air, no contrails, no logging. Just a view of the jungle and ocean the way it has been for a very long time.

Well except for the horseflies. They rise early in the morning and ply their trade of absolute fiendish anarchy throughout the heat of the day. Thankfully they vanish in the early evening. Trying to nap when they are about is impossible. They employ strategies. Sometimes they come alone and attach silently. Other times they have a sonorous buzz. While one distracts you others attack from behind. The only way to kill them is to wait until they settle and lock themselves into a painful bite. Then, if you are quick, you can smack them and feel the satisfying crunch-squish of vengeance. They still seem able to revive if you are not willing to smear them into eternity. They could be called Lazarus flies. Eventually as the day wears on, one is harried to a manic mindless slapping, even at imagined flies. Perhaps they are disenfranchised souls and in their frantic efforts to reproduce, death in battle is an honourable way to achieve a new level in the next life. There’s the name! Isis flies!

Beating out of Seaforth Channel against a warm Westerly breeze
Beating out of Seaforth Channel against a warm Westerly breeze

This inlet is dotted with many small islets. I suspect they may well have been burial islets. I sense no presence, only a languorous peace. The spirits are content and so they should be. I took a long tour about the area in the dinghy last even until I was off the chart. There is an infinity of inlets, islands, coves, nooks, reefs and bays. In all the miles I meandered, I found two boats anchored in a cove about an hour from here. It’s not an area where I’d want to break down but the overwhelming beauty, and magical light draw you on and on in awe.

I’ll be back.

A little to the left! The hilarity of trying to catch a decent selfie.
A little to the left!
The hilarity of trying to catch a decent selfie.

Everywhere there is an ominous faint smell in the air of woodsmoke from distant forest fires and yesterday’s evening sky held a red tinge. In this present drought the threat of fire is all too real and one can only only pray for rain. (Even bottled water in the stores has become a sold-out commodity.) In Shearwater the crew has checked out the fire trucks in preparedness. My heart tightens at the memories of fighting forest fires. There is nothing pleasant or romantic about any of it. CBC Radio is all we can get here and they have an incessant barrage of reports about the forest fire situation across Western Canada. It seems we are burning up this summer and the drought shows no sign of breaking.

It was released. to catch a cod like this, you have to be trolling too close to the bottom.
It was released.
To catch a cod like this, you have to be trolling too close to the bottom.

were two mornings this past week when it was cool and foggy. It was amazing how suddenly cheery folks were. The doomer-gloomers have it that this is a sure sign of global warming and we must to change our ways. While we do have to try much harder to be better guests on this planet, the cycles of nature are far beyond our control. There have been years like this before. Meanwhile, it’s swat and sweat while we look forward to the return of steady rain and fog.Then, some of us will be anxious to go south and find the sun again.

It was eaten. Just enough for one meal, gear stowed and homeward bound. I don't believe the regultions should allow you to keep more than one fish per day. How much can you eat?
It was eaten. Just enough for one meal, gear stowed and homeward bound. I don’t believe the regulations should allow you to keep more than one fish per day. How much can you eat?

I’ve finally be able to get a satellite dish installed so now I have reliable, useable internet which allows me to work as a writer who can now reliability send and receive necessary data. I know, I know, I’m always going on about minimizing our needs and about dependance on external sources. Unfortunately I need to stay in touch with the rest of the world and its frenetic modern pace. While shutting out the rest of the world entirely is appealing, to have a hope of working as a writer, doing research and sending data, I must have a reliable cyber-link. I’ll also confess that having a good movie to watch on exhausted lonely evenings is a fine luxury. And, winter is coming. Already he long lingering light of late evening is noticeably shorter. It was pitch dark by 10:30. Soon enough, nightfall will occur before the work day ends. Movies or not, it’ll be due south

The hairy monster. Someone's old dock becomes someone else's new dock. Time for a change of bio-mass.
The hairy monster. Someone’s old dock becomes someone else’s new dock. Time for a change of bio-mass.

The days have passed in an ugly blur. It has been a week since I began this blog and the weather has been hot and bug-ridden. People have been short-tempered and ill at ease. Work has been a daily drudgery tramping up and down the dock for more tools to look after demanding customers. Oddly, many issues this week have been overheating engines. One small job was to check out a motor in a lovely Kelly Peterson 44′ center cockpit cutter. It was a gorgeous, solid, capable vessel crewed by three women. They have sailed her from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Mexico and then on to these waters to produce an overview of British Columbia’s Marine Parks. Nova Scotia, apparently, does not have a similar program and these women are working to inspire a change to that. Having once worked very long and hard to help save one marine park in BC, I wish this trio a grand success. This is nothing finer than a voyage which is also a mission.

This afternoon the skies have clouded and the temperature has dropped from the mid-thirties to, at present, nineteen degrees. It feels positively nippy. It is a testament to the nature of life on the mid-coast of BC, that the overcast has cheered everyone up immensely. It might even rain soon. YES!

The nail. The get home fix. A year later.
Good enough! The nail. An essential marine steering component.
The get home fix a year later.


The boat beneath my boat.
The boat beneath my boat.
Low tide on the Hooterville dock. That's Seafire on the end, poised for flight.
Low tide on the Hooterville dock. That’s Seafire on the end, poised for flight.

The perfection of a yacht’s beauty is that nothing should be there only for beauty’s sake.” …. John MacGregor.