To Alaska and Back I: Getting underway

May- June 2013


Quoddy’s Run on the hard, newly uncovered

After three seasons in BC, it had begun to feel like going home to return to Quoddy’s Run.  Even on the hard.  We arrived in Canoe Cove in late April, climbed the ladder and found the boat sweet smelling and immediately habitable. We had cleaned and tidied everything and left the boat covered, with her new ventilation hatches ajar at the end of the summer the year before, and she was in perfect shape.  For a few days we lived on the hard while we provisioned and Kelly Thody of Total Boat Marine Surveyors surveyed the boat—you have to renew your survey every few years in order to maintain your insurance. It’s a good excuse to have someone else look carefully at your boat and assess the safety and seaworthiness of your systems.


Boat houses at Canoe Cove

It was wonderful to be back in the “land of the big trees;” each evening, after our chores, we walked around the docks or wandered the neighbourhood. One night we watched a family of river otters bed down in a pile of dead leaves; another evening we tracked damp racoon prints across sweet smelling cedar boards. The boat houses of Canoe Cove fascinated us–such fancy “boat garages” would be impossible to maintain in Nova Scotia, where each winter, snow and ice would wreak havoc on them. We also liked to peer at the  starfish, fans and sea anemones that attached themselves to the pilings; we lived by and on the Atlantic, but everything here was different, brighter, bigger, multiplied.


It’s a looooong way up when you’re carrying heavy bags

As usual, in addition to the necessary volumes of groceries, charts, solvents and liquor supplies to haul up the ladder, there were a few unexpected surprises—our old batteries had finally given out and so we purchased and installed new AGM batteries, as well as additional safety equipment required by the new Canadian Coastguard Regulations.  As we were walking back from the chandlery in Sidney with ring life buoys around our necks and fuel tanks under our arms, a woman stopped to ask if we were, perhaps, on a boat.  Did we need a lift? Our relief at being offered a ride back to the boat soon became tinged with alarm when our driver turned out to be a retired geologist who specialized in plate tectonics and public education. She informed us that for British Columbia it was not a question of “if a big earthquake was coming,” but “when.” Great. More things to worry about–what if the earth moved under our boat? Or a tsunami hit? We started to notice tsunami evacuation route placards posted all along access roads to the sea. The 2011 catastrophe in Japan has made everyone on this side of the Pacific newly alert: time to think about earthquake preparedness again. But our east coast affiliations betray us here: we are distinctly unready for anything like an earthquake and have no idea even how to begin to think about it.



Quoddy’s Run in the sling–about to enter the water, all 38,000 pounds of her


Goose begs for fresh water at Canoe Cove

Finally, we were surveyed, safety-equipped, provisioned, lubed, oiled and ready to launch. Like a water-bird, a boat is an ungainly thing on land–we dreamed, while on the hard, that we were in motion, and had to be very careful to keep balanced above decks–it’s a long and painful way down (and yes, we do know people who have fallen, and nevertheless lived to tell the tale). But once in the water, we rock in the waves, come close to other water-bourne creatures, breathe more deeply; there is the feeling that we could go anywhere in the world; after all, one waterway connects to another and another and another.




View of the Gulf Islands and waterways from the top of Mount Bedwell, South Pender Island

May is a lovely time to be in the Gulf Islands. The land has begun to warm up but isn’t yet on fire, everything is in bloom, and the summer hordes on the water haven’t yet arrived, so finding a place to anchor, or to sit quietly, watch the local pod (known as J Pod) of southern resident killer whales cycle through and listen to the birds sing is never a problem.  It is even possible, this time of year, to hike the muddy trails in many popular parks and never encounter another person. (You do have to watch out for the commercial crab and shrimp fishers–they’re still setting trawl in May, and it’s neither smart nor kind to anchor among their pots.)


Hiking around Russell Island with friends

We decided, once launched, to take a few weeks in this relatively “connected” zone to look after various pressing bits of non-sailing business–writing contracts, photo submissions, interviews and other things–and to visit with friends. At the end of the month we would sail across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver, where we would complete our provisioning for the trip to Alaska, pick up our friend Elisabeth who would be joining us for the summer from Nova Scotia, and begin the long journey north.


We sail through the round Saltspring Island race on a foggy day

Our rendezvous with friends took us took us back to many of our favourite haunts: the anchorage behind Russell Island, where we walked the trails to Maria Mahoi’s historic home; to Genoa Bay, where we visited gardens and several artist studios; to the Marine Park in Montague Harbour where it was so hot we were almost tempted to go swimming; to Maple Bay, where we picked up delicious Cowichan Valley produce; to Tsehum Harbour in Sidney, where, on the recommendation of a friend we’d met on the Central Coast the previous year, we joined the affordable Sidney North Saanich Yacht Club, and learned about the advantages of “reciprocals” or docking rights at other area yacht clubs and outposts along the south coast; and to Poet’s Cove in Bedwell Harbour, where after some particularly hard news from home (more about that in a future entry), we spent a day at the spa, steaming, swimming, resting, warming up–for it can be cold out on the water, particularly when the fog comes drifting in.  In each place our circle of friends widened; every couple of days we went for long hikes and bit by bit we got our non-boat work done, bent on the sails and generally made sure that everything was in good working order.


Arbutus trees on South Pender Island

A last row to the beach to hike up Mount Norman, which is 3+ kilometres each way and nearly vertical.  We’re puffing by the time we arrive at the summit and see the islands spread out before us. There’s Saltspring and Piers and Mayne and Sidney Spit and Russell Island and a cargo ship tracking along the border.  Wild currents swirl between the two countries in Border Passage: you can see them from the heights. On the trail we step over a banana slug as large as banana, the largest one we’ve ever seen. Tiny orchids bloom on the forest floor and birds flutter and sing in the high branches. The salal is beginning to bloom. We remember walking this trail a year ago, when it was much wetter.

As we return to the beach a small bird of a sort we’ve never seen before approaches us. It cries out again and again, a sort of trilling buzz and moves closer to us still. So we stop to wait and see what will happen next.  Suddenly there, just to the side of the path, movement. A tiny little speckled bird hops through the dead leaves towards its buzzing parent.  Other birds of the same species pass overhead. We move quickly on. Don’t worry, we say, as if to the parent bird, we won’t step on your baby.

We row back to the boat, where after much searching of our bird guides we decide we’ve encountered a  Hutton’s Vireo parent and baby, perhaps in a flock with Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  But in truth, we aren’t sure and don’t know.

Dinner, darkness, sudden rain, sleep–and then, as if in the blink of an eye, it is time to cross over to Vancouver.


About Karin Cope

Karin Cope lives on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia. She is a poet, sailor, photographer, scholar, rural activist, blogger and an Associate Professor at NSCAD University. Her publications include Passionate Collaborations: Learning to Live with Gertrude Stein, a poetry collection entitled What we're doing to stay afloat, and, since 2009, a photo/poetry blog entitled Visible Poetry: Aesthetic Acts in Progress. Over the course of the last decade, with her partner and collaborator Marike Finlay, Cope has sailed to and conducted fieldwork in a number of remote or marginal coastal communities in British Columbia and Mexico. Their joint writings range from activist journalism and travel and policy documents, to an illustrated popular material history of the Lunenburg Foundry entitled Casting a Legend, as well as their ongoing west coast travel blog, West By East.
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