Searching for Pictographs (Dinghy Anthropology)

Village Islands area

Sunset over Goat Island (near Berry Island)

We admit it, we like to make fun of the way several Europeans we know carry out anthropological investigations.  (No names will be mentioned.) They seem to believe that they are immersing themselves in the history of First Nations’ cultures by reading a book or visiting a “cultural” exhibit.  We call this “doing Frrrench antropologie.”

Then, as we were preparing for this voyage—reading various cruising guides and accounts of First Nations’ lives on this coast in the Salish Sea—we realized that we might also be thus charged. Our excursion to see the various ruins at Mamalilaculla did not disabuse us of this realization.

Not a pictograph

Red markings on rock (not a pictograph)

Undaunted (and in this, also quite like our European friends), all three of us, Marike, Karin and Elisabeth, set off in our dinghy to explore the north shore of Berry Island.  There, by an indentation known as “the chief’s bathtub” (we can’t make this stuff up), there was reputed to be a pictograph on a rock face.

We nosed into each little cove and indentation, pointing our cameras at anything colourful on any rock, whether algae, moss or a stripe of quartz. “Is that it?” “No?”  “What about this?”


Young buck on Berry Island (also not a pictograph)

No, definitely not. That’s a deer.

We didn’t really expect to find anything at all—perhaps some marks we might construe as an intentional artwork if we worked at it.

Then, as we nosed along, chilly in the northwest wind and chop, we saw an indentation that did indeed look a bit like a bathtub, a hollowed-out bowl in the rock wall.  We imagined it might fill at high tide, warm in the sun, and serve as a welcome bathing spot for someone—a bird perhaps, or an otter, even a full-grown person. And there beside it was the pictograph!

Chief's bathtub

The “Chief’s Bathtub”

It was very clearly a face—heart shaped brow, almond eyes and whoosh of a toothy mouth in a faded but distinctly rusty red.

Berry Island pictograph

The pictograph (a face)

These islands have been inhabited for more than 10,000 years.  How old was this painting in berry juice? (Was it really in berry juice? Why did we think that?) Did it date from the early 20th century, when Kwakwaka’wakw people still lived in winter villages on many of the nearby islands, or was it older than that? We’d have to do some more “Frrrench antropologie” to discover that.

But the thrill of discovering some kind of evidence of a real living culture that preceded us—a person made that!–on a real rock in a real place remained with us.  And there we have it—dinghy anthropology.

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

“Islands in front” (Memqumlis) or Mamalilaculla

Abandoned house abandoned village

White shell midden beach and ruins at Mamalilaculla

30 June 2012

Our visit to the relics at Mamalilaculla, on Village Island, was preceded by many stories about the abandoned village, once the main winter community for the Mamaleleqala-qweqwa sot’enox people,  a branch of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation.  Abandoned in the 1960s in favour of deeper water settlements more conducive to fishing boats with motors and keels than the shallow, canoe friendly lagoon, the settlement had supported, in the 1830s, as many as 2000 people.  Wrecked by smallpox and other diseases carried by colonial settlers, the population had dropped to 90 people by 1911.

Mamlilaculla is famous as the site of an enormous federal potlatch raid in December 1921, when 45 people were charged with violating Section 149 of the Indian Act, which prohibited the speeches, dances, gifts, costumes, masks, coppers and other articles and activities that accompanied the giving of or participating in a potlatch ceremony. All of the gifts and regalia associated with the potlatch were seized, boxed and warehoused. Ceremonial materials were shipped to Ottawa, where they were divided between various public museums and private collections in Canada and the US. Then Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott, was offered some particularly choice articles for his own collection: spoils of the continent’s longest and deadliest war we might rather call them.

Why were potlatch ceremonies such a source of legal and missionary fervour?  We like to think it’s because they put into practice an anti-capitalist approach to accumulation. In a potlatch-giving society, if you become rich and powerful, you have an obligation at a certain moment to break out your wealth and share it with others in the form of lavish gifts–often of useful items like oolichen oil or blankets or shoes or motors.  Younger people were kitted out for warmth or success in fishing this way; poorer people did not go hungry, and a chief who shared richly built not only a reputation but a network of people who felt strong ties and shouldered further obligations to the community or extended family.  The ceremonies also served to mark new names or positions, marriages, deaths; they passed along stories; they recounted lives, myths, local and global histories, and they made for fantastic dancing and music and fantasy and celebration. As Agnes Alfred, of Alert Bay, said in 1980, “When one’s heart is glad, he gives away gifts…The potlatch was given to us to be our way of expressing joy.” Such dramatic non-Christian expressions of joy were clearly, as well, deeply troubling to missionaries, who wanted to supplant tales of the raven or forest ghosts with their own myths of father, son and holy ghost.

Following the potlatch raid, Mamalilaculla became the site of an Anglican mission school and T.B sanitorium, and was frequently visited by white settlers bringing what they thought of as “civilization,” curiosity and greed.  For more than a century, white writers have recounted visiting the place in search of “local colour,” trading beads or other artifacts scattered on the beach, or views of “authentic” longhouses and totems. We would be kidding ourselves if we thought our own visit was any different, really; although we tried to practice a contemporary ethic of ‘doing no harm’ or taking nothing away, we were trespassing, and we collected dozens of photographs (picturesque! of ruins!) and handfuls of the thimble and salmon berries growing rampant along the shore.

Bushes and nettle guard the ruins

Thimble berry bushes and a tangle of nettles obscure the ruins

The day we visited Mamalilaculla, we threaded the narrow passages to a deep water cove on Village Island–“Native Anchorage” it was called on our chart–dropped anchor, put the motor on the dinghy, and made for the gleaming white shell midden beach we’d glimpsed amid an arc of islands.  It was still nearly high tide, so we slipped along the shore behind a line of spruce islets covered in driftwood and ran up the drying lagoon that fronts the village beach. We tied the dinghy to the remnants of an old dock support and stepped out.

Dock supports, Mamalilaculla

Remains of a dock at Mamalilaculla

We walked on what was shell and bottle midden now, stepping over the engine parts strewn about.

closeup of shell and bottle fragments

Shell and bottle midden now

In Cruising North of Desolation, John Chappell reports seeing a half-sunken, abandoned fishing boat on the shores of Mamalilaculla in 1979; these must be its remains: crankcase, flywheel, bolts, rod.

Barnacled engine rots on the beach

Remains of an old engine on the beach

Behind us, as we stood on the beach and faced the village, a run of barrier islets lush with grass and a few trees, a situation reminiscent of a Pacific atoll.

islands in front of Mamalilaculla

“Islands in front”–an archipelago protects the historical settlement

Before us, what seemed an impenetrable thicket of rose and thimble berry bushes, mixed up, as we found, with stinging nettles.  Birds sang and the sound of buzzing bees was everywhere. Further down the beach, a line of cherry trees bearing as yet unripe fruit.

Wild roses briars

Roses guard the ruins of Mamalilaculla

Finally Marike found a way through the brush and we walked along overgrown paths, the thorny bushes high above our heads, to the remains of a long house–two massive supports and an equally massive crossbeam. Another massive trunk–once a carving?–stood to the side, now a nurse log for new growth. Once there we could see further back, blocked by solid walls of overgrowth, the other supports and crossbeam.

Longhouse beams

Marike stands beneath the longhouse crossbeam

overgrown longhouse beams

Nurse log longhouse beams

One house still stands; all of the other structures in the village have tumbled down. Bit by bit, the rain forest was reclaiming the building: moss covered most exterior surfaces, the outer steps had fallen down, and the building had begun to cant to the side. Plaster fell, paint peeled, wallpaper curled away from the mouldy walls, and a few furnishings rusted in the damp. A hopeful plea was written in pencil on a bedroom wall: “Edie Pooh. #10. Home forever? September 19, 1999.” Only the bees and spiders and mice and mould stayed now.

Bullet riddled rusting washtub

Rusting washtub on the porch


Rusting refrigerator

Peeling wallpaper

Mouldy wallpaper parts from the walls

message on the wall

Message on the bedroom wall

Mossy roof tiles in the rainforest

Moss takes over the roof

We explored the house and then walked along the beach towards a freshwater stream, where we found another set of steps up into the brush.  There were the moss-covered carved forms of a decaying totem pole–a sea wolf still visible, baring its teeth.

Marike on the beach at Mamalilaculla

Marike stands on the beach and peers through the nettles


Sea wolf carving covered in moss

Bees and humming birds were buzzing all around us.  Elisabeth continued to photograph, while Marike hacked towards the stream and Karin headed the other way, startling several snakes and then stepping in fresh bear scat.  We turned back then, not wanting to disturb any snoozing or berrying bears.  Besides, it was time for our lunch.

We clambered back down to the beach, and shoved the dinghy back into the receding water. Time to move on before the lowering tide stranded us here until after dark.

Rusty wash basin

Rusted tub on the beach

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Potts Lagoon

Log float “sidewalk”

Float home in Potts Lagoon

28-30 June 2012

Potts Lagoon is a still surviving although not exactly thriving float home community anchored in a narrow cove on West Cracroft Island near the outlet of a lagoon. Named after Murray Clarke Potts, an Ontario student of “practical science” who came west, married, and staked a claim here in 1908, the cove is around the corner from what was, when Potts arrived, a still active Indigenous burial ground on Klaoitsis Island.

Boathouse, also on a float

Narrow passage into the lagoon from the cove

Abandoned antique logging materials stowed on a log float (junk in “the backyard”)

Potts felled timber, built float houses and farmed the land near the lagoon; after World War II, he was appointed Indian Agent in Alert Bay, a community that remains the cultural centre of Kwak’wala speaking groups today.

Log dog–driven into a log to enable it to be boomed or tied to another log or to an anchor

Float homes in Potts Lagoon

Float home–an unintentional museum of abandoned smallholder technologies

A boat that won’t be going anywhere

Touch of home

No one home

New home–and someone’s hope

Potts Lagoon was the first place we saw clusters of float homes linked by logboomed “sidewalks”; it was also the first place where we experienced, perhaps as a consequence of what seemed endless darkness and drizzle, a sense of the aura of loneliness and depression that has accompanied the emptying of once vibrant Indigenous and settler communities and businesses all along these shores. Once upon a time, not so long ago–early in the 20th century–more people lived in several of the small coves north of Desolation Sound than in all of Vancouver. Even in the 1930s Francis Barrow, a boater and amateur photographer, filmmaker and archeologist, would write in his journals about friends “running over to Potts Lagoon for a party.”  No more–or, at least not a party of that sort.

Old messages–“Angeline, far size of cove, grizlie [grizzly], Love B & B”

Pinned down by the rain and a sort of general depression that settled over us, we couldn’t wait to leave Potts Lagoon, and yet we also felt compelled to stay.  The notes below are extracted from our journals and testify to our (perhaps overblown) sense of haunting and despair.

“Sidewalks” where we won’t be walking

Grooves and line

What grows between the cracks

29 June, 2012 (Friday)

No one at home anymore here, neither Kwakwaka’ wakw villagers, nor Euro-, Chinese-, Japanese- , or Indo-Canadians, just ruins and yachts drifting about, and intensive industrial production by the international corporations that are harvesting logs and fish farming the region.  No one anymore to bear witness to the what is happening here.  No one to love the sweetness and generosity of the land; no one to wrestle with the bears for berries or to carve a housebeam; no clam farmers, no handloggers, no fishermen are left. Even the beachcombers are out of luck now; the drifts of logs that line every shore and imperil the passageways can’t be collected and resold by enterprising individuals unless they secure a license; those logs are all corporate property now.

Antiquated logging gear

More recent debris

Under such a regime, everything becomes theft: from the displacement and destruction of Indigenous communities, sacred sites and sacred objects to the corporate rape of the land for profit, there is everywhere environmental and social devastation as various sorts of “commons” give way to “free” (but free to and for whom?) enterprise, to extractions without remediation, ceremony or replacement.  At every turn, grand theft and pillage force smaller acts of theft and destruction, everyone pincered in the jaws of klepto-capitalism.

Fire extinguisher

Local businesses and the communities they once served and employed are all gone: no canneries or small scale lumber mills remain–they’ve been gone nearly forty years now.  Here and there a few shops that seem to serve yachts and some memorial post offices survive.  No parties on the weekend or visiting back and forth; it’s all crumbling away.  Even the animals move off. The fish cannot survive our depredations, and then neither can the whales, the bears, the cougars, the elk…

Life ring–“Toketie”–the name of Francis and Amy Barrow’s boat

We are witnessing a holocaust, but only a few wild voices call it that; everyone else calls it business-as-usual.  Necessary.  And when these fertile shores are nothing but rock, what then?


30 June 2012 (Saturday)

We are going rangy with the darkness, the cloud cover, the rain, the world nothing but dampness, grey and green. Not being able to walk is making us nutty; we row about or sit in the boat and look out at the green light; it is too much like being trapped in the fog on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia.

Potts Lagoon rowboat

Bull kelp clustered at the edge of the lagoon

Bull kelp in the current

Yesterday we took turns rowing into the lagoon, but by the time my turn came, the ebbing current was running so strongly I couldn’t get past it into the lagoon. I rowed as hard as I could for five minutes and got past one rock, stood and rowed as hard as I could, tried to crab sideways,  rowed and rowed, but I only just managed to hold my ground.  I was splashing so much that an eagle swooped down to look at me–is that a big fish you’ve got there?–then he flew up into a tree and chuckled at me. 

Handmade carpot–keeps bait or catch cool and wet

I finally stopped rowing and let the boat spin and drift out into the long flowing lines of bull kelp waving in the current, then out to the float house floats, then over to the remains of what was once an enormous dock.

Overgrown wharf, Potts Lagoon

Dock as nurse log for salal

Finally I tied up on the land and climbed up a little stream to a birch grove, where someone has stacked and tarped wood, and where a very muddy overgrown road ends.  Everything was smothered by salmonberry and thimbleberry bushes.  I filled my cap with yellow and red salmonberries, keeping a lookout for bears (are there bears here, or only on the mainland?) and jumping when something buzzed loudly by my head. A hummingbird.

Tying up to a tied up log with logdog


In the evening, two boats arrived at the floats–inhabitants!  One group started up a generator; the others unloaded an appliance of some sort and carried it indoors.  It is good to see people here at last; it feels less like a ghost town.

A cap full of salmonberries

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Forest Products and Fish Food

Looking back at Sunderland Channel

27 June 2012 (Log)

When we woke the world was bathed in a grey wash–pale sky, steely water, grey green hills, granite cliffs.  We raised the anchor and slipped out of Forward Harbour and into the Sunderland Channel.  We motored  past mountains and islands and clearcuts and fish farms in virtually every bay; the more stunning the view, the more certain we could be that we would see multiple modes industrial exploitation and resource extraction.  And then suddenly we were at the edge of the infamous Johnstone Strait.

Kalagan motorsails in Johnstone Strait

It smirked at us, almost smiled, but did not bare its teeth.  We raised the jib and motorsailed through the short choppy grey waves and a blue landscape–blue hills, blue-grey skies, a watercolour mist, then rain.  Alongside us, gulls hitched a ride on breakaway logs from a boom and then, near the Broken Islands, we passed through a leaping school of dolphins.

We turned up Havannah Channel, doused the sails and motored through a few tricky narrow passages; there we were, finally in the fabled Broughton Islands, the destination of so many sailors headed north of Desolation Sound and its boundary rapids.

We motored in the rain past rustic homesteads, past a big new almost finished house with a grand FOR SALE sign on the porch, and into Chatham Channel. It was narrow, shallow and kelp strewn; you had to line up the range markers to find the centre channel in the east end.  The current tore through the narrows, and carried us along with it.

Narrow Chatham Channel

There too, in front of a clearcut, we noticed an advertisement: “Waterfront property for sale.” Was this a resale by timber companies (what do you do with land you’ve stripped of all industrial value?) or an effort to enlarge the neigbourhood?  How would you even get to your dock when the current was running hard against you? For which potential buyers were these signs posted?

“Waterfront land for sale”

We were passed in the channel by a large American cabin cruiser towing a salmon fishing vessel–were the for sale signs for them?

Passing a cabin cruiser in the channel

Cutter Cove was nearby, around the corner from a dockside sign reading Chatham Channel Post Office and General Store. We crept into the cove and dropped anchor in the rain.  Debris from an old logging operation cluttered the beach; above us stone walls loomed and dripped.

Cutter Cove in the rain

As we sat in the cockpit and watched the rain fall, a large service boat made its way into the anchorage. Forest Products was written on the side of the vessel.  It was piled high with huge bales wrapped in white plastic and wooden pallets. Maybe he has ice cream, Marike joked.

The vessel approached, circled us, and headed back out of the cove.  Turn the radio on, Karin said, maybe he has something to say, so Marike hailed him.

That’s how we discovered that the skipper of the Forest Products boat was a sailor himself.  He lived in Pender Harbour and wondered if Cutter Cove would be a good place for a sailboat to anchor.  How is it in a southeasterly? he asked.

We, having just arrived, had not a clue.

Marike asked him what he was carrying.  Fish food for the fish farms, he answered; I’m sure you saw plenty of them on your way up here.

Oh yeah, Marike replied. Lots of fish farms and lots of clearcuts. Everywhere.

Yes, he said, a clear note of sadness in his voice.

Marike asked if fish food was mostly what he hauled, or if he carried other things.

No, these days mostly fish food. He sighed, then said pensively, sign of the times I guess.

Marike cajoled him a bit: oh well, at least you’re not stuck in an office.

You’re right about that! he affirmed and then departed, wishing us fair winds and a fine and safe voyage.  His heartbreak at the destruction he was privy to and trapped within was palpable; it lingered, a ghost hovering over us.

Our first local conversation and it was already clear almost nothing but resource extraction was going on on these shores.

But which had come first, industrial exploitation or depopulation? Opportunities to think about this question would be just around the corner.

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Stop an Eagle from Drowning

Canada Day colours

1 July 2012

It was Canada Day, and we were convoy sailing with Kalagan, across Knight Inlet, when Rick called us on the radio: “Do you see what I see off to port?  I don’t know what we can do about it.”

Bald eagle sculling across Knight Inlet

An eagle was paddling vigorously through the water with its wings.  We stopped our vessels to observe it and to concoct a plan. The eagle sculled towards a cluster of bull kelp, but once it arrived and realized that this was not a solid platform, it stopped swimming and sank a bit, as if from discouragement.  As we watched, the current pushed the eagle back out into the center of the channel, further away from shore.  The bird’s energy seemed to be flagging; we did not believe it would make it to dry land on its own.

Eagle paddles with its wings

Now and then, an eagle will hook its talons in waterborne prey that is too heavy for it lift into the air, but, without a solid surface to press down upon, the birds cannot always loose their grip.  They can swim well—as we could clearly see—but they do get waterlogged and can drown.

Bald Eagle swimming

But how do you rescue an eagle, a fierce, independent, enormous bird?

“I don’t need your help; I’ll make this trip on my own!”

Plan A—to hold out a flotation cushion on a boathook as a possible perch to the eagle—was a complete failure.

Dawn tries to interest the eagle in a flotation cushion

The eagle is not interested

Plan B—to catch the bird in a large fishnet and dinghy it to shore—seemed improbable but worth a try.

Rick tries to net a bald eagle

Rick launched his dinghy, zipped over to Quoddy’s Run, and picked up Marike to drive the dinghy while he tried to net the bird.  The larger vessels and crew would stand by, and try to keep everyone off of the rocks and out of trouble.

With Marike driving, Rick manages to net the bird and they take it to shore

After several tries, Rick managed to net the eagle, or at least most of it; its wings splayed over the rim of the net.

The eagle was a small bird, a male, thankfully not a larger female.  He seemed to have lost his prey, nothing was in his talons, but he was so waterlogged that he couldn’t fly anymore.

At first, the eagle tried to leap sideways from the net, but Marike steered the boat in the direction he wanted to leap, and Rick lifted and angled the net, so in end the bird stayed put, and settled down for the ride.  Slowly, so as not to damage the eagle’s wings, they crossed the inlet and made for shore.  Still, the eagle watched them with his eagle eye, turning from side to side, showing his fierce hooked beak.  He seemed perplexed, Marike would say later; “I don’t know what you’re up to, but I’m too tired to fight with you.”

Once ashore, Rick and Marike let the eagle out of the net on a rock below the tide line.  But he was too weak to climb out of the water. So they poled in closer with an oar and Rick heaved the bird up on a dry rock, free of the net.  At first, he drooped there, dazed, wings dangling, but then he sat up and gathered his wings.

Leaving the bird onshore to dry out

They left him then. He’d have several hours to preen, dry out and warm up before the tide came up that far again. He had, they thought, a good chance of making it.

As they motored back to sailboats, the rest of us heard the eagle cry out a thank you in its rusty, wire-on-a-wheel voice, krrriiiickkk! Krrriiiiickkk!

Another bald eagle in a more typical element

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Fishing Lessons I

Rick’s tackle box (someday we’ll have one)

(June 2012)

The entire time that Quoddy’s Run plied the coastal waters of Central America and Mexico, we refused to fish.  The skipper did not want fish blood and guts all over the deck, and we all thought it better to buy from or trade needed goods with local fishermen.  We did not like the attitude of many North American cruisers in the south, where fishing was just another way of getting something for nothing.

Flasher or dodger–it spins as you troll and mimics schooling small fish

But now we have a boat repair debt and we’re hungry for protein.  Beans and rice and pasta can only take you so far, especially when it’s cold.  In Nanaimo, we asked the chandler to outfit us with Fishing 101 equipment—gear that would not be frightfully more dear than the value of the fish we might catch.  There it was then, a pole, a line, a reel, all bundled together, a real deal.  But then you need something called a flasher or dodger—a long flat shiny thing designed to whirl in the current and mimic schooling herring, thereby catching the salmon’s eye.  You need a sinker to take the line down, some spoons that fall like wounded herring when you jig, or a “hootchie,” a rubbery cross between a large mosquito and a tiny octopus in varying colours.  That’s for trolling salmon, if and when the salmon are running.

Our first hootchies–gifts from Rick

If you know how to tie a rudimentary fisherman’s knot you may use the same rod to jig for rockfish, lingcod, greenlings—maybe even, heaven forbid, a large halibut.  If you catch one of those or a dogfish, which is really a small species of shark, set it free before it sinks your dinghy.

Finally, we learned, you need a net, a large net, in the unlikely event that you have some success in catching a fish.  Oh, and a fishing license of course, with a salmon stamp, since they don’t cost much, and you might as well be hopeful.

Skeptically, we brought our gear back to the Quoddy’s Run and stowed it all in Elisabeth’s berth until she arrived, but we admit it confused us.  Fishing was at this point all abstract instruction, theory and story really.  What do you really do with the stuff?  How do you use it? What do you do if you really catch something?  And how do you know what you’ve caught—and what to do with it then?

Happily, our friend Rick, aboard Kalagan, is an avid fisherman.  His wife, Dawn, who keeps us supplied with books about BC—she’s the secret research arm of these blog entries—volunteered Rick to give us fishing lessons.  Somehow, he knew we wouldn’t even have a copy of the BC regulations (we hadn’t even known enough to ask for it!), and gave us his double.

Another necessary: pliers to remove a hook before you throw the fish back

First he showed us how to connect our bits and pieces for trolling.  Attach your reel holders off to the side of the stern (they’d come with the boat and we’d never imagined we’d use them!).  Hook up the weight, then the dodger then the spoon on your line.  Pay out as much line as you think the fish are deep—hmm…now how are we going to know that?  Okay, Rick says, showing us, pull like this 30-50 times. Then go along in your sailboat or dinghy at about 3-4 knots, changing speed every once in awhile just to keep things interesting.

Now, for jigging. Isn’t that what maritimers used to do for cod before there were no more cod?  You jig for groundfish, not salmon. To jig, you have to cut all of the trawling trinkets off and tie on a jigging lure.  Then let your line out until it hits the bottom. Reel it in a few feet and start jigging—jerking up on the line so that the lure moves like a wounded fish.  They strike at those first.

So much for theory; now it was time for practice.

Netting exercises–“go for the head of the fender!”

First we practice netting a fish headfirst, using our fender as the fish. Then we all pile into Rick’s dinghy and trolled outside the anchorage.  Yikes, the moving water tugs at the line as if something were on it.  If you catch weed, clear it off and start over again; fish don’t bite a weedy spoon or hootchie.

Realworld dinghy fishing practice (Elisabeth, Rick & Marike)

Nothing biting. Change over to jigging gear.  We go over to the rocks and start jigging.  Right away a strike!  Pull up the line fast to set the hook then it in. A little rock fish, illegal to keep here. Release it and move somewhere new.  A small lingcod—it spins. Use pliers to manipulate the hook and release the fish so that neither you nor it is wounded.

Catching a rockfish–and a demonstration of how to remove the hook from its mouth

More jigging.  Another small rockfish.  Release.

That’s it; that’s our lesson.  We still don’t believe we’ll catch anything to eat.  But Skipper Marike, who tends towards impatience, has found, while waiting for crew to finish their tasks and begin a newly proposed activity, that jigging while waiting is a bit like meditating.

Small lingcod, mid spin

In Teakerne Arm, Marike was jigging in the rain one morning when she got a strike—something big and strong pulling the line under the keel.  Excitement.

“I’ve got something!”  Karin and Elisabeth came running, reaching for net, pliers, camera….which should be deployed first?

When the fish came to the surface we gawked down at it.  What is it? Look at that mouth—a lingcod!  Is it big enough to keep? A quick look at the regulations: minimum length, 63 centimeters, how long is that? (Longer than Karin’s arm, it turns out.)

Of course, while we hesitated, the lingcod gave a mighty thrash and got away.  Phew!  We too were off the hook!

So Marike dropped the line in the water again. Another strike! This time we tried to net the fish, but again it got away, and again, we were relieved not to have to deal with such a large and thrashing thing.

The line went down again, and there we were, a third strike, an enormous lingcod.  But it too got away, and so did we.

Obviously, we were not hungry enough yet.

Skipper Marike jigs in Teakerne Arm

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Running the Yaculta Rapids North (Our turn)

26 June 2012

Whoops–drying out a wet Tides and Currents Atlas

Dwelling on a challenge without actually meeting it can make it all the more fearsome. Once we waited for weeks before crossing the Tehuantepec in Mexico, a gulf of justifiably redoubtable reputation for winds, until the prospect seemed fraught with fatal pitfalls.

We’d had a year to contemplate the Yacultas, for last August we were on the verge of transiting the rapids, but the constraints of work forced us to return to port.

Quoddy’s Run runs rapids

The guides are replete with warnings that seem biblical in tone and consequence. Boats can be spun around in circular eddies and swallowed up only to be spit back out in pieces minus their passengers. You must wait until absolute slack tide. Some rapids can run from 7-9 knots, while the very most fearsome run from 13-15 knots, as the tides force huge volumes of current through narrow bottlenecks.  Indigenous villagers had warned Spaniards Valdes and Galiano not to run the rapids in their sailing vessels, the Mexicana  and the Sutil, but they did anyway, and were spun around and shot off to shore a few times before actually making it through the first set or two of swift water.

Through the whirling water (near slack) with Kalagan

We finally passed through the Yacultas—and four other sets of rapids on the same day—with our friends Rick and Dawn Burkmar, who went ahead of us in their sailboat, Kalagan.  They’d made the run many times before, and were old hands at pulling off the timing, which is quite tricky since you cannot run every rapid in a sequence of several at slack, but must start early and end late if you are to get anywhere at all.

They instructed us: “arrive at Kelsey Point half an hour before ebb, then swing over to the western side of the channel and pass the Yacultas and Gillard Passage rapids mid-channel.”

We saw whirlpools, but the water was pretty settled, although it did build as we moved along.  Most amusing were the seagulls settled on logs in back eddies, waiting for the excitement to begin, like children getting strapped into a rollercoaster.  Most amazing were the numbers and extent of the sports fishing lodges along the shores, catering to salmon fishermen, who flocked like the gulls to these shores when the salmon were running.  (Reputedly salmon run hardest where the water runs with the greatest force.)

Tug with log boom, waiting off to the side for the current to turn

From the Yacultas and Gillard Passage, we hurried along to the Dent Rapids, which you must take at dead slack—or the beginning of the ebb if you are headed northwest, as was the case for us. We passed over the infamous “Devil’s Hole” without incident, although our knot meter steadily climbed.

On Dent Island, in Mermaid Cove, we noticed trees covered with signs—these were the names of tugs with log booms in tow, which had stopped there again and again to wait for the rapids to ease. To pass the time, crew carved and painted boards with their vessels’ names or images.

Tug names in Mermaid Cove

From Dent Rapids we were carried along by the ebbing tide through the Cordero Channel. All along the channel we noted eddies and whirlpools—they played with the bow of the boat, nudging but not really deranging our course.

Greene Point rapids running nicely

If you go by the books, one is supposed to wait for slack tide at the Greene Rapids.  We saw a lovely anchorage by the Cordero Islands where, clearly, several boats were following instructions, but our guide boat insisted that we’d find no danger if we continued that day.

How fast can you go?!

We headed after Kalagan like Dante in Vergil’s footsteps, aimed at a gravel quarry then turned center channel. Finally, a challenge! Some real rapids! Quoddy’s Run encountered standing waves, drop offs and whirlpools that made the helmswoman fight to keep the bow from spinning, all the while speeding up to 11 knots over the ground. Whoo hoo! White water keelboat sailing!  What a rush!

Try not to whirl into any rocks

Once we were through, our pilot Rick radioed back to us.  “How did you like that?”

“We loved it!”

“Good,” he says, “but don’t try it if it’s running any more strongly.  We ran Greene Point once at around 13 knots and I nearly lost control of the boat.”

What to avoid–rocks, kelp, shallows, breaking water

Only one more chute to run.

The Whirlpool Rapids in Wellbore Channel were indeed whirling when we arrived, but nothing to worry about. Old hands too by the time they’d arrived here, the Spaniards had given these rapids a name that had pretty well stuck on anglo settlers’ charts: Galiano had called the space the “Canal de Nuevos Remolinos”—the Channel of New Whirlpools.

Bessborough Bay–the water settles with the sunset

More worrisome than the rapids at this point was the wind—a northwesterly was piping up in Johnstone Strait and the Sunderland Channel.  We decided we’d travelled far enough for one day, so we hung a right at the end of Wellbore Channel into Forward Harbour, where we anchored.  There was even time for a walk across the Thynne Peninsula to Bessborough Bay along a trail marked by beach flotsam.

Flotsam and jetsam as trail markers, Forward Harbour

There, we saw that the waters of Sunderland Channel were settling—it looked like the next day would be ideal for a run north through Johnstone Strait and into the Broughton Islands.

Marike stands by an enormous root ball

It had been a pretty easy run.  But we had also had a wonderful guide; too, we had followed the guidebooks, and passed the most dangerous rapids as close to slack as possible.  Best of all the day had been clear, without fog or rain or excessive wind, altogether perfect really.

Quoddy’s Run headed north–at anchor in Forward Harbour

For an excellent set of directions for slower vessels like sailboats through the various rapids here described, see chapter 9 of the Dreamspeaker Cruising Guide #2 by Anne and Laurence Yeadon-Jones, Desolation Sound and the Discovery Islands. Pender Harbour: Harbour Publishing, 2000.

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Running Rapids North (The Historical Record)

Greene Point Rapids

The first published account of the challenging rapids awaiting any sailor or paddler headed north of Desolation Sound appears in an 18th century Spanish document, the English title of which is A Spanish Voyage to Vancouver and the North-West Coast of America, Being the Narrative of the Voyage Made in the Year 1792 by the Schooners Sutil and Mexicana to Explore the Strait of Fuca.  The narrative was probably written and illustrated by José Antonio Cardero (1766-1801), who had been a cabin boy with Captain Alejandro Malaspina during his circumnavigation of the world.  Obviously talented, Cardero was quickly promoted and served as artist, pilot and draftsman aboard the Sutil with Captain Dionisio Alcalá-Galiano.  Galiano was sent in 1792, along with Captain Cayetano Valdés and crew on the Mexicana, to investigate the claim, dating from 1592, by Greek mariner, Apostolos Valerianos, called Juan de Fuca by the Spaniards for whom he worked as a pilot, that a Strait indeed existed between 47˚ and 48˚ north latitude.

Beyond that entrance, or so the story went, was a “much broader Sea” extending to the NW and SE, in which Valerianos claimed to have sailed for 20 days.  (Most historians today don’t believe he ever did any such thing, but who knows? His account does seem a fairly accurate description of the waters we know as the Strait of Georgia.) This “broader Sea,” filled with “divers Ilands” was, Valerianos seems to have hoped, an entry to the fabled “Straits of Anián,” the search for which was an older variant of the search for the Northwest Passage.  The “Straits of Anián” was a reputed passage from Florida or other eastern sections of the North American continent to the Pacific coast, reported to exist by Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca—he suggested he had reached it during the course of his long march from Florida to Mexico—and then reinforced by tall tales retailed by a variety of sailors.  Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado had even sailed the passage from one end to the other, it was said.

A dolphin rides our bow wake

Galiano and Valdés and their crews were ordered by the Spanish government to explore and chart that opening called Juan de Fuca and the seas beyond it in 1791. In the preceding decades Spaniard Juan Pérez had confirmed the location of the entrance to the strait in 1774; Captain Cook missed the passage in 1778, but in 1787 Captain Charles Barkley identified the opening and named it after Juan de Fuca.  Following Barkley’s voyage, Vancouver was dispatched in 1791 to lead an exploratory survey of those waters. Thus the race for access to lands in the Pacific Northwest between the two great western European naval and imperial powers of the age, Britain and Spain continued, alongside American, Russian, Aleut, Polynesian, French and others, as if the priority of already resident First Peoples–Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw, Oowekeeno, Heiltsuk, Haisla, Tsimshian, Haida & Tlingit among others–never existed and meant nothing at all.

a seal comes to visit in Gillard Pass

Vancouver and Galiano and Valdés were rather shocked to meet up in Howe Sound in the spring of 1792; Vancouver, in particular, was unhappy to find that the Spaniards had already ably charted some of the ground he’d hoped to be the first European to cover.  Still, they met as respectful equals, and were ordered by their various superiors to collaborate on their surveys—Vancouver, in fact, had been sent to the Pacific Northwest to make peace between the English and the Spaniards on the west coast of what came to be known as Vancouver Island after an international scandal, called the Nootka Affair, had blown up.  The explorers  continued to travel together to Desolation Sound, where they split up, Spaniards to the East, British to the west.  They shared results of their surveying tasks and then, on July 13, 1792, parted ways.

Thus the great Spanish adventure with the rapids north of Desolation Sound began, for although there are several ways to go, you cannot make any passage further north without passing through various sets of rapids.

Gulls catching a ride on a floating log

“On the twelfth [of July 1792]…the English commander told us that it was his intention to leave the channel in which we were anchored [near Teakerne Arm, probably Lewis Channel, which the Spaniards called “La Separación, to commemorate their parting with the English] in order to follow another…to the southwest…more suitable for ships…He added…that the one which we proposed to follow was very dangerous, since it was full of shoals and had many currents and eddies.  We explained to him that the small size of our vessels made it practicable for them to navigate this passage….”

The Spaniards called the rapids they were determined to pass through “Angostura de los Comandantes” (Captains’ Narrows) after the formidable “Angostura de la Esperanza,” the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of South America, and observed that “the current of Angostura de la Esperanze in the Strait of Magellan is seven and a half miles an hour near the shore, and its velocity is much greater mid-channel. Nevertheless, the difference between the two currents, which can be noticed at once, is so great that it is no exaggeration to say that the current in Angostura de los Comandantes has a velocity of twelve miles.”

They went on to explain that “the sight is most strange and picturesque: the waters flow as if they were falling from a cascade; a great number of fish are constantly rising in them, and flocks of gulls perch on the surface at the entrance of the channel, allowing its rapid flow to carry them along, and when they have reached its end, they fly back to their original position and repeat the experience [–a phenomenon that we also observed as we transited rapids north.] This not only amused us, but it also supplied us with a means by which to gauge accurately the force of the current.”

Careful observations and local knowledge supplied by Lekwiltok villagers who lived beside the rapids, today known as the Arran Rapids, ultimately enabled Commanders Galiano and Valdés to run these and subsequent rapids successfully, but not without a little excitement.

“The Indians, indicating the course of the sun, signed to us that the favourable moment for which we longed would come when the sun was near the peak of a high mountain on the continent.  The time passed quickly with the entertainment afforded by watching the rush of waters, the many trees that were washed down by its violence, the continual passage of the birds, and the play of the fish which churned the water where we were anchored.

A device the Spaniards didn’t have

“The natives…explained to us the method which they followed in making this navigation, and the continual mishaps which they none the less encountered, ending by making signs that the size and power of resistance of our vessels could not promised us any better fate, but rather one more unfortunate than that with which they met in their canoes…

“At three o’clock the current began to lose force, and we observed that four was the moment for putting our hands to the work.  We availed ourselves of the opportunity with all due energy [this means that they paddled their two 50-foot schooners], being accompanied for some while by our worthy friends, who also did not fail to warn us of the opportune moment or omit to escort us to mid-channel.  From there, however, they returned hurriedly to their settlements, since the current began to gain strength.  They still left a canoe with a man and a woman in it to afford us some guidance, without our having forced them to do so or by any insistence on our part.

“As soon as we were in the passage of the Angostura we appreciated the necessity of not omitting to take every precaution against some unfortunate accident, in a place of which we had no sufficient knowledge to be aware of its dangers, and to take all means for avoiding such mischances….We endeavoured constantly to follow the right shore, with the aid of oars, but the current carried us forward, bringing us sometimes to this shore and at others driving us to mid-channel, without our being able with all our efforts to avoid these variations of course.  The Mexicana finally made the desired anchorage, but the Sutil was caught by a rush of the current and was not able to achiever the same result, and sailing more than three cables nearer the shore was almost caught on the rocks which jutted out from it.  She entered the channel…, allowing herself to be carried by the violence of the waters, since the resistance which had been made had proved to be useless, and adopted the course of continuing on her course under light sail to await the Mexicana.  She soon afterwards set sail and followed the Sutil, experiencing the same fate, appearing as if she were out of control.

Calmer waters in Cordero Channel

“The schooners made the passage of Angostura with extraordinary speed, taking the wind with the studding sail, as it was blowing strongly in the opposite direction from that of the channel.  The Sutil having steered to a point near an island, changed to the opposite course, and being caught by the force of a strong eddy, turned round three times with such violence that it made those who were in her giddy.  Her crew freed her from this danger, rowing with all their might, and both schooners steered towards the right-hand coast with the intention of finding there a place to anchor before night came on, that being already very near, since then the current would gain its greatest force and increase the difficulties and dangers of this voyage.

“The continual cross currents and eddies, sometimes in favour and sometimes against the schooners, now driving them back and now driving them forward, making it always impossible to control them and leaving them at the mercy of the waters, alternately raised and mocked our hopes of making a creek which was very near.  The Sutil attempted to reach with the boat a point which was to the east, but at that moment was caught by another violent whirlpool and again carried along, breaking the end of the cable which was just being made fast.  Finally at half-past nine at night we succeeded at finding an anchorage at Refuge Creek, both vessels lying under the shelter of a point which protected them from the wind, which had falled, the anchor being in twenty fathoms [120 feet] with a shoally bottom and moored to the land.

“Much later the wind increased in strength, so that we heard it whistling through the plants above us and through the trees on the mountain.  At the same time, the violent flow of the waters in the channel caused a horrible roaring and a notable echo, this producing and awe-inspiring situation, so that we had so far met with nothing so terrible.”

This story is then repeated several times as the Spaniards made their way through the successive narrows and rapids leading them north and out towards the sea via those bodies of water we know today as Johnstone and Queen Charlotte Straits.  They do learn how to transit the raging waters, which is to say, how to watch for slack currents.  Some days later, and in relation to a subsequent rapid, the record states that:

“On the twenty-third, at six in the morning, the Sutil renewed her effort to leave, and with the experience of the previous evening and the knowledge gained concerning the character of this place, she rowed along in calm water near the coast, made Eddy Point, passed out of Aliponzoni Creek and on sighting the Mexicana at once joined her. With a fresh north wind in our favour, we then navigated along the lefthand shore.”

A similar path remains to mariners today transiting the Dent Rapids; they are advised to transit at slack water and to favour what the Spaniards called “the lefthand” or Sonora Island shore as they pass through the rapids and into the cooler, foggier waters of the Cordero Channel.

Interestingly enough, Cordero is an English cartographer’s corruption of the name of José Antonio Cardero, mentioned in the beginning of this entry, the probable author and illustrator of the Spaniards’ narrative.

If you look closely at the foot of the mountains you can see a salmon farm just off of Cordero Channel

Note that the full text of the historic English translation of A Spanish Voyage to Vancouver and the North-West Coast of America, Being a Voyage Made in the Year 1792 may be consulted here:

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skinny dipping in Teakerne Arm


Clouds over Teakerne Arm

24 June 2012

Near the bottom of a deep Cove which obtained the name of Cascade Cove about a mile & a half to the North East of the Ship there was a beautifull Waterfall which issued from a Lake close behind it & precipitated a wide foaming stream into the Sea over a shelving rocky precipice of about thirty yards high, its wild romantic appearance aided by its rugged situation & the gloomy forests which surrounded it, rendered it a place of resort for small parties to visit during our stay. On the Banks of this Lake I found several species of Plants…& in the Lake itself we found some Bivalve Shells which were quite new to me—It appeared to be very deep & its sides were strewd with a great number of fallen Trees.

Observations by Archibald Menzies, Botanist to Vancouver’s 1792 expedition, which anchored in or near Teakerne Arm in June 1792.

As we were eating our pancakes yesterday, patches of blue began to emerge from the clouds, and though dark storm clouds shifted over the peaks all day, we decided to pay them no mind.  We spent the morning reading, drawing, jigging for lingcod—and watching the loon circle the boat and cry out “it will rain! It will rain you know!” Seals approached, dove and swam off, and the tide began to rise again, so we bundled a few things into a bag and lowered the dinghy and engine and set off for Cassel Lake and the falls in the other arm.  Down by the log boom, a whale blew, twice.

The main cascade

A family with a small motorboat, small child and even smaller dog was swimming and lunching on the next point over from the falls, on the rough barnacle-strewn cobbles.  This puzzled us—why weren’t they in the park?—but we zipped by to see the falls up close.  In fact, it has rained so much that there are two falls at the moment—the famous cascade that thrilled Menzies, Vancouver’s botanist, and his men, and another, narrow, supplementary flow over to the side.

Finally we turned and motored towards the spot where we thought there should be a dinghy dock.  But where was it? It was here last year.  There was the sign for Provincial Marine Parks and Teakerne Arm, there was a dock, twisted and worn and flung on the rocks above the tide line, there, in the corner, the barnacle encrusted anchor cable that held the docks and, whoops! below us, the aluminum ramp, sunken, the concrete block to which it had been attached high and anomalous, halfway up the rocky incline.  Heavy fittings twisted apart, a rusted link the in anchor chain….What happened here? Storm or accident?

We scrambled up the incline over oyster shells and barnacles, secured the dinghy and set off for the lake.

Bushwacking towards the lake (Elisabeth ducks under a fallen tree)

But the path was covered in rushing water roaring towards the second falls, so we turned left and began to bushwack up and over the rock, instead of around it, to the lake.  It was hard and slippery going; there was a moment of dropping between the crevice created by a stone face and the upturned root ball of a newly crashed tree—both towering into the air, everything slick with water. We thought we found paths others had made, but then they’d peter out and we were stuck hacking out our own route through the fallen trees and thick salal.  Finally, up and over, then down a steep run through the trees, there was the lake.  We crashed down but the forest floor turned to bog at the edge of the lake—no rocks, no access there, no place to leave our clothing.  So we struggled back up over the cliff another way, came out and found, by patches of wild tiger lilies, the path we’d wanted in the first place.

Tiger lilies

Across a rocky ledge—the falls roaring to the right—around a corner, and there was the lake, and steep rocks dropping down to the edge.  We shed our clothing and jumped in.  The water was silky, delicious—slightly cold, but not bad.  We swam and played in the bowl of the lake and looked at the snow-capped mountains above us (and the slash of clearcut below that).  No one but us there.

Logs in the lake

Then we dressed and returned to the dingy by the usual path, taking off our shoes a few times to pick through the streams that flooded it.

The swimming spot

A brief flare of sunshine before dinner, then the storm clouds we’d seen stacked above Cortes Island blew in and thumped us about. And then they were gone, just a steady rain into the night.

Clouds over Cortes

We slept soundly and woke—clean! and well-rested.

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Life and Death, Flaming Passage

Candle boat sailing on the current

21 June 2012

It was the longest day of the year.  We were blessed with sunshine, water warm enough for a swim and the pleasure of a lazy row down the inlet past natural arbutus gardens—the great savour of life.

Marike launches the candle boat

And yet, beside that and mixed with it, sadness.  A friend called to say that her father had died. Our hearts ached for her and the rest of her family—and for ourselves as well.  For life is precarious and we have all lost people precious to us; we have even wrestled with fear of difficult diagnoses and close calls ourselves. Yet the very closeness of death and of dying– the knowledge of our finitude–makes us avid for the light, the sun, the snowy peaks, the murmur of the water and birds and wind around us; it becomes ever more crucial to take pleasure in these things and to share them with each other: these are the elements of plenitude in life.

To mark the passing of our friend’s father, we fabricated a little boat from paper plates and mounted two candles in its tiny hull.  At darkness we lit the candles. Marike reached down to place the vessel gently on the water.

We had expected our little boat to go directly out to sea with the ebbing tide.  Instead the eddies carried it first to the stern and then back along the hull of Quoddy’s Run to the bow. Finally our candle bark turned out to sea where it flickered along bravely for a long time, a tribute to our friend’s father’s mortal life extinguished, a fragile vessel of departure.

The last of the light

Posted in 2012 | Tagged , | Leave a comment