I began writing this report from the lovely SYC outstation in Garden Bay at the back of Pender Harbour, 40 miles up the coast from Vancouver –with the crossing of the Strait of Georgia behind us. The Strait of Georgia is always a challenge. Even on sunny days winds can blow the water into 4- or 5-foot seas, close enough together to make them steep. Winds can be light on one side of the strait and strong on the other side. If conditions turn for the worse when we’re out there, we have no place to hide. We’re gonna get salted down. The challenge is made worse if the military exercise area WG (Whiskey Golf) is active and closed to transit. Area WG blocks the natural direct route from Nanaimo to Pender Harbour. The only routes around Whiskey Golf put the boat in a beam sea — rolling, rolling, rolling.
None of these annoyances happened to us on this crossing. Area WG was not active, the lighthouse wind and sea state reports from Chrome Island, Merry Island and Entrance Island were benign. The Halibut Bank buoy reported light winds and low seas. We motored the 35 or so miles from Nanaimo to Pender Harbour in comfort. Of course, what the weather gods giveth, the weather gods can take away. In another week we’d pay for this crossing.
Our departure from Seattle was as good as we could ask for. Northbound, we rode the last of an ebb to the south tip of Whidbey Island, just as the tide turned to flood — a flood that flowed around the tip of Whidbey Island and continued north along the east side of the island. We carried that flood all the way to Swinomish Channel, which by then had enough depth to transit. Things were really going our way. We overnighted at Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes, had a wonderful supper at the A-Town Bistro and a sinful, pipe-plugging breakfast late the next morning at the Calico Cupboard Café.
There was no reason to hurry, because to reach the San Juan Islands we would need to cross Rosario Strait, where a strong ebb was running until mid-afternoon. We learned years ago not to cross Rosario Strait from Anacortes on an ebb. Currents from Guemes Channel and Bellingham Channel pour into an ebbing Rosario Strait and set up an ugly tide-rip. We wait for the flood. Which we did, and overnighted on anchor in Blind Bay, Shaw Island. It had been a pleasant, relaxing Fathers Day.
We take a bus ride. Our first stop in Canada was Ganges, where we could buy spirits and groceries we can’t bring in. Ganges has several excellent restaurants, but by suppertime we were a little tired and opted for pub food at Moby’s, at Saltspring Marina. Since we were tied up at the marina it was just a short walk up the dock. Moby’s has had an up-and-down reputation for the past few years, but we heard that Dale Schweighthardt, who used to manage the popular Lighthouse Pub in Sechelt, now owned and ran Moby’s, and was doing a great job. Reports were right. My hamburger was big and tasty, Marilynn’s fish and chips were quite good, and we enjoyed the coleslaw.
The bus ride. Earlier in the day we hopped the bus for a trip up the island to Fernwood, where a long pier reaches into Trincomali Channel. A small mooring float is at the end of the pier. We’ve passed it many times but never stopped.
Fernwood wharf in the distance reaches over tide flats.
The bus left the Ganges Visitor Centre at 2:05 and arrived Fernwood at 2:17 — a short trip along winding country roads. The return bus left Fernwood two hours later at 4:37 and arrived Ganges at 5:04. The cost was $2.25 for each of us, each way. There’s a café at Fernwood. That’s it. We’d already had lunch. What were we going to do for two hours?
I’m not by nature super-curious, but there’s a mild reporter gene in me that doesn’t mind intruding in other people’s lives and asking questions. I say it’s a mild reporter gene because some reporters are extra pushy and don’t seem to care who they stomp on to get their story. I do care, so I do miss some stories. In any case, with two hours to occupy, it was time to learn about the café. We went in.
What a treat! Tasteful round tables seated customers, and a couch was against the wall. A woman stretched across the couch, reading and nibbling a dessert. A man was at one of the tables, reading a newspaper. This was a place that wasn’t in a hurry. The kitchen area was open, and we could watch the cook at work. The cook, it turned out, was the owner, Jennifer Shaw. She and her husband David bought the café two and one-half years earlier after it had been closed or semi-closed for some time, and “completely reimagined” it. The menu was posted on the side of a counter. I wish I had copied some of the entries, because they were written so convincingly that the menu itself was good enough to eat. Jennifer said she has a degree in marketing, which helped explain the warm character not only of the menu but the café itself. Later, after our walk up the road, Marilynn had a frozen yogurt and I had a made-on-the-spot ice tea.
Jennifer Shaw at the Fernwood Cafe.
How to fill the remaining time . . . We walked up the North Beach Road. It paralleled the beach (duh), and led past houses and cabins set on large lots, with scrumptious views of Trincomali Channel. Watching the time, our turnaround was at the Hudson Point launch area, a narrow, steep track that led a short distance down to the tide flats. A hand-lettered sign was posted at the top:
If the sand looks
too soft to drive on
check before you do
because it is
me.n.rons towing 537-9383
m.n.rons towing might be weak on grammar, but they know where to advertise.
Peaceful North Beach Road at Fernwood.
Marilynn had been quite taken by one of several nice homes on the way out, and on the way back she saw a woman tending the lush garden behind a fence that separated the home from the road but allowed a perfect view of the water.
Judith’s garden and view.
“Hello, I love your fence,” Marilynn called.
The woman paid no attention.
“Hello,” Marilynn called again. “I love your fence.”
The woman looked up. Perhaps she had taken notice of us from the corner of her eye.
“Oh! I don’t wear my hearing aids when I work in the garden. Did you say something to me?”
Summoning my basso profundo voice I replied, “My wife says she loves your fence!”
“Why thank you. Would you like to see my garden?”
Thus we had a brief, extremely pleasant chat with a lovely woman named Judith, who tends a splendid garden and was a perfect host.
So went our visit to Fernwood, interesting every moment.
We anchored the next night in Pirates Cove at the north end of B.C.’s Gulf Islands and hiked through some of the woods that surround the cove. If the weather the following morning was favorable we could go through Gabriola Passage on the morning slack and cross the Strait of Georgia. If the weather was iffy we could go through Dodd Narrows at slack and wait in Nanaimo. The weather was iffy. We went to Nanaimo.
Pirates Cove. It’s smaller than the picture suggests.
Pirates Cove forest
It was in Nanaimo, tied at the Port Authority’s Cameron Island moorage, that I saw a brutally efficient fish harvesting boat, and the most beautiful motor yacht I’d ever witnessed. The contrast was striking.
The fish boat first. It was the Viking Star, about 90 feet overall, 22 feet wide, 12 feet deep when full. Built in the 1970s, it had longlined for cod, but now was equipped to service fish farms. Huge tanks could carry salmon smolts to a farm, where they were pumped from the boat into pens. If a farm had to be moved, the partially grown fish could be pumped from their pen into the tanks, where they were kept until they were pumped into their new pens. When the fish were ready for harvest they would be pumped back aboard the boat, where an automatic bonker raps the fish on the head. The machine then turns the fish over so it can be automatically sliced open and gutted, then stored for transport to a processing plant. As a longliner, the Viking Star would handle a fish once, and only during the season. Serving farms, the Viking Star might handle the same fish three times. The boat carries a crew of five. It works year round.
I am not a fan of farmed fish. I’ll take wild. But after a tour of this powerful fish harvesting machine I had to admire its efficiency. One boat, five men, 12 months. I don’t know how many fish, but the number has to be very large.
Now the beautiful motor yacht. She was the Acania136 feet overall, home port Tiburon, California. She was built in 1930, with lines from the time when boats didn’t have the power they have today. She was narrow and low by current standards, and double-ended for a slippery shape through the water. I would put her top speed at about 16 knots, cruise speed around 12. But what a 12 knots. Every detail on that boat was perfect, right down to the graceful Acania at the stern. The hull was smooth, the varnish radiant, and an unexpected navy blue paint separated the main deck from the top deck. The proportions between hull and superstructure were not merely exactly right, they were art. Surely the boatwas equipped with complete electronics, but she carried no forest of antennas. In an era of aggressive large yachts, Acania was the pinnacle of understatement. The windows were clear. I could see a crystal chandelier hanging from the overhead. The crew numbered somewhat greater than five. Wow. This was yachting.
Exquisite, understated motor yacht Acania.
Viking Star was at the dock for repairs. Acania arrived a little before dark, glowing in the late light, and tied up a little farther out. Each boat was a worthy example of its purpose, its mission. As I said above, the contrast was striking.
I finished writing this report in Sointula, on Malcolm Island, where we’ve spent the past six nights. We’ll go to Port McNeill today, to top up the fuel and buy a few provisions. It’s been an interesting run from Pender Harbour, along with the payback for that quiet crossing of the Strait of Georgia. Johnstone Strait can be ugly. Those will be the subjects of the next report.