Bob Hale’s Cruising ReportsCruising in the NorthwestWaggoner eNews

2016 Cruise Report

No. 4

Roche Harbor, July 25. Talk about busy. We pulled into the pumpout station at the Roche Harbor Marina fuel dock yesterday afternoon and had to wait for nearly an hour while a boat tied there took on about a zillion gallons of diesel. A boat just behind us also was waiting for the pumpout, and the two of us did a little dance in tight quarters to make room for boats needing fuel. I would call it a “shifter dance,” because, at idle, we shifted the engines into forward, reverse, or neutral to turn the boat, back it, or move it forward. When our turn came, the dock attendants were trained and helpful. They had us tied up in a jiffy, and answered all our questions. When we were finished, they helped untie us and pushed us off so we could get away easily. It’s a good thing Roche Harbor is well run because it sure is busy.

We’re across the bay at the Seattle Yacht Club outstation on Henry Island. I haven’t mentioned the SYC outstations in earlier reports, but we enjoy them enormously. They’re clean, well-equipped, and always in excellent condition. The code of conduct is to encourage friendliness, to meet the neighbors. SYC is a big club. We meet people we never would meet otherwise.

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The Broughtons. I’d have to say my choice for the best cruising grounds in the Northwest would be the islands and inlets called “the Broughtons,” in British Columbia. The Broughtons are on the mainland side, across from the north end of Vancouver Island. They’re far enough from the southern population centers that weekend boaters don’t attempt them. Electrical power is from diesel generators. The only roads are logging roads. The only internet and email are by dishes aimed at satellites. Other than satellite phones, the only cell phone service is spotty at best. The boats that cruise the Broughtons have to be reasonably well-equipped, and the people aboard those boats able to put up with one another for at least a couple weeks at a time.

Several marinas are there to serve visitor boats and the regular base of commercial fishermen and loggers who work the area. All the marinas are privately owned. There’s not one municipal or harbour authority marina. Each of these outposts is a reflection of its ownership’s personality and interests. One marina might have excellent docks, 24-hour shore power, showers and laundry facilities, a store and even fuel, and be full during high season. A neighboring marina might have docks with patches and soft planks, no power, no water, a minimal store at best, and also be full. Boats move easily from one to another and accommodate themselves to what they find.

Gossip runs wild in the Broughtons. With few people living there, visitors meet nearly everyone in the course of their cruise. And how the stories fly! Health issues are reported, misreported, and scrutinized. Sinkings, fires, and breakdowns recounted. Groundings are hot topics, as are medical helicopter evacuations. And, of course, sale news. Did so-and-so really turn down that offer? In no time at all a visitor can feel like an insider or something like it.

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The Broughtons

Billy Proctor with Chainsaw Bob at Billy’s Museum.

Billy Proctor. This has been a cruise with many highlights for us, but the one that stands highest is the hour or so we got to spend with Billy Proctor at his museum, bookstore, trapper’s cabin and replica one-room schoolhouse next door to Echo Bay in the Broughtons. Billy will be 82 on October 13 this year, and if he’s slowed down it doesn’t show much. All summer long he holds court at his museum/bookstore etc., welcoming several thousand visitors to his unlikely life. In the winter he goes log salvaging in his speedboat, some winters doing well, other winters not so well. He’s been a highliner fisherman, a trapper, a handlogger. He built and operated a marine ways for boat haulout in Echo Bay, then moved the haulout to his present property when the Province kicked him out of Echo Bay.

And, late in life, Billy became a best-selling author. With his artist/sculptor/editor neighbor Yvonne Maximchuk, Billy has written two books about the history and character of the Broughtons. He is the subject of a documentary video made about himself, handlogging and how to split planks out of a log. The first book was Full Moon Flood Tide, published in 2003, a history of the places and people in the Broughtons. The latest is Tide Rips & Back Eddies, about fishing, logging, and people Billy has known. I just finished Tide Rips. It’s wonderful.

The Broughtons

Watching Billy Proctor video at Kwatsi Bay Marina.

The video is titled Listening to a Sense of Place. The video is quiet, knows exactly where it’s going, and is superbly edited. It’s won prizes. I showed the video on my laptop to a riveted audience at Kwatsi Bay the next night.

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Billy built his museum to hou the collection of things he’d found throughout the Broughtons, dating from earliest Native life to modern times. He built a replica of a trapper’s cabin from wood split from a single cedar log he’d salvaged. He built the schoolhouse as a reminder of the Echo Bay one-room school that was, without notice, bulldozed, burned and removed, along with most of its books, materials, and equipment. Billy does his building in the winter when he isn’t out in the speedboat looking for logs. In his eighties.

Billy has a quick wit, and if you can take it, a sharp needle. Over the years, we’ve visited by tying the boat to Billy’s low float, and I usually made a mess of my landings. Billy, who watches everything, would be on the float to somehow gather the boat in. He didn’t say much, but I knew what he was thinking, and it wasn’t flattering. This year I looped the boat around and with great satisfaction brought it in just about right. “I see you made it in pretty well,” Billy said to me. It was a compliment that hid a history of errors. A few years ago, we hiked the sometimes challenging trail from Pierre’s at Echo Bay Marina to Billy’s place, and I made mention of the effort it took. Billy looked at my round tummy and said with a laugh, “Well, you’re carrying a chainsaw!” Every year, he notes the chainsaw over my belt. One year he said it looked like I’d got a bigger model.

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The Broughtons

Pierre’s at Echo Bay Marina.

Pierre’s at Echo Bay. We first met Pierre Landry when he was starting Pierre’s Bay Marina in neighboring Scott Cove. The beginnings of the lodge building were in place, and I was astonished to learn he had built it primarily by himself. Over the years we’ve watched Pierre build, and build, and build. Like others who survive in the Mainland wilderness, Pierre thrives on long hours and hard work. He moved the marina to Echo Bay and has made it hugely popular. Pierre’s is a family effort. Pierre’s wife, Tove, is involved with the school district in Nanaimo, but when school’s out she’s full time at the marina. This year their 31-year-old son Christian came from Toronto to help out. What a splendid young man.

The Broughtons

Anca at Kwatsi Bay Marina.

Kwatsi Bay. How we enjoy Kwatsi Bay Marina. It’s a simple place set in a back bay, surrounded by high, sheer, forested mountains. Early one morning a few years ago a section of forest immediately up behind Max and Anca’s house lost its grip on the rock and thundered down toward the house, stopping a frighteningly short distance away. Had the slide continued, it would have taken out the house and the family.

Max was in Port McNeill on Vancouver Island when we stopped this year, getting medical treatment for a hand that had swollen alarmingly, and leaving Anca alone to run the marina, which was full every night. If you know Anca, you know she’s fully capable of running the marina. But if you didn’t know what happened to her last autumn, you would be impressed.

Last autumn, Anca was up on a ladder, nailing shingles to the side of a home they are building in Sointula. She had set the feet of the ladder too far from the wall, and they slid away. The resulting crash broke Anca’s neck, her back, and at least one wrist. Anyone who has been through rehab and physical therapy knows how grueling they are. Anca persisted through the pain, and by summer was back at the marina, tying up boats, moving planks around, greeting visitors, and hosting nightly potlucks and happy hours. We meet amazing people in the Broughtons.

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Sullivan Bay. The Sullivan Bay Marina in the Broughtons has a long history of celebrating the U.S. July 4 Independence Day. It’s a big draw for the U.S boats. The signature event is the annual parade around the docks and past the considerable float home community, with flags waving, noisemakers, music if possible, funny red, white and blue hats and whatever. I banged a plastic serving spoon on a cheap plastic platter as we marched along. I thought it sounded pretty good. One marcher played marches on a tenor saxophone. I don’t know if he appreciated my banging away behind him.

The Broughtons

Sullivan Bay Blind Dinghy Race.

Then came the blindfold dinghy races, two people in each cheap, flexible, inflatable “dinghy”—a children’s water toy, actually—one person blindfolded, the other not. At the signal, we paddled in confused fashion from the restaurant dock to the fuel dock, touched, turned, and paddled back. Four boats to a race, plus semi-finals and a championship race. My partner and I finished dead last in our race, so that ended our efforts, but they were fun.

Then the one-hole golf tournament, clubs provided with two shots to a float anchored about a 7-iron shot away. A couple of people got kind of close, although I wasn’t one of them.

Finally, an overflowing chicken and ribs buffet supper, followed by a good band, and dancing into the night. Given the number of gray heads in attendance, the dancing didn’t last very deep into the night, but people were enthusiastic while they could be.

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Port Harvey. The Port Harvey Marine Resort suffered a tragedy last fall when the barge that held the office, store, and upstairs Red Shoe Café abruptly sank near shore. The docks were left, but that was about all. Fortunately, George and Gail Cambridge’s home is on land. George said he would rebuild, and when we were there, he’d patched enough together to keep going. Steve Jackman, from North Island Marina in Port McNeill, lent a big white tent, with sides, and it was installed on a float. A large stainless steel pizza oven provided pizzas, and marina guests enjoyed dinner on picnic tables under the tent. George continued to make big, tasty cinnamon buns for delivery, hot, to the dock around 0730. We bought two and headed out for a morning run south in Johnstone Strait before the wind came up.

The Broughtons

Blind Channel guests arrive by float plane.

Blind Channel. I’ve had a love affair with Blind Channel Resort for a long time, ever since Edgar and Annemarie Richter invited Marilynn and me to the lovely home they had built there, and told us how they worked tirelessly since the early 1970s to build the marina and business. They were smart. They had a post office, a liquor agency, a fuel dock and a store, and they started a high-quality restaurant. They had turned over active management to their son Phil and his wife Jennifer by the time we got there, but Edgar was still designing and building structures, and Annemarie ran the restaurant kitchen. Now Phil and Jennifer’s son Eliot is moving into active management. Blind Channel Resort has added two water taxi boats and a combination landing craft and water taxi. We stop every year and treat ourselves to an excellent supper. Like his grandparents before him, Eliot visits the tables at suppertime, chatting with guests. What a classy operation.

Montague Harbour. It seems that each year, our last stop in B.C. is anchorage in spacious Montague Harbour Marina in the Gulf Islands, with a good hike around the Gray Peninsula. The weather was good this year, and the anchorage was crowded, which led to a remarkable scene in the middle of the night. The air was calm and the water flat. Myriad anchor lights were reflected in the water, and I couldn’t tell which of them were lights and which were reflections. There was no sense of the water at all. Just little bursts of bright light filling the space outside. It was eerie and beautiful.

Bob Hale

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