Pender Harbour, July 6. For the first time in more than 20 years we didn’t get to the Broughtons. Day after day, the winds in Johnstone Strait began at 20 knots northwest, building to 35 knots by evening. Conditions would have changed if we waited long enough, but we need to be back in Roche Harbor by July 20. We couldn’t risk being caught by high winds and stuck up north. We decided to go to Blind Channel Resort on Cordero Channel, where we could say hello to the growing Richter family and enjoy an excellent dinner in the restaurant.
To get to Blind Channel, however, we had to go through three sets of reversing tidal rapids: Yuculta Rapids, Gillard Passage and Dent Rapids. When these rapids are running full force they can sink boats. The trick is to run them around the time of slack, when the rapids cease running one direction and before they run the opposite direction. Since the tide and current tables tell us when the rapids are predicted to be slack, we need only calculate when to leave. We wanted to be at the south end of the Yuculta Rapids at 0900 and we left Cortes Bay at 0545. We got to the Yucultas at 0845, waited 15 minutes and went through. All three rapids were flat. It was an easy run.
Blind Channel has come a long way since Edgar and Annemarie Richter bought the rundown property in the early 1970s and set about renewing it as a destination and resort. In the early days they served dinner guests in their home. Annemarie cooked; Edgar was the consummate host. Dishes weren’t finished until after midnight. A step at a time the resort grew: store, restaurant, post office, liquor agency, fuel, electric power, treated spring water, laundry, improved docks, hired help. Some of these facilities may have been there in the beginning, but the Richters made them better. In recent years a water taxi was added. Then, the Laura K, a landing-craft vessel with passenger seating in the cabin. This year, two new guest cabins with beautiful views.
Edgar and Annemarie’s son Phil is longtime general manager, although more duties are being transferred to Phil and Jennifer’s son Eliot, who has the personality, education and interest to continue the development. It’s quite a story. We’ve seen it evolve for more than 20 years. We’ve watched Eliot and his brother William grow up. We were there the day the restaurant’s chef was let go and Annemarie went into the kitchen too soon following cancer surgery. No matter: The customers must be served. It’s the foundation of the entire enterprise. We feel an affection for Blind Channel. If we were to be beaten back by the wind in Johnstone Strait, Blind Channel would be our turnaround point.
We spent a night at Blind Channel, had a wonderful dinner in the restaurant, bought a few things in the store. Then we headed south, but only 6 miles, to Shoal Bay, where Mark MacDonald has created a successful stop that’s almost the opposite of Blind Channel. I say “opposite” in the sense that Blind Channel is a business through and through; Shoal Bay is Mark MacDonald’s plaything. The docks have no shore power, and no water except by hose from the wharf above. The docks are managed by the boaters tied up there—Mark found the boaters did a better job than he did. If I could use just two words to describe Shoal Bay, they would be “relaxed” and “whimsical.”
A pub, of sorts, is in a small building near the head of the long wharf from shore. Beer and wine, cash only, pay with your moorage, 50 cents per foot. Chat with Mark and with the interesting people who seem to find their way to a welcoming place like Shoal Bay. Walk up to the garden Mark whacked out of the encroaching forest several years ago, and has expanded each year since. Admire the fences made from driftwood and anything else available. Imagination—of which Mark and his wife Cynthia have in abundance—can turn yesterday’s rubble into tomorrow’s works of art. We love Shoal Bay.
This year, seven forest engineers and their helicopter pilot were housed at Shoal Bay. Mark and Cynthia served them breakfast and dinner, and set out fixings for their sack lunches. After breakfast a bright yellow helicopter carried the engineers deep into the forest behind Frederick Arm, where they identified and marked the roads and other changes future logging would require. The work would take several weeks; housing and feeding the crew is an important revenue source. Meeting this crew and seeing their helicopter fly out and back put meaning to the words resource economy, and coastal B.C. is nothing if not a resource economy.
We continued south, went through the rapids at slack water, and were in the Desolation Sound cruising grounds. We stopped at Refuge Cove and said hello to Colin Robertson at the Refuge Cove store. Colin, who hasn’t aged a day since we first met years ago, informed us of his impending retirement. Colin’s daughter Lucy is taking over his share of the business. Lucy checked out our purchases. Already, she had the bearing and manner of an owner. Lucy has grown up in the business. She’ll do well. But we will miss Colin.
Two nights at anchor in Prideaux Haven, the most scenic and popular anchorage in Desolation Sound. Where were the boats? The anchorage wasn’t empty, but it was no problem at all to find room to swing. Maybe the drought and questions about water had depressed traffic. We don’t know.
Then down the coast, past Lund, past Powell River/Westview, past the seemingly endless shoreline of Texada Island, to Pender Harbour. Hot. No wind. Flat seas as we motored along, a ripple at most. And ahead, an ominous yellow haze, down to the deck, up to the sky. Wildfires were burning on the mainland and on Vancouver Island, and a lid of marine air was holding in the smoke. People with respiratory problems were advised to stay inside. A gulley-washer of a rainstorm was needed, but no rain was in sight.
We tied up in Garden Bay at the back of Pender Harbour. We would go to Madeira Park the next day for fresh produce, dairy, other provisions.
We woke the next morning to smoke covering the bay, and a layer of wildfire ash on every outside surface. The ash wasn’t thick enough for us to plant potatoes in the cockpit, but the thought did enter. It’s one thing to read about wildfire, to see TV news reports about wildfire, to be sympathetic for those who must deal with wildfire. It’s a different matter when the sun changes to a dim yellow-red sphere in the sky and finally disappears altogether, when smoke waters the eyes and burns the throat, and ash is over everything.
Shopping was important, however, particularly with the morning’s orange juice running low and the wine locker in a perilous state. We brushed the ash off the dinghy, hung the 8-horse Yamaha on the back, and scooted across to Madeira Park to help the local economy.
Shopping was at the well-stocked IGA in Madeira Park, and I have to tell you about Troy Callewaert, the owner, who has the most amazing memory. Troy Callewaert looks to be in his 40s, strongly built and a little above medium height, with dark hair and an engaging manner. A working boss, he spends his days on the floor, stocking and facing shelves, watching his inventory, and helping customers. We shop at the IGA twice a year—the first time to stock up when we’re headed north and away from civilization; again on our way south, after being in the wilderness. And Troy remembers our names! There we’ll be, part way through filling our cart, and Troy will come around the corner. “Hi, Bob, hi, Marilynn,” he’ll say, as if we’d had breakfast together that morning. Troy remembers not only our names, but items he helped us find a year earlier. I have a terrible time with names. I admire people like Troy, who seem to do it effortlessly.
We spent three nights in Pender Harbour. The days were taken up with shopping (already mentioned), laundry, boat cleaning, and walking. We walked the up-and-down road from the SYC outstation to LaVerne’s, said hello to LaVerne Elms, the owner, and had enormous single-dip—how can three scoops be a single dip?—ice cream cones. We chatted with a couple from St. Louis, their first visit to the B.C. coast. Back at the boat, we read and took naps.
Newcastle Island, July 7. The smoke had thinned somewhat by our fourth day in Pender Harbour and the sun began to look more like the sun, less like a red billiard ball hanging in the sky. The wind forecast for the Strait of Georgia was favorable, and Area Whiskey Golf was open and clear for transit. We headed for Nanaimo and its anchorage near Newcastle Island, for the Dinghy Dock Pub, and finally, the solution to a problem that had resisted our best efforts since the second day of the trip. That’s for the next report.