The title of this article may appear to be an exaggeration, but it’s not much of a stretch. In all our years of cruising the inside passage, we’ve always been amazed at how every day has the potential to yield an exciting and unexpected grand adventure. Most of these adventures turn out to be positive. They are exciting and fun, and create great memories. This one was just plain scary. But it still ended up being grand and exciting.
Many of our cruising days keep us active: exploring, hiking, kayaking, and fishing—always with our two dogs and one or both of our sons. This day was no different in most ways.
We were anchored, for our first-ever visit, in the beautiful Von Donop Inlet, a large, beautiful, all-weather anchorage on Cortes Island in British Columbia. We woke up to a gorgeous summer day, and my wife Val, son, Connor, and two active labs Lucky and Tanner, were all very excited to explore this pristine area.
Dinghy readied, dogs leashed, and camera in hand, we headed to shore and found a trailhead. Our goal was to hike over to Squirrel Cove, a relatively short jaunt across the island. Although we keep bear spray onboard the boat, it didn’t dawn on me to take it with us. After all, Cortes Island seemed much more docile than the vast wilderness of Alaska or the wild North coast of British Columbia.
So off we went on our stroll through the woods. My wife hates snakes with a passion. I have permanent fingernail indentions embedded in the back of my neck as evidence. She claws her way over my back and into my arms at the sight of anything resembling her nemesis. So anytime I see a snake, or even a squiggly stick, I gently nudge Val to the side without saying a word. Whenever she sees a snake, every critter within earshot scatters for safety at the sound of her high-pitched screams, and I cringe, knowing the wounds on my neck are about to be reopened.
A CLOSE CALL
Several times during our hike, Val insisted she heard snakes in the brush alongside us. I assured her they were not snakes (I was right, of course!), encouraged her to just keep moving, and we finally arrived safely (so we thought) on the beach of Squirrel Cove at low tide. Connor, Lucky, and Tanner took off down the beach to search out its hidden treasures. Val and I stopped for a moment to catch our breath and soak in the beauty of the place. Suddenly, we heard a thrashing in the bushes, and it was getting louder and coming directly toward us. We turned around and there were wolves exiting the trail only steps from where we were standing—one, two, four, six big wolves! Yikes!
Val shrieked “WOLVES!” and we both jumped back. I don’t know who was more startled—us or them! The nervous wolves bolted down the beach. Fortunately, they headed in the direction opposite Connor and the dogs. I grabbed my camera, commenting to Val how lucky we were to see wolves in their natural environment. I was thrilled! She, not so much. I just wanted to get a picture before they high-tailed it out of there.
The pack got a good five-iron shot away from us and stopped just as Tanner, our ambitious yellow lab, caught sight of them out of the corner of his eye. He bolted toward the wolves, obviously thinking they would make great playmates. Val and I watched in terror as Tanner ran like a blue streak (tan, rather) towards his new “friends.” Then the adrenaline kicked in for all of us and I screamed at Tanner at the top of my lungs. Much to my surprise, he actually listened and reluctantly heeled up beside me. I grabbed his collar and let out a huge sigh of relief. I called Connor and Lucky over and we formed our own pack. Then we heard more wolves in the brush. I declared that we weren’t going back the way we came and suggested heading down the beach away from the wolves.
Keeping the dogs heeled beside us, and one eye behind, I was shocked to see the pack turn toward us! My previous feeling of luck at getting to see the wolves now turned sour in the pit of my belly. I kept my calm, but suggested we all grab some rocks and sticks and hang onto the dogs no matter what. The wolves kept coming, and soon they were within steps of us! We screamed, yelled, and threw rocks at them. The dogs “yelled” out their own warning, and luckily, the wolves turned away. We ran toward the water to keep a steady pace away from them.
But once again, they turned toward us! I couldn’t believe this was happening! The wolves, the dogs, and even we had our hackles up. We threatened the pack by hurling more rocks and screaming. Again, they withdrew. Whew!
Normally, it takes quite a bit to get me concerned, but this ordeal had redlined me. Suddenly we heard screaming. It was coming from a boat anchored in the bay. Its passengers were warning us that there were wolves behind us as if we didn’t know! I think one shrieking girl on the boat was more panicked than we were.
The wolves advanced a third time. I warned Val and Connor to stand back-to-back and prepare to fend them off once again. At this point I was seriously concerned, fearful for our dogs’ lives as well as our own. As we assumed our defensive positions, we heard a dinghy outboard start, and it grew louder! As it got closer, the wolves retreated. We were being rescued!
We turned our attention to our rescuer and couldn’t believe our eyes! The man in the dinghy appeared to be a pirate who had launched his dingy from a distant pirate ship! No way! What the heck!? The entire ship was painted black. A dragon hung from the hull pulpit. Shrunken skulls lined the handrails. A Jolly Roger was aflyin’. The scary-looking man in the dinghy approached us and introduced himself as “Barnacle Barry.” “Get in!” he commanded. His long black hair hung in a ponytail past his waist. Every inch of his exposed skin was tattooed with skulls and crossbones. When he grinned, his teeth revealed a serious need for extensive dental work. Even his black attire added to the perception that we were being rescued by a real-life pirate—or so we thought.
As we puttered away from the beach, Barnacle Barry revealed that he and his wife and daughter had seen 40 wolves on the beach shortly before we arrived. I was relieved that the wolves were no longer a threat, but I was not comfortable with our present situation either. We heard more yelling from the pirate ship Barnacle Barry was steering the dinghy toward. My wife’s eyes shared my concern. Had we gone from a bad situation to a worse one?
As we approached the pirate ship to grab a line, a huge St. Bernard appeared, barking over the railing, apparently eager to devour us and our dogs. Then, before we could board, Barnacle Barry’s wife announced in alarm that her daughter was so distraught that she had gone into labor. Labor? It turned out the girl was pregnant, but not nearly far enough along to deliver yet. My goodness! Was this all really happening?
Barnacle Barry’s wife handed him a cell phone with a stern warning that I didn’t quite catch. Barry looked over at me and muttered, “Those [expletive] women overreact to everything!” Then he opened up the throttle. We just kept our mouths shut (or maybe they were actually hanging wide open). I’m not sure which.
As Barnacle Barry motored our family across the bay, we talked about the whole ordeal. He dropped us off at an old logging trail and told us how to get back to our boat safely. It would be a very long way back. I never found out how the daughter fared, but Barnacle Barry turned out to be a really great guy. He was so gracious and kind. As we hiked back, we reminisced about our grand adventure and were able to laugh about it all in disbelief. But we kept one eye open for more wolves!
Back at the boat we called our parents and oldest son to tell them we had been attacked by wolves and saved by pirates. The only thing more bizarre would have been to be attacked by pirates and saved by wolves! Yes, it was another grand adventure in the life of this cruising family. Thank goodness for great pirates like Barnacle Barry and a “Barry” good ending!