“You are a lucky woman,” Becky said to me, “you have a husband who makes dreams you never knew you had come true.” These were the words my sister spoke to me on the second day of our maritime adventure to Desolation Sound, British Columbia, the first week of September 2011. Becky had traveled from her home in Scituate, Massachusetts, to join Barry and me, residents of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for a seven-day cruise aboard Gulf Mariner, a chartered 40-foot Grand Mariner—the homeport was Comox, Vancouver Island.
Our trip began as a nail-biter. After years of dreaming and months of planning, Barry and I began our adventure with a cancelled flight. Baton Rouge Metro Airport closed for half a day Friday, September 2, following an emergency landing the night before. We were delayed again at our connecting airport. We arrived in Vancouver and met Becky there. With our five-hour window of time gone, we raced to the ferry for Nanaimo on unfamiliar streets, trying to figure how fast 95kph really was and trying not to miss the last boat out at 10:45 p.m. We made it by minutes.
In Comox, we bought groceries, loaded supplies and attended the required seminar on safety. On the morning of Sunday, September 4, we set out in high spirits. Barry had made the courageous decision to go in spite of the fact that our party was down by one—a bad back prevented Becky’s husband from joining us. So there we were, Barry, Becky, and I, less than one hour into our voyage, in the middle of the Strait of Georgia, when Barry asked Becky, who has never held any wheel, if she would like to take the helm. She did so reluctantly and within 10 seconds the engine died. All was suddenly eerily silent. Barry, having battled two old Ford Lehmans back to health, had a pretty good hunch that it was just a bad fuel filter, but decided to have a little fun with my sister. “What did you do?” he asked. “Nothing! Nothing! It just died! I didn’t do anything!” she gasped.
Barry snickered, changed the fuel filter and bled the line while Becky and I fretted about our sudden plight, powerless and drifting in the middle of the Strait—not another boat in sight. I spent the last month reading about the hazards of unforgiving rocks hidden just beneath the surface of the water at high tide and my fearful imaginings began. What if we hit a rock? Will we sink like a brick? The fact that we were in 900 feet of water and nowhere near a rock failed to impress itself on my mind. The warnings about tides and rocks did not apply to the open waters of the Strait, but reason failed me at that point.
“We’d better get our passports, Becky!” I said, foreboding in my voice.
“What?” Becky asked, “You don’t need a passport to get into heaven, Debbie!”
“No, we are not going to drown, but the boat might sink!” I said.
“So instead of death,” Becky said, “Just hurt, humiliation, and impoverishment!”
MISSING THE LION
Underway again, thanks to Barry’s successful troubleshooting in the engine room and one spare fuel filter, we made it across the Strait. Entering Malaspina Inlet, Barry asked me if I would take the helm. I had captained our own 36-foot
Grand Banks many times, though always in familiar places, rivers, and lakes in
south Louisiana, Tickfaw River, Tchefuncte River, Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. I was up on the bridge with Barry all day and became comfortable with the relationship between the chart, what we saw around us, and what we saw on the chart plotter. It all made sense and it all tied together. I can do this, surely. But as Becky and I chattered on, forgetting that we were in a new environment, the place where vigilance and chart reading were essential for newcomers, it all came untied. I began to just steer and admire the view. I forgot all about navigating.
Suddenly, portside, I noticed the water changing colors. I wondered why the water was golden. Then I saw kelp. Beds of kelp. My mind reeled as I put two and two together and realized that we had just missed a gigantic rock by inches. The “golden” water was the thinly-veiled surface of a rock. The rock that haunted my dreams in the weeks leading up to our trip had a name and was waiting for me— Lion Rock. Yes, it was big, big enough to bear its own name. In the moments just after our close call with Lion Rock, I sensed the presence of someone, in addition to Barry, looking out for me—The Great Unseen Protector.
Arriving at the lovely Isabel Bay, it was time to anchor—on rock. Because we’re from Louisiana, we are accustomed to mud. We have no tides to speak of, the trees block most of the wind, and we have no rocks to be fearful of. Therefore, our anchors and our anchoring skills tend to be minimal. The boat we were on had a huge anchor and an all-chain rode. I had been instructed on my part in deploying the anchor. I was to take the pipe that was tied with a line to the windlass and use it to loosen the big wing nut enough, but not too much. This would let the clutch slip lower the anchor and chain into the water. All I had to do was be sure of what I was doing and keep my fingers clear. I had it. The wing nut was a little tighter than what I had expected and I had to give it a hard pull to get it to break loose. But it did break loose and I did fall down and I did drop the pipe. The anchor and chain were not really lowering into the water as the whole thing sounded like a scream. The captain up on the bridge convinced me with soft words that it was important to go back to the screaming thing and put the pipe back on the wing nut and tighten it up just a little. I did as I was told, and peace and quiet returned to the cove. Two tries later, we were anchored securely—not too bad for a couple of novices.
Later, Barry told me that he didn’t know how or if the end of the chain was secured inside the chain locker, but he was pretty sure it would not have held. A comforting thought: a week at Desolation Sound with no anchor. Finally, we all took a deep breath and started to truly enjoy the trip, happy to be anchored in a safe, beautiful cove.
BEAUTIFUL BAY AND HAVEN
Monday morning on Isabel Bay was magical. Becky and I set out in our kayaks to find the seals we had met Sunday afternoon. Three of them surrounded me, all carefully examining me. They were so near I could clearly hear their breath, rhythmic and close. I could see their whiskers, their nostrils opening and closing. Becky had been watching them watching me and she sensed that when I paddled away, they were a little sad. “Don’t go,” they seemed to say, “Stay.”
From Isabel Bay we headed to our next anchorage, Prideaux Haven. Our passage was surreal and the vista was so amazing. Desolation Sound is like a reverse Grand Canyon—green mountains rising in every direction, occasional snow-capped peaks in the distant vastness with beauty everywhere. It was the alter-ego of the orange-and-red, deep-in-the-earth Canyon. The awe was the same, the feeling of being in the presence of grandeur, but we were floating, moving forward effortlessly. Once anchored there, we decided to go for a hike and after being on water for two days, it was like stepping onto a new planet—one filled with giant ferns, moss, and lichen-covered trees, a mysterious place inhabited—we were told—by black bears and cougars.
The forest was as beautiful in its own way as were the waters of Desolation Sound. Prideaux Haven proved to be our favorite anchorage, with wonders at every turn. Awe and beauty surrounded us, so broad superlatives fail to do it justice. We swam in the most wondrous little cove south of Copplestone Island, rocks gently sloping into the crystal clarity of the waters. Becky dove in head first. I followed. There were no oysters there to cut our feet or knees, so the waters were welcoming—we came and went as we pleased.
In the evening, Becky and I set out our kayaks aside to watch the changing oranges and pinks reflected on the still, flat waters of the Sound. I have never seen so large an area of completely calm water. We drifted in the evening light, our kayaks nearly motionless—a blessed communion of earth, sky, sea and our quiet spirits. Returning to the boat, we were serenaded by a man anchored not far from us. He played his fiddle and the sweet melodies drifted across the still waters.
Wednesday morning we headed for Teakerne Arm. It was an easy anchoring there. We took a dinghy ride to a small floating dock that led to a trail that took us over a hill and down to a lake, which fed Cassel Falls. There, Barry and I held hands and jumped into the warmest waters we had enjoyed until then—the waters of Cassell Lake. Becky filmed us taking the plunge. We tried to coax her to follow our lead, but she would have none of it. She didn’t fear the jump, but did fear the slightly outward slope of the rock and her inability to spring out far enough. A long scientific explanation about our relative weights was provided by Becky, who stood at the precipice, arms swinging back and forth, waiting for just the right mixture of courage and abandon to leap. She finally surrendered both in favor of saving Barry and me from having to deal with the wreckage of an ill-fated jump. “I don’t want to ruin your trip!” she shouted. I think her confidence was a little shaken after the challenge of the climb to get there. “I brought the wrong pair of shoes for hiking!” she declared.
Becky, having brought six different pair of shoes, found great amusement in the purple and gold LSU crocs Barry sported during the entire trip—his only pair.
From Teakerne Arm, we set out for our next anchorage, Squirrel Cove, stopping at Refuge Cove for fuel, water, and groceries. For seven dollars, we were allowed to hand over our one black bag of garbage to a disheveled, not-so-young entrepreneur who apparently fashioned a living accepting what no one else wants. Once safely anchored at Squirrel Cove, Becky and I headed to the northeast corner of the cove where a shallow body of water moves with the tide and feeds a small lake. We tested our kayak skills and flew across the shallow water with the tide, then fought our way back against it, unsuccessfully. We consoled each other by blaming it on the wine we drank before going out. A gentleman seeing our plight informed us that slack tide would occur in 20 minutes, so we waited it out. Once across, Barry spotted us and gave us a dinghy tow back to Gulf Mariner. He always came for us at mealtime—the captain must be fed in a timely manner, of course!
On Thursday, we anchored at Laura’s Cove between two beautiful wooden boats. Barry, Becky, and I enjoyed a rope swing and the clear waters, as well as a great rock for diving. Apparently, we were having a little too much fun on the rope swing as the boat nearest to us pulled anchor and moved on.
Friday morning came too soon. It was time to set out for the six-and-a-half- hour return across the Strait of Georgia to our final stop, Henry Bay. Just an hour or so from Comox, it was a convenient, if less protected, anchorage. Becky and I took time to reflect on our week on the water. “Scenery, silence, and seals” was her summation. My sister returned home with an odd assortment of souvenirs—mostly purple and blue bruises on her legs, knees, and feet from collisions with wood surfaces in the V-berth. Barry and I collected a few shells as the tide came in. We watched Becky as she lay on the sand, letting the waters move in around her.
Thursday night in Laura’s Cove, as we watched the moon rise over the evergreens, I was reminded of T. S. Eliot’s words, “the still point of the turning world.” For one week in September 2011, in Desolation Sound, British Columbia, time seemed to stand still—lovely, sacred, and anointed. The dream I never knew I had—Barry’s dream—came true.