Oasis: Gunkholing The Inside Passage

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My wife, Polly, and I had been under way for about 13 hours and were frazzled. Despite superb weather and glorious scenery, it was the hardest trip we'd ever made.

Originally, the plan had been to spend two days cruising from Shearwater, British Columbia, down Fitz Hugh Sound and south across Queen Charlotte Sound to the Broughton Islands area, a run of about 100 miles. But a towboat skipper told us by VHF radio that weather on Queen Charlotte Sound, a coastal indent of the Pacific Ocean, was good for crossing, so plans for an early afternoon halt were scrubbed in order to take advantage of those calm seas.

Compounding fears that the missing afternoon wind suddenly would swoop in from the sea was the fact that neither of us knew how to make a long, nonstop cruise. We drank too much coffee and not enough water; we didn't eat properly or take appropriate rest breaks. We felt awful.

Although we were so tired our bones were melting, we still had our wits as we passed Numas Islands and turned into Wells Passage. We knew there was a maritime oasis and salvation just around the corner.

An hour later, we were at the marina in Sullivan Bay, on North Broughton Island. We tossed lines to a dockhand, plugged in shorepower, downed a cup of soup apiece and collapsed in our berths, with the sun still high in the sky. A funky place with floating buildings more than a half-century old, the Sullivan Bay Marina has always offered a welcoming hand to fishermen seeking salmon, or cruisers exploring the length of the Inside Passage.

Broughton and North Broughton islands are among a scattering of forested mountaintops thrusting above the sea and lying along the mainland shore of British Columbia, generally north of Knight Inlet and east of Queen Charlotte Strait. The archipelago lies opposite the north end of Vancouver Island.

Although there have been people in the region for many years, including resident Indians dating back countless generations and late-arriving loggers, fishermen and miners, it surprisingly still looks like wilderness. Sharp peaks sculpted by long-gone glaciers soar sharply from the sea, their slopes cloaked in cedar, hemlock, spruce and tangles of low-growing brushy plants. Beyond them, farther inland, snowy mountains rise higher, some to more than 13,000 feet. All are too steep for habitation and homes, and other buildings normally are on floats.

Black bears are frequent beach visitors in the spring and early summer when it's too early for berries or spawning salmon. Hungry bears effortlessly roll aside large rocks in search of anything that's fit to eat.

Bald eagles soar above the shoreline, as do ospreys, turkey vultures, ravens, crows, and an impressive array of smaller seabirds and shorebirds. Halibut, prawns, Dungeness crab, salmon, cod, and other fish and shellfish thrive in the cold water. The many islands surrounding the Broughtons create miles and miles of winding passages and quiet, calm anchorages that alone are worth the long trek.

Float planes and boats provide the only links to the outside world. Occasionally, a cell phone will hook up with a server in the Alert Bay-Port McNeill- Port Hardy area of Vancouver Island about 35 miles to the west, but usually the signal is feeble and scratchy, or blocked outright by rocky hills. Several small marinas now have satellite Internet service, which they share with boaters for a small fee.

Those are small communities, but they're good places to restock the galley and buy parts and fuel. The nearest metropolitan area, Vancouver, British Columbia, is 180nm to the south. Seattle is more than 300nm south of the Broughtons. Boaters must be self-reliant and capable to get there; people who live there are even more self-reliant.

Wells Passage is the north door to the Broughtons and their neighboring islands. A second, southerly entry is about 30nm to the south at the junction of Johnstone Strait and Havannah Channel. You can hear for miles the sighs of relief as boaters turn from the often rough waters of the strait into the placid inland waters of the channel.

In this scattering of islands there are a number of places- it's hard to define them exactly, but call them marinas, landings or resorts- that allow boaters to touch shore and find social contacts not available at sea. Their owners have spun a net sticky with charm and honest goodwill with which they attract cruisers for a night or two of rest, chat, food prepared by someone else and (sometimes) unlimited hot showers with elbow room (for a price, of course).

They are not resorts in the usual sense. There are no hotels, swimming pools, golf courses, supermarkets or discount malls. Heck, there are no roads, sidewalks, motor vehicles (with wheels, that is), shipyards or corner espresso bars. Fuel and adult beverages are available, however, and some of the landings stock fresh fruit and vegetables in addition to the usual supply of foodstuffs that come in cans, boxes and bags.

For the most part, the mooring floats are homemade of cedar milled by the owners or rescued from an abandoned landing. They may be funky, tilting, and splintery from age, weather and use. The buildings likely are left over from logging operations that ended decades ago. Electricity comes from diesel generators often switched off at night.

Drinking water usually comes from lakes high in the hills and usually is colored the shade of tea by tannin leached from leaves and bark that fall into the water.

Most of these little settlements are as informal as can be. Customers run a tab in the small stores, sometimes keeping track of expenditures and totaling them for payment as they check out. The operators take lines and help boaters cast off; they assist with repairs and arrange for delivery of needed parts. They love the wild country in which they live and the work that allows them to be there.

To a large extent, they are charming characters with VHF portables in their back pockets and a special skill that allows them to almost always find a spot for one more boat.

It's a challenging way to make a living. The season may begin in April, with visits by early-bird boaters on the way to Alaska, and end late in September. But the bulk of their business comes in late July and August, and it's no surprise that some of the operators find other jobs in the winter.

Every popular cruising area in the nation has similar snug harbors for passagemakers-for example, the San Joaquin-Sacramento River delta in California, the Intracoastal Waterway along the eastern and southern coasts, and the rocky harbors of the Northeast.

We've been in a few, but it's hard to imagine any that are more remote, more colorful or more fun-or that have brighter stars at night-than those in this corner of British Columbia.

LAGOON COVE

Honestly, Bill Barber, in his denim pants and jacket and his dark, broad-brimmed hat, looks more like a cattleman or a potato farmer than a marina operator. But he's the host of Lagoon Cove Marina on East Cracroft Island, just on the edge of the Broughton archipelago. For northbound boaters who endure the rigors of Johnstone Strait and successfully use range markers nearly hidden in a forest to pass through narrow Chatham Channel, Barber's place is the first maritime oasis on the chart.

As soon as they are within radio range of Lagoon Cove, boaters call on the VHF. "Bill, this is Tommy, we'll be there in an hour. Do you have space?"

Tommy is a regular who may have been dropping by each of the 12 years Bill and his wife, Jean, have owned the boat-repair place that has morphed into a resort of sorts. Bill knows the guy, his wife and kids, and the length of his boat. "See you then," Bill responds.

The attractions are several: a secure, weatherproof moorage; a fuel dock and land to walk on; fresh water and shorepower (in the morning and evening only); and Bill's spot prawns and tall stories.

Every morning, while overnight guests snooze on and before a new day's crowd switches on their radios, Bill dons foul-weather gear, fills a Thermos bottle with coffee and putts away in his aluminum skiff. The little outboard boat returns an hour or so later with gallons of prawns kicking in big plastic buckets.

This is not easy work. The prawn traps usually are dropped in 300 feet or more of water, often with some weights attached to prevent them from drifting with the current. Later, they are hauled back to the surface, hand-over-hand, the line dripping with chill seawater. Do this three or four times and you've done some good work.

The daily schedule at Lagoon Cove includes a late afternoon BYOB happy hour on the pier. Boaters trek along a planked pier, glasses in one hand and snacks to share in the other. The main attraction, however, is a heaping bowl of ice-cold prawns on the counter in the Barber library, which originally was part of the boat-repair shop.

These are the prawns he hauled from the water that morning. Heads have been removed and the critters cooked quickly in saltwater and chilled immediately. Everyone grabs a plateful, finds a seat along the pier railing and digs in. Shells are tossed into the water, and we savor the sweet flavor-a taste sensation not to be found in prawns that spend days getting to market.

All the prawns you can eat are included in the 60 cents (Canadian) per foot he levies for moorage. Electricity from a diesel generator, available from 0700 to 1030 hours and from 1600 until Barber hits the sack about 2200, costs $8 more a day.

Bill and Jean found the waters encircling Lagoon Cove 40 years ago. They towed a boat from their home in Portland, Oregon, to the end of the road to spend weeks of vacation cruising in the area.

In the working world, Bill was president of the outdoor-advertising division of Ackerley Communications in Portland, Oregon. "My wife begged me to retire," he recalls. "I said I needed something to do."

They bought the marina, a former boat-repair yard with a marine railway still in place, and put to work their ideas for a successful enterprise. They arrive each spring after Easter and return to Portland in the fall. Employees keep the dock open during the winter, selling fuel to commercial fishermen and operators of nearby fish farms.

His background in boating and advertising, in addition to his engaging personality, helped make the retirement venture successful. He was not the first in the region to offer more than just a space to tie a boat, but he and Jean obviously raised the standard for providing valueadded attractions.

In addition to serving prawns, Bill and Jean provide crab and shrimp cookers for boating guests who catch their own. Lagoon Cove has what is probably the largest exchange library in the region (leave a book, take one). The fuel dock is praised for its reasonable prices.

They marked hiking trails across steep forest slopes on East Cracroft and decorated the main pier and shoreside paths with remnants of old boat and logging equipment and cutesy signs worth a giggle or two.

Anchorage is available in the cove, but the bottom is littered with abandoned logging cables and equipment. More than one anchor has fouled in that junk (including ours). Barber has helped boaters struggle free, and when that proves impossible, he knows how to find a diver.

As dusk arrives, Bill summons guests to the backyard of his home and seats them around a blazing fire. If a boat anchors because his moorage is full, Bill invites the crew ashore for the afternoon social hour. He provides slim stems of alder and bowls of marshmallows for toasting and then begins to tell stories, mostly about bears he has known.

Some yarns are believable; the one about the waterskiing bear is...well. Someone asks, while swatting at mosquitoes that come out after dark, "Bill, are these tall tales?" He responds, with a grin apparent in the growing darkness, "Would I lie?"

The marina has space for 20 or more boats. Although he says he doesn't know how many feet of moorage he has, Bill knows instinctively how to shoehorn yachts into tight spaces. Like other operators in the area, he hates to say no.

With a VHF radio chirping in his hand, he pauses on the float to talk. "I like doing this," he says. "I enjoy meeting people. And my wife does, too."

A HAPPY FAMILY

One route out of Lagoon Cove will take boaters into the Blow Hole, a narrow, kelp-bordered channel through which winds occasionally roar, and past Minstrel Island, once the hottest resort in the area.

Generations ago, the Knight Inlet region around Minstrel was busy with loggers, miners, commercial fishermen and sportsfishermen. The resort at Minstrel had a hotel (it burned down more than 20 years ago), a grocery and a restaurant, and it was a popular social center for those who worked hard at making a living from the land and sea. One trip around the island in a small boat would net a couple of salmon, and sportsfishermen flocked to its floats.

Sadly, after generations of service to boaters, the resort has closed. With salmon fishing fading, it somehow failed to generate the excitement or the personal touch that was needed to attract guests.

Leave Minstrel astern, cross Knight Inlet on a northeast course and enter Tribune Channel. Wide and deep, Tribune is not heavily used, and cruising is easy. Kwatsi Bay, about 16 miles ahead on the right, is the home of one of the newest places in the region for boaters to hang out.

Someone calls on VHF 66 to ask the proprietors if they have space available. Reception is poor because of high, rocky hills, some of which look as if Picasso had been the sculptor, but crackling in the atmosphere is the voice of Anca Fraser. "Yes we do, yes we do, yes we do," she sings cheerfully.

Anca and her husband, Max Knierim, have lived at the head of Kwatsi Bay with their two preteen children, Marieke and Russell, for 9 years. They have operated their small floating marina/resort/landing for 6 years. It is a work in progress, the success of which depends greatly on the personalities of the owners and their love of the wilderness in which they live.

The mooring floats are broad and rugged. Depending on size, there's space for 12 to 14 boats.

Anca is the hostess. A tall blonde with a generous smile and a gregarious nature, she takes lines of arriving boats and arranges them snugly. She loves to listen to boaters' stories. Marieke will escort boaters on a dinghy trip to a waterfall in the woods across the bay; she also guides berry pickers to an island not far offshore. Russell checks out arriving boats, making friends and looking for new electronic games to try. Anca and Max started with the floats. They added a shower, a woodstove, and then a small store stocked with locally crafted jewelry, gifts, jars of honey and sweatshirts. Shoppers simply select what they want, sign a tab on the counter and settle with Anca when they leave.

Late afternoon, boaters appear on the float in growing numbers for an informal happy hour. After the social hour, boaters return to the floats with potluck salads, hot dishes and a lot of fresh fish-salmon, ling cod, shrimp and crab-and even wieners and beans.

Conversation flows, along with a little wine, until dark.

Anca grew up in Holland. She met Max, a former teacher, in Victoria, British Columbia, and they have lived in the region 16 years.

When they decided to develop a business in the wilderness, they first looked for places occupied by Indians generations ago, Max says. Invariably, he adds, those First People smartly chose places that were safe from foul weather and open to the sun, had a good supply of fresh water, were reached easily by boat, and offered excellent fishing.

Government bureaucrats steered them toward places never occupied by early peoples, Max remembers. But he and Anca persevered and settled in Kwatsi Bay, a place that met their requirements and is visually stunning as well.

They live there year round. Anca teaches the kids at home, using a curriculum guide provided by the B.C. government. Classes last half a day; afterward, everyone goes to work on an improvement project.

For twice-weekly physical education and arts classes, she loads the kids into the family utility boat and takes them to a public school at Echo Bay, about 15 miles west along Tribune Channel. She also is the volunteer maintenance worker at the school.

The family shares the woods at the head of the bay with cougars and bears, and they've learned to watch carefully every time they leave the house. They are charming, brave, resourceful, gently ambitious people.

THE RED CARPET

Heading west in Tribune Channel, past more towering rock and the slash of an enormous, recent rockslide, boaters may drop into Hornet Channel and Echo Bay.

There are a couple of stopping-off spots here: the Echo Bay Resort, Pierre's Bay Lodge and Marina, and Windsong Sea Village. Echo Bay Resort has good moorage (but watch the currents!) and a grocery that's parked atop a huge concrete pontoon that once was part of a floating bridge across Seattle's Lake Washington. Windsong is a quiet place across from the Echo Bay Resort, with cabins for rent and a small art gallery.

Pierre Landry and his wife, Tove, have done well in building their small resort in its tiny cove. In only a few years, they've acquired a good reputation for fine dining, which includes roasted pig every couple of weeks in the summer. Pierre is on site year round; Tove teaches in Nanaimo, a central Vancouver Island community, during the school year and then comes home to cook and charm visitors in the summer.

We sampled the roast pig and enjoyed it, along with potluck dishes provided by boaters, and thought the $15 charge was reasonable. We found the crowd clamoring for roast pork a little overwhelming, and when we go back next time, it will be for Tove's famed lasagne or, perhaps, her roast turkey, and for a quieter visit.

For an exceptional dinner out, in sedate surroundings, we head up the road to the Greenway Sound Marina.

About 20 years ago, Tom and Ann Taylor built the first float for their marine resort at Greenway Sound on Broughton Island, just off Sutlej Channel, and laid a broad swath of red carpet down its length. The place has grown, with more floats and 2,210 feet of moorage space, a grocery and restaurant, a laundry, and a library. The now-faded carpet still leads visiting boaters down the floats.

The Taylors have established a level of service others find hard to meet. They have fresh fruit, vegetables and ice cream flown in frequently-a treat for boaters who have come from north of Cape Caution, where such stuff is nearly impossible to find.

Float planes provide service to Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, on a daily basis. The Taylors will babysit boats while owners fly home and will help those with mechanical problems find parts at Port McNeill on distant Vancouver Island.

They take garbage and treat their water, and it's OK to wash your boat. The generator (powered by a John Deere diesel with more than 35,000 hours on the clock) runs 24/7.

In their first year of operation, Tom and Ann did little more than give away water. They still fill the tanks of commercial fishermen and fish farm operators at no charge; in return, those workers keep an eye on the place during the winter. The premier attraction at Greenway, without question, is Ann Taylor's kitchen. A superb chef who learned her trade in Seattle's better restaurants, she prepares the finest luncheons and dinners. The menu, emphasizing freshly harvested seafood, impresses all- including a Seattle telecommunications billionaire who flew three friends to dinner at Greenway Sound in a private float plane. We watched from a nearby table, intrigued. Although the pilot was banished to the grocery aisle, he, too, ate well.

Such luxury sounds pricey. Moorage is $1 (Canadian) per foot. Electricity costs $15 a day. It's not hard for a couple to spend $100 on dinner and wine. But no one quibbles. Those are cheap Canadian dollars, and the quality and service are equal to anything available in metropolitan areas. After surviving days and days of anchoring farther north, enduring the hardships of a cramped galley for weeks and successfully transiting oft-troubled Queen Charlotte Sound, one does not inquire about the price of entering an oasis.

When the Taylors first opened their floating marina, their customers came in boats of 35 to 45 feet. "And now everything has grown so that a 60-footer gets lost in the shuffle," Tom says. "There's good reason-a boat of 50 to 65 feet is a good size for cruising with family and friends."

Despite the added length, Tom still arranges boats along the floats so owners and guests always have a view of the sound and the mountains beyond.

Although the Greenway marina never catered exclusively to sportsfishermen, it lost significant business after the B.C. government imposed tight limits on the number of fish an angler could possess and where the fish could be consumed. It got worse as new fishing rules required the release of wild coho salmon.

"More than half our traffic went away," Tom says. "What once was a 4- to 5-month season now is 5 to 6 weeks." The first weekend in August is the height of the peak season.

To compensate for the loss of fishing customers, the owners stepped up services-offering more air connections, better produce, trip planning, espresso, cinnamon buns and newspapers. "Service is the name of the game," he explains.

Why do they return every spring? "We built this from scratch," he says. "The reward is the happiness we give people and the expression of regard we receive in return."

Former operators of a fuel dock on Seattle's Lake Union, the Taylors do not rest after the season ends and they return to their home in Washington state. For years, they have helped produce the Seattle Boat Show, a job that begins in November and runs well past the January show.

STACKS AND STACKS

The first thing new arrivals learn on reaching the little landing in Shawl Bay (about 6 miles east of Greenway Sound) is that cash rules. No credit cards. The second is that pancakes will be served for breakfast next morning.

Sure enough. First to appear in the chill morning air in the dock's open-air pavilion is a huge urn full of good, strong, hot coffee. After a while, Rob Brown, son of marina owners Lorne and Shawn Brown, arrives with a huge platter of steaming pancakes. One circle of the hungry boaters crowded around a picnic table in a covered pavilion, and the pancake platter is empty. Then there's a big hit on the slabs of butter and jugs of syrup spread across the table. Rob repeats the trip from the kitchen until boaters can eat no more.

That's too bad, because a few steps away in the marina's small store are loaves of bread and pans of cinnamon rolls-all just out of Shawn Brown's oven. She was up about 0400 to knead bread and roll out sweet dough. Realizing hunger pangs will return, boaters stock up on baked goods and list their purchases on note cards left in the store.

Aside from being a skilled food server, Rob is the marina's greeter and dock manager. He squeezes boats into tight spaces with ease. Twenty boats overnight is no problem; Rob-also unwilling to say no-has a record of 32 boats tied up along about 1,000 feet of dock. The largest yacht so far: 127 feet. Moorage costs 65 cents a foot and includes hotcakes and coffee.

Lorne's parents opened the small marina in Shawl Bay in 1960, after operating a similar facility in a nearby bay. Lorne became a logger, never imagining he would become part of the family business.

"Ten years ago, if someone said I'd be here, I would have said 'you're nuts,'" he says. "But I've been back seven years. It is kind of nice. There are a lot of nice people who come here. I enjoy doing it."

Fishing regulations haven't hurt much, because the Browns never touted their marina as a fish camp. "We offer more entertainment, from getting boaters together. It's more of a social place," Lorne says. Although long-haul cruisers regard stopping at these mom-and-pop marinas as a reward for weeks at sea, Lorne said more and more boaters come to the Broughtons simply to visit each of the small landings. And that's not a bad idea.

Shawl Bay Marina tallies about 500 visiting boats each summer, Lorne says. The place is open all year. Who comes in the winter? "No one," is the reply. Sometimes, however, the Browns rent their small cabins to loggers and commercial fishermen in the winter.

ALL THE WAY

Depending on direction of travel, the Sullivan Bay Marina is either the first or the last of the Broughton marinas seen by boaters taking the Inside Passage to northern British Columbia or Southeast Alaska.

On North Broughton Island, the marina is at the junction of Sutlej Channel and Wells Passage. Wells is the marine arterial that carries yachts to Queen Charlotte Sound and the Pacific Ocean.

At one time, Sullivan Bay Marina was the destination because of prime fishing in Sutlej, in Wells Passage and out in the sound. The second season after new, restrictive provincial fishing rules went into effect, the marina saw 900 fewer boats, says Lynn Whitehead, who with her husband, Pat Finnerty, owns the place. Patronage has been down since, although it bounced nicely upward in the summer of 2004.

Whitehead and Finnerty have held on, though, by leasing float space to new floating homes-expensive places used for vacation and summer residences by distant owners. Some have sportfishing boats moored alongside, and one has a helicopter on the roof.

They sell fuel year round and have the only liquor store in the area. Moorage is 85 cents per foot, and electricity costs $17 (Canadian) a day.

Although they are Canadian, Whitehead and Finnerty throw a huge Fourth of July party for their American friends. U.S. boaters call months ahead to reserve moorage space.

It's the oldest of the Broughton marinas. Founded in the 1940s, it has had a number of owners. Whitehead bought it about 28 years ago and was joined by Finnerty as a partner two years later. In its early years, large steamships called at Sullivan Bay; Queen Charlotte Airlines also scheduled regular service in SeaBees, Stimsons, Fairchild Huskies and Beavers. (Seattle's Kenmore Air continues to fly refurbished vintage Beavers into the Broughtons, stopping daily at Sullivan Bay and other area settlements.)

The owners have mixed whimsy with the lure of fishing. There's a Sullivan Bay Jail, just big enough for two. "Streets" (cedar-planked floats) have fishy names-Fish Alley, Hoochie Lane and Coho Cul de Sac. Look for the one-hole golf course, too. Pots and boxes overflow with blooming flowers. Anglers returning home with huge halibut lay the fish on the dock, trace an outline with white paint, and add the date and weight.

Tea-colored water is plentiful, and the generator runs all night, but quietly. The marina offers showers and a laundry and can arrange scenic helicopter trips. They will babysit yachts while owners fly away to tend to business or personal affairs.

Whitehead often is found in the store. Finnerty is everywhere. One day he walked down a float with a ball peen hammer in hand. Asked about the hammer, Finnerty said he had been showing a boater how to make a water-pump gasket from a piece of old chart using the hammer. If shade-tree mechanics aren't able to help, the marina will arrange to pick up parts in Port McNeill.

The couple recently remodeled the floating community's old town hall and opened a small restaurant, which seems to be drawing customers. My steak was good.

DANCING WITH DALLS

If this seems like too much socializing, an excess of civilization, the Broughton area also is rich in good getaway anchorages. We've shared them with other boaters, but we've also spent many nights alone in quiet places.

We like Turnbull Cove, Claydon Bay, Cypress Harbour, Booker Lagoon, Eden Island, Potts Lagoon...and more.

Booker is a challenge, but rewarding and hugely enjoyable.

On the south side of Broughton Island, it's entered through Cullen Bay, off Fife Sound. At the upper end of Cullen is Booker Passage, a narrow, winding waterway whose narrowness is exaggerated by overhanging trees. Currents run at 9 knots in a passage whose navigable width is little more than 50 feet, so it's wise to wait for slack water. We left the lagoon an hour early once, and it was more exciting than we wanted.

Booker Lagoon was once cluttered with fish farms, but they all are gone now. There is space for an entire yacht club in four anchorages, but we spent two quiet nights there with only three other boats in sight. The challenging entry obviously offers good crowd control.

As yachts enter the lagoon, a team of Dall porpoises dashes across their path, leaping, twisting and splashing. Return later in a dinghy, and the Dalls will provide more entertainment. They like to rise high out of the water to take a long look at these funny creatures in their little boats, then dive deep into the sea, splashing spectators.

As a bonus, prawn fishing is rewarding in a pocket of deep water near the entrance.

BILLY'S PLACE

In a little nook of Echo Bay, you'll find Billy Proctor's Museum. His fishing boat, Ocean Dawn, lies at the float. But there's room for at least one visiting boat, and visitors are welcome.

Proctor was born in the Broughtons and has hand-logged, trapped and fished the area for six decades. Over the years, he began to find things on beaches and in old camps. Billy made his first find, a jade knife, on a beach when he was 6 years old.

His collection has grown to include handblown beer and wine bottles, Indian stone tools, fishing and logging gear, an antique Petter single-cylinder diesel engine, and other machinery. Now, he has it all on display in a couple of buildings above his moorage.

Billy Proctor's Museum is a popular place, although it's never crowded. Billy, wearing jeans with wide, red Stihl (the chainsaw people) suspenders, answers questions and chats amiably with visitors.

I asked Billy to show me his favorite item. He produced a beer bottle handmade in Vancouver, British Columbia, 70 or 80 years ago. It was a short, special run for the glassworks, and Billy thinks his bottle is worth $700.

Billy has written two charming and informative books about the region, which are available in a small shop that features crafts by local artists, and in other stores in the area. Billy doesn't charge admission to his museum, but donations are accepted.

He is an avid environmentalist, with a particular interest in preserving and protecting wild salmon runs-this, in an area where there's a fish farm around every corner. He has learned to work the political field in defense of salmon and their habitat.

We moored our boat at Echo Bay Marina and walked through the woods to Proctor's place. It is idyllic. His home and work buildings and marine railway are on a gentle slope that leads to his dock and a small, rock-edged bay. The sky was blue and the water sparkled. It was postcard perfect, and I could have stayed forever.

A friend suffered serious collector envy after browsing through the museum and asked Billy to name the places where he had found the best items. True to the tradition of fishermen, Billy didn't give him any satisfactory answers.

CHANGES, CHANGES

Every now and then, all passagemakers, even the most devoted, die-hard cruisers, need a break from hauling anchors, sluicing mud from chain and watching seas roll past. They simply must go ashore.

We need to feel land again, to sup on beans cooked by someone else, to take a long, hot shower in something larger than a phone booth, and to wash socks and sheets. Some of us particularly need to talk with other folk.

The landings in the Broughtons are the place for all of that. Prawns, pancakes, potlucks and good people- what a combination.

But change is coming.

Nancy and Bob Richter, who own the Echo Bay Resort, have decided to retire after more than 20 years of hard work, and their place is for sale. Windsong Sea Village across the bay also carries a for-sale sign.

Ann Taylor's popular Greenway Sound restaurant may not be open in 2005, for health reasons. But the moorage, store and laundry will be open. On our last visit, Tom said he had talked to potential buyers, but no deal was in the offing. The bad news upset many Greenway customers who have become close friends with the Taylors during years of boating in the Broughtons.

We can only wonder about the people who will succeed these family owners. What kind of personal touch will they bring to these remote landings? Will they be as friendly and helpful?

We'll just have to go back to find out.

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