A Sourdough on the Sunshine Coast: Adventures of the Audrey Eleanor
This new monthly series by “Sunny” Dawn Kostelnik is a continuation of her “Adventures of the Audrey Eleanor,” a collection of stories that she wrote for the Whitehorse Star from June 2008 until December 2010. These Adventures are about life onboard a 1948, 54’ wooden yacht travelling from Haines, Alaska to the Sunshine Coast of B.C. Her fans were asking for “just one more story,” and “where is that old boat?” So this is the rest of the story.
Part 1: A Sourdough on the Sunshine Coast
“So where do you go after Yukon?” croons Hank Carr. Really, where do you go? To the Sunshine Coast in BC of course! The North Sunshine Coast to be specific. Powell River is a sea–locked city sandwiched between two historic villages, Lund 27K to the north and Saltery Bay, 27K to the south. Lund lays claim to being the official marker, Mile o of the Pacific Coastal Highway 101 that extends south 15,202K and ends at the bottom tip of Chile, SA. The Republic of Saltery Bay is to the south, the Portal to Powell River from the lower mainland. This is where the last of two ferries departing from Horseshoe Bay deposits you on the glorious shores of the North Sunshine Coast.
We first arrive on these shores aboard the infamous Audrey Eleanor in 2007. Looking for moorage for our Grand Lady, we traverse the inside passage seeking still waters, we find safe Harbour in Pender Harbour, the Venice of the North. Both the Captain and myself never considered leaving our long time home in the Yukon.
Our old wooden yacht the Audrey Eleanor is 54’ and was built in 1948. She suffered winter abuse while moored in Haines, Alaska for 3 years. Freezing and thawing of ancient wooden planks was hard on our old girl and harder on her crew. Running to save her from Alaskan winter storms was almost the death of us. There is no suitable moorage for her in the Yukon (fresh water rots wood, salt water preserves wood), what to do?
The Haines Summit is closed more than open for the three winters we tied up The Audrey Eleanor in Haines. We were fortunate to have friends in Haines; Richard Boyce (missing at sea on July 04, 2012) helped keep her afloat. Heavy wet snows threaten to sink the docks even before it sinks the boats. Seawater does freeze; it starts as slush and clumps. Scuppers fill and freeze, water builds up on decks as 2 foot drops of heavy wet snow mound on bridges overnight and thaw underneath.
Haines Harbour Authority purchased a snow blower after one winter found the Harbour Master and the few boat owners present, could not shovel the snow off the docks fast enough. The weight was massive on the broad expanse and as the dock sank it dragged boats down into the cold black seas. Larger vessels managed to stay afloat but smaller ones sank into the liquid ice to join Davey Jones’s flotilla.
Leaving Haines in the summer of 2006 weighed heavy on us. Family and friends had enjoyed being part of the adventures onboard The Audrey Eleanor. Many Yukoners came onboard for a social drink and to admire this floating antique. (She had been moored on display at the docks in Vancouver’s Maritime Museum). A decision had to be made, we warmed up the twin Perkins diesels, did a Starboard turn in the Lynn Canal and headed south.
There is no plan, except we want moorage in Canada. It is a summer of Home Land Security scouring the seas for terrorists; we are worn thin by propaganda. We continue south to Ketchikan where the Captain is caught in a work net cast by cell phone service, we stopped to resupply at Fred Meyer’s, the cell phone rings.
It is a call for a diver to fly up to Tuktoyuktuk. Two tugboats and a massive camp are being barged through the Bering Straight into the Chukchi Sea, destination ‘Tuk’ NWT. Rick, a commercial diver, is to sink the barge, the tugs and camp will float off and the barges re-submerged. This job will last two weeks. It is the third week of August, if the job expands into three weeks, we will still continue south. We don’t want to drop down past Cape Caution and into Queen Charlotte Straight any later than mid September.
Most boats insured in the US are required to be south of Cape Caution by September 01, otherwise their insurance is void. Read my book, The Adventures of the Audrey Eleanor, this is true, you do not want to do silly things like navigating Milbanke Sound during the months of storms, October and November. The thought of crossing Queen Charlotte Straight after the 1st of September makes me sick to my stomach.
I know better, we all know better! What job in the high Arctic is ever done on time? The barge became stuck in the sea ice by Big Diomede Island, Alaska. We arrive back in Ketchikan, Alaska on a Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, too late to motor south! But no, not this crew. We drink too many beers, flip a coin, cast away the lines of sanity and engines vibrate us south towards Canada at daybreak.
The rest as they say is history, and can be read about in The Adventures of the Audrey Eleanor, my book. We found our winter resting place in Deep Bay on Vancouver Island. In the recesses of my mind I was hoping to end up in Comox, I have spent time there in the past; my son Bob was born in St. Joseph’s by the Sea, in Comox. Poor guy, he has salt water running though his veins and he lives in Whitehorse. Bob runs away to his sailboat in Alaska lots.
Winter in Deep Bay was interesting. ‘Skunk’ overrode the brine of the sea as Parfum de jour with Whiskey fronts blowing in through the night stirring up boats and encouraging want to be pirates to evolve from grimy holds with blazing red eyes and foul breathe, one reason liveaboards are not welcome. Day trips took us as far south as Victoria and as far north as Campbell River searching for a new home. Moorage rates are out of this world and ‘Liveaboard’ is a dirty word. We had not considered this at all. Everything is more expensive in the North is it not? Not moorage, enjoy it while you can, your turn will come.
I had never considered the ‘other’ side of chuck, the Sunshine Coast as a possible solution to our moorage problem. A brand new dock had been constructed below the Grass Hopper Pub in Pender Harbour. A reluctant owner agrees to temporary moorage with possibility of a longer term should our 30 ton Lady, the Audrey Eleanor not sweep away the fingers of the dock that lay in the roaring rapids of Gunboat Passage during the change at high tide. A deal is struck; we head back to Deep Bay to arrange passage across Georgia Straight.
The hook is set; we spend the next five years commuting between Whitehorse and Pender Harbour/Madeira Park. Rules tighten the regulatory noose around the necks of liveaboards. We realize that to continue our lives as Gypsy Sea personnel we will be relegated into the rainy lands of the north coast (few choose to live aboard in the land of the rain-people, so fewer rules) or we will go up onto the ‘hard’, and become weekend boaters. I am enthralled with fruit growing on trees, surely this is magic. I think we should try this growing fruit concept. We look for a home on land.
Winters in Whitehorse become longer as I grow older. The steely cold teeth of old man winter bite into my bones, aches and pains increase as the temperature drops. I don’t want to ‘have’ to escape to Mexico or Australia to make it through the winter anymore. I want to have a summer so hot that I look forward to the mists of winter, without any snow… and I want to do this in Canada, my home, my country. My children are in Whitehorse, my father still walks the trails behind Crestview, to move is a very hard decision.
I sit in our beautiful log home above the Alaska Highway pounding out words for my books and contemplating life. By mid winter I can barely walk, old skidoo injuries haunt me, MRI images of Dawson Fingers taunt me. The dark is dropping down hard on my head as I walk out into the shining path of a full moon and flashing northern lights. I see lights from my daughter’s house across the way, how can I go? Movement is excruciating, how can I stay?
By spring I no longer have a choice. I do not want to grow old and fat and be crippled. I can no longer move when the cold creeps in (no, long underwear does not help), our house goes on the market. So where do you go after Yukon? To be continued…
P.S. I look into the southern starlit skies and see my friend Jim’s smiling face. He hums a song and shuffles down a hallway of light. Jim Zheng, my good friend, my excellent doctor, I miss you, until we meet again. Jim Zheng Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine left us far too soon on August 19th 2015.
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