A Sourdough on the Sunshine Coast: Battling Demons at Shearwater Harbour
A curved horizon is visible at Milbanke Sound.
Perfectly calm seas curve around rounded rock Islets, the water rolls around the edges like drops of mercury, thickly clinging to the outlines of the rocks, threatening to envelope them in a flash should a wave pass by. I look back at the Captain, we have the opportunity to head for open seas here at Milbanke Sound. New to us is our 33 C&C sailboat the Starduster. We have no sailing experience, we chicken out and decide instead to take the inside passage that will carry us through into Oliver Cove Marine Park. We had hidden in Oliver Cove in 2007 during a winter of storms.
I had not realized that I was holding my breath until we rounded Dowager Island and were safely out of Milbanke.
In a wild winter storm with raging seas collecting and funneling through this notorious Sound, we almost lost our ship the Audrey Eleanor and consequently our lives. The shallow bottom of the sound reverberates the waves and they climb fast, high and hard. Our 54’ 1948 wooden yacht had a 13’ beam at best, 10’ for the rest. In a vessel shaped like a cigar, we came close to be ground into the bottom of the sea.
The Starduster, is an entirely different girl, 33’ with a lead keel and a big bottom she sits well in the water.
I think this was an ‘we should have’ moment. We probably should have sailed her out into the open Pacific to lay that Milbanke demon to rest. I lost feeling in my arms after the Crossing in 07; I was a wreck, threatening to jump ship at Shearwater. At that time we were running for Vancouver Island at the end of October during a winter of storms.
Not so today, the sun is glinting off of calm seas making it difficult to maneuver a rock in the entrance to Oliver Cove. Squinting into the brilliant blue skies, with water the same shade of azure, we don’t notice the tidy ship tucked into the southeast corner of the cove. Dropping the anchor is a snap, hit the button and the Bruce anchor drops to the seafloor. We put the Starduster in reverse to set the hook into the bottom mud. Big difference from hand dropping an 80-pound cast iron anchor off the Audrey Eleanor…this feels too easy!
Tucking everything into its place, we finally sit in the cockpit with refreshments.
Laying back and studying our surroundings, our wandering eyes finally focus on a ship shape trawler, named Chapter 45. This boat is crewed by the very nice people who dropped off prawns for breakfast on our first morning out of Kitimat. That was five days ago, it is good to see them, we never got their names the last time we connected. We will have to row across the cove after dinner for a visit.
I will call them Mary and John from White Rock, BC, every year they leave onboard Chapter 45 to explore new horizons. Starting in May, they continue their voyage until Labour Day weekend. Mary is a gifted Fisher. John claims that she can haul a 20 pounder out of the ’chuck’ with a stick and a safety pin. I am in awe. We are terrible at catching fish! This is fishing heaven. Salmon are running, jumping and playing you can’t catch me all along the coast. Fishing Boats, of every make and model float along the channels looking like strange water bugs with skinny multiple arms jutting out in all directions, fishing rods that bounce when a fish bites.
Yells of ‘I got one!’ carry on forever over the sea, rushing across to Japan and emphasizing that we have caught nothing in over 200 K of line dragging.
We watch in envy. Catching crabs is a totally different scenario, the Captain is the Crab Slayer, but Salmon would be really nice! In pity, the crew of Chapter 45 share their days catch with us. A gorgeous 10lb Salmon is gratefully accepted, wonderful fresh salmon is simply the best…even in pity! We accept the fact that we are now fish beggars.
Shearwater on Denny Island is a hub of tourist activity during the summer season.
It was quieter here on our last visit. Shearwater is located minutes from Bella Bella by boat or Sea bus. B.C. Ferries runs a regular route to Bella Bella and Pacific Coastal has daily 40-minute flights from Port Hardy. The world arrives to fish and enjoy this incredible escape up the Famous Inside Passage. Pacific Coastal is the same airline that flies from Vancouver to Powell River, a 30-minute flight.
Shearwater has a special feature that no boater passes by, a Laundromat!! You always manage to clean yourself, but washing clothes is no easy feat in a coastal climate. Saltwater washing takes out the grime, but the clothes never dry and a funk sets in, reminiscent of old hockey gear. Of course, the owner of the wet dog funk can no longer smell themselves. Getting up close in warm quarters or having them swing their arms to emphasize the size of fish caught may be hazardous to your health.
Accents and languages from around the world chatter on the docks.
Huge shiny plastic yachts bear a close resemblance to Nike running shoes and I really have trouble discerning one from the other. Three mast sailboats with the look of the world about them, cause me to stop in my tracks and wonder at their adventures. It is apparent from the multitude of water jugs and fuel containers attached to their rails that they are not Harbour Queens. In my heart of hearts I wonder, could I do it? Could I cast away the lines and head off and over that curve into the sunset? Leaving all sight of land for days at a time. I have not discounted this yet. My son and my grandsons will most likely take on this challenge.
There is nothing like sitting in a laundromat at a cross roads of the world to hear stories, whether you want to or not.
Often there is a line up for washers/dryers and the showers. Books lay on all available spaces, the unwritten law is that you take a book, you leave a book. Tattered edges, mildewed pages and sun-bleached covers are testament to the experience of these papered friends. WIFI is not dependable, but these old warriors of print are guaranteed to work in the worst of reception. Greedily, sailors sort through the piles looking for adventures that have yet to be discovered.
A man approaches me and asks where I am from, what do I do. At this time, I am a recovering realtor, now from Saltery Bay but originally Whitehorse, and I am writing my third book. I should say trying to write my third book. Going from fact, to fiction based on fact as a genre, is not coming easy for me. At the mention of writing his eyes light up, I have seen this light many times. Everyone has a story that needs to be recorded in print; there is not enough time to write every story that should be told, I am very sorry to say.
This man has fallen to great depths in despair. I can see it in the drop of his shoulders, his eyes are mournful. Clothes hang on him from weight loss and a ‘nothing matters anymore’ attitude. He admits he hasn’t done his laundry for months, he is having to travel to Vancouver and enough pride left that he wants to represent his daughter well. A daughter, whom he has not seen for many years. He goes back to acknowledge through forensic study, that dental work and bone fragments they have on file could be hers. A father’s version of a story that circulated on the 6 o’clock news comes alive in front of me in the Laundromat at Shearwater B.C. The horror of the Picton Farm. Truly a Demon.
A storm has blown in that matches my feelings of sorrow.
Rain slants sideways as it lashes at lines causing boats to bump and bang at the docks. Rafting of boats is necessitated by the vast array of travellers. And you thought it was quiet and peaceful on the Pacific Coast. The Captain worries at my sadness; I don’t want to discuss it. ‘How would you like to take a detour to Ocean Falls?’ he queries. I swear to you that the sun broke through the clouds in that second. It really did! God rays are lighting up the mountains and shining in my heart as well!
My cousin Lynn and her husband Terry have been known to frequent Ocean Falls on occasion, especially during fishing season. I have long wanted to ‘bump’ into them on the briny sea. It will add three days travel to our already lengthy trip, but what is time compared to experience? And I really do hate saying ‘I should have’.