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Part Three of Three
December 10, 2002
Sunrise, the crack of dawn, the birth of the day. A crowing red rooster signals dawn for the Kansas farmer. In Sidney Harbor it's seagulls at sunup. Poets have described the seagull's crisp sound as the "gull's call", a particularly romantic part of the sailor's life. BS. I still can't understand that. Around here a perfectly serene daybreak features ongoing bird babble, a screeching cacophony of whining seagull cackles. The little jerks, darlings of the dawn, never miss a day. Hundreds of them swoop down from the sky landing on piling, post, pier and the yachtsman's canvas. They sway down the docks with a web-footed waddling walk, and they incessantly fight each other for food. Just today, the winner got to ingest a piece of a decaying starfish. Once he was fully gorged, he defied the laws of aerodynamics and made a half flying, half hurdling leap up from the dock to the clear glass hatch over our bunk. In the feeble light of the new day this seagull strutted a tight circle on the glass hatch-top quite unaware that I was watching from below. After two full turns the romantic "gull" preened a bit, shrieked a gravelly triumphant "call" and fully REGURGITATED to the hatch top. It looked like melted rocky road ice cream - nuts, marshmallows and all. GOOD MORNING! It's 6:30 AM, the skies are clear, and we're "home" from our summer's cruise.
JULY 2002: We powered "Love of Liberty" farther up Tribune Channel toward our latitude limit of 51° north. The boat was operating perfectly and, with her varnished brightwork, looking so much better under our care. A graceful sailing cutter, she's something to behold and draws compliments whenever people see her. The summer weather has been balmy. Except for today, that is, for there's a drizzly cloud ceiling hanging overhead making saturating damp fog and light rain. The heavy mist condenses on the rigging and drips on the decks making things wet and slick. My spirits are down a bit, and my feet are cold. Ellen and I looked forward to a protected anchorage, a rest and a hot dinner. Summer's champagne had gone flat. Somewhere out there was our target, Kwatsi Bay, a refuge bay that supposedly offered unlimited fresh water, "primitive mooring floats" and "all weather" protection. There, we could take cover for a few days.
The fog ceiling extended deep into the two-mile long, steep sided entrance passage to Kwatsi Bay. Rich green forest with rock outcroppings lined the sheer channel sides giving it all a tunnel-like effect that, thankfully, blocked the winds. Deeper inside, all I could see was that it all tapered down to a featureless blunt end. Featureless I say, because if you are looking for civilized features around here, there are none. Every bit of land - that is above water - is covered by a tangle of ferns, firs, moss and rock. A street sign, a telephone pole or a neon café sign would be very noticeable, and frankly, I would right now, relish that sight. There are no roads, no structures, no power poles, zero, zip, zilch. I pulled my watch cap down, picked up the binoculars and stood up on a folding step in the cockpit to have a clean look over the top of the bimini. Safely in mid channel, away from underwater rocks, we eased the boat farther along trying to sight a small, charted "37-meter high" island. Off the port bow was a rocky nose on what we soon confirmed to be THE island. Nailed to a tree, fifty feet up from the shoreline was a tilted, rough, cedar wood sign. In the terminal stages of rot, the sign hung out-of-plumb, but it did show a large arrow pointing down ... and to the right. The big lettering, partly blocked by a fern frond, spelled out "Kwatsi Bay Marina".
To the island's left side was a nifty direct passage opening to, I presumed, a small bay. Tempting though it was, it was reckless folly. There was a rocky shoal hiding just a meter beneath the surface. I followed the sign's arrow to the right and curved behind the island. We entered what could have been an apparition - a partially hidden lagoon with water that was so calm and flat that I could see our dark blue hull mirrored on the surface. With the cloud layer lifted somewhat, the far shore revealed two small, cedar sided cabins nestled in a clearing. A column of smoke rose from one chimney. Behind that clearing the heavily wooded forest ascended steeply into the mist and encircled the bay. To the left a waterfall cascaded off high rock facings plummeting behind the trees into the lagoon. There were no roads. How could you build a marina here? Who would live here? Who could live here? There is nothing here absolutely nothing except breathtaking, measureless natural beauty.
Several huge cedar logs were anchored fifty feet out from the shore. Probably salvaged from an old lumbering operation, they were lashed together and covered with a rough decking to form a primitive elongated float roughly like the main concrete floats in a modern boat harbor. From behind the float a wooden ramp, a short pier and a trail led to the shingled cottages. I could see cleats and fenders suitable for mooring and six cruising boats were side-tied. We continued the approach.
I called on the radio,
"Kwatsi Bay Marina, this is sailing vessel Love of Liberty, inbound. Over."
A woman's delicate voice answered,
"This is Kwatsi Bay Marina. I see you. Come in. We have room. What is your vessel's length?"
That call initiated a fascinating episode, and for sure, the summer's most enjoyable stop. We backed the boat to the inside of a float and cast mooring lines to Max and Anca. Once secured, I leaned outward and cautiously scanned the shoreline forest to the left and to the right for - my nemesis- the beady eyed northwest black bear. Clear! I stepped to the float.
Kwatsi Bay Marina is a remote, one-family Northwest outpost where access is only by boat. It's a sturdy life here. Year round, in those two cabins back in the clearing, Max and Anca live with their two kids. In their blunt-bow aluminum workboat they make a 12-mile trip down Tribune Channel, through Hornet Passage to Echo Bay for food and supplies. Their power source is a water wheel turbine, spun by the waterfall. The water turbine turns an automotive alternator that charges a battery bank that is connected to an inverter that boosts the 12v battery power to 110 volts. Fresh water is plentiful, but it appears brownish in color because we're above "the cedar line". North of this latitude, above the "cedar line", the rainwater filters through the thick cedar-bark thatch of the forest and so picks up a brownish stain. Clams, crab and fish are plentiful.
I soon realized that this is a rich, grand and good life. For those hard at work in the city- who think there is no choice left - here is a life style that is not resigned to drive-by-shootings, car jackings, terrorists, kidnappers, and serial killers. Beautiful days are not frittered away - by the meaningless and detailing concerns of those who desperately compete for possessions. Live out here and there's no need to cover your limitations with the things you buy. There's no need to out-produce your neighbor in Kwatsi Bay because there are no neighbors. Here it would seem so bizarre to dedicate your life to earning a pair of BMW's and a ten-room house with a 60" screen TV. Who cares? Breathtaking views, stars at night, clean air, winds in the high forest, and the awesome, fascinating wildness of nature somehow mix with crushing winter storms, primitive facilities, and bears outside the door. Surely, it takes great labor to survive under these conditions -- a very simple, low stress physical labor done with a satisfying unexplainable joy.
Max, dressed in jeans, suspenders, flannel shirt and half-laced hiking boots, spoke slowly and said, " for the last three years, they have had no radio reception, no cell phone service, no TV. Outside communication, when they need it, is really the problem. Satellite phones work, but they are too expensive." Last year, he climbed 1500 feet up to an adjacent peak and put an antenna on the hilltop. It was supposed to help with radio contact to Echo Bay, but a 70 mph winter storm blew it off the tree. The kids, Russell and Marika, mostly home schooled, go by boat to public school at Echo Bay. They socialize with the other kids, study art, and have PE - three days a week. The classroom size is ten.
It was unexpected, but soon I noticed an unusual camaraderie existing between this little family and the visiting sailors. Every one of us - for I now feel a part of Kwatsi Bay - is welcoming and gracious. Bar none, there is no place - wherever we have cruised - where we have been treated so warmly. Anka invited us to the "Kwatsi Bay potluck dinner" that night. I did my best, and concocted my Chicken Cacciatore. We brought our homemade Valpoicella wine. Others served superb dishes - some with smoked salmon, some with freshly cooked prawns and homemade prawn dips. We ate from a rough plank table in the center of the float, and sat on a circle of wood benches that alternated with old, salvaged cottage furniture. Above the mountain peaks, the fog had cleared revealing the last of the day's sun between the cumulus clouds. The champagne was bubbling again.
Under bright skies the next morning, I saw Anca bailing rainwater from a deteriorated aluminum skiff tied near us. She insisted that Ellen and I get in with a few others, and she rowed us a ways down the shore. Soon, the bow of the boat coasted into a tiny opening under some low cedar limbs. I lifted the branches, ducked under and pulled the boat closer to a flat rock. We got out and followed Anca into the forest. Anca brought a boat's compressed air horn.
"To scare the bears." she said with her crisp Dutch accent. "Walk in a group and talk a lot. Bears here are very practical animals and tend to be afraid. But don't you surprise them! We'll sound imposing if I sound this horn. They only want to find food and don't want to hassle with something that they might not be able to handle. They won't take on a group of people."
Right! Bears -- and cougars? Cougars here made Anca more nervous. Recently, on Vancouver Island a cougar attacked a man. The poor person was bitten and held with his face in the big cat's teeth. He managed to get a knife from his pocket, open the folding blade and stab the cougar in the neck several times. He killed the cougar, and although temporarily blinded, he survived. Being bite-size for a 150-pound cougar, the children, Marika and Russell, have to be careful. They can't leave candy or food scraps about the cabins or docks, for wild animals quickly learn to hang around to pick up any leftovers.
We had a hundred-yard hike on thick thatch, over rotting logs, around stumps and under ferns whereupon we saw a magnificent waterfall framed in the forest trees. It tumbled down two hundred feet over a cascade of mountain rock finally fanning out near the mossy boulders at the lagoon edge. The rumbling water sound resonated all about the cove making a tune that lulled us to sleep each night for our three-day stay.
We departed Kwatsi Bay in the same still water as we had when we entered. Our wake hardly upset the shore of the small island where began the mystery three days ago. Over the stern, I glanced across the lagoon at those two tiny cabins, the scruffy docks and the waterfall. Our course curved, and the passage behind us quickly disappeared against the forested background. The last three days affirmed what I have perhaps known to be possible a life without bred-in-the-bone wealth addiction. This rich family lacked money addiction, possession addiction and spending addiction.
The bow cut the smooth water, and we created a wake again. The day was beautiful, sunny and perfect, but still I was not prepped for the rigors of the next leg of our cruise Johnstone Straight. That's the gaping open mouth channel at the northern tip of Vancouver Island that sucks in North Pacific frontal weather systems. A passage where incoming blustery winds face off with outgoing current creating steep short waves that will punish our small boat. Maybe, just this time, it will be Johnstone Straight where there's a dead calm, a beast tranquil and windless. Let the stress begin. I'm seemingly compelled to make some sense of this zigzag voyage of a hundred tacks that will, when seen from a distance, average out, straight line, to a meaningful end.
With regards to all,
Terry and Ellen and "Love of Liberty"
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