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September 2, 2004
"Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink, for thirst is a dangerous thing." Jerome Klapka Jerome
With another day of fair weather we can round Cape Caution on our way north to Rivers Inlet. We're in the ocean and beyond the Straight of Georgia, beyond Johnstone Straight and beyond Queen Charlotte Straight. There's a long empty horizon to the west, a light westerly ocean breeze, and a five-foot swell that gently rolls and pitches the boat. I think the feel of the sea is good, a motion that becomes an element of one's life at sea. We are a month out from Sidney Harbor. Vancouver Island is receding over the stern. We've left the high cliffs, massive rocks, tiny islands, angry rapids, fast currents, whirlpools and short choppy waves of the Broughton Archipelago. Behind us are those small floating communities that are interspersed amongst the islands - clusters of floating houseboats anchored by cables and chains to onshore rocks. Building on the land is not easy there, not as easy as on these tiny barges. Years ago, hand loggers made a living by cutting trees. A man working solo would select a steep site on shore where cut trees could be rolled or pitched down the hillside to the water below. He'd live in a small shelter house built on a float, a float house that could be moved to a new logging site when needed. It was easier to build on a barge than to build on a forested hillside. The idea has evolved such that today there are groupings or communities of these things. One float may have a "harbor" office, another a laundromat, another a grocery store, another may have a tiny restaurant, even a bakery. For us these were floating refuges where we moored for a night, where we shared a good potluck dinner and wine amongst gregarious fellow cruisers.
Move up the coast away from the islands and the anchorages don't offer that much respite. There are no tall lighthouses, no church steeples, no piers that identify the presence of a town or a fishing village or people. The few coastal residents live with little social contact and are isolated amongst high mountains, deep forest, cougar, wolf and grizzly bear. People tend to not live here, and to some degree it appears that this is land untouched. Even with the cycle of clear-cut logging - that 70-year cycle of tree cutting, seeding, re-growth and re-harvesting - there remains a primal beauty about the place. Out here I am a little concerned if something aboard the boat were to fail, the wind combined with the onshore ocean swell could nudge us toward the lee shore and onto a rock. Boat mechanics aren't handy. Maybe a fishing boat would give me a tow if one were near. Really, every system on this boat is going so well that I'm barely concerned, and I can't live a life in fear of every conceivable emergency.
I have to look closely at the coastline to find tonight's anchorage, a tiny opening on the coastal side of Bramham Island. The casual eye would miss this place, for it's just a tiny fissure in the rocks called Miles Inlet. There are no buoys. The inlet just blends into this dissected, heavily wooded coastline of boulders and damp forest. Just south of Morphy Rock, just north of Mayor Island, just east of McEwan Rock and interspersed amongst nine other partially submerged rocks we carefully pick our way. The rise of the swell covers the rocks, then the swell passes revealing a pinnacle that could rip a hole in the finest vessel. I steer the bow toward what appears to be a small hard-shouldered channel set at a right angle to the shore. The GPS confirms our position, and we power in slowly. About two hundred feet inside, the inlet narrows to less than 75 feet. The depth sounder tests the bottom and tells us that there's nine feet beneath the keel. It's enough. The channel constricts more so and subdues the ocean swell. Just ten feet up from the water, the bent, anemic looking cedar trees, trying to grow on bedrock, block the wind. The inlet ends in just 600 feet where two side channels become visible. They branch off at 90 degrees making the inlet form a perfect "T" shape. I motor down a side channel, the water shallows, and because of overhanging tree limbs, I turn around. We are protected well enough at the intersection, so we anchor there.
British Columbia is a land first "discovered" by Captain Cook in 1778. Captain George Vancouver arrived in 1792 on orders from the British Admiralty to find a shorter sea route across North America. He was instructed to trace and survey every inlet that opened to the East. First Nation Natives met the Englishman's vessels by paddling out in their huge brightly painted canoes - canoes with a sheer and deck line almost even with that of the British brigantines. The British casually traded for some sea otter pelts from the Native Americans and later found that those pelts could be sold to the Chinese in Canton for an unbelievable profit. Their interests in "surveying" changed.
Fur trading was soon underway and coastal tribes discovered that they could trade animal skins for copper, pewter bowls, iron nails, - and muskets. For First Nation Peoples these were quantum leaps. Capt. Vancouver banned trading for muskets with First Nation Natives recalling Capt. Cook's earlier comments,
"their general behaviour was distantly civil, apparently directed by a desire to establish a peaceable intercourse with strangers, from whom there was a prospect of deriving many valuable acquisitions"
and he continued,
"there is a sense that their own ignorance could betray rational judgment and thus make them dangerous."
It was an order soon undermined as the profit motive reigned. A pewter bowl could be traded for some time with a native girl. A few more pelts could bring the musket, the very powerful killing device that far outperformed the bow and arrow or spear. Imagine facing a grizzly with a bow and arrow, then have someone hand you a powerful musket. Spain, Russia and England relished the new profits and declared a loose pact - a pact amongst themselves. All agreed that their "discovery" of this new land did not confer ownership. The "noble" cultures felt that physical presence should decide ownership of the territory. It made little difference that First Nation people were already in "possession" having lived on the land for at least 7000 years. Spain, Russia and England claimed chunks of the Northwest, set up forts and moved the Natives aside.
Our anchor sets well in a mud bottom. There's not a lot of room for the boat to swing, so I launch the dinghy, get in and row a stern-line toward shore. Coasting up to a boulder I step from the dinghy to a sloping rock and - stern line in hand - approach a sturdy tree at the edge of the forest. It's dark, damp and the moss-laden limbs droop over the thick thatch. Food and fuel are not available. Maybe somewhere in that forest is a stream of fresh water, but I'd have to go in to find out. I'm city bred, and I feel vulnerable. Medical help is a long way off. I row back the boat, climb aboard and tension the stern line. It's evening, time to go below and close the hatch. I once asked the RCMP about response time to a distress call in this area. He said, "It'd be a bit, ehhh? Maybe a day or so."
Thousands of First Nation Natives lived here exposed and mostly defenseless. Besides wolf, cougar and grizzly bear they fear Komogwa and Tsonoqua, the giant creatures that live in the sea and forest. Komogwa, the monster of the sea, roams beneath the surface of the ocean and is incontestable. He can rise up anywhere and drag a canoe beneath the surface. He is rich, omnipresent and by his evil, he lives a rich life in the sea.
Female Tsonogwa - also known as the copper woman or wild woman - is everywhere in the forest. She has deep-set eyes with lids drooping to the pupils. Her breasts are bare, long and pendulous. Her mouth has protruding lips. She smells. Her skin is soot stained. She is ferocious and has the heart and sinew of the grizzly bear. She is dimwitted and dense, but she cannot be killed. Were she to err and for instance be burned up in a fire, her ashes would float back to earth in the form of mosquitoes. And, she would continue to draw blood ultimately to reform. She controls the magical Water of Life and clumsily spills it around. Somehow she's captivating, even a tiny bit alluring, for her house is filled with riches. She has many valuable possessions that humans cherish. Should you show greed, seek her wealth, her possessions and her power, she will lead you to mental anguish and unhappiness. Somewhere in the forest she utters a cry of "Hooo Hooo" as she abducts unguarded children from villages. She puts them in the basket on her back and steals off - to eat them. Children are told, "Be very careful or Tsonoqua will get you!"
I have looked for remnants of these people that were decimated by disease and suppressed by government, but all I have seen are the support poles of a village long house or a beach shell midden. For such a large culture of people, it's not much. Vines, ferns, molds, fungi and wood boring insects have reclaimed the land. There are some First Nation Natives still living about in villages, with government support, but it's a long forgotten culture. The potlatch was a ceremony commonly held the communal long house. The word means "to give" and great status was gained by giving more than the guest family. The welfare of some tribes suffered because of extensive gift giving in the attempt to gain status. In 1884 the potlatch was outlawed by the Canadian Government. In 1921 ceremonial masks and other cultural items were confiscated, 45 leaders were arrested. Half of them served prison terms. The other half was released after they surrendered some 200 ceremonial items. Today, the white bred Canadian returns here, at times, to harvest the trees.
Outbound on our morning departure, we clear the narrow entrance of Miles Inlet; we round Cape Caution and pick our way into Fly Basin just inside Smith Inlet. On the approach, there are the usual underwater rocks, drying rocks and rocks awash composing a dog-leg entry into the basin itself. Once inside there is a perfectly protected tiny bay where after anchoring in the middle we had a fine meal and a good rest. The next morning we arose to find the boat enveloped in radiation fog. Overnight warm moist air had contacted the cold, water surface and a thick moisture layer formed. From the water's surface to a hundred feet above was thick fog; above that was clear sky. I could look up and see sunlight, but straight ahead it was impenetrable grayness. I could see only a boat length, maybe two over the bow. The enveloping August fogs ("fogust" in the vernacular) were underway. Ellen and I discussed our time constraints. Our destination, Rivers Inlet, was just four or five miles further north. In a couple of weeks we had our daughter and her boyfriend to meet in Pender Harbor, many miles away on the east side of the Straight of Georgia. On the way we had stops to make, farewells to say. We decided to head back and groped our way out, past the dogleg entry and its rocks. I called on the VHF and talked with a fisherman working his way down Smith Sound by radar. In heavy fog as well he couldn't see much. We agreed that the fog should burn off soon. It didn't, so in thick gray soup we slowed to three knots. I watched the radar for ten hours, carefully retracing our course south past Cape Caution, past Miles Inlet and on to Blunden Harbor. We dropped the hook, and that evening I pulled the charts. I drew our course line for Pender Harbor and planned the remainder of this cruise.
With regards, Terry and Ellen
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