Picture this: An aging 16-foot Frontiersman canoe, loaded to the gunwales with two grown paddlers, a 12-year-old boy, a 120-pound German shepherd dog, a tent, stove and food for a week, all lost at sea in dense fog… Not a pretty picture!
That’s how it happened: My first mate Emilie and I decided on a little tour through the Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound. Lacking a kayak we pressed our old canoe into service.
Besides, one can pack a lot more gear into one of these.
It was a sunny August afternoon when we set out from Toquart Bay near Ucluelet. There was some concern about the tiny amount of freeboard we had, but hey, things looked cool as we bobbed near shore. But farther out toward the Stopper Islands, the summer thermals had warmed the salt chuck surface into a very busy place to be in, to the point where we had to get the bailing can into action. A hasty retreat back to shore cancelled this attempt.
What to do? Aha, “the sea will be flat as glass most mornings” a sympathetic kayaker informed us. So we postponed our departure to an early start the next day.
True to his word, not so much as a ripple disturbed the watery expanse before us, except we could not see very far. All was shrouded in dense fog. No matter, a kind sailor equipped us with the compass coordinates needed to reach Stopper Island, Lyall Point across the open waters of Loudoun Channel and the calm haven of Hand Island.
I’m the captain steering in the rear, trying to keep a steady compass needle that wants to jump around with every stroke of the paddle. And my brain tells me I’m going around in circles, a totally weird sensation.
At long last, we neared our hoped-for destination just as the pea soup fog cleared to a most welcome sunny morning. And behold, we were right on target!
Considering our overloaded canoe, it seemed wise to stick to the confines of the protected waters of the Inner Islands. A few days later, a little lighter in the food department and much enriched with sweet impressions of mystery quiet passages and marvels of teeming marine life, we had to bid adieu to our sanctuary. We decided to stick to the same game plan for the return trip and set our faces north into the impenetrable fog.
I should have kept to my rough and tumble compass course instead of following my instincts. A gripping fear came over me about those nasty tidal currents tugging at my little boat, washing it out of the big channel into the open Pacific and hence to Japan. So, I overcompensated eastward. I strained for Richard’s Rock, a shipping pilon marking a dangerous reef in the middle of David Channel. As we groped about in this impenetrable grayness, we approached what I thought was a small islet, with trees and branches growing out of it. Not exactly as I remembered Richard’s Rock, but good enough for us weary paddlers.
“Hey, guys, look what we got down here!” a voice echoed down from the little island. The Royal Canadian Navy sailor must have wondered wherefrom our little family drifted in. Turns out we just visited his ship at the Naval Station in Mayne Bay, way east of our destination.
“Where do you want to go?” the ship’s mate inquired from high up on the bridge. “Richard’s Rock and the Stopper Islands,” I hollered up. “What do you want to go there for?” came the astonished reply. “Come on up to the wheelhouse, we got the charts and coordinates you need.” My first mate would have none of that. “You are NOT leaving this canoe, me, my son or my dog to fend for ourselves down here!” Good point!
The navy mate was a kind man. “Paddle a hundred yards away from the steel hull of my ship,” he said, “I’ll call the compass directions to you over the megaphone.” He did, and we found Richard’s Rock, the Stopper Passage and Toquart Bay without further difficulties.
Solid ground never felt so good.
P.S. We retraced our journey a few years later, this time in sleek, fast kayaks, under clear blue skies and marveled at the brash, youthful ignorance of our earlier adventure!
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