Dan Ebert, long time friend, sent me these notes on his whale watching tour. The action here is up the Island from Campbell River.
We left North Vancouver at 8:30am and caught the 10am Ferry to Departure Bay, Nanaimo.
A grey day but pleasant enough passage. Back on the road by 12pm. Stopped in Campbel R. for supplies and arrived in Port Hardy by 6:30pm. Bigger place than I expected. We found all the landmarks for our rendevous with the whale watching group on the morrow. After finding a suitable campsite, we broke out the beers, toasted dogs on the fire and despite a bit of rain, spent a pleasant evening.
Our mission: to meet with the boat "Stardust" at 2pm Sunday, Aug.5. Our destination: Skull Cove on Bramham Island, the base camp for C.E.R.F., a group studying the movements and habits of the local whale population that spend their summer in the QC Strait. This group of biologists and students also offer camping and whale watching tours for anyone who wants to rough it a bit while getting up close and personal with grey whales, humpbacks and possibly orca
Itís still raining as we get up at 8:45am. We toast up more dogs and have $bucks around a cheery blaze. We decamp quickly and hit the stores one more time. Weíre tired of spending money and want to get on with the holiday.
We find the Stardust at 2pm at the dock in front of the Quarterdeck Pub & Hotel. Itís still raining and stormy seas cause the crew to delay departure until 6pm.
With 4 hours to kill, Tony and I decide to head by car to Cape Scott on the west side of Van. Isl. The Malibu performs well on the gravel road with her new shocks. Itís about 70k to Cape Scott but we start getting bored about 40k along the road. Fortunately, in what seems the middle of nowhere, we come upon a pub called the Scarlet Ibis. Itís raining as hard as it can so we stop for a few games of darts and beverages before heading back to Port Hardy.
Back at the Stardust, William Megill, the head of the outfit, says the weather has calmed somewhat so we load up, fuel up and are on our way about 7pm.
Itís a dark and stormy passage, though we are all in good spirits and tentatively hoping that the camp will be somewhat dry. This is not the case and would be impossible on any campground after rain so severe. The trails are awash with mud and rain in the pitch dark. We arrive about 11pm and it is so messy I just go barefoot in the dark. It takes me three trips to get my belongings to our campsite and Iím cursing myself for bringing so much stuff.
A drink of whisky and a beer help us with attitude adjustment. The tent is dry and so we spend another pleasant night.
At this point I should introduce our cast of characters
William Megill: the head man and a wealth of nature info
Mylaine: a delightful Quebec biologist, pilot, cook, etc.
Alvin Walkus: well adjusted, sagacious native. Runs the Stardust, tells stories
Julie and Anita: both good sisters with strong shoulders from kayaking
Richard: not really crew, visiting Mylaine. A good cat who has done most everything
Mark: Quiet, intelligent, plays rippiní guitar led zeppelin.
Robert: quiet, mystery teenage native.
Tony OíKeefe: Rock Star and Legendary Beer drinker
Dan Ebert (himself): 50yr Lunchbucket and signpainter
Paul and Aisha: Techno-American Dad and 12yr daughter from Seattle
Jean Salt: 70yr adventurer taking her son Brent and grandson Chris on this tour
Brent Salt: A neíer do well from near Ottawa. (just kidding) Retails outdoor gear
Chris Salt: Brentís nephew, good lad, works like a pickup truck
Ken Gillis Ė Duncanby Landingís owner, mayor, bartender, entertainer, bouncer, waiter, storekeeper etc.
"Lucky": log salvager, fisherman, tow operator and rescuer of tobacco deprived guests.
An incomplete list. We started each day with whale"A" and worked our way through the alphabet for initial sightings. As we got closer we tried to get photos of both flanks and a fluke(tail) shot. Known whales have actual names, new ones may be dubbed on sighting or later when the film is developed. Names like Target-left, Slash, PacMan, Mugsy, liíl dinker, Romeo and Juliette. During our tour we made around 60 sightings of Humpback and Greys. Some of these sightings were the same whale the next day.Some pics
Morning finds us dampish but, itís not raining and thereís coffee and toast at the cook shack. We adjust, loaf and procrastinate but finally board the Stardust to get to work. During breakfast, several grey whales have been cavorting about a small rock in the kelp beds about 150 yds from the cook shack. The campsites are all deep within the forest. The cookshack and the crapper seem to have the best views.
Our first whale is a humpback about 45ft. long. It entertains us well with fluking, blowing and generally avoiding us as he is at his food. These are Baleen feeders that seive out plankton and krill type animals that are found in the kelp beds.
We carry on and spot 4 more grey whales between camp and Blundell Bay. The weather is grey overcast but not raining.
We meet up with the remote kayak crew of Anita, Julie and Mark who are living on the beach at Indian Cove for the moment and doing their research from two large sea going kayaks.
While on the beach I speak with a group of kayakers who have just arrived and are setting up their camp. Theyíve had a few wet days and are planning to stay over until Wednesday, hoping for a sunny Tuesday. The fact that there are Grizzly bear tracks on the beach doesnít seem to bother them as much as the crappy weather.
Anita, Julie and Mark accompany us back to Skull Cove. Itís a slow passage back to camp and Mylaine makes us dinner as we travel. The crew seems very fond of pasta and beans and veggies in general. We make camp at about 10pm and while everybody else goes immediately to bed, Tony and I still have the energy to party on until the wee hours. As we are not officially allowed to drink on board the Stardust we need to make up for lost time. By tomorrow we figure out how to enjoy our beverages on board without offending anyone. Boating after the sun is over the yard-arm without a beer or a nip of VitaminJ is positively uncivilized.
We get up real early for porridge and coffee and are aboard the Stardust by 10am. A sailboat at anchor in the cove turns out to be Julieís parents. Her mom tosses a large package of fish aboard and this gets me thinking. We get underway and are immediately seeing whales. I saw about 8 myself but the count for Tuesday was 19. Around noon, Anita, Chris, Paul and myself were dropped off in Indian Cove for some kayaking. Meanwhile the rest of the people carried on sighting whales from the Stardust.
I had never tried an ocean kayak before. Real nice vessel with all the appointments. Still, my arms got tired and my ass got soaked. We spotted two whales but they wouldnít let us close to them so we headed back in to avoid the fog banks and to enjoy a little beach time. The weather today is sunny.
Anita and Paul go back out in a kayak and actually get within 50 ft of a grey whale.
Meanwhile Chris and I hiked through the woods to Blundell beach and overland to check out a ship that was thrown up on the rocks. Must have been an evil stormy night that caused this old fish packer or equipment barge to end up so high and dry there. Her Stern and drop-gate face outward and she just seemed to disintegrate after that. Possibly broke up at the rocks and the bow end is probably submerged at the base of the rocks in Blundell Bay. No one seemed to know any actual details of this marine event so this is mostly conjecture. Suffice to say, the stern section and miscellaneous chunks of big metal are thrown well above the high tide line. Every crevice between rocks seems to contain more metal ship parts and the location is generally stained iron-oxide red from the years of decomposition.
Back on Indian Cove Beach I frustrate myself trying to get a fire going. I forget that combustable as red cedar is, the salt it has been soaking in is a retarder. The secret of course is patience and stages of finely shaved wood strips. I burn up all my Canadian Tire money before I figure this out.
The kayak party from yesterday are still camped on the beach and enjoying the sunny day. They are about 14 people and about 8 kayaks that have been cruising together over 14 years. They have a system of taking turns cooking for the groupís dinner and I suppose they agree by concensus on destinations, routes and layovers. They all seem to be around my age or older, which is reassuring. Personally, I like the kayaks for a dayís amusement, but would prefer a small sailboat for the amount of travel they are doing.
The Stardust arrives out of a fogbank to pick us up at 6pm. As on Monday, the crew decides to prepare dinner aboard, as we travel. Eyes light up at the mention of hamburgers, but I already know they are veggie-burgers. Itís fairly obvious by now that if we are going to get any meat on this cruise, weíre going to have to kill it ourselves.
While these tofu creations are getting fried up, Julie produces the package of fish which turns out to be a freshly caught ling-cod. I am immediately interested, and resolve to get in on the preparation of this delicacy. In fact they are more than happy to give me complete control. I have to wait for the "burgers" for stove time but this gives me time to skin the fish and dust down the pieces with a little salt, pepper and just a hint of garlic. They want to add all sorts of other stuff but I stand firm and in the end, at Julieís insistence, only agree to use some of her sun dried tomatoes. The cod turns out beautifully, quickly fried and the tomatoes as a garnish earns me rave reviews from the crew. Tony and I are the only civilians that eat the fish as the rest of the guests will not eat seafood. (what?)
We arrive back to camp at 9pm. Mr. OK and myself retire to the campsite for journalism, Irish Coffee, attitude management and lots of "too right, mate". We mosey on down to the cookshack for a fire and are first entertained by Mark playing many Led Zep tunes and later by Paul playing Pink Floyd and Rush. Like coffee and camp food, it sounds all the better around a campfire.
Back at our cramped campsite, I finish off the 12yrJameson with Tony in a regular vs high-octane taste test. Our little campsite is small and built on a giant sponge of sphagnum moss resting on peat. Even without whiskey itís hard to stand steady on the ground. But, itís home for the next few days and we have the basics required: cookstove, coffee-pot, $bucks coffee, cooler with snacks, and cream until Wed. morn. We also have good lighting utilizing a candle in a Budweiser can.
IS EVERYBODY HAPPY?
After two days in the confines of the Stardust we are learning about each other as well as about whales. Tony and I are the only smokers and drinkers. We try to respect the others in regard to this by smoking only on deck. As we have women and children on board we observe a certain etiquette so as to not be setting too bad an example. Seeing the whales is a thrill for all the guests.
Paul and Aisha seem to be having a good time bonding and we all leave them to this. Aisha has an aptitude for taking notes on the whale sightings and recording every official identification photograph taken by the crew so she ends up with this job on a regular basis. Paul finds his niche doing the dishes on board and other cleanup chores that keep him from getting bored. Heís done a stint in the U.S. Navy and likes to be shipshape. Not that he ever went to sea, Billy. He worked in the technical/electronic end of things and now, as a civilian works for Microsoft in Seattle. typically American in many ways. Aisha is actually smart. Sheís quiet and converses intelligently.
The Salt Group are a little more fun. Jeanne promises to be our mom away from home. She is really a nice person and immediately takes a grandmotherly interest in Aisha. I also have some nice conversations with her about her travels. Tony and I generally try to keep an eye on her when sheís on board and help her when we can. Brent is somewhat near my age and has had a varied past. Heíd be a good friend if he didnít live so far away. Chris is a husky teenager heading for Grade 10 so that makes him 14 or 15. Quite a normal guy with a healthy interest in cars and engines. Wants a 69GTO or a Judge as his first car. Canít argue with that. They use him as a pack horse around the camp and he doesnít mind. Unfortunately all three are plagued with sea-sickness for most of the tour and are on a schedule of Gravol for all seven days. They spend a lot of time sleeping in the doghouse which passes the time but must certainly aggravate the nausea. Gravol seems to have a cumulative soporiphic effect.
Mylaine is a great organizing force, keeping track of the whales, shooting the official photos and keeping meals and hot chocolate breaks on schedule. Surprisingly, she suffers from sea sickness, too but prefers to just carry on without complaint. Mark, Anita and Julie are all water babies and seem very at home in these environs. Anita confesses that she could eat porridge three times a day, every day. Must be some Scottish blood there. Richard doesnít come out on every voyage so we are still assessing him at this stage. They are all enthusiastic about their work and the outdoor life.
We havenít seen much of William Megill as he has been staying in camp for the last two days working on a paper due in the fall. He seems to be a biologist with a background in structural engineering. (or a structural engineer with a background in biology) His diverse interests include the study of a specific jellyfish and itís rumored heís doing research on designing a new type of sport bra for women. (yes, weíd all like to help in that research)
Alvin and Rob are our native representatives. Alvin captains the boat like a professional and tells us legends passed down and legends from his own time. He also tells us some disturbing stories of the mistreatment of his people at the hands of the white man without making us feel that we are specifically to blame. He is a sage, a biologist and a great man. Rob is just a 15yr old kid, doesnít come on any voyages and is rarely seen in camp. His personality traits are revealed later.
The Stardust is about a 38ft fiberglass fishing boat with a draft of from one foot at the bow to four feet astern. She has a nice, large main cabin that accomodates those who like to stay inside, the galley and a large table. Topside is an open bridge deck that gives a good view and becomes one of my favorite spots. A doghouse has been built after the fact on the rear deck. I suppose itís useful, but it spoils the deck space. There are three control stations - main cabin, port stern and on the bridge deck. For navigation sheís equipped with depth sounder, radar, loran and GPS on a pentium laptop. Sheís a slow boat, powered by a small 4cyl diesel and cruises economically at 6knots or less. Most of our days aboard are 10 hours or more. Estimated times of arrival are never met. Itís best to just add anywhere from one to three hours to anything we hear.
The plan for Wednesday is to wind up in Duncanby Landing at the mouth of Rivers Inlet. Weíll tie up there for the night and sleep on the boat. The best news is that there is a general store, liquor agency, pub/restaurant and SHOWERS. Good hygiene has been difficult as the crew has failed to provide any washing facilities. When asked about this they just point to the ocean and seem to go blank. Dishes get washed in heated salt water and the rest of us just bear with our own scent and try to keep our hands clean if weíre handling food. The ocean is freeziní ass cold and the weather precludes any inclination to go bathing.
The wake-up call comes far too soon, but Iím awake already. Iím feeling that things may not be ready at the shack and decide to blow up a pot of $ulawesi. My worst fears are confirmed when Tony returns reporting a coffee shortage at the shack. No problem, we have the technology. The plan is to spend the day sighting whales as we make our way to Duncanby Landing, a one woman, no horse town. Itís an oasis for travellers and locals. Visions of sugarplums dance in our heads. Weíll be sleeping on the boat, under a tree or whatever Ė Iíll get to that later.
Meanwhile, at sea, we are tracking our first whale (a humpback). Coffee was served and is now all over the place as we cavort about in a choppy sea.
2pm Ė Weíve seen 11 whales by now and by consensus agree that the last pair were actually Ďavin a bit of the old in-out. Rolling around like teenagers. The weather is foggy but not unpleasant. Weíre a happy crew and nobodyís getting voted off today.
We need meat, liquor and cigarettes and hope to satisfy our cravings at our destination. Of course, some of the teetotalling, non-smoker vegetarians have no such cravings but everyone can at least use a shower, a beer and a hint of civilization. (except the kids, of course)
This is the first day that William, the head dude has joined us. Between Mark and William I think we get a much more professional view of the whales (though no complaints with Mylaine or the sagacious Alvin. The end count is one humpback that weíd seen previously and 18 grey whales.
The fog keeps getting thicker and finally becomes difficult to spot, chase and impossible to shoot photos. Weíre navigating with radar and everyone has to clear the bridge deck to avoid microwave lobotomy.
There arenít many vessels around but, about 6pm a skookum aluminum water taxi pulls along side and William steps aboard to give a brief lecture on whales to some German tourists.
Willy gets back aboard Stardust and we cut our way through fog to Duncanby, all navigational aids running. The crew and guests settle in for coffee, hot chocolate and some light political-ecological discussion. We all have the sense to drop it when it all gets too heated.
We make an undignified landing at 8:30pm. Tony and I make a bee line for the general/liquor store to stock up on intoxicants and combustables. Our next stop is in the little pub for beers and burgers. We meet the affable owner, Ken Gillis who advises us not to comment on the slow service or it will only get slower. We try to be patient and after a real long wait, we do get beer, and food after an even longer wait. Four pints later, all our crew and guests are still present. Most others have cleared out. By now, Mark and William have tuned up the house guitars and are playing some old favorites. The staff of the pub and Ken, the owner join us for a nightcap. Ken pulls out his guitar and sings his own songs about Glen Clark, the NDP, loggers stirring coffee with their thumbs and more. One particularly amusing song is the story of a local boat, "the Golden Sands" and her captain: John Nicholson who keeps dropping by the landing to steal Kenís blonde cooks away. We all have a great time long past last call. Tony and I are into Jamesons on top of the beer. Most people go home to bed at this point but the dedicated partiers (guess which 2) end up at the afterhours "Sawmill Club" which consists of an open-air sawmill, an old bench and assorted red and yellow cedar logs. Pissed as newts, we make our way back to the boat by 3:30am and hardly disturb anyone aboard. Besides this, Iíve made business contact with Ken who sends me off with a BigRock banner that needs some additional lettering and a BigRock Chinook beer glass as down payment. He spots us again as heís walking his old lab Jesse home while we drink beer around his sawmill area.
8:30am I awake with tunnel vision and find I am indeed staring up through a hatch cover. I have to get up to the store for a light, have two fast cups of mud in the pub and hit the showers. We were all having such a good time last night that most forgot about cleanliness. Personal freshness attained, we all breakfast heartily on bacon and eggs. Fog is a concern so we donít hurry our departure, although, at this writing, I wish we had. Fond memories of an amusing night at Duncanby Landing.
After fueling up, the fog looks like it is lifting and we are on our way by 11am. We immediately see 3 humpies and then numerous grey whales during the day. I donít catch their names. The great thing about annoying whales while they are feeding is that seeing them and their surface actions is entertaining in itself. Their movement seems like slow motion and their huge flexibility reminds me of dragons. The only thing missing from this on-deck experience is permission to drink beer.
That said, we stop at Egg Island to check out the light house station there. Jeanne has stayed behind on the Stardust and after gasping my way up about 80 feet I canít blame her. The view is excellent at the top and a gentle path slopes downward into the lighthouse station grounds where all the buildings are neatly white and lawns are nicely manicured. We meet Stan, Judy and some other young fellow that are the keepers. They are nicely hospitable and probably glad to see some new people on their island.
Nobody seems to know why itís called Egg Island. One theory is that from certain angles the island may have looked like an egg sticking out of the water. Due to human modification, however, this is no longer the case. Itís my theory that a lot of birds might inhabit or seek out this island to nest and vaguely conjecture that natives in past ages may have sought these eggs as a food source. In any case they have a sign with a large carved egg that faces out to sea and use this as their excuse for the name.
Tony and I take the tour as far as the helicopter pad which is not very exciting. I get talking to Barry, who is temporarily there working on a new generator house for the station. This is one of the last of the lighthouses run by humans and looks like it will be around for a while. The tour carries on to the old generator house, but we stay behind and Barry is telling me a method for testing seafood for red-tide toxins.
The Native method of testing shellfish for Red-tide toxicity: take a little sliver of meat from the "neck" of the bivalve and roll it around in your mouth, chewing a little, but not swallowing any. Do this for only a minute or as long as it takes to get the taste in your mouth then spit it out. If no tingling sensation occurs on your lips and tongue over the next hour, the shellfish is probably safe to eat. This is not necessarily the gospel truth as, according to a conversation I later have with William, not all red-tide toxins cause the tingling symptoms, not all bivalves in the same area have the same concentrations and not all people react the same way to these toxins. He is over cautious, of course, and I am under cautious. I can see his point that one shouldnít experiment with this without having medical aid nearby. I had hoped for more seafood during this tour despite the red tide warning that has blanketed the B.C. coast. I know that there are many areas that are unaffected, I just am not sure which ones.
Anyway, the tour carries on without us and John, another temporary construction worker comes out to bum a smoke from us. They had been expecting a helicopter that morning with fresh supplies and building materials. Work is held up for want of some Tyvek and theyíve been out of cigs for three days. I tempt John to trade me his unique T-shirt for a half a pack but the other guys wonít let him (Itís a big finger salute from the top of the lighthouse and a special crew insignia). They offer us a beer, though, which we enjoy on the bunkhouse patio. Meanwhile, the tour is hiking up a long hill to see a foghorn (honk!) then retiring to Judyís back yard for fudge and Kool-aid.
The large, white plastic bags we have seen on arrival that are all over the place are explained as a soil decontamination project. This wrap accelerates a natural process in which bacteria gradually break down the petroleum products that have seeped into the soil from machinery and past bad practices. GatorWrap.
After much more dorking about, we get into the dinghy again and board the Stardust to head back to Skull Cove. The fog, which has been around for the morning and early afternoon seems to lift and the sea calms down. Stabilizers are put into position to calm the rolling of the boat and placate the guests. It does bugger all but slow us down. The Salt group have been taking Gravol for a week straight and itís starting to make them tired.
In any case, itís a beautiful starlit evening with almost a whole hemisphere of viewing area. Big and Little Dippers, Belt of Orion, Cassiopia and possibly the planet Mars are visible. We arrive home about 11pm and though some things are amiss in our campsite, Tony and I enjoy some raucous laughter and whiskey. ( on arriving, Tony finds the tent left open and reports that my air mattress is flat as a pancake ) Closer observation shows that someone has spent some time in or around our campsite, but, at the moment, we arenít connecting any of these clues. ie. What had been a nice bush at the entrance was now a seris of 8inch spikes (see photo)
We discuss the possibility of taking Friday off without pay, to enjoy a little exploration of Bramham Island and a holiday away from the other guests.
I awake too early and get up, lighting my last cig. I canít find the two decks Iíve left in my pack before we headed for Duncanby Landing. Tony claims to have lost his last pack as well, but I saw him open them this morning so I know they are here, somewhere
Morning coffee in the campsite is pleasant enough, with the nagging doubt that there may be a very limited supply of cigarettes on Bramham Island. I toss the place completely looking for my own with no result. Tony does the same. We find neither brands. I even look through Tonyís stuff to make sure ( with his permission, of course ). Finally, Iím just standing around with my coffee, mystified by the situation.
Iíd taken the liberty, before we embarked on this tour of having a talk with Tony about how it wouldnít be fair to run out of smokes, depending that I would have lots. Now, with the tables possibly reversed, I could sense that he might show no mercy.
I questioned my own memory that I had indeed left them in my pack. Iíve fooled myself before by hiding things too well. In the end I couldnít really come up with an alternative to the fact that mine had been there and now they were not. It was a Dick Likeley moment. I surveyed our campsite and noted how much attention had been paid to it by someone, most notably the Vietnamese Tiger Spike configuration that had once been merely a nice bush. I confirmed with Tony (who had been first to the tent the night before) that my air mattress had indeed been deflated (I found the plug out of place) and additionally that the tent fly wasnít pegged and the screen and door of the tent had been partially open. I had been the last to leave the site on Wed. morning and had paid specific attention to closing and pegging all these items. I was beginning to feel that a small crime had been committed.
I looked up from my coffee and spotted Tonyís jacket hanging from the peak of the tarps. It was about the only place I hadnít looked. I reached inside and there found Tonyís brand. I looked around and from the look on his face, could tell Iíd been had. Mine were still missing, but Tony had found his earlier and thought he would mess with my head a little. I did a bit of a slow burn, but had to admire the diabolical joke on me, all things considered. And, he did let me keep what I found, having already removed half for himself. This caused us to laugh uproariously.
Still, a crime had been committed and I was the victim. I can enjoy a joke, but not a crime. I announced that we had a thief in camp and Dick Likely was going to get to the bottom of it. I immediately headed for the cookshck for more coffee and to check on the whereabouts of my prime suspect, the only other known smoker at that time, Richard.
I found Julie and Anita around the fire as well as Mylaine and Richard. Young Rob and Alvin were on the other side of the fire. Brent was wandering around the shack and Paul was keeping himself busy as usual, doing some dishes. Richard was rolling his, as usual. He might be taken for a sly individual but previous conversations had convinced me he was a genuine human being. Even though he was my only suspect I didnít really see him as the perpetrator. My attention shifted to Robert, who was playing with a small yellow cedar carving that he explained as a detachable spearhead for catching fish. Quite simply, you speared the fish, this barbed device came loose from the spear and stayed in the fish. Then you just hauled the fish in with a line that was attached to the spear tip. Exquisitely simple. I asked Robert and William Megill (who had just happened by) who had left the Vietnamese Tiger spikes in my campsite, saying that all that was missing was that the spikes be smeared with excrement to make them truly lethal. William hadnít seen this yet and I recommended he have a look. Robert had nothing to say about this even though it had been him who had done the machete work. I doubted that Richard had hired on to do any bushwhacking. I now had a second suspect.
Thursday evening, after we had arrived, there was a rumor that "Lucky" was arriving overnight. He has a spot all marked out on the float for his boat. We didnít actually see him until Friday about noon when I spotted him from the beach, tieing up his boat.
The Stardust left camp about 10:30am with Alvin, Mark, Julie and all the guests except Tony and myself. William was heading for town in the faster power cruiser, so I asked a big favor Ė that he bring me back some cigarettes. I had still told no one except Tony about someone invading our tent and stealing my smokes. Anita, Mylaine, Richard and Robert stayed on the island. Anita was all concerned about retrieving the mythical shower from somewhere on the edge of the island, Richard and Mylaine wanted to do a little boating to be by themselves and of course, Robert was nowhere to be seen. Tony and I thought we might go fishing or hunting something for dinner, but this was just fantasy as there seemed to be a shortage of watercraft to accommodate all our needs. All of us started our day off just sitting around the beach having a nice chat. I started making a fishing stick to keep myself amused. Anita went off by herself and then there were four. I had located Robertís tent earlier. During the day, Richard and Mylaine eventually took off in the little canoe so Tony and I pretty much had the camp and the trails to ourselves. Robert mostly stayed in his tent all day and wasnít seen until later, when he appeared to be setting up a fire in the cookshack. Bullshit! Tony had already taken care of chopping up kindling and some smaller wood for a fire. We started helping Robert by making teeny shavings so he left. Nothing said, but he was now suspect#1. All that was missing was that we didnít know if he was a tobacco user or not.
In spite of all the intrigue, it was a pleasant day of loafing, checking the cookshack and exploring the trails in the immediate vicinity. I finished my fishing stick and was quite pleased with the result although there were no fish close enough to test it out. Really, it was more of a river fishing stick than something for the ocean. We never did get out in a boat to try for crab, but it might have been useful just for the fact that it was forked.
I discovered unused campsites that made me wonder why we had to be cramped into the swamp we had spent the last week in. Due to the scheduling of the whale watching on the Stardust, Iíd had no opportunity to see any more of Bramham Island than the trails from the beach to the cookshack and down to our campsite, and these mostly in the dark. Had I known earlier, I would have definitely negotiated for a better site with separate tents. Tonyís a great guy and all, and certainly not the worst tent mate in the world, but I think we both would have preferred a nicer campsite. We did have an extra tent with us.
While discovering all these sites I explored further onto seldom used trails that branched into the southern tip of the island. Primordial, arboreal and eerie. I walked to the edges of the trails with flat feet and was loathe to leave prints anywhere. There were no signs of larger animals here but I kept checking upper tree branches ahead for cats. Eventually this freaked me out enough that I returned to the cookshack to get Tony to come back out there with me. (this way at least, there would be someone to either pull the cat off the other or stand back and enjoy the spectacle)
But, I only found the lovely Anita, quietly reading in the hammock. I asked her about all the spare campsites and turned out that they were held in reserve for another kayak group and maintained by CERF. I did complain a bit but she paid no mind to that anyway. (after all, she was a girl who would eat porridge three times a day) I left her alone and ambled back to the swampsite, making sure, on my way, that Robert was still trapped in his tent (no doubt whittling and smoking my cigarettes). I found Tony at the tent and we decided to declare an early happy hour. And, what a good idea that was!
The Stardust returned about 5:30pm. On time for once. Mylaine and Richard returned from their afternoon in the canoe. We all ended up back at the shack, sitting around the fire. Anita started preparing some dinner: Tuna Surprise, (I wouldnít touch that next line with a ten foot pole). Paul was cleaning. The kids were actually talking to each other. The Saltys were still not looking well from the voyage and their regimin of drugs. Tony and I were nursing our happy hour vitaminJ. Richard was really looking forward to me getting some TMs when William got back.
Iím interested in Alvinís thoughts on my fishing stick. Itís about 5feet long with a fork held wide apart by a knock-out toggle and has a replaceable backward barb. The theory is to thrust the fork downward over the fish. This knocks out the toggle which narrows the fork to hold the fish, which has now become pierced by the barb. Then the fish is pulled out of the water and voila: dinner. Alvin approves with reservations that it would be best in a river or possibly to use swimming around the rocks and beach
William got back sometime after and "Lucky" appeared as well. Will had managed to bring ice-cream bars for everyone which was wonderful. Two hours of travel and about five minutes for it to disappear. "Lucky" had a sea-going steelhead heíd caught earlier. Deheaded and split in half, it was still about two feet long and must have been 8 pounds of meat. He splayed it with a special split-cedar stick device interlaced with thin wood strips as batons that made the salmon entirely flat. After coating it all with ketchup and jam he suspended it over the smoky cedar fire. I snagged a nice strip of the flesh while he was setting this up. Delicious sashimi.
I did try the tuna surprise and was surprised that it was pretty good. By now, I was quite tired of the vegetarian fare and the everpresent noodles. Havenít these people heard of rice?
Robert did appear for dinner and was definitely interested in the fish barbecuing on the fire. I saved my appetite for this as well.
It turns out that William did not remember to get cigarettes. I told him Iíd not forget the omission. It was a vague debert threat. To their credit, no one has lectured us or voiced their disapproval of our bad habits to our faces.
After cooking, high over a smoky cedar fire for about two and a half hours, "Lucky" declares the trout ready. He lifts it away from the fire and flops the whole works down on top of one of the large cooler lids, much to the ire of William. "Lucky" is a bit gooned, though we donít see him drinking. He says not to bother with plates or cuttlery Ė just grab a big mittfull of fish, skin and all and start eating. I scarf down three big mittfulls of the rich, red, greasy trout. This is the kind of food that prepares you for winter. The jam and ketchup coating has left the meat moist and delicious with just a hint of sweetness. Tony and I are the only guests that "eat fish" but the crew all get into it and before long there isnít much left. Iíve seen fish prepared somewhat like this at native celebrations but never tried it before. Now that Iíve seen the native apparatus and how itís used, Iíd like to try this cooking method myself sometime.
William and Lucky disappear for a while and when William reappears he has a bag of tobacco for me that should last out the trip until we return to Port Hardy tomorrow. I forgive his previous memory lapse.
Tony and I retire to the campsite, where we finish off our whiskey, discuss the dayís discoveries and finally hit the sack.
I finally decide to solve the disappearance of the packages. Itís either Robert or Richard. It canít be Richard.
I awake early to loud snoring. A gentle boot to the head gets no results so Iím up and making coffee at 6am. Weíve had a good trip but we are ready to separate from the guests and to experience the relative civilization of Port Hardy. I miss the comfort of my car and the independence therein, not to mention: we need some loud rock and roll music. We donít even bother checking in at the cookshack. We pack up all our stuff and truck it all down to the beach. We wonít be us holding up the departure.
The cargo amassed fills the large dinghy in a pile above the floats. We have to wade to the dinghy, take that to the float to board the Stardust. Still not too late to fall in. Everything goes without incident and the only holdup is crew members forgetting things back at camp. Thereís no panic. We have only a 3hr voyage ahead and good weather.
While all these last minute preparations are being made I have a private word with Richard and ask him outright who was in my camp Wed. and Thurs.. I tell him I know that Robert has been there because of the Ďculturally modified bushí and I know that he(Richard) had at least looked into our campsite. Itís right next to the trail and Rich had mentioned earlier heíd espied the red duffel bag, something that hadnít been visible when we left camp on Wed. When he asks whatís gone on there, I tell him whatís missing. Well, guess what? Itís not him but Robert has been spending all his last two days in his tent, smoking! Richard is sort of horrified that I had considered him capable of this treachery. He was only a possibility because he was tarred with the same habit as us. Columbo never apologizes for his questions, only for troubling people. Rich communicates what has happened to the crew, who assure me the matter will be attended to when we get to Port Hardy and William catches up to us in the other power boat. They are all apologetic, though I assure them it was none of their doing. We are only speaking of $12 worth of thievery. If the company wishes to compensate me Iíd rather that went to Lucky, who bailed us out of our dilemna. No hard feelings. Just donít leave your smokes out around Robert.
We finally get under way for Port Hardy. Lovely day. Case solved. We spot a Female and Calf Humpback whales about halfway there. Appears to be a training session and some of us get the last photos of the tour. We chase them around for half an hour and are underway again. The rest of the voyage is uneventful, calm and sunny.
Miraculously, my wagon is still in the parking lot, unmolested. It fires up, weíre outa there, the return to Richmond, via Naniamo, Horseshoe Bay and North Vancouver is as you might expect.
I think Tony and I would have had a good time camping for a week anywhere. We did learn a bit about whales and had a week observing the balances of nature. The tour fell somewhat short of expectations. There was little opportunity for kayaking as those vessels were somewhere else. No washing facilities unless you cared to jump in the freezing sea. Campsites and trails were a haphazard collection of mudholes. The food, while not including any meat, did agree with most of us, and, while it was not a high point, was mostly pretty good. As far as helping these Ďscientistsí, the only help required was taking notes on their official photographs. This was taken care of by 12yr old Aisha.
Iíve seen whales before, and now, Iíve seen whales again. Itís difficult for me to see where all this "scientific study" is leading to. Itís been common knowledge for years, maybe centuries that whales travel the coast seasonally and the same animals found as far north as Alaska are also found as far south as Baja and even Hawaii. I suppose itís nice to have a library of pictures of whale parts and heartwarming to recognize some of them from previous sightings but that can hardly be an accurate survey of the whale population. I know they are all filled with their recent education and the wonderful work they are doing. I think they are doing very little for the whales beyond being part of a tourism industry that promotes observation of wildlife rather than hunting. For the students, Itís a wonderful way to spend the summer in the wilds. For the owner, thereís a few dollars now and a good tourist base for later. One of the more astute crew members wondered where her attention should be directed, to the study of the whales or the maintenance of the guests. It seemed to me at the price the guests might get a little more consideration. Had I actually paid that, Iíd be unsatisfied with what I got. Further, it may be that some boat following around may not actually disturb the whales. Generally, they seem to move away. I have little doubt that if I ever set out to go whale watching again there will be more boats pestering these animals.