Return to Second Wind

Adventures at Sea


Inland Passage Ferry
BC, Canada

I think I heard the alarm go off at 5 am, but somebody turned it off. At 6:15 I woke up suddenly, remembering the ferry left at 7:30. I got up and looked out the door. No stars around, but no rain, either. Hmmmm. Guess I'll drive down, and just see what the sky looks like when the sun comes up.

Thus I found myself in line at the ferry, eating a banana and sipping coffee, watching with growing amazement as the sky turned blue. The lady at the desk chided me pro forma for not having a reservation, then sold me a ticket anyway. Some RVers had less luck. One of them had a reservation, but couldn't fit on. Their friends waved goodbye to them as we left the dock. C'est la vie. Adieu. So sad. See you back in Quebec.

You could tell the locals. They all rushed for the reclining chairs, and promptly fell asleep. The rest of us milled around, or hit the dubious "Lighthouse Cafe" for a limp breakfast. I grabbed a locker, then joined a gaggle of Germans clicking away at the Deck 7 stern viewing veranda. I would call it a fantail, but I believe those have to extend past the stern. Whatever it was, it was where I stayed for most of the trip. The day was glorious.

Digital cameras, what an advance. Before their advent, you could count on running out of film just as the waterfall came into view. Now you can count on running out of batteries instead. Marginally less bulky, I suppose. I took a hundred pictures, used 16 AA batteries.

Around 9 am, we came into the open ocean of Queen Charlotte Sound. The boat began to roll quite a bit. Ah, the fresh air, the miles and miles of empty water - of water - of water. Time for a stiff-legged stagger to the head. One of the surprises of ocean travel was how peeing became an adventure again, not only for me but also the guy next to me. They need to hang a knotted rope or something over each urinal.

Thank God we were soon to be back in protected waters. In at least one aspect, women may be more suited to a sailor's life than men. Pardon me while I sit down and think the matter over.

The "Queen of the North" is a pleasant enough ship, though used hard, and in need of some paint here and there. She felt rock solid at all times. The staff were sometimes surly, but that may have been the time of the month. They work 15 days solid before getting off. I got a short tour of the crew amenities below decks, and it's pretty grim. Ping Pong is apparently the only legal diversion to be had, other than taped TV.

At one point I got in with a trio of young fishermen from Vancouver Island. They were playing cards in the bar. They'd left their boats in Prince Rupert and gone home for a week, and were now returning. Between hands, they explained a few things as we passed.

"Those are gill-netters, they run in packs."

"All these islands are protected lands now. Only the native tribes can cut a few trees. Over there, though, you can see the effects of the old A-frame logging. How'd you like to run up that slope all day with an 80 pound chain? You see how the bare spot has a peak, kinda? That was the length of the chain. What they could reach, they'd drag down into the water, float'em sout'."

"Way back up in that channel you can sometimes get some colossal prawns. Quarter pounders, mebbe. Don't want to boil'em, they'd turn rubbery on ya, but they're pretty good to butterfly and barbecue. We see the loghaulers comin', we'd give'm some to miss our lines. They could whip that load into a big S and go right around us, when they wanted to."

"See those buildings, all falling down? That big brown one used to be a cannery, worked 500 people, sometimes more. They got their power from hydro off the stream. One day they closed up and everybody left, but they didn't bother to turn the power off. So the place stayed all lit up, for years, with nobody there. It was real eerie, sometimes, comin' round on it by night. Then one by one the lights went out. It's dark now. For good, I guess."

"What size boats are suitable for these waters?"

They looked uncertain. One said, "Well, mines 36 foot, but my dad's got a 42."

"I see some small ones, maybe 24 feet. What are they doing out there?"

"Well, small boats have the advantage of speed. Ours are all kinda slow. Those little guys can wait for a break, and then be home before you know it. Depends on what you want to do."

"How about sailboats?"

"You wanta get where you're goin' today?"

This area is the home to a thousand waterfalls, many of them spectacular. These islands leak so much water, it's a wonder some of them don't sink.

I met a kid who was hitchhiking to the arctic circle, for some reason. A couple of Dutch ladies on holiday wanted me to tell them all about cowboys. Was Texas really all just cactus and sand? There was a harried young mother from the Queen Charlotte Islands, headed home with 3 youngsters in tow. She suggested I go kayaking there. I listened to a Scotsman explain in a coarse burr I could barely understand the Ceremony of Addressing the Haggis. A short salutation is made, then a dirk is drawn and plunged into the heart of poor Haggis, who splits open to reveal pungent secrets. Apparently Scots like to play with their food.

A Dellionaire from Austin tried to convince me there was an infinite market for PCs.

"It's like watches. How many watches do you own?"

"Why would I own more than one? If you have but one watch, you already know what time it is." I could tell the idea really disgusted him.

"Well, maybe you. But the younger generation will want lots of watches, and lots of computers."

Just so he wouldn't continue to see me as Father Time, I eventually admitted to owning a dress watch "back home".

Back home in Port Hardy, that is.

North of Bella Bella, we encountered a strange sight: a couple of large two story houses, moving on the waters. They were floating fishing lodges, being towed south for the winter.

I'd hoped for a whale sighting, but none were to be had. So far this trip all I remember seeing in the way of wildlife were some black squirrels and a couple of otters. O yeah, there was that pair of bull elks skylarking in downtown Jasper. People would drive by slowly, warily, then speed away. Those great pointy antlers could play hell with a paint job.

These various things may seem random and unconnected. That's the kind of trip it was. Just goes to show how you can have picaresque adventures even when trapped on a boat. Sometimes it felt like "Don Quixote de la Ferry".

Perhaps I should mention a moment that was important only to me. Towards evening it started raining. Under cover on the veranda, alone, I got out a cigar I bought in Vancouver, intended for ceremonial purposes at a moment like this. A Bolivar Habana. The last thing I will ever smoke. The one before was maybe a week previous to the heart attack. I got it out, unwrapped it, ran it under my nose. Then I realized I didn't have a match. I considered the thing again, weighed it in my hand. Then I tossed that $25 cigar into the waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. Didn't seem near as crazy as smoking it.

I can't afford the ceremony, and I don't need it. I already had the last thing I will ever smoke a while back. It was unmemorable.

That's okay with me.


Return to Around the Campfire
Comments are welcome in the rec.outdoors.rv-travel newsgroup,
or to
© Copyright 2003-2008 Bob Giddings, All Rights Reserved
Webspace provided by Arcata Pet Supplies