As far north as we've ever gone
Fred (finally) retired in May and we've just returned from our first big trip: a boating adventure in the Broughton Archipelago in British Columbia. We were joined by good friends and fellow C-Dory owners Jon and Cynthia Beltrami from Port Angeles. Their boat is called C-Lou (for Cynthia Lou) and ours is the Anita Marie (for Fred's mom). Jon and Fred finally got to take the fishing trip they'd always dreamed of, and as Jon said afterward, "It was the trip of a lifetime."
And you think boating is dangerous: try driving
The first part of the trip was getting from Oak Harbor to Port McNeill, where we put the boat in the water. It took 11 stressful hours. Given a reduced schedule, we were lucky to get on the Port Angeles/Sidney ferry. The ferry was PACKED and it took two guys several minutes to maneuver Fred into a position to exit the ferry without taking out the right side of the boat trailer. The boat was just a couple inches from the wall, master driving on Fred’s part. I couldn’t watch.
Campbell River Walmart
Campbell River is about halfway up the island, and the easiest place we could find to “boaterhome.” I’d always resisted the notion of spending the night in the boat on land, let alone in a parking lot. But after the grueling trip, it was the Ritz. This Walmart is the only easy (and free) place to park over night we could find, and it was a four hour drive after getting off the ferry at 6PM. There are many, many campers here, some even sleeping in a tent on the ground and others sleeping right on the god-knows-how-many-dogs-have-peed-on-it grass.
Port McNeill, night before the cruise
It was pouring rain and the marina was crowded, so we were very lucky to get Jon and Cynthia on the dock by us thanks to a last-minute cancellation at a busy marina that serves as a gateway to the Broughtons. We should have stayed at the public marina in Port McNeill, as we did on the way back. But it all worked out OK, who cares if the bathrooms were in the auto parts store? (Well, we did, actually, so that’s why we stayed at the public marina on the way home.)
We had dinner at a place called “Gus Pub” (why not Gus’s I don’t know). Poutine is a Canadian delicacy consisting of fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy. If ever there was a time to say “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” this was it. A whole new kind of comfort food.
We even scored a free pitcher of beer: it was a big night at Gus Pub: An Ultimate Fighting Championship was blasting on all the TVs. Gory stuff. We were lucky to get a table. It had just been vacated by folks who didn’t want to watch the fight. They left their beer!
Speaking of beer, given the constraints on bringing liquor into Canada, we took time in Port McNeill to stock up on enough to last two weeks as well as last minute groceries. Much less expensive than buying the same stuff after it’s been hauled out to the islands.
So where are the Broughtons?
The Broughtons are a cluster of islands, islets, channels, inlets, harbors, bays, coves, and passages very near the top of Vancouver Island. They are a must-see destination for adventurous Pacific Northwest boaters who aren't quite ready to tackle the trip to Alaska.
Potts Lagoon: Wow, that's some logging right there.
We spent the first night at Potts Lagoon. On the way in, we passed one of several large logging operations we’d see during the trip. They are quite a sight, and this one was just outside our idyllic anchorage. (I describe logging and fishing operations below.)
Once we got into Potts Lagoon, only the noise and a glimpse through a narrow channel revealed the truth about the logging. We were surrounded by pretty views, cute float houses, and just a couple boats. We didn’t know at the time, but floating buildings are the norm in this area.
Lagoon Cove: What a great place!
This was my favorite part of the trip. Lagoon Cove had all the stuff I like: funky atmosphere, free coffee, good t-shirts, a great happy hour (with free shrimp) and fun stuff to do on shore. It also has a great back story.
The people who own the marina and huge acreage around it bought it on the spur of the moment last year. They’d never considered such a business, but they were up here on a boat and fell in love with the place. They heard that the marina and land was about to be sold to a timber company as a logging camp and were very sad to hear it. So, they bought it on the spot.
The marina is crammed with artifacts and flowers. The rusty tools were actually used here and the workshop where they host happy hour really is a workshop. There are games up on the lawn, a fitness circuit (splitting wood and mowing the grass with an old manual mower), a tree swing, and more. Read this and you’ll see why I’m so eager to go back. Tomorrow.
The insidious tab
Lagoon Cove was also our first experience of the deadly effective marina practice of having guests “run a tab.” All the marinas do it. Rather than pay for each service as you use it, you’re encouraged to just have the owners jot down each of your expenses, from dock fees and showers to ice cream and tshirts. It’s easier for everyone and very clever. Those fuel bills, t-shirts, showers, and $10 Haggen Daz pints that you just “put on the tab” can add up. Hooray for smart marketing!
Lagoon Cove gave us a first taste of what it’s like to dock by bigger boats. We were able to fit two boats into the spot normally required for one typical Broughtons boat.
Helpful boatersThe boat towering behind us at Lagoon Cove was owned by Doug and Linda Hare. We first spotted the beautiful Selene at Potts Lagoon. Doug is a super nice guy who we ran into three times over the course of our trip. At Lagoon Cove, he gave Jon and Fred fishing advice and picked up vital supplies (Canadian Club) for me on his trip to Port McNeill for boat repairs. He dropped off the bottle at Pierre’s where we ran into him for the third time at the pig roast.
Goat Islet: Where we really pissed off an eagle
Echo Bay/Pierre's: Let them eat pork!
The most famous of the places we went, Pierre’s is also the most ambitious business undertakings we saw. Pierre and his wife Tove (pronounced Tova) are savvy and hard-working beyond belief. The place is beautiful. Pierre is reserved, always moving. Tove runs the store and business. I watched Pierre wench docks together, roast a pig, and haul in supplies. He towed a guy with a broken starter back to safety (not sure where, Pierre didn’t offer much detail.)
Theirs is a short season to make a year’s income. But Pierre spends full time working on the collection of floats that make up this large, comfortable marina. He stays all winter, and I got a glimpse of his “man cave,” which makes it seem almost bearable. Tove has a flair for fun, offering dog races up and down the dock and keeping the party going at the pig roast.
About the pig roast…We went for the pig roast and it was quite a production. They start cooking the pig at 3AM and by 8AM you’d swear every boat on the dock (and there were about 50) was cooking bacon. Then you’d look around and say “oh” and continue wondering what to take to the potluck given you were one of the four smallest boats in the whole place. (Mashed potatoes and stuffing. Should have taken Wheat Thins…I brought three boxes and about 4 cups of cream cheese home.)
Tove keeps a firm hand on crowd control. Rather than a stampede to the buffet line, each table of about 8 people drew a number from a basket. That determined when you got to go through the line. People were (firmly) asked to go easy on the portions so everyone could have some. (“No one brings salad for 100 people,” her son Christian said.) Tove is not, however, fussy about what you bring. “One time everyone brought beans,” she laughed. “It was great. We called it a hoot and a toot.”
This night, the food, pig and all, was totally wiped out. All of it. As I left the potluck, a flock of seagulls was attacking the carcass, which Pierre simply had to toss off the back of the dining hall float. Just like we do at home.
Kwatsi Bay: Giving millennials the DTs one Gig at a time
The most remote place we visited, Kwatsi Bay was also the simplest. It had to be. Built from scratch and run by Anka and Max for nearly 20 years, this outpost is a fine balance between comfortable, well-maintained docks and minimal amenities. Anka is one of those people you love at first sight. Insanely capable, she was running the place by herself while Max was away. (No ice, fuel, food, showers, laundry, but endless beauty and cordiality.) They’re making dock repairs using cedar lumber harvested from their own land. (2019 update: I've heard that Max and Anka are selling Kwatsi Bay, as Max has arthritis and can't keep up with the repairs. So sad to hear, and a story frequently told in the northern BC islands.)
This was Cynthia’s favorite spot. Even though she needed a ladder to get in and out of her boat, the dock we were on weren’t designed for moorage and when we looked out of our boats we saw people from the knees down.
This is the place where the gaggle of Wi-Fi deprived millennial stormed the dock twice a day when Anka turned on the Wi-Fi. Their shaking and sweating reminded me of what you hear junkies go through. Anka has to carefully dole out Wi-Fi in an effort to keep costs under control. It’s a heck of a battle. She works in social services in the off season, giving her background that’s doubtless useful as she grapples with Wi-Fi crazed youth and cranky yacht captains. And tiny boats like ours.
Taking things at a slower pace, Cynthia and I watched a mom and baby seal for the good part of an afternoon. I also saw a kingfisher up close.
Sullivan Bay: Land of the Giants
Quaint, colorful, comfortable, wealthy, and fun. Sullivan Bay is designed to be a floating town. As such, it is the fullest manifestation we saw of communities built by lashing together floating structures. Some of the houses exceeded 2,000 square feet. One had a float plane in what would have been its back yard. But the store felt more than 100 years old and the attached building, which held the ice and liquor, floated at about a 15 degree tilt from the main building.
Could have been the ice and booze, but I think the rotting float syndrome (described below) had more to do with the sag. Sullivan Bay is where we found the brownest water (also described below). I discovered an outdoor tap on one of the houses that dispensed clear water, but felt guilty taking a resource that someone clearly didn’t intend for general use. In other words, it likely cost a ton to filter water out there.
The people we met working at Sullivan Bay were delightful. A guy named Chris runs things overall and a woman named Laura takes care of the store and fuel dock. Both of them treated us like family, and we’ll remember them fondly forever.