Photo: Pulp stones in front of the marina at Newcastle Island, Nanaimo. The stones were quarried there and used to grind pulp at pulp mills all over the northwest.
“Those darn Canadians and their long weekends!” grumped Steve. He was only partly joking. Victoria Day (Queen Victoria’s Birthday), celebrated on the Monday before May 25, has slowed us down more than once on our trips to SE Alaska.
When we sail to Southeast Alaska, we like to get there as fast as possible, then slow down once we’re there so we had the early part of our trip all planned out. We had left Seattle on Thursday, checked through Canadian Customs on Friday at Bedwell Harbour, then planned to go on to Nanaimo Saturday or Sunday. In Nanaimo we would stock up on groceries and purchase a new Canadian cell phone. The 7-11 phone we’d bought two years earlier has no service between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert so we wanted to replace it with a Telus phone that did.
In Bedwell, Canadian friends Bob and Jacquie stopped by our boat to chat. They were talking about their plans for camping on Valdez Islands the next day when I suddenly realized the long weekend of Victoria Day must be the coming weekend. We’d be competing with weekend sailors from Victoria and Vancouver for space at the Nanaimo Yacht Club and the Telus cell phone store might not be open.
Photo: Bedwell Harbour at sunset.
So we dawdled a day, stopping to spend more time with Bob and Jacquie at their campsite on Valdez Island on Saturday, then anchoring in Clam Bay that night instead of pushing on to Nanaimo. But then Steve said, “Let’s just go on to Nanaimo tomorrow. I’d like to make some progress north even if we can’t do everything we planned.”
Slack tide at Dodd Narrows was at 12:25 p.m. the next day so we arrived in Nanaimo Harbour by early afternoon. We anchored off the Newcastle Island Provincial Park and took the dinghy ashore. The island is a real gem with trails to walk on and historical exhibits from both its industrial and resort days.
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. Sunburned young men drank beer on the dock next to their boats and on shore families camped among the trees. We walked along the shore trail where the scent of sweet grass mingled with the scent of seaweed. Stopping for a cup of coffee at the pavilion, we struck up a conversation with another couple who had come across the channel from Nanaimo just for the weekend.
No visit to Newcastle Island is complete without a visit to the Dinghy Dock Pub so that evening we tied our dinghy among the others and waited in line for a table.
Photo: Dinghy Dock Pub
We were discussing the table possibilities (low to nonexistent) with a waitress when I heard a voice behind me at one of the tables, “Why not join us?” The couple we had met that afternoon was seated nearby.
We joined them at their table, had a not bad meal (for a pub) and heard their story. They had started a company, they told us. It was originally to produce systems for residences to manage their water in an age of scarcity: drinking water, irrigation, gray water, etc. A good product but nobody wanted it. But vintners were interested in the irrigation systems -- if they added a way to monitor the systems with smart phones. Now they were working with a California company to make the systems and their business was taking off.
“Do you sail with other boats when you go cruising?” the man asked.
“No, because we like to get to know the locals in the places we go and that’s harder to do if you’re in a crowd,” I replied. This was certainly a good example.
We returned to our boat and that evening enjoyed an uninterrupted view of a magnificent fireworks exhibits. Victoria Day wasn’t so bad after all.
Photo: Fireworks over Nanaimo Harbour
Oh, that cell phone? The cell phone store was open on Monday but we didn’t buy the phone. The saleswoman insisted we wouldn’t be able to call the U.S. with it, not even with a long distance calling card. It didn’t make sense to us, (you couldn’t call an 800 number?) but then why buy something somebody doesn’t want to sell you?