Wednesday morning arrived chilly, but relatively clear. I unhooked Mabrouka's leash from the muddy bay around 10 am. My neighbor of two nights and a day was moving just ahead of me and we finally bade eachother a brief hello, each expressing gratitude for the day's apparent relief from the rain. Waiting at the end of the long, narrow run back out Von Donop Inlet, Sutil Channel offered me the temptation to sail in a brisk northwest wind. I decided to take up the challenge and, after stowing a few more items down below against the inevitable rock and roll of sailing, bustled around on deck for a little while, removing the sail covers, undoing the sail gaskets, and hoisting the canvas. Hauling out and sheeting in the genny and shutting down the engine is always a sort of celebration, replacing the rumble below with the swoosh and splash of waves and the sigh of wind in the rigging. Mabrouka and I negotiated a course northward up Sutil, carroming back and forth between Read and Cortes Islands up to Bullock Point at Cortes' northern tip. There we reached off, then spread the sails port and starboard for a run wing-and-wing down Lewis Channel toward Squirrel Cove.
When I sail in this area, I often try to imagine myself skippering the yawl off Vancouver's Discovery, plying these waters in an attempt to locate the western mouth of the Northwest Passage. Kinghorn Island just at the southern end of Lewis Channel was, as I've mentioned before, where Vancouver first anchored his two vessels, Discovery and Chatham, in this area. Although Vancouver, in the Discovery's yawl, was turned back by weather, the cutter and the launch from Chatham under command of James Johnstone and Spelman Swain plumbed the pathways of Discovery Sound for some days.
I have the feeling I'm chasing generations of ghosts. First there's "Cap" Blanchett on explorations of her own behind the wheel of twenty-five foot Caprice, at once educating and entertaining her five children in the small confines of the tiny power boat. Then there's Vancouver, whose voyages inspired at least one of Cap's summer's cruise. She delved back another couple of hundred years to trace Juan de Fuca's forays north up the Straits of Georgia, hoping to show that he'd made it as far as Texada Island and beyond. Even further back, some of her most enchanting tales imagine Discovery Sound and Queen Charlotte through the thousand year old spirit eyes of Indians watching disdainfully as she and her children explored the ruins of their ancient longhouses.
The image that came to mind today was of an olde tyme vaudeville show with me, in a white-curled wig and scarlet coat sporting gold epaulettes, sitting at the helm of a painted cardboard replica of Mabrouka. Long panels cut out in the shape and decorated in the blue and while of little wavelets stretch across the stage in front of me and behind me with small boys hidden in the wings stage left and stage right to move them back and forth, up and down, immitating the ruffled waters of Sutil Channel. Several larger panels form a backdrop in shades of green and purple, grey and white, each representing a set of islands or mountains of varying distance away. Albeit in a slower, more dignified dance, they, too, shift back and forth to match my perspective as I sail toward the shores of Read Island, then tack back to Cortes. I don't know what my lines are. Something witty to entertain the audience, I'm sure. Perhaps, "Ah, the sublime life of a sailor," or "Say there cabin boy, it's time for tea!" I can see the crowd reaching for their stash of rotten tomatoes even now.
Wildlife Alert: I saw my first bald eagle since arriving in Desolation Sound. Is that weird? I thought I'd have seen dozens by now.
My imaginings dissolved with the breeze. Not far down Lewis Channel it became light enough that, riding on the crest of a small wave, Mabrouka would outrun the wind and the sails would slacken, sometimes allowing the main boom to swing across and block the genny, so I hauled in the headsail, tightened the main and mizzen sheets, and started the engine. It would be an hour or so run to Squirrel Cove and, thus, an early end to the day, but a relaxing evening is always good by me. Astern, I had noticed a couple of sailboats motoring along that would soon pass me up. Before they did, they veered off to the east and it stirred my curiosity about the setting of Lewis Channel, so I broke out my charts to get the bigger view. Ah, yes. They were headed up Teakerne Arm and that rang a bell. Trusty Dreamspeaker guide in hand, I read up on Teakerne and was reminded that it was on my list of recommended spots, with lovely Cassel Falls to set the tone and warm water swimming in Cassel Lake as the goal.
So, in a sudden, sharp left turn, I threw the helm over and headed east to follow the others and found myself paralleling the course of a tug pulling a large raft of logs into the inlet. As Mabrouka approached the head of the bay, there were at least four or five boats heading out. Coming within sight of the falls, I watched as my two inbound predecessors poked around the bay for anchorage. Odd. It seemed strangely convenient that just about every remaining boat was pulling anchor and abandoning their spots in favor of the three of us. I pulled in close to the cliffs east of the falls to search for rumored iron rings imbedded there for stern tying, but what I saw didn't suit me. I moved westward and drifted while the other two boats maneuvered in to stern tie in the cove to that side of Cassel Falls. They'd left enough room for Mabrouka, so I dropped anchor in 60 feet of water, sidling up stern-wise to within about 10 yards of them, and looped the stern line around a tree.
My neighbors wasted no time. Getting into bathing suits and grabbing towels, they dinghy-shuttled themselves to the nearby dock and disappeared ashore. With the typically relaxed pace I take once I feel sure of Mabrouka's moorings, I tidied up a bit, then changed into some lighter clothing myself and grabbed my camera for a shore-side photo run. After taking a couple of shots of the broader setting from the bay, I, too, tied off to the dinghy dock and climbed ashore. A path had been worn in the rocks that reached like a grand staircase to the top of the cliff. The path then clambered down to an overlook above the falls themselves, with a grand, mossy ledge that looked down over a hundred feet. I'm not too fond of heights, so only edged within a few feet of the precipice to collect photographic evidence of my bravery.
I began to regret that I gone prepared with only my camera, not also a suit and towel, as the eight or ten men from the other sailboats passed me on their return from swimming. "The water is warm," they said. "Go for it!"
It's almost as much climb and it is walk back to the swimming rocks on Cassel Lake. The path, as it could occasionally be termed, crossed the stream that fed an adjacent falls and a tiny bay to one side at the head of Cassel Falls itself. Ropes had been strung to help less spry older folk (me) up a steep bit, then across a rock face that dove into shallow water. Assisted by handholds of root and branch, I finally arrived at the rocky promontory that overlooks one of the fabled swimming holes of the Pacific Northwest. It was gorgeous, looking down through clear, lake water to emerald, then darkening depths thirty feet from a shore that was fringed with rocks and logs.
Two young men and a woman were enjoying the spot and encouraged me to do the same, repeating what I'd already heard about the water's warmth. I looked at the late afternoon shadows covering the rocky shelf and begged off until tomorrow when I could warm up from my swim, basking there on the rocks like a Galapagos iguana in a noon time sun. Laughing off the young lady's taunt that "Sun is for girls," I turned and headed back to Mabrouka.
It was a little bewildering to hear the telltale rattling of my neighbors' anchor chain through the cliffside trees as I climbed back down the stony stair to the dinghy dock. I'd thought I would have some boisterous camaraderie to fill the empty evening and called out to them that all the effort they'd put in to mooring up in the little cove had hardly seemed worth the effort. They just replied that they had more places to go and only so much time to go there. With no real schedule of my own, I waved off their urgency and made my way back aboard my own boat.
Then, thinking of all those boats that had abandoned this lovely setting just as we were pulling in. The oddity of it all began to pile up in my little pea brain and I began to wonder what they knew that I didn't. My two neighbors had gone to so much trouble to anchor up, then dashed up for a swim and back to their boat to pull out after only a brief stay. I referred to my guidebooks for advice on the area and found that Teakerne Arm tended to funnel any sort of westerly wind into the anchorage and make it a rolly, if not dangerous place to spend the night in the wrong conditions. I tuned in to the continuous marine broadcast to hear the weather, only to find that both the Strait of Georgia and Johnstone Straits were predicted to have northwest winds of 10 to 20 knots this evening, tapering off to variable tomorrow.
Thinking that I'd already witnessed the best vistas the location had to offer with the afternoon sun shining on Cassel Falls and my brief view down into the lake, I rushed to secure the boat, drop my stern line, and hoist Mabrouka's anchor. It was a little after six and a hour or so's motor could have me anchoring up in the fully enclosed waters of Squirrel Cove before it got too dark. On the way I had myself a ham sandwich and the last glass from an open bottle of Shiraz that remained in the cooler.
It was actually a little too dark at 7:30 for my comfort level when I dropped the hook. VortiSeas and Seascape, my passing acquaintances from Teakerne Arm, were already well established and I could hear them from some 50 yards away, partying hearty into the night. I assuaged what was left of my hunger with some scrambled eggs on toast, and sat out on the cabin top to enjoy the night sky. There was a group of boaters enjoying a campfire and Smores on the tiny island in the middle of the bay. I could even make out some of their conversation around the glowing fire, bemoaning their surprise at Canada's restrictions against importing firewood from the US and admitting to their unintended smuggling operations.
The anchor lights atop my neighbors' masts blazed patches of stars into obscurity, but I could make out some of my favorite constellations. One challenge I often set for myself is to find the Andromeda Galaxy. Just a blur buried at the edge of the Milky Way in its mother constellation of Andromeda, it lies a couple of palms' breadth away from the North Star on a line through the center of Cassiopaeia. Younger eyes could probably have seen it directly, but I had to use the trick of slightly averting my gaze from where I thought it would be to pick up the faint glow. YES! I could see it, and got out my binoculars to confirm. This was one of, maybe, half a dozen times I'd been able to pick it out against civilization's competing glow.
The Andromeda Galaxy, our own Milky Way's nearest neighbor, is the largest celestial object visible to the naked eye. At over 2.5 million light years away, I can pinch it's one trillion stars from the sky with my fingers spread about an inch apart at arms length. All other galaxies in the sky can be viewed only with the aid of telescopes and long, digital camera exposures. To see Andromeda with my own eyes is a humbling, yet awe-inspiring experience that teaches me my true place in the universe.