Echo Bay, Gilford Island, The Broughtons
We moored at Pierre’s Marina at Echo Bay on Gilford Island, just north of the beautiful Broughton archipelago. It was a nice respite to be at a dock in the pouring rain. This was actually the first time it had rained on our entire trip! It confirmed the fact that we had no less than 7 leaks in our windows and hatches. The last three weeks have been more about decompressing from our fast-paced landlubber lives than about boat maintenance but this torrential rain has helped shift our focus to the maintenance tasks at hand.
The next morning, Steve cooked up a delicious pancake breakfast, then we headed to shore to explore. Thankfully, the rain held off, though the mosquitos certainly didn’t! The wet grass was teeming with them so we walked briskly through the forest trail and came upon Billy’s Museum. The museum is a unique collection of items from the last 100 years or so. We met Billy and his friendly dog, Buster, who really wanted a piece of Spencer’s granola bar! We chatted with Billly who told us he grew up in Blackfish Sound (which is south of Gilford Island and the Broughton Archipelago, but just north of Alert Bay). He told us had been collecting the items on display in his museum for 78 years. It was great fun to look at Billy’s treasures, which ranged from sea shells to adzes, typewriters and irons, fur traps, chainsaws and lots of bottles (the majority of them being Japanese beer bottles!). He even had a Sears Catalogue from 1927 – I had great fun looking at the prices!
On the same site as the museum was an old Echo Bay schoolhouse, filled with antique schoolbooks and old newspapers. The kids had fun playing “school” in the real schoolhouse. Spencer was the teacher and felt very important sitting at the teacher’s desk. There was also an old cedar hunter’s cabin with a wood stove as well as a blacksmith’s forge. I really enjoyed the museum and bought a book from Billy’s gift shop called “Totem Poles and Tea” about a white teacher/nurse who lived with two missionaries on nearby Village Island and worked in an “Indian Day School” in the 1930’s. I loved learning about the history of this area while we were actually travelling through it!
Pierre’s Marina has a few quirky traditions that we were able to be part of since we arrived just in time for the weekend festivities – one of them being a weekly “rubber ducky race” in the summer months. $5 gets you a rubber ducky, which you can then decorate and prepare for the race. Winner takes all! Of course, plopping a rubber ducky into the water and watching it bob around isn’t Engineer Steve’s style, so he was compelled to modify it (we asked Kristian, Pierre’s son, about the rules and he told us modifications are allowed, and even encouraged!) Steve checked the currents and it was supposed to be an ebb out of the bay at 4 o’clock, so he devised a “current catcher” with a couple of skewers, a grocery bag and a fishing weight. He and the kids gave it a test run and it didn’t do too much to speed up the duck, but what the heck, it was worth a try!
4 o’clock rolled around and the rain had come back with a vengeance, so we put on our galoshes and raincoats and headed over to the race. Everyone who saw our duck thought we put a sail on it – Steve kept muttering under his breath, “it’s a current catcher – why would a sail be underneath it?!” The ebb current was very light, if there was any current at all, and the kayaker/judge at the finish line was back paddling and creating a counter-current – so all of the factors were against us! Pierre plopped the 40+ ducks into the water and it was off to the races!
We were disappointed to see that no one else had modified their ducks, save for a pair with a small Canadian flag taped on. We certainly didn’t win and were near the back of the pack, but it was a fun afternoon with the kids and a great lesson for them about not winning but still having fun!
After the duck race, we headed back to the boat and had a fun happy hour playing Skip-Bo and making spaghetti pie for the Pig Roast potluck. Another one of Pierre’s weekly summer traditions is a pig roast. They roast an 80 lb pig and everyone brings a side dish and mingles for a fun evening. The kids were thrilled at the idea of a party, because that usually means there’s dessert! There was going to be live music as well, which we were all looking forward to (except maybe Steve, who enjoys peace and quiet). We had some issues with the propane oven not staying on, so Steve’s engineering skills came in handy again rigging up a high-tech wooden spoon and elastic band contraption.
Once the spaghetti pie was done, we headed over to the hall for the pig roast. Pierre was “hamming” it up by the roast pig and the kids loved it! We enjoyed getting to know some new friends at our table, and had a delicious meal! There were over 100 people in attendance. The live music was from Cap’n Charlie, who sang some hilarious and catchy songs about his experiences on the high seas. I am glad our timing was right to enjoy this fun tradition in Echo Bay. I don’t think I’d go out of my way next time, but it certainly was a welcome change to our usual quiet day-to-day living.
We ended up borrowing a copy of our favorite Dreamspeaker guide of the Broughtons from the couple from m/v White Tiger, who had sat with us at the pig roast. Steve and I spent the next morning reading the guide and planning where to head next in the Broughtons. We returned the book and got ready to head out for our next adventure!
Lacy Falls, Tribune Channel
Although it was in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go, we were compelled to see the breathtaking Lacy Falls, which empties directly into the ocean. The view up Tribune Channel towards the mainland was gorgeous, with sheer rock cliffs dropping deep into the ocean. It was definitely worth the extra few hours to see, before we turned around and headed back down Tribune Channel.
Video of Lacy Falls: https://youtu.be/yUuEaqSHFaE
As we were heading back towards Broughton Island, Steve saw a wall of white caps in the water. At first he thought they were waves breaking over some uncharted rocks and was a bit startled. Then, when he realized that they were moving, he called us up on deck, “Dolphins! Come quick!” Paige cried “Dolphins?!” Spencer cried “Dolphins?!” and I cried “Dolphins?!” and we scrambled to get our life jackets on and up onto the deck. We got a glimpse of a pod of at least twenty dolphins jumping and swimming in the opposite direction. It was truly magical. Since they were heading away from us we didn’t get to see them for long as they can travel so quickly, but it was still pretty amazing.
Here’s our video of the dolphins: https://youtu.be/jIQGYWfjveA
Laura Cove, Broughton Island
We decided to aim for Steve’s sister’s namesake, Laura Bay, and the nearby Laura Cove. Little did we know we were in for a close encounter with some more amazing wildlife here!
Laura Cove is a tight little spot with huge tides and a rock bottom. The difference between LW (low water) and HW (high water) can be over 15 feet, and with the tides changing every six hours or so, we needed to choose a spot that would work in both extremes. To reduce swinging in the anchorage, we decided to stern tie, as there were already two boats stern tied in the cove. In my opinion, I prefer to anchor during low-tide so you can see where the lowest water is. Unfortunately, it was high tide when we came into Laura Cove so we’d have to wait a few hours to see how low-tide would look. Of course, we have charts and took pictures of the guides for these areas, but you never really know what low-tide looks like until you’re there. We dropped our anchor in plenty of water, but Steve had a hard time finding a good place to access the shore to tie up. He compromised and found a tree further than we would have liked to stern tie and snugged us up. We sat at an odd angle given the wind and current and didn’t love where we were. As the tide came lower, Steve moved the stern line to a better position (or so we thought), so our line was centered halfway in a tiny cove. As the tide came even lower, we got more and more uncomfortable and finally, with only a foot or two of water under our rudder, decided to re-anchor further out. Thankfully, it was twighlight so we still had enough light to see and weren’t in danger – but re-anchoring can be such a pain. We thought we’d try it by letting out all of our stern line and staying attached to shore, but it just pulled the bow towards the wall of sheer rock. No way! I yelled at Steve to release the stern line and we just started from scratch. We chose the same spot but anchored further away from shore. Phew! Steve poured himself a stiff scotch and I had a nice hot toddy to celebrate/commiserate.
Before bed, we went for a dinghy ride around the cove and did some beachcoming. A few moments after we stepped onto the shore of the small island in the cove, we heard a powerful spray of water. At first I thought it was something blowing up and I jumped about 3 feet in the air! Then, we saw the minke whale surface again in our tiny cove only 30 feet away from where we were standing! Holy crap! If we’d been in the dinghy mere feet from the whale, I can only imagine my reaction. We all watched her, mesmerized at the sight, turn gracefully around in the cove and head back out towards open water.
The next day we woke up to the lowest low tide. We were very thankful that we had re-anchored the night before! Paige crawled into my lap in the cockpit and we cuddle dthat morning, enjoying the fresh air and scenery. After breakfast we did some art projects – Spencer and I made a batman mask and Paige and I made some ocean decorations for her room. I spent most of the day baking and cooking. Made three loaves of bread, some granola bars and a tuna casserole. As a child, I would never have thought I would make tuna casserole, but when faced with non-existent choices for grocery stores over the last few weeks, you make do with what you’ve got!
Steve and the kids set the crab trap and ended up catching two females. It turns out the crab like canned tuna as well! Catching the crab turned into a great biology lesson for the kids, where Steve showed them how to determine whether the crabs were male or female, and why you had to throw the females back. We chatted with one of our boat neighbours who told us that the crabs especially like rockfish, so Steve and the kids did some fishing. Steve ended up catching a greenling, which we cooked up for dinner, and the kids each got to reel in a rockfish. We only needed one for crab bait, so we threw the other back. We left the trap overnight and turned in, excited to see what would await us the next day!
Spencer pulled in the crab trap the next morning and we had 9 crabs! Three were male, but only two were over the size limit. We were happy because that’s probably all we could eat anyways! We were excited to make some yummy crab dip for happy hour and Steve cleaned the crabs while I put the water on to boil.
Booker Lagoon, Broughton Island
We headed out of Laura Cove towards our next destination, Booker Lagoon, on the south side of Broughton Island. Shortly after leaving the cove, before we made it to Raleigh Passage, we saw the white water rapids again! This time the pod of dolphins was in excess of 50+ and they were playing in the wake of a speedboat that had just passed us. I will never get tired of seeing wildlife!
We needed to time our entrance into Booker Lagoon at slackwater. The entrance is only 20-30 yards across at it’s narrowest point, and at max flood/ebb we could tumble around like we’re being flushed down a toilet! Luckily, we’ve never been in that position and hopefully never will be, as long as we stay aware of the moon’s effect on the ocean!
We safely passed into the lagoon and chose the westernmost bay, since there was a fairly strong Westerly blowing and we hoped the land and trees would slow the wind for us. We had plenty of room to anchor, as there was not another soul in the lagoon. It was a bit eerie, really, since the only sign of human life for two days was the occasional airliner we would see 30,000 feet about our heads, likely heading home from Asia.
I enjoyed the solitude of a one-way paddleboard around the lagoon. Steve and the kids came to pick me up in the dinghy about 30 minutes later. Not surprisingly, I could hear our energetic little cherubs before I even heard the dinghy engine! Before they made their way over to me, I enjoyed watching some kingfishers in the trees on shore, as well as some gulls on a small island in the middle of the lagoon. I also saw a sea otter flip onto its back and clasp its hands together, then disappear back underwater. The Broughtons have definitely not disappointed us in terms of wildlife!
After the paddleboard, we snuggled in our berth to watch the adventures of the “Swiss Family Robinson.” It is now Paige’s favorite movie, but it reminded me and Steve how dated the treatment of animals was in the 1960’s!
In the morning, the kids packed up some handmade treasure maps into backpacks, with some shovels, snacks, first aid kit, water and various important paraphernalia. Steve took the kids to shore for their treasure hunt while I stayed back at the boat to prep some more for school (which is only a few weeks away!). Steve left the kids ashore and came back to pick me up, and we quickly threw together a picnic lunch.
We were enjoying our time onshore collecting driftwood and shells. At one point, Spencer was in the bushes collecting some sticks and Paige was on shore searching for treasure. Steve and I were standing on an island a few yards away. Steve pointed past Spencer and quietly said to me, “there’s a black bear.” It was really nonchalant, and I am glad he saw it first (and not me), because I probably would have screamed bloody murder! We calmly called the kids back towards us and told them to drop their sticks and help us pack up our picnic. Of course, being kids and being interrupted from their fun, they immediately started complaining, so of course we had to play the “A BEAR IS GOING TO EAT YOU!” card. It worked, but not as quickly as I would have expected given the context. We quickly ushered the kids into their lifejackets and into the dinghy. By this time we had lost sight of the bear, assuming it had headed back into the bush, but not willing to take the chance to stay on shore, so we headed away. On our way back to the boat we spotted the bear on the beach flipping over rocks looking for food, so we cut the dinghy engine and just sat and watched in awe!
Here’s a link to our video of the bear: https://youtu.be/WQ_q8pGw50s
Alert Bay, Cormorant Island
When we first headed to the Broughtons we thought we would head northwest to Percy Island or Lewis Cove on the mainland; but throughout our time in the Broughtons I had been reading Totem Poles and Tea (“TPAT”) and felt like I wanted to see a bit more of the area that had such a rich history. I also felt like we hadn’t seen much in terms of First Nations culture and I was hoping to show the kids such an integral part of BC’s history. Although the author of the book, Hughina Harold, had lived on Village Island, she looked forward to her holidays at Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, which also housed the hospital where she sent her most dire patients.
So, we woke up at the crack of dawn to hit Booker Passage at slackwater and got to Alert Bay early in the morning. We went ashore and took in the totem poles at the ‘Namgis Burial Ground. It was interesting to see the poles in various states of disrepair. In TPAT I learned that many First Nations families did not repair Totem Poles once they were erected, and left them to return to nature from whence they came.
We checked out the visitor centre, picked up some groceries and headed back to the boat for lunch, then went to the U’mista Cultural Centre. I had also learned in TPAT that potlatches, which are large gatherings to prove the wealth and status of the family hosting, as well as to mark special events such as births, marriages and deaths, were outlawed in 1884 by the obviously intolerant federal government. After that, potlatches went underground, and Alert Bay held one of the most infamous in 1921, where over 20 participants were jailed and many of the goods were confiscated. The U’mista Cultural Centre’s mandate is to recover this property, and has done an incredible job so far. We were able to see an amazing collection of carved masks, woven blankets and other beautiful artifacts on display. We also headed up towards the “Big House” and saw the tallest totem pole in the world, which is over 170 feet tall!
We enjoyed a dinner at “Pass’n Thyme,” one of the local restaurants. The waitress gave me a good chuckle when she asked if Steve was a famous hockey player. Apparently, he looks like Alex Burrows! Paige was excited that we ordered dessert, drooling over the deep fried ice cream ball and strawberry-rhubarb pie.
The next morning kicked off Alert Bay’s annual Seafest, a local street festival held on the 4th weekend of July each year. A rock’and’roll themed parade kicked off the festivities, followed by the Purple Pirate children’s magic show, a pie eating contest and a kids’ talent show! We tried to convince Paige to enter the contest and sing one of the many Disney songs she has memorized, but not surprisingly, she refused. There were also three bouncy castles and some arcade games the kids enjoyed. We also headed to Artfest, which displayed artwork done by Alert Bay’s talented artists. I got a bit of a chuckle when one of the locals commented to us that he had no idea his daughter was an artist, but some of her art was displayed. He mentioned that he would even buy some of her art if he had some money with him!
We probably stuck out like a sore thumb, since people would come up to us and ask if we were visitors – pretty much everyone else was local. We were thankful that they were so welcoming to include us in their festivities! After we enjoyed Seafest we headed to Duchess Bannock and Desserts to try some bannock. I told the proprietress that we had never tried bannock before so she suggested we try it with cinnamon and sugar. I don’t think it was very traditional, but it was definitely delicious! Such a treat to end our stay in Alert Bay.
We truly enjoyed our time in the Broughtons, despite the sometimes cold and clammy weather. We were thankful to have sunshine in Alert Bay for the festival! Next up, we need to start preparing for The Big Left Turn where we will see the Pacific Ocean in all its glory.