Wooden Ship on the Waters
An historic vessel sets the tone for cruising Canada?s culturally rich Gulf Islands
May. 7, 2005 11:00 AM
We joined Capt. Colin in the wheelhouse as he started up the twin 325hp
engines. He took us out on the starboard passageway and told us to
listen: “People come just to hear these engines,” he said. “You can’t
hear that sound anywhere else; it’s an extinct noise.” Griffinson and
devoted engineer, Jack Dixon, have lovingly rebuilt the 400-ton
vessel’s original WW II diesel engines (Atlas Imperial direct twin
reversing engines), making parts that were no longer available.
the water churning behind, and a sound that resembled a steam
locomotive, we were off. Although we would eventually be heading
northeast to Vancouver, the captain had decided to first detour south
on a hunch that there might be some orca and pilot whales in the area,
catching the end of the salmon.
As we headed out past Sidney
Spit, a large sandbar, we were treated to an informal lunch on the aft
fandeck. The area is enclosed with plastic and canvas shades and a
large propane heater, making it comfortable, no matter what the
weather. The aft deck dining table, supported by the original
propellers, was laid out with an array of grilled chicken, vegetables,
and salads. “Breakfast and lunch are usually served family style,” said
personable First Mate Stanley Katz, “but we also do six-course meals
with accompanying wines, depending on what guests want.”
lingered over our raspberry and peach crostata in Devonshire cream
custard, Stanley announced that there were whales just ahead. We
hurried outside to see at least a dozen or so keeping pace with us
starboard! Then we saw them all around us. Arcing and diving, their
immense black and white bodies looked quite graceful as they pursued
salmon heading to winter in the Fraser River.
The captain even
spotted a cow and her calf swimming side by side, as we turned north,
moving toward Irish Bay, a protected little cove near Saturna Island
where we would drop anchor for the night. As the sun started to fade,
we climbed into the skiff for a tour around the bay. It was difficult
to believe that we were just 10 minutes from Vancouver Airport by
seaplane, for we had the bay entirely to ourselves and it seemed like
we were a million miles away from civilization. Peeking out here and
there through the trees was an occasional home, but even these seemed
uninhabited. Many of the houses on the smaller islands are without
electricity. Some have generators; others rely on log fires, kerosene
lamps, and outhouses.
One thing is certain: BCers like the way
their islands are, and they have endorsed strong legislation to protect
them from development. Capt. Colin pointed out a salmon fisherman’s
typical old island homestead, small and white, and nestled into a tiny
cove. A wooden shack at the edge of the water held his nets. There were
orchards beyond and farmland to the rear. It was illustrative of the
self-sufficient life natives have practiced in the Gulf Islands for
centuries, but it is one of the last white houses to survive.
strict buiding codes dictate that houses must be environmentally
blended into the landscape. None can be white. Instead, most are built
in a Pacific Northwest style with dark brown shakes and green roofs,
hidden amongst the evergreens and arbutus trees that line the shores.
Many have small private docks, which are silver. Only the red ones are
government docks, which anyone can use.
As the sky darkened,
and a few fish splashed here and there to break the silence, we
returned to the comforts of Pacific Yellowfin, where a candlelit dinner
awaited us on the aft deck. A centerpiece with votives, fall leaves,
and a selection of vintage and new boat-themed books welcomed us. Chef
Clare started us off with a salad composed of organic spinach, candied
pecans, goat cheese, strawberries, and caramelized onions with a mango
vinaigrette. In keeping with her practice of using as many local – and
organic – ingredients as possible, she then served chili-crusted
fresh-caught halibut over lemon risotto, with baby pattypan squash.
our dessert of coconut creme brulée, we donned the cozy outerwear and
blankets the crew made available, while we sipped lattes on the port
passageway and marveled at the constellations, which seemed to be
within arm’s reach. The next day our last guest would fly in by
floatplane to join us, and we would explore Saturna Island.
are like the taxis of the islands, and what makes them so accessible.
Although the region operates on a fabulous ferry system, the farther
north you go in the islands, the fewer the stops and the lengthier the
ride. Alternatively, you can catch a ride on a floatplane for only
about $75, and arrive with ease. These planes, too, are historic. Many
are from the ’50s. Known as the “Jeeps of the north,” they were
workhorses, used to carry supplies to the mountains. Today, they are
not only useful, but a colorful part of the scenery, whether flying
overhead offering fantastic views, or sharing dock space with area