Ever since first laying eyes on Klemtu’s Big House, I’ve wanted to get inside. In a First Nations village on a remote area of the British Columbia coast like this one, it’s better to wait for an invitation. This year it comes. Alan, who’s just helped us at the fuel dock, checks to see if I’ve had a tour when I go up the ramp to pay. When he hears I haven’t he makes me write down the phone number of Shane Robinson, who will show me around. “Or you can just call him on VHF, Channel 6,” he adds.
Rather than depend on electronics, I figure I’ll just walk around the village until I find Shane. I see a young woman and an old man chatting in front of the health center. No sooner do I ask if they’ve seen Shane, than a car passes and they yell, “Shane!” He doesn’t hear, but the word is out.
I continue up the hill in the company of the old Indian, who’s heading home. Slowly with a limp. “There’re wolves around the Big House these days,” he says with a smile. “Used to be black bears there but now it’s wolves.” I ask about the Spirit Bear. “Has anyone seen one recently?” Also known as Kermode bears, these rare individuals have white coats but are related to black bears. “They live on the smaller islands now. The brown bears have chased them off the bigger islands.”
I bid farewell to the old Indian at his house and keep going up the hill, thinking how nicely Klemtu snuggles among the mountains around its small bay. The road continues beyond the village past a construction site for an expanded water treatment facility. Soon a car is beside me. It’s Shane Robinson. “Why don’t you meet me at the Big House at 6:30?” Because of this construction, the electricity is off but it will be back on then.” Agreed.
Okay so there’s a gap in our itinerary for what cruising sailors refer to as “boat repairs in exotic places.” You have to find a mechanic, parts, and a boatyard to pull the boat out of the water, move off the boat with clothes, stuff and perishable food, manage the crew’s patience and tolerance for uncertainty, and choose whether to spend the time in a cheap motel, on a land excursion or a flight home. Let’s leave this story for some other time.
After three and a half weeks we head back to the boat. Jack carries our two bags and my backpack on the scooter and in Prince Rupert we provision a single bag of groceries, a bottle of gin and a box of wine and take a cab to the Port Edward xboatyard.
We’ve got a congenial and talkative cabbie. Somehow we start talking about Haida Gawaii and he asks if we know the story about the Golden Spruce. We do, we’ve read John Vaillant’s strange tale of the demented environmentalist who chops down this albino tree, as sacred to the Haida as the white Spirit Bear is to the tribes of the coast.
“I drove that guy and his kayak to the ferry,” says the driver says.”
“The blue plastic kayak?” I ask. “The only evidence of his disappearance ever found?” Yep.
Then he tells us about his tribe, the KitSan, I believe, from the interior of northern BC interior. They warred with the Haida for generations. Mind you we’ve just come from the BC Museum in Victoria, where the vast collections of objects of Haida material culture – especially the argillite carvings – speak of their power and vision. Everybody knows that the Haida must have been an awesome enemy.
“You know,” the cabbie says, “we got a totem in our village. It’s very simple. Just a woman with a baby and a tiny canoe.” With measured drama, he goes on to explain how she was kidnapped by a Haida Chief and bore his child and then built the tiny canoe. One night she escaped with her child and paddled all the way across the terrifying Hecate Strait and up the river to return to their village on the mainland.
Tuesday 26 July – Port Edward
Port Ed is a busy, mixed bag of a working port hidden away behind the coal and grain bulk terminals on Prince Rupert’s Ridley Island. Finally Aurora is splashed, bills are paid, and we’re good to go with full water tanks and our lone grocery bag of provisions. Just before dawn we’re off, elated.
Then we discover I’ve done something completely stupid.
As part of the take off routine the night before, I’d closed the raw water intake to check the filter, saying to Jack’ “Remind me to reopen it”: distrusting my short term memory is part of the routine. Then I figure it’s probably been done as part of the repair and grab my high intensity bike light to peer though the clear plastic lid of the filter. Yep, good to go.
On the way out of Port Ed I notice the exhaust is white and mention it. A few minutes later Jack notices the engine is heating up faster than usual and we put two and two together. I forgot to open the valve!
I rush below and open it but still no water is flowing through the filter or out of the hull. We need to let the engine cool down. Rather than add minutes by going back to the dock, I spy a netfloat about 30 feet long where fishermen repair their gill nets. Dawn is breaking and the big seiners are pulling in to the processing plant, but I figure it’s too early for gill net repair. I get the fenders out but position them way too high. Like so many floats and breakwaters in the area, this one is made of metal detritus left over from Port Ed’s earlier industries, such as the rendering plant that was a sideline at the cannery after salmon fishing crashed. At a short distance the float looks like it’s all wood but it sits on rusty cylindrical tanks which gouge our gel coat.
I tie up, pull the steps from the companionway and find a very hot engine. We need to check the “fresh water” system – really chemical coolant – but I don’t dare open the cap lest hot antifreeze splash all over me. So we wait. Finally, dressed in full foulies and goggles, I out a rubber gloved hand into the engine room and remove the cap. The tank is still full to the brim with coolant. I replace the cap. Funny how you need both the fresh and raw water systems working together.
So we decide it must beworking and fire up the engine. Alas, no bubbling is observed under the transparent top of raw water filter and no water is spraying out with the exhaust. (Nigel Calder says there are two things you check as soon as you start the engine: check the oil pressure and lean over the rail to see if water is spurting out with the exhaust. Lesson now learned.)
All we can think now is that we must have fried the impeller. It’s a spinning valve with rubber teeth. I can show you a picture but you won’t get the whole picture. Impellers are located at the base of the engine and you have to contort your body into a pretzel to get to the place. Then you have to take off the plate covering the impeller and not drop your screws into the bilge, something that has unfathomable consequences when you’re dealing with a closed system.
So changing an impeller is a rite of passage. My First Time was on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We were precariously anchored off a rocky point among 30-foot long fronds of slippery bull kelp. Sea sickening swells were rolling across the open Pacific from Japan. But I did it. And, emboldened with experience, I did it again!
Wednesday 27 July – Lowe Inlet 53º33.5’N 129º33.9’W
Now those coordinates! Write them down! That is the only really good place to anchor in Lowe Inlet. It’s stage left of spectacular Verney Falls, which feeds Lowe Inlet. And it’s not just when the salmon are practicing to jump over the falls and head up into the mountains to spawn and die or not spawn and die anyway in the jaws of a bear. What a spectacular anchorage! Two, three foot salmon thrusting themselves clear out of the water and coming down with a fantastic splash. A little the summertime thrill of fireworks, but all 360 degrees around you so you head is always spinning.
While I’m here – at Lowe Inlet – I must confess that this is the site of the stupidest thing we’ve ever done. But there’s sort of an unwritten statute of limitations on this saga. So patient readers, stay alert. By next summer the time may be right to come clean.
Thursday 28 July – Green Inlet 52º55’N 128.28.9’W
The sun is finally setting when we turn into Green Inlet. The tiny anchorage is tucked behind some islets near its mouth. As soon as it flashes 40 on our depth sounder, Jack calls it out and I drop anchor. Anchor and chain spool out at a ferocious speed, impossible to control. 120 feet! Jack comes forward to help and we get out more chain but don’t feel like putting out all. Instead I’ll sleep on deck and monitor the situation.
Note these coordinates and avoid them. Like the plague. Like Zika. Oh, and by the way the bottomless nook behind the islets is appropriately named Horsefly Cove. Fortunately, horseflies give up at night and as we the days are shortening with the season and our southerly course.
Friday 29 July – Ormidale Harbour 52º11.6’N 128º08.4’W
We survive the night at Green Inlet in 120 feet of water with only 1:2 scope (but all chain.) Worth sleeping on deck rather than trying to find a better spot in this tiny, deep, protected cove. Seems there’s an uncharted bump in the middle of this deep bay that’s only 40 feet.
Heavy fog rolls down Grenville as we pull into the Channel and soon a target – probably a tug and tow – appear on the radar behind us. I hope it’s northbound and out of our way. Jack checks the GIS and finds they’re following us. He hails the vessel whose captain appreciates the call. He sees us on his radar, says we’re in fine place where he can pass on starboard, and tells us there’s another tug and tow following him. Jack confirms with captain #2 as well. We hear the groan of the diesel very near, then a break and the second tug boat passes. Apart from BC Ferries’ Northern Expedition, which plies the Prince Rupert to Port Hardy route every day, these two tugs are about the only commercial boats we’ve encountered
Finally the fog breaks and we see the temporarily coupled tugs and their tows part ways. Not far from Klemtu we grab a cell phone signal and call Christophe at Shearwater. Not a chance of moorage, he reports.
Millbanke is much kinder than on the northbound passage so I peruse the charts and the Waggoners and find this huge protected harbor in Seaforth Channel. We expect it will be ringed with houses but the only thing there is a large new working boat that must belong to the Hieltsuk tribe in adjacent Bella Bella. We find our own little cove and anchor twice to get it just right. Note these coordinates! How come no one talks about this convenient anchorage that is an alternative to the always-crowded Shearwater? It’s a bit open to the Northwest but has a couple of coves and should be good in a storm from the south.
Saturday 30 July – Codville Lagoon 52º03.5’N 127º51’W
Today is a rest day. I lie in bed finishing Heroes of the Frontier, Dave Eggers’ new book that was released on Tuesday. As we said good bye to the land of wifi, the text flowed onto Jack’s Kindle, the reading into my Audible.com library. We’d both pre-ordered as it was Dave Eggers and Alaska and what’s not to like? Well, this book. I don’t get it. It makes me feel uneasy and literarily insecure. All along I think it may erupt into either very dark darkness or full blown satire. Alas, it does neither. Now Jack is reading it and shaking his head but I’m hopeful he’ll have some insight. Is this book just about how poor decisions lead to ever poorer decisions foreshadowing the weathering of otherwise sensible and sensitive young children tethered to a wholly dysfunctional parent? We should be on wifi in another week; it will be interesting to see what the critics have to say about Heroes.
We take a break in our grasse matinée at anchor to move the boat, checking with Christophe at Shearwater on the possibility of space at the dock. Nope, not this trip. Fine. We’ll ration our protein. Cooking will be a lot simpler. Nothing wrong with the boat that needs attention. We’ll live with the dirty laundry. And won’t have to risk risk Lama Passage in deep fog. It’s great that he Hieltsuk tribe has such a successful operation in Shearwater. It would be nice to have a dock in Orimidale or if other tribes along this long long stretch of wilderness offered a few more services.
No sooner are we past Bella Bella when things get weird. Over channel 16 we hear, “Calling the Canadian Coast Guard, calling the Canadian Coast Guard.” (And what other coast guard would reply?) Coast Guard lady answers and asks how they may assist. “There’s a fishing boat harassing a bear. They are preventing it from swimming to shore.” Seems some hysterical environmentalists from Florida on a fancy boat named True East want the coast guard to arrest the fishermen. But the bear is not headed to any old shore – it’s the fish processing plant! Smarter than your average bear!
We continue down Lama Passage, cross Fisher Channel and pull into Codville Lagoon. It’s a wonderful place with dozens of semi private nooks.
Sunday 31 July – Fury Island 51º29’N 127º17’W
Fury Island is wonderful in every way. Nothing as magical as our last trip, perhaps, but still pretty great. White shell beaches. Views of the open ocean beyond at high tide. A soft bottom that hugs your anchor and won’t let it go.
Fury Island is the jumping off place for the rounding of Cape Caution, a day long slog through whales and rocks that look like eggs as open ocean swells ends in great vertical splashes against the formidable headlands.
No matter how much you relax and doze and dream at Fury Cove, you know your supply of adrenalin is restoring itself. And all you you need the next morning at dawn is a good cup of coffee and to be on your way. In any weather Cape Caution makes you pay attention.
Our southbound rounding was as flat and calm and pleasant as the one north. You just never know with Cape Caution.
Monday 1 August – Blunden Harbour 50º54’N 127º51’W
Cape Caution is dead flat and because it’s British Columbia holiday there’s no traffic. We spend a peaceful, windless day out on the water. Blunden, south of Allison Harbour, is the perfect landing place after rounding Caution. Allison the perfect take off place northbound.
Tuesday 2 August – Waddington Cove 50º43’N 126º36.9’W
I love the part of the Broughtons that is all dramatic steep-walled bottomless channels and I love the low islands to the northwest. Waddington is a wonderful anchorage. But at the helm I can’t find the way to it through the rocky islets without Jack on the electronic chart signaling every move.
Wednesday 3 August – Port Harvey 50º34’N 126º16’W
Gail Campbell takes our lines at the dock of the grandly named Port Harvey Marine Resort. Soon afterwards, George roars up in their fast aluminum boat with their daughter, son-in-law and little grandkids.
The couple has been working on their own all summer. A modest new lodge is rising to replace the large two storey structure with restaurant and general store. The old building was on a bladder and sank over the winter; the new one is on a barge. Work has now been put off until next winter so cruisers can be served.
There’s a huge tent on a float where homemade pizza is baked and served. Hot croissants and cinnamon buns are delivered to the dock at 7am. The wifi is strong. Moorage is only $1 a foot. Bravo, Gail and George. You rock!
Thursday 4 August – Blind Channel Resort 50º24.8N 12530’W
While power yachters stay hunkered down at Port Harvey thanks to reports of 35 knot gales hitting Johnstone Strait later in the day, we cast off well before dawn. Jack has put down electronic “breadcrumbs” so we can exit the way we came in. When we reach Johnstone we turn of the running lights and enjoy the light on the water.
Blind Channel Resort, now moving into the hands of the fourth generation of the Richter Family promises fuel, delicious spring water, a fine small grocery with produce from the resort garden and world-class food. Since one of my goals is to get this blog fact written and fact checked, we’re disappointed at the poor quality of the wifi and surprised at the lack of cell phone service. And even with the big yachts around us acting as breakwaters, we rock and roll all night at the dock. We need to find a good place to drop the hook so we can just swing. Options, however, are limited.
Friday 5 August – Von Donlop Inlet 50º08.6’N 124º56.8’W
We’re off mid morning to catch Dent and Yaculta Rapids at slack. We pass tiny Shoal Bay where dozens of boats are rafted five thick at the wharf. Since we’re making such good time it’s not painful to miss the annual Blues Festival and Pig Roast which Mark offers for a $10 donation, with proceeds to a local environmental charity. At Shoal Bay we like to be tied up at the float: getting to shore when rafted or anchored out is tedious. We’ll leave this an early season destination and try to get Mark and Cynthia to visit us in Port Townsend.
We exit Yaculta Rapids into the beautiful grand expanse of Calm Channel. True to its name, the channel has little wind but at least it’s behind us. We pole out the genny on starboard and push the main out over the port rail – wing on wing.
We move slowly slowly just enjoying the sun and warmth. There’s no space at George Harbour and as nice as the hot pool would be this evening, we’re delighted to be at Von Donlop Inlet. We go all three miles in, past the stern-tied boats to the large basin at the end with it’s even bottom and good holding ground.
Saturday 6 August – Ford Cove on Hornby Island 49º29.8’N 124º40’W
Ford Cove represents the one major departure from our usual southbound route. Normally we head down to Desolation Sound then past Lund to the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver.
A brochure we pick up on the Coho Ferry – Denman Hornby – highlights an option. These two islands are not part of the Gulf Islands but rather lay near Vancouver Island at the entrance to Comox. We’ve know the rollicking, often rough passage behind long Denman. Little roundish Hornby sits to the east. To get to Hornby by car you take a small BC Ferries boat to Denman and then an even smaller ferry to Hornby.
According to Ford Cove Harbour Manager Jean Miserendino, Hornby has about 800 year round residents but goes to 5000 in the summer. Sounds like the whole island takes on the ambiance of a three month festival every summer. Fords Harbour is already jammed with local boats: commercial fishing vessels, rec boats, and run about are rafted three deep. Managing comings and goings of community members must take some real cooperation.
We need to come back and explore. Hornby is little and will be easy to get around. Its local park sits atop a bluff overlooking Tribune Bay. With a sandy crescent beach, rare in these parts, Tribune Bay is an inviting anchorage, though it only works in the good weather brought by gentle NW winds.
While finding a dock attached to land at Hornby doesn’t look feasible, the transient float where we tie up is less than 100 feet from a finger that leads smoothly to the pier – easy enough to shuttle Jack’s scooter and then Jack into shore in our little inflatable.
There’s still about 45 feet of free space at our float when the sun sets. Hearing the voices of a crew about to land, I stick my head out of the companionway and see a fine wooden schooner. With Baggywrinkles! I go help with the lines, getting midline and stern with no problem. Even so, a rookie crew member bounds off the bow and rolls onto the float, young and unhurt. The schooner? It’s Nevermore, whose permanent slip is near ours in Port Townsend.
Sunday 7 August – Ladysmith Maritime Society 48ø59.8’N 123º48.7’W
We’re making good time and feeling great. Our predawn departure from Hornby gets us at Dodd Narrows safely before slack, with the water still flowing south. We’ve called Mark at the Ladysmith Maritime Society and there’s space for us.
Eager to end relax after a long day we head through the narrows early. It’s still clear of northbound boats but it’s full of strong whirlpools. And there among the swirls at the neck is a fisherman casting from a very small rowboat! He waves to us as we speed by. A crowd has gathered on both shores to keep an eye on him, not that they could help much. Ah, reentry to the Gulfs and the San Juans! This is our first brush with summer craziness. As we clear the narrows, the first northbound boats are arriving, circling, waiting. Soon the VHF squawks, “Third-foot sailboat northbound through Dodd Narrows. Calling any concerned traffic.” The prudent sailors on the other side are concerned and get the guy – of course it’s a guy – on the radio and help him with the math concerning the speed of his boat and that of current thinks he can overtake.
How good it is to dock at Ladysmith with smiling volunteers on the docks to take your lines! We decide that again this year the Ladysmith Maritime Society has the best marina on the Inside Passage. There is nothing particularly promising about its location in a traditional logging community on a bay still filled with log booms and next to a clamorous milling operation.
But where else is there so much going on? Old timers restoring historic local wooden boats. Birders tracking and banding purple martins. Folks in the little museum trying to understand the material culture of the region’s past. People building the spectacular new marine science float with its windowed deck, touch tanks and interpretive displays. Disabled people learning to sail in specially equipped Marin 16’s and sometimes going off to compete in regular races. Multi-generational families from all over town filling every seat at the Oyster Bay Cafe for a gourmet Sunday brunch. Cruisers just hanging out on their boats, talking to passers by, using Internet, doing laundry, taking long warm free showers all for one small Canadian dollar a foot. And no tax: LMS is a nonprofit. This place rocks!
Monday 8 August – Watmough Bay – 48º25.8’N 122º48.6′W
Out of Ladysmith it’s morning of big boats. Our southbound course takes us to Houston Passage, a tight U- turn around the tip of Salt Spring Island. On Channel 16 a captain is hailing “a northbound sailboat.” No answer. It’s not us being called; we’re still southbound. But then given the Houston’s U, boats from either direction enter northbound and exit southbound. Hmmm. Something to remember.
No sooner do we enter the Passage than a ship, bright orange in the morning glare, appears among the trees. We hail the captain but there’s no reply. Not on 16 and not on 11 (though we should be on 12 as we’re now in Victoria traffic). Then the “northbound sailboat” appears and we have the Argent Sunrise on port and Osprey on starboard. At this particular point, there’s enough room but still. When I see that S/V Osprey is out of Portland, I take it personally. In general, skippers who cruise among the big ships on the Columbia River are unusually skilled at rules of the road and using VHF. If you know Osprey, mention the confusion wrought by their failure to monitor VHF
Out in Boundary Channel we have no trouble reaching the pilot of a large container ship making the 72º turn around Stuart Island. He says we’re fine and thanks us for the call. We cross behind his stern and bring down the pennant.
As we head deeper into the San Juans, things get crazy busy but nowhere more than in narrow channel north of Shaw Island. Huge power yachts roar by rocking us and the folks in kayaks, rowboats and sailing skiffs that should be comfortable in this narrow interesting waterway. Hey, San Juan County, how about a speed limit?
We we finally exit we’re somehow passed by three large Washington State Ferries in the space of five minutes. We forgo Spencer Spit and James Island to avoid being rocked by traffic all evening and head south to Watmough, where we find our first mooring buoy of the summer. This charming bay is closest point in San Juan County to PT and its three mooring buoys are provided free by the local community.
There’s little wind or current in the bay but interestingly we don’t spin. Rather we rock gently all night on what must be swells Pacific swells sneaking all the way in.
Tuesday 9 August – Home in Port Townsend
With a mid morning departure, we can flood home. No wind. No fog. Hardly any other boats. But Growlers. As we slip east of Smith Island we see their Oak Harbor.
Finally we near Point Wilson. There are a couple of ships on the AIS. The fast one is the Victoria Clipper, which passes soon after it appears. Behind it a large cargo ship looms. We’re on the south side of the southbound lane and should be fine. Jack hails the captain to make sure. No answer on 16. We try 12, forgetting that Puget Sound traffic is channel 14. Still, everyone is supposed to on 16.
Suddenly the big ship changes course. We turn into the commercial shipping lane, at it – Matson Line – passes us starboard, leaving us to take the wake. Point Wilson throws its own surprises even without traffic in the mix.
I’m already wary of civilization, missing the wilderness. But some I’m home watching the eagles and herons in the tree above my desk or turning over rocks at low tide and marveling at dozens of exotic creatures.
Having cruised around Prince of Wales Island in June 2016, the crew of S/V Aurora would like to share notes and encourage others to make the trip. Since there’s no current cruising guide to this area, we’ve tried to collect key missing details.
Having cruised around Prince of Wales Island in June 2016, the crew of S/V Aurora would like to share notes and encourage others to make the trip. Since there’s no current cruising guide to this area, we’ve tried to collect key missing details.
The information in the Second Edition of Exploring Southeast Alaska by Don Douglass and Réanne Hemingway-Douglass is indispensable for anchorages but a decade out-of-date on docks. Today the Island is well served with new harbor facilities operated by Prince of Wales’ “cities”, sometimes jointly with Native Corporations.
For current information we turned to the 2016 Visitor Guide issued by the Prince of Wales 2016 Visitor Guide issued by the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce. While this publication is oriented to visitors traveling by ferry and road, it lists harbormasters’ phone numbers and includes good information on population centers.
Prince of Wales offers wilderness we’ve found nowhere else in Southeast Alaska. The third largest island in the United States lies wholly within Tongass National Forest and has only 3700 inhabitants. Unlike the roadless Admiralty, Baranof and Chicagof Islands, Prince of Wales has roads connecting settlements on its east and west coasts. In this respect Prince of Wales looks inward: roads enable a single electrician or plumber to serve most of the population. Scheduled floatplane service fills the gaps, delivering mail and picking up passengers. Each of the destinations not served by roads maintain helicopter pads and volunteer emergency medical service teams.
The ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway do not serve the island; rather the Inter-Island Ferry Authority provides daily roundtrip service between tiny Hollis and Ketchikan. By and large the traffic is local, devoid of any large cruise ships. All in all, the light footprint of this transportation system has left virtually all of the POW’s thousand mile shoreline unmarred by infrastructure.
Cruising around Prince of Wales means a spectacular sweep of natural beauty teaming with wildlife: whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea otters, seals, sea lions, eagles and heron. Its docks and harbors offer opportunities to meet the people – the Haida,the Tlingit, the gill netters and the trollers. In future blog posts we’ll share our stories and document our anchorages and the passages. Now let’s circumnavigate POW counter clockwise and provide information on visiting the Island’s communities.
Hollis Population 165
Hollis is where the Inter-Island Ferry for Ketchikan leaves every morning at 8am and returns in the evening at 6:30pm. Th 35-mile trip takes three hours each way. Houses dot the shoreline of two coves off the south arm of Kasaan Bay. Unfortunately, it is not an inviting overnight destination. The bay where the ferry calls features a floatplane dock but no other moorage, not even for dinghies. The much larger bay to the south is shallow and seems threatened by williwaws from nearby hills. This is the only place we visited where the 2007 assessment of the Douglasses, who also did not dock here, still holds. “It has been reported that the Hollis Dock is extremely small and usually filled with local boats.”
According to the POW 2016 Visitors Guide this unincorporated community founded in the 1890s as a mining camp offers these additional services: emergency medical services, public telephone, library, accommodations, RV service, and boat launch. More at the website of this unincorporated community- www.hollisalaska.org.
Kasaan Population 65
Located on the northeast shore of Kasaan Bay, the Organized Village of Kasaan is home to members of the Haida First Nation, whose ancestors migrated north from Canada’s Haida Gawaii, until recently known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. They founded “Old Kasaan” seven miles away and in 1976 incorporated at the present site, which had since the late 1800’s hosted a mining camp, sawmill, postoffice, and store and later a cannery that operated until the mid-twentieth century.
While somewhat unpromising at first glance, Kasaan is a must see cultural destination for Inside Passage cruisers. At the end of a trail through heartbreakingly beautiful old growth forest (which hides the second or third growth struggling to cover nearby hills) lies an enchanting totem park and a historic longhouse which is to be rededicated with a once in a lifetime ceremony late this summer. Here’s the story as recounted in the 2016 Visitors Guide.
A two-third mile walk on a forest trail leads to Kasaan Historic Totem District and Chief Son-i-Hat Whale House or Naay I’waans. “The Great House” built around 1880 is the only traditional Haida longhouse in the U.S. In the 1930s, totems from the old villages were moved to the totem park. Between 1938 and 1940, Civilian Conservation Corps carvers restored the longhouse.
Kasaan offers a unique eco-cultural tourism experience in 2016…The Whale House and its house posts have undergone extensive renovation by a team of Haida and Tlingit carvers since 2014 in a joint project of the village corporation, Kavilco, and the tribe, the Organized Village of Kasaan. To celebrate restoration efforts and to honor this historic time for the Haida people of Kasaan, the tribe plans a rededication event for September 3, 2016. For information see http://www.kasaan.org or call 907.755.2261.
Visiting cruisers are greeted by brand new sturdy docks with the essential safety features but no electricity. At one end is the float plane base and the other a hefty float to accommodate small cruise ships, such as the 49 passenger Baranof Dream operated out of Sitka by the Tlingit First Nation. At the time we visited in June, there was no opportunity to pay moorage. Support for the Whale House Rededication, however, can be made online. The tribal newsletter covers the carvers’ progress and things to come.
Kasaan has a clinic, emergency medical evacuation, float plane service, a fine small library, a school, a green house with traditional and hydroponic vegetable gardens, two 2-bedroom vacation cabins, and a new Totem Trail Café. More into at www.kaasan.org.
Thorne Bay Population 500
Lying at the end of a long bay behind a nearly hidden entrance, Thorne Bay offers excellent moorage, unrivaled by anything we’ve seen elsewhere. Brand new floats are broad planked with 9-inch toenails and have electricity, water and the full range of safety features: fire extinguishers, life rings, permanent “swim” ladders, and, at the top of the covered ramp, a bright yellow locker with “Kids Don’t Swim” life jackets. Restrooms are particularly well designed for public use, the shower is roll in and all of the ramps are smooth. I believe moorage was 75 cents a foot.
Shane, the energetic and personable young harbor master is married to a teacher at the local K through 12 school and well integrated in the community. Thorne Bay was founded as a logging camp and incorporated as a residential community in 1982. The A&P (Alaskan and Proud) market is excellent. There are three churches, a liquor store, one of POW’s rare sit down dining restaurants but no bar. Currently, there’s no laundromat: one wonders if there is not a potential mini-business in dockside pick up and delivery. Other services include daily service by three float plane companies, emergency medical, library, sleeping accommodations, RV service, a gas station and a boat launch. Cell service is good.
Thorne Bay’s weak point is its fuel dock, tucked in a nearby shallow bay. Keelboats should purchase fuel only on a mid to high tide and, as we discovered, be prepared to hold as float planes land and disgorge passengers and mail. However, there’s an alternative: fuel can be delivered dockside in 5-gallon containers. Gary, owner of The Port, which runs the fuel dock and the post office, and the Tackle Shop at Throne Bay is very accommodating and highly knowledgeable about hunting and fishing.
With its current huge excess capacity and with moorage at less than $1000 annually, Thorne Bay is an option for cruisers who wish to winter over and fly or ferry in. More on these websites: www.thornebay-ak.gov and www.thornebayalaska.net.
Coffman Cove Population 200
Founded as a logging camp in the 1950s, the City of Coffman Cove was incorporated in 1989. When logging jobs disappeared the community had to reinvent itself and get into the business of recreational and commercial fishing. It’s a pretty but very unpretentious place. Modest vacation rentals and residences are strung along the shores of Clarence Strait with spectacular views of the white peaks beyond Wrangell.
The floats are good and the main ramp to them accommodates vehicles the serve the small commercial fleet of gill netters and trollers. Sport fishing is huge here, serving mostly Alaskans in pursuit of the annual personal use catch that will see them through the long winters. Small boats carry folks across the Strait for the day; a fleet of Lund dinghies takes them to the nearby, wildlife-rich islands.
We couldn’t raise the harbor master on the VHF but easily found dock space and paid fifty cents a foot, dropping a check in the box at the head of ramp. The sign there illustrates three ways to contact Harbor Masters at small Alaskan ports.
Coffman Cove docks are served by electricity but we didn’t connect to shore power as our solar panels love Alaska’s long days. As we were to learn, most electrical outlets belong to permanent moorage tenants. We heard a range of attitudes toward borrowing electricity from a vacant plug. Boats requiring power at smaller ports with part-time harbormaster would do well to contact local authorities during business hours.
Tiny Coffman Cove offers visitors a whole range of modest services. Bait Box Takeout has food and seating. The Riggin’ Shack is a general store with a variety of non perishable groceries. On Monday or Tuesday they get the fat weekend edition of The Ketchikan Daily News from the previous Friday. All the liquids are offered under one roof: Rain Country Liquor, the Dog House Pub and the office of R and R Fuels. There’s no fuel dock but the friendly owners of the business will run a hose to your boats or deliver diesel by dock cart in 5 gallon cans. There’s an excellent coin-operated laundry at the Ocean View RV Park, a short walk from the docks. Other services include an ATM, a clinic, emergency medical service, a float plane dock, and new monthly car ferry service to South Mitkoff Island.
Public phones serve Coffman Cove, which has no cell service. Dial 83 to use a prepaid card or 85 to use a credit. Free calls can be made for the weather (81), for commercial fishing safety reports (82) to call in an emergency spill (84) and to reserve a forest service cabin (86) or a place on the ferry (87).
Free wireless internet is offered around the clock at the Coffman Cove Library, which is staffed by an AmeriCorps volunteer under a program to bring more digital services to small Alaskan Communities. Local people may sit on the porch for hours or just pull up in their cars and quickly check their email. There much more on the official website of this vibrant community – www.ccalaska.com – and you can download a pdf of the brochure “Coffman Cove: Alaska’s best kept secret on Prince of Wales Island.”
Point Baker Population 25
At the northernmost tip of the Island, Point Baker offers an entirely different cultural experience, one immortalized for me by former fisherman-resident Joe Upton in Alaska Blues. In the third week of June this tiny floating community was crammed with gill netters preparing for a Monday through Thursday opening. There was no space at the dock and the small bay does not easily accommodate boats anchored out. On the recommendation of a fisherman, we rafted to a ferrocement boat, seemingly abandoned. No one asked for a moorage fee.
Port Baker is an unincorporated community of about 25 households. All public and commercial buildings are moored on the lee side of a 440-foot state dock with boats docked along the other side. A post office, community center, and small store operate very limited hours while the fuel dock,laundry and showers appear to serve boat and crews 24/7. A pub opens seasonally and there is some overnight accommodation. The state dock in good condition and offers a clear pathway whereas access to buildings is unkind to disabled cruisers.
There’s no cell service but there’s a public phone that requires a pre-paid card number. The large float plane dock doubles as a heliport. During salmon openings, fishermen raft their boats and repair nets there.
The evening before we pulled out of Point Baker, the Calder Mountain Lodge put up their welcome sign and opened for to serve sports fishing clients brought in from Petersburg. Their kind reply to my inquiry confirms they do not normally serve cruisers. For current info try the Point Baker Community association phone – 907.559.2204.
Port Protection Population 63
Port Protection is two miles and 2 minutes of latitude south of Point Baker but these two tiny fishing communities have no roads and are not connected. It lies at the end of a cove named for Wooden Wheel Johnson at the beginning of the last century. At mid century there was a trading post and a permanent community was established here in 1981 through the State of Alaska land disposal program.
We didn’t visit this year but enjoyed watching the low-key activity around this pretty and well-protected bay when there in 2014. We tied up at the free state float in the company of a variety of active and inactive local boats.
Seasonal services include float plane service, emergency medical, fuel, groceries, simple accommodations, a library and a public phone. The 2016 Visitors Guide recommends calling Wagon Wheel trading Post at 907.489.2222 for information.
El Capitan Cave Dock
Since this float does not accommodate cruising vessels, we simply mention it in passing. We do recommend, however, that all cruisers experience Dry and El Capitan Passes on their southbound journey and this route takes them right past this dock. It is owned by the State of Alaska and marked with a US Forest Service sign indicating the El Capitan Cave Interpretive site. Dinghies that tie up here are a mere 45-minute walk to the largest of the Islands’s more than 500 caves.The US Forest Service offers free tours of the cave several times a day in the summer. Visitors can reserve a spot for a specific tour by calling 907.828.3304 at least two days in advance. Maximum group size is six; minimum age is seven.
Boats can conceivably anchor nearby and dinghy in, although the nearest sound anchorage is Devilfish Cove, four miles south. An alternative would be to have a member of your crew drop others off and remain with the boat until the tour is finished 90 minutes to two hours later.
Naukati Bay Population 140
Located in the strait between the main Island and Tuxekan Island off Sea Otter sound, Naukati Bay lies about a quarter of the way down the southbound route. With so many exquisite anchorages in the area, we expect most cruisers move on to drop the hook, as we did. As the webpage of the community association boasts “Naukati Bay is the center for world class saltwater sportfishing, record black bear and Sitka black-tail deer hunting, breathtaking scenery, whale watching extraordinaire, sea kayaking and canoeing, spelunking, hiking, stream fishing for big steelhead trout.”
According to the POW Chambers 2016 Visitors Guide, “the newly constructed floating dock and boat launch are near the Naukati Bay Shellfish Nursery where oyster spat (seeds) are grown and provided to many oyster farms in the area.” Naukati Bay boasts float plane service, EMS, groceries, fuel, and an ATM. On the Fourth of July local kids compete to find huge skunk cabbage leaves, which dwarf them. For more information call the Naukati Bay Community Association at 907.629.4104 and visit the website www.naukatibay.com.
Klawock Population 850
The traditional summer camp for the Tlingit community from Tuxekan Island, it was chosen chosen as a permanent site by Chief Kloowah. It is also home of Alaska’s first cannery, established by San Franciscans in 1878, and its second oldest hatchery. Today, Klawock is best known for the twenty-one extraordinary poles in its totem park. There are replicas from the 1930s of poles that stood at Tuxekan as well new poles by contemporary Tlingit carvers, which have been raised with great ceremony by the community.
The well-built modern public dock and floats lie inside a sheltered peninsula with view of Klawock’s renowned totem park. On entering the harbor, your first see a set of floats between the cannery and a wharf with a large tidal grid. These busy floats belong to the tribal association. Go on into the harbor to the public facilities; the narrow channel is deeper than it first appears.
Because so many boats were out long term or for the day when we arrived, there was lots of space at the dock. Most of the spaces are rented, however, and owner’s lines may be on the dock but you can tie up and then check with the Harbormaster if you have not done so ahead of time. Electricity is another matter, as permanent tenants are already paying the meter and electricity is seldom offered. In all the POW ports except Craig, S/V Aurora was the only visiting cruising boat.
The Harbor Master’s phone is 907.755.2260 and the office is at the top of the ramp along with excellent restrooms with showers, baby changing tables and other amenities. I noticed that the women’s sometimes appeared locked but it’s a design flaw. The shower stall is spacious and ADA accessible but as stall door does not reach the floor, someone taking a shower might lock behind herself in the interest of safety. Rose Kato, Kwalock Harbor Master for seventeen years is retiring in July 2016. Transient moorage is a rather mysterious $11.45 a day for all boats regardless of size. Mariners interested in leaving boats to winter over in Alaska will be delighted to know annual moorage is a mere $11 a foot.
Craig Population 1,127
Craig is a charming little town with both the north and south coves of its harbor packed with tolling vessels, most local but many from the Puget Sound. The historic waterfront boasts an impressive series of wharves. Up the hill there are great views of the waters surrounding Craig’s compact peninsula. Known as West Craig, this is where you find the library, a traditional general store and chandlery atop a pier, the float plane dock, the popular Dockside Cafe, a convivial bar, and Voyageur Books and Coffee, with a fine selection of titles by Alaskan authors and books about Alaska. East of the harbor is a large Alaska Commercial Company supermarket and liquor store, a laundromat, and a whole range of services.
Most cruisers arriving from the north stop for fuel at the large sturdy Petro Marine float near the tank farm outside of town. Often rough waters can make tying up difficult but the staff is competent and helpful. This is a good place to confirm slip availability, even if arrangements have been made ahead of time. Craig is a port that practices hot berthing and asks boats to declare departures as well as arrivals. The Craig Harbormaster can be reached on 907.826.3404 or VHF 16. The office is located on the road that links East and West Craig and separates North and South Coves above year-round public restrooms with heated public showers. There’s much more information on the city website www.craigak.com.
Hydaburg Population 376
The largest Haida village in the United States, Hydaburg was founded in 1912 and is perhaps the best place in Southeast Alaska to appreciate the age-old culture and contemporary politics of a Native community.
Nearly a century before George Vancouver explored the area, a group of Haida people from Haida Gawaii – the former Queen Charlotte Islands – migrated to Prince of Wales Island. The first group settled at Kasaan on the east coast while others established villages on the west coast; in 1911 these villages came together at Hydaburg.
The village was incorporated in 1927 and governance passed to the Hydaburg Cooperative Association when it was founded in 1938. The HCA Mission is “to honor, strengthen and preserve our Haida Culture and Language through fostering healthy children and families who have pride and dignity in the community and culture, and by creating economic development opportunities for all our people.” This community appears to doing exactly that, with the HCA, the economic development-oriented Haida Corporation and The City of Hydaburg all playing a part.
At the time we were there, Hydaburg folks were busy planning for two major July celebrations. July 3rd and 4th are packed with races, parades and events to commemorate U.S. Independence Day. Each summer at the end of July, the Hydaburg Culture Camp brings together elders from this village and elsewhere to teach the Haida language, song, and dance and traditional skills of wood carving, weaving, beadwork, and food gathering and preparation. We were warmly welcomed to these festivities and hope to attend on a future cruise. In addition to organizing these events, Hydaburg folks will join their fellow tribe members at Kassan for the September 3, 2016 dedication of the Whale House.
Dominating the central water front in front of a large modern school, is Hydaburg’s totem park. The colorful poles are both intricate and bold. Some are well-preserved replicas of village poles that were carved in the 1930s while others are the work of contemporary artists. Recent years have seen a number of communal pole raisings. Master carvers remain busy in the Carving Shed at waters edge, sculpting works for the community’s new Tribal House being built nearby.
Hydaburg has a state-of-the-art complex of docks, floats, several hundred feet of breakwater with moorage space, and a boat launch with its own long float. While docks are well lighted, electric meters have not yet been installed at all slips and there are no restrooms or showers at the site. Hydaburg City Clerk Stacia Miller serves as Harbor Master. Phone her at 907.285.3761 to request moorage and pay fifty cents a foot at city hall. As there is currently excess capacity, cruisers are welcome to leave their boats over the winter. Hydaburg has excellent cell coverage; wifi is available at city hall and at the library in the school when it is open. There’s a small Alaska Commercial Company grocery, a health clinic, emergency medical service and a float plane dock but no fuel.
Getting to and from Prince of Wales Island
Crossing US-Canadian border requires approval from customs and border authorities before proceeding to other coastal areas. Northbound cruisers must pass U.S. Customs at Ketchikan, Alaska and southbound cruisers must pass Canadian Border Services at Prince Rupert, B.C. It’s important to become familiar with current official procedures as well as guidelines for navigating large ship traffic into and out of these two key ports.
Ketchikan lies 82 nautical miles north of Prince Rupert, a logical stop following the long passage along the coast before crossing the open waters of Dixon Entrance. Check tides and currents if you plan to exit Prince Rupert via the narrow and shallow Venn Passage.
After crossing Dixon, weather conditions and/or boat speed may make it advisable to anchor in US waters enroute to Ketchikan. This, however, requires prior approval from US Customs and Border Protection. You may contact US authorities in Ketchikan from Prince Rupert or by phone from your boat. The number is 907.225.2254. U.S. Customs officials normally approve overnights at Foggy Bay and will expect to see you the next day.
As soon as you tie up at a Ketchikan dock, all crew must remain on the boat until you receive clearance. U.S. Customs officials have always visited our boat to check our passports and personally welcome us. The wait has never been very long, particularly at Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin, which is adjacent to the federal building. You’ll probably want to spend the night before continuing up Tongass Narrows to Chatham Strait and the east coast of Prince of Wales Island.
This requirement to enter the United States at Ketchikan and Canada at Prince Rupert is why most cruisers take a counter-clockwise route around Prince of Wales.
Cruisers leaving the west coast of Prince of Wales can anchor at the south tip of the Island before crossing the open waters where the Gulf of Alaska and West Dixon Entrance. Nicholas Bay offers good protection but be aware of poorly charted rocks beyond the main channel. Nichols Bay is miles from the Canadian border and just north of Haida Gawaii. Unfortunately the protected wilderness and rich First Nations culture of these islands can only be accessed after entering Canada at Prince Rupert.
Our passage from Nichols Bay to Prince Rupert in beautiful weather took over 13 hours. We set up an informal watch system to manage our stamina so we would be sufficiently rested to navigate Venn Passage, pass customs dock and moor or anchor for the night.
To pass Canadian Customs, the traditional option is to tie up at the Lightering Dock which lies somewhat isolated near the center of the Prince Rupert waterfront but with no access to land. From this unattended location you can call Canadian Border Services at 888.226.7277 using your cell phone or the phone on the dock. Your request will be processed by an official based in Ontario with a closed circuit camera view of your boat.
Canadian authorities recently started to allow cruisers to check in with customs as soon as they dock Prince Rupert. To the south of the Lightering Dock are Fairview Small Craft Docks and terminals for BC and Alaska ferries. Just north is Cow Bay, with a new marina of the same name and the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club, and beyond that the Rushbrooke Floats.
Cruising with differently-abled crew members
Unlike most sports teams, cruising crews accommodate a range of ages and abilities. And as cruisers age or find themselves in recovery from accidents, invasive treatments, or joint replacements, they are less likely to want to go hiking or squeeze into an airplane seat for a vacation in Europe, Africa or Asia. During our time on S/V Aurora, we’ve been considering the services offered to crews of mixed abilities and documenting the accessibility and safety of moorage facilities on the inside waters of the Pacific Northwest.
We were delighted to find that most of the harbors on Prince of Wales Island allow the user of a wheelchair or electric scooter to roll safely along a float, up the ramp, onto the wharf, and out into the community. Nothing in the informational literature or standard cruising guides had prepared us for this pleasant surprise. The harbors at Craig, Klawock and Thorne Bay, moreover, offer well-maintained restrooms with grab bars and roll in showers. By and large, stores carrying groceries and essential gear were also accessible.
The gateway cities of Prince Rupert and Ketchikan have also made improvements. Moorage along Prince Rupert’s waterfront floats over about 150 feet of water, where wakes, tidal currents and wind perpetually rock boats. Now all sections of the Rushbrooke Floats have been joined by metal plates and the ramp offers wheelers a smoother transition. The Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club has a new ramp; while metal finger docks are still narrow and dangerous, staff helps tie up arriving boats. New in summer 2016 is Cow Bay Marina at Atlin Terminal with safe, accessible facilities: wide wooden floats with water, electricity, laundry, restrooms, and showers. Ketchikan has thoroughly rewired floats and added wide, covered, metal ramps at Thomas Basin and helpful, uniformed harbor staff visit boats to collect moorage.
We visited two important Prince of Wales sites maintained by the National Forest Service. The tour of El Capitan, one of the largest caves in the US, is open only to fit hikers over the age of seven. However, a related – and in many ways much more interesting site – is the Beaver Falls Karst Interpretive Trail. It demonstrates the dynamics and features of the ongoing formation of the Island’s sinkholes and caves. A beautifully laid out 0.7 mile boardwalk takes visitors through scrub forest, over muskeg, past pools whose acidic waters dissolve limestone, through dark old growth forest and over deep caverns adorned with exotic plant life and waterfalls. Detailed, illustrated interpretative signs are placed all along the route. The first specified this: “The trail was designed to be barrier-free to the extent possible without disturbing the site. The distance between the rest areas exceeds AA standards. Maximum distance between the rest areas is 300 feet with a maximum grade of 14% for 30 feet.”
Also impressive is how many communities lend life vests through the Kids Don’t Float. This was the brainchild of the Homer, Alaska Fire Department in 1996. Later the same year, the Alaska Department of Health, the U.S. Coast Guard and community groups collaborated to grow the program. Now life jackets for children, teens and adults are found at most docks. Look for them in phone-booth type lockers, trunks or loaner boards with attractive graphics and motivating messages.
Kids Don’t Float spread to Canada in 2003, supported by police, municipalities, and businesses. This is a good idea . Let’s work with authorities, ports and marinas, and civic groups to bring more Kids Don’t Float facilities to Washington and Oregon.
Map of Prince of Wales Island
This map is from the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce 2016 Visitors Guide, which is available free in print and online. While we primarily anchored out in the Island’s wilderness bays and coves during our cruise, we found this the best source of current information on POW’s unique communities. Folks at the Chamber can be reached at 907.755.2626 0r email@example.com.
We’d like to hear from readers as well. Please share your thoughts below, both news of your discoveries and corrections we should make to our brief “Cruisers’ Guide to Prince of Wales Island.”
If there is anyone who has documented her travels, it’s my friend Kinza. As I’ve had the good fortune to take trips with her, or at least follow in her recommended footsteps around Manhattan, Morocco and Yemen, her accounts are treasures. I have files of her writing, both electronic and paper. New hard copy acquisitions come every year with her expressions of gratitude, compassion and encouragement, notes written in her tiny, regular hand.
Kinza doesn’t blog, which is unfortunate as her passion is immigration and refugee rights, vital issues about which few know anything. And she doesn’t normally read blogs, which is understandable as she works with people up against unbelievable challenges and shows no sign of ever stopping. But Kinza says she appreciates knowing what books I am reading. So this list is for her.
For the onboard library that helps us understand what we’re experiencing along the Inside Passage, I take four new books from Port Townsend add three more en route.
A beautiful book that should be welcome on every boat and coffee table in our region is Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest by Audrey DeLella Benedict and Joseph K. Gaydos. I heard Joe speak at the annual meeting of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) this spring and all the excitement he generated in the room comes across in these pages. This is recent science in colorful, jaw-dropping prose and photography.
Whelks to Whales: Coastal Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest by Rick Harbo (Harbour Publishing, Maderia Park, 2011). This inexpensive, fully color illustrated, easy to use handbook lists species phylum by phylum. I’ll have it in hand to answer visitors’ questions at the PTMSC and whenever cruising on the boat. The only thing missing are the birds that join the seals and cetaceans as marvelously efficient deep sea divers.
John K.B. Ford’s Marine Mammals of British Columbia is a 460-page handbook published by the Royal BC Museum in 2014 that brings up to date this exploding field of mammalian research. Readable, heavily illustrated,and referenced with a 20 page bibliography this is a much needed addition to our onboard library. I pick it up for $28 Canadian at the wonderful general store in Lund so we could read about elephant seals. We learn that elephants dive deeper and stay down longer than other seals or sea lions, surfacing for very short periods of time, floating snouts in the air, motionless. “Mariners often mistake elephant seals for floating logs.” Ah ha!
Spirited Water: Soloing South Through the Inside Passage by Bellingham kayak outfitter Jennifer Hahn is a mixed bag. The author thrives on the solitude of nature but feels weirdly vulnerable to stranger danger. While there is little to learn here about tides, currents, chart reading or navigation, the author’s insights on river otters and on forging are brilliant. There’s lots on catching and eating sea urchins though the approach of French cuisine is not covered. I remember our daughters digging into a platter of two dozen served by Papillon, the ancient, diminutive waiter at Chalet de la Plage in Essaouria. The kids were still aged in the single digits and fascinated by eating live food. The urchins had been cleaned, however, although they were raw and the wriggling spikes of the upside shells moved them across our plates. I wonder. Are there Pacific Northwest foodies who prepare urchins this way? As for eating salmon, Hahn is reluctant. On pp. 242-243 she puts to prose the sentiments expressed by Matt, the former fisherman at Homfray Lodge.
From this week’s volunteer “lighthouse keepers” on Stuart Island I buy a copy of The History of Stuart Island (2012) The stories, photos and documents are the source material for the two museums on this northernmost of the San Juan Islands. Resident author James Berquist has done a good job putting everything together in this 183-page volume he considers a “work in progress”.
Finally, another book to shuttle between house and boat is Aldona Jonaitis’ Art of the Northwest Coast, which catches my eye on the shelf at the U’Mista Cultural Center. The volume is smartly laid out with hundreds of large colored well captioned plates and text by Native and non-native experts which captures the historical and geographic sweep of the subject. Finally I’m getting a grasp on the various linguistic groups and their interactions. Published by the University of Washington, the work does rare justice to the southernmost tribes and even to their textile arts; I remember trying my hand at Salish band braiding as a ten-year old. Good to learn mainstream museums are moving more and more pieces into their permanent exhibits. Even better that Kawkwaka’wakw, especially, have revived the potlatch and continue to design new masks, coppers and regalia.
Anyone who cruises the Inside Passage and knows anything about George Vancouver’s 1792 expedition is awestruck by its accomplishments: enormous swatches of the coast – both the Inside Passage and the west coast of Vancouver Island – documented in startlingly accurate maps in one season! How did they do it? Add expeditionary zeal to a skillful crew of highly specialized members managed in a tight hierarchy, with teams rowing long boats into every nook and cranny of the coast. Somehow many of these crew members found the time and wherewithal to write. Editor Richard Blumenthal has brought together these various eyes on the situation. With Vancouver in Inland Washington Waters contains excerpts from the journals of 12 crewmen written from April to June 1792. Jack reads all of them and sends me to the writings of Peter Puget. Why? Because Puget describes, with delicious delight, discovering under the sands of a drying lagoon on the southeast corner of Indian Island, “our” rich, dependable vein of native littleneck clams!
Of the remaining books I’ve piled onto the boat, I sadly do not get to Paul Stammets’ Mycelium Running nor to rereading Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, which I now own, having first read Paul’s copy, probably some thirty odd years after he did. These are high on my list and I welcome anyone who wants to join me in a mini online book club.
I thought Rob Hopkins was going to talk patterns in The Transition Companion: Making your community more resilient in uncertain times, an un-cracked volume mislaid in our move from Portland. Published in 2011, it’s a bit disappointing and I don’t see patterns. I soldier through, however, unearthing some ingenious techniques and unearthing references to “my” groups, Transition PDX and Local 20/20.
Now two books I really like which I’m not going into here because I will elsewhere. The Origin of Feces is by David Waltner-Toews, the founder of Canada’s Veternarians without Borders. This is his big picture book – free of unnecessary footnotes and citations. After all Waltner-Toews has published extensively on everything from natural selection to cattle feeding operations to the recent rash of food-borne – make that shit-borne – epidemics. The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us About Evolution, Ecology and a Sustainable Society lives up to its subtitle. Everyone will love this book. The other book is Bathroom by Barbara Penner, so titled as one of a series that includes Bridge, Chair, Computer, Dam, etc. But it’s a sweeping history of hygiene and the material culture and architecture that make it possible. And Penner is especially good on all the discomfort and contradictions that come into play once flush toilets go mainstream in the early 20th century.
By now you may be asking, “You’re on summer vacation and you’re not reading fiction? What’s up?” Well, I’m listening to it. Listening nicely complements the many small responsibilities that go with cruising yet without the distractions of being online or having a phone or being at home.
My top favorites remain the two works of historical fiction I mentioned earlier: The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which I read on Jack’s recommendation and Kamel Daoud’s Mersault Investigation – Camus’ L‘Etranger reinterpreted from the point of view of the brother of “the Arab” – which Jack reads on my recommendation. I’d preordered the latter along with The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu, so got to “read” them hot off the press.
Looking though my audible library I see that the rest of the books I’ve finished are all Audible Daily Deals that cost from 99c to $3.99. Such pricing makes it easier to set them aside should they not live up to expectations. In April and May I added some great titles to my library, unlike the “summer reading” titles offered this month.
I end up with some great non fiction that works well without the footnotes. Alex Kotiowitz’ There are no Children follows two African American brothers and their intrepid mother who live in packed household in a Chicago housing project. It’s that same powerful blend of anthropology, journalism, and memoire of Oscar Lewis’ Children of Sanchez. And I loved Heinrich Harrer’s straightforward telling of the story of his Seven Years in Tibetas well as the short message from the Dalai Lama that precedes it.
How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life is based on interviews by McKinsey consultants Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston relies with women from all over the world, from Christine LaGarde to NGO leaders in Africa. The five elements of what the authors call Centered Leadership – meaning, framing, connecting, engaging, and energizing–to work – reveal universal aspects of leadership that studies of male leaders have missed. The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our problems…and create more by Fast Company writer Luke Dormehl really keeps my attention.The algorithimization of life fascinates the researcher in me while the specter of formulas creating reality creeps me out.
Finally the odd books: I think that Asif Mandvi’s reading of his genuinely funny essays tell far more about the complex culture-crossings of Muslim South Asians than any academic analysis. No Man’s Land is a great listen. As for Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, I thought I had read it but instead must have gotten mixed up in the onslaught of literary reviews in 1962, when I paid attention to such things. Marc Vietor’s narration is brilliant and now I’m ordering a hard copy so I can read the poem, giggle along with all those erudite citations, and learn some new stuff. Without looking everything up on line. On our next unplugged cruise, it’ll stowed away. Pale Fire is still very hot.
We catch the 8:40 ferry from Port McNeill, arriving in Alert Bay about 45 minutes later. It’s our first time in a place I’ve been hankering to visit all the years we were speeding north, usually through the sheltered northern route through the Broughtons. And all the more so this year, since the report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools was finalized on June 2nd. Our Waggoner’s cruising guide says this of Alert Bay : “One can learn more about native culture here, in less time, than anywhere on this part of the coast.” This turns out to be true, although I think that getting a grasp of the cultures of traditional Pacific Northwest peoples from the Nisqually Reach to Sitka is more of a lifelong endeavor.
We disembark at the ferry dock, where a carved sign hung from log gate adorned with native art proclaims ‘Namgis First Nation – Gilakas’la – Welcome. We take the fine boardwalk northwest around the Bay. We run into a bald eagle resting on the boardwalk rail, two local elders worrying about its health, and the owner of a nearby coffee shop who will contact animal rescue. We pass the Anglican Church, sugar white Victorian confectionery, 1892-style. At regular intervals along the boardwalk are log pavilions decorated with totem-type sculptures, among them the first of many Thunderbird and a Sun Man motifs we’ll see throughout the day.
Finally, I catch up with Jack at our destination, a traditional plank and beam longhouse that houses the U’mista Cultural Center. The Center represents the culture of the Kwakwala-speaking peoples, also known as the Kwakiutl. If the Salish Sea is the homeland of speakers of the Salish languages, these waters might be called the Kwakiutl Sea. The waters start at Campbell River and extend north deep into the mainland beyond Cape Caution and around the top of Vancouver Island to Quatsino Sound. The local ‘Namgis Band, who migrated here from the mouth of the Nimpkish River near Port McNeill are just one of many many groups.
U’mista embodies the idea of ‘return home’. The Center was built to contain the regalia, masks, rattles, whistles and coppers seized by the government, with participants hauled off to prison, in 1921 and returned in 1980. The potlatch, perpetually misunderstood, was outlawed in 1885, but continued underground in the communities on this part of the coast. I’ll let the Center’s leaflet explain potlatch:
Since time beyond recollection, the Kwak’wala speaking groups had expressed their joy through the potlatch. The word “potlatch” comes from Chinook jargon, a trade pidgin formerly used along the coast. It means “to give” and came to designate a ceremony common to peoples on the Northwest Coast and parts of the Interior. The potlatch ceremony marks important occasions in the lives of the Kwakwaka’wakw: the naming of children, marriage, transferring rights and privileges and mourning the dead. Guests witnessing the event are given gifts. The more gifts distributed, the higher status achieved by the potlatch host. It is a time for showing the masks and dances owned by the chief giving the potlatch.
Although there was no immediate opposition to the potlatch at the time of initial contact with the white man, such opposition began to grow with the coming of missionaries and government agents. Frustration over unsuccessful attempts to ‘civilize’ the people of the potlatch led officials, teachers, and missionaries to pressure the federal government into enacting legislation prohibiting the ceremonies.
The exhibit of stolen and returned treasures is introduced by stunning footage contemporary pot latches. It’s possible that no one does potlatches better than the ‘Namgis and the U’mista Cultural Center has kept traditions alive. Rather than borrow the century old masks from the museum – the Tlingit around Sitka periodically don their regalia displayed in the US National Park Visitors Center – they have created their own. Their carvers have created both reproductions and brilliant contemporary renditions. Every family has a capes and tunics hand sewn in traditional styles, many with motifs outlined with hundreds of shell button. The women know how to remove cedar bark in long strips without harming the trees and weave the conical hats. Cedar strips, twisted, knotted or simply hanging loose, hula-skirt fashion, also complete the costumes of the highly acrobatic male dancers.
Filmed in the large ceremonial big house we later walk up the hill to see, the center’s documentary shows a recent celebration. Chiefs, drummers, dancers, and processioners with small children in their arms circle a live fire in the middle of the room. The entire community, turned out in full dress, is seated three tiers deep along the four walls. Dance, costumes and music are spectacular.
We witness some of this live because our visit happens to coincide with National Aboriginal Day. “The band is celebrating with a procession at noon followed by a salmon bake,” the young man at the U’mista reception desk tells us as we enter, “You’re invited to join us for lunch.” Really?
When head outside after our U’mista visit, sure enough, a tent with seating has been set up on the waterfront and several feeble members of the band are being carefully wheeled from the elders’ home on the hill. Soon a small procession led by newly elected Mayor Deborah arrives. It is such a hot day that the walkers immediately cast off their robes, leaving on only their protective cedar bark hats.
“Please, have something to eat,” says a bystander.
“Let us wait until others are served,” we say, noticing the short line. We wander off only to be engaged in conversation by a couple lunching on lawnchairs in the deep shade of a cedar tree.
“Have you had lunch?” they ask. We say no. Having just noticed the site where the Indian Residential School stood we ask when it was taken down.
“Oh just this year,” they say, introducing an attractive man sitting on the grass nearby. “Larry was a student there.”
“I was there until it closed in 1976,” says Larry, shaking his head. “It’s good not to see that old building there. Come on, I’m taking you to get some lunch.”
True, there are copious amounts of food: especially salmon but also potato salad, carrot sticks, tossed salad, water melon and delicious warm morsels of what Alaskans call ‘fry bread’ and people here call ‘bannock’. If the potlatch is central to the local culture and giving is the spiritual core potlatch, it makes sense that there is more than enough food for everybody.
We learn a lot about giving and taking and destroying and restoring during our day at Alert Bay.
In addition to the permanent exhibit of potlatch items, the U’mista Cultural Center also has rotating exhibits. Along the ramp to the main hall are historic photos of native villages throughout the Kwakwaka’wakw region, including many sites where we’ve anchored or docked. Each is paired with documents from a 1980s oral history project: a striking photo of an elder and text with his or her words. These elders speak less about everyday activities and material culture than about the stories that explain the spiritual heritage of that particular First Nation. Several of these refer to quaking earth and deluge, which would be the Cascadia Subduction Zone seismic event of January 1700, also documented by the Japanese the “orphan Ttsunami'” and recently affirmed by contemporary seismologists thanks to the work of geologist Brian Atwater. (You can download this intensely interesting, profusely illustrated account from the USGS website here.)
But the U’mista exhibit that really wallops me is Speaking to Memory: Images and Voices from St. Michael’s Indian Residential School. One of the largest ofthe Indian Residential Schools, St. Mike’s became the home to generations of children who were forcibly removed from their homes throughout the far flung network of islands and Inlets of the Kwakwaka’wakw region. The gallery at U’mista contains selected items from the larger 2014 exhibit at MOA, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Dominating the center of the hall are participatory works of art – a miniature dugout racing canoe covered with thousands of colorful, individually decorated, Scrabble-like tiles and a couple textile panels incorporating messages in the native language. But it’s the text and photographs around the edges that grip me to tears for an hour and a half.
The first wall pairs two photos, one taken in 1930 and the other in 2013. Alert Bay’s St. Michael’s Indian Residential School, one of the 120 federally administrated schools across Canada, was the forced detention center for children from villages throughout the Broughtons and the villages of Vancouver Island. It was operated by the Anglican Church of Canada until 1976 and had stood empty as no appropriate use could be found for the building. Until several months ago it filled the space between U’mista and the attractive modern health clinic and adjacent home for elders. Colorful sticky notes and whiteboard messages in English and Kwakiutl record the feelings of Alert Bay citizens about the final erasure of St. Mike’s from their village landscape.
Next I move along two walls move on which are tacked floor to ceiling photos of students in BC residential schools coupled with poignant recollections of life in them. I read every single word. The “student” testimonies are those of adults looking back in the early 1990s. Most, not all, refer to heartbreaking injustices inflicted on children. Most, not all authors, are Anonymous: the past has not yet receded and there’s still risk of retribution. (I am too shattered to think about notes; after all, everything is now part of the historical record. But before walking out into the mid day sunlight I snap a quick photo of a couple of the testimonies, a random souvenir.)
And they did not spare the rod, perhaps that’s where our people learned to hit as a way of getting their way. And when we got into alcohol, we drank as if there was no tomorrow. If there is anything good to be said about St. Mikes, it would be soccer. They brought soccer to us. Oh yea, as a special treat on Easter Sunday we had one hard-boiled egg. The only time we had an egg.
We were not allowed to pass the line. We couldn’t go near the boys and the boys couldn’t come near us, and we weren’t allowed to go outside the gate or outside the fence. If we did that we got punished. We were well protected you know. That’s what I like about that. That saved me maybe from a lot of things, you know. When they get strict with us and we learn obedience and we learn to try and follow the rules, you know.
I wonder how this all plays out. Alert Bay’s Anglican church is still shipshape and beneath the totems of the village’s contemporary burial grounds is the odd headstone in the form of a cross. Forbearance and inclusivity seem to reign. Mentally I run through the churches we’ve seen all along the coast. From the Bible church at the foot of Washington’s Hood Canal, the graves of its cemetery decked out in tinsel, to the onion-domed gem in Ninikchuk, Alaska, whose Native priest gave us a tour, speaking with pride about Orthodoxy’s deep global roots and the Fourth Century priests who made their way from the Eastern Mediterranean to China. I wonder: is it overarching tradition of Native spirituality that fosters such forbearance and inclusivity?
At last I come to the final room of the exhibit, a series of seven long scrolls bearing official letters of apology from the Prime Minister and from the heads of the churches with whom the Canadian federal government contracted to operate the schools across the country. Here’s an excerpt from the long letter from Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language. While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far over-shadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families and communities.
The panel with the letter from Anglican Bishop Michael Peers is a litany of contrition.
I have felt shame and humiliation as I have heard of suffering inflicted by my people,and as I think of the part our church played in that suffering.
I am deeply conscious of the sacredness of the stories that you have told and I hold in the highest honor those who have told them.
I have heard with admiration the stories of people and communities who have word at healing, and I am away of how much healing is needed.
I also know that I am in need of healing, and my own people are in need of healing , and our church is in need of healing. Without that healing, we will continue the same attitudes that have done such damage in the past. ….
I am sorry, more than I can say, that we were part of a system which took you and your children fromhome and family.
I am sorry, more than I can say, that we tried to remake you in our image, taking from you your language and the signs of your identity.
I am sorry, more than I can say, that in our schools so many were abused physically, sexually, culturally and emotionally. …
This resonates with me. This is the time and place for it to do so. My past is longer than my future. I have experienced – albeit at some distance – so much injustice spiraling without resolution, no end in sight. In the past two weeks, I’ve read two compelling works of fictional realism on the great anti-colonial wars of my lifetime. Kamel Daoud’s recently translated Mersault Investigation is set in Algeria, where we spent our honeymoon in 1971. At the time, the nation’s honeymoon with national liberation following a valiant fight still had not dissipated into violent score settling of age old strife. The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen gets to the heart of the sad saga of the war in Vietnam. Our invasion, the war without reason, and its retributive aftermath. Vietnam is where I plan to celebrate my 70th birthday on a bicycle trip with our daughter Selena.
The next book in my queue came just when I needed it. The Book of Forgiving is a new work by Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho, an Anglican priest. Archbishop Tutu has witnessed some of the worst crimes people can inflict on others. So wherever he goes, he inevitably gets asked this question: ‘How do I forgive?’ This book is his answer. He and his daughter lay out the simple but profound truths about the significance of forgiveness, how it works, why everyone needs to know how to grant it and receive it, and why granting forgiveness is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves when we have been wronged. This is a How to Book and it’s good. Illustrating with myriad examples,the authors explain the four-step process of forgiveness—Telling the Story, Naming the Hurt, Granting Forgiveness, and Renewing or Releasing the Relationship.
As I start the last chapter of the beautiful, short Book of Forgiving we come in range of wifi and learn this: A young white supremacist, welcomed into a Bible study group at an historic Black church, shoots everyone there, killing most, including the pastor, who is a State Senator. Three days later I watch a video of the parishioners addressing the accused who has been taken into custody. They talk to him one by one, telling him forgiveness is there. Not just from God but also from their community. It’s as if they have read the Tutus’ book.