Beer and smokes

25 August: onto Bella Bella

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Sadly we had to leave the cabin and carry on to Bella Bella. Our trip was nice though and we came very close to a couple of humpback whales – it looked like an adult and youth. Chris told me to steer for shallow water by the shore because he had had trouble before when a whale had almost capsized the canoe. The impact of such a large animal on the canoe could be devastating and ruin the whole trip. Nevertheless, they were dramatic to see so close and it was an experience I will remember. The noise of their blowing air and sea spray into the air was very loud and you had no doubt, upon hearing the noise, that something very big had produced it. We had nothing to worry about in the shallow water and, in any case, they dove into deeper water as soon as we had turned. We also saw some Sandhill Cranes (so I was told) in the distance, and lots of other birds such as Kingfishers, Ravens, and Bald Eagles.

It was a hard and long paddle and my muscles burned and my hands were damp and wrinkly because of the more or less constant rain. My waterproofs leaked again but we moved on. I had been lucky and not suffered too much with blisters – perhaps due to the pre-conditioning that Chris had put me through when he got me weeding in his garden. We had to have lots of breaks because of the difficulty of the paddle but the crew did well. There was a large swell as we looked out at the final long crossing we had to do – across Seaforth Channel – but it was better than Chris expected and he turned to me and asked, ‘What do you think Kye, shall we just go for it?’. I looked out at the water, reckoned that the wind wasn’t doing much and the current couldn’t be that strong due to it being a neap tide and said, ‘yes – we can do it’.

We set off and the swell got larger but it was a gentle rolling with no breaking waves and keeping the canoe at a decent angle so we made progress without letting the canoe wobble too much we made good headway. It felt like an hour or so for the crossing and we had a number of power paddles on the way over and finally came into a nice sheltered bay which would have made a great campsite. I landed the canoe and we had a much needed lunch break.

Neap tide: the sun and moon are at roughly 90 degrees of each other so the gravity of one does not pull at the water at the same time as the other. Therefore the high water is not as high as spring tide.

Spring tide: the sun and the moon are inline so the water is pulled up by both at the same time. Therefore the high water is higher than it is with a neap tide. Also, the low tide is lower. The change in the level of water from high to low is greater than at neap tide, therefore, as the water rushes from one place to another, the currents are faster than at neap tide. Water in channels such as the Seaforth Channel moves fast when it’s a spring tide.

Refreshed and with the rain over, we continued the couple of miles to Bella Bella. The amount of shipping increased as we got closer to our destination and became quite busy near the lighthouse on the final headland of Campbell Island and we could see the large ferry approaching from the rear. When we entered the channel between Campbell Island and Saunders Island the ferry passed to our port and I saw the wake approaching. I made the mistake of turning towards the ferry to take the wake head-on and didn’t see the huge swell that was coming from the stern – it was also from the ferry but had originated from it when its speed was much higher. These larger waves were faster and closer together so the canoe started to wobble dangerously – Chris shouted ‘Go straight’ and I realised the danger and corrected the course of the canoe. We surfed a little distance until the waves subsided and then turned into Queen Charlotte Sound to follow the ferry’s course – we were heading to the campsite just next to the ferry terminal to meet some of Chris’s friends there. We’d been expected hours before but the bad weather had slowed us down and tired us out.

When we finally arrived at the campsite we were greeted by smiling faces and a huge campfire. We landed and, for the last time, patches of ground were reserved and tents erected. The crew were now so adept at camping that the tents went up in seconds – it seemed almost as if the crew had erected the tents before we landed the canoe (I was tired). Lots of smiling, handshaking and some hugs ensued and we were congratulating one another for having finished the journey. Personally I felt a little sad at it being the end and I was more than ready to carry on and enjoy more of this incredibly therapeutic landscape – my sadness disappeared when I aroma coming from just a few meters away. Salmon was being cooked next to the fire and lots of other food was spread out nearby. The salmon was being cooked in the traditional way with the fish sandwiched between small slithers of wood and then wedged into a larger piece of wood that was driven into the earth beside the hot fire. The smell of the sizzling fish was making my mouth water and after such a hard paddle I knew that this would taste very good indeed. My mind was playing its tricks and I was no longer where I was – I was eating, in my mind, hot sweet salmon with lemon juice topping and crisp, juicy salad. There was fresh bright green lettuce, tangy small tomatoes, fresh tea, and nice soft bread. When my mind stopped playing I realised that it was all true and I was indeed about to eat such a delicious spread. For once I had no trouble with the fact that my mind plays tricks and I enjoyed eating the same meal twice – the human imagination is a wonderful thing sometimes.

Salmon cooking in the traditional way: between sticks next to hot embers

Salmon cooking in the traditional way: between sticks next to hot embers

Beside the fire but a little behind the celebrating crew I quietly talked with one of the welcomers – Erwin (Erv) and his friend Ray. Erv was a good-humoured non-native guy and he was very down to earth and he and Ray fed me local stories, smokes and cold beer for the rest of the night. We talked of normal, non first-nation things such as fishing, music, work, and they promised to take me fishing in Erv’s boat (one that had a non-human method of propulsion and no paddles to speak of) in the morning and I had to promise to be up at 6.30. I liked Erv and Ray.

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