PART 6 - TAHSIS TO TOFINO
July 9th - Day 43
The drizzly rain began just after thirty minutes as I backtracked through Esperanza Sound, and soon there settled a dense fog that clung to my glasses. Wiping the lenses became a nuisance and I decided to just paddle without them, only putting them on occasionally to confirm that the odd shape some distance in front of me was not a boat or a sea lion. Beyond thirty feet, my naked sight is as good as what you might see underwater. “This must be what the normal weather is like for most of the time here.” I thought.
I continued through Nookta sound until it merged with the Zeballos inlet where a little further is the Settlement of Esperanza, where Justine recommended I make a stop. “There’s a small store where you can buy supplies and maybe you can get a bed for the night too. They are a Christian Ministry community, so they will take care of travelers.” I stopped next to a pontoon, pulled my kayak above the water and walked up an embankment to the nearest building which I assumed was the local store.
The place, however, was empty, both of anything to sell or people. The lights were turned off, but the entrance was unlocked, and I stepped in after opening the creaky door.
“Hello? Anybody home?”
Nobody answered, but my sight saw something that my bowels understood before I had time to comprehend the meaning. The sign for the men’s bathroom, for which I immediately dashed towards while I struggled to free myself from the dry suit.
As I sat down and took care of business I pulled out my phone to pass the time and noticed something I hadn’t seen in three weeks; a signal bar. I opened the BBC app and the home page refreshed with the latest news. “I wonder what has been happening in the world.” I thought.
I scrolled down the page to see. Street protests have been happening all over the United States after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, Elon Musk announced he is pulling out of his Twitter acquisition, and someone assassinated the former prime minister of Japan while he gave a speech. “Oh, dear God!” I thought. “If God wanted to send some crazy person to assassinate a former or current head of state, surely He had at least two better choices than Shinzo Abe.” At times life just makes no sense.
I next checked to see if there were any places to stay in Thasis. JF warned me before our departure that places fill up quickly between July and September with hardly a room to spare. Fortunately for me there seemed to be one place available at a place called the Westview Marina and Market, and it wasn’t very far from the boat ramp. I called and made a reservation. Lastly, I checked the tide chart for Tahsis. It showed that the flood would continue for a couple of more hours, giving me just enough time to catch the current through Mozino Point into Thasis sound. I would be arriving in the evening, but the thought of a shower and a bed were a powerful motivator to keep paddling for a few more hours.
I arrived at the boat ramp with about an hour of daylight remaining, set up the dolly, tossed all the gear into the cockpit and portaged the gear and kayak over an unexpected and steep hill which wasn’t at all apparent on Google Earth before reaching the Westview Marina. I walked through the marina market past a washing station where a local fisherman was degutting and cleaning the day’s catch. He had a refined muscle memory for the entire process, and skinned and deboned a twenty-pound salmon with his fillet knife like a samurai wielding a sword. I watched him ply his trade on five more catches before he took a pause and noticed me observing him.
“Wow, you work fast.” I said.
“It’s like playing a musical instrument, eh. You feel your way through the fish as if your fingers are reaching for the keys on a piano. You do it enough times, and it feels second nature.
“Except with the piano, if you hit the wrong key, it just sounds bad. If you cut the fish wrong, you might lose your finger.” I joked.
“Ah, yes, you don’t want to do that. Skinning the fish is like a silent melody, you don’t want to ruin it by adding your soundtrack to it. That’s what the chainmail glove is for.” He showed me a gray stainless-steel glove made of thousands of tiny woven rings as small as the eye of a needle, with which he wrapped his fingers over the edge of the blade.
“Can you do one slowly for me to see how you do it?”
“Ah sure, why not, eh.” He seemed delighted to have someone take interest in his craft, grabbed a sockeye salmon from his wheel barrel and slammed it on the skinning board overlooking the marina.
“So, first you have to gut and gill the fish. You put the knife beneath the gill plate and with one motion you slice towards the back of the head until you feel a knot, at that point you press a little harder and it comes free from the body.” He demonstrated reaching into the gill and pulling out a bloody blob which he tossed on the water and some creatures swooshed around violently to grab the morsel.
He turned the fish around and inserted the knife near the back fins. “That’s the fish’s anus, yes, the fish has its anus on the same side as its belly. It makes sense if you’re a fish.” He slid the knife into the body of the animal and in one single motion and opened the belly like a coat zipper.
“You can see all the guts. Now we find the heart and cut above it on each side. Then you put your middle finger in the stomach and give it a gentle pull and, there, everything comes out together.”
There was some blood left inside the body cavity, which he scrapped and washed. “Usually, you do this while you are out on the water, after which you then fill the body of the fish with ice, so it won’t spoil if you’re out for more than a day. Now we are ready to fillet the fish.”
“What you do is you make a cut on the back of the fish’s head up to the spine. Then you insert the blade in the back of the tail and follow the top of the spine along the dorsal fin up to that cut we just made. From here you slice deep into the fish until we find the backbone and work our way down the back to the tail in one movement. You have to keep the blade against the backbone, so you don’t waste any meat. Otherwise, you’ll have to make a second cut. That frees up the back of the fish.”
“Now you have to cut through the ribs. These bones are small, so they crack easily with the blade, but you must make sure to cut evenly down the middle, otherwise you’ll have a few spines that are too small to pick out and you won’t notice them till they come out on your tongue.”
“And now you end with a cut at the base of the tail and you’re done. Well, except for the other side.” He then repeated the motions to filet the rest of the fish, only this time much faster. “Got a few more to go, eh.”
I left him to his work and found my way to the marina gift shop which doubled as the lodge reception, and I spoke with a blond teenager working the cashier. I recognized from his French accent that he was the person I’d spoken with on the phone.
“Ah yes! I tried to call you back three times! I am so sorry. I got the dates wrong. We are fully booked tonight. Tomorrow we have room.”
“Oh, you’ve got to be joking… It’s getting dark right now. I've been camping for three weeks. Where am I going to go at this hour?”
“I’m so sorry. But you can come back tomorrow morning for sure.” He said unconcerned.
I was very distraught. What should I do now? I called three other local establishments but had no response.
“Well, can I camp in the parking lot for tonight?” I asked.
It was at that moment, somehow, that heaven made a small accommodation to my situation.
“Oh, good lord. Don’t camp in the parking lot. The bears walk into town at night, and they’ll pay you a visit.”
Jane was an elderly lady who owned a local fishing lodge. “In the summer, my clients come from all over Canada, and the US. They usually stay for about a week or two and we take them out fishing nearly every day. Whatever they catch we take it to the processing plant for vacuum packaging and they take it home.”
“And do folks catch a lot?”
“My husband, William, who you were talking with just now will be fileting todays catch for at least another hour. Folks catch enough fish in a week to last them through the winter. Anyways, I was saying, don’t sleep in the parking lot. The bears really do walk all over town looking for food, especially at night. You come and stay with us tonight at the lodge and join us for dinner. I’m making beer battered fried ling cod and chips for some clients we have this week.”
I would have left the kayak and most of my gear at the marina, but Jane insisted we throw everything in the back of her pickup truck. “We’ll wash your stuff too. Gosh, three straight weeks camping, wow, and started in Seattle! You need a shower ASAP!”
We drove for about five minutes up a steep and winding road then walked down to a wooden chalet overlooking the sound, and I would have been hard pressed to find a more pleasant place to spend the night. I thanked Jane several times for her generosity, and even more so after eating a portion of her beer battered fish and chips. “Oh my! This is the definition of fish and chips!” I exclaimed.
“Everything else is now on par with McDonalds…”
Her guests at the lodge were an interesting bunch. There were four unrelated men each there for a week of fishing. As it was explained to me, you pay a fixed $5000 Canadian a week for a package that includes the lodge, boat, captain, meals, and catch processing. “It’s pretty good deal when you think about it. The fish gets overnighted when you catch your flight home, and I pick it up on my door. plus, they’ll give you pretty much all the beer you can drink.” Said one man whose pale skin was red with sunburn. “M’name is Thor! Yes. Like the God of Thunder. My family is Icelandic, and we are descendants from Leaf Erikson.”
“Sure, you are. And so is everyone else in Iceland. Everyone there is a third cousin. And your name’s sake from the movies is a good deal prettier.”
There was general laughter. The man who’d spoken wore a mustache with upward tails and had a strong British accent and a large barrel chest. Nigel had been living in Canada for the past fifteen years and worked in Montreal for Molson Coors Beer company. “The Quebecois are a touchy bunch when it comes to the French language. Talk to them in English and they will answer me in French. If I talk in French, they will ask me to say it in English. Hey, I’m making an effort… At least they have good beer. We have some cold Molson if you want one. Combined with all the paddling you’re doing it will help you grow big muscles like these!” He said, flexing his arms.
“I think he is looking at the Molson Muscle you have in front of you!” Thor shot back to more general laughter.
We chatted for a few hours over several courses of fried fish and chips irrigated with beer. William the fisherman also had a few drinks and then told us a story about two Indian tribes who had been at war for many years, until deciding to settle their differences with a song contest.
“Like an indigenous version of battle rap?” I asked.
“Well sort of, but with drums. I know the song and can beat it on the table while I sing it. You guys want to hear it?”
We all said yes, but Jane immediately vetoed the proposition saying it would wake up the other guests. “Plus, it will be the beer who is singing, not you.” She snapped with disapproval.
The talk eventually came around to my story and what I had seen thus far. I told them of the nearly fifty-pound halibut one of folks in the Skils group nearly landed. Nigel, however, was unimpressed.
“I landed a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound halibut two days ago.” He then proceeded to show me the photograph. It was a big fish for sure, almost as long as he was tall.
“The camera adds at least fifty pounds to the fish. And you are barely five feet tall.” Someone interrupted followed by more laughter.
When talk got around to where I was going next, things got a little quiet. William then broke the silence with some stern advice.
“Pick your day when you go around the Hesquiat Peninsula and Estevan Point. Very shallow there; it gets rough when the Northwest wind picks up.”
“Anyways, it’s time for bed. We’re off to go fishing at 5:00am”