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July 10th - Day 42

The drizzly rain began j as I started backtracking through Esperanza Sound, and soon there settled a dense fog. I had to constantly wipe my lenses which soon became a and I decided to paddle without my glasses, only putting them on occasionally to confirm that the odd shape some distance away was not a boat or a sea lion. Beyond thirty feet, my naked sight is as good as seeing underwater. “This must be what the normal weather is like for most of the time here.” I thought. 

Near the junction of the Nookta Sound with the Zeballos inlet is a little settlement called  Esperanza. 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. I stepped in after opening a creaky door.

“Hello? Anybody home?” 

Nobody answered, but my eyes saw something that my bowels understood before I had; the sign for the men’s bathroom, which I made a  dash for while struggling to undress the dry suit.

As I sat down to take 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 events happening  in the world. 

I scrolled down the page to see. 

Street protests had been occurring all over the United States after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, Elon Musk announced he was pulling out of his Twitter acquisition sending Tesla Stock soaring, and some crazy individual  assassinated the former prime minister of Japan while he was in the middle of a  speech. 

“Oh, dear God! Shut that thing.” Said a voice in my head. “Why fill your head with worries over which you have no means to influence?”

“You have to be up to speed on current events in the world.” I said.

  “Your world right now is a small boat sailing through one of the thousands of fjords on a rainy day in the Pacific Northwest.  How does, what Elon Musk is up to, or what happened to poor Shinzo Abe have any relevance to you right now? Your concern should be the tide, the wind, and where you’re sleeping tonight. Oh, and did you check if the stall had toilet paper?”

It did not, but thank goodness the stall adjacent to mine did.

I started searching for  a place to stay in Tahsis. JF warned me before our departure that hotels fill up quickly between July and September with hardly a room to spare, but fortunately for me there seemed to be one place available at the Tahsis marina market not far from  the boat ramp. I called and made a reservation. 

Lastly, I checked the tide chart. The flood would continue for a couple of more hours, giving me just enough time to catch the current through Mozino Point into Tahsis sound. I would be arriving in the evening, but the thought of a shower and a bed were powerful motivators to keep paddling for a few more hours.

I arrived with an hour of daylight remaining, set up the dolly, tossed the gear into the cockpit and portaged to the marina which was on a floating dock.

On the same floating platform was the fish market where I walked past a  washing station used by the fishermen to clean the day's catch. A local fisherman was there in this late hour wearing his bright orange suspender bibs while he gutted and cleaned a sockeye salmon. He had a refined muscle memory for the entire process, and deboned  the twenty-pound fish with his filet 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 like your fingers reaching for the keys on the 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. deboning fish is 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, which he used on his free hand.

“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 another sockeye salmon from his wheel barrel and slammed it on the skinning board. 

“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 it.

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 filet the fish.”

“What you do is make a deep cut on the back of the fish’s head 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 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 you’re eating and get a spine on your tongue.”

“And now you end with a hack 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 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 nearly dark. 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 distraught. What should I do now? 

“Well, can I camp in the parking lot?” I asked.

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 into  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 weeks camping. Wow, and you started in Seattle! You need a shower!”

We drove up a steep and winding road then walked down to a wooden chalet overlooking the sound.  I would have been hard pressed to find a more pleasant location to spend the night. I thanked Jane 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! “Anything else  is McDonalds.”

Her guests at the lodge were an interesting bunch. There were four unrelated men staying for the week to go fishing. As it was explained to me, the fish lodges sell a week or two-week package deal. You pay a fixed $5000 Canadian a week for which includes the lodge, boat, captain, meals, and catch processing. 

“It’s a pretty good deal when you think about it. The fish gets overnighted when you catch your flight home, and pick it up on your door. Plus, they’ll give you 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. Isn’t everyone there a third cousin? And your name’s sake from Marvel is a good deal prettier.”

There was general laughter. The man who’d spoken wore a mustache with upward tails and had a large barreled chest. He spoke  with an unmistakable    British accent that reminded me of a reporter with the BBC. 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. When I talk to them in English they answer me in French. If I talk in French, they will laugh at my effort, like a bunch of parisians. At least they have good beer. We have some cold Molson if you want one. 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 pointing at his belly, to more general laughter.

We chatted over several rounds of fish and chips irrigated with beer. William the fisherman maybe  had a few too many drinks when he decided to tell 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 rap battle?” 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?” 

The crowd enthusiastically approved , 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.

The talk then 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 always adds at least fifty pounds to the fish. And you are barely five feet tall.” Someone interrupted.

When asked where I was going next I said that I’d be paddling around the Hesquiat Peninsula and  things got a little quiet. William broke the silence with some stern advice. 

“Pick your day when you go around Estevan Point. Very shallow there; it gets very rough when the northwest wind is blowing strong.”

“Anyways, it’s time for bed guys. We’ll be  off to go fishing at 5:00am”

July 11th and 12th - Days 43 and 44 - Tahsis and Around

The lodge was empty when I woke up. It must take serious dedication to be up early to go fishing, after a night of heavy drinking. 

While  I loaded the  gear into the kayak, I came across the Mickey Mouse bath toy I had picked up on the beach.. I placed him on the window ledge overlooking the sound. 

“Quite a journey you’ve been on” I said to him before closing the door behind me. 

After passing by the marina lodge to unload and get a room, I went for a walk into the town. I crossed  the bridge over the river, where I stumbled onto the local supermarket and gas station. A sign on the door indicated that they were closed for the day but would open tomorrow between midday and six o clock. A little up the street was the Tahsis Recreation Center, which despite its shabby outward appearance had an indoor swimming pool, a four-lane bowling alley, and a movie theater. Due to covid, however,  there had not been any showings in the past two years, but plans seemed in place for a grand reopening on Halloween night. Bingo nights, however, were still happening through Zoom calls.

Back on  the main road I soon found myself beyond the town limits, which became a dense woodland where the sun only occasionally pierced through. A side trail from the road led to a  short walk to a waterfall, but after walking down the path, I only found a creek with a few rapids.

I saw something much more disturbing on the way back. In the middle of the trail was an enormous excrement pile that I was certain was not there ten minutes prior. 

“Mystery solved; I suppose. The bear does poop in the woods.”

On the way back to the marina lodge I noticed a sign for a museum and went to look. There were a few noteworthy items to see. 

Near the entrance was an old dugout canoe which to me seemed like the product of very poor craftsmanship. Next to it was the 1957 uniform of the local school’s softball team “The Shamrocks” whose gold and purple red colors reminded me of the Gryffindor Quidditch team.  What caught my attention the most however, was a book of photographs from the 1920s that showed a large lumber mill at the waterfront, and the hillsides denuded of any trees. I had just walked past the location of the photo. The mill doesn’t exist anymore, t, and the trees on the hillsides have all grown back. I later checked the historical aerial photos on google earth, and as recently as 1984, most of the surrounding land was still bare and brown.

The next day I had the all-important appointment with the Tahsis supermarket.. I arrived promptly five minutes before opening. My shopping list consisted of the usual items; canned pasta, canned fish, grated cheese, power bars, and anything else that might look interesting. While I perused the aisles looking for things, I noticed a strange sign that read. “We are out of Candied Salmon.”

“What’s candied salmon?” I asked the shopkeeper. 

“Oh, it’s a Pacific Northwest delicacy. It’s sort of like beef jerky but made of  smoked salmon. Quite good I must say especially when it’s marinated with maple syrup and black pepper. We sell out quickly when we have it. You’ll find it in Tofino. If you’re hungry, we serve a late breakfast.”

“What do you have?”

“Pancakes and maple syrup.”

I could not say no and ordered a set of black berry pancakes. One thing surprised me. The maple syrup he served had a blood red hue, with a rich flavor smoky I had never experienced. I mentioned it to the shopkeeper, who let out a laugh.

“Ah you probably only had American maple syrup or the stuff sold at the airport in the fancy maple shaped bottles. That’s a low-quality sham pushed on tourists. We keep the  real Canadian maple syrup in Canada, for Canadians…”

July 13th - Day 45

The forecast predicted good weather but with strong gusting winds from the Northeast building up by the afternoon. 

Happily, for me, my paddle out of Tahsis was sheltered by the bulk of Nookta Island all the way to a little settlement called Yuquot facing the Pacific Ocean. I pulled into Friendly Cove Bay just as the squalls began wrapping around headland at the entrance to Nookta Sound and made the short walk up the steps to the lighthouse. From the lookout point I had a clear  view of the Hesquiat Peninsula falling off the horizon. I noticed the swells in the distance and observed two areas where the wave tops were sheared by the wind into a persistent foam pile. For the first time I felt anxious as to the conditions I’d be facing.

“Tomorrow morning it should not be so bad. But yes, from here to Estevan point it’s seventeen miles of exposed shallow coastline. When the Northwest winds are gusting, the waves break everywhere.” 

The person talking to me was an elderly lady with short blond hair.

“You’re Felipe, right?”

“I am indeed.” I said surprised.

“Ah, Justine mentioned you would be passing by in a few days. “Look for a tall guy in a yellow kayak, and a green dry suit. He’ll stop there for sure.” She said.”

“You must then be Donna the Lighthouse keeper.” I said with a laugh. “Justine said you bake really good cookies.”

“Did she? Unfortunately, I don’t have any right now, I am on a diet.”

“She means she has put me on a diet.” Said a man next to her .  “Hi I’m Doug.”

“We have to get a picture of us three. I promised Justine, I’d send it to her.”

We took a photograph in front of the lighthouse building. Doug showed me the access way to the top of the lighthouse. It was one of the steepest staircases I have ever seen.”

“Sorry but I can’t let anyone walk up there. At least not without a safety harness. We’ve recently added a new LED lamp. It's only 35 watts but the mirrors focus the light beam for up to eighteen miles.”

“You have an amazing view of the mountains and the sound from here.” I noted.

“Yes, on a day like this, it is the highlight of the Nookta trail that people hike in the summer. There are folks coming down the path nearly every day. The old town cemetery is just up the beach. On a bad day, you’ll barely be able to see the rock in front of us with the James Cook Cairn.”

“So, James Cook passed through here?”

“He probably walked down the same beach you just did right now from your kayak. Supposedly, he had a good exchange with the local tribes after trading brass and iron tools for sea otter pelts. Hence the name, Friendly Cove. He stayed for four months here provisioning both his ships, the HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery before continuing up North to try and find the Northwest Passage. You should go and see the church. It’s the only building left from the old town. Well, that  and Williams's carving shop.”

“There’s no settlement here?”

“Nope, not since the 1960s. Kind of sad as it was inhabited for almost 4,300 years, but it’s always been an out of the way place to provide any services, so the BC government offered everyone a buyout to move to Gold River where there’s road access. Only the Williams family stayed. Their son, Sanford Williams comes for a few weeks in the summer to work in the carving shop. In fact, he is there now. Pay him a visit and he might show you what he’s working on."

It was still early, so I took up Doug’s suggestion and went for a walk. 

Adjacent to the lighthouse is the  grass field with the Friendly Cove Church. From the outside it is an unremarkable inexpressive wooden church, desperately in need of a fresh coat of paint. The steps are overgrown with slippery mosses, and the front door is just about hanging on to the hinges. Inside, however, the site is quite extraordinary. As I walked over the creaky floorboards to the altar, I was flanked by two delicately carved and colorfully painted totem poles with two perching eagles, and a fierce blue colored native warrior with his tongue stuck out. In the center overhanging the entrance was another eagle carving, this one with wings outstretched, although much chubbier than its two perched brothers. Above him were two snakes with limbs holding up the sun (or perhaps is it the moon, hard to tell). I was puzzled on how the snakes got their limbs; perhaps one could argue they are from before the time of Adam and Eve, when the snake tricked Eve into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge and God cursed it to crawl on its belly. 

From the church I went to see the Williams Family carving shop which was next to where I landed. The front door was open, and sunlight was radiated through a large glass window illuminating  the fine wood dust in the air. 

From the entrance stretched a long table with hand carved plaques, boxes, sticks, paddles and rattles. There was a photograph on the wall that caught my eye. It was a black, blood red, ceremonial mask of a hybrid human animal deity. Its head had a sprouting dorsal fin, its fish mouth had rounded teeth like an orca, and its pupils  were in the shape of human faces. The caption read “Chieftain transitions from human form into killer whale.” It was both artistically beautiful, and also frightening, like a character in a horror movie; you are fixated to look at it but hope it isn’t looking back at you.

At  the back wall of the shop behind a table sat a native man who although advanced in age from the look of his wrinkles, had a full head of dark black hair.. He was broad shouldered and wore a black sleeveless shirt which showed he had very big biceps like those of a bodybuilder. 

His attention was focused on a wooden plaque which he was busy carving with a delicate knife under a bright lamp like a dentist delving into the mouth of a patient with his drilling tools.

“Good afternoon. Doug the lighthouse keeper said I should pay the shop a visit. Are you Sanford Williams?” 

“Indeed I am. Make yourself at home.” He said in a deep voice.

I looked about and saw that he had several plaque carvings in the works. One depicted a flying eagle was ready for the dye colors with every polygon labeled red and black.  

Mr. Williams went back to focusing on his work. I took one photograph of a totem pole propped against the wall, but then felt somewhat embarrassed to take more, as I was not planning on purchasing anything. I noticed a wooden Greenland style paddle carefully engraved from end to end with the imagery of a quivering flock of bizarrely shaped ravens. Thinking back on it now ,  I wish I had purchased it. It would have been the conversation starter for a hundred different stories.