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PART 5 - Jun. 29th - Day 31 - Sea Kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation

Updated: Feb 4

Vancouver Island - West Coast - Shack in the woods

We woke up to dead calm conditions and thick fog, the prelude to a radiantly sunny day.

“Time to wash hands!” JF announced.

Soon we were in our kayaks making our way south to the mouth of Quatsino Sound. The sound is a very long fjord that cuts deep into the island and almost slices across it. In the farthest reaches you are s closer to Port Hardy than the Pacific Ocean.

Marking the entrance to the sound is a small rocky island topped with a mohawk of trees and a lighthouse. There is no good harbor on the island save for a narrow pebble beach on the north side, but it is only accessible in good weather and high tide, through a bed of sharp boulders covered in barnacles, but fortunately for us, the conditions were just right.

“Let’s not be here for too long or we will be stuck with walking the heavy boats to the water.” Said JF.

After climbing up a short but steep trail, we reached a fenced grassy field next to the lighthouse keeper’s lodging. Opposite to that was a wide helipad overlooking the sound, with a large H painted in white. I walked on the helipad to see the view and was surprised to see a deer grazing in the forest below.

“Well, the helipad explains how the lighthouse keeper gets in and out, but how on earth did the deer get here? Can deer swim in the ocean?”

“Yes, they can, and they do.” Said the lighthouse keeper walking down to meet us. “Oh, and I'm so sorry I have to say this, but we don’t let visitors stand on the helipad. The previous keeper had a son who slipped, fell down the cliff and drowned. He is buried just beside our dwelling. ”

“Hopefully he reincarnated as one of the bald eagles we see perched on the cliff.”

Jim and his wife Mary have been working as lighthouse keepers in Quatsino Sound for three years. “We found the job through a Facebook ad, and thought, “hey, why not?” We are both retired. The job has good benefits, and we could rent out our house on the mainland. Besides, whether the weather is good or bad, the scenic view is unbeatable.”

I talked to Jim about the daily life of lighthouse keeping, and I am convinced this type of work can be a really good deal, for the right type of person. There would surely be a long line of applicants wanting the job if it was more widely advertised. The pay is decent, about $50,000 Canadian if you are the head keeper (as opposed to the assistant keeper who fills in when the head keeper is on holiday), and the accommodation and electric utilities are included. You have to do some light maintenance on the buildings such as painting and general upkeep, and you must record the weather and the sea conditions four times a day which takes about an hour, maintain the weather instruments, and upload the data to the Meteorological Service of Canada. If someone shows up to the lighthouse in distress, you are expected to provide first aid, and call-in emergency services if needed. Seems like there would be a fair amount of free time most days.

“Ever since Amazon struck a partnership with the Canadian Coast Guard, we can pretty much order anything we need, and it arrives every two weeks with the chopper. My wife ordered a treadmill to get some exercise when the weather has us stuck indoors.”

After a brief walk around we hurried back to the kayaks, lest we got trapped by the falling tide.

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It took half an hour to cross Quatsino Sound. There was a slight north breeze, folks asked me for a little showboating with the kayak sail, and I happily indulged them. “Would love a few photos please. I mostly paddle alone, every shot I have of myself is from the viewpoint of a rhinoceros.” I joked.

On the opposite side was a cabin nestled in the woods by the shore. It did not look abandoned like some I’ve seen before. The wooden deck and roof were varnished and in good condition, the door hinges swung without effort, and a propane tank in the backyard was heavy with fuel.

“It's a communal house belonging to one of the local tribes.” Said Justine. “It works on a first come first serve basis.”

I walked inside through the kitchen door and noticed a variety of seasonings in the pantry and two metal pots by the oven. The living room was homely,a drying clothesline hung from the ceiling over a wood furnace where a few logs had been left ready if anyone should arrive needing some warmth. I sat on a dusty futon pressed against the wall and looked through the glass window facing the ocean as though it were a TV screen featuring a nature documentary.

“You could certainly rest here and watch the scenery change slowly through the day.” I thought. Maybe a fishing boat or an eagle would enter this living canvas at some point.

By the window was a notebook with a pencil marking the last written page. It was a guest book with the stories of previous occupants going back about three years. Most just noted their passing, but a few had curious tales from their time in the cabin. I’ve copied here a few of the most interesting anecdotes I read:

January 25-26, 2020

Hi Ellen, A nice weekend adventure with Shane, Hailey and Ryland. We had some fireworks with us for the New Years celebration at Restless Bight. Papa Walter is with Angela and Mom visiting family in Thailand. We are thinking of you and dreaming up plans for the summer. I see that Loriann brought a new logbook too! We got to enjoy a calm day before a raging storm with unseasonably warm winds rolled through while we were beachcombing at night. The seas are very high now. Lots of logs moving around. We cut a little bit of wood, but the saw needs some attention. Shane and Ryland fixed the couch so please go easy when you sit on it. It’s got to be from the 70s as it was Jary Olsen’s. He helped my dad and Walter bring it here when his friends built the cabin.

June 15, 2020

We came across this cabin on our circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. We started in our double kayak from Courtenay on June 2nd. It has rained everyday of our trip and West Coast waters have been challenging. We are very grateful for this cabin so we can have a dry night. Our original plan was to camp at Restless Bay. We are both from Whistler and have a similar community cabin network for the skiing months. We’ll be heading off in the morning to round the Brooks Peninsula! – James and Duffy.

July 5-9, 2020

Hooo Man, we owe you guys one! My sister and brother-in-law stumbled across this cabin on a hike from Gooding Cove and thought it would be a great place for my 3-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son for when we come down from Saskatchewan. So here we are. Thank goodness for this place. We brought two tarps, but one is leaking and the other isn’t very big. If we were stuck in our tents, the kids would be screaming mad. But we got to watch the rain out the window from the comfort of the couch.

My sister drew a sun in the sand yesterday, and the toddlers were running naked on the beach. You have to be careful though. In the morning we saw four wolf tracks on the sand, then the next day we saw cougar tracks that weren’t there when we arrived. They must have noticed the kids and were interested; the little ones would make a fine meal.

In the river there are lots of otters and even more fish. My sister is really good at catching them. I don’t know how she does it. Seems like she just dips the line in the water and out come the fishes. Red snapper, rockfish, greenlings, and black bass, she catches everything. I thought maybe there was something about the rod or the lure she was using that was lucky, but I had no luck with it. Witchcraft, I say. We made some really good ceviche!

We left a jolly jumper in the closet that we brought for little Sam. That gave him some bodily autonomy to get him standing, and after a little practice with it he finally took his first steps. At first, I felt very proud of my boy, but then I got worried; he moves around a lot now, and I have to keep an eye on him.

Not much evidence of mice. A few of the kitchen rags looked ripped, but that was it. By the way, who made the swing outside? The kids love it.

We chopped some wood and left the logs by the furnace for the next person that comes around. We would have left a few diapers wipes too, but my son bedeviled more than we expected. Also, thank you to whomever it was that installed the rain barrel. I bathed my son in it before I realized what it was. He got in the muck and was really filthy, so I emptied it out all the water. Hopefully the rain fills it up again soon. I left forty dollars in the book in case someone needs to buy supplies. Cheers! – Thomas

July 12, 2020

We were paddling through the area, saw the cabin and decided to stop and look. The place smells a little strange, but we were happy to spend the night. Big thanks to whomever left the logs by the furnace. We were soaked from yesterday’s rain and that helped get things dry. We have restocked the supply. Thank you – Angela, Eric, and Ben.

July 26 – 29, 2020

I paddled across the sound from the lighthouse. The wind was really strong, and there is a gale warning for the next three days. What a surprise it was to find this little place in the woods with a million-dollar view.

I am on an adventure that started in Campbell River. The first leg to Port Hardy I did it with friends. The second part rounding the Cape I did it solo. I’ll be finishing in Coal Harbor, in Vancouver. I’ve spent a few days here in the cabin putting my head back in the right place before I head back (reluctantly) to civilization.

The weather is good now. Time to go around the Brooks! I noticed that there were two twenty-dollar bills inside the log book. I’ve added a twenty towards the propane since I used some of it. Thank you for sharing this place. I am leaving with a sense of gratitude! – Drew Conway.

August 1 -3, 2020

We kayaked from Winter Harbor and weathered out a massive storm on this little cabin. We are continuing to the Brooks. We added another forty to the sixty already in the logbook. – Julia & Stephan.

September 13, 2020

Three guys from Victoria, spent two nights here at the end of a two-week kayak trip out of Winter Harbor, Around the Brooks and back. Almost no wind and no rain the entire time! Thank you to the people who built this place. We split some wood for the next guest and cleaned out the rain barrel (it was kind of mucky on the bottom) probably could use some bleach. Hope to come back sometime. – Rob, Alan, and David

November 12 – 14, 2020

The cabin looks great! The mice are out and about. I caught nine, and one in the pantry. The surf in the ocean is huge. The biggest I’ve seen in years. Thank you Rowly Reef!

The Storm washed up a lot of fish on the beach. The ravens are having a party! – Mike.

December 17 -20, 2020

My gosh, the bridge from Gooding Cove washed out in the storm from a few days ago. More rain is on the way it seems.

The cabin shook in the wind all night like an earthquake was going on. The rain came in sheets, and the sea is spraying close to the windows. The creek is a muddy torrent and there is no way we can cross it.

Storm has cleared, and we had a starry night. Thank you for this dry Oasis. Can’t imagine what we would do without it. – Garry, Catherine, Frazer, Eva

April 18 – 19, 2021

I am going on a Lichen hunt! I’m looking for a rare lichen I thought only grew in Alaska, but Eva said she saw it last year. I need to confirm it.

We are a family of four out fishing with a zodiac at the mooring buoy so we camped down by the creek. There must have been some bad storms recently. Lots of fallen trees.

Did not find the lichen. Disappointed – Garry

May 15, 2021

We miss you, Ellen! Happy birthday! We thought maybe we would find you here. Instead, we only found your lone wolf. He’s made it a habit to hang out by the cabin.

We spotted a lazy bear sleeping on the meadow. He didn’t even notice us go by on our canoe.

There are wild strawberry flowers everywhere, which reminds me. I need to bring you some goodies for the garden. Hope to catch you soon!

P.S. Looks like the living room couch is broken. We need to see what to do about it – Sarah & Kyle.

May 27 – 30, 2021

This is our second trip to the cabin, but the first time we are spending the night. We just moved to Royston three months ago and are still getting to know the area. We are so grateful this place exists! We wanted to contribute to the upkeep, so we packed out a lot of the trash, including some Asian Soy sauce from 2014! The hubby kept busy chopping some firewood to last the whole summer, while I paddled over to Lawn Point for a picnic.

There’s a lazy bear hanging around down by the beach. I named him “Greg” for obvious reasons. Thank you so much to Ellen for the maintenance and the stewardship of this place.

Oh, by the way, Brian Engineered the living room couch back to life, and the lucky mousetrap is working fabulously. The mice population is now down by two! – Juliet and Brian.

May 28 – 21, 2022

Well, it looks like we won the lottery this weekend by finding this place in the woods. Thank you for whomever maintains this place.

We had supper at Lawn Point while we were here, and every day we saw the three wolves and a lazy bear there. Many Thanks – Dallas and Jean.

June 5, 2022

We don’t want to leave because it’s paradise, but dad said we have to go to school tomorrow, which is so bad. I miss mommy, so at least there’s that to look forward to.

Finally, after reading all the entries, I came to a blank page in the logbook where I wrote about my passage.

June 29, 2022

What a surprise to run into this place on my way around Vancouver Island! Sadly, I do not have the time to spend the night, as I and my group only stopped briefly for lunch. The weather has been incredibly calm the past day with mirror like conditions; not even a ripple to speak of. If this calm window lasts, we will have an easy time rounding the Brooks.

I see that all the folks who pass through here contribute something, so I will as well. I am leaving my last bottle of Perrier as a treat for the next lucky occupant. Enjoy! – Felipe Behrens, From Brazil!

Sea Kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation


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