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.
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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.
Sea Kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation