I entered Tofino Harbor for the first time in August of 2005. Night. A dense fog covered the sea. The boat on which I crewed had departed Hanalei Bay 23 days earlier, overshooting its goal, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, due to a gale from the south. We were out of fuel and water supplies were low. Our radar had failed. We had no Canadian charts.
The departing gale took away the wind and for two days we drifted toward Vancouver Island on a slow current and zephyrs. Five miles off and well after midnight we finally hove to. The skipper rang up the coast guard, whose cutter didn’t arrive an hour later so much as bodily materialize out of the undifferentiated dark just a few feet from our bows. It delivered five gallons of fuel and instructions to follow closely behind its bright lights to the docks. From the helm I followed with a will as our guide turned and turned and turned again. Fog so thick it would have been easier to pilot the entrails of a down pillow. Occasionally the boom of breakers unseen. Once an island of rock loomed close enough to touch, then faded quickly away.
Compare today. Today we depart Tofino Harbor on the ebb under full sun. Our course, a maze of hash-lines on the chart, seeks to pinball toward the open sea without ever touching the bumpers of Deadman Islets, the sand shoal north of Felice Island, the rocks off Stubbs and Wickaninnish; Surprise Reef, Nob Rock, Lennard Island, Frank Island. That these hazards are fully visible makes this a game without danger, until the engine stalls. Count: five, four, three, two, one. Kurt glows the plug; turns the key. The engine sounds. We continue.
In the north, summery skies are associated with windless, calm seas, and today is no exception. We motor on the flat south of Wickaninnish Bay and past Amphitrite Point before lowering cloud brings wind enough to sail, again and always from the southeast. One long tack out to sea for fun; RAVEN sails herself close-hauled and we sit, watching with deep satisfaction; then one long tack into Imperial Channel. Rain begins as we tuck behind Effingham Island.
Now it’s just the two of us, Kurt and me, and without our instigator (our puckish veterinarian photographer), we fall into long periods of silence punctuated by laconic bursts, mostly about boats, boats we admire, work we’ve done on boats, places we’ve been on boats, places we’d like to go.
Dinner of stew and bread and a glass of red wine. I clear the table, but discover we’ve run out of dish soap. I substitute a bar from the head, which clogs the galley sponge with a thick, white, oily substance whose cleansing qualities rival that of lard.