Cruising into the Mountains

Into the Fjord: 0800, Prince of Wales Reach

Into the Fjord: 0800 hours (click on photos to enlarge)

I knew Princess Louisa Inlet would be gorgeous, since I’ve been hearing about its virtues pretty much all my life. But what I didn’t know or expect was the incredible beauty of the three long arms of water that lead up Jervis Inlet to Princess Louisa.

It’s a long journey in a slow boat, and your timing has to be right to safely navigate the narrow tidal pass that leads into Princess Louisa (more on that in another post, later). We had calculated when we’d need to reach the pass, and left the dock at Egmont at 0600 hours, giving ourselves lots of extra time, to allow for some dawdling along the way.

Once you enter Prince of Wales Reach, the first of the three arms, you’re travelling deep into the Coast Mountain Range. It’s a change in perspective for those of us who usually cruise north and south along the coast, parallel to the mountains.

a point with high mountains beyond

0920 hours: almost to Princess Royal

Eventually Prince of Wales Reach takes you to Princess Royal Reach. Repeatedly, you find yourself at the back side of a mountain you’d been approaching from the front for the past few miles – with another snowy peak towering overhead.

Closeup of snowy mountain peak above

1115 hours: at the feet of the giants

At the top of Princess Royal Reach, the fjord takes a decisive change in direction to become Queens Reach, and at this junction lies Deserted Bay: a wide indentation that’s more visible on the chart than from the water. We thought it worth checking out.

Tsonai (Deserted Bay)

1200 hours: Tsonai (Deserted Bay)

For centuries the Sechelt (shishalh) Nation’s Tsonai people lived here at the mouth of the Deserted River, where clams, salmon and slate for spear points were plentiful, and a trail connected Sechelt and Squamish territories, enabling regular trading. After smallpox epidemics hit the area in the 1860s, the village was abandoned, which led to its English name.

Captain Vancouver gave Tsonai a miss in 1792 when he passed by – as do most boaters today, for it’s not a great anchorage, and adds a bit more distance to the trip to Princess Louisa. But we took time for a closer look, and as we slowly cruised the shores of this now quiet site, we felt an almost palpable sense of history.

“Tsonai” (the photo above) was one of the 39 prints on display in my recent solo show, Coastal Journeys: 2000 to 2016. The show also included several others from our Princess Louisa trip. If you weren’t able to see the show (or want a second look), all of the images are now online.

Riding the Kelp

Islands and kelp beds

Tribal Drift (kelp beds off the Tribal Group, Central Coast)

In summer, kelp forests grow profusely on reefs and rocky shores all along the BC coast.

Normally when we’re travelling on our boat, we treat kelp as a warning sign. After all, those floating bulbs and blades mark the location of reefs, with “boat-eating rocks” often lurking just below the surface – so we carefully avoid getting too close.

But when we’re in our kayaks, it’s a different story: reefs are a magnet, and there’s nothing we like better than drifting through the kelp forests, looking down to see if we can spot schools of small fish or invertebrates such as hermit crabs amid this rich habitat.

Here’s a rather odd image I managed to capture from my moving kayak of a crab, taking a wild ride on a thick blade of current-tossed bull kelp. I can’t help but think of Aladdin on his magic carpet.

crab on a waving blade of kelp

Wild Ride through a Briny Cosmos

Final reminder: if you’re on Gabriola Island I hope you’ll catch my solo photography show, “Coastal Journeys: 2000-2016″. It’s on until October 7 at the Centre Gallery (Professional Centre, North Rd.), open Tuesdays through Fridays 9 am to 4 pm. More details here.

Secrets of the Mist

Shoreline reflections and misty forestWe slipped through the narrow entrance into Bottleneck Inlet one afternoon, when the lowering cloud cover made visibility too poor to continue our journey up Finlayson Channel. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it proved a perfect anchorage: excellent protection, the right depths, good holding and plenty of swinging room.

It rained most of the day and a half we spent anchored there. Still, it was a pretty place to pass the time, with mist drifting in and out of the trees and the haunting song of the Swainson’s thrush spiralling out from the forest.

I felt a sense of profound beauty and mystery in this remote place – as I have felt in so many places along the BC coast during my lifetime of boating. Now, in my new photography show, I’m hoping to share that beauty and mystery with you.

5x7 show card REVISED-web res

Coastal Journeys opens today on Gabriola Island and runs until Oct. 7 .

If you’re on Gabriola between now and then, I hope you’ll stop by for a look.

For more details, including how to get there, click here.



Dawn Departure

Wharf with water, mountains and sunrise in distance

Dawn Departure from Egmont (click to enlarge)

I’m not really a morning person, so it was tempting to turn over and go back to sleep when the alarm sounded at 0530.

But I knew that if we missed the narrow window at Malibu Rapids we’d be in trouble, for there are no decent anchorages anywhere near that part of the long, deep fjord that leads to Princess Louisa Inlet, our destination that day.

Malibu is the narrow, constricted passage into Princess Louisa, and it’s only safe to transit at slack tide – which occurs just briefly, twice a day (and not always at a convenient time). We’d calculated that high-water slack that day would be at 1330, and that we might need six hours or more to get there. That meant we needed to be away from the Egmont dock by 0715 at latest, and we still had some chores before we could leave. So reluctantly, I dragged myself up to greet the day.

Fortunately, the beauty of that dawn made the effort well worthwhile. And in case you’re wondering: yes, we made it to Malibu on time.

On soon: my new photography show, “Coastal Journeys, 2000-2016”. 
Through photographs and words, I’m sharing my passion for the BC coast in this solo show, which opens on Gabriola Island on August 16 (with reception Aug. 18). The images range from southern Vancouver Island all the way up to the North Coast, and most of the older ones have never been printed before. I’m excited about the show and hope you can make it! Details here

Shifting Focus

Clouds shaped like two birds flying

Clouds on the Wing – off Silva Bay (click to enlarge, or twice for even larger)

Each summer when it’s time to re-develop my sealegs, I need to make some shifts in focus and perspective.

All through the spring, growing our food garden at home, I’ve been looking down to check soil moisture, plant health and so on. Now, I need to constantly look up, to the wide expanse of sky which holds the signposts for what might be coming our way – because weather trumps all when we’re out on the water.

Navigational light with bright sun on water and clouds

Light on the Water (Strait of Georgia, off the Flattop Islands – click to enlarge)

My eyes must adjust to a new colour palette and a sudden shift in contrast. Instead of the gentle greens and browns of our usual forest view, we’re surrounded by blue, and on bright days, by intense, dazzling light that reflects off every ripple and wave (as in the photo above, taken without a polarizing filter). Good sunglasses, with polarized lenses, are an absolute must if we’re to keep watch for hazards and stay on the safe side of reefs.

Entrance Island light station with cloud bank over the mountains beyond

Entrance Island, with the BC mainland coast beyond (click to enlarge)

My ears make a shift too: instead of CBC news, we’ll listen to Environment Canada’s weather broadcasts on VHF radio. A big part of the info we need comes from the wind, wave, weather and visibility reports filed by lighthouse keepers like those at Entrance Island.

Tides and currents also require the utmost attention. Boat-eating rocks disappear at high tide, hidden (but lurking) just beneath the surface. Even where there are no dangerous reefs, it’s essential to know whether the tide is rising or falling, and by how much, so that when we anchor we can put out the right amount of line to stay safely in place.

Reef just barely above water

Beware: at high tide they won’t be visible.

That’s why each summer I must renew my acquaintance with all of those columns in the tide book (remembering to add an hour for daylight savings time). I also review how to crunch the numbers, in order to predict the tide’s height or current’s strength at times other than those listed in the book. Mathematics is alive (and hopefully well) on our boat!

A few shifts are also needed on the photographic front: a tripod isn’t practical on the boat, so I crank up the ISO and steady myself as best I can as we bounce about. If the day is bright enough, I’ll add a polarizer to cut glare. Motion is always present, so I  forgo any long exposures (unless I’m aiming for total abstract). Trying to find a single focal point among all that beautiful water and sky can be daunting – but it’s a challenge I’m happy to accept.

UPCOMING:  I’ve been behind in my blog posts lately because I’ve been busy preparing new prints for my solo show on Gabriola Island. “Coastal Journeys” will include about 35 mounted prints from our boating trips along the BC coast over the past 15 years. If you are on Gabriola I hope you’ll visit the show, which runs from Aug. 16 to Oct. 7 at The Centre Gallery.  Opening reception: Aug. 18, 6-8 pm.  See you there!

Red-Legged Days

Red-legged frog floating at edge of pondThe water level in our pond is going down rapidly as summer approaches, but so far there’s still enough to support a healthy colony of northern red-legged frogs (Rana aurora).

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been seeing these reclusive amphibians all around the banks of the pond, wherever a patch of sunshine can be found. But it requires some serious searching. Even though the adults can be up to 3 inches long, they’re hard to spot, as they blend in so well with the vegetation.

Frog partly hidden among grasses

They’re understandably skittish – after all, they’re a popular food for some birds, mammals and snakes. Their powerful back legs (which are red on the undersides) are great for jumping and for kicking their way quickly to the pond’s muddy bottom, where they can hide from dangers (including pesky human observers).

Red-legged frog among grasses

Red-legged frogs need the still waters of ponds or marshes to breed. Once that deed is done, the adults can enjoy the sunshine on the banks or leave the pond if they prefer. But it’s a different story for their young, who hatch about 40 days later. These tadpoles must then remain immersed for another 80 days as they grow their legs and morph into frogs. That means that unless breeding has occurred earlier than usual, they need water in the pond through most of June.

Our pond usually dwindles to a small puddle by early July, so it’s always a close call for the tadpoles. These days, as climate change brings drier springs and summers to our region, it’s more than ever a race against time for the new generation. Fingers crossed.

You can click on the photos to enlarge them and see the details – click twice if you’d like to see them extra large!

Hard at Work in the Forest

Pileated woodpecker at a suet feeder

Five species of woodpeckers inhabit the woods around our place. The largest, most colourful one is the Pileated woodpecker, who clearly resembles that crazy cartoon character we knew and loved as children. On rare occasions like the one in the photo above, Woody stops by our house for a treat of suet

More often though, I only hear his maniacal cry or catch a brief glimpse of his pointy red head as he swoops wildly through the forest. But lately, I can hear him at work during daylight hours, producing a steady tapping sound in the forest. And any day  of the week, year-round, I can see the results of his work: deep, rectangular holes in the trees.

A closer view of Woody's work

Despite the fact that we have many trees on offer, Woody seems focused on one particular Western red cedar (Thuga plicata), as you can see in the photo below. To date we’ve counted 19 woodpecker holes in this tree, which grows in a tight linear clump, flanked by two Douglas firs and a smaller red cedar. The other three trees almost never get pecked.

Tall conifers with line of deep woodpecker holes in one of them

I’m guessing that Woody’s favorite tree must be full of tasty carpenter ants, which form the main portion of a Pileated woodpecker’s diet. Since we live in a wooden house in the midst of a forest, I’m grateful for his steady work, as it may help prevent a future catastrophe for us.

In the meantime, I’ll need to keep my eye on this tree, as it could soon be a happening place for other animals as well. Woodpecker holes are used as nesting sites by a huge variety of birds and mammals including many songbirds, owls, bats and squirrels. A study by a UBC researcher found that in Canada, some woodpecker tree holes were used as many as 17 times in 13 years, by up to five different species.

Sounds like efficient use of real estate to me – well done, Woody!

Transformed by the Rain

Raindrops along edges of leaves of plantEarly each spring, when I begin cleaning up and weeding our garden beds, I tell myself that as soon as the sodden clay soil in the perennial bed dries out just a bit, I should dig up most of the Lady’s Mantle.

For despite its genteel name, in our garden this muscular plant is highly invasive. Its roots take hold with superglue strength, its foliage spreads like wildfire, and it readily self-sows if its flower heads aren’t cut off quickly. No matter how hard I’ve tried to keep it in check, Lady’s Mantle has had the nasty habit of crowding out other, more delicate flower species that I’d hoped would flourish.

So each spring I say to myself, “Enough!”

But then it rains – and I can’t help but notice the sheer beauty that emerges when water droplets shine like strings of pearls along the edges of the Lady Mantle’s water-repellent leaves. Apparently I’m not the only one who has appreciated this: according to Wikipedia, alchemists used these beads of water, which they considered to be totally pure, in their efforts to turn base metals into gold (thus giving rise to the plant’s Latin name, Alchemilla mollis).

It rained the other night. So once again, the Lady’s Mantle has won a reprieve.