Thursday, 22 September 2011

Cortes Island

Many of the islands in between Vancouver Island and the mainland were discovered by Spanish explorers, so have names like Quadra, Sonora and Cortes. After spending most of August in Victoria, I went with my brother Steve up to Cortes Island where he has his boat moored in Gorge Harbour. 

Cortes is reached by two ferries: the first takes 10 minutes to cross from Campbell River on Vancouver island to Quadra island, and the second takes a bit longer to cross from Quadra to Cortes Island.

The Ferry port on the far side of Quadra Island, looking towards Cortes Island
On a ferry, hitch-hiking is best done with the voice rather than the thumb. Talking to people on the first ferry enabled us to cadge a lift across Quadra Island to catch the next ferry as well as a lift on Cortes island from the ferry terminal near Whaletown to Gorge Harbour.

The pond at the Gorge Harbour campsite
 The settlement of Gorge Harbour has the feel of a campsite in the woods - in fact, that's exactly what it is. There is a little shop, a building containing toilets, showers and laundry facilities, a restaurant and a small open-air swimming pool and a rain shelter (very necessary given the climate); all of this is centred around a set of floating pontoons so small it could hardly be called a marina. Out in the bay there are various mooring buoys with boats tied to them, and it was one of these that Steve's boat, Jabula was tied to.

Our first mission was to find Steve's canoe, which he had hidden in the woods. This enabled us to paddle out to his boat, which served as a good home for us for the next two weeks, treating Jabula very much as one might treat a cottage in the Welsh Mountains. As it happened, the weather was often rather similar to Welsh Mountain weather - although slightly warmer.

Arriving at the boat
Jabula from below

there's a rudder in there somewhere

The harbour takes its name from the narrow rocky channel, that links it to - and separates it from - the Strait of Georgia. We took a couple of forays out from the harbour out into the Strait, but didn't get much further due to winds that were too light or in the wrong direction, a fair amount of growth on Jabula's hull and rudder, and our general unwillingness to spend money on fuel given that this was a sailing boat. But we didn't need to go far to enjoy it:

Captain Steve

 We experienced a beautiful simultaneous sunset and moonrise, with sky gradients in the style of the latter work of Roy Henry Vickers.

Realizing that our navigation lights were not working, we found an overnight anchorage off another part of Cortes Island.

Landfall in the Smelt Bay Provincial Park
In the morning went ashore to explore a small provincial park, before returning to the boat and sailing (yes, we did do some sailing!) back to Gorge Harbour. 

We did some exploring around various parts of Cortes island, tramping along gravel roads and trails that wound through the temperate rainforest and emerge at various desolate fjords and inlets.

After one damp day of hiking, we braved it through the close-treed wetness of the rainforest to a final awesome cove with a dead fridge, an old saucepan, some beautiful rocks, no orcas and a rainbow.

Steve and moonrise

 There are wolves on the island, and one night we were sure we heard them as we wandered through the dark.

Steve on his way to go and wash the dishes

Diary excerpt, Sep.19th 2011:

Today has been an awesome day! We have accomplished a mission that had been on the cards for some time: canoeing around Gorge Harbour. We made a figure-of-eight loop around the harbour's two small islands, making a ring around Ring island, and getting a tan going around Tan island.The beautifully clear waters were teeming with life: thousands of purple starfish, many jellyfish, and many seals which popped their heads up from time to time.
Log dump and old cargo barge.
We had lunch sitting on the rocks on the far side of Ring island, and later swam off some rocks further round.  

Steve canoeing around the harbour

After two weeks spent in this way, we started to follow leads for jobs at ski resorts on the mainland, and very quickly, we found that we were being offered interviews  in Whistler, which quickly necessitated our departure from Cortes.