In Search of the Lost Spirit Bear Tour

The Outpost – Fall, 2020

File Photo: Cosmic Debris moored at the Outpost (2017)

With the Outpost not being able to open for their regular fishing season in 2020, it was no surprise that there were to be some cutbacks. Never did I think though that the cut backs would be so insensitive to the needs of their caretakers.

In August, while on our time-out in Prince Rupert, the manager asked me “what are your intentions” in regard to the upcoming caretaker season that would run from August until (presumably) May or June. I replied that we’d be happy to return. Later I would be quite shocked to learn that their lease was due for renewal and that there was doubt that it would be renewed. I was surprised that he wasn’t forthcoming with that bit of very pertinent information when asking what my intentions were. In fact, I did not learn this until we were already settled back at the Outpost, when it was revealed that they had no intention of supplying us with fuel, or our usual very large grocery supply for the winter. Instead, we would have to cut back on fuel, and they would fly food in every three months.

Had we not returned to the Outpost with a literal boat load of supplies to build a boat, we would have left when we found out there would be no supply barge because, as management also knows, the weather on the west side of Haida Gwaii is not normally hospitable to barges or sailboats between October and April of any year. We, however, had a boat to build, and the Outpost was the only place we had to build it. I knew at that point though, that this wasn’t going to end well.

Om Shanté, om Shanté, om Shanté

We built our dinghy as quickly as we could, and got her, not finished, but to the point of being able to be floated. The remaining work could wait until we were in warmer climes and could be done outdoors.

Our first grocery order was submitted in the first week of September. We received it on Oct 1, and found it was shorted by about a half a plane load. In the first week of December I emailed the manager and requested that another plane load of groceries be brought in ahead of the Christmas rush. We received that one on January fourth. Many items were not included and there was quite a bit of perishables spoiled and/or expired.

October Delivery

Throughout the month of December I had been talking with the office about the dwindling fuel supply and had offered up our boat as living quarters, reasoning that we would be able to cut back much more on fuel usage since it is such a smaller space to heat and has two large battery banks for energy storage. I offered it at a price of course. After about two months of negotiations, and a full month after we had actually moved aboard, we finally agreed on a price.

On February 25th the weather turned very nasty. The wind came in from the west, our Achilles heel, and was hurricane force. It was early in the morning when it really got going. I had already been out to the helipad, and started the Honda gen set, to start charging the batteries, and had a look at the docks to see if I could get ashore to start the site generator. There was too much wind and swell in the cove at that time, so I reasoned that even if I did get ashore to start the generator, I probably would not be able to make it back in a couple of hours to shut it down. That was a good call, because this thing was only getting started.

At around 7:30 am or so, the Honda stopped. I went out to check it, and it still had lots of fuel, but I could not get it restarted. It turned out that it was totally pooched.

Later in the afternoon, after the storm had subsided, I made it to shore to see the devastation. More than a dozen large trees were down. As I walked up the boardwalk, I first came to the gasoline storage tanks. There was a tree down across one of the tanks, and adjacent to that, there was another one that had collapsed the roof covering the diesel tanks.

Next in line was the new tool shed, which had been upended by the roots of another fallen tree. Down the boardwalk toward the generator shack, there were two more trees across that boardwalk and then two more that had fallen at the generator shack – one straight across the building and another that just grazed the entire front of it. The latter made entry through the front door impossible, so to gain entry, I had to go around to the backside of the shack and crawl through the hole in front of one of the generators’ radiator. Both generators were both miraculously spared damage and the lodge was untouched.

That the generators were okay was what saved us, because that meant our food supply was still safe, and we still had communication.

We had, had two 2KW Honda generators, one was mine, and one was the company’s. I spent many hours in the following days trying to get one of the damned things running so that we could charge our batteries but it was all for naught. They were both toast, and with the continual dark winter skies of Haida Gwaii rendering our solar array ineffectual, we were having to charge the house banks with poor old Garth. I explained the situation to the manager, and that a thirty year old diesel engine was all that was keeping us going, and that were running out of diesel fast. Burning diesel to charge the house bank was ridiculous when we presently had only enough to last until the end of the month and had over sixteen-hundred gallons of gasoline with nothing to burn it in.

As with all the tough to swallow issues, he never responded to our need for a working, gasoline-powered generator, and it was at that point that I gave up talking to brick walls, a decision had to be made – something had to happen.

Watching the weather is part of a normal routine when you live in a remote place like the Outpost, so it wasn’t a total surprise that I spotted a rare but nifty little weather window that would see us to safe harbour in Prince Rupert. We discussed it between the two of us and committed ourselves to being ready. I think we had three or four days to pack our shit, prepare the boat, and ourselves.

The Day Before Departure

Of the remaining tasks to take care of, none were more important – today was the day to release Cosmic Debris from the rest of her winter mooring lines. The previous day, we had taken the port lines in and they were already stowed. Today was the day to take in the starboard lines and tie her to the helipad. In the morning, we would need only to untie from the helipad and bring up the anchor.

We needed only two days of good weather to reach Prince Rupert, but in reality we needed a full four days of good weather in order to get ready and then reach our destination. This weather window proved to be an exact fit for our needs – Everything aligned perfectly. The weather was mild, dry and calm, which made the task not just easy, but actually possible.

Route Plan

I nervously checked the weather forecast several times each day as our departure grew nearer, fully expecting it to change for the worse and so much that we’d have to abort the plan altogether. For this reason, I withheld notice of our intentions to my boss. I didn’t really feel good about it, but reconciled it with my conscience by reminding myself that he did the same to me when he withheld the critical information I needed about their lease.

After we had all our belongings on board, the mooring lines stowed, the internet gear put back in the lodge, and reconnected and tested, my final act was to email my letter of resignation. I then closed my computer and went back to the boat to help Wendi stow everything we’d just loaded onto the boat. At around midnight we were finally done and ready to cast off the lines. We set an alarm for 05:00 and went to bed.

March 8/9 to March 25, 2021

Stowing Lines

Just as planned we were off the dock shortly after 08:00, and after a little struggle with Rocky Rocna, we were north bound in gentle seas, under mostly sunny skies, amid light winds. It was an uneventful trip of motoring most of the way through the first day and half the way through the night. We did sail in light airs for the first couple of hours, but as expected, the wind died out up around Frederick Island. Later, we watched the Clubhouse go by as we slipped through Perry Passage between Langara Island and Graham Island and wondered if anyone there noticed us.

10 Miles North of Masset

Some time in the middle of the night, about ten miles off of Masset, we raised the mains’l with a single reef in her and motor-sailed until daylight. At dawn the wind increased nicely so we shook out the reef, cut Garth and sailed on for Prince Rupert.

Our 20-25 knot wind died down just before entering Porpoise Channel, and we motored in the rest of the way, and tied up at the Government Dock in Cow Bay.

Cow Bay is a nice little part of Prince Rupert, close to all amenities and downtown. The rates at the dock are really reasonable as well, which is always nice.

Winter in Prince Rupert

We spent the next two weeks there. We ordered, received, and installed our new Grizzly Wood Stove, redid the plumbing to the hot water tank, and connected it with the Grizzly (AKA Toklat). We ordered and received a few other odds and ends and provisioned with food, beer, and wood for the heater.

We were also fortunate, in one respect, that we were able to get our first Covid-19 vaccination shot. Of course that good fortune came with the caveat that it was only possible because we were in a Covid-19 hot spot. No worries though, we were careful and always wore masks.

In fact, we even upgraded to some very stylish, handmade masks that we bought from a friend/entrepreneur on Facebook. Not only are they N95, but another very important feature for Canada is that they double as a nose warmer. Not only that, but when you have an ugly mug like mine and cover half of it up, people seem much more friendly.

© 2021 Ron Morrison

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *