Loose Lines Sink Ships
…we streak (literally) towards the dock. Waves crash over us and the dock as we scramble and fall trying to reach the Audrey Eleanor.
Grenville Channel, south of Prince Rupert, is deep, dark, long and narrow. Without a north wind, it is well protected. With the north wind a-blowing you are in a wind funnel from hell.
Fortunately there are no winds as we cruise down its narrow depths at the end of October. The fog has rolled in, covering the mountains and spilling over to fill the channels. Audrey’s twin Perkin diesel engines rumble in deep rhythm, the muffled sound echoes back off of the steep mountain walls. The fog parts just when we need it to. I am the bow rider, holding onto the short rail with my ears cocked for sounds of other muffled engines. If we come to an abrupt stop I will flip over the rail and plop into the black water.
We are running with our radar on, but the radar does not see all. Wooden boats often place metal plates on masts or bows as a salute to the scanners that prefer to identify objects made of metal. Radar sometimes misses wooden boats.
Grenville Channel opens up onto Gil Island. We shut the engines down in respect and silently cruise over the face of the ocean where the Queen of the North is laying still and quiet on the bottom of this very cold and black sea. The Audrey Eleanor and crew are so very much smaller than the Queen of the North, a B.C. ferry, that struck Gil Island in March 2006 killing a man and a woman.
The Queen of the North lies on the dark bottom of the Ocean floor about 427 meters below us, we feel very insignificant. We have roughly 650 kilometers to travel in this unpredictable month of storms.
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a song by Gordon Lightfoot commemorating the ships tragic 1975 sinking in Lake Superior, is playing over and over in my mind. I am praying that the storms of November don’t try to out do the storms of October that have battered us since we left Ketchikan Alaska.
Our radio is giving us grief again, this never happens while we are in a port. We changed our antennae in Ketchikan, but our reception is still sketchy at best.
We swing to portside and motor past Hartley Bay, a native village that helped to save most of the people off of the Queen of the North. Hartley Bay responded to the distress call on March 21 just before midnight. The Queen of the North took about an hour to sink and the actual time is debated as 12:25 a.m. or 12:43 on March 22, 2006. Fisherman with small fishing boats and people with recreational boats braved the black night and howling winds of up to seventy five Kilometers per hours to save the people off of the ferry.
Hartley Bay is a picturesque village with a wild mountain backdrop that reminds me of the villages on the McKenzie River N.W.T. that I grew up in. (See the White Girl Series)
A twin Otter glides in behind us for water landing in front of the village. The Captain now swings us to starboard and we head up Douglas Channel toward Bishop Bay Hot springs.
It’s a sign. Streaks of sunshine suddenly break through the cloud cover and the shattered rays feel like Sunday morning in a mountainous cathedral. God rays I call them, we have not seen the sun in weeks.
Thank you Goddess, we are involved in divine intervention on the top deck, steering Audrey from the flying bridge. Warmth from the sun penetrates wet clothes; we steam a bit as we pass beneath unbelievable double rainbows. Spirits are carried upward with the steam wrapped in smiles of thankfulness
Bishop Bay comes into view. The tide is high so it takes a few minutes for the little house at the springs to come into sight. Whales are spouting and singing all around us, the sea is flat calm. This is magic, this is heaven on earth and we cannot believe what we are experiencing, all of this just a few miles from Kitimat, B.C.
A fifteen-foot fishing boat is tied to the small dock. The radio onboard the fishing boat is barking but there is no sign of the Captain or crew. Bishop Bay Hot Springs is a five-minute jaunt from the dock were we have secured our ship. We have walked down to the raised camping area and made lots of noise hoping to rouse the crew of the empty fish boat. No one responds, no one is in sight.
While we look forward to new conversation, the plan is to spend the afternoon bare naked in the hot springs with a bottle of cold white wine being serenaded by the sirens of the deep, the grey whales. Where is that crew is!
Thoughts of a hot bath over come modesty; we strip down and creep into the hot water inside the hut. We have a full sized shower onboard the Audrey Eleanor, while the 25-gallon hot water tank makes sure you leave clean, there is nothing left over for luxury. And lets face it; there is nothing that can replace being fully submerged in clean hot water. Moist heat penetrates damp, cold bodies and feels so very good.
A concrete hut houses the main body of the hot springs. It is built over the pool and encompasses a natural rock. A rope is suspended from the ceiling, which enables you to swing through the pool. Past crews have left their mark by registering the names of MVs (motor vessels) and sailboats on the concrete walls.
My wine glass sits in one of the windows slits. Narrow cuts in the hut allow for limited peeps into the outside world. Through the steam from the hot springs we see that a steady rain has begun. Suddenly torrential rain begins to pound on the tin roof; this is rather romantic as we settle deeper into the beautiful hot water, sipping the very good white wine, in real glass no less.
Something has changed, this is not so romantic anymore, the wind has come up. A peek through the small windows reveals a sideways rain en-route and presenting itself as a solid wall of back. The empty fishing boat has vanished. With winds coming up fiercely the waves are being thrown over the top of the dock and slamming hard on the beam of the Audrey Eleanor.
We streak (literally) toward the dock trying to pull on soggy clothes while we slip and slide naked in cold muck. A ramp that accesses the dock is twisting sideways and threatening to dislocate itself from the main body of the dock. Waves are crashing over the dock, and drenching us as we try to physically reach out and grab the Audrey Eleanor.
Remember the rays of sunshine and calm waters that we arrived on? Well we had tied our ship accordingly. All of our lines had been tied too loosely they are now stretched taut in the wind and have put Audrey totally out of our reach and allow no access.
Trying to pull a 30 tone wooden yacht broadside to the wind is mostly impossible. We hang on to the lines waiting for a lull in the storm to get close enough so one of us can jump aboard. Someone has to be aboard our precious ship if this dock decides to leave with her still attached.
Waves are staccato shot gunning burst of grey seawater through the cracks in the dock. This is serious; the dock is separating from the ramp. Enough, the Captain decides to walk the line like a tightrope walker and jumps the last few feet to land on the bow. How does he do shit like that? I am glad that he is the one aboard; he deals with the engines way better than I do.
Of course the wind dies down once he has secured the ship. Someone flips the switch, the light comes back on, god rays split the clouds and fog once again in their brilliance. Whales assume their songs with a deep resonation that vibrates mountains, boat hulls and bones. Echo’s off the deep green peaks give us whale celebration in stereo.
Soaking wet, mud splattered and mostly naked, we look at each other and laugh. Lots of a bottle of wine still sits back in the hut at the hot springs, we can jump back into the hot water to wash our clothes and ourselves.
We settle back in the open area in front of the hut, we now know that we have the Bay to ourselves. Dusk paints a pale pink sky that slowly climbs over the silver grey of the clouds. A spout of water blown high into the air by a whale breaks the solitude. They grow quiet with the approach of night in this wondrous place that man has not managed to decimate.
P.S. For a week the Canadian Coast Guard has been calling Securite’ on the radio searching for a missing person. We did not talk to the crew on the fish boat, which was registered out of Vancouver. People in isolated places tend to be very friendly; your life can depend on it. The village of Hartley Bay has demonstrated this when they rescued the passengers off of the Queen of the North. The Captain of the fishing boat was not feeling very social; we wondered if this was the boat that the Coast Guard was looking for. Join us soon for another ADVENTURE OF THE AUDREY ELEANOR.