Stars to Steer By

 

September, 2015

Quadra Island B.C.

 

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

– John Masefield

We’re in Campbell River looking for a Sporting Goods store. We punch in the information into our GPS and bingo! All the streets of Campbell River are displayed in front of us and we follow the directions given to us in the calm, unfaltering voice of our GPS. This bit of technology never ceases to amaze. There are over two thousand satellites currently in orbit, helping us to find our way to the store.

We head over to Quadra Island for a short, five day camping trip in one of our favourite campsites. It’s a ten minute ferry ride across Discovery Passage from Campbell River and it’s great to be on the water again, this part of it named after Captain Vancouver’s ship, the HMS Discovery. As the ferry lurches in the notoriously strong current, I remember how tricky navigation is here and wonder how Vancouver managed these waters. I can’t imagine trying to thread this maze of islands with foaming-water channels without charts and tide tables. When we passed through here on Goldenheart, it was challenging enough to navigate with a marine GPS and all the tide information available today. How did they contend with Surge Narrows that can run up to 16 knots? Somehow Vancouver managed it and landed on the shores of Quadra Island in the summer of 1792. I guess you have to do that sort of thing if you want an island and a city named after you.

Imagine this. You’re a captain in the British Navy and so you are given a ship to command. And some men. It’s the late 1700’s and most of the earth has not been explored but somehow there is a rumour floating around about a Northwest Passage that connects the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. You are told to go find it. The ship is equipped with the latest navigational technology in way of something called a Chronometer which is the most accurate seagoing timepiece going. Most accurate. You set off on the HMS Discovery and head out of England toward the Pacific coast of North America with charts that are at their best, outlines of coastlines made to supplement written or oral directions. Captain George Vancouver called his book about this exploration the Voyage of Discovery – I wonder if it was an intentional play on words. He never did find the elusive North West Passage but gave it his best shot all the while mapping this coast.

HMS Discovery, 1789

HMS Discovery

We settle into our campsite on Quadra Island, not as intrepid explorers but as those with a GPS and road signs to follow. When it gets dark I walk along the road out to Rebecca Spit, a long narrow tongue of land that sticks out into the ocean between Drew Harbour and Sutil Channel. I have the water on both sides of me and the sky opens up similar to being on the boat, stars touching each horizon. The expanse leaves me breathless, any petty concerns that have been walking with me tumble away into the dark waters as the stars reach out with their luminance. I have entered the cathedral of the heavens. I have heard a GPS referred to as ‘the man-made stars we navigate by,’ and although I’m eternally grateful for the system having made even the most incompetent of us navigators, they are by no means stars.

The Bowen Queen takes us across Discovery Passage to Quadra Island

The Bowen Queen takes us across Discovery Passage to Quadra Island

Rebecca Spit is a long tongue with beaches on both sides. This one is on the inside shores of Drew Harbour

The inside shores of Rebecca Spit along Drew Harbour

The other side of the spit is open to Sutil Channel

The other side of the spit is open to Sutil Channel

Signs of an earlier civilization

Signs of an earlier civilization

From driftwood to kindling

From driftwood to kindling

This trip I learned about a feather stick to start a fire

This trip Lee showed me about a feather stick to start a fire

Listen up boy scouts - the feather stick as a fire starter is ever so clever!

Listen up boy scouts – the feather stick as a fire starter is ever so clever!

So great that the fire ban is off

So great that the fire ban is off

Making wiener sticks - I think there's a boy scout badge for this isn't there?

Making wiener sticks – I think there’s a boy scout badge for this isn’t there?

A questionable dinner but a way to keep warm around the fire

A questionable dinner but the driftwood fire made them almost edible

The bilge keels allows this boat to get a bottom paint job at low tide. No haul out charges!

The bilge keels allow this boat to get a new coat of bottom paint at low tide. No haul out charges!

The Cortes Ferry coming into Heriot Bay

The Cortes Ferry coming into Heriot Bay. It’s a forty-five minute trip so we head over for the day

The food store and restaurant on Cortes

The food store and restaurant on Cortes

The Cortes version of a rope swing

The Cortes version of a rope swing

A peaceful scene on Cortes

A peaceful scene on Cortes

Mansons Landing Cotes Island

Mansons Landing Cortes Island

Mansons Lagoon Cortes Island

Mansons Lagoon Cortes Island

Calm waters near Whaletown

Calm waters near Whaletown Cortes Island

 

Categories: History, Travels By Land

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