I'm Matt, a software engineer and boating enthusiast based in Washington State (but on the move). I started Hermit Cove Boats, offering cool skin and frame boat plans and kits. Check it out!
We stocked up in Ucluelet and late in the day headed into Barkley Sound. Barkley Sound is a squarish bay on the lower end of Vancouver Island. It faces south-west, and is filled with island chains, rocks and reefs. It seems to have been generated by the world’s greatest video game terrain algorithm. Only it’s residual squareness gives it away. In particular, the Broken Group of islands forms a squarish subset of the bay, and they definitely seem generated by some algorithm for the enjoyment of kayakers. There is no way a place this fantastic could be formed by accident.
We arrived in no time after crossing the 8 mile gap between Ucluelet and the first islands of the Broken Group. We dropped the hook on the east side of Clark Island and mixed up a few Dark and Stormies. Across the way I could see the popular anchorage of Effingham Bay. Boy, there are a lot of boats over there… Odd, because we are alone over here in the most perfect scenery imaginable. What did Michael say about a southerly blowing in? This would be a bad place to be in a southerly… Let’s check the forecast. Sure enough - though the bad weather was still over a day away, that night would see gusts from the south. Dammit! It was our first time having to pull up anchor without sleeping on it. We had to rush because the sun was going down, and by the time we dropped the hook in Effingham Bay it was basically dark. Oh well, hope no one wants us to move! That night the wind did get up, and I was glad to be snug in the lee of the island.
The next morning we had a surprise - we had dropped the hook with plenty of room all around, but what had been our downwind neighbor was on hundreds of feet of rope (we were on 150 feet of chain) and they were now our upwind neighbor. It was easy to apologize for our closeness. No need to even raise our voices we were so close. Nothing for it but to fire up the engine and move further away. Let me just start it up and - grind - click. Hmm, try again, click. Well, dammit. Double dammit. The starter motor must have gotten lonely again. The fix that had seemed so promising in Tahsis was nothing but a bandaid after all.
Our neighbor was leaving for a sail anyway, so we didn’t have to move. Thank god, it would be so embarrassing to have to ask them to move. I pulled the starter motor apart and did the usual thing. It did look pretty rough again so I had a good feeling that it would start up. But nothing I could do would elicit more than a half hearted grind followed by a click. Once again we were stuck in an archipelago of incredible beauty. I shuddered to think what dire straits we’d be in if the engine had not given us that last start - exposed to the open Pacific on the eve of a storm. Our blessings are many but they do not include a reliable starter.
We headed to the island for a walk. Not much else could be done. There on the site of an ancient native village we ran into two crews: Simplicity and Calliope, both of Seattle. Fancy meeting you here! We’d been in company several times before - twice we’ve headed into an anchorage as Simplicity was leaving it. And Calliope had shared a dock with us in Tahsis. They had some good advice for us, including the existence of a diesel mechanic in Ucluelet. They also told us of a sea cave around the corner. We pressed on and found incredible tidal pools, the remains of a native house whose beams now act as nurse logs for mature trees. And in the cave, itself a wonder - just above the high tide line -stalactites and stalagmites! (stalactites ”hang tight” from the ceiling, not that it matters which is which).
That night the storm arrived. 30 knots out of the south east. Clouds of fog and rain blew over the island and then over our anchorage with a vengeance. Without the island to absorb most of their fury it would have been all over. The rain poured down. We hoped our anchor would hold - without an engine and with nothing but darkness and rocks downwind, there were few options available to us if it didn’t. We’d left our main boom hoisted up clear of the gallows. In the night its motion worked the main sheet block shackle pin loose. I awoke to the noise at 3 am and suited up to go on deck. I the put the main shackle to rights and raised a reefed mizzen to steady our motion. It was so dark, our LED anchor light was the only source of illumination. I went forward to check our anchor. The chain hung straight down! The wind was fierce up high, but down where we were the gusts never lasted long enough to even pull our chain tight. What a relief.
While out on the deck in the pitch black, I noticed something odd below. Little lights? Darting around? We’d seen phosphorescence before. But this was new: it was so strong it illuminated the fish as they swam. Off in the distance I saw a larger glow. Hunters probably consider it a windfall when darkness no longer conceals their prey. The larger shape darted by the boat, at least 5 feet long. A shark? It moved like one. I stood there in the heavy rain and fog, winds gusting and howling, looking down for half an hour. At a time like that, you believe that the natural world is capable of anything.