Sailing the Wild
LAUREN AND I, FEET SPLASHING IN THE WATER, LEANING TO THE PORT SIDE DURING A SAIL.
PHOTO BY: JEN BAKER (JENAYA’S MUM)
I picture my mother young. A bright, contagious smile. A bowl-shaped haircut that would curl with the salt of the ocean breeze. I imagine her youthfulness, bundled in the wool sweaters my grandmother knit with love, garments I would wear twenty years later.
Golden October was the 35-ft Ericson sailboat Mum grew up on with her brother, Ryan, and my grandparents. She made many trips on holidays and through the summer, including a trip all around the island. It was the greatest seven weeks of her adventures.
I imagine little excited feet scampering up and down the cockpit seats, hanging like monkeys from the companionway cover. My Nanny yelling at them to be careful and my Papa telling them to “quit it!”
As I stand on the deck of my parent’s 32-ft Ericson sailboat, Windfall, waves testing the keel’s sturdiness and strength, I wonder if the ocean made her head swirl with sickness like it does mine. Was it as exhilarating for her then as it is now?
When I was in grade 3, my parents sold our camper and brought home a sailboat. I was furious. Even when I came home from school one day to see this enormous white slug-shaped thing, balanced on metal poles and wooden pads on the gravel driveway below our house, it couldn’t be real.
The idea of going out in this wretched thing was unappealing. Sure, the unusual beach glass blue stripes and accents were beautiful, but I wanted nothing to do with it.
Looking back now, I see that they wanted to share something special with us, a part of Mum’s childhood.
We got it for free. The woman who owned it before us saw no worth in it after it sat in her yard for several years, rotting. Dad, the handyman, fixed up the hunk-of-junk over 15 months.
My friends and I would play in it, pretending to be sea captains lost to the tumultuous waves of the Pacific Ocean. Running up and down the walkways and peering over the edge, the mast crooked in an arm.
I slowly became excited about its existence in the yard.
When Windfall finally set sail for our first weekend at Tent Island, I realized that being in small quarters with my family was terribly difficult. We couldn’t just step out into a campsite to get away from each other like we used to.
WINDFALL FROM THE WATER.
PHOTO BY: SHANE FOSSET (BAKER FAMILY FRIEND IN COWICHAN BAY, 2011)
We were two hours into the trip and my sister, Lauren, was already getting on my nerves. We already hated each other, as young siblings do, and brought tension to the cramped quarters.
As the stars crept into the sky, a few hours off the shore from Maple Bay Yacht Club, Mum and I sang “Hallelujah” together, bundled on the bow in blankets and sweaters. And I thought to myself, Maybe this isn’t so bad.
Lucky Falls was our special, secret destination every summer, and Mum’s favourite place as a child. My Papa’s Aqua Sport fishing boat had a low hull, too deep to make it up the creek to the falls.
But Tinner, our metal dingy, could do it.
Tinner is a 14-ft aluminium fishing boat that my dad and his sister received from their parents when he was 15. It was their ticket to freedom, and our ticket to Lucky Falls.
We’ve used Tinner over the years to fish and explore beaches from Windfall.
When the tide was at 6 ft, we could putter our way up the creek. Lauren, in her enormous, teal-coloured lifejacket and her swimsuit, sat on the bow and watched out for rocks coming our way. Tan, pudgy arms would point right and left or give a thumbs-up when the coast was clear.
At awfully shallow spots, we’d all bail out and lift Tinner up together, and her cream-painted hull would drag over the bottom. It was quite the workout, but worth it in the end.
When we reached the falls, we tied Tinner up to a tree and scrambled our way up the slick rocks on awkward water-shoes.
It seemed like no one else knew about this majestic river. I only remember seeing two other families there over 5 summers. The fishing was terrible, so it forced us to relax and be together.
In the freshwater, Mum scrubbed our heads with shampoo and filmed us swinging from a rope-swing to rinse off.
Once, when I was 13, Lauren and I decided to climb further up the river. Infinite pools glittered with bullhead fish and smooth pebbles. We swam to each rocky path along the riverside. Some summers, the river would be raging, water gushing over the giant’s staircase.
We cliff jumped and swam below waterfalls, our sunscreen leaving streaks of oil in the crystal waters. Where the swimmable passages halted, we made our own path up the side of the bank.
Mum, Dad, Lauren, and I trekked up the narrow, sharp trail, avoiding roots and branches.
And there, on the other side, stomping across a fallen fir tree, a black bear watched us intently.
Just that morning, we had watched from the cockpit of Windfall—anchored at Refuge Island—as a black bear limped over the shoreline, tossing up rocks and shells in search of food.
“A wounded bear is the most dangerous,” Dad had warned. “They’re the most desperate.”
And on our way in the day before, wind howling and country music blaring, a bear of indiscernible colour had paddled its way through the passage. Its snout heaved, eagerly flaring for oxygen, its big head barely above water but nonetheless swimming.
We watched him for a while, Mum yelling at Lauren to come see, as we, too, motored on by.
But now, without the safety of a boat between us, this bear was terrifying.
We scrambled back down the path to the safety of our pools, where we decided we would be too noisy for the bear to bother us.
Over the many summers at Lucky Falls, we brought friends and family to enjoy the scenery. It’s where I saw Papa swim for the first time.
Mum put mini polaroid photos of us in the cabin of Windfall, and they remained there for many summers following.
JENAYA AND A FRIEND AT LUCKY FALLS.
PHOTO BY: JEN BAKER
Dodgers Cove is always our go-to place to visit. My parents go every year for their anniversary.
Mum was always able to point out the best places of interest from her childhood memories. On our first time sailing there—likely after a morning of bobbing around Kirby Point, feeling sick with incessant rocking, fishing lures deep and dragging behind us—we tootled over to Diana Island to explore what the beach had to offer while the sun was still high and warm.
Mum was an expert beachcomber, and my sister and I were often jealous of how easily she could find the most interesting shells and glass. She would meander, her hands behind her back or in her pockets if it was cold, her head of black curly hair down, staring at the sand as she strolled.
Then, she would bend down excitedly and pick up the smoothest piece of lavender beach glass or the tiniest sand dollar.
Lauren would collect the silliest things—things that she could find anywhere—and fill her pockets: random rocks, boring pink clams that were missing their fins, crab claws that fell apart at the slightest touch.
I left the collecting to them. I appreciated the enthusiasm, but I liked to leave the beach the way it was found—special and untouched.
Nowadays, feeling somewhat pompous, I scoff when I see whale watching boats—their passengers packed tight in big orange suits to keep them warm. It’s not their outfits I find funny, it’s that many of them have never seen a whale before. Which makes sense, as they’re going whale watching.
I was 15 when we visited my dad’s friend Emily at Robbers Passage on Tzartus Island, who was working on restoring her family’s old fishing lodge for her wedding. The lodge had been long abandoned; a grey blanket of thick dust settled over the would-be lobby and vines of ivy crept in the windows.
Through the throat of an enormous tree, of which the lodge had been built around, sat an old pool table, a battered kitchen with dislodged appliances, and a strange square, stone pit with cases of trinkets and paintings lining the room.
Up a winding staircase were dozens of suites, rat infested and awaiting a touch of love to be revived.
Following our gander through the lodge, we sat around a fire and ate a hotdog supper, and in the distance could hear the puff of a whale’s spout.
Quickly, we jumped into Tinner and quietly drove over to see if they were still there, turning off the engine and drifting out a safe distance.
Sure enough, down the center of the Trevor Channel, was a pod of humpback whales.
Their spouts blew plumes of thick water into the air, a spray that fell like patches of rain. Then they dove beneath the surface, tails high and crashing down like thunder.
We bobbed silently in the sea, nearing a water marker. Dad neared the bow of the little boat next to the cement formation. To get a better look at them, Mum helped me climb up the ladder to the top.
From the view, I watched the pod majestically dance with one another, winding about the surface, mingling and moaning happily.
And I thought, how wonderful it is to be here with Mum, experiencing what she had so many years ago.
To see the whales so closely, for no money at all.
We endured many storms over the years. Storms that rocked the boat and sprang leaks that dripped on our foreheads while we slept. I felt like a pirate, tipsy from booze and forgotten sea legs, in an attempt to dig through the cupboards for some Bear Paws.
Back and forth, we would go. Books, pencils, puzzles, and games would fly off the shelves. Cups of water and mugs of hot chocolate would slide against the lipped counters, threatening to tip.
Mum would frantically dart around to catch everything before it crashed on the carpet and stuck whatever she could in the sink.
And there would be my little sister, whining from her growing tummy ache in the quarter berth, huddled in a ball.
I clambered outside, on the brink of upchucking my breakfast, and was immediately pelted with rain.
Three years ago, after anchoring in Effingham Bay, secluded and protected from the winds, we stayed inside Windfall for three days.
I wrote my subpar novel, which I never finished, and drew some of my greatest portraits then. Lauren and I watched her favourite movies, Twilight and Ant-Man.
When the storm passed, we were eager to leave—get out somewhere new and breathe some fresh air. We piled into Tinner and Mum led us up a trail on the nearby beach to see the vast few of the ocean, perched in the treeline like bald eagles.
This August marked the end of an era.
When I graduated in 2021, my parents sold Windfall.
I sunk to the floor when I heard the news, memories flooding my eyes, wonders of our next trip swept away. There would be other things, Mum assured me, but it would never be the same.
I imagined Tinner, bobbing away behind Windfall, tied to a sturdy cleat off the stern of the cockpit. A downrigger, perched on the starboard side, held the tip of a stiff red fishing rod as it kissed the water. Lauren, curled up in denial about her motion sickness, watching movies on her iPad in the v-berth. Dad sitting behind the wheel, Mum rubbing my back to ease my nausea.
It was on these trips that I learned how to build a fire, knuckles sizzling from the heat; how to fish, what it feels like to hit bottom and the adrenaline of having a 20-pound winter salmon on the line; how to pack light, with the essentials for a turbulent night of storms or a beautiful sunny day at 20°C on the beach.
Every summer Mum would say, “How many kids can say they’ve done all that?” Caught and cooked dinner, then jumped in the ocean for a rinse after a long day, just a step away.
It brought us closer together.
I didn’t know it then, but Mum had brought us up with the most spectacular childhoods. She had grown up on Golden October and wanted to give Lauren and I this experience, one like no other.
And I dream of going back and doing it all again.
TINNER AND WINDFALL.
PHOTO BY: CLIFF HAYLOCK (JENAYA’S UNCLE, WHO LIVED IN BAMFIELD FOR 50 YEARS)
Jenaya is a multi-genre writer and artist in her third year as a Creative Writing student. She spends her free time building a portfolio of tattoo designs and dreams of studying in Australia and Taiwan, publishing novels and tattooing.