Research and Ruins

Islands at the edge of the world. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The first day of June, 2017 began very much the same way that the past few days aboard Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud have: tucked into a quiet inlet, surrounded by nothing except stillness, silence and incredible beauty.

Coffee and tea were available in the warmth of Passing Cloud’s lounge beginning at 6:30am, and Captain Matt fired up the ship’s engine as we sat down to eat one of Chef Tasha’s amazing breakfast creations an hour later. We had a decent run ahead of us, punctuated by some pretty intense swells, as we sailed south towards the Hakai Institute.

A little rolling on the ocean…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…as we traveled to Calvert Island and the Hakai Institute. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Located on Calvert Island in a repurposed fishing resort, the Hakai Institute was created in 2009, but its origins date back a full decade earlier. The Institute conducts scientific, long-term research at its Calvert Island Ecological Observatory (where we are today), and also has another station located on Quadra Island. By its own admission, the Hakai Institute is modelled after such well-known organizations as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, and Australia’s Davis Station in Antarctica.

A little snack onboard…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…before going ashore at Hakai. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

We arrived at the Institute around 10:30am this morning, dropping anchor in the picturesque inlet in which it is situated and hopping ashore via our Zodiac raft. Of course, before doing that, it was only proper to enjoy a snack on Passing Cloud’s aft deck, consisting of fresh Pacific salmon with capers and bread.

The Hakai Institute fully encourages members of the sailing public to drop by and visit their Calvert Island station, which includes a cluster of outbuildings that make up the bulk of their on-shore facilities, along with a pristine beach that can be accessed via a scenic, 15-minute stroll through the forest.

Oh, and one other thing: the Hakai Institute also has free public Wi-Fi.

Wandering through the forest…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…enroute to the beach. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Since leaving Shearwater/Bella Bella two days ago, we haven’t had a drop of cellular service, and a sailing ship like Passing Cloud isn’t outfitted with Wi-Fi, for obvious reasons. But I will be forthright in saying that I took advantage of this free Wi-Fi like a man trapped in the desert might take advantage of a glass of water. That is, I devoured it.

It is interesting to see how addicted we have become to being connected – to information, loved ones, and mindless entertainment – in this day and age. A decade ago, internet on cruise ships was in its infancy, and was so slow and expensive as to almost not be worth it. And on my first cruise in 1998, there was no internet, period. You want to communicate with someone on-shore? Send a telex, or just touch base with them when you get back. For seven days, you’re off the grid entirely.

The unnamed beach is spectacular. It really feels like it’s at the edge of the world. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Centuries ago, the early explorers would be out of touch for years. No one would worry unless you overshot your anticipated arrival by a year or two. Now, we get antsy when we’re “out of the loop” for 48 hours.

When our digital lust was quenched, we proceeded through the forest to the beach. What we saw was magnificent: kilometres of open, sandy shoreline bordered by grey, rolling surf. We visited as the tide was receding, leaving dozens of jellyfish high and dry on the sand and hermit crabs scuttling for shelter.

Then, evidence we are not alone: wolf tracks, freshly imprinted into the sand. I became irrationally worried about running into a wolf on the beach. Without Liam Neeson and his little broken bottles of hotel room scotch taped to his knuckles to help defend me a’la The Grey, I’d be on my own. Fun sidenote: wolves are more frightened of us than Hollywood would have you believe.

As it turned out, tracks were all I’d end up seeing today on our beach stroll. The elusive Mr. Wolf was nowhere to be found.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This afternoon was primarily spent cruising along Fitz Hugh Sound. We were able to operate under sail for a bit today, and all guests came out on deck despite the chilly weather to take in the wonderful sight of Passing Cloud with its gleaming white sails unfurled and taut against the wind. Chef Tasha responded by serving up an afternoon snack of devilled eggs, and the torrential rain – which has been almost unrelenting this week – even let up for a bit.

Returning to the Passing Cloud…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and setting sail for our overnight anchorage. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

We made just one diversion this afternoon: a scenic sail-by of the abandoned town of Namu. A former cannery town and First Nations community, nearly 400 people were employed at the cannery alone. Established in 1893, the cannery was relegated to fish processing in 1980, and closed for good in 1997 after being passed around through a series of buyers who’d floated every idea in the book to keep the place operational.

Today, Namu is entirely abandoned; an environmental disaster waiting to happen. The cannery buildings – many of which still contain oil and diesel fuel in drums or rotting heavy equipment – are slowly falling into the sea, destabilized by the rotting pier columns that hold them up at haphazard angles.

We made just one stop this afternoon: a sail-past of the abandoned village…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…of Namu. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The entire town is crumbling…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…slowly falling into the sea…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and is barely recognizable as a once-bustling company town. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The saddest sight, though, are the houses. Once a place of friends, families and love, they now sit abandoned, visited by no one. When these company towns went bust, people just up and left. They took very little with them, because there was little to take. Accessed only by boat, anything larger than a suitcase would have been prohibitively expensive to remove. Which, perhaps, is why the 1970’s vintage Hitachi backhoe sits next to one of the old warehouses, rusting away.

Namu will disappear one day, reclaimed by the land and the sea that was once taken away to build it. It is one of dozens of town that suffered a similar fate along the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest and beyond. And when you see a steel drum floating in the water, its contents spilling out into the ocean, it makes you realize that not a lot has changed over the last century. Like 1893 when the cannery went up, profit is still king. Removing a town is expensive – so we just won’t do it.

What harm could it do?

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud in the Great Bear Rainforest continues tomorrow as journey to the largely-abandoned town of Ocean Falls. You can learn more about travel in British Columbia by visiting the HelloBC website.  Follow along on twitter with @deckchairblog.

Springtime in the Great Bear Rainforest

May 29Arrival in Bella Bella
May 30Our Expedition Sets Out
May 31Beaches and Excavations
June 1A Day at the Hakai Institute
June 2The Abandoned Town of Ocean Falls
June 3Adventures on King Island
June 4Bears and Dolphins: a Wildlife Paradise in the Great Bear Rainforest
June 5One Last Day; Recapping our Voyage

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