The Log Book
Tales of an Artist Afloat
Portland Island is one of those inspirational places that just begs to be sketched and painted. It’s small enough to walk around in a few hours, but my watercolours and I would have happily stayed for weeks.
We found a relatively sheltered anchorage, and were soon in the dinghy exploring. Our side of the anchorage featured wonderful little bays, fringed by arbutus trees. Seals and bald eagles loved to come and visit, and we sometimes found huge schools of herring.
It is relatively straightforward to clamber up the rocks and get ashore. There are no deer, sheep or goats on the island, so the forest floor is lush and covered in undergrowth. Towering Douglas firs create cool shade, and the shore is fringed with the twisting red-gold branches of arbutus. Their bark was peeling, revealing green sap-filled wood beneath. I’m trying to decide how to paint that wonderful colouring.
Before I make a new sketchbook for the summer, I decided to finish off an old Fabriano Venezia book which I started back in February. It’s good cartridge paper, but I’m not enjoying it for watercolour any more so I packed some 5 x 7 sheets of Strathmore 500 series. The paper is hot-press, takes a light wash very well and is lovely to draw on. I’m ending up with a series of little plein air paintings; I’ll either find a way to bind them together or will mat them up and release them as a mini collection!
Portland Island is now a provincial park, but used to be home to a thriving First Nations community. For thousands of years, people collected clams and oysters to eat. The shells were discarded in middens on the foreshore. Wave action crushed and shattered the shells, and over the millennia they built up into white shell beaches. Portland Island has a number of shell beaches, and in the sun they felt almost tropical.
I strolled along the beaches, followed twisting forest paths and rambled through patches of dry golden grass. At Arbutus Point, the trees gave way to a rocky reef where a large group of cormorants stood drying their wings after an afternoon of fishing. I’d intended to be back on the boat for lunch, but kept getting distracted by opportunities to stop and sketch!
I just had to hope that Jim didn’t eat ALL the food before I eventually returned! I ended up so engrossed in my wanderings that I missed the path that took me down to our little bay, and walked a few extra headlands before I realized my mistake! A bit of backtracking was needed until I found Jim and the zodiac waiting to row me back to Island Prism.
We untied the mooring lines and went sailing! Whilst our mission was to haul out and give Island Prism a fresh coat or three of bottom paint, we managed to bookend the labour of love with a few days at Sidney Spit. Which of course meant I got time to do another of my favourite things- watercolour sketching on location! And we'd certainly chosen a wonderful part of the West Coast for our mini adventure.
Sidney Spit is a long stretch of sand connected to Sidney Island. It's home to wading birds and Great Blue Herons, who hunt amongst the shallows at low tide. Cormorants rest on the sand whilst they spread their wings out to dry, and Purple Martins raise their chicks in nest boxes built over the water to keep them safe from predators. The Martins really are a vivid irridescent purple!
There was plenty to sketch, from driftwood-strewn sweeps of sand to views of Mount Baker and the Olympic Peninsula across the US border. The wind sometimes made drawing a challenge, but it did give me a chance to practice blind contour drawings of sailboats!
Our haul-out went smoothly. I helped Jimmie to prepare the hull, and was then given permission to dodge the paint application process whilst I filmed part of my new online watercolour class. I really appreciate all his hard work- applying three coats of bottom paint is not a fun job. I'd much rather be using my watercolours!
We both felt like we'd earned a few days R & R on the Spit before heading back to Victoria. The weather was variable, but is was wonderful to be out on the water after staying put for lockdown. The anchorage was busy without being crowded, and there was plenty of space for social distancing on the trails and beaches.
We had a glorious day for our sail back to the Inner Harbour. The wind was on the nose, so no sails, but the current swept us along at a steady six knots as we gently motored past Discovery Island and Trial Island. There were plenty of boats out, so I pulled out the binoculars and drew some more blind contours whilst Jim helmed. We'll be heading out again throughout the summer, and exploring some more of the beautiful Gulf Islands on our doorstep.
As COVID-19 restrictions have relaxed (for the moment at least) it's been wonderful to get out sketching round Victoria! Urban Sketcher meet-ups have started again, and I've also taken my sketchbook along on bike rides with Jimmie. The Urban Sketchers sessions are always a great way to experience new parts of the city, and although we can't go for coffee like we used to, we still manage to share our sketches and catch up at the end at a physical distance.
Prism and I are safely moored in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. With plenty of time on my hands, I’ve been busy painting and have been going through last year’s sketchbooks and photos to find inspiration for a new series of watercolours. At a time when sailing out to the Gulf Islands or remote West Coast communities feels irresponsible, my sketches let me travel and revisit some favourite haunts.
I’ve also been experimenting with making videos of my process as I paint, including narration! I’m excited to share the first of them below. Please leave me a comment if there’s a particular concept or technique you’d like me to focus on in future videos, as I’d like to create some tutorials too.
The Broughton Archipelago is a very special place. Tucked between the North East tip of Vancouver Island and the Coastal Range of mainland British Columbia, the area is a haven for wildlife from sea otters to orca and humpback whales. Wolves and black bears are abundant, whilst grizzlies maintain strongholds amongst the islands and mainland. It's an artist's paradise, and my watercolours and sketchbook were kept busy when we sailed around the region in the summer.
One of the most famous books about the area is called 'Following the Curve of Time'. Written by M. Wylie Blanchett, it tells of adventurous summers cruising with her five children on their 25' boat, 'Caprice'. Six people on a 25' vessel makes our life on 36' Island Prism seem capacious, especially during the summers when they added the family dog to the mix!
As we cruised during the summer of 2019, Jim and I dipped into Blanchett's book. Her gentle prose is captivating, and we often found ourselves in the same bays. When we called into Monday Harbour, we even followed her anchoring advice, using her description to track down the lovely, sheltered Tuesday Cove. Named by Blanchett, you won't find it marked on any maps, but we spent days snug and safe, visiting the white shell beach, exploring the forest and watching herons and harbour porpoise in the bay.
I began a series of large paintings in the summer, based on the sketches I was making as we cruised. The third in the series was of Tuesday Cove, and I titled it 'Following the Curve of Time' in honour of Blanchett, whose experiences ninety years ago still rang true with us.
Moored back in Victoria Inner Harbour for the winter, I knew I wanted to do something special with my trio of paintings. At 20" x 16", they were too large for the winter shows I was submitting to. Rereading the Curve of Time once again, lines from the book brought images from my sketchbook to mind. Inspiration hit- I wanted to create a series of paintings inspired by our cruising and Blanchett's writing. I felt a connection with the book- at the risk of sounding overly arty, it was as if the author and I were reaching across that curve of time and sharing experiences in the past and present. From experiences with cantankerous marine diesel engines to descriptions of shimmering schools of herring and wheeling flocks of sanderlings- a wading bird still common in the Broughton- our summers of exploration had a lot in common despite the ninety years that separated us.
Returning to my sketchbooks, I played with my paint to settle on a range of colours that could capture the warmth of a summer day or the mystery of rolling banks of fog. Pthalo Blue gave me the bright tones I needed and Indanthrone Blue was perfect for deep waters. Jadeite genuine, a watercolour paint made from the gemstone, created rich greens for trees. When mixed with Amethyst genuine, it made beautiful greys, perfect for mists and clouds. The tiny pieces of Amethyst adds a subtle lustre to some of the paintings, whilst others gain a gentle sparkle from blue-grey Kyanite genuine. Combined with natural siennas and umbers, I loved the idea of using earth and water to create my islands and seas.
After a summer of inspiration gathering and months of painting, I am delighted to launch the Curve of Time collection. The collection is on display as my solo show in the Cedar Hill Arts Centre Cafe Gallery in Victoria, BC, where it will hang until 17th February 2020. I shall be at the centre demonstrating from 9.30 - 3.00 on Wednesday 3rd, Saturday 8th, Wednesday 12th, and Thursday 13th February. I'll also be participating in the Family Day programme on Monday 17th.
The Curve of Time Collection is also available unframed online- please click here to view available paintings from the series.
Being an artist feels like a constant learning experience. Every time I chat to another artist, I pick up a tip or idea. Then there are the discoveries I make myself as I play with my materials and become more mindful of why some things work whilst others don’t.⠀
My biggest lessons learned tend to be the mental ones though. Art can require quite a bit of resilience- outer and inner critics can be vocal and sometimes I feel like I’m being a fraud- who gave me permission to be an artist anyway? It feels odd that something I love so much can leave me feeling drained and sad sometimes. The biggest thing I’ve learned to help combat art-induced negativity is to remember why I paint in the first place. To hold on to the moments when I’m in the zone, hypnotized by the way the paint flows across the paper, the gorgeous granulation of jadeite and the magical colours I can mix from phthalo blue and green. I need to remember the feeling of joy as a school of fish emerge from my blues or when I add the shadows that will make a tree pop.⠀
The more process-focused I become, the less it matters if a piece went wrong- it becomes a learning experience to help me with my next painting. If I enjoyed creating a piece of work, it doesn’t matter so much if someone else doesn’t like it- and I can concentrate on the fact that something that brings me joy can make other people happy too. I don’t think I’ve silenced my inner critic forever, but making the most of the process rather than obsessing about the product is helping to take away part of her power and makes it easier to figure out when she’s right- and when she isn’t. ⠀
I’d love to hear what your biggest creative lesson learned is, whether it’s for your head or for your medium!⠀
Mounting a watercolour painting onto wood solves two problems- the high cost of framing and the fact that glass can feel like it gets between the viewer and the image. Wooden cradles are much cheaper than mats and picture frames, and allow the viewer an unrestricted view of the art, without reflections obstructing their enjoyment. An added benefit is the fact that 2" thick cradles can also stand by themselves, making them ideal in small homes where wall space is limited, or in rental properties where hanging art is discouraged. A small cradle stands nicely on a shelf or desk and takes up less space than a frame. This tutorial will show you how to mount a painting onto wood so that the art can stand the test of time.
You might want to practice the process with unpainted paper first (if you miss the step of varnishing it, then you can still paint on the paper after it's mounted and seal it at the end). The process is not reversible, so you can't change your mind after a piece has been mounted!
I first learned about this process from Karen Smith, and thought I'd share my experiences!
You wil need:
watercolour paper/ painting (a little larger than the cradle)
spray varnish (I use Krylon UV archival matte varnish)
gel medium (I use Liquitex Professional Matte Gel)
brayer (a roller- you can also use the back of a tablespoon)
cold wax for extra protection (such as Jacquard Dorlan's cold wax or Gamblin cold wax)
soft cloths for wax application and buffing
To protect the watercolour from light and dust, I seal it with four or five layers of Krylon UV archival matte varnish. The UV element is important as this will stop the painting from fading if exposed to light. Golden also make an excellent archival varnish, but it is more expensive and requires a longer drying time before recoating. A UV archival semi-gloss or gloss varnish is another option. It will intensify the colours of the painting and give a sheen slightly reminiscent of the wet paint.
To stick the watercolour paper onto the cradle, I use an acrylic gel medium such as Liquitex Professional Matte Gel. This acts as a strong adhesive when dry. It's preferable to regular glues as it is acid-free so will not yellow your paper over time. It also acts as a barrier that prevents acids from the wood from discolouring your painting.
I like to coat both the back of my painting and the wooden block with the matte gel. This doubles the protection and ensures there are no air bubbles.
Then place your painting on to the wood. Use a brayer to press it down (the back of a tablespoon works too). Press the paper down evenly and check that the edges and corners are sticking properly.
Turn the painting face down onto a clean surface. Place a few large heavy books on top to press it down (try not to get distracted by reading the books, even if they're by Tommy Kane). Leave overnight to dry.
With a sharp craft knife, trim the painting along the edge of the cradle. I find if I keep the cut parallel to how I'm sitting, I get more control and the paper does not snag. If I try pulling the knife towards me, I'm more likely to end up with snags and wobbles. Cut flush to the wood so you don't end up with paper overlapping.
Sand the cradle and the edges of the paper to give an even finish. A 1500 grit paper or similar smooths everything off beautifully. I have also tried coarser grits to tame unruly edges and remove traces of gel from the cradle, then following up with the extra fine paper to get the smooth finish.
Attach D-rings and picture wire to the back of your cradle if you want to hang the finished piece. For extra protection, you can apply a layer of cold wax, such as Jacquard Dorland's cold wax. Use a soft cloth to put wax onto the painting and spread in circular motions, then buff with a clean cloth to achieve a smooth clear finish. The wax creates a layer which can be removed and replaced by art restorers without damaging the artwork. The varnish becomes a barrier layer, allowing this process to happen. You can also apply wax to the wooden cradle.
The watercolours shown are from my new Twilight Birds collection and are all mounted on wood. I've chosen sizes from 3" x 4" to 6" x 6", so they're perfect for standing in small spaces or sending as Christmas presents.
Saturna was a wonderfully sleepy, timeless island. It ticks along at its own pace, inhabited by retirees, holiday makers and the odd artist. This made it a wonderful place for cycling, as the roads were all but empty. We saw more deer than cars.
Jim and his mountain bike conquered the big hills without me, but my little fold up bike and I were up for the ride to East Point. Jim described the route as 'flat', which was a bit misleading- 'gently rolling' would be more accurate. I got a bit more exercise than I'd expected, but bike and I made it intact to the little museum looking out over the Juan de Fuca Straight.
There used to be a lighthouse here once, but when it was decommissioned it was decided that the best course of action was to blow it up. The lighthouse and lighthouse keeper's cottage were soon demolished, despite the protests of locals. However, the instructions for explosion did not include a termination sentence for the little building that housed the fog horn. Some forgetful soul had missed it off the hit list, so the demolition crew left it standing. This sole survivor is now a tiny museum, packed full of interesting information about the history and nature of Saturna and the Gulf Islands. I read about the Pig War between the British and the US, sparked off by the shooting of an unruly British hog who had invaded an American's garden. The pig was the only casualty in the war, but the greater debate was who the islands belonged to- should the US or British be ruling on the pig's demise? After a period of military posturing by both sides, an arbitrator was brought in. It was decided that the Juan de Fuca Straight was the deepest of the channels that ran through the islands, and was therefore most navigable and the most suitable boundary. The islands south of the Straight would belong to the US and became the Juan de Fuca Islands, those to the north would be the Canadian Gulf Islands. This border confused my phone, which spent most of our visit determined that we were in the USA.
Looking round the museum was interesting. Looking at the museum was beautiful. Bright white against the golden grass and blue sky, it stood above the swirling waters of the aptly named 'Boiling Reef. To the south were the blues and purples of the Juan de Fucas. To the north we had a beautiful view of Tumbo Island. Beyond it, the Gulf Islands studded the sea off to the horizon.
We had anchored Prism in Winter Harbour. When we arrived it was a busy mooring field but after Labour Day the call of work and school summoned the other boats home. Island Prism sat in the perfect spot to enjoy the wonderful sunrises visible through the harbour entrance, and with the shortening days I was often up early enough to see them. Evenings were spent ashore, enjoying the golden light and catching up with sailing friends.
Inevitably, laundry time was creeping round. We sailed up to Ganges, on Salt Spring Island, and were most surprised to find out that there was not a laundrette on the island. The dry cleaners would wash clothes at the princely sum of $21 a load and one of the marinas had facilities we could use- but we had to take a berth with them, and their moorage rates were budget-blowing. So I had to resort to good old-fashioned hand washing.
Salt Spring is known for its arts community, and there were plenty of galleries for me to explore. Gallery 8 was full of incredible work by masters in their media- Carol Evans' watercolours were particularly mind-blowing. I succumbed to the lure of a teal blue dress from Priestess and Deer and oggled cards at Inspiration. We thoroughly enjoyed the busy town but after a couple of days we were ready to move on from the bustling anchorage and steady stream of float planes.
Russell Island was a gem. It's not big, but it's peaceful and very pretty. The little anchorage would get busy in the late afternoon with boats popping out from Sidney for a beer with a view, but they'd up anchor around seven to get home before dark. The little homestead on the island used to belong to a Hawaiian settler. The apple trees which she and her husband planted were heavy with fruit, and Jim picked a few to enjoy on the porch. The fruit of one tree was rather tart, but they'd go perfectly with the ripening blackberries. If only Island Prism had a decent oven for pie baking!
The trees were filled with birds, filling the air with music. I recognised chestnut-backed chickadees and the squeaky red-breasted nuthatches, but the little plain brown birds that darted between the bushes and hid amongst the leaves defied identification. The sandy beaches invited me to paddle as I searched for signs of the terraces once built here for clams. I couldn't see the submerged rock walls, and our dinghy explorations were equally fruitless, but it was fun to hunt.
Shifting to Fulford Harbour, Jim dropped me off at the ferry to lug three framed paintings to Sidney for jurying for a fine art show. Thankfully Bill and his car came to our aid, and we left them in a hall with a thousand other paintings. Sadly I was unsuccessful and my ego felt a little bruised. Ultimately all I could do was remember that it wasn't personal, there was plenty of competition and as I have no way of knowing why my work didn't get in, there's no point dwelling on it. My best course of action was to pick up the brush and get back to painting. After all, creating is the main thing, practice makes improvements- and there's always next year!
The summons to Vancouver suddenly put us on a tight deadline. Immigration had given me an interview time for my permanent residency application and missing it would not look good, so we said goodbye to the Broughtons and followed the Johnstone Straight south. One day of very strong winds and big swells had us seeking refuge in Kelsie Bay, but otherwise the wind, tides and back currents worked with us and we reached Vancouver on schedule. My interview was successful, and we had a little time to play, cycling to Stanley Park and enjoying the urban wildlife of the city.
We ended up in Bennett Harbour because of the tide. With current against us and finicky winds, our sail from Vancouver had been slow, and we didn't think we'd make it to our destination of Saturna Island before dark. As we'd come south the temperature had risen, and it was warm enough that we could sit outside in the pleasant, sheltered anchorage and watch the sun set. It wasn't long until we'd sighted an eagle or two, and been visited by a curious seal. Despite the opinion of the local fishermen, I still find seals exciting. We see them most days, basking on rocks or popping up to the surface to breathe, watching us with large black eyes. To fishermen, they're a nuisance, competing with them for fish and sometimes stealing catches off the line (a trick also beloved of sealions).
After a restful night we continued south to Cabbage Island. There are a series of mooring buoys between Cabbage and Tumbo Islands, and we managed to snag a buoy an easy rowing distance from both islands. Cabbage Island was small but very interesting. Each beach was different- gravel, sandstone or white sand. The eroded sandstone formed a number of tide pools and lagoons, home to purple starfish, green anemones and darting little crabs and fish. In the forest grew Garry oak, red cedar and arbutus, a beautiful tree with reddish bark which peels off naturally to reveal fresh honey-gold wood underneath. The twisting limbs form fascinating shapes, and the bright green leaves contrast with red berries in the autumn.
Nearby Tumbo island was even more lovely and full of wildlife, some of which was very wild indeed. It's hard to get ashore near our anchorage, and when we tried to tie up the dinghy we realised that we'd need a much longer stretch of rope to reach any of the trees near the trail. Jim rowed bck to Prism whilst I sat on the sandstone shore and painted one of the reefs revealed at low tide. Then I heard a long growl from the bushes above me. Was it a bear? Wolf? Cougar? Could I use a paintbrush in self defence? I looked up and saw the beast towering over me... It was a racoon. She was standing on her hind legs and growling at me. I stood up too, stretched up on tiptoes and growled back. She backed off a little, but was still very unimpressed. Two little balls of fur dashed past her and up a tree. Mother Racoon was obviously in full defence mode!
When I was confident that she wasn't about to take a flying leap and land on my head, I returned to my painting. She kept watching me for a while and I heard the occassional grumble before Jim returned. We tied up the dinghy and I was pretty sure that she and her little family would be well away by the time we climbed up to the trail. I was wrong. The little ones were still up in their tree. I sketched them both, one watching me unconcerned as the other napped. Then a third head emerged- triplets! We didn't linger too long in case Mum came back, but they were very cute indeed. I don't have internet as I type this, but must remember to look up the correct word for a baby racoon. Cub? Kit? Racoonlet?
The forest trail was wide and well-maintained, fringed with towering cedars. It skirted a swampy area in front of an old homestead, where we saw a doe and her fawn wandering through the meadow. They were absolutely unconcerned until the barrel of my brush made a ringing sound in my water pot. The pair picked up the pace and trotted off into the trees, leaving me to finish my sketch before we continued on our way. It seems that a paintbrush can indeed terrorise wildlife! Eventually the trail led to a stoney beach, fringed with piles of driftwood. The headlands were covered in Garry oak and arbutus, and we had a beautiful view of the San Juan Islands, over the US border.
The loop trail took us close to the homestead and back to the dinghy. The racoons had gone and the tide was up. I tried to pull the dinghy to shore so we could get in, but Jim had used a stern anchor and it was stuck fast. There was nothing for it- I was finally going to get that swim. The water was bracing, but wasn't too bad once I was in. I swam out to the dinghy and wrestled with the anchor, pulling the line in different directions and trying to wriggle it free but nothing I could do was persuading it to shift. Jim braved the water to have a go, and was also getting nowhere fast until he hopped into the dinghy and tried rowing at full speed. Changing directions at intervals eventually did the job and, in a fantastic display of upper body strength, he was able to haul the anchor aboard and row us home. We returned in time to watch a company of four otters splashing, fishing and playing. One game seemed to involve jumping up out of the water and grabbing overhanging branches, making them bob and bounce until the otter plopped back down with a splash. Wrestling was another amusing pastime, both on the rocks and in the water.
The following day we popped the engine on the dinghy and motored back to the driftwood-fringed beach. The focus of the day was art; there were so many things to draw that one visit had not been enough! We hopped between sunny spots as I sketched the views. Lunch was spent sat on a huge log, watching ospreys hovering above the bay before plunging down to scoop up fish. On the dinghy ride home we figured out what had been attracting them. A large school of herring swam around the dinghy, their sides flashing silver in the light as they swam in unison. It's always a sight that lifts my heart a bit, for the pretty sparkliness and for the hope that there's still enough of a herring population to help sustain the rest of the marvellous wildlife that depends on them.
Inspiration flows when life slows down. I feel at my most creative when I have time to sit and watch the world, to paddle along in the dinghy, to poke around tide pools, search amongst the driftwood or hike through a forest. I stop to sketch or pause to take a photo that will refresh my memory later.
As we cruised the Broughton Archipelago, the pace of life was perfect for creating. We had no time deadlines and the highly sporadic internet removed a distraction. Peaceful, secluded anchorages added to this sense of tranquility. Foggy mornings gave me time to paint on Prism each day, and when the fog lifted I'd pack up my art supplies and go exploring with Jimmie.
The fog had almost prevented us visiting Tuesday Cove, between Mars and Tracey Islands. In her book 'The Curve of Time', M. Wylie Blanchett gave a beautiful description of this idyllic little anchorage which she discovered when inclement weather forced her to move from nearby Monday Harbour. Despite the fact it isn't marked on any map, Blanchett describes the cove so well Jim was sure he could find it. But thick shrouds of fog meant we didn't dare enter the labyrinthine channels that would lead us there. Even with GPS, the narrow entrances, shallow patches, fast-flowing currents and numerous kelp beds would be hazardous if we didn't have a decent view. Ah well, the plans of sailors are written on the wind and tide. This wouldn't be the first time we've had to edit or rewrite because of meteorology. We were busy redrafting when the wind finally read our initial memo, sending a stiff breeze which gave us a beautiful downwind sail through Fife Sound as the fog cleared before us. The entrance we wanted was revealed and I helmed us through the narrow pass. Our route was clear, with wonderful views of steep-sided islands and kelp-fringed shallows.
Entering Monday Harbour, we found the little nook between islets which formed Tuesday Cove. The thickly forested shore had a white shell beach, revealed at low tide, and the islets and the narrow drying inlet between Tracey and Mars Islands gave us plenty to explore. There was always something to watch. Hunting harbour porpoises chased their prey into the cove, herons landed in the fir trees (always a slightly ungainly sight) and cantankerous kingfishers defended their favoured twigs with noisy aerobatic antics.
After a few days there it was hard to persuade ourselves to up anchor, but we were glad we did. Our next day of sailing took us through the Burdwood Group. These little islands are currently uninhabited and unnamed. This wasn't always the case; the numerous white shell beaches and village sites indicate that a thriving First Nations community once lived amongst these islands. Perhaps the old names live on, and the map makers just never bothered to ask the right people.
There is a small camp ground in the Burdwood Group, but no secure overnight anchorage for a sailboat. With a little poking around we were able to find a couple of reasonable day anchorages to drop the hook whilst we explored using the dinghy. The island with the campsite was a particular gem. In the sunlight, its long white shell beach looked almost tropical, and as the temperature finally rose above twenty degrees I began to seriously contemplate swimming. Trails through the forest invited exploration. No traces of long houses remained, but cedar trees with patches of stripped bark showed that visitors had brought some of the old traditions back with them. Red cedar is known as 'the tree of life' and its bark has many uses, from weaving baskets and ceremonial clothing to creating fishing line. It also smells wonderful.
I didn't brave a swim as my togs were back on the boat and the afternoon was pushing on. Even on warm days the temperature tends to drop at about 6pm. Being cold and wet as we moved to a more secure anchorage wasn't going to be fun. So I sat on the shell beach, painting the summer blues and hoped that we'd make it back another day. We did return, and the Burdwoods were still beautiful even though it was cold and cloudy. On our second visit we returned to our idyllic white shell beach and also explored some of the surrounding islands. Most of them were pretty impenetrable and we couldn't leave the foreshore, but it was always a pleasure to just enjoy, breathe and be. Sometimes life doesn't need to be complicated!
Making our way up Tribune Channel, we passed Lacey Falls which pours down a steep face of patterned granite. Branches and tree trunks in the water indicated that there were logging operations in the area. The logs found favour with seagulls, who jauntily bobbed along on their mobile perches.
We ducked into Watson Cove, which the cruising guide said was surrounded by waterfalls and was the access point to see a thousand year old cedar tree. This sounded wonderful and the cove was lovely but the anchorage was fairly deep, there wasn't much swinging room and little shelter from the forecast wind. The next option, Kwatsi Bay, was also deep but very well protected. We anchored beneath a low hill. The towering mountains to the east of the bay were breathtaking, but the scars on their steep sides spoke of landslides. We felt safer keeping our distance, and dropped the anchor in thirty metres with plenty of swinging room.
I'd embarked on a series of three 16” x 20” watercolours. The first was of Harlequin Cove (which you can read about in a previous blog post), and for the second I'd decided to paint my favourite group in the Burdwoods. A painting of that size takes me a few days including planning and drafting, and I managed to make a good start during the wet and foggy morning. When the weather cleared, a group of Pacific white-sided dolphins entered the cove. They proved to be very distracting as they hunted fish around the anchored boats. The pod would split into groups, with one group driving the fish towards the shore and their waiting friends. In the shallow water the fish were easier to herd and pick off. After the feast, the dolphins stayed in the shallows, swimming slowly as if they were resting and digesting. Then came play time, with spectacular jumps and twists. When the calves tried to join in, the adults would show them how it was done. I'm sure the little one improved as we watched! We hopped in the dinghy and rowed a little closer to see if I could get some better photos. The dolphins decided to make us part of the fun, swimming towards us, diving under the dinghy and surfacing in unison. The acrobatics resumed, including some spectacular synchronised jumps as the dolphins showed off for their uncoordinated audience. We dragged ourselves back to the boat so I could wash my hair in the late afternoon sun. At sunset the dolphins headed off to do dolphin things, returning the following day. I managed to be a little more focussed on my artwork but still took regular dolphin breaks. It would have been rude not to!
We saw our dolphin friends briefly when we moved to Bond Sound. I like to think that they were checking up on us. We anchored just inside the entrance to the Sound, tucked inside where we hoped to be out of the swell. The waves had a habit of curving round to find us and the current sometimes pulled us broadside to the breeze, so it was a rather rolly spot and not one I'd choose in bad weather! Jim wanted to explore the Ahta River, which was reported to be pristine. We waited until just before high tide when we could get the dinghy over the bar at the river mouth, then went on an adventure. At this time of year the river was salmon-free, but in Autumn I can imagine the clear water being full of fish- and the banks being lined with grizzlies. The late afternoon summer sun filtered through the trees and sparkled on the water. Back out in the bay seals swam, waiting for the tide to drop so they could haul out onto the fallen tree trunks.
Our need for supplies and laundry was calling us back to Alert Bay. I could have spent weeks more poking around, but instead we called in at the Burdwood Group one final time before spending a night at Shoal Harbour on Gilford Island. The harbour is well protected and a wonderful place to watch wildlife. A well-fed mother black bear and her two glossy cubs were padding along the foreshore. Mother was turning over rocks with a huge thud, slurping and gobbling up whatever molluscs and crustaceans she uncovered. The little ones carried out their own explorations, played and squabbled. Eating didn't seem to be too high on their agenda. We hopped in the dinghy and watched them until they reached a berry patch. Dessert! Much to the delight of the cubs, there were plenty of fruits and they spent a while munching. After they headed into the bush, we heard a wailing sound from the other side of the bay. Another cub was alone on the beach, crying for his mum. She took some time to find him, but eventually the sobbing stopped and we saw them walking together on the foreshore, much to the consternation of the dog in a nearby float home. All in all, it was a pretty happy ending.
An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.