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August 12, 2012
VANCOUVER, BC, Aug 12, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Sometime in the early 1970s a friend leant me their copy of the timeless coastal B.C. classic, The Curve of Time by Wylie Blanchet.
Widowed at 35 with five children, she organized their annual summer vacations around cruising on the Caprice, a 25-foot cedar planked power boat with enough room and range to take her family deep into B.C.’s central coast archipelagos and inlets. [amazon_link id="1878067273" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]The Curve of Time [/amazon_link]was first published in 1962 by Blackwood and Sons of Edinburgh, and describes these Blanchet family summer cruises.
My copy is now dog-eared and dropping its pages after numerous loans and re- reads, especially the chapters that describe exploring Jervis Inlet, and the treasured destination at its north- east extremity, tiny, perfect Princess Louisa Inlet.
For Blanchet, Princess Louisa Inlet was synonymous with haunting beauty, bears, trappers’ cabins, waterfalls, landslides, mountain hikes, warm water swims, odd rusticated characters, and occasional freakish moments of danger. In its barely six kilometres of length, it compartmentalized in womblike fashion all that she loved about the coast. For 50 years she has transferred this affection to her readers in successive republications of her book.
This summer our family finally decided to visit Princess Louisa. Preparing to go to a power spot that you have dreamt of for years, but never actually visited, has its moments of trepidation. What if the reality misses the expectations? What if your dreams have been false lures? What if the observed, felt and written magic of the 1930s has been lost to industrialized logging and fishing or something worse unimagined? The only way to find out is to go. And the sought-for reward becomes tied with this risk.
It is perhaps a good sign that the metaphysical pull of Princess Louisa Inlet is for me undiminished over the 40 years since I first read The Curve of Time’s first chapter. As I prepared for our trip by scanning the chart the night before, I noted for the 100th time Prince of Wales Reach, Princess Royal Reach, and Queens Reach, which alternately zig, zag and zig again as you travel 40 miles north up Jervis Inlet.
I thought of Captain George Vancouver and his small crew of Royal Navy sailors as they rowed up the inlet in 1792 looking unsuccessfully for the mysterious inland sea that might convey them back to Europe.
I thought too of Captain George Richards aboard the H.M.S. Plumper, whose 1860 survey of the area left it studded with Euro-royalty place names. Princess Louisa was both the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, and Queen Victoria’s mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg- Saalfeld, who was born Mary Louise Victoria. The actual source of the inlet’s name is still uncertain.
We cast off from the Saltery Bay government wharf in Francine, our 18’2 Hourston runabout early on a Saturday morning, under sunny skies in a flat calm. We had gassed up the day before, and packed enough food, water, and extra gear to overnight if need arose. I set a straight line course east to Captain Island on Agamemnon Channel, the front door of Prince of Wales Reach. We sped to this point in half an hour, and began to cover new territory as Jervis Inlet unfurled off our bows.
Soon we were abreast Vancouver Bay and Marlborough Heights heading north to Deserted Bay on Princess Royal Reach. We passed maybe 20 other northward travelers, mostly sailboats motoring along at maybe 10 knots. We flew by at 40 knots, leaving a ruthlessly straight wake.
On either side of the big inlet the walls of granite rose almost vertically, just as Blanchet had written. The massive ice fields she described are now considerably smaller, but their blue-hued colour is still true to the memories created by the book. All of the big watersheds have been logged, perhaps in the 1960s and 1970s, but they are basically greening-up with some degree of forgiveness. Soon we were turning for the first time into Queens Reach.
Our eyes now swung east, beginning to seek the tide ebbing through Malibu Rapids. We didn’t want to replay Captain Vancouver’s mistake, and sail by what he thought was a mere creek venting into the chuck. There was no missing it, however, because the Christian Young Life youth camp now adorns the entrance with its massive chalets. I throttled back as we approached the obvious rapids and cased the situation carefully. We had run for two hours; it was now 11 a.m., three hours after high slack tide. Low slack, the time all the sailboats were aiming for, was to occur at 13:53. We decided to go for it without waiting.
Francine powered through the rapids without a doubt, and we emerged safely into the welcoming embrace of Princess Louisa Inlet for the first time.
It was entirely and exactly as described by Blanchet. And imagined in my mind’s eye. For 40 years I have dreamt the truth about this place. It is the compact essence of the Northwest Coast.
Troy Media Syndicated Columnist Mike Robinson is a Canadian NGO leader, and brings an environmental and cultural perspective to current affairs. He is a critical thinker and worried optimist.
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