Just imagine my joy as a collector of Captain Cook stamps to read of a boat trip out to Friendly Cove on Nootka Island. I was sitting at home reading travel books in preparation for our trip to British Columbia. Instantly that became for me the most important part of our projected trip. How I looked forward to it.
We flew from Toronto to Edmonton, drove through the splendour of the Rockies, explored Victoria, drove north on Vancouver Island to Campbell River. All interesting, enjoyable and preliminary to the main event - the boat trip! The morning dawned bright and clear, just as all special mornings do - no! no! Actually the morning was rainy and miserable the way special mornings usually are. We had to drive across the island and the Pacific Coast mountains to the town of Gold River - an hour and half drive in grey, drizzle over gravel road most of the way, all the time wondering if the cruise would really leave the dock in weather like this.
We arrived, parked and took shelter in the warehouse before purchasing our tickets in the pouring rain. Some weather for a day long boat cruise - the highlight of my trip! More than once my family asked if I was sure I didn't want to turn back. No way! I was headed to the landing site of Captain James Cook and his ships,, and I was going to walk where he had, even if it was pouring rain and we couldn't see a thing!
We boarded the M.V. Uchuck III, a freighter that makes a regular run up the coast to service logging camps and small settlements that have only this contact with the outside world. The mountains on the west side of Vancouver Island are near impassable. It remained grey and overcast all the way down the Muchalat Arm and out into Nootka Sound. The mountains came right to the water's edge and kept going to make the Arm about 5000 feet deep. There were very few places that a ship could land on these steep shores. The shoreline of Nootka Sound was much the same.
It was as we were rounding Bligh Island that I received an intimation of a big disappointment ahead. The Captain said that as this was the first cruise of the season with sightseeing passengers that he was not terribly sure of his reception at Friendly Cove, but had the feeling that we would not be permitted to land. He went on to say that the previous year he had a good relation with these Nootka Indians, taking them with him back to civilization and so on, but some of the tourists had peered in the windows of private residences, desecrated the Indian graveyard and generally upset the Indians. Therefore, they had said that no more tourists would be welcome. He tried to radio the lighthouse keeper on the island to find out if he could land, but received no reply. As we drew nearer to the island it was apparent that fishing boats had been placed the length of the Government wharf and there was no room to land.
We were taken in as close as was feasible to the island, It was easy to imagine what-it would have looked like when the Discovery and the Resolution had come looking for a safe harbour to repair the damage to the ships. It is still mainly covered in trees, the tall pines that made such good mast replacements. There is a small clearing at the foot of the hills for the settlement of Friendly Cove - a few houses, Anglican chapel with beautiful stained glass windows, I'm told, and the lighthouse and the keepers' home. Out on the rocks at the south end of the island is a cairn to commemorate Cook's landing. I sure wish I had been able to clamber on the rocks and see it close up. The closest I got was the deck of a turning ship, a few hundred feet out in the Pacific Ocean.
However disappointed I was at not being able to land, I still found it to be a very enjoyable part of our trip to the West Coast.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 190, volume 6, number 2 (1983).
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