Tipping my head back, I finally relaxed and let the sun kiss my face. If there’s any reason to leave work early (although who needs a reason?), this was it. Salt-tinged wind brushed my hair across my closed eyes and I pressed the mouth of a cold bottle of cider to my lips. Bliss. Distant demands of adamant seagulls reached my ears as they trailed a fishing boat returning to harbour. The bow of the Destination, a 30’ sailboat upon which I found myself, easily cut through the small waves making their journey back into Ucluelet. Within a matter of minutes, we would be out past the harbour and into Barkley Sound. The farther we motored, the lighter my stresses became. Soon, I was as buoyant as the boat.
Although I’d been on mini-adventures with the Destination and its mismatched crew of my roommates and friends before, I had never been on an overnighter. Anticipation baited my thoughts all day – this would also be my first time out of the harbour and past the Broken Group Islands onboard a sailboat. A kayaking hotspot, over one hundred islands and islets make up the Broken Group. These emerald gems create endless exploration for the adventurers of the sea. Private paradises exist on sandy beaches tucked into aimless coves and inlets. Unexpected corners reveal tunnels and caves, and from the heavily forested outcrops, the rugged wilderness beckons with west coast creatures hidden within. We wove between and beyond the almost mystical islands and I felt giddy with sun and cider. Marking our trail, a single fishing line dragged through the ocean and at the bow, a blow-up dinghy coaxed “sailors” to succumb to naps below the lines. I stood up front and let awe wash over me as the ocean breeze danced along my outstretched finger tips and tugged at my open flannel. Below, the waters of the Sound were an azure-meets-turquoise tinge that was brand new to my ocean accustomed eyes. It was nature’s kool-aide interrupted only by our small wake, our shadowing skiff and the splash of the occasional, overjoyed fish.
Feeling bold, our captain raised the sails and we chased the afternoon beyond the Broken Group into more distant waters. Guitar and laughter accompanied our wobbly zig-zags that were meant to resemble the neat switch-back stitches of a seasoned sailor. Taking over with our trusty sea dog on my lap, the tacks took a turn for the worse. Sudden gusts set the sails taut and my heart racing as the boat leapt forcefully ahead. Seconds later, my angles would be wrong and the gusts would blow by, leaving us like a cork bobbing in the sea. All the same, slow and steady won the race with patience as my virtue. We finally approached our moorage for the night, discovering that we would not be alone in paradise. Two other sailboats sought safe harbour in Pipestream Inlet and as we dropped anchor, we waved a friendly hello to our neighbours. Within minutes of arriving, we piled onto our trusty, tow-along skiff and set out again – there were more secrets to the coast than this quaint moorage. Looking back over my shoulder, a serene sight met my eager gaze. The soft light of the approaching dusk created a misty haze that hugged the ocean in familiarity. Within the mist sat the three boats bobbing as though patiently waiting our return. For us, the journey had just begun.
Our adventure took us up a creek, whose name will remain a kept secret, as all the best spots should be. Worried about the depth of its undisturbed waters, we slowed right down and fell to a heavy hush. It was so still, the trees and mountains were inverted perfectly onto the surface and rippled out of focus only when our bow passed them by. After a few timeless moments, we became aware of the muted rush of water beyond. The creek’s end presented us with tiers of a steady cascade. The layers above piqued our curiosity and so we parked the boat and climbed back onto land for the first time in hours. The temptation was not in vain. Crystal pools crafted for summer days made me wish that the sun would return above the tree line. A single rope swing swayed above a bottomless pool. How is this part of where I call home? What other treasures lay waiting beyond uncharted bends?
Back on board, we finished off sunset with the rest of our bottles of wine. My stresses from the day were completely non-existent as my feet dangled over the side of the boat and my emptying wine glass relaxed dangerously in my hand. Wordlessly, the rose-coloured world was swallowed by the disappearance of the sun. And yet, this was not all that nature had to offer us that trip.
For those who know about it, bioluminescence is an easy summer highlight, especially in Ucluelet and Tofino. With warmer waters and the heat of the sun, a special brand of plankton pays a visit to the coast of Vancouver Island. When disturbed, they create a chemical reaction in the form of a flash that is dazzling in the dark. We were animated at the idea of seeing these living ocean lights burst to life around our moored boat. First, we needed to wait for pitch black skies. With bongos on board, music took to the darkening world outside, most likely to the annoyance of our neighbours: peacefulness would have to wait until after the show. Finally, it had grown dark and we scrambled up from below deck with anticipation. Slowly, we reached out an oar and dipped it into the water. A small glimmer rippled outwards from where it descended beyond the surface. Swishing it back and forth, the ocean burst into TV static and began to reflect the sky as trails of diamonds chased the moving paddle. I held my breath in awe and tried to absorb the beauty. It looked like we were fishing in the stars and for the moment, I could have sworn that if other worlds existed, the ocean was where they met; all you had to do was jump in. Exhausted and exhilarated, we returned to our sub-cabin beds. It wasn’t one of Ucluelet’s luxury cabins or resorts, but if I ever came to town and lacked accommodation, I would never say no to a sailboat. Gently, I was rocked to a restful sleep by the ocean.
When we awoke in the morning, it was time to head back to Ucluelet. Mother nature had certainly given us a weekend’s worth of gifts to remember. But again, just when we thought we had seen it all, there was more that the west coast wanted to show us. The gray day gave way to sunshine and we fiddled with the radio as we approached the mouth of the harbour. Suddenly a voice cut through and I felt a bolt of excitement. I couldn’t believe our luck. We were puttering directly towards a humpback whale. Around us, whale watching boats began to appear and we pulled up to a halt. Beyond, a beautiful humpback spy-hopped, her huge face rounding the surface before breaking the tension and dipping back down under the waves. Again, and again she rose from the water, putting on a show. Every time we thought she had disappeared, she would burst out from the depths. If this was whale watching, then viewing it from your own private sailboat was luxury. At long last, we got a view of her motley tail when, as if waving goodbye, she took a final deep dive. Within ten minutes, we were back at the dock unloading the boat.
In the span of twenty-four hours, Ucluelet and the West Coast of Vancouver Island had treated me to some of the most incredible natural phenomena to be found. The best part? Sailing, fishing, whale watching, bioluminescence, secret swimming holes and stunning scenery is all just a part of daily life on the coast. While it can be easy to forget when work and stress threaten to overwhelm me, something like a day on the water with good friends and mother nature bring it all back. All I need to do is take a deep breath and look around. Ucluelet is my home and a day in the life here can build memories of nature and beauty worthy of a lifetime.
Contributed by: Laurissa Cebryk