Mothership; The Columbia III

This will be our fifth summer out on the ocean with the Columbia III and each year our familiarity and fondness for this coast grows. Our family of six all contribute in some way to operating a sea kayaking and cruising “mothership” from our home on Sonora Island. Sixty eight foot Columbia III is a beautiful “old girl”, once a hospital ship of the Columbia Coast Mission, comfortable, cozy and so elegant. With her, we travel in Desolation Sound out of Campbell River, north to the Broughton Archipelago near Pt McNeill and further north still to the Klemtu area in the Great Bear Rainforest on the central coast. Several weeks are spent touring each area with kayakers, or with a photographer, artist, naturalist, historian or First Nations guide. It would take us lifetimes to visit all the coves, bights, bays, channels, lagoons, inlets, beaches, reefs, rocky islets, middens, old village sites, and river estuaries along the way…. lifetimes to learn the ways of the non-human inhabitants of all these places. 

We share news of the coast with the other operators, researchers, and locals on the docks in McNeill, Shearwater, Echo Bay, on the VHF or at anchorages – “the chum are spawning in the Salmon River but not in the Khutze yet”, “a wolf pack is foraging on the banks of the Koeye”, “the A 30’s (a particular orca pod) are westing off Kaikash”, “the A12’s (another pod of orcas) are easting through Blackney”, “four humpbacks are feeding off Lizard Pt”, “my crab traps are full in Fog Harbour”, “a huge raft of sea otters are in Seaforth Channel”, “the pale faced grizzly has two new cubs!”. This news is important, somehow so very relevant and essential to me. I am reminded of the lines in a poem of Mary Oliver’s “Meadowlark, when you sing it’s as if you lay your yellow breast upon mine and say hello hello and are we not of one family, in our delight of life? You sing, I listen. Both are necessary if the world is to continue going around night-heavy then light-laden….”. We take our guests to places where the voice of the land is perhaps not as muted as they are used to. To those out of the way, accessible-by-boat-only places where we can all listen more easily if we care to. And most of us do.


The Columbia III, photo by Fern Campbell
The Columbia III, photo by Luke Hyatt



So for us, running the Columbia III is about the land, the sea – and of course, the people who come as our guests – taking care of them, hearing their stories, enjoying their company, showing them the stunning profusion of life in a tide pool, noticing them relax as the days go by, and paddling beside them in calm lagoons or out on the rolling open ocean swells. After a week together on the boat, ten guests and four crew, new friendships have been made and goodbyes are often difficult. And so the summer unfolds. Our life is winds, tides, currents, charts, anchoring, paddling, and a huge variety of people! When October arrives in the north with heavy rains and storms, and the prospect of rounding Cape Caution becomes somewhat anxiety causing, we head south for home….. home…

Ross and I found a small bay many years ago where we built a home and put down our roots, where the Columbia III is moored for the winter months, and where our children have grown up. The flood and ebb tides are constant rivers here, and the sea offers itself to our imaginations and possibilities. As I write this, Tavish is sailing in the Cook Islands, from Mexico, on his way to Australia and beyond, and Farlyn is sailing towards Hawaii from Tahiti. Miray and Luke are loading kayaks onto the Columbia III, preparing for the coming season of paddling. Our home’s orientation, like most of the Surge Narrows community’s is to the waterways and channels. Our transportation – boats of all kinds, in all kinds of weather. The children definitely grew up “messing about in boats”, something they are still doing. 


Humpback photo by Luke Hyatt
Humpback photo by Luke Hyatt



Naturalist and writer John Livingston once suggested that “Beauty is the life process which hasn’t been simplified, wounded, diminished or destroyed”. I think of the alpine meadows, ridges and peaks above Toba and Bute Inlets where we’ve hiked and scrambled for days on end, or the hill behind our house with its gullies and groves of old growth firs and cedars and clear streams. I think of the octopus slithering along our beach, or the humpback that recently breached a dozen times right in front of our bay. Experiences of these are points of reference in the world, for beauty, for wonder, and for nourishment. I wanted the children to grow up with these points of reference and to carry them in their bones. I feel lucky to call this place home! 

The theme of this month’s Synergy is “Celebrate Life” and I would like to celebrate the non-human as well as the human life of our coast. Without it, the land and sea are no more than a pretty picture or a nice view at best. Here’s to the Pacific salmon forever always returning to spawn.