Not far from Codville Lagoon are the twin towns of Bella Bella and Shearwater. I’m not sure why there are two towns almost across from one another, but both sell fuel and that is the primary reason for us to stop. We wanted to take on about 150 gallons of diesel to give us a larger reserve to get to Ketchikan, where we’ll fill all the tanks at lower U.S. prices.
We heard that the little store and restaurant/cafe at Bella Bella had been damaged in a fire, so we headed to the much smaller (but better equipped) Shearwater. Unfortunately we forgot to look at the calendar – it was a Canadian holiday, Victoria Day, so most things were closed except (thank goodness!) the restaurant. THE restaurant. The whole town is about 200 yards long, on one gravel street. There is a small boat yard with a 70 ton lift – the only lift available within a few hundred miles, a marine store, grocery, gift shop, laundromat, and a couple of small inns for people who come here to fish or go on eco-tours to see wildlife and whales. There is a little ferry that runs between the two towns (the Shearwater SeaBus), and it carries the Shearwater children to school in Bella Bella as well as more typical ferry duties throughout the day. At dinner we met the owner of the property, enjoying the stories about his grandfather coming from Norway to settle in the area. The owner bought the place from his father at age 29 and has been running it ever since – he’s now in his 70s. He has even created a small memorial to local residents lost in wars, as well as the site’s former life as a seaplane base in WWII.We lucked out and met some friendly cruisers on the dock in Shearwater to talk to. We met one of the couples last summer in the Broughtons and they’re interesting – retired school principals; the wife has written several novels. Her newest book is set in Petersburg, Alaska where we’ll be spending this coming winter, so we added her book to our e-readers for a bit of local flavor. In general we haven’t encountered too many overtly friendly people along the way – the PNW culture seems to be more reserved so it often takes more time for people to warm up to conversation. Since Jim and I spend 24 hours a day in close quarters together we’re always glad to have new humans to talk to and we’re grateful when we meet outgoing people.
Heading north out of Shearwater we are cruising through protected waters most of the time – hence the name “the Inside Passage”. Compared to cruising through the Atlantic ICW the Inside Passage seems very lightly traveled – there are fishing boats, ferries, and the occasional cruise ship – though it’s often that we only see two or three other boats all day.
As we were cruising up the broad Finlayson Channel we saw a great deal of splashing ahead of us. Jim and I ran to the bow and we saw over a dozen black and white Dall’s porpoises zooming around in our bow wake, much faster and more athletic than any of the many encounters we’ve had with dolphins on the east coast. The porpoises don’t jump out of the water like dolphins do, instead they slice the water’s surface, moving so quickly that they leave a big rooster-tail wave to mark their passage. They entertained us for about 15 minutes, and then vanished. It was a high-octane encounter that left us very excited – wow!
We made a brief stop in the First Nations town of Klemtu to see their Big House and its totems. On occasion the town holds dancing and drumming shows in the Big House, and we were sad that our visit was too early in the season to experience one. Our guide, George, was very nice and we enjoyed hearing about the close-knit community of 500 people, a combination of 4 regional tribes. We stopped at the little grocery store in town and got the next to last package of lettuce and two small rocks disguised as tomatoes – the best luck with produce is right after the ferry comes in with supplies once or twice a week. The little town has a salmon cannery, but it’s for the farm-raised Atlantic salmon produced by the very controversial aquaculture facilities in the area. I find it odd to see the First Nations people, typically so spiritual and close to the fish and creatures that comprise their traditional foods, supporting aquaculture that threatens the health of the wild salmon that’s so important to this entire region.