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Living Off the Land on a Wooden Schooner

This article was originally published as a two part piece in the C-Tow newsletter.

When we motored into the Campbell River marina in October 2020, we were looking worse for wear. The two of us- Logan and myself Taryn, had just spent four months attempting to make a boat sea- worthy that we had though was ready for a full summer of adventures when we had purchased her six months earlier. We were exhausted and clearly showing it. Even after those four months, we were still months away from having a boat that was ready to sail and the disappointment of missing an entire year of cruising was showing on our faces.

sailing in the rain
Photo by Mae Ying

In the marina, we tied up across from a beautiful 47 foot wooden schooner named Wind Gypsy. Her owners, Marty and Mae, quickly recognized the defeated look in our eyes and generously offered to take us out sailing with them. They wanted to relight in us the passion for being out on the water and they knew that an adventure with them would be the perfect way to do that. It took us a couple of months to have our schedules line up, but in December we all piled onto Wind Gypsy and finally headed out of the marina to spend a few days in the incredible Desolation Sound.

If you’re reading this you are probably already aware, but Desolation Sound is a beautiful mostly uninhabited marine park area on the Sunshine Coast of Canada. It is a world- renowned destination for cruising, and for good reason. Not only is it incredibly beautiful, but as we learned, it is also home to many sea creatures and in the winter you can have the entire place to yourself.

sunrise over mitlenatch island

Our first day on the water started before the sun rose. We were leaving from Campbell River and with the strong currents in Discovery Passage we had to make sure we timed our escape with slack current or we would risk having an uncontrolled and uncomfortable trip out into Georgia Strait. So, we were up and out of the marina before the sun broke the horizon.

The weather was perfect that day. Unlike the usual Pacific Northwest weather, this day held clear skies. As we entered the Georgia Strait the sun broke the horizon above Metlenatch Island, casting its reflection across the calm sea. It was in this moment that I remembered why we had chosen to live on a sailboat. We didn’t have very much wind that day, but we did have enough to raise all of the beautiful schooner’s sails as we glided towards the sunshine coast.

When we eventually floated into Desolation Sound, we lost all wind. This was terrible for our desire to actually sail the sailing boat we were on, but any day out on glassy water is a good day and we were so excited to see the sun that we weren’t angry about not having our sails up any longer.

calm seas in desolation sound

We turned down an inlet toward our first anchorage and made a quick stop to drop some prawn traps with high hopes of having some of these red creatures for dinner in the next couple of days. We then continued to motor towards one of the most beautiful bays we had ever seen.

wooden schooner at anchor

Nestled among forested cliffs, we dropped anchor as the sun began to set. The last rays of the daylight illuminated the forest, bringing out the last oranges and yellows of the season.

hiking to a fresh water lake

Our anchorage also contained a small creek waterfall and a short trail to a freshwater lake. Along the trail we found edible winter mushrooms which we collected for dinner and at the mouth of the creek we found the tastiest oysters we had ever eaten. Large and incredibly fresh tasting due to their proximity to fresh water, we woke up before sunrise the next morning to catch low tide- the only way to collect some of these magnificent shellfish. Although eating oysters in the summer can be dangerous due to red tide, they were amazing in December and we felt that we were living like royalty with the food we were able to pick from our temporary back yard.

After picking oysters, we lifted anchor and headed to our next anchorage, picking up our prawn traps along the way.

rain on the ocean in desolation sound

The skies were grey and raining on the day we left with our oyster harvest. Despite the weather, we were in good spirits- minus our captain Marty who, after a very wet year, was just done with the rain. The ocean looked like speckled glass as the rain drops fell on the water surface that wasn’t touched by even a breath of wind. We pulled our prawn traps on our way out of the inlet and discovered that we had captured enough to feed us for a couple of nights!

We glided through the water, retracing our trail from a few days before, but feeling like we were in a completely new sea, as the clouds and rain completely changed the appearance of this beautiful place that had been kissed by the sun on our journey days before.

anchored in desolation sound

We continued deeper into Desolation Sound for a couple of hours before arriving at our next anchorage. We anchored in a bay within a bay, surrounded by mountains covered in trees and a low-lying island covered in old growth forest. I don’t think I had ever seen somewhere as beautiful as this anchorage. I felt like a dream was coming to life when we dropped anchor there, and I knew that the solitude and peace that this place promised was going to be mine for a few days.

That night we got to cooking our ocean feast. We had oysters, prawns and one dungeoness crab to eat. This was more than enough for the five of us and we were feeling pretty blessed by our ocean harvest. So, we started with the oyster. Our hosts Mary and Mae prepared for us the tastiest oyster burgers I have ever eaten. Admittedly, I haven’t had that many oyster burgers, but if they all tasted like this, they would be the only thing I would order from a menu. The oysters we had harvested were so large that we only needed one to make each burger. Usually larger oysters are less tasty than the smaller ones, but these ones had as much flavour as their smaller counterparts, despite the size.

The next day we prepared some of our prawn catch for ceviche. We did this in the more traditional way by marinating our raw prawns in lime juice, yellow onions and salt. Marinating them in lime cures the prawns so they have a texture similar to raw prawns, but they are safe to eat as though they were cooked. I also tried to add some oysters into the mix, but they didn’t taste great when prepared this way and I wouldn’t recommend trying it yourself.

While the ceviche was curing, we headed to shore to explore the little island with the old growth. We meandered through the fir and cedar trees and stumbled upon some magnificent edible mushrooms in the process. We found hedgehog and chanterelle mushrooms which we excitedly collected for future meals. Back on the boat, we fried the mushrooms with some onions and added them to tasty grilled cheese for lunch.

hiking through old growth forest
Photo by Mae Ying

That evening, we happily ate our ceviche as an appetizer to our main course of amazing Thai curry which our friend Sid whipped us for us.

The next morning we headed to shore again to collect some more oysters, this time with the intention of freezing them to keep for future meals. We harvested and shucked the oysters right on the beach before bagging and freezing them.

collecting oysters in the rain
Photo by Mae Ying

This was the end of our land harvested meals for this trip, as we headed back to Campbell River via Cortes Island in the next couple of days.

We left with full bellies, excited to have spent so many days in peace, with the land blessing our mind and our bellies as we sustainably harvested food from the forest and the sea.

And here are the videos from this adventure if you would like to see more of those meals!

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