Sunday, August 12, 2012

Attacked by Wolves! Saved by Pirates!

After three years since our trip to Alaska, enough people have convinced me to start blogging about our boating experiences again.  I really never expected my postings to be read by so many folks and initially created my blog for my family and a few interested friends; however, we’ve ran into people up and down the coast that asked for more.  So, with a planned trip around Vancouver Island starting this week, I thought it may be a good time to put up some posts.  I guess what ultimately inspired me to start typing again was the request from Ron Meng at Islands Marine Center, who is putting up a hard fight against the cancer that is ravaging his body.  We were talking about his “bucket list” and I ended the discussion by asking what I could do to help.  He suggested I start blogging again.  That made my decision as we have been praying for him every day and hope that you’ll join me in that.

As I sit here in my easy chair at Dolphin Cove on Orcas Island thinking about the trip that lies ahead, I also reflected on some notable experiences since my last blog post.  I can’t believe it’s been three years already.  So, I thought I’d re-start this blog with my “Attacked By Wolves!  Saved By Pirates!” story that we experienced in 2010 and I wrote last year.  Some of you may have seen it in Pacific Yachting or Soundings.  Here it is:

Attacked by Wolves!  Saved by Pirates!

The title of this article may appear to be an exaggeration, but it’s not much of a stretch!  In all our years of cruising the inside passage, we’ve always been amazed at how every day has the potential to yield an exciting and unexpected Grand Adventure.  Most of these adventures turn out to be positive. They are exciting and fun and create great memories.  This one was just plain scary. But it still ended up being grand and exciting.

Many of our cruising days keep us active: exploring, hiking, kayaking, fishing…always with our two dogs and one or both of our sons.  This day was no different…in most ways.

We were anchored, for our first visit ever, in the beautiful Von Donop Inlet, a large, beautiful, all-weather anchorage on Cortes Island in British Columbia.  We woke up to a gorgeous summer day, and my wife, Val, son, Connor, and two active labs, Lucky and Tanner, were all very excited to explore this pristine area.

Dinghy readied, dogs leashed, and camera in hand, we headed to shore and found a trail head.  Our goal was to hike over to Squirrel Cove, a relatively short jaunt across the island.  Although we keep bear spray onboard the boat, it didn’t dawn on me to take it with us.  After all, Cortes Island seemed much more docile than the vast wilderness of Alaska or the wild North coast of British Columbia.

So off we went on our stroll through the woods.  My wife hates snakes with a passion. I have permanent fingernail indentions embedded in the back of my neck as evidence. She claws her way over my back and into my arms at the sight of anything resembling her nemesis.  So anytime I see a snake, or even a squiggly stick, I gently nudge Val to the side without saying a word.  Whenever she sees a snake, every critter within earshot scatters for safety at the sound of her high-pitched screams; and I cringe, knowing the wounds on my neck are about to be reopened.

Several times during our hike, Val insisted she heard snakes in the brush alongside us.  I assured her they were not snakes (I was right, of course!), encouraged her to just keep moving, and we finally arrived safely (so we thought) on the beach of Squirrel Cove at low tide.  Connor, Lucky, and Tanner took off down the beach to search out its hidden treasures.  Val and I stopped for a moment to catch our breath and soak in the beauty of this place.  Suddenly, we heard a thrashing in the bushes, and it was getting louder and coming directly toward us.  We turned around and there were wolves exiting the trail only steps from where we were standing.  One, two, four, six big wolves!  Yikes!

Val shrieked “WOLVES!” and we both jumped back.  I don’t know who was more startled…us or them!  The nervous wolves bolted down the beach.  Fortunately, they headed in the direction opposite Connor and the dogs.  I grabbed my camera, commenting to Val how lucky we were to see wolves in their natural environment.  I was thrilled!  She, not so much!  I just wanted to get a picture before they high-tailed it out of there.

The pack got a good five-iron shot away from us and stopped just as Tanner, our ambitious yellow lab, caught sight of them out of the corner of his eye. He bolted toward the wolves, obviously thinking they would make great playmates.  Val and I watched in terror as Tanner ran like a blue streak (tan, rather) towards his new “friends.”  Then the adrenaline kicked in for all of us and I screamed at Tanner at the top of my lungs.  Much to my surprise, he actually listened and reluctantly heeled up beside me.  I grabbed his collar and let out a huge sigh of relief.  I called Connor and Lucky over and we formed our own pack.  Then we heard more wolves in the brush.  I declared that we weren’t going back the way we came and suggested heading down the beach away from the wolves.

Keeping the dogs heeled beside us, and one eye behind, I was shocked to see the pack turn toward us!  My previous feeling of luck at getting to see the wolves now turned sour in the pit of my belly.  I kept my calm, but suggested we all grab some rocks and sticks and hang onto the dogs no matter what.  The wolves kept coming, and soon they were within steps of us!  We screamed, yelled, and threw rocks at them.  The dogs “yelled” out their own warning, and luckily, the wolves turned away.  We ran toward the water to keep a steady pace away from them.

But once again, they turned toward us!  I couldn’t believe this was happening!  The wolves, the dogs, and even we had our hackles up.  We threatened the pack by hurling more rocks and screaming.  Again, they withdrew.  Whew!

Normally, it takes quite a bit to get me concerned, but this ordeal had red-lined me!  Suddenly we heard screaming. It was coming from a boat anchored in the bay. Its passengers were warning us that there were wolves behind us as if we didn’t know!  I think one shrieking girl on the boat was more panicked than we were!

The wolves advanced a third time. I warned Val and Connor to stand back-to-back and prepare to fend them off once again.  At this point I was seriously concerned, fearful for our dogs’ lives as well as our own.  As we assumed our defensive positions, we heard a dinghy outboard start, and it grew louder!  As it got closer, the wolves retreated.  We were being rescued!

We turned our attention to our rescuer…and couldn’t believe our eyes!  The man in the dinghy appeared to be a pirate who had launched his dingy from a distant pirate ship!  No way!  What the heck!?!?  The entire ship was painted black.  A dragon hung from the hull pulpit.  Shrunken skulls lined the handrails.  A Jolly Roger was aflyin’.  The scary-looking man in the dinghy approached us and introduced himself as “Barnacle Barry.” “Get In!” he commanded.  His long black hair hung in a pony tail down past his waist.  Every inch of his exposed skin was tattooed with skulls and crossbones. When he grinned, his teeth revealed a serious need for extensive dental work.  Even his black attire added to the perception that we were being rescued by a real-life pirate…or so we thought.

As we puttered away from the beach, Barnacle Barry revealed that he and his wife and daughter had seen forty wolves on the beach shortly before we arrived.  I was relieved that the wolves were no longer a threat, but I was not comfortable with our present situation either.  We heard more yelling from the pirate ship Barnacle Barry was steering the dinghy toward. My wife’s eyes shared my concern.  Had we gone from a bad situation to worse?

As we approached the pirate ship to grab a line, a huge St. Bernard appeared, barking over the railing, apparently eager to devour us and our dogs.  Then, before we could board, Barnacle Barry’s wife announced in alarm that her daughter was so distraught that she had gone into labor.  Labor?  It turned out the girl was pregnant, but not nearly far enough along to deliver yet.  My goodness!  Was this all really happening?

Barnacle Barry’s wife handed him a cell phone with a stern warning that I didn’t quite catch.  Barry looked over at me and muttered, “Those #@$%& women overreact to everything!” Then he opened up the throttle.  We just kept our mouths shut!  Or maybe they were hanging wide open. I’m not sure which!

As Barnacle Barry motored our family across the bay, we talked about the whole ordeal.  He dropped us off at an old logging trail and told us how to get back to our boat safely. It would be a very long way back.  I never found out how the daughter fared, but Barnacle Barry turned out to be a really great guy.  He was so gracious and kind.  As we hiked back, we reminisced about our Grand Adventure and were able to laugh about it all in disbelief. But we kept one eye open for more wolves!

Back at the boat we called our parents and oldest son to tell them we had been attacked by wolves and saved by pirates.  The only thing more bizarre would have been to be attacked by pirates and saved by wolves!  Yes, it was another Grand Adventure in the life of this cruising family.  Thank goodness for great pirates like Barnacle Barry and “Barry” good ending!

© 2011 Kent Huisken

Interestingly enough, we had some guests from South Dakota up here last week and took them to the amazing Butchart Gardens.  They stayed in the Brentwood Bay Lodge and Spa and we anchored near the back entrance to the gardens in Tod Inlet.  As we were entering Brentwood Bay, I was amazed to see the pirate ship and exclaimed to my wife, “Hey, it’s Barnacle Barry!”

After watching the fireworks on Saturday night and a great nights rest on the hook, my family and guests went to tour Butchart Gardens.  I stayed back, launched my kayak, and set out to find Barnacle Barry.  As I paddled closer, I saw the big dog, who didn’t seem quite so scary this time, and Barnacle Barry’s long pony tail hanging down his back.  I think I startled him as I approached and called out his name.  “Well, holy f#$%!” he exclaimed.  Memories flashed and soon we were reminiscing about the whole episode.

The most burning question I had for him was how his daughter turned out.  He explained that after our rescue she settled down, the contractions quite, and she went on to a normal delivery!  Thank God for that.  In fact, the reason they were at Brentwood Bay was because she just had a second baby and they were there for a visit.

Barnacle Barry was so happy to see the story published.  He says that everyone calls him a hero now.  I would agree!  He says he reads it every day and still gets a good laugh out of it.

Barry did confess that when the episode was going down, he was more interested in sitting in his cockpit, eating his popcorn, and enjoying our saga being played out.  His wife is the one who insisted that he go rescue “that poor family.”  So, who’s the true hero here?  I guess they both are.

Well that’s it for this post.  Lord willing, tomorrow we’ll set sail for a month long circumnavigation of Vancouver Island and a whole other set of new adventures.  One thing is for sure… Life on the water is never dry.