Each December we feature the Real Women of Northwest Fishing, and recently British Columbia fishing resort owner Pat Ardley wrote a book about her many years running the lodge with her husband George.
Grizzlies, Gales and Giant Salmon: Life at a Rivers Inlet Fishing Lodge is “the story of a woman who overcame her fears and stepped far outside her realm of comforts, as well as a touching tribute to raising a family and life in BC’s secluded wilderness,” according to Harbour Publishing, which published Ardley’s book last month.
The following is excerpted by permission from Harbour Publishing.
by Pat Ardley
Our First Crossing
The front of the boat plowed into the huge swell of water, and the wave crashed over the bow, washed up and over the windshield and along the top. I was cringing in my seat, holding on for dear life. We rose up on the next swell and the water moved on, leaving our boat suspended in air. We crashed down into the hollow between swells and the entire thirty- foot length shuddered as it seemed to haul itself back up for breath. I kept wondering how long this boat could take such pounding. The waves were relentless. How long can I take this pounding? I’m sorry, Mom, kept going around and around in my head.
We were running the boat from Finn Bay to Port Hardy for John Buck. He had headed out in his smaller and faster speedboat and was possibly already in town. There had been a terrible storm over the last few days and the fifteen-foot swell was what was left of it as we headed out early in the morning. Because of the poor water condition, we had to go very slow, with the speed barely registering, and we had about fifty miles to travel across Queen Charlotte Sound, which was open water all the way to Japan. By the time we were almost halfway across, the wind started to strengthen and there was a large chop on top of the swells. I wanted to go back. George couldn’t turn the boat around or we would have been swamped between the swells. We were already going as slow as he dared to go but we had to keep some forward speed to control the direction of the boat and keep it from wallowing and possibly sinking. At this point I was thinking, If I die out here, Dad’s going to kill me! Wave after wave crashed over us, and the boat shuddered and shook, squealed and groaned. Or was that last part just me? I couldn’t tell anymore.
While I can’t say that George was exactly happy that we were in this predicament, he was very confident in his ability, and he viewed the waves and swell as a challenge. He has a profound sense that boats are made to float while I had simply acquired a pathological fear of boats and water and drowning. I could taste it. Salty and desperate and I’m sorry Mom, if I’d known this could happen I would never have agreed to be here! The water was a dark, angry grey, and now large whitecaps were forming on top of the waves on top of the swells.
When the waves washed over the top there was a feeling that the boat was going down. Tons of water held the boat like a huge hand pushing down on us. We didn’t talk, we couldn’t talk. The noise of the wind and waves was thunderous. The wind shrieked in the crack in the window that I kept trying to push closed but most of the time couldn’t coordinate with all the jerking and crashing. I kept trying because salt water was forcing its way in with each wave and I was getting soaked with freezing cold water. We pounded with every wave and now the tops were being blown off the whitecaps. Tops are blown off when the wind is over thirty-five miles per hour. “Please make this stop!” was now my mantra. I said it over and over, mixed with “Please send me a skyhook that can pluck me out of this boat and put me on dry land!”
There were no other boats out here. Everyone else must have listened to the weather report. No one crosses the sound when a storm is forecast, which is something I know now, but especially not in a slow boat. The weather can change a lot in the six hours that a normal trip would take. And it did. When we rose to the top of a swell I could just make out the lighthouse on Pine Island through the mist. I knew that just ahead of Pine Island was a stretch called the Storm Islands and then the relative safety of Goletas Channel. I had to hold on for a while yet. I dug down deep inside me and brought out more reserves of strength and determination and started deep-breathing to maintain control of myself so I didn’t end up a pool of jellyfish sloshing around on the floor of the boat. Then I started singing in my head. I was too worn out and still being slammed around to be able to sing out loud. I sang every word to every Christmas song and every folk song and every pop tune that I could remember, and then I sang them again. This deep-breathing and singing is what I now call my “safe place,” which I have gone to many times over the years to get through some pretty harrowing situations.
We were passing Pine Island very slowly, and we were making very little headway. But wave by wave we plowed our way forward and headed into what I hoped would be the relief of Goletas Channel. There is a lighthouse at Scarlett Point, right at the corner of Christie Pass, which leads into Goletas Channel, and as we passed it I could see several people waving encouragement to us from the deck of the tower. The water was different here, with very little swell, but the waves were higher and coming faster. I had hoped for a feeling of safety when we turned into the channel but we were still in danger. We were no longer dropping heavily between swells, but now we were crashing and crashing through the waves. The sky started darkening, and I felt my heart plunge again. How can we do this in the dark?
The last hour of the trip from the channel into Hardy Bay and finally to the dock was agonizingly slow. Every bone in my body was aching, I could hardly hold my head up and I was numb and chilled to the bone. I had not even been able to reach for anything to put over my shoulders to fight the frigid onslaught of spray. It was pitch dark until we turned the corner into the bay and could see the lights of Port Hardy, nestled safely onshore. George’s eyes were fried from focusing so hard on the water and his arms were ready to fall off. Later we discovered a blister that covered his whole hand from working the throttle for twelve gruelling hours. We finally tied up at the government wharf in Port Hardy and stumbled up the dock.