Mommy, are we in Hawaii? / by Caroline Van Hemert

We crossed Queen Charlotte Strait and rounded Cape Caution four days ago, officially marking our journey into northern waters, where there are more bears, more lichen-draped trees, and many fewer communities. The stretch of open water between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland is notorious for big swell and “boomers,” submerged reefs that explode when a wave passes over them. When we made this crossing in our rowboats six years ago, Pat and I would lose sight of each other behind each large swell. In our 32’ Westsail, which is capable of serious offshore sailing, we had little to worry about besides operator error, but the power of the ocean is unmistakable here. 

Fortunately, we had no seasickness on this bout of marginally rough water, only a minor case of sea-boredom. It can be hard for everyone to stay cheerful when sailing or motoring for long stretches, especially when we haven’t had a chance to stretch our legs all day (or sometimes two). The boys are fairly tolerant, and have yet to question the fact that we now live on a small boat, but they have energy to burn and Pat and I sometimes run out of creative ideas for entertainment.

Although I think we’re doing reasonably well considering that there are 4 people sharing a space the size of a large utility closet (and two of them are under the age of 4), our differing versions of time continue to frustrate us all.  Pat and I conceive of plans for this afternoon, tomorrow, next week, and next month. Huxley also has plans, but these revolve around next dinner, last dinner, the knot that he’s taking five minutes to tie as we’re all waiting to dock, or one hundred and eighty eight days from now. Dawson finishes breakfast and before he’s even dressed, he says “Nack?” Neither of them care much for our adult version of time, which is alternately too slow or too fast for their liking.

While underway, we rarely have emergencies, but we often have urgencies. Things must sometimes happen quickly, and correctly, and without small fingers or toes in the way. Sails can’t be left half-raised, our course can’t deviate into a rock or another boat, hatches can’t be swinging wildly or dumping their contents when we are heeled over. 

But urgency does not exist in toddler time. There is only now, in the slow, suspended moments of the present. The pace is set not by external forces like the size of waves or the strength of the wind, but by very particular desires and intentions. My sandwich must sit on the plate exactly like this. The fishing pole I am using should be strung, yet again, around the lifelines. I NEED to walk up to the bow of the boat in the most difficult way possible, even if it means I will trip on the sail lines and nearly knock my teeth out on the windlass. 

Nearly a week ago, on our way to a resupply at Port McNeill, we had an urgency borne not of sails or wind or a finicky engine, but of poop. It was a beautiful morning, with a hint of a breeze that hadn’t yet materialized enough to raise the sails, and we motored slowly, fishing along the way. All was well until the head clogged and we were suddenly running buckets onto deck. Meanwhile, Huxley needed to go, NOW, and Dawson had already gone, with a mess to follow. Suddenly, it was all hands below deck, with no one left to steer the boat. So we did the only logical thing: check for hazards, stop the engine, and start cleaning. Just when I was ready to lose my temper entirely, as Dawson thrashed around on the changing pad and Huxley whined to Pat that he wanted to put the toilet seat down in a different way, we heard a whoosh outside. When I peeked out the companionway, there was a humpback surfacing nearby, and we watched its tail fluke rise against the horizon as it dove.

So we found ourselves whale watching on a beautiful stretch of ocean, in the midst of poop. Life could certainly be worse, even if we had a bit of stink to deal with. As though on cue, Huxley piped in, “That sure was good we stopped, wasn’t it mommy? So we could see the whale.” Leave it to a 4-year-old to remind us of what we’re doing here.

We are now in the Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy adjacent to Calvert Island, where there is a research station and a small network of trails that lead to picturesque beaches and rocky headlands. After a stretch of rain, we woke up this morning to blue skies and the longest white sand beach anywhere on this stretch of coastline. Huxley asked me this evening whether we were in Hawaii, and upon learning that we weren’t said, “Is that where we’re going next?” Not exactly, but except for the trees, we could certainly pretend.

 Crossing Queen Charlotte Strait.

Crossing Queen Charlotte Strait.



 Somebody loves sailing.

Somebody loves sailing.

 Midden beaches at Fury Cove. The white shells almost make it look sunny. 

Midden beaches at Fury Cove. The white shells almost make it look sunny. 

 Rainforest hike. We don’t make it far these days when bushwhacking is involved.

Rainforest hike. We don’t make it far these days when bushwhacking is involved.

 Fish Egg Inlet. 

Fish Egg Inlet. 

 Knot master.

Knot master.

 Almost Hawaii. 

Almost Hawaii. 



 Beach time.

Beach time.

 Life is good.

Life is good.