As I’ve said before the best research is hands-on. That way, you can indulge your senses.
Last Saturday, we enjoyed a day cruise from Gold River (on Vancouver Island, British Columbia) to Yuquot at Friendly Cove. This is Nuu-chah-nulth traditional territory. The term, Nuu-chah-nulth means “all along the mountains” and refers to sixteen tribes from Alaska to Washington state that speak different dialects, but collectively are sea-faring people.
Uchuck means healing waters. “The Uchuck III can move along at twelve knots, and carry up to 100 day-passengers and 70 tons of general cargo including three or four cars” (Get West.) We watched from the upper deck as the crew loaded supplies using a crane for the folks at Yuquot. This included a new red ATV that was immediately put to work when we arrived. When we were underway at last, the two-hour cruise took us through Muchalaht Channel past controversial fish farms and logging swaths, around Bligh Island (named for a young Captain Bligh of Bounty fame), and through Cook Channel into Friendly Cove.
It was a perfect day of sun and fair breezes and the calm waters certainly felt healing. The captain said that humpback whales often come into Muchalaht Channel. All around Nootka Sound, salmon fishermen were hoisting their catch to show off their prizes.
In 2014, I lived at the Nootka Light Station for two months, while working as a relief lighthouse keeper. Although it was a short stint, catching sight of the white and red Coastguard buildings felt like coming home. We had three hours to explore the Yuquot site, which includes an amazing pebble beach, a portion of the Nootka Trail that leads past a graveyard and rentable cabins at Jewitt Lake, the old church which has now been reclaimed by the Indigenous community as a cultural centre, and of course, the light station.
But I am setting a murder mystery here, so was most interested in locations where one might kill someone without being seen and hide something precious. This landscape is not new to killing.
In 1788, Maquinna (the Mowachacht chief) sent his people aboard The Boston to repay many insults—including the murder of his brother-in-law—by European sailors. The entire crew was murdered and decapitated except for the blacksmith John Jewitt, and the sailmaker who hid below. Maquinna needed Jewitt’s skills so kept him alive, and Jewitt convinced Maquinna that the sailmaker was his father. Jewitt lived three years as part of Maquinna’s family, wrote his story on the dead captain’s paper, and eventually returned to Boston where it was published.
The long pier was teaming with people as the Mowachaht/Muchalaht community was holding their annual Spirit Summerfest campout in the grassy area near the church and many friends and relatives had come out aboard the Uchuck III to visit. There was also a celebration in the church as this year marked the 240thAnniversary of Captain James Cook’s arrival at Nootka Sound.
As the story goes, Cook arrived in what he first called King George’s Sound in the spring of 1778 with the Resolution and Discovery. Making the usual European blunder, he named the people and the place based on his suppositions. The Indigenous people—who’d been living here for thousands of years—called out and told the captain to go around to avoid the reefs. More precisely, it happened like this:
“Captain Cook’s men, asking by signs what the port was called, made for them a sign with their hand, forming a circle and then dissolving it, to which the natives responded ‘Nutka’. No.tkak or no.txak means “circular, spherical” (Sapir and Swadesh 1939:276) in The Whaling People.
Though the village was teaming with people, Cook claimed the land for Britain. The British soon called all the people there, the Nootka, though there were 1500 Mowachacht people living in villages in the area. Yuquot was the summer home of Maquinna’s people and they wintered down the channel in Tahsis. The Mowachacht—“people of the deer”—began a lucrative (especially for the British) trade in sea otter pelts.
Captain Cook’s claim on Yuquot set the stage for later conflicts between the Indigenous people as well as the Spanish, who built Fort San Miguel on the rocks beside the lighthouse. Sadly, within forty years, the sea otter disappeared. Fortunately, they are now back in the area. I remember seeing them playing near the pier when I lived there. This charming sea otter photograph was taken by my friend Ivan Dubinsky, principal keeper at Scarlett Point Lightstation north of Port Hardy.
On our return voyage, we sailed through the more turbulent waters of Zuchiarte Channel. I went up to the wheelhouse to ask about the ship, but Captain Adrien said that he’d only answer my questions if I took a turn at the wheel. So, under his direction, I steered the Uchuck III through King’s Passage.
The wheelhouse is beautiful and it was a thrill to turn the wheel two spokes starboard and then back to port to straighten her out while keeping my eyes on the bow.
The fabulous photo below was taken by Low Light Mike, August 28, 2010. One of the crew had just polished the engine-telegraph (to the left of the wheel) a piece from BCCS’s Princess Victoria,a River Clyde vessel that sailed around Cape Horn in 1904.
We arrived back in Gold River at 5:30pm. It was a long glorious day, and I recommend taking a voyage aboard the Uchuck III so you can get a taste of history firsthand. For more photographs, cruise and booking information, check out Get West. Below is a site map of Yuquot and a directional map to Gold River.