National Geographic : 1933 Jul
"NAKWASINA" GOES NORTH What fun to paddle along an uncharted coast, poking into undreamed-of bays and inlets! What a glorious sense of discov ery when we blunder into an uncharted passage! It makes us almost kin with Bering, Cook, Vancouver, Quadra, and La Perouse. But there were other times when we wished that we might know more accu rately what sort of country lay ahead, whether we would find sheltered bays, whether the topography indicated prob able beaches. At Juneau we found an aerial survey in progress, but it may be many years before a similar survey penetrates to the byways of Alaska and British Columbia. For the Prince Rupert region, however, the Cana dian charts are surprisingly detailed and accurate. TIDAL DISTURBANCE MAGNIFIED INTO A REALISTIC MIRAGE On the 19th day an amazing and terri fying experience awaited us, one that had nothing to do with charts, but much to do with the topography and idiosyncrasies of the country. A storm had been threatening for the past two days. Despite our circuit through the Yaculta Rapids to avoid Seymour Narrows, we had to traverse some fifteen miles of Johnstone Strait, a channel nearly sixty miles long with high mountains on either side. Among local boatmen this stretch of water has the reputation of being the worst in British Columbia. Hence we were ex pecting to find rough water and hard pad dling, even though we had learned to dis count all local horror stories by at least 90 per cent; but certainly we were not pre pared for what we saw. Entering Sunderland Channel late in the afternoon, we were thrilled and startled to see in Johnstone Strait, some five miles ahead of us, a huge wall of foaming white water making toward us at terrific speed. Across the channel, and at right angles to the wall of water, raced a tremendous green sea. I thought of mountainous seas I had seen in mid-Pacific during a storm, but none had even approached this one in size. Stupefied, we rested on our paddles and watched. A tidal wave? Impossible. Nei ther the records of white men nor Indian traditions note any disturbance of such colossal proportions in these inland waters. A mirage? It was too terribly real. That monster sea swept over and completely submerged two islands whose trees tow ered 150 feet above sea level! Even though we knew that if the wave were real it would catch us before we could land and climb above its devastating height, Nakwa sina made for shore. Behind a point and halfway to shore we paused. The water around us was still glassy calm. Cautiously we turned and nosed around the point, doubt mingled with apprehension. Still that swiftly ad vancing wall of water! It hurled into bays, piled high on rocky points, swept up the far side of Sunderland Channel, and broke along the shore. The islands had emerged again, the trees still stood erect. As yet, not a ripple of the disturbance had reached the smooth water where Nakwa sina rested, awed by the sight of something she knew she could not weather. Paddling close to shore, we went on. Gradually the turmoil subsided until, when we entered Johnstone Strait, we found merely a choppy sea and a normally vicious tide rip. We could but conclude that the late afternoon sun, the approaching storm, and the heat had fortuitously produced air and light conditions that had magnified an ordinary tidal disturbance into a titanic and terribly realistic mirage, perhaps never seen before and never to be seen again. OFFERS OF "RESCUE" DECLINED Next day a stiff southeast wind sent us hurtling through Johnstone Strait. Then the storm broke. Dwarfed to microscopic dimensions by the vastness of the country, by mountains rising sheer from the water's edge, and occasionally by large seas, Nakwasina must indeed have looked like a fragile cockle shell, a craft not of choice, but of despera tion. Time and again purse seiners, halibut boats, and trollers went far off their courses to offer us aid. They were unanimous in their generous impulse, very different in their reactions to our answer to their offer of rescue. Usually after declining assist ance, with thanks, we added: "Bound for Juneau; so many days from Tacoma." Often there was consternation aboard the gas-boat; sometimes polite disbelief.