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Farewell to Haida Gwaii
Excerpt from 'Boat Camping Haida Gwaii' by Neil Frazer, used with permission.
t's one o'clock in the morning. Three stars dot the sky, and a gauzy moon glows weakly above the western horizon. Ell-Pat is headed SE, pushed along by a fine north swell and a light NW breeze. It is too dark to surf these swells safely - I keep the throttle set so that we begin to plane on the downslope of each swell and then settle back as the swell passes beneath us. Ell-Pat isn't especially happy about this, but with her low-pitch prop she isn't suffering much either, and her grumble tells me where we are on the swell. Ordinarily I would not travel at this speed, but tonight we have plenty of fuel and plenty of time.

Mark dozes beside me on the seat. Wrapped in fleece and a bright yellow exposure suit, he is a sleepy young bear too warm to stay awake, but I know that he will wake quickly when I ask. Every hour he shines his light on the compass to make sure that the star by which I am steering has not rotated away from our course. Every three hours he takes the wheel, while I dig down through the gear for a jerry jug and then crawl back over the gear to empty the jug into Ell-Pat's fuel tank. That is the least pleasant duty I have tonight, for it is awkward to balance both the jug and myself. It is something I have done many times before, but not often in darkness with a following sea.

When we left our camp at Raspberry Cove the light had nearly gone from the sky, and by the time we had cleared Houston-Stewart Channel the swells of Queen Charlotte Sound were a dark plum-purple spangled with stars. East of Kunghit Island an explosion in front of us, a sudden star of black streaks on the swell, made my hair stand on end, but it was just a flock of diving birds, surprised by Ell-Pat. Since then things have been tranquil and easy.

There is little in the water to worry about tonight - I hope. Next week the high tides will begin to pluck logs from the beaches of Haida Gwaii, but that has not happened yet. However, the antique hunter's mantra, "Anything can be anywhere," applies to deadheads as well as antiques, and I have spent the afternoon lashing additional flotation, in the form of empty fuel containers, into Ell-Pat. She now has a flotation volume greater than a thousand pounds of seawater, far more than the weight, in water, of her hull and engine. Disaster may find us, but if it does, we will not sink quickly.

We are unlikely to be run down either. The great circle routes from Prince Rupert lead out through Dixon Entrance; the great circle routes from Vancouver go out the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Tonight the cruise ships that ply the coast are thirty miles nearer to it than we are. Even the buoy at West Sea Otter will be out of sight to the east when we pass it. We are as alone as it is possible to be on this coast between two points of land.

Hours ago the light at Cape St. James sank below the horizon. I had been stealing glances over my shoulder, waiting for the instant it would flicker out, but then I missed the moment of good-bye. Haida Gwaii had been good to us; when would we see it again? Now we are committed, headed SE into tomorrow. Twelve hours from now I expect that Vancouver Island will appear on the horizon, and that there will be plenty of daylight left in which to thread our way through the islands of Queen Charlotte Strait. There are portents this may not be easy-twice in the last hour the following breeze has suddenly ruffled the hair on the back of my neck-but for now all is well.

In a few days this voyage of ours will have come to an end. I am sad about this, but grateful too. Five weeks of wandering have made us a team, and in these last days we now camp effortlessly in odd corners of charts unrolled just days before. Best of all, Mark has seen the coast I wanted him to see: huge trees, rivers thick with salmon, great bears fishing and playing, sea lions sleeping on the shore, whales thundering out of the deep in unison, and a dozen other miracles that grow rarer every year. Weighing on my heart is a great fear that by the time Mark has children of his own all this will be gone. Parks there will be, certainly, to remind us of it, but the last great coast itself will be no more. The big trees, the wild fish and the bears will have followed the sea otters to near extinction, curiosities in their own land, victims of the great Job Saver lie. But now, tonight, I am simply grateful.

Gratitude, sadness and love mixed together make difficult thoughts, but they last only a few moments. Our heading, I suddenly realize, is the one Peter Pan gave to Wendy and the boys: second star to the right and straight on 'til morning. Is this the course that all voyagers steer, being children in their hearts? Is a smile, unseen, still a smile? When I put my hand into the darkness beside me to grip my son's shoulder, does he sense a father's love through his dreams?